CHESTERLEIGH.* IT seems a pity that authors who can write
well and graphically about working people, who know the sort of opinions they hold and the language in which they clothe their thoughts, and have caught so admirably their manner that we feel they could personate them with telling effect, should prefer writing of Earls and Countesses and the great world, about which they frequently know too little to venture beyond what may safely be predicted of any persons of wealth and education. But the public is to blame for this in great measure. Alton Locke is not so popular as Coningsby, nor perhaps even Adam Bede as Pelham. Readers love to feel important, in imagination, with the great ones of the land, to arrive with the noble hero as the dressing- bell rings, and to hurry down the broad staircase, and cross the velvet pile of the rich carpet to pay their respects to the noble hostess, just as the butler announces that "dinner is served ;" or as more cautious authors—uncertain even on these small matters, and without the courage to invent a fashionable world of their own—regretfully and reluctantly put it, " just as dinner is announced." And yet in honesty we must own that we have a fellow-feeling with the multitude in this matter ; that stories which open with Manchester operatives or village carpenters demand a certain amount of resolution to overcome the distaste to what is dully familiar, or, which is worse, coarse, or sordid. There is a charm about the external refinement of high social position, and a still greater charm when all the shifts and subterfuges of straitened circumstances find no place in the wealth as well as rank of the actors ; and if, in addition, an author has the taste, and the skill, as well as the principle, to add the true refinement of the heart, he will make his book pleasant and acceptable to the average reader, even though he have no great amount of originality and little insight into charac- ter,—far pleasanter, probably, to those who take up a novel to escape for a time from care and anxiety, than if it abounded with the most powerful descriptions of the workings of the Inman heart
and the clashing of social interests. It is this refinement that makes the attraction of Chesterleigh, and Miss Conyers probably gauged rightly the calibre of the average—that is the. paying—novel reader, when she made her \Vest-country farming class, which she seems to know well, subsidiary to the Earls and Countesses whom she probably knows only through the medium of novels. Nevertheless, the spirit of a true aristocracy is in Miss Conyers. Her great people are not only great, but gentle and generous,—they are noble in'the highest as well as in the con- ventional sense. We wish all peers were as brave and pure and simple as Usk and George ; and all their wives and daughters as full of sweetness and grace and quiet courage as the Countess and Lady Grace. And if there is nothing very characteristic and individual about all these ladies and gentlemen, at any rate, with one exception, there is nothing unnatural or absurd, unless, per- haps, the ready tears of the gentlemen, by which Ansley Conyers most innocently betrays her sex. That exception is the shy, velvety, little widow, Mrs. Vivian Carbery, with the drooping eyelids and the soft voice. Not that her character is an ex- aggeration, for, alas! there are plenty of beseeching eyes that lure to destruction, and soft voices that whisper away character • Cheeferkigh. By Ansley Conyers. London: Henry S. King and Co. with such plausible pitifulness, that the very victim will fancy himself only too kindly handled, though with a confused sense that something is wrong, and that he is getting into undeserved trouble. The careless remark and the careful misconstruction, the quite unconscious innuendo, the friendly intercession that naively reveals new causes of suspicion, the preferring of charitable explanations that suggest the more likely uufavourable ones, such wiles and arts are as familiar to anyone who has known a fair and skilful intriguer, as they are utterly undefinable, and altogether
intangible to the hand that would grapple with them. All these are personified with consummate ability in Mrs. Vivian Carbery, and with an ability no less remarkable her plans are arranged and worked out on our hero, whose autobiography forms the story, and who is the unhappy object of her dangerous attentions. " I felt that the Earl had been unjust, but when I reflected how insignificant matters had told strongly against me, how trifling incidents had risen up weighty and important to condemn me, I could not discover where exactly the injustice lay. Some mysterious web had entangled me, till I was unable to break through its intricate and insidious meshes." The extent and daring of this lady's machinations, how- ever, seem so devilish as to be the rightful property only of Miss
Braddon and her disciples. 1Vith a coronet in prospect, it is implied that she puts destruction in the way of her husband, and by side-
winds endeavours to compass also that of the two lives that stand between her lover and his inheritance. We have, however, a good• deal too much of her soft sighs and the assumed distress with which she angles for the sympathies, devotion and assistance of all the gentlemen of her court, admirably as all this is done. Another less striking improbability is the grievous moral cowardice of the hero in retaining a secret which he was pledged to divulge, because he could not bear to witness the distress of his friends. And• nature is outraged in the picture of loving forgiveness instead of righteous indignation with which the disclosure is met by his friends when at last it is forced from him. But the great defect of the book is the want of individuality in the principal personages, excepting only Mrs. Vivian Carbery. They are all good and kind and noble, with gentleness and impulsiveness in different proportions ; but they are types, and not individuals.
Lady Grace and her brother Lord Usk have perhaps the most character ; she has endurance as well as sweetness, and principle as well as emotion and impulse, and more reticence, and fewer tears.
Usk, too, is very nicely drawn,—the dreamy, cultivated enthusiast, with far more will than strength to do good, but always acting up to his ideal, and never letting the delicacy of his health burden or pain his friends, or interfere with action, when the influence of his position, or still more paramount duty seems to call for efforts of physical strength.
But " why these weeps ? " as Artemus Ward has it. We cannot quite forgive Miss Conyers for making her men so frightfully lachrymose. Towards the conclusion of the third volume the pages are, metaphorically speaking, blotted all over with tears. At p. 107 the tutor "leans on the table and bursts into tears," at p. 147 Lord Usk does exactly the same, at p. 158 " his frame shakes with sobs ;" at p. 109 it is the tutor's turn, and he "drives back the rising tears," at p. 189 Usk's " breast heaves " and his " tones are tremulous with emotion," while over-leaf, at p. 190, the tutor is "pour- ing out hot tears," and at p. 195 he " can hardly restrain his brimming tears ;" finally, at p. 278 two middle-aged men mingle their tears ; the once tutor "struggles through his blinding tears," while " the drops are glistening " in the eyes of his friend. We
do not deny that the events that call forth all this demonstration
are as sad as it is possible to be, and they are related with so much power and feeling that they are really touching and pathetic ; moreover, the friendship between the two men is exceptionally, though by no means unnaturally, strong, and is beautifully described—it is, in fact, the feature of the book—nevertheless, the fountain of tears in men is not so near the surface, and Miss Conyers is only tempting ridicule of her admirable work in ignoring this fact of our harder susceptibilities. Of the other characters in the higher ranks, Mrs. Maynard, Nelly Loughton, and Lord Glentmore come next in interest, but there is no denying that our authoress's real province is in a more humble rank. Ilerpoor people are individual pictures, characteristic, natural, and humor- ous,—alas! that we have only the slightest and most passing glimpses of most of them. The centenarian farmer, the valetudinarian vicar, the London lodging-house landlady ; and better still, the village carpenter, Lord Usk's valet, the old clergyman and his wife, and. their older gardener, are all worthy of far more development and amplification, and we should feel that we had done the public good service if any words of ours could induce Miss Conyers to 'divert her talents into this much richer vein. We shall take our extracts from the rambling remarks of the vicarage gardener, an old Yankee. The occasion is the return of our hero to his home at the vicarage after taking his degree
! Mr. Edmund. Thar ! I guess you're jist what's upmost of my thoughts ! " This day," as I says, fust thing to the reverend marstor," is what we living to soo has to thank God for. I 'sped," say:, I, " we 's going to have the bolls rung out, like we has royal 'canons." ' I burst into a laugh at the idea of this degradation of the village peal. There yor are ! Why, there arn't one of them almighty ones fit for holdin' a candle to yer, Mr. Edmund, with them innumerable forrin tongues, puttin' aside of yer being a fustrate magician. There's Cobb, flown at the smithy, has got a pretty, smart ides for such a rough trade. "Bless yer, Master Tummas," says he, "I've heered a good sight regardin' them honourables at Oxford, through Brother Will bein' pren- ticed with a tailor there. There arn't nothin' they carn't do, from recknin' up a tonpenny sum to tellin' you what come to pass afust this here wicked world was what it is. Thom holds the head tarnaticn high, and don't regard a hundred pound bill more than yer do a fourpenny score ; tarn't possible to 'em considerin' tradesfolk more as if them was so much dirt. "Hang me!" says he, blaspheming with the ungodly, "if I wouldn't have the bells rung out a good on, 'spite the vicar, God bless him !" ' Thomas put down the seeds he had been sorting, clasped his hands behind him, and looked at me for an answer.—. Well, really,' said I, in a loud voice ; 'I'm much obliged to Cobb, but we'll put off the bells, till I bring home a wife, as I suppose I shall some day or other.'— Thomas shook his head, and snatched up the parcels again. That's allus yer way, I reckon, but to my thinking the gift of tongues and being a fustrate magician is more worthy of bolls than any woman living.' At this moment, the huge, sandy cat, who had awoke and stretched himself, recognised his old playfellow, and sprung upon my shoulder. Thar, Dandelion, down, cat, down!' cried his master ; carn't yer keep claws off? Ye've no more manners to yer than a savage, wild boast, a-seasoning of his prey.' I excused the indiscretion of my enthusiastic friend, and inquired after the other pots. The critturs ! Wal ! they're as God made 'em. and there arn't one too many for a sorter that arn't got book-larnin' and the Scriptures to feller, and didn't know a church-bell from a blacksmith's hammer 'fore I come here, through not being ceremonies where I was raised. If 'twarnt for the critturs, days would hang dull winter-time, for, yer see, miscue won't have a pipe nigh the premises, 'cause of sparks in the thatch, and twouldn't look 'spectable for the reverend gentleman's gardener to be liquoring at the public, long of village chaps.'—' I'm afraid you've never managed to read the Bible my mother gave you,' ventured I.—' Thar ! I guessed you was comin' to that ; but book-larnin' arn't to he got my time of life, as I says to the reverend lady preachin' the Scriptures over me. As to me dein' it, what's knowing only of green things of the earth, and got the use of beasts with no more edication than what larns 'em the way to their mouths, 'tarn't possible. Yer see, a man's head don't grow bigger with all his larnin, and there arn't place for all sorts an it, one sort carn't come in when t'others there already ; yer carn't fix Iwo sorts in one square of room, 'tarn't possible yer should ; and I 'spect them fustrate lamed folks of yours can't get over that noways."
At Mr. Edmund's next return home, after securing a tutorship at an earl's, the old Republican is by no means so complimentary :—
" 'Wad, Mr. Edmund,' he answered snappishly to my salutation, as he rested from his work, and wiped his brow ; 'yer goin' aster the .almighty of the earth, are yer? So, the reverend vicar, full of his pride, says. But t'arn't no glory to them, I reckon ; we arn't got them
• snares of Satan in Americay. The Lord God made 'em ekul, male and female ; and t'arn't possible to 'em, goin' against Him, which is over all, and bein' lords and kings over their brethen, savin' through devils.'
Oh ! Thomas ! Thomas !' interrupted my mother, shaking her head at her incorrigible pupil ; how can you talk so, after the times I've read you the books of Kings and Judges ?'—' What was devoured of worms through glorifying himself ! Warn't that through devils? No, no, t'arn't no good with lords and rulers, Mr. Edmund ; but a snare of Satan to them trespassin' through pride.'—' I'm only going to be tutor to his lordship's sons, so I'm not very likely to get too proud,' I answered, laughing.—' Tarn't possible to yer avoidin' it,' growled Thomas, more and more sullenly ; sojournin' with the mighty, and abidin' in great cities where is naught savin' ungodliness and works of Satan.'—' Edmund, dear, do come along,' whispered my mother, trying to draw me away as she moved to another bed. She had grown more nervous about exciting Thomas's prejudices on some points, than hope- ful of converting him. But I, with all the confidence of youth, was
resolved to push the point ' Help me in my garden!' he ex- claimed ; ' Lord have marcy on us ! T'arn't possible to yer what mocks and flatters, in kings' houses, loppin' of trees, and hoein' of tares with them delicate, vain, light-coloured garments of yours, and a ring to either hand, what is a snare of Satan to them takin' to 'em. I can see yer.' " We would gladly introduce the old clergyman and his wife, the carpenter and the valet, if we had space ; they are well worthy of our readers' acquaintance, who must manage the introduction for themselves. But why will our authoress make her readers shrink from such terrible grammar as this?—" ' Why, George,' added Usk, if that's Harold, it [a fourth person] was certainly not him.'—' Not him,' I echoed.—' I tell you its him,' shouted George ;'" and these are two noblemen and their Oxford tutor ! We are sorry to conclude with an unfavour- able criticism, for we have gained much enjoyment from the book ; but the style and thought are worth English and grammar equally refined and cultivated, and we could point out at least three dozen instances in which these are more or less seriously defective.