15 MARCH 1873, Page 15


IT is seldom that we have laid down a book with a more hopeless feeling of inability to detect and explain our reading of its theory of life. It expresses with so much power the cynical, the sceptical, the passionate, and self-willed views of the objects and aims of human existence, that it is necessary to recall constantly the truly religious one which crops up here and there in a single passage, and which is expressed in the conclusion, to realise that the writer does not largely partake herself of the rebellious spirit which she de- scribes with so much force and true appreciation, and which, in forms so different as those of headstrong passion, or cautious selfishness, or scientific indifferentism, inspire and actuate her admirably drawn characters. Another element of difficulty in judging rightly of the book is its great length, and the great space of time and the number of countries over which it is spread, so that it is almost impossible to consider the story as a whole,— the earlier part is so forgotten, and its interest is so subordi- nated to that of the latter, before we close the book. The translation, though we have read translations more thoroughly and easily_English, and though the meaning has been occasion- ally missed, and the grammar is not absolutely perfect, is very spirited ; and nothing can be happier than the air of life and reality in the conversations which are so important a feature in the book,—in these the stiffness and the un-English form vanish almost entirely. But notwithstanding the power and cultivation and various information of the author, and the scholarship and taste of the translator, it is a tedious book. Thoroughly German in its love of rhapsodising on all sorts of transcendental, mystical, vague speculations as to the meaning of one's life, it demands our close attention—as first one and then another aspect presents itself to the author's mind—or if we think to skim lightly over these parts, we not only lose the thread of the story, which is often cleverly revealed in remarks put into the mouth of the speaker merely as illustrations of theories advanced, but we get wrong altogether as to the prin- ciples which the authoress herself holds in reverence. She gives us no hint of them in the opening story, and, even with the most careful reading, her love for and sympathy with her own creations are so warm and genuine that it is difficult not to fancy that she is speaking to us through them, and difficult therefore not to lose the lesson which she most wishes to teach, namely, that no departure from Christian law, however it may seem to be in consonance with the most natural and ardent impulses of our being, can bear other than bitter and lasting fruit. And it is no inconsistency that our authoress has selected only one of her char- acters for chastisement, and let many others apparently escape the effects of their disregard of moral law, since she has not pretended to follow up closely the consequences of their actions or the work- ings of their minds, but has confined herself, for illustration, to a very vivid picture of the life of her hero, and his grand though arrogant self-discipline. But such passages as the following, come upon accidentally, mislead even with careful reading, unless you follow the clue to the end And was he to have pity and to feel repentance because he had killed one who had broken into the sanctuary of his happiness, to make his consecrated image a disgrace and a dishonour ? What to him was the law of a world which tolerates every domestic outrage, which declares to him, with a thousand miserable examples, that that woman was not worth the powder he expended in her behalf ! Blood for blood ! Had he not also perished ? His youth, his mind, his honour, freedom, happiness ! And was he to atone for his deed, and to wash his blood-red heart white with tears of repentance? The milk of human mercy was not for him. Who had spared him? Who had regarded him? Farewell, happiness ! Thou and I are to know each other no more. That is atonement and expiation enough!'" Or even this vigorous passage, and such as this, ignorant as we still are of the opinions of their author :- "' When there are two who both wish for something, there is war, and it all hinges on which one tramples down the other at the fitting time, so that he may not stand in his way. Have and take ! All men worry and hack each other just for this. Whoever has got the thing in his hands is right, and if he can only hold it long enough, is even right in the eye of the law. And now, Jan, I will tell you something, so that you may get the better of superstition, know what you will, and do not let yourself be dumbfounded with all sorts of legends and ghosts. Who has seen the good God ? Who knows anything of him ? How is ft in the world ? And yet it is put into a man's head that something is to come after him, when he is dead and is rotting like carrion. Since I have come to reason and have looked about me in the world, I have seen that a man comes to nothing when ho is not wise and cannot watch for himself. Almighty God is never there at the right time.'"

These misconceptions are still more possible in the cynical teachings of the refined sceptic, Count von der Goerde, or the epicurean ones of the musician Klaren :-

t Johannes Olaf. By Elizabeth de Wille. Translated from the Herman by F E. Bunntw. London: Henry S. King and Co. "The man who denounces the lovely deceptions of the senses, and the play of witty perceptions, who wishes to induce me to look eternal things seriously in the face, inspires me with a sort of horror. Name who you will of serious fanatics—Luther, Calvin, and other vigorous natures—who were not satisfied with this transitory being, but must implant into man, as the impelling power, all sorts of supersensual, mystical, divine, or devilish influences; I come back to passion, which is more human in its mode of action. Conceive a man who is seriously anxious about the welfare of his soul—a soul which is lodged in this bodily shell amid crime, folly, and nothingness! All the uncomfortable horrible legends have risen in this way."

'It is superfluous to let it bo seen that one has a soul, the rights of which are a purely private matter. In fact, one might say, that he who emphasises his soul, lays stress upon a thing the existence of which, in and for itself, you, as a physician and natural philosopher, must at any rate question, if you do not absolutely deny it. You be- long to the new school? That is a matter of course. You will have passed through different phases of philosophical development, and will have arrived at definite conclusions. I am not acquainted with that ground. Refinement of mind, taste, hearing, feeling, all that belongs to aesthetics, is of a different kind.'—' Man is not to cast his pearls be- fore swine. The words and the doctrine are old,' said Johannes.—The Count seemed somewhat astonished. This mode of expression pleases me, Doctor Olaf,' he said. You and I shall understand each other. I have, at any rate, not to fear, in intercourse with you, that I shall hear a monotonous echo of my ideas from your lips. We will not quote the Bible further. I am convinced that you are my superior in this knowledge, as in every other. I am not displeased at it ; such as we have no time !'"

We have dwelt thus much on the fear that the book may be mis- read, partly because its vagueness is a great defect, but chiefly because works of this kind, fascinating to ardent temperaments, shed a sort of halo round the life of single-minded, earnest, pas- sionate natures that blinds to the ill- tutored, ill- disciplined impulses of the beings it glorifies.

As a story, and barring the constant and wearying interrup- tions of the metaphysical speculations, and melancholy, rebellious monologues referred to, it is interesting as well as powerful. The authoress is as well acquainted with places as character, and is as great on the wild shores of the German Ocean as in the worldly wisdom of the Count, in the groves and gardens of the Gulf of Genoa as in the counsels of the Friesland smuggler. The life of an Iceland sage, a Norwegian peasant proprietor, an Eoglish nobleman, a Friesland schoolmaster, a Hamburg widow, a Schleswig-Holstein bailiff, an Italian count, a German student, or a freebooter of the North Sea seem equally known, to our experienced authoress. Every sketch she draws is so full of life and reality that a doubt of the veracity of her descriptions never even occurs to us, and we follow her from the low-lying islands of the Friesland coast, and her graphic description of their fatal and terrible inundation, to the great fire of Hamburg, and the dismay and disorganisation of its citizens, with unflagging interest. The wrecker's bold and wicked life amidst the storms of the cold North Sea, the wolf-hunt in Norway in the opening spring, the scenes in the dreary castle of the Friesland Count or in his forester's cottage, or at the residence of the Holstein bailiff,—half- hospital as it was,—on the skirts of the battle-fields of Denmark and Holstein fifteen years ago ; the German students' summer picnic on the banks of the Elbe,—all and many more leave as strong an impression of truth and fidelity as of picturesqueness and beauty or grandeur. And yet there is an absence of some one in the story thoroughly to admire and love. Johannes does not supply this want, for with all his nobleness and fortitude and striving after the highest, he is too moody and self-reliant, too reticent and jealous of sympathy or intrusion, for us to love, to say nothing of his impulsive passion, which prepares his own bitter bed, and which then groans over the injustice of fate which obliges him to lie on it. Nor is Franziska perfectly loveable, for she gives herself up too much Us her unsought love, and pursues with far too mush unmaidenly boldness and unscrupulous deception her object of defending and rescuing her beloved for our, perhaps, mean-spirited and conventional ideas. Nor does either of them follow what we English should deem the right course when they meet in mature years, long after she has become a wife and a mother. The adventures of Johannes are startling enough to be thought at first eight riden- lonely improbable, but this is a trifling defect, —if, indeed, it is one at all,—for his life is consonant entirely with his restless, dissatis- fied, independent character ; indifferent to danger, encased in a body of extraordinary power, full of the blood of the Vikings, and seeking with an ardent longing something better and more beauti- ful than anything he had yet known to which to devote his life. How and where he finds this at length we will leave our readers to discover.

The characters are various and striking. Johannes' beautiful mother, with the strange and inconsistent pride of a thoroughly grand but uncultivated nature ; the heavy, kindly smith ; the thoughtless, dreamy artist, neglecting his pupils and his health' alike; the worldly-wise and self-indulgent Count, and his respectful, but reserved and scornful and far nobler son ; the craven, sensual diplomat ; the esthetic musician ; the gigantic, learned Iceland. archaeologist; the venomous, wicked, hypocritical, dare-devil sea captain ; the good, matter-of-fact, careful Hamburg widow, with her family pride and her limited income, and several others, as well as the three central figures, are all drawn from life, with no- touch of exaggeration that we can discover. Of all these,,perhaps the Count von der Goerde is the most original and amusing; indeed, in his quiet cynicism is all of humour that the book pos- sesses, but this is genuine humour, and enough to show that the authoress could display much more if she chose. We wilt close with a short passage of great tenderness, —the closing scene- of the life of the fair but frail mistress of the latter She opened her eyes, and when she saw him she took his hand and pressed it between her own ; and the faded flower she was holding fell from her fingers. She placed his hand under her cheek, as though she would make it her pillow ; and she did this with a true-hearted cer- tainty, as if she had a sacred and highest right to it. She did not speak to him, in word or allusion, of what she had been, or of how she had sinned ; her lips occasionally slightly moved, but he understood not what she said. At last he caught a few Italian words; it was a verse of the song with that strongly-plaintive melody, which she had sung on that first evening in Genoa, when ho had been so near her, and had only been separated from her by a wall. Was it an evil spirit that- had led him thus across her path? How different all would have been,. for him and for her, had they met at that time? She had the repose of a child in dying, just as during her life she had had the incomplete- ness and vagueness of a child in heart and mind. This child-like repose seemed now a time of peace and reconciliation. Johannes' hand lay under her cheek till it grew cold and colder. Towards midnight he closed her eyes, and kissed the pale lips, for the first and for the last time since that day when he called her his, in full belief of the eternity of his happiness. The chill, damp breath of death froze on his lips as he touched her, and he spread the white linen sheet over the corpse of his dead love."