THROUGH LONDON SPECTACLES.*
UNDER the title, Through London Spectacles, Miss Milman reprints a collection of papers on miscellaneous matters of literature and Nature, of which several have appeared at different times in our columns. The volume belongs to the class of books which appeal to readers a little out of the rush of up-to-date doings and thinkings,
people with leisure to spend on wayside beauties, fading memories, and imaginings too indefinite to be bodied forth in any of the full-blown forms of literature that amuse and instruct the busy van of our generation. It is a book of excursions into the country, into old books, old pictures, and
old songs, and of pleasant meetings by the way with vagrant fancies on the road to the world of poetry. We only wish the writer had not thought it necessary to put on a fictitious per- sonality and speak of herself as an old bachelor. For half the charm of informal causeries like these lies in their intimacy, in the feeling they give us of being tete-a-tete with an in- dividual mind that is telling us what it really thinks and
likes. For our own part, we are equally willing to be chatted to about books and trees and life by a man or a woman. But we rather like to know which it is ; and above all, we want to be quite sure—as indeed, in this case, we are—that the con- fidences of our friendly volume are genuine. Miss Milman's innocent artifice is rudely betrayed by her feminine name on the title-page, and more delicately by the unmistakably feminine (we use the word in no depreciatory sense) vein of sentiment running through her pages. We know that the old shooting-coat and the pipe have no existence in fact, and we get a little doubtful about the reality of that room overlooking
Green Park, where the author describes herself as kindling the torch of memory and "daily weaving webs of many colours that the night destroys." And that is a pity, for the description of it is very pleasant :—
"There is an old rosewood piano in one corner of my chief sitting-room, whose yellow ivories breathe forth echoes of great spirits that were once ' men of like passions as we are,' and are now disembodied harmonies ; the walls are almost hidden by book- cases, save for two panels on which hang priceless treasures,—a garden scene by De Hoogh, and a stretch of Silver streaming Themmes ' lighted by Turner's inimitable light. If I am lonely in spirit I enter De Hoogh's garden by the gateway in the brick wall, and there I find formal flower-beds and a long bowling- green, and short Dutchmen in broad velvet doublets and small- clothes, and fine lace ruffs, drinking out of long glasses or smoking phlegmatic pipes; or I sit on the river bank under beech trees touched with the early frosts of autumn, and watch the barges floating down with the tide, bathed in a flood of golden sunshine!'
Miss Milman advances a conceit which we are neither dis- posed to dispute or to endorse, that the beauties of the country are best appreciated by the dwellers in cities,—hence the meaning of her title :—
"It takes a winter of leaden skies and foggy airs, of a look-out over a leafless London park, to attune the senses of sight andl smell properly When I leave London by one station or I feel as if I were opening doors that look east, west,. north, or south."
Through these " open doors " she gives us glimpses in turn,— of Surrey, with its stretches of pines, and gaily coloured gardens ; of the broad cornfields of Salisbury Plain, with
"the lights and shadows chasing each other as
smiles come and go on a woman's face; " of the Cornish sea- board, with "its echoes of the poetry and romance of past ages," where we make acquaintance with a delightful vicar of , other days, who talked to the birds and believed in the evil- eye, and was good and true and manly and pious, and as much beloved as he ought to have been; and of Grasmere, where she sat among mountains and tarns and read Matthew Arnold's poetry, and made some good reflections on the differ- ence between it and that of Shelley. Here are some good stories from the Cornish sketch :—
" Tristram Pentire was 'the last of the smugglers ; ' it was in vain that Mr. Hawker [the good Vicar mentioned above] tried to persuade him that a revenue-officer or gauger' was a lawful authority. The Vicar found that in defending the law he had much offended the law-breaker. There had been divers parsons,' he • Through London Spectacles. By Constance ,Human. London: Smith, Elders assured me, in his time in the parish, and very learned clergy they were, and some very strict; and some would preach one doctrine and some another ; and there was one that had very mean notions about running goods, and said 'twas a wrong thing to do; but even he, and the rest, never took part with the gauger —never !' The waves beat fiercely on those pitiless cliffs, the scanty hedgerow-trees have their heads bent to one side by the prevailing south-westerly gales, and the tale of wrecks is large. In olden days the coastmen hung out false lights to lure ships on the rocks, and rejoiced when a good vessel went to pieces. I do not see why it is,' said a Cornish clerk one day, why there be prayers in the Buke o' Common Prayer for rain and for fine weather, and thanksgivings for them and for peace, and there's no prayer for wrecks and thanksgiving for a really gude one when it is come !' It was in those days that the minister of a parish is said to have held a leathern while his congrega- tion effected 'a landing,' and that a cargo of kegs was hidden under the benches of the church. We bribed the sexton,' so the legend ran, 'and we had the goods safe in the seats by Saturday night. The parson did wonder at the large congregation, for divers of them were not regular churchgoers at other times ; and if he had known what was going on, he could not have preached a more suitable discourse, for it was, "Be not drunk with wine. wherein is excess." One of his best sermons ; but there, it did not touch us, you see, for we never touched anything but brandy or gin."
The entirely literary papers tell us about Sir Thomas Browne, the Duchess of Newcastle, Miss Burney and Miss Edgeworth, Charles Lamb's plays, and Old Ballads and Famous Tunes. But literary matters creep into most of the sketches, and so does an element of speculative philosophy of life and character. Some charming little poems scattered among the papers make not the least attractive pages of what is altogether a very pleasant and companionable little book.