20 APRIL 1839, Page 18


IN point of composition Mr. JAMES is improving,—if by composi- tion be meant ideas considered abstractedly and independently, and the style in which those ideas are expressed. In other respects there is a falling-off; or, the thorough mannerism of the author, in choosing and disposing of his subject matter, in planning his story, drawing his characters, and writing his tale, is so strong, and so frequently brought before us through a love of publishing, that Charles Tyrrell is felt to be inanimate and unreal—more like a commodity thrown off by a machine, than a production emanating from a mind teeming with its own conceptions. In this, as in all the rest of Mr. JAMES'S fic- tions, there is a curious blending of the true with the romantic. Laying his scene in some olden time, he makes himself well ac- quainted with the formal customs and dispositions—the outward shows and manners of men. He examines the landscapes amongst which he lays his scenes, with the eyes of an eloquent land-surveyor, and paints them clearly, but somewhat heavily. A student of mind, he draws his characters with metaphysical consistency ; yet, though sometimes lifelike for a single scene, they are as a whole automa- tons ; skilfully put togethir, moving and speaking as marvellous counterfeits, but incapable of inspiring the companionable feeling we take in flesh and blood. His story is equally uniform. We are a long while in getting into it ; for Mr. JAMES forgets the rule, so essential to a man who has not the gift of creating interest by his dialogue or sketches of manners, to plunge in medias res. When the story begins to advance, it is so involved that it is puzzle as much as interest which is excited ; nor is it till we reach the end that the reader is hurried along by a continuous action. Through- out, however, the author never deserts us. He may be heavy, melodramatic, or digressive ; but his ideas are presented with a hard distinctness, and his style is always worked up to a certain degree of force, and, where the matter admits, often rises to a la- boured eloquence. But, as BACON observes, "nature is often hidden, sometimes overcome, seldom extinguished;" "it will lie buried a great time, and yet revive upon the occasion or temptation ; like as it was with ./Esop's damsel turned from a cat to a woman, who sat very demurely at the board's end till a mouse ran before her." So it is with Mr. JAMES ; his art leaves him upon occasion. His charac- ters, drawn as they are with scientific consistence, act inconsistently upon a pinch, when the author has no other mode of getting over an obstacle, or getting on at all. His catastrophes, although the incidents are dovetailed together with careful art, depend for their denouement upon accidents or improbabilities ; whilst his persons, though rewarded according to their deserts, are not rewarded through their individual conduct, and (to gainsay the proverb) the man gets drowned who was born to be hanged. It may be alleged, that, in a series of papers on the laws of Prose Fiction in the Monthly Chronicle, attributed to Sir LYTTON BI:LWER, it was laid down as a canon that accidents may properly be allowed to influence the conduct of a novel : but the main examples of Sir LYTTON were drawn from his own prose fictions. The tale which gives rise to these remarks on the general cha- racter of Mr. JAMES, would furnish instances of every one of the points we have noted, were it necessary to follow them out. The scene is laid in the time just preceding the present age ; but the years of the principal actors, or the manner in which the authority of some of them acts upon the minds of their children, with the peculiar character induced by native disposition or hereditary taint, cast a remoter air over the manners of the period. The story of Charles Tyrrel, or the Bitter Blood, hinges upon a family predispo- sition to anger and ill-temper in both the hero and his father, sub- dued somewhat in one, but punished in the other by a murder, which involves mystery, distress, and dishonour, and forms in fact the pivot of the piece. But, to reach the starting-point, nearly half the book is occupied by a minute detail of places, persons, and common events, to possess the reader with the requisite know. ledge to render the remaining half clear and vraisemblable ; Mr. JAMES being sadly deficient in the art of placing persons suddenly before the reader, exciting his interest in their fortunes, and stimulating his curiosity to know all about them. After this, the story, according to this writer's wont, advances with rapidity; hut, with all his labour, there is some incongruity and improbability, and much of the interest arises from what the melodramatists call situa- tion. Besides a slight and very truthful sketch of a blackguard lieu- tenant, two of the characters, however, are well conceived, and in the main well sustained. Sir Francis Tyrrell may seem an exaggeration, in his violent, sarcastic temper, rendering himself and every one about him wretched ; but, with an allowance for his idiosvncracies, his solitary rustic power, and the character of the times which were tolerant of peculiarity, we think hint a true portraiture. So is Mr. Driesen, with his learning—his philosophic indifference and selfish- ness—his hard, dry, and biting manner, yet with some touch of feeling at the bottom. But there was no necessity for Mr. JAMES— albeit holding a place at Court—to embody the evils of atheism, French philosophy, and reading lionnNs, in Mr. Driesen's person, seeing that these arc not now the fantasies dreaded by courtiers.

Our specimens must be taken from those passages which show best in extract, though somewhat of incumbrances in the book.


It is a terrible thing when youth—the time of sport and enjoyment, the period which nature has set apart for acquiring, knowledge, and power, and ex- pansion, and for tasting all the multitude of sweet and magnificent things which crowd the creation, in their first 'freshness and with the zest of novelty— is clouded with storms or drenched with tears. It is not so terrible by any means when the mere ills of fortune afflict us ; for they are light things to the buoyancy of youth, and are soon thrown off by the heart which has not learned the foresight of fresh sorrows. The body habituates itself more easily to any thing than the mind, and privations twice or thrice endured, are priva- tions no longer. But it is a terrible thing indeed when—in those warns days of youth when the heart is all affection, the mind longing for thrilling sym- pathies, the soul eager to love and be beloved—the faults, the vices, or the cir- cumstances of others, cut us off front those sweet natural ties with which nature, as with a wreath of flowers, has garlanded our early days ; when we have either lost and regret, or known but to contemn, the kindred whose veins flow with the same blood as our own, or the parents who gave us being. There arc few situations more solitary, more painful, more moving, than that of an orphan. I remember is schoolfifflow who had many friends who were kind to him and fond of him ; but he said to me one day, at speaking of his holyday sports, "1, you know, have no father or mother." And there was a look of thoughtful melancholy in his face, and a tone of desolation in his voice which struck me strangely, even young as 1 then was. But that situa- tion, lonely as it is, deprived of all the tender and consoling associations of kindred feeling, is bright and cheerful, gay and happy, compared with that in which Charles Tyrrell commenced his career on earth.


The scenery amidst which we are born and brought up, if we remain long enough therein to have passed that early period of existence on which memory_ seems to have no hold, sinks, as it were, into the spirit of man, twines itself intimately with every thought, and becomes a part of his being. He can never cast it oft, any more than he can cast off the body in which his saint acts. Almost every chain ot ins after thoughts is linked at some point to the magical circle which bounds his youth's ideas ; and even when latent, and in no degree known, it is still present, affecting every feeling and every fancy, and giving a bent of its own to all our words and our deeds. * * * The passing of our days may be painful, the early years may be chequered with grief and care, unkindness and frowns may wither the smiles of boyhood, and tears bedew the path of youth ; yet, nevertheless, when we stand and look back in later life, letting Memory hover over the past, prepared to light where she Will, there is no period in all the space laid out before her over which her wings flutter so joyfully, or on whirls she would so much wish to pause, as the times of our youth. The evils of other days are forgotten, the scenes in which those days passed are remembered, detached from the sorrows that chequered them, and the bright misty light of life's first sunrise still gilds the whole with glory not its own.


Driesen was sitting at a little distance in an attitude which he was vet fond of, when busy in propounding some of his own speculative opinions, which Ise knew were likely to sound harsh in the ears of some of the persons present. It was an attitude entirely composed of angles, one knee nearly up to his chin, which was itself long and pointed, one arm thrust behind his back, the other bent into a sharp angle to support his head, and his whole body leaning for- ward, with his under jaw a little protruding. Charles Tyrrell used to say, when he saw him in this attitude, that be was knotted into a theorem ; but, nevertheless, the attitude, whirls was beyond all doubt studied, Was not without its effect upon those who saw it from its very extravagance.