ME. JAMES'S CONVICT.
lit his present fiction Mr. James has left history, or manners that belonged to the past, and come down to the present day ; putting into one piece of goods the materials that have furnished other manufacturers with several distinct articles. Religion and Popery are represented by a hypocritical priest, who scruples not at any artifice or crime to forward the interests of the Church, and his own: but the courtly historiographer disavows any illiberal or personal intention ; he says in his preface, "I beg most distinctly to state, that I do not put forth this personage as a specimen of the Roman Catholic clergy, many of whom are the most estimable men I ever knew"—it is all done "in the way of business." There are politics, in the form of a Chartist conspiracy and insurrection, with an honest conscientious Radical for its head ; Mr. Norries the de- mocrat serving as a contrast to Mr. Filmer the priest. Then there are transportation, and the more striking parts of the life of a bushranger, with a little of the philosophy of penal discipline incidentally thrown into the dialogues. Lastly, there is the bold experiment of making the hero and lover "the Convict," and regularly transporting him : the success of which is scarcely proportioned to its boldness. It is true that the con- viction is only for manslaughter; it is true that Dudley is innocent, and the reader knows it ; it is also true that Mr. Filmer's arts are eventually exposed, Dudley's innocence is made patent to all the world, and he returns with "a free pardon" in his pocket : still there is something of the "penal settlement" sticking in the mind of the reader. One begins to perceive how transportation, critically speaking, may be "worse than death"; or it may be that Mr. Dudley, like many other heroes, is not a deeply interesting person in spite of his excellences, and excites but a humdrum kind of attention.
The idea is well enough designed for relief and variety, had it not failed in the way we speak of. Not only is the eternal commonplace dis- tress of lovers through the opposition of friends, the want of fortune, or some of those conventionalities that form the backnied theme for three volumes' rendered much less prominent, but there is a sort of double plot, with a libertine lord, borrowed no doubt from the old novel, though adapted to modern times. Then we have not too much of his lordship ; for attempting to carry off the second heroine, he is struck by her father, and, unintentionally, knocked over a lofty precipice. As Dudley,
whose family fortunes are under a cloud, has been acting as Lord Had. ley's travelling tutor, and had remonstrated with him on his improper conduct so that a sort of quarrel took place, Mr. Filmer is a'de by circum- stances and his influence over some of his flock to point suspicion upon Dudley and get him convicted of manslaughter.
The Convict is somewhat slow-going ; at least much space is occu- pied with few incidents, nearly half the book being employed in getting Dudley back from Sidney and winding up the affair. As a story, how- ever, it has a sustained readableness, though not much of striking inte- rest ; and may be recommended as fully up to James's average, although not equal to some of his best works. It possesses nicety of observation, sufficient variety of characters, and a species of measured propriety and naturalness, which indicate the author to be a man of sense as well as a man of the world : but the whole is done too much upon recipe, and argues the skill of habit rather than the result of care. We are told of occurrences to answer a purpose ; but they should have been more fully explained; nor, though the story reads well enough, will it bear thinking over. The two movits, circumstances seem insufficient for their purpose. The reader hears, indeed, of Filmer's hatred to Dudley ; but no reason is shown for it : nor does he conduct himself like an enemy at first. On the contrary, he appears inclined to forward his match with Eva Brandon, hoping to convert him. Even when he fails in this, there appears no reason for his trying to transport Dudley, because Eva is a Pro- testant, and not likely to desert her faith. Nor is the convict part of the story at all satisfying. For one man in a passion to kill another, even with a deadly weapon, is only manslaughter with sufficient grounds for passion ; it is manslaughter to kill another directly, though un- intentionally, when engaged in anything unlawful—as a prize-fight : but death following by accident from an angry blow is rather accidental death, and certainly not likely to be sentenced to transportation. The whole is full of weak points ; which Mr. James as a lawyer has felt, and huddled up.
However, it carries the scene to another hemisphere, and enables the author to introduce some subjects in the general style of Cooper, but without anything like imitation. The following is part of a scene of this kind. Dudley when transported gets so disgusted with the society about him, that he deserts, and determines to live in solitude. This he does not altogether manage ; for be meets a scientific traveller and a bushranger, while Mr. Norries the transported Chartist has settled in the neighbour- hood with a sort of half pardon. On Dudley's return from his first in- terview with the exiled patriot, he is tracked by the Aborigines : a spear had been thrown at him by an unseen hand, but he has reached an open plain in safety.
"By the time he had walked to within five or six hundred yards of the end of the savannah, the sun had gained great power, and the length of the shadows had diminished considerably. Before him lay some miles of country, neither exactly wood nor exactly pasture, but undulating, and broken with a number of scattered trees and large dumps of mimosas and cedars, together with thickets of various kinds of shrubs, and juniper bushes, rising to an unusual height. That there was one enemy at least near, Dudley had already proof sufficient; and the tract through which he had to pass before he could reach his mountain dwelling-place was undoubtedly well fitted for the attack of a subtle assailant. There were a thousand places, as he well knew—for he was now entering a country which he had frequently explored—whence a concealed enemy might hurl one of the trel mendons spears of the country without exposing himself even in the least degree. After short consideration, Dudley resolved to seek a resting-place at a little rising knoll in the savannah, shaded by two or three mimosas, and at the distance of frilly three hundred yards from the wood; hoping that if the savage who had been watching him were alone, he would get tired of waiting for an opportunity, and leave him to pursue his journey without further molestation. He seated himself, then, laying down his gun and the spear beside him, but not removing the axe from his belt, as it was there readier to his hand; and, taking out some pro- visions from his wallet, he began his frugal meal, still keeping a wary eye upon the country round. lie bad just finished the portion of food which he allowed himself, and had drank half the water contained in his gourd, when he thought he perceived a curious undulatory movement in the long dry grass at no great distance. The wind had fallen away, so that it could not be produced by that cause; and he felt sure that a snake, let its size be what it might, would have crept on its way without such evident signs of its progress. Turning his eye a little to the left, he saw the long grass agitated in a similar manner; and starting up at once, he cocked his gun again, and pointed it at one of the spots where the motion was apparent. The act of rising gave him a better view; and he now distinctly saw several dark objects moving towards him whenever the grass was thrown aside a little as they advanced. He hesitated an instant, unwilling to sacrifice human life: but, knowing that his own must depend upon decision—for both the spear which had been hurled at him, and the insidious method of ap- proach now adopted, showed that if they were men who were creeping up they must be enemies—he took his resolution, and, aiming well, fired at the object which had first caught his eye. "In an instant, with a wild yell, rose up six or seven tall and frightful savages, with long curly hair, bedaubed with grease and ochre. One, the moment he had reached his feet, fell back again amidst the grass-' but the others, poising their spears lightly for an instant,' discharged them all at once at Dudley, with an aim fearfully: accurate. The exceedingly brief pause they had made, however, to direct their missiles, gave him time enough to jump behind the nearest mimosa. Three spears passed on one side, one on the other, and two struck the tree, and tore off a large portion of the bark. The wanderer had but short time for consideration; for, after having cast their spears, the savages rushed on with clubs and other weapons of their own construction shouting and screaming wildly. Snatching up the spear of which he had possessed himself, Dudley set his back against the tree, aiming the second barrel of his gun at a tall, powerful man, who was the foremost, and seemed to be the commander of the party. His situation was des- perate indeed, but he determined to sell his life dearly. His gun made him cer- tain of one of the enemy; and he calculated that, what between the spear he held and his hatchet, he might bring down two more: but three still uninjured would remain even when this was accomplished; and, unable to throw the javelin with their force and precision, as soon as his gun was discharged, each savage had an advantage over him, which must in the end overpower resistance. The leader of the Natives, however, seeing the barrel of the fowling-piece directed towards him- self, and probably fully aware of its fatal effects, both from what he had seen that day and previous knowledge, halted suddenly, and then spoke a few words to his companions in their own tongue. The effect was instantaneous: the men sops- rated at once, and running round the clump of trees, with the second spear, which each carried, poised in their hands, prepared once mere to attack from a distance, and from every quarter, so that some one weapon was sure to take effect.
"Seeing that he must die, Dudley, still aiming at the chief, was dropping his
fipr on the trigger, when, to his surprise, the man fell back upon the ground wii a loud shriek; and Dudley might have been tempted to imagine that it was s feint to prevent him from firing, had he not at the same instant heard the sharp report of a gun, succeeded instantly by another; while, at the same moment, a second of the savages sprang high up Into the air, dropping his lance with a fear- ful yen. A loud cheer from the side of the low bushes followed instantly; and ihe assailants, finding themselves assailed by arms and numbers superior to their own, fled as fast as they could go, one of them throwing his spear in haste at Dudley before he went, but only grazing his shoulder slightly, in consequence of a hurried and ill-directed aim. "Thanking God for his preservation, Dudley turned towards the spot from whence the cheer he had heard proceeded, and beheld a party of five or six men advancing from the scrub. One was on foot, but all the rest were mounted; and Dudley, to his surprise, recognized in the pedestrian the vigorous form of Norries, whom he had thought full twenty miles away. The young wanderer advanced at once from under the mimosas to meet his deliverers; but as he came nearer, the aspect of one of the horsemen seemed familiar to his sight. Associations sweet and happy rose up which he had not suffered to visit him for years. Hopes un- defined and vague, but bright and glorious, swam before his eyes; and with a beat- ing heart and giddy brain, Dudley stopped, unable to take another step in advance."