DAYS OF YORE.* Citoyenne Jacqueline earned for its author a
foremost place among living English novelists. Readers and critics were alike surprised into admiration of the brilliant yet sterling merits of a work coming from a pen previously almost entirely unknown. It was necessary, to be sure, for the honour of the critics' craft to find some few faults with Miss Tytler's performance, so some reviewers objected to the Gallicism of style, others discovered in- coherences in the plot, and more inconsistencies in some of the characters ; but through all this official snarling there ran an undertone of very sincere, if somewhat surprised, admiration, which found a general expression in genuine and warm praise. Indeed the qualities which Miss Tytler displayed in that romance are too rare not to be highly prized, wherever we meet with them. Rarer now, truly, than at any former period in our literary annals is that delicacy of feeling and of expression which alone can analyze, and unfold, and delineate the subtler shades of character ; rarer, too, the industry to master thoroughly all the conditions of a past phase of society, and the energy of imagination to make that past live to the writer and to the reader ; rarer, above all, that temperance of power which restrains itself from flooding the pictures it has carefully and artistically drawn with the garish blaze of sensationalism. In Citoyenne Jacqueline Miss Tytler showed that this delicacy, this industry, this imaginative vitality, this chastened simplicity of workmanship, were hers in an eminent degree.
The volumes before us, consisting mainly, we take it, of maga- zine tales and sketches—indeed we recognize some old favourites-- will scarcely add to Miss Tytler's fame. They are too slight in substance to be fair specimens of her capacity. In fact we are inclined to think that the time and talent spent upon short pieces like those gathered together in Days of Yore is in most cases wasted. For though every quality of merit which was conspicu- ous in Citoyenne Jacqueline is apparent here also, yet it is plain that the limit of twenty or thirty pages is too narrow. There is not, there cannot be scope, for the development of character, or even for accurate historic painting; the tales therefore in these volumes, though delightful sketches, are but sketches. There are one or two exceptions, however, on which we shall have presently a word or two to say.
We have freely acknowledged Miss Tytler's powers as an his- torical romancist, but we cannot help thinking that some parts of Days of Yore affords an additional and very cogent warning to authors of this class against venturing into certain fields. We never remember to have read a novel relating to the early period of English history which was not conspicuous either for an absolute falsity to historic truth or for a wearying, unreal stiffness. Scott's Normans and Saxons, for instance, resemble the real dwellers in England under the Plantagenets about as closely as Rasselas resembled the Abyssinian chief of Bruce's Travels. Lord Lyttou and Mr. Kingsley go into the other and worse extreme. Under the thick lacquer of antiquarian erudition—not so thick but that the modern life peeps out now and then—the characters move as stiffly and look as little like life as the pasteboard pup- pets in a booth at a country fair. The first tales in these volumes are of the latter sort, and are only rescued from dullness by some of the finest descriptions of scenery we have ever read. Miss Tytler, we feel as we read, loves the broad moor and wave-lashed coast almost as Wordsworth loved the mountains.
As far as Days of Yore is concerned, English and Scotch life in the last century seems to be the material in which Miss Tytler works most freely and successfully. True, the Kermis, or Great Fair of Rotterdam, is touched off charmingly in one of the two sketches called " Old Gatherings," but it is by no means equal in liveliness to its pendant, "The Old Yoemanry Weeks." The Irish
• Days of Yore. By Sarah Tytler, Author of Citoyenne Jacqueline. Two rob. London: A. Stolen. 1865.
tale " Judy " is rather a failure. Ireland of those past days has clearly not lived to the imagination of Miss Tytler, nor does it live to her readers. But with these exceptions, though there is small room for incident or character in most of the tales, all are interest- ing, and all give sure promise of capacity for higher work.
" Ringan Cockburn" is perhaps the best of the tales whose interest depends on the story, and is very well told. But those in which the interest of the story is slight are mostly the best. "Twofold," the affecting sketch of the crippled girl Susie, is filled with a sympathy of the truest and most literal sense, and at the same time with a cheerfulness and calm. Its closing words are very noble and true
"Yes ! are not joy and sorrow close twin brethren, like the great twin brethren of old Rome? Do they not often come to us thus Janus- faced and twofold, though we for a while see but one of them ? Have we not often too good reason not to be over happy, like Tib? If some of us saw the end of our sources of happiness would we not weep salt tears? And is it not true at the same time that, on the bitterest trouble, the cruelest pang, God and time, if we but wisely wait, will pour gracious balm ?"
"Cam's Brand," a story on the same subject as Miss Mulock's A Life for a Life, but handled in the present instance, to our mind, far more skilfully and delicately than in that novel, has also the merit of containing some of the finest descriptive pas- sages in the book. The following will, in some small measure, enable the reader to judge of Miss Tytler's picturesque treatment of her subject :—
" The frost had come early, strong, and stern on those highlands of the Lowlands, those moors of the South. The ' lustre deep ' at twilight and dawn, the imperial Tyrian dye at noon, the glorious orange and purple and grey at sunset and sunrise, which, once known and loved, man never forgets nor woman either, all would be swept away this year, and Joanna regretted it. She liked the flower garden, but after all the garden was tame to the moor. The moon seasons were at best short— short the golden flush of its June, short the red gleam of its September. Not that the Lowland moor has not its dead frosted grace in its winter winding sheet, and its tender spring charm when curlews scream over it incessantly. But Joanna had never seen the autumn so short as this year ; and she had heard them tell that in the fall when poor Mr. Jardine was killed the heather remained bright till November.
It was quite early in the morning, a hail shower lying all around, though the sky was a deep sapphire blue, with the wan ghost of the moon lingering on the horizon, and the atmosphere bitter cold. Joanna was walking along, feeling cheerful, though she was in that neighbourhood, and vaunting to herself that their moor was in- finitely superior to a park, when a grey object caught her eye lying be- yond some whin bushes, a thing raised above the ground, but stretched still and motionless. Joanna stopped with a strange thrill. No ! It was not on that piece of earth; but so must he have lain on that disastrous morning, far removed from the abundance and garnered goods and heartiness of harvest."
The turn of this last sentence is an echo of Mr. Ruskin. Taken as a whole, the picture is one which even that great master of word-painting need not disdain to own. Still finer and more vigorous, but too long for quotation, is the description of the coast of Fife early in the first volume.
Incomparably the best of these tales, " On the Stage and Off the Stage," we remember to have read with enjoyment some years ago in the Cornhill Magazine. A tale of English life in the last century, it is in a measure a guide towards the field for Miss Tytler's powers. This tale and another, " A Coat in the Waggon," not only exhibit very clearly the masterly matter in which Miss Tytler can paint the English of a hundred years ago, but prove that she is gifted with a power of appreciating and drawing contrasts of character even finer though less elaborate than she used in Citoyenne Jacqueline. The meditative mood into which Miss Tytler rather frequently falls in these eighteenth- century reminiscences, a mood between pathos and geniality, is very like that delightful behind-the-scenes chit-chat with which Thackeray indulged his readers so often. Indeed, if Miss Tytler were seriously to undertake a great work, to which we entirely believe her to be equal, and to make our great grandfathers and great grandmothers live before us once more, we would welcome very heartily the fruit of her labour, and give her work an honoured place beside Esmond and The Virginians.