A ROMANCE OF SOCIETY AND POLITICS.*
THE " Right Honourable" of this story—to which the novel interest of collaboration of a kind more exceptional than that of MM. Erckmann-Cbatrian attaches—is a statesman who, like Lord Sherbrooke and Mr. Childers, has had his political training in an Australasian Colony, and returns to England to fulfil his ambition by attaining a great place in Imperial political life at its centre. His name is Sandham Morse—not an English- sounding name, although he is an Englishman—he has a strong likeness to Napoleon, and be is the most interesting man we have found in a novel for a longer time than we can define offhand. He interests us, too, thus fully and deeply, in spite of a slight adverse prepossession to start with, arising from his being a little too much described ; and Koorhli, the heroine of this romance of society and politics, the lovely Colonial girl, sketched in by one of the authors, and touched up with the peculiarly refined and dexterous skill of the other, never has a chance as against him. She is very nice, and her unworldly nature, which is also receptive, adaptive, and wholly free from pretence or pretension, is charming; she is natural, drawn without exaggeration, and there is in her story the unfailing pathos of an unsuitable marriage and an unavail- ing, blameless, never-acknowledged love ; but she does not take hold of the reader as Sandham Morse does. There is rather too much about her slenderness, her paleness, and the smallness of her face. It is in matters of this kind that the line of cleavage in the collaboration is chiefly apparent. Mr. McCarthy does not repeat effects, Mrs. Campbell-Praed does ; the former is moved by the dramatic, the latter by the pictorial sentiment ; and while Morse reveals himself, Kooali is demon- strated. This is no bar to the success achieved by an experi- ment in collaboration which gives us both writers at their best in certain aspects ; but it is a distinct characteristic of that collaboration.
With a sketch of Australian scenery the story opens, and the reader also takes his farewell look at Koorilli in the dawn of an Australian day. Of the influences by which she was led to marry Crichton Kenway, of the disenchantment of the hopes with which the " Little Queen " of the wild outlying settlement takes her new place as beseems the daughter of the Premier of South Britain, the reader learns no particulars ; these things are only cleverly indicated. We see how Morse and Komi& meet, " like ships upon the ocean," and how each goes a separate way ; we see the second meeting in Lady Betty Morse's drawing- room, ten years afterwards, when the ex-Premier of a small Colony has become " the Right Honourable Sandham Morse, M.P.," and has married the daughter of an earl. The scene is a brilliant reception, brilliantly sketched, abounding in types
• The Right Honourable. By Justin McCarthy, M.P., and Mrs. Campbell-Praed. London : Chatto and Windus.
easily recognised by those who have even a superficial acquaint- ance with the fashionable society of to-day, and flashing with its kaleidoscopic variety : among the company are Koorilli and her husband, Crichton Kenway, Agent-General for South Britain. There are occasions on which one is driven to the use of slang, because of its comprehensiveness and its acceptation
by everybody : this is one of them. Crichton Kenway is an unmitigated "cad ;" the reader feels this from the first, and the
impression grows with every utterance and action of the man.
Morse has his attention directed to the strangers by Lady Betty, and he again sees the poetic, enthusiastic " Little Queen," who, when he caught his first brief glimpse of her, was "longing to see the world, and the great struggles of ambition and public life "—in the second-class Colony which he was leaving because it was stifling him with its narrowness.
How the obscure Australian girl becomes the beauty of the season, and the " wild falcon woman " whom Morse's fancy surrounds with a poetic halo, learns all the dreary lore of the world of London, the schemes of politicians and place-hunters, the ways of the leaders and the led, the secrets of the social strife and hugger-mugger, the manners and morals of the great and the would-be great, the slang of politics, fashion, art, and literature (in its upper circles, of course), and is none the worse, though very much the more unhappy, for all this lamentable education, is admirably told. Her teachers are many, including Lady Betty Morse, a clever modern fine- lady, who is an honest woman as well, and finds herself, with all the instincts of a courtier and a quite genuine veneration for the Royal personages whom she entertains and runs after, married to a man of genius with advanced Radical principles, Lord Arden and his father the Earl of Forrest— both fresh and refreshing characters—Mr. Masterson, the Socialist, Ken- way's rich sister-in-law, Zenobia (who contributes a welcome element of humour and satire to the story), and several others, sharply drawn ; lastly, her own odious and contemptible husband.
The process of Koorilli's social education has its painful, as well as its amusing side ; but the latter is most frequently turned uppermost. " What do you call London Society ?"
is a chapter full of mundane instruction and truly funny withal.
Lady Betty's "deprecatory " Sunday dinner-parties, whose smallness is supposed to make up for their infringement of the ideas of Lady Betty's original " set," are described with art and humour. One in particular, whose members are " going on " to Mr. Whistler's " Ten o'Clock," is very amusing. Lady Deveril, who " writes novels about society and fashion," and "affects the airs of a literary hack, talks of copy,' and inveighs against publishers ;" Mr. Piercy, a scientific man, " considered even by his own scientific set as somewhat too bigoted in his atheism ;" and St. Maurice, who " had been a clergyman of the Church of England and a popular preacher, had then become a free-thinker and started a service and a Sunday hall of his own, and finally had gone over to the Catholic Church," form a pleasant trio. The talk that goes on around Mr.
Paulton, the bewildered American Minister, who finds that the greater number of days he lives in England, the less knowledge of any accurate kind he seems to possess, is delightfully charac- teristic. " What do you call London Society ?" asks Masterson, the Socialist. And the answers he collects are, in the sense of the authors, if not in that of the social respondents, both wise and witty. We have not space for extracts, and the flavour of this chapter is not to be tasted in a sip.
The authors tell us that " the politics and the personages of the story are purely fanciful," and that " their aim was to surround figures that do not exist, and political parties hitherto unformed, with conditions of reality which might make them seem as if they too were real." We follow the fortunes of Sandham Morse, and Masterson the Socialist, and we examine the theories and practice of Lord Arden, with interest which testifies to the success of the experiment.
Is there a love-story in this novel ? Yes, and no. There is not a story of young love, and the roughness of its course to marriage and perpetual bliss, after the old fashion, or to disen- chantment and the Divorce Court, after the new; girls have no place in it, and there is a twist in the relations of the three married couples with whom it principally deals. Yet there is a story of love in it, a harmless, touching story, but one which it is not for us to tell. As it unfolds itself, we admire the delicate skill with which the characters of Koorili and her mean, dastardly husband, are contrasted, and the moral and intellectual struggle of Morse is depicted. As the reafler Efts Koorali first, so he takes leave of her, near- ing the coast of her native country ; her future is unknown, her figure vanishes into the mists of the early morning. The events and experiences of her life in London, although they make shipwreck of her happiness, are only episodical, and here we recognise that particular mood of Mr. McCarthy's which is not tragical but is melancholy, which is not cynical but is philo- sophical ; for the future of Sandham Morse is plainly enough indicated, and prosperous in all things, 1uan,t1 ineene, —even in his conjugal relations with Lady Betty, the unconscious gainer by the unsuspected and unspoken drama that has been played on the London boards under her unseeing eyes.