22 FEBRUARY 1890, Page 17


A SHORT time ago, one of those versatile writers who instruct the public on things in general by means of brief paragraphs printed at the end of several monthly magazines, indulged in a strong protest against the use by reviewers of the word "charming ;" and in order that the poor creatures might not be wholly stranded by the loss of their favourite term of com- mendation, he was good enough to provide them with quite a long list of alternatives, which included the words " splendid," " glorious," and " jocund." Now, it is quite possible that the epithet objected to has been used somewhat indiscriminately ; but every word has its use—even the much-abused " reliable " does not mean quite the same thing as " trustworthy "—and a book may be neither splendid, glorious, nor jocund, and yet be unaeniably charming. Indeed, the word is rightly used when no more precise epithet would fit equally well,—when a book attracts and wins us in virtue of qualities the presence of which we feel, but the nature of which we find it very difficult to analyse or describe. Mr. William Black's work, for example, as seen in The New Prince Fortunatus and in its many pre- decessors, has various merits which are to be found in the work of other capable novelists, and to which it is easy to give a name; but, in addition to these things, it is characterised by a certain je ne sais quoi of delightfulness which is his "charm," his personal secret of fascination. Though it seems rather an Irish proceeding to hint that something is indescribable and forthwith endeavour to describe it, we cannot help saying that in Mr. Black's case the reader's enjoyment of the work produced is really an unconscious apprehension of the enjoyment felt by the writer in producing it. We feel that he lives so intensely and so pleasurably in his characters and situations. Here in the new novel, as in so many of the old ones, we are taken to the Highlands, and at least two-thirds of a volume—nearly a quarter of the book —is devoted to the familiar details of shooting, deer-stalking, and salmon-fishing ; yet, familiar as the details are, they are not stale, because Mr. Black feels as he writes the thrill of every successful shot and lucky cast, and makes us feel it with him. The structural lines of the story are simple enough, but it has sufficient body to be pleasantly satisfying. The fashionable young opera-singer who is made free of the houses " where the wealthy nobles dwell," not apparently as a mere lion, but as a friend and equal ; who becomes, not in a vulgar and bumptious but in a very simple and natural way, just a little tile montge ; who is suddenly and painfully brought to his bearings only to lose himself for a while in a still more foolish manner ; and who at last finds his true life in the love which has been near him all the time,—is certainly not a heroic figure; but he is very likeable and very lifelike. To use again the objectionable word, he is charming, because, apart from good qualities which attract or weaknesses which irritate, he has a personality which draws us to him. Among the group in which he is the most prominent figure, there is not a single person whose society we cannot enjoy, either because we can love him or laugh at him. Those we love best are the tender, devoted little Italian singer, Nina ; the not less devoted and noble, but always self-depreciating journalist, Mangan ; and the sweet Francie Wright, who is surely the only attractive feminine philanthropist in English fiction. Those we laugh, at most heartily are Lady Adela • (1.) The New Prince P iinatus. By William Black. 3 vols. London: Sampson Low and Co.—( A March in the Ranks. By Jessie Fothergill. 3 vols. London: Hurst an, Blacken.— (3.) An Ocean Tragedy. By W. Clark RnsselL 3 vols. Londpn Chatto and Windus.—(4.) The Bull e th' Thorn. By Panl Cushing. B:Rnbnrgh and London: W. Blackwood and Sons.—(5.) Strange Gods. By Coistance Cotterell. London: Richard Bentley and Son. —(6.) N Satan's Bonui: a Story of Love and Crime. By Frederick Eastwood. 2 vols. London : Samp:- at Low and 00.—James : the Story of a Life. By Jeffery 0. Jeffery. trials. London : W. H. Allen and Co.

Cunyngham, the aristocratic society novelist, and her two artistic sisters ; Mr. Quirk, the toady and log-roller who barters puffs for invitations to dinner; Miss Burgoyne, the ambitious, jealous prima donna, and her masculine satellite, Percy Miles, though these last are a somewhat dangerous couple who cannot be laughed at always. Miss Honnor Cunyngham must not be forgotten, for though she does not exactly range herself either among the loveable or the laughable people, her portrait is one of Mr. Black's strongest pieces of work.

Miss Jessie Fothergill has written one or two books—Kith and Kin is the one book of which we are specially thinking— that are richer in obvious suggestions of genius than is her latest novel, A March in the Ranks ; but she has never written a book in which the conception of character is so unswervingly true to life, and the literary workmanship so firm, so sure, so intellectually satisfying. The novel just named, Kith and Kin, was one of the strongest stories of the kind which have been written since Charlotte Bronte laid down the pen ; but it was marred by the intrusion of a certain sentimental unreality in the writer's conception of the relations of some of the principal personages,—a fault which made itself noticeable not for the first nor for the last time. A March in the Ranks is not, perhaps, so impressive as some of its pre- decessors, and readers who above all things like to be " excited," may not care for it so much; but such readers do not provide an audience worthy of a writer possessing Miss Fothergill's powers, and the audience which is really worthy will appreciate the reticent strength that can afford to dispense with forced and meretricious aids to effect. The sketch of men, women, and manners at the Hydropathic Establishment where Dr. Godfrey Noble goes to act as locum tenens for the resident physician, is really the opening of the story ; and Miss Fothergill has seldom written anything fresher or brighter than these chapters. The shallow medical humbug, Dr. Burton, is so good that we should like to have seen more of him, and the same may be said of the vivacious American lady, Mrs. Van Bibber ; but the author knows her business, which is to concentrate the attention and interest of her readers upon the two pairs of brothers and sisters, Godfrey and Hilda Noble, Peregrine and Alizon Blundell. The BI =dells are perhaps the more in- teresting, because they are the more incalculable. We feel with regard to them, as we so often feel with regard to people in real life, and so seldom with regard to people in fiction, that while their characters have an underlying consistency, the secret of which would be doubtless discoverable could we know them as they know themselves, there is a surface incon- sistency which renders it difficult to predict their action. This is particularly true with regard to Alizon. She surprises us, she disappoints us, just in the same way as we are surprised and disappointed by our living friends and acquaintances ; and in her case, as in theirs, we are made to feel that the surprise and disappointment are simply due to imperfect knowledge,—that she and they are not really inconsistent with themselves, but only with our inadequate conception of them. Portraiture which produces this effect is really fine art, and in such art Miss Fothergill's new novel abounds. Whatever may be thought of it at the circulating libraries—and even there it is certain to be in large demand—it is sure of a high place in the estimation of the best class of readers.

Now that Wilkie Collins has gone, Mr. Clark Russell is probably our greatest living master of the art of narration; and, like Collins, he is not only a magnificent teller of a story, but he always has a new story to tell. His range of inven- tion is really wonderful. He has been writing novels of the sea for years, and—except in the matter of mutinies, which he varies most skilfully—he never repeats himself. In An Ocean Tragedy there is no mutiny, and the incidents of the story are as fresh, as exciting, and, it must be added, as blood-curdling as if they represented the first draft upon an accumulated stock of imaginative material. The wife of Sir Wilfrid Monson, in whom is a hereditary vein of insanity, elopes with his friend Colonel Hope-Kennedy, and it is known that the guilty pair have started in a hired yacht for the Cape of Good Hope. The baronet, in whom the shock has developed some rather alarming symptoms of the congenital taint, determines to follow them in a larger and swifter yacht of his own ; to take as companions his sister-in- law, Miss Laura Jennings, and his cousin, Mr. Charles Monson; to overhaul the vessel bearing the fugitives ; to tear his wife from her seducer, and to challenge and kill the latter. The possibilities of such a narrative scheme in the hands of a writer like Mr. Clark Russell can be imagined by readers of such books as The Wreck of the Grosvenor' and The Golden Hope, but their imagination is tolerably certain to fall far short of the actual reality. We incline to think that the author manifests his inventive " staying power" more remarkably in this story than in any of its predecessors. When we have reached the end of the second volume, and the ghastly duel has been fought upon the deck of the Bride,' we feel that the third volume must have something of the nature of padding or anti-climax ; but, on the contrary, the story of the wreck upon the volcanic island, whose sudden rise has heaved up from the ocean deeps the galleon sunk a cen- tury and a half ago, is as strong or stronger than anything which has preceded it. Mr. Clark Russell's brain and hand have clearly lost none of their cunning.

Those who remember The Blacksmith of Yoe—and there were chapters in it not to be soon forgotten—will expect much from Mr. Paul Cushing's new book, and The Bull i' th' Thorn will not disappoint them. Pedantic critics of construc- tion will shake their heads, and say that the book is all wrong, because a most stirring story of the Mexican revolution in the first quarter of the century is sandwiched between two sections of a somewhat grim English idyll ; and they will wisely, and, it must be admitted, quite truthfully, declare that the con- nection between the English romance and the Mexican romance is mechanical rather than vital. The pedants are, however, in the minority ; and the majority of intelligent novel-readers only ask of the novelist that he will interest them in a good, wholesome fashion, and do not worry them- selves to inquire whether the interest is achieved according to the only methods admitted by the pedants to be legitimate. The characters and surroundings of the ruined descendants of the ancient family of the Polocs, to which the earlier part of the book is devoted, are treated not merely picturesquely, but with real imaginative vigour ; but it is clear that this portion of the story is only a prologue intended to lead up to a recital of daring by which the exile, Ralph Poloc, won for himself the name of the "Lion of Mexico;" and as a story of exciting military adventure, The Bull i' th' Thorn is not likely to be soon surpassed. Two or three small slips may with advantage be corrected in a second edition. There is no such word as "inning," " innings " being both the singular and the plural form; nor were there in 1810 either sovereigns or revolving churns. The former were first coined in 1817, and the latter have been introduced within the last half-century.

Eulogy is apt to become monotonous, but it does occasionally happen that a number of really admirable novels appear almost simultaneously; and the critic who would call a good book bad in order to give his review the charm of variety would prove himself a very reckless believer in the doctrine of "Art for Art's sake." Miss Cotterell's Strange Gods differs in many ways from any of the four books just noticed; but it resembles them in being excellent in both substance and form. It is a perfectly graceful and pretty story, not without passages of both power and pathos, the scene of which is laid in an English village, though the actors in the quiet drama are not cottagers, but dwellers in parsonage and hall. There are some bits of very pleasant comedy in the early portion of poor Jenet Minors' love-story, but we feel sure that it must have a sad ending ; and though such an ending is an insuper- able objection to some readers, they ought not to be repelled by the work of a writer whose fine artistic restraint never allows her to pass the point at which sadness ceases to be beautiful, and becomes simply harrowing. Jenet's ignorance, not merely of the world, but of almost everything, is perhaps a little incredible even in a girl so utterly uncared for, and Tristram, the gentle middle-aged scholar, who discloses his love too late to avert sorrow from the object of it, will be regarded by some readers as "a woman's man ;" but Tenet's hot-tempered, masterful, jealous, yet wholly loyal and devoted suitor Blase is an admirable creation, and the lazy, easy-going Evelyn, who contributes to the story its humorous element, is not less successful. Strange Gods is, in short, rich in human interest, and Miss Cotterell's style has ease, refinement, and maturity.

The hero of In Satan's Bonds is manager for a company engaged in the manufacture of explosives; and, so far as our memory serves us, this is the first time a gentleman of his calling has figured in fiction. As Mr. Eastwood's novel has little to recommend it but a decidedly wild plot, it would be unfair to disclose the course of the story, and it must suffice to say that George Longford falls into the toils spread for him by four strangers whose acquaintance he accidentally makes at Scarborough, the party consisting of a villainous American capitalist, and of three Nihilists, two masculine and one feminine, who among them contrive to involve the unfortunate chemist in a series of misfortunes culminating in a sensational climax which testifies to the boldness and exuberance of Mr. Eastwood's invention. The title is certainly a misnomer. Longford was not in the bonds of Satan, but in the bonds of his own contemptible fickleness and crass stupidity; and the reader will pity him a great deal less than he pities himself.

No one who is not very unsympathetic or cynical will fail to be prepossessed in favour of James Frank by Mr. Jeffery's touching and beautiful dedication to his father; and the book is, indeed, a good one,—strong and real in character- portraiture, and by no means wanting in vividly conceived and briskly narrated incident. Some of the Indian chapters are specially excellent; but it is impossible to derive pleasure of the kind which we have a right to expect that an imagina- tive work will provide, from a story which is from first to last a record of unrelieved sadness. And the sadness is altogether gratuitous, for with the exception of the misfortunes which are perhaps the natural result of James Vraille's foolish choice of a wife—and even here the possibilities of trouble are well-nigh exhausted—the sorrows of the brave, loyal-hearted soldier are simply repeated strokes of ill fate, which crush the reader almost as completely as they crush the unhappy victim. This would not perhaps matter much, were not the story so well told that one is tempted to finish it and to make oneself miserable. Yraille himself, his shallow-minded, heartless wife, the faithful nurse Judith, and the malicious, cowardly Colonel Dare are unmistakably made to live, and some of the situations have genuine dramatic force. If James Vraille had only a gleam or two of brightness, it might be praised unreservedly.