13 JANUARY 1906, Page 24


In the Country of Jesus. Translated from the Italian of Matilde Serao by Richard Davey. (W. Heinemann. 6s. net.)—There is much in this book to charm the reader. Madame Serao, for all her pessimistic realism as a novelist, is possessed with the spirit of devotion. She realises intensely the sacred associa- tions of the scenes which she visits. They touch her heart with joy and grief. It is no fictitious or conventional emotion that she expresses. It is not only that she does not doubt; these things, it is made abundantly clear, are a part of her very life. And yet she is quite capable of having a hearty laugh when something bizarre or incongruous crosses her path. Altogether, her experiences, as she tells them simply and in evident good faith, are most attractive. But it is impossible not to be struck by her curious ignorance of what one would suppose every visitor to the Holy Land would be sure to know. It can hardly be, for instance, that she has ever read the Gospel of St. John. She gives a detailed account of the Virgin Mother's movements during the last scenes of the Saviour's life ; but she makes no mention of her having been committed to the care of the Beloved Disciple. On the contrary, she tells us that the Virgin "continued to live in the house of the Apostle Thomas, who surrounded her with filial devotion in memory of his Master until her death." Possibly the New Testament is not easily accessible in Italy. And her know- ledge of the Apocryphal histories is not accurate. The "De Transitu Marine" expressly says that Thomas was not present at the Virgin's death, though he was privileged to see her ascension to heaven and to receive her girdle as a token of blessing. Again, we read here that Mary Magdalene, with other Disciples, fled in a fishing boat from Palestine to Provence. The story in its early form (not before the ninth century) is that they were put by persecutors in a boat without oars and sails, and that this found its way to Marseilles. Gregory the Great says that the Magdalene, died at Ephesus.