18 NOVEMBER 1865, Page 17


Tins is a most unequal book. Mr. Sedley appears to have sat down to his task with three leading ideas,--to give his impressions of life in California, to impress a special view of antenuptial fidelity, and to reprobate the custom, once almost universal among rich Americans, of withdrawing altogether from public life. With the first object he has sketched the life of a party of American emigrants, who crossed the plains to California in the hope of fortune, and became successful gold-diggers ; with the second, he introduces a love story between two members of the party ; and with the third, he places his hero among the highest society of New York. The first section, occupying a volume and a half, is in its way nearly perfect ; the second, in our judgment, unnatural ; and the third, simply wearisome. Mr. Sedley writes plainly and strongly, and has a descriptive power which fits in a most striking way the scenes he has to describe, and which he paints with the broad bold touches their apparent vastness demands. He conceives rough simple characters clearly,, though Luke is a trifle sentimental, and has a real inventiveness for incidents. We do not remember a description of life in San Francisco during its lawless period more vivid than his, or anything in the sensational style so striking as his hero's sudden elevation to wealth, anything at once so extraordinary, so carefully prepared, and so completely within the limits of the possible. His dialogue is fresh and spirited, and being the work of an American who prefers European life, has an air of originality sometimes real, sometimes only the result of an exceptional mental stand-point. There is humour, too, in his mind, humour of high quality, though its expression degenerates occasionally into caricature. An admirable sketch, for example, is that of Zelotes Pangburn, the typical Yankee editor of the bad kind, with his keen brain and hunger for gold, his sharp eye to business and almost unconscious habit of talking uproarious bunkum, the radical dishonesty which induces him to steal his comrades' shares of the common gold fund, and the radical good-nature which makes him, when Hugh Gifford the hero grows poor, send him the amount of his share of loss with interest as a perpetual loan. That kind of man would, one humbly hopes, talk very much like this :— " ' I kerry too many guns,' he asserted, with his derisive leer ; ' I kerry too many guns for any o' these 'ere Britishera to stand afore. I jilt pint 'em, I do, and tech 'em off loaded to the muzzle with the principles of our glorious constitution rammed daown with the pole of liberty, and afore the smoke hilts, the bloated advocates of tyranny has left, and kin be heerd of from up a tree. Sic sever tyrannis! is the sentiments of Z. Pangburn, and the more they hev' to do with him the sicker they'll be." And if he did not write this letter of apology for the theft, it is only because such a revelation of himself is not possible to any man so shrewd and so addicted to calculation :— " 'Feller Citizens,—By tho time you git this I shall proberly be on the houndin' biller. In our great and glorious country events fellers each other in quick sucksession, and wafted by favourin' gales, I shall naterally strike New York immegiately after. In takiu' leave of scenes so charmin' which fond remembrance my heart is warmin', I find it difficult to express the anxious hopes I cherish for your individooal and collective welfare. But all may be simmered down into one fervent aspiration, That you may be happy yit ! There is a tide in the affairs of mon, feller citizens, which, taken at the flood, leads on td fortin' ! and I've concluded to take this 'ere tide and Sail in ! And as some on ye might think it kind o' prematoor that I take so much of my sheer to once, I hereby make over all the rest of my undivided interest in the Bar to you, Kurnel, for the benefit of the Co. I hope Nobody won't feel Riled. Who steals my puss steals trash. 'Tie Somethin' nothink. 'Twas mine, 'tis his'n ; and although the gold on the Bar haint been slave to thousands, Cash Clircoolates rapidly in this Happy Land, so nothing extenooate or Set down Ought in malice. As to your repoota- tions, you can leave 'em with confidence in the hands of Pangburn, which not enricheth him, and makes you Poor Indeed. I think the Canon's about gin' seat. And it would be small business in me to bo a sharin' your toils, your f eelin's, and your fame, when there ain't Nothink else to divide. But time Flies, and the Etarnal Ages rolls on. My Bark is by the shore, and sails on Wednesday at Twelve o'clock pre-. cisely. No Berth secured until paid for. Farewell for ever! And yit, No. We shall meet agin', when the Mem'ry of these Scenes will be but as a Parson Bell, a Dream too sweet to last, when you shall Forgit the feverish thirst for gold in Harmer pursoots, and when the name of Pangburn shall be proudly enrolled among the Merchant Princes of his country.—With affectionate complements to the ladies, I am, Feller Citizens, Your'n, While This Mashine is To him, Z. Patonstetw.'"— " P.S. I have ordered a copy of the Mountain Clarion to be sent to each of yer for 6 months, Post-paid.—P.S. No. 2. I have entirely giv' up the idee of the stunfront block in Utiky.'

Humour, however, fades into caricature when a New England girl is represented as writing to her lover with no conscious sneer that Matilda Tarbox has married " a very good thing in fish," or when a Californian judge, whose friend has been hurling cham- pagne bottles into a crowd, defends the practice because " ' The

• Marion Roots. By Henry Smiley. London: Sampson Lair.

Public,' ban' in a free country, reserves the right to sail in and add to the pervadin' hilarity in a gineral way, knives and shooters bein' barred. A princerple,' he added, perceiving that his ruling was accepted with some doubt by a portion of his audience, ' which has its origin in the idee that sech folks purchases immoenity by voluntary contributions to the great sum of human enj'y- ment.'—' And aidin' in the pursoot of happiness the industrious portion of the risin' generation,' said Mr. Sloper." The sharp criticism of everything Yankee by an American is nevertheless most effective, and there is genuine eloquence in this description of the special feature of some Californian scenery—a look as if civilized men had influenced it and had passed away :—

"Noble and yet mysterious land—where with all the vastness and solitude of primeval wilds there were found long reaches of velvety turf, shaded by giant trees, and as free from underbrush as an English park; reaches where one could gallop for miles and miles, and yot see no sign of a living thing; where after some long and easy ascent, perchance, the trees grew thicker and the air grew darker, till of a sudden, burst- ing on the eye with a flood of light, there stretched below a landscape of such surpassing and cultivated loveliness that the gazer could scarce believe—such is the force of prejudice and association—that it had not been for ages the abode of man—smoothed, softened, and redeemed from natural savagery by works of art and of agriculture. But as he gazed on he saw that it was not so. No line of smoke, no roof-tree, could his- narrowest scrutiny detect in the spacious panorama before him. No broken column relieved with its sculptured whiteness the unvaried green of the foliage. No fragment of some springing dome intercepted the endless waves of the tree-tops. No cattle or sheep browsed over the boundless meadows so loaded with luxuriant vegetation, as if for their needs. No figures—more mournful deficiency than any other—no figures of human beings with crooks in hand and bits of bright colour about their dress to catch the eye with a comforting assurance that life and sympathy were there I Nature alone—nature at once grand in her own majesty and made delicate and various by the constant suggestion of refined inhabitants, but of whom the closest eye could find no trace. It seemed as if capricious genii had swept by night through some Arcadian vale, rich in the labour of classic hands, stored with piles and piles of priceless architecture—temples, arches, fanes—and borne them, like Aladdin's palace, carefully away, leaving nature's work, and nature's work alone, behind."

The story, it is evident, is a mere vehicle for the sketches, and therefore perhaps beyond criticism, but we would protest against the idea the author evidently entertains about lovers' fidelity. Hugh Gifford, engaged to the New England girl who writes incessantly about money, but who is not all bad, has been sent for two years to seek his fortune, and in the interim falls in love with a much higher nature, Marian Rooke. Clearly his duty was to tell his first love that new fact as courteously as he could, and so part, but the author thinks him bound, and Marian, the moldl heroine, who loves him, preaches to him about the duty of raising his future bride's mind in the most aggravatingly prosy style. Clearly she thinks, and the author thinks, that the right course under such circumstances is for the lover to abandon the girl he loves, to marry the girl he hates, and to train his wife up carefully till he is tempted to love her again—a very dangerous theory. Most men would in the pro- cess become heart-weary, until when it had been accomplished the possibility of loving at all would have ended for them ; and then there is the pupil to be considered. The work could not be done unconsciously to the victim, and wives can love husbands in any character better than that of schoolmasters. Even when Hugh Gifford bravely resolves to do his "duty," and marry the girl he has ceased to care for, he is not let off, but first censured because though rich he, to try his fiancee's fidelity, leaves her to believe him poor, and then, when all obstacles have disappeared, is sub- jected by Marian to another year's detay in order to test his character. This IA the regular idea of the people who believe in. discipline, and did men live a thousand years might be wise and beneficial. Human beings, however, having in practice only setae thirty years of mature life, these tests would with most men of themselves cure love. They would as soon choose their brides by competitive examination, as submit to be loved from a hope of what they may become.

The story, however, is not the substance of Marian Rooke, which was evidently written to express individual convictions on the merits and drawbacks of American society. Some of them are illustrated felicitously enough. Virginia Chester must be a cari- cature, bat we do gain from her some notion of that narrowness of thought, and capacity for meanness, and tendency to envy which are the drawbacks to the stern self-restraining culture of New England, and we can almost see Mrs. Armstrong, the motherly, querulous farmer's wife, who in the midst of a struggle for life against Indians congratulates herself that she had not brought with her into the fray her " chinay." But Mr. and Mrs. Parapet and Eldon Clyde are mere lay figures, who are carefully described, but who do and can do nothing. Here, for example, is a sketch of the head of the Parapet family. It is a little long, but it is worth reading, both for what it reveals and what it does not reveal

"The Mr. Parapet of to-day had never been in trade, had never been in any profession, had never been in the Legislature, either local or national ; in brief, had never been in anything excepting the bosom of his family, and such limited and highly exclusive social circles as, with cautiously adapted radii, swept within the probability of noise or publi- city. These circles were constituted of people of similiar aptitudes for doing nothing, and not being heard of ; and, collectively speaking, they

were remarkably successful in carrying oat their tastes In suggesting indolence as a prevalent characteristic of the class whereof the Parapets were a type, I only intend to convey that they eschewed effort, as connected with the public service or in the channel of regular pursuits or professions; they were by no means indolent in respect of personal accomplishments or the acquisition of knowledge. Mr. Dyce Parapet himself was a very well read as well as a very well-bred man. He had been substantially grounded in his youth in classic and polite letters, and the family had always preserved and augmented an uncom- monly fine library, to the advantages of which he was far from insensible. He took pleasure at sixty in Homer and the dramatists, and made Latin verses not to be despised. He read with undeviating regularity all the best of the foreign reviews, and the most scholarly books which money could bring from the teeming press of Europe. He was well versed in history and political economy, and nothing emanated from the great modern lights in either field that he did not straightway grapple and draw knowledge from it. But all these tastes and acquirements were quite valueless to the community in which he lived. Mr. Parapet had no more idea of the significancy lying in the physical fact that all bodies which receive light give light, than he had of making an auto-da-fe of himself for the general good of the community. If he cherished any particular theory touching the object of his existence, it resolved itself . intoe sort of negative assumption that there was no niche, no particular sphere of usefulness, open to him or such as him in his country as it now was—with which idea I have nothing to do, further than to record that it was entertained, and furnished an excuse, if any there was, for the aimless, drone-like, useless life which Mr. Parapet and his compeers lived. Mr. Parapet was very rich—when people have large estates, which for years have been rising in value, and on which they pay next to no taxes, they are very apt to become so. He had always been prudent, like most of his predecessors ; and, although by no means illiberal in his expenditure, and having an expensive family, his property had steadily increased until he was perhaps one of the richest land- owners in the State. But for the untaxed protection afforded by that State he never dreamed of making any return, and if his attention had been forcibly directed to the subject, he would doubtless have urged that such contributions as were made to the public revenue, in the way of customs' ditties on the articles consumed by his family, were an ade- quate requital for the security conferred. And in justice it may be acknowledged, that Mrs. Parapet and Miss Parapet were unconscious patriots in the way of French millinery to an extent that might partially justify the plea."

There is a wealth of suggestiveness in the character of a man living amid the swift life of the United States, rich, highly cultivated, and in his way strong, yet utterly apart from that society, observ- ing, but not affecting it. And the wealth is the greater because he is not alone, not an eccentric, but simply one of a class created by a. society which developer wealth and allows of cultivation, without permitting the wealthy and the cultivated to be first in the political race. But the mine is not worked out, and after reading a volume about the Parapets, we understand them no better than before. How does a man feel when he leads a life without connection with the external world, yet touching it at every point ? For, be it observed, the life of the Parapets is not the life of the Fau- bourg St. Germain. They are not really secluded, must visit in places where the bourgeoisie are strong, must run the risk of being entrapped by pretty Flora McDimitys, daughters of dry goods, must wish and not wish much the same things as the mass of their fellow-countrymen. They have no separate faith, or poli- tical creed, or point of view, and must therefore perforce feel an interest in the life which rushes round them like a river round some small island. How, then, do they contrive to remain quies- cent? Eldon Clyde indeed, if we understand that faintly coloured sketch, does not remain quiescent, but actually leads two lives, that of the aristocrat and that of the American politician, and while disdaining office himself is incessantly promoting other people, whom in return he hopes to influence to promote his own special views, usually, it would seem, views about money. How came he about, and by what agency does he work ? Every American writer has affirmed the existence of this class, rich, cultivated, and gentlemanly, but apart, and our own correspondent, " A Yankee," never tires of describing them, but they are not understood yet, nor will be till some one, it may well be Mr. Sedley, paints one of them as Mrs. Beecher Stowe painted St. Clair. The author of Marian Rooke has not done this yet, and it is because he has not, because he constantly raises a eurosity which he does not gratify, that this portion of his book, probably the one in which he is himself most interested, reads so wearisome. Men of the Clinton Parapet type cannot in England remain idle, how is it that they can in New York, and yet remain the intellectual and social chiefs of society? That is the point on which Englishmen are most interested, and because the question is unanswered, they will abut a book full of humour, of suggestion, and of description, with a feeling that they have been cheated out of a promised meal. The man who wrote the first volume could so obviously have made the third so good, that the reader is half irritated at the failure he yet cannot help perceiving.