AMONG the number of novels which are conventional while they are also extravagant, so that the excitement of the unex- pected has no share in the feelings with which they are read, a perfectly unconventional novel is a refreshing occurrence. The author of Lost Sir Massingberd began by providing the public with a treat of this kind :—no amount of practice would have led the reader to a correct solution of the missing baronet's fate until his biographer chose to clear up the mystery ;—and now he has done another startling thing. As an effort of imagination quite outside and apart from beaten tracks of fiction, Murphy's Master is more remarkable than its predecessor ; though the per- sons to whom the story relates are less interesting than in the former case, and the element of unexpectedness is used with quite equal effect.
Murphy's Master is a book not easy to criticise, because its merit lies in the dash, boldness, and originality of its plot, which ought to be described in support of that assertion. But neither the author of a clever story, nor any one of the readers to whom a reviewer may desire to recommend it, could possibly be grateful for having the story told in anticipation. Knowing this, and with a wholesome restraining remembrance of Mr. Wilkie Collins's protest against such a misuse of the critic's office, we will only say
* Murphy's Master, and other Stories. By the Author of "Lost Sir Maseingberd," &e. London: Tinsley Brothers. of the plot that it is interesting and ingenious to an uncommon de- gree, and that it is totally unlike any combination in fiction within our knowledge. The author has used his materials with consider- able lavishness ; when the story has been read through, one is sur- prised at its brevity, considering how very much there is in it. Many of the incidents—especially the central one, which indicates a situation but little inferior in strangeness to that of the intruder on The Coming Race or the visitor to Erewhon —might have been much more elaborately worked up. If the author has any more such pirate stories in reserve, he may produce them, well assured of a welcome, after such an appetising "taste," as his own Murphy would say, as he affords us in his sketch of the career of Maguire. He states in a note that the Buccaneer Regu- lations, which he quotes, and uses with admirable effect in his story, " were those in use with the famous Captain Bartho Roberta, who, with most of his gallant crew, was hung at Antigua." Employed in this context, they give an air of grim reality to a picture of life almost as terrible as that painted by Eugene Sue in his wonderful romance of the " Zebec," commanded by Pog, whose capture was the fixed purpose of the stern, penitent Commander of Malta, and the mission of that noble sable galley, " The Holy Terror of the Moors." A more curious conceit than the placing of a little community in the absolute power of a madman (Mur- phy's Master), supported by the unquestioning, unfailing devotion of the only man who never could be induced to believe him mad (Murphy himself), and who rules it by these pirate laws, has seldom been worked out by any novelist's brain.
Though he has not made as much of the strange combination he has conceived as he might have done, he has fully worked out the character, which is really, though not nominally, the most important point of the book. " Murphy " is an achieve- ment on which the author is to be congratulated. The failures in the drawing of Irish characters by English novelists may be almost reckoned by the number of their attempts. They miss the key-note; they produce preposterous caricatures, or silly sketches which bear no likeness to any originals anywhere. They make utter confusion of the " brogue," which they usually suppose to extend to the upper classes of Irish society, and they put forms of speech into the mouths of Irish peasants which they would not recognise, or even comprehend. Con- sequently, the reading of novels in which the conventional Irishman is introduced, is almost as great a weariness to the flesh and the spirit as the beholding of dreadful plays in which the conventional Irishman talks treason and sentiment, and makes jokes in a dialect which has no prototype between Donegal and Cape Clear. In books of this kind Irish people are made to say " belave," and "kape," and " praate," for "believe," and "keep," and priest," mistakes as impossible to any Irish person of any district as dropping his h's, or saying " vich " and " wery." Writers undertake to represent the peasant pronunciation without having mastered the first rule of its deflection from the standard, which is that ie and ee are never, while ei, ea, and e are almost
always mispronounced. No Irishman, out of a book or a
song, ever said " ye thafe of the world " or " no more St. Patbrick's Day we'll kape," or " I belave you ; " but most Irish peasants will declare that they are not " desavin', yer
honor," or they are proud to " sarve " you, while Lever's story of the commanding officer who horrified his men by ordering them to convey an unwashed brother-in-arms to the river, " and lave him there," has the point of probability. The failures in those minor respects which destroy similitude and flavour to the perception of readers who are familiar with the reality, are generally accompanied by failures as complete in the moral por-
traiture of the Irish peasant. There is a general tendency to ex- aggerate one or two salient points, and a general inability to com- prehend and convey the finesses which make up the complicated whole.
The author of Murphy's Master is a distinguished exception to the rule of failure in the delineation of Irish character.
Murphy is the masterpiece of the book. The character of the man has all the pathos of Lever's Tipperary Joe, with desperate unscrupulousness and dogged courage contrasting finely with the passionate weakness and absolute lack of intensity in the "Masther Frank," to whom Murphy sacrifices everything, for whom he literally lives and dies. He understands Frank Kavanagh perfectly, but that makes no difference to him ; the " dault " or foster-brother of the young master has no concern with his short- comings, but only with the saving of him in everything, the
defending of him through everything. There is plenty of supersti- tion in Murphy, but, on this point at least, no conscience, and yet there is sot the least tono4 of the imitation of " Danny Mann,"
which, from certain features of distant resemblance to Gerald Griffin's famous book in the mutual situation of master and servant, might be supposed to exist.
The author strikes the key-note of Murphy's character in the scene of his introduction to the reader. An exciting scene it is, when "Masther Frank" and his faithful servant are flying from their pursuers along a dark road on a wild winter's night, after a terrible scene which is destined to change the whole current of Frank Kavanagh's life. The silence has been long unbroken save by the sound of the blood mare's rapid hoofs and the wheels of the dog-cart,—at length it has grown oppressive, and Murphy speaks to his moody companion :— " • You'll be gottin' could, Masther Frank. Just put this about you.'- ' No wraps for me, Dick, to-night ; I feel, even as it is, as though my very necktie choked me. Besides, that's your own coat, my good fellow ; ' and he put aside the frieze that his companion offered him with a steady but gentle hand.—' Sure and why wouldn't it ? ' urged the other. ' Arun% I used to cold and such like ? Hayti% I been raked up hard from the cradle ? not like you, Masther Frank, though we fed at the same mother's breast.'—' We did so, Dick, but that's no reason why you should literally give me the coat off your back ; though I well know you would do more than that to servo me any day.'— 'Yes, a dale more, in troth.'—' And yet, why should you, Dick ? That sometimes puzzles me ; for really I've done little for you."- 'Nothin' at all, Sir, barrin' watchin' me, like a mother, for weeks, when nobody else would come nigh me, for fear of catchin' the spots. Nothin' at all, barrin' seem& me through that bad bit of work at Limerick sessions, when I'd never have seen ould Ireland again at all, at all, but for you speakin' up for me afore them all, in the court-house ! I owe you nothin' but life an' liberty, that's thrue for you, sir, and them's things that nobody values.'—' But my good fellow, I ran no personal risk in either of those things. I had been vaccinated, and was safe from the small-pox, and as for speaking up for you in the court-house, why, I was tarred with the same brush myself, and it would have been a mean and cowardly act, indeed, had I left you to bear the consequences of my own counsel: —' You're always right, Masther Frank. I dar' say, if the thing was properly put, you're more obligated to me nor I am to you. But in the manetime ' (here he changed his bantering tone for one of uncommon fervour and feeling), 'I'm your friend and servant—yes, just that, with the blessin' of God' (he took off his cloth cap, and made the sign of the cross) : 'drunk or sober, sound or sick, for life. I know it's foolish, sir' (for he saw the other was about to speak), but it's the same milk does it. It's stronger, by far, nor the same blood.'—A groan burst from the othor man's lips ; and he lashed the mare, who was already going at headlong speed.—' That was a nice thing to say to the young master, after what has happened,' muttered Dick to himself. • Holy Moses ! What an omadhawn I am !' " It is long before the hint conveyed in this reflection is cleared up, and then the retrospect is very skilfully managed. Throughout, Murphy's character is the chief interest, and its development is admirable, to the deeply pathetic end of the half gentle, half fero- cious, constant, jealous, revengeful, auspicious, brave, generous, scheming, disinterested, amusing, devoted, paradoxical being who partly follows, partly directs the fortunes of his master to their strange, eventful end, in an absolutely novel catastrophe. The short stories which follow Murphy's Master are clever and original, quite worthy of being rescued from oblivion by a reprint.