19 MAY 1866, Page 16


THIS is a very pleasant little story, showing a good deal of artistic power, and containing one or two sketches of character far above the level of ordinary novel writers. It is not very exciting, and there is a very great inequality in the distribution of such imagina- tive power as the authoress has. Neither of her heroes is at all lifelike ; her principal heroine is not much better ; indeed, the characters nearest to moral perfection are, as usual except with novelists of great genius, pale and lifeless conceptions. The spiritual-minded Miss Arnays, for instance, is just like one of Francia's or Giotto's saints,—so full of spiritual quietude and trust that there is no room left for human expression. No doubt it takes a great deal of power to paint this sort of religious feeling without making it a solvent for all the characteristic features of human nature. As its natural function is a restraining and tranquillizing one, reining in the energies of human wish and self-will, even the best artist would naturally show the individual characteristics of saintly minds in a less pronounced and graphic phase than would be proper to the unrestrained "natural man" of the same type. Still the harmonizing and moderating influence which spiritual feeling gives to character certainly should not obli- terate, but rather give a new tone to, the positive moral character- istics of those who possess it, or are possessed by it. It ought to work, as a mellowing artistic light works in a landscape, to soften strong contrasts, to blend, to give unity of effect, but not to blanch and rob of all proper colour. Such a figure as Miss Aniays is quite

out of place in a modern novel. It belongs almost to the order of conception which represents saints as holy automatons with white garments and perhaps shawms (whatever they may 1r), singing all day in a monotonous key.

The real power of this little book is in the picture of Mrs. Edgecombe, and in a still higher degree, —at least up to a certain point,—in the picture of Sydney Serie. The merit of the former sketch is not so much in the conception, which is not perhaps very original, but in the admirable execution. The picture of the clever, restless, affectionate, ambitious woman, full of intellectual power and energy, and setting her heart on ordering all things for her son according to her own secret wishes and belief of what is best for him, is well conceived, and is almost perfectly worked out. It is easy enough to speak of a clever woman of an affectionate but eager, restless mind, but Mrs. Edgecombe really is made what we are told that she is. Her conversation is at once clever and impetuous ; you know her before you are told what she is ; you are aware how ahnost certain she is to quarrel with her son because he does not take the same view of his happiness which she taker; and yet when the pique and half- estrangement comes, it adds to your knowledge of the woman and the clearness and effectiveness of the picture. A still better picture,—at least till almost the end of the book, when it becomes, we will not say untrue, but indistinct and not adequately realized, is that of Sydney Serie, a sort of free translation of George Eliot's " Hetty" in Adam Bede into a higher class in life and a somewhat wider range of feeling. She is not so purely selfish as Hetty, but is nearer to that sort of pretty creature with dumb pleading instincts, than any character we can recollect. The story of the country surgeon's (Mr. Humphreys') attentions to her, and of her final acceptance of him, at a time when she is really in love with Colonel Edgecombe, merely to escape the worry of her sister-in- law's attacks upon her for having fallen in love with a person above her, is admirably conceived, and her state of mind towards Mr. Humphreys painted with great subtlety. "Sydney had discovered that Mr. Humphreys did really love her, more than her father loved her, more than she could at all understand one person loving another. The discovery caused her more fear than gratification, yet it interested her, and woke a cruel sort of curiosity in her mind,—such interest and curiosity as a child (not absolutely cruel, but only ignorant) takes in witnessing the struggles of an animal whose sufferings it does not in the smallest degree realize or under- stand." Her comparative childishness and vacancy of mind are well sketched, when she has attained her object, and married Colonel Edgecombe • Clemency Franklyn. Py the Author of Janes Home. 2 rile. London: Macmillan. "He would have learned to act by himself in matters of business, however; it was in leisure hours that he missed his mother most 'sorely. At the important hour when tbe post came in, he missed the eager interest, with which she had listened to the scraps of news he culled in his first hasty glance down the newspaper. He missed her coming round to his end of the table, and leaning her hand on his shoulder, and reading the page with him, if the paragraph concerned any old comrade or Indian hero, or touched any question of Indian policy on which he had expressed an opinion. Sydney always thought he was out of humour, if he read the newspaper aloud at breakfast-time, and besides had such very vague views on geography, and such a slender memory for notable names, that the special interest of the news he im- parted never dawned upon her. Most of all, Colonel Edgecombe missed his mother in the idle afternoon hour when he came in from his ride, and liked to lounge about the library, taking down one or other of his and her favourite old books from the shelves, dipping hero and there, and reading aloud a line or a passage, which seemed (as chance read- ings so often do) to illustrate some event of the day, or recently dis- cussed topic. It was strange, in that room, with one of the often read volumes in his hand, to look up and miss the quick understanding glance, and ready, apposite remark, that had rewarded him in former times for his literary discoveries. Had you not better sit down, if you are going to read to me, dear, and begin at the beginning of the book I" Sydney said, once or twice, till he left off troubling her to listen to select passages. In his walks and rides, too, he wanted a companion who could understand and share his great delight in the scenery about Combo. Sydney had lived among it all her life, yet he found it so difficult to make her see what he wanted her to see, that he was sometimes driven to believe she must be partially blind. 'Is it that clump of purple beeches on the green hill-side, where the sun is shining, you want me to notice ? ' she would ask. 'They look just as usual, don't they ? Oh! yes, I see them quite well. The colour of the leaves reminds me of the old, dark, shot-silk Lizzie wears on rainy Sundays, but I can't say I ever admired it particularly.' Or, 'Don't ask me to come out just now, please, dear ; I am in the middle of a row of bead-work. I don't care if the sun-set glow has faded out of the clouds before I come oat. The sun sets every evening, you know, and the clouds always are reddish. Why need I look at them ? ' "

Where there is something wanting, is in the delineation of the softening of Sydney's character under the influence of her love for her husband and while she is struggling in the network of small deceits which her cowardice and fear of him have woven round her. One cause of this defect is that there is no proper picture of the origin of Sydney's love for her husband or of its nature. She passes from a purely self-occupied sort of cowardly amiability in her relation towards the world in general, and of considerable spitefulness towards her sister-in-law, into a genuine disinterested love for her husband without any notice to the reader, and hence there is no sufficient keeping between the Sydney at the end of the second volume of the story and the Sydney at the beginning. The off sketches of the story,—the iron mining scenes and the character of Mr. Franklyn and his son Rolla,—are rather upon the same level with the character of the hero and heroine than with that of the best part of the book. That the authoress has true artistic power we do not doubt, but she is content with too little effort for her minor and subordinate sketches.