11 APRIL 1891, Page 22

THE PHILADELPHIAN.* The Philadelphian is a very good example of

the way in which a novel ought not to be written. A bountiful Providence has endowed Mr. Jennings with a fair share of imagination and a great facility of good writing, and "instead of that," as the Irish Judge remarked, he spends his time in weaving a tangled and improbable plot, to be played by very mixed and impossible characters. It is difficult to guess whether the exigencies of his plot led his characters astray, or whether the curious eccentricity of the characters is responsible for the wayward wandering of the plot. Wherever the blame may be, the result is the same ; and Mr. Jennings's novel is only saved from being ridiculous by his natural gift of an easy and natural style. It is almost impossible to believe that the author could have had the slightest idea himself, while he was yet writing his first volume, as to what would be the dAnouement of the third, or how he was to dispose of the variety of mysteries with which he started. It is true that the reader's curiosity is roused by the uncertainty as to who was the murderer of the Welsh Squire, or who was the husband of the mysterious Mrs. Martin ; but when he suspects that the author has not made up his own mind upon those points, and waits the chances of a rambling story to decide, even that curiosity rather loses its interest. The plot is not wanting in incident ; but the incidents might have been

* The Philadelphian. By Loola Jennings,ur, London ; aorot and Illaokett.

added afterwards, like seasoning to a dish, for all the bearing that they have upon the plot. There are two good chapters, the first and the last,—the first contains a very good and well- written description of the state of Virginia after the close of the War of Secession; and the last, in which the characters return to the same scene, is doubly pleasant and welcome, as being the end of the story.

The Philadelphian is a certain Mr. Rufus Snapper. Why the novel is so called, it is hard to conjeeture. The scene is never laid in Philadelphia, but is for the most part confined to Wales and London, Mr. Snapper is certainly a native of Philadelphia; but as he is more English than American in his ways and speech, and as he plays but a secondary part in the tale, there really seems no reason for the prominence that is given to his birthplace. Mr. Snapper's chief occupation and amusement in life is to look after the welfare of his friends, and guard them against the mysterious enemies who surround them. Some of the mysteries are known to Mr. Snapper, and some are not. In order to discover the latter, he makes friends with the aforesaid enemies, anti discourses to them on the subject of politics and their own private affairs. But as the reader does not exactly know how much Mr. Snapper knows, and how much he does not ; or what he wants to find out, and why he wants to find it out ; or whether the author has any idea as to the extent of Mr. Snapper's knowledge, or the advisability of increasing it,—the reader cannot interest himself very deeply in that gentleman's somewhat inconsequent behaviour. Mr. Snap- per's friends are a Virginian Colonel and his daughter, and a Welsh Squire and his son. The Welsh Squire has been imprudent enough to marry, as his second wife, an American adventuress. The adventuress succeeds in turning the son out of his father's house, but fails to dislodge the Colonel's daughter, who has taken up her abode there, apparently because the latter has a sharper tongue than herself. This is the only indication we have as to the character of a young lady who is otherwise intended to be an extremely amiable person, and the heroine of the story. But the adventuress also has a, son by a former marriage, Mr. Sam Rafferty, who is addicted to the wearing of loud clothes and the consumption of strong drinks. This gentleman earns his living in Bir- mingham as a politician,—we trust that this is not a libel on Birmingham politics. His mother's attempts to introduce him into the Squire's family circle are not successful, partly on account of the drink, but chiefly on account of the clothes. Through him, however, we are intro- duced to an Irish-American agitator, another shady person of the name of Finch, and Finch's daughter, Mrs. Martin, a lady of considerable matrimonial experience, whose dark allusions to her husband lead one to suppose that she has several. Now, when it is shown that the Squire's son has something upon his mind, that the Colonel's daughter is in love with the Squire's son, that the adventuress would not object to being again a widow, that Mr. Sam Rafferty owes money to the Irish - American, that Mr. Finch has designs upon his daughter's husband, that his daughter seems not to know who her husbands are or how many she has, and that the Virginian Colonel is too lazy to interest himself in that or any other question, it will be acknowledged that Mr. Snapper ought to have plenty to do. Mr. Snapper does nothing at all. When. a shriek is heard in Portheawl Castle, and the Squire is found stabbed to the heart, he does nothing but talk ; even when cheques are being forged for quite large amounts, he still continues to talk and hold mysterious conversations, always with the wrong people. Mr. Snapper is a most unsatisfactory person, and really does not deserve to have a novel called after him.

The character of the Philadelphian is hardly convincing. But none of the characters are. The best are those of the Colonel and his daughter ; there is less said about them, perhaps, than about the others, and they contradict them- selves less often, because they speak less frequently. Sam Rafferty, the disreputable politician, promises now and again to be amusing, but he always lapses into dullness at the critical moment. Daly, the Irish-American, is a perfectly impossible villain : no man of his apparent education and common-sense would have committed his crime for so singularly inadequate a motive, or could have committed it quite so clumsily. But Mr. Jennings inflicts the keenest disappointment upon his readers when he introduces them to the group of Birmingham Socialists. Here at least they may expect to get something interesting. Unfortunately, the introduction falls quite flat ; the Socialist meeting is as exciting as a missionary meeting, and as it has no bearing whatever upon the story, the reader may well ask what he has been taken there for. The Philadelphian is not a good novel. One half of it consists of cheap melodrama, and the other half of ill-fitting padding : it is only the simple, unpretentious style of the author that makes it even tolerable to read. That, we fear, is the highest praise that we can give it, unless we mention that it is extremely well printed and neatly bound.