IN this production Mr. DISRAELI, with extraordinary ingenuity, has combined the somewhat incongruous excellences of Vivian Grey and The Wondrous Tule of Alroy ; for he has mixed up the fashionable London life of the one with the extravagant romance and poetical prose of the other. He calls this book "a love story;" and the moral of the tale is (in his own phrase) that " there is no love but love at first sight." " This," he says, " is the transcend- ant and surpassing offspring of sheer and unpolluted sym- pathy. All other is the illegitimate result of observation, of re- flection, of compromise, of comparison, of expediency." By way of illustrating this proposition, he makes a young couple fall in love with each other as suddenly, violently, and desperately, as Romeo and Juliet themselves. He does not, however, place this couple in some congenial region of romance; but makes them members of the English aristocracy in the nineteenth century. The book, indeed, is full of aristocracy. The personages are all ladies and gentlemen of rank and distinction, and all possessed of those exquisite manners of which the common herd of mankind have, of late years, been enabled to form some notion by the help of our litterateurs of the " fashionable" school.
The hero, Ferdinand Armine, i3 a scion of a prodigiously ancient and illustrious family ; and his pedigree is traced down from the time of WILLIAM the Conqueror with a minuteness worthy of 4'the Peerage." This is dry, to be sure ; but then it inspires the reader with a proper degree of respect for the exalted rank, and prepares him for the exalted sentiments of the hero. To increase this impression, the author bestows on bite a grandfather of an extraordinary description,—a certain Sir Ferdinand Armine, who having entered the Imperial service, was nearly elected King of Poland ; then turned Turk, became a Mussulman general, and de- feated the Imperialists in a great battle ; then went to Rome and endeavoured to become a Cardinal ; then returned to England, and laid claim to a Peerage; and lastly, went to France, became citizen Armine and one of the Regicides, and lost his head by the guillo- tine ! So descended, what might not be expected from the hero of the tale? His illustrious family is decayed and poor. He enters the army, is stationed at Malta, leads a dissipated life, and con- tracts a load of debt on the credit of the rich inheritance of a ma- ternal uncle. This old nobleman dies, however, and leaves his fortune to a Miss Grandison, the hero's cousin. He returns to England, and is persuaded by his family to pay his addresses to the rich heiress. He finds that she is a fine girl, and very much in love with him; and though lie feels no ardent passion for her (his time was not come), he has some admiration for " les beaux yeux de sa cassette." The marriage, accordingly, is about to take place ; when, as he is living by himself in the country, a lady and her father come to look at the grounds. Ferdinand, in his walk, sees a young lady in a riding-habit, gazing at a tree—and in a moment he is in love!
",Yea! it was this mighty passion that now raged in the heart of Ferdinand Armine, as pale, trembling, panting, he withdrew a few paces from the over- whelming spectacle, and leant against a tree in a chaos of emotion. What had be seen ? what ravishing vision had risen upon his sight ? what did he feel ? what wild, what delicious, what maddening impulse now pervaded his frame ? A storm seemed raging in his soul ; a mighty wind, dispelling in its course the sullen clouds and vapours of long years. Ile was, indeed, as one possessed, waving his agitated arm to heaven, and stamping with his restless foot upon the uncongenial earth. Silent be was, indeed, for he was speechless ; though the big drop that quivered on his brow and the slight foam that played upon his lip, proved the difficult triumph of passion over expression. But, as the wind clears the heaven, passion eventually tranquillizes the soul. The tumult of his mind gradually subsided ; the flitting memories, the scudding thoughts, that for a moment had coursed about in such wild order, vanished and melted away ; and a feeling of bright serenity succeeded, a sense of beauty and of joy, and of hovering and circumambient happiness. " He advanced—he gazed again; the lady was still there. Changed, indeed, ,her position ; her front was towards him. She had gathered a flower, and was examining its beauty." He accosts the stranger, plays the cicerone of the house and grounds, orders his horse, and accompanies them a little way on their road, and returns, raving in prose run mad.
" With these wild words and wilder thoughts bursting from his lips and dashing through his mind, his course as irregular and as reckless as his fancies, now fiercely galloping, now breaking into a sudden halt, Ferdinand at length arrives at home."
The lady is Henrietta Temple. Her father is a gentleman of the neighbourhood. Ferdinand visits them ; and Henrietta's love, though hardly so rapid, is as violent as his own. We have then a series of love-scenes and love-letters, the very quintessence of The Sorrows of Werter, La .Nouvelle Heloise, and our author's own wonderful Alroy ; but we must pass them over. Miss Gran- dison, the hero's betrothed, comes to the country, now a most un- welcome visiter. Henrietta discovers the prior engagement, re- nounces her lover, and sets off with her father for the Continent. He falls into a brain fever, and remains a long time on the brink of the grave. Miss Temple, whose health has also been broken with the shock, is in Italy, slowly recovering, when she meets a Lord Montford, who becomes her admirer. She finds him very amiable, and at last yields to his suit; telling him honestly, however, that she has now no heart to bestow upon him. They return to England, and mingle in the gayeties of the Metropolis. The parted lovers, of course, meet again ; and, learning what each has suffered for the other, become as much in love as ever. The considerate Lord Montford, seeing how it is with his bride- elect, kindly resolves to favour her union with her old love ; Miss Grandison and he fall in love with each other; and the tale con- eludes with the final arrangement of this partie quarree. Such is the absurd and extravagant story of this book. Fer- dinand Armine, with all his romantic passion, is a silly and con- ceited coxcomb; and Miss Temple is too much a heroine of the Minerva Press. Miss Grandison is by far the most agreeable character in the story. The latter part of the book is filled with scenes of fashionable life and pictures of aristocratic manners; and is, in truth, crambe decies coda. Some characters, meant to represent real personages, are introduced. We have, for example, a Count Mirabel, who is evidently intended for a foreigner of rank who has long been a leader in our beau monde; and this gentleman has no reason to complain, for his character is painted couleur de rose. There is also a Mr. Bond Sharpe, who is the celebrated proprietor of the greatest gambling-house in London. Mr. Sharpe is represented as a comme it faut and well-conducted
personage, who renders his fashionable friends disinterested ser- tices, and is much esteemed by them all. He is a man of in- tellect, too ; and thus philosophically he discourses in vindication of his calling.
" My position is difficult. I have risen by pursuits which the world does not consider reputable; yet if I had not had recourse to them, I should be less than nothing. My mind, I think, is equal to my fortune. I am still young ; and I would now avail myself of my power, and establish myself in the land, a recog- nized member of society. But this cannot be. Society shrinks from an ob- scure foundling, a prizefighter, a leg. a hell-keeper, and an usurer. Debarred, therefore, from a fair theatre for my energy and capital, I am forced to occupy, perhaps exhaust myself, in multiplied speculations. Hitherto they have flourished, and perhaps my theatre or my newspaper may be as profitable as my stud. But I would gladly emancipate myself. These efforts seem to me, as it were, unnecessary and unnatural. The great object has been gained. It is a tempting of fate. I have sometimes thought myself the Napoleon of the sporting world ; I may yet find my St. Helena." " Forewarned, forearmed, Mr. Sharpe."
" I move in a magic circle : it is difficult to extricate myself from it. Now, for instance, there is not a man in that room who is not my slave. You see how they treat me. They place me upon an equality with them. They know my weakness; they fool me up to the top of my bent. And yet there is not a man in that room who, if I were to break to-morrow, would walk down St. James's Street to serve use. Yes! there is one—there is the Count. He has a great and generous soul. I believe Count Mirabel sympathizes with my situ- ation. I believe he does not think because a man has risen from an origin the most ignoble and obscure, to a very powerful position, by a great courage and dexterity, and let me add also, by some, profound thought, by struggling too, be it remembered, with a class of society as little scrupulous though not as skilful as himself, that he is necessarily an infamous character. What if at eighteen years of age, without a friend in the world, trusting to the powerful frame and intrepid spirit with which Nature had endowed me, I flung myself into the ring ! Who should be a gladiator if I were not ? Is that a crime? What if at a later period, with a brain for calculation which none can rival, I invaria- bly succeeded in that in which the greatest men in the country fail ! Am I to be branded because I have made half a million by a good book? What if I have kept a gambling-house? From the back parlour of an oyster. shop my hazard-table has been removed to this palace. Had the play been foul, this metamorphosis would never have occurred. It is true I am an usurer. My dear sir, if all the usurers in this great metro- polis could only pass in procession before you at this moment, how you would start. You might find some right honourables among them ; many a great functionary, many a grave magistrate; fathers of families, the very models of respectable characters, patrons and presidents of charitable in- stitutions, and subscribers for the suppression of those very gaming-houses, whose victims in nine cases out of ten are their principal customers. I speak not in bitterness. On the whole I must not complain of the world; but I have seen a great deal of mankind, and more than most of what is considered its worst portion. The world, Captain Armine, believe me, is neither as bad nor as good as some are apt to suppose. And after all," said Mr. Bond Sharpe, shrugging up his shoulders, " perhaps we ought to say with our friend the Count, ' Vice la bagatelle!' Will you take some supper ?"
There are clever things in this book. But we have bad too many of these fashionable novels. To say the least of them, they are utterly frivolous ; and, if they teach any thing, they teach what were better not learned.