18 JANUARY 1879, Page 16


Tuts is a novel of very considerable power,—power of writing, power of conception, and power of delineation. That Mrs. Bishop writes with a purpose,—the purpose of glorifying her Church, the Roman Catholic Church,—does not, to our minds, in any way diminish that feeling of power ; though she wholly fails in her object, if her object be to explain what it was,— beyond her love for and trust in a Roman Catholic husband,— which converted Elizabeth Eden,—or rather Elizabeth Dene, for she becomes Elizabeth Dene before her conversion,—into a Roman Catholic. We learn from the novel that Elizabeth Eden had seen through,—what it is not-difficult to see through,—the hollow- ness and insincerities of the rationalising side of the Broad Church, and had estimated the intellectual vagaries of those who think revelation true, but purely natural and human, not the revelation of any personal God, at their true worth. There is much that is skilful and amusing in Mrs. Bishop's account of Canon Harlay's sermons in Half-Moon Street, and of the worldliness of his wife. But it goes a very little way indeed towards explaining why Elizabeth Eden became a Catholic, that she bad felt the complete unreality and triviality, the theatrical vanity • Elizabeth Eden. A Novel. By Bishop. 8 vole. London: Sampson Low and Co. and presumption, of these attempts to explain away Christian. teaching till it means no more than a bad fairy-tale. However, there is one further experience through which Elizabeth Eden had passed. She had fallen in love with an Evangelical baronet, on account of his profound faith, and found how shallow that faith was, and how the practical element in it failed him when he most needed religious aids and religious restraints. The sketch of Sir Ernest Harlay is a sketch of great force, though Mrs. Bishop's dislike to this type of religion is so keen, that it leads her towards the end of her novel into an attack upon the man who had adopted it, rather than a true painting of him. Sir Ernest Harlay, after all, was a man of honour, a soldier, and a gentle- man, and could hardly have conducted himself as he is made to conduct himself towards the end of the story. Nevertheless, this part of Mrs. Bishop's story is full of force, and the figure of Sir Ernest Harlay, in spite of the too malicious self-degradation. he is made to go through in the third volume, remains in the mind of the reader, as one that cannot easily be forgotten :— " Sir Ernest Harlay, unhappier than a rated hound, rode slowly back to Harlay Abbot. He scorned himself, he quoted texts against him- self. He thought almost entirely of himself, his mistakes and his regrets. He was so busy with himself, that he did not rightly estimate the astonishing assertion of Mademoiselle Gautier's claim to Edenhurst. Her romance might or not be true. He was not thinking of that, but his position as apple of discord filled his thoughts. Presently be came to the Harlay Abbot woods. It was dark under the summer leaves, and he had to ride slowly. With the familiar road returned on him the nightmare of his debts and difficulties. There need be no more scruples now about marriage with the rich Mrs. Eden. He knew her well enough to be sure that was for ever over. And he had forfeited that chance not by honourable renunciation and self-sacrifice, and in obedience to the ' evangelical counsels,' but because of his wretched folly and weakness. When he ate the ill-cooked steak hastily prepared for him, and walked along the echoing passages to his ill-lighted room, he was thoroughly dejected. It bad been easy to be nobly scrupulous while Mrs. Eden's love was his to accept. Now nothing could save the old estate from passing to a stranger. And further knowledge of his affairs had showed him that he could not pick and choose among pur- chasers. The highest bidder, were he Mr. Bradlaugh or the General of the Jesuits, must be taken, and oven so there woull be but a doubtful- margin when all debts were paid. That silent, and brooding, and dim summer's night Ernest Harlay's faith failed him. He could not and did not even try to pray, as was his custom. Finding sleep impossible,. and dreading thought, he looked for an opiate he had sometimes used in India, and took enough of it to secure some hours' forgetfulness Harlay Abbot had not proved a comfortable harbour for its master, on his return from Edenhurst, confused and humiliated as he was. Who shall say how far the ill-cooked beaf-steak for his unexpected dinner had been to blame for the sleeplessness which left him a prey to his un- easy conscience ? Who shall say in what exact proportions small things work with big events ? Next morning, his circumstances seemed very dark to him. Habitually he read sone verses of the Bible, and with a not uncommon superstition, that indeed more than once changed the fortunes of England, when Cromwell was its governor, he looked for guidance from the words he lighted on. That day, they had, or seemed to have, no meaning for him. He flung away the book, and for the first time for years, he left his room, without spiritual communion or appeal. He had a spite against the trifling circumstances which had given his Edenhurst dalliances more importance in Mrs. Eden's eyes than they deserved. Characters like his and trained as his was to- references of the events of life to supernatural causes rather than to our own conduct have, however, curious elasticity. No one can doubt the temporal uses of superstition, or the energy it imparts,—particularly when, as in Ernest Harlay, the enthusiastic temperament is hereditary, and as ingrained as any physical peculiarity. The way in which the pressure of personal responsibility is shifted by such superstition as his was curiously exemplified in the view he took of his own conduct in respect of Mrs. Eden. It is a common puzzle why excellent and sincere fanatics are so often wanting in personal honour and clear judgment. Trusting, as Joan of Arc did, to voices,' seldom, however, inspired as hers were, they do not accept social law and order as those do who live solely by its dictates. So, as they rise higher, they also fall lower than do men of the ordinary world. Yet their fall probably injures them less than if they had trusted as most men do to the strength of their habitual honour and honesty. Ernest Harley found. his usual consolations presently restored. His depression and tem- porary treason to his faith passed away, for he looked on them as temptations of a definite evil power. The thought was invigorating, for it is easier for a man to wrestle with an enemy than to recognise his own faults. As agents in such work as can be effected by religious enthusiasm, it is idle to under-estimate the usefulness of such more or less possessed' men, yet it may not fare well with those who trust

them, when the loyalty of personal honour is eclipsed by religiosity. The religion which truly secures such loyalty, and which perfects con-

science, is other than his. Based on authority, it is not a mere whiff of personal aspiration. Though it accepts, it does not rely on co-operation of the devotional temperament. Indeed a fresh and yet more eager confidence in himself followed on Ernest's temporary discomfiture, and. he sincerely believed that by divine assistance he was again mounted on his evangelising bobby. Who shall say how far a cold bath, a better breakfast than was his supper, and a walk in the fresh autumn morning renewed his confidence ?"

And the whole picture of Sir Ernest's actions and demeanour, —barring, as we said, certain tendencies to exaggeration towards the close,—is painted in strict keeping with this admirable sketch. That a woman like Elizabeth Eden should make up her mind that

this type of religion is not good for man, and not from on high, is intelligible enough. But does Mrs. Bishop really suppose that all belief in Revelation amongst Protestants is either of Canon Harlay's unreal and insincere type, or of his nephew's, Sir Ernest's, fanatical and superstitious type? It would be quite as easy, surely, to paint the faith of a rationalising Catholic, like Pro- fessor Friedrich, and of superstitious Catholics like those who turn the picture of St. Joseph to the wall when he does not obtain for them their petitions, and then to present these to a Catholic heroine as reasons sufficient to turn her into a Protestant. Whatit is which draws Elizabeth Eden into the Church, except her love for her Catholic husband and her experience of Anglican rationalism and Calvinism, the reader is unable to say. We are told that all her difficulties become unreal to her when she sees her husband's deep conviction, which is very likely ; but we are not told what those difficulties are, nor how anybody who has not got a Catholic husband to magnetise her, can be expected to follow her example.

Without relation, however, to the dogmatic purpose of the story, there is much in it which is very vigorous. Nothing could be much better in its way than the sketch of the two Genevese women ; the gambling, opium-eating mother ; and the half-selfish, half-unselfish, keen-eyed, beautiful daughter, who does so much that is really dishonourable in order to recover her inherit- ance, and yet refuses to do so much that she might have done, —and on the whole, is so completely human, both in her evil and her good. To draw a mixed character, with much that is cun- ning and grasping in it, but much also that is disinterested and good, is not easy, and in Alphonsine, Mrs. Bishop completely succeeds. She shows in her picture of Alphonsine that modera- tion which she was unable to show in her sketch of Sir Ernest Harlay; while in the picture of Alphonsine's mother, as her mind gradually decays under the habit of opium-eating and the dread of insanity, Mrs. Bishop reaches a degree of force much beyond any elsewhere displayed in the tale. The picture of the heroine is vivid in parts, though also a little difficult to grasp ; nor can we quite believe in the cruelty of which she is guilty, in deliberately playing with Sir Ernest Harlay's feelings in the last volume. Mrs. Bishop maintains indeed that cruelty is characteristic of "all strong women," though it "may be dor- mant till they are conscious of weakness." If so, surely it is not in them as strong women, but as weak women ; and in general, cruelty certainly seems to us to be characteristic much more of weak women than of strong. Still the picture of Elizabeth Eden with the rudder of her mind unshipped, after the break-down of her faith in Sir Ernest Harlay, is a powerful, and we think, a true one. For the hero, Mr. Dene, we cannot say as much. He is a pattern-hero,—Catholic, immensely wealthy, always turning up at the right time, always ready to do the right thing in a grand way, and altogether vague, majestic, and unreal, as novelists' heroes so often are.

As a whole, however, the novel is full of force. Many of the side-sketches, like that of Canon Harlay's wife and daughters, are very skilful ; and some of the descriptions, especially of Rome, very striking. It is not at all likely to make converts, and so we may safely recommend it, even to those who are morbidly afraid of anything that has a certain amount of the Roman Catholic leaven in it. This book has indeed plenty of that leaven. But Mrs. Bishop either does not know enough of the pinch of Roman Catholic controversy, or if she does, has seen, as an artist, that it was im- possible to introduce enough of it into her story, to make the book a dangerous one to those who know what the reasons are why it is so difficult for the sincerest Christians, with their eyes open, to follow in the steps of Elizabeth Eden.