21 AUGUST 1886, Page 21


" 'Tts a mad world, my masters," is the obvious reflection that occurs to the reader of this book, the production of which, except on the assumption of a secular tendency to insanity in the human race, would be quite inexplicable. Mr. Laurence Oliphant has himself perceived the depressing character of a novel which is devoted to the gospel of a new mysticism, and about a third of the way through the second volume he offers a set apology, which is at the same time a set defiance, to the ordinary reader. Chapter 18 begins with this remarkable admis- sion :—" I think it is highly probable that many of my readers who have followed my narrative thus far with considerable effort and a sense of growing weariness, will at this point close the book in despair. We are tired,' they will say, ' of this per- fectly impossible group of people, with their quickened organic sensitiveness, their highly developed inner faculties, their new moral and immoral consciousness, their invisible influences and spiritual combinations, their eharlatanisms, their aspirations, and so forth ;' but " [and here the author's native talent for humour breaks out] "I have far more sympathy with myself than with such critics. They have only had the trouble of reading half the book, if as much ; I have had the labour of writing the whole,—a far greater labour than it would have been if it had been more amusing, and generally adapted to the public taste." Assuredly the admission is one from which there is no escape, and the reader about this period, if not before, is beginning to confess to himself that it is not only a mad world, but a bad world and a dull world, in which the author has placed him.

Nor, it must equally be admitted, is there anything very novel in its mysticism or its dullness, as the author would fain have us believe. According to himself, he has a message to deliver, and a new order of highly developed beings to introduce, to a thick-beaded and thick-hided world. But in point of fact, there is nothing new in them but their jargon. These gifted beings are described as "highly sensitised ;" they do not feel passions or emotions, but they "sense " them, and "they are conscious of a new condition of sensibility" which it is im- possible to describe " to those who still remain in the old con- dition of denseness." Yet, after all, these highly gifted beings, though they suffer from hearing mysterious calls from each other, and from taking away each other's strength by their own feelings, and live in a perpetual state of semi-mesmerising each other on the way to a higher life, end, after all, very much like ordinary people. The heroes and heroines fall in love and marry, and are given in marriage, and the villains and villainesses come to grief, very much like the ordinary heroes and heroines and villains and villainesses of the ordinary novel. Even the mystics are the ordinary mystics. Masollam himself, who is the prophet, but a kind of Mahometical false prophet, of the new religion (for such it appears to be), is a bearded old Jew of the usual Disraeli or Bulwer Lytton novel type, a kind of modern Wan- dering Jew, who has an extraordinary faculty for sometimes appearing very old, and the next moment very young. He is the prophet and inventor of the new mystical dispensation. He is attended by an Armenian female, who is commonly supposed to be Mrs. Masollam, but who, it subsequently appears, has no legal right to that title. She has long found out old Masollam, who, after having deceived himself and her for some years, is now intent on deceiving other people, with a view to the possession of a fortune and a beautiful young wife. The person selected to fill this important office is a young lady named Amina, who passes for the daughter of the Masollams ; but as, of course, this is the kind of book in which nobody is what he seems, she tarns out to be no connection to either of them. She is the heroine par excellence. Her first appearance is in the Ladies' Gallery of the House of Commons, where, with a couple of priceless diamonds in her ears, she sets all the old women wondering who she is, and entirely captivates at first sight

• idasoUam : a Problem of the Period. By Laurence Oliphant. Edinburgh and London: William Blackwood and Sons.

a sceptical, cynical, materialistic Member of Parliament re- joicing in the name of Clareville, who is the hero par excellence. We say par excellence, because there is another hero and heroine, consisting of a worldly-minded young lady, a female Clareville, who becomes mysticised into the higher life, and an other- worldly-minded young man, who is the male Amina, and, indeed, who turns out to be her brother, and a Draw prince. How the sceptics and cynics, male and female, are converted into true believers in the new mysticism, we must leave the reader to discover. When read into English, the book is not uninteresting. In the result, everything turns on the acts, or rather on the " volitions " and the " sensing " of another Eastern gentleman, the Count Sautalba. He is as like as two peas to a certain Sidonia, not unknown to the Disraelian reader. Each possesses the marvellous capacity of having been every where and of being everywhere, of having done everything and of doing everything, and both are possessed of marvellous wealth and miraculous power. As it is highly improbable that if the " Rose of Sharon " had never infatuated Tancred, Amine would ever have fascinated Clareville, so if Sidonia had never been created, it is doubtful whether we should ever have heard of Sautalba. For those who like the mixture of mediaeval mysticism and modern manners, Eastern emirs and Western wonder-workers, descriptions of the Druses intermingled with life in London, the book is admirably suited. After all, too, it is by Mr. Laurence Oliphant, and it is as impossible for him to be always asleep as it is for Homer to wholly avoid nodding. Iu the latter half of the book there is plenty of incident, attempted robberies, murders, and so forth, and even in the first half you are kept so much in a state of surprise as to what improbability is coming next, that you hardly realise that it is really very dull and very absurd. And it all ends happily, in spite of the mystics and the mes- merisings. When the long-lost brothers and mothers and sisters have all turned up, when vice has been punished and virtue has triumphed, the four lovers are all led off to the altar in quite the orthodox way, and in the proper pairs. But we do hope that next time the author will leave the mystics and the Druses alone, and return to the style of Altiora Peto and the study of Piccadilly.