PEREGRINE PULTUNEY, OR LIFE IN INDIA.
Tins novel is not so much a sketch of life in India, as of the life of an Indian cadet up to a certain stage of his career. Peregrine Pultuney, the hero, is the son of a gentleman whose small fatuity is larger than his means; but, through a Leadenhall Street connexion, an appointment to the Military College at Addiscombe is procured for Peregrine ; and the book consists of his life till his marriage. Tbere is a literal, tedious, dead-lively account of his father, mother, and school-adventures ; a coarse but amusing sketch of the doings and discipline at Addiscombe ; a long description of the voyage to Calcutta, varied by a quarrel, an intended duel, and a sojourn at the Cape. In India, the difficulties of a " griffin " or new-comer are exhibited to the reader, with delineations of life in the Calcutta reception-barracks and the artillery-station at Dum Dum, as well as some sketches of Calcutta society, or at least of Calcutta people. Peregrine is sent to an island off the coast of Arracan, without any other object than to get a fever; and is involved in two love- adventures, the last of which ends in his marriage.
The author of Peregrine Pulluney seems to be well acquainted with the life, such as it is, he has undertaken to describe ; nor is he devoid of the particular kind of talent requisite to sketch it with effect. He has the art of narrating a scene or adventure with quaint point and a slang sort of wit ; he has a distinct though hard style of delineation ; and he possesses considerable force when the subject requires it. But he is literal and minute to an extraordi- nary degree ; filling pages with mere catalogues, and not seeming to know that excellence of description consists in first conveying a general impression and then individualizing it by a few well-selected details. He is destitute of all refinement or high moral sense, or indeed of any moral sense, except that conventional one which all pick up in the society to which they belong.
The subject of Peregrine Pultuney is better fitted for publication in numbers, or periodical appearance in a magazine, than for three volumes,—though in such case, the author must have rapidly in- troduced the scenes at Addiscombe, or the work would have been damned at starting. Till the third volume is well opened, the novel is one continued succession of pranks, or coarser adventure. The military school, the barrack-room, the cabin of a passenger-ship, with some Calcutta society—very strangely conducted, if we may trust the description—is the whole subject-matter of Peregrine
Pultuney; and even these are only looked at with the eye of a literary caricaturist, more anxious to discover telling points for a
story than the useful truth they may contain. We are not of the fastidious taste that would reject these things altogether from lite- rature; but they have not variety, relief, or interest, for three vo- lumes of continuous perusal, especially when destitute of all unity of structure. The subjects would do very well for a series of short tales or sketches ; but the "larks" and discourses of schoolboys or cadets, and the gross every-day life of a mess-room, or of a Cal-
cutta drawing-room, (as here described,) are insufficient to sustain attention, above all when their inherent character is not mitigated by any delicacy in their description. Such society has no other than a critical interest in its reality. As soon as the novelty has
passed, and we have gratified curiosity by observing its character, disgust begins, and one is anxious to " get away " : and what is offensive in nature will not please for long in the imitation.
The want of high tone, however, is the great drawback of the book. Now and then an apparently well-conducted and well- principled person appears for a minute on the scene, and passes; but there is not a character of the novel that excites either the regard or the sympathy of the reader. In delineating his two heroines, the author seems to have drawn his ideas from ladies of a free and easy kind. Peregrine is evidently intended for a hero and a gentleman ; but he never rises higher than what is called a " gent"; and iu the latter part of the book, the writer, without any necessity, degrades his hero to a mere scamp, not only devoid of honour, but of the sense of propriety which so often serves instead of it.
Yet there are passages which show considerable capability, if the writer would confine himself to what be really knows, eschew love and romance, and the endeavour to endow things with an attraction and importance their nature does not permit them to possess. His broad sketches are always good ; his military characters mostly capital, especially Lieutenant Peterkin of the Hundredth ; and a variety of passing remarks on Indian affairs show observation and worldly judgment. The death-scene of young Appleby, at the Calcutta Barracks, rises higher. It is delineated with power, almost with pathos ; and its conclusion contains a moral lesson on the impropriety of allowing boys to be exposed to all the temptations of a capital, without employ- ment, superintendence, or the control which a position in some society or other enforces. Here is a part of the scene : and the opening illustrates the writer's literalness.
DEATDEED OP A CADET.
The room was of the same dimensions and quite as uncomfortable as that they bad just quittted. Indeed, its aspect was still more wretched ; for it was dirtier and more disordered, and in one corner of the room was a heap of dirty linen, the chief part of which was stained and stiffened with blood. On the table were two or three bottles of physic, a pill-box, and a number of blue powder-papers, a wine-glass with the remains of a draught at the bottom and clinging to the sides, a few scraps of lint, a tea-spoon, which looked as though it had held a powder, and lastly, a plate full of salt and blood, in which evidently a dozen leeches or so had lately beeh disgorging the sanguinary meal they had made. Besides these paraphernalia, which adorned the table, there were a number of soda-water bottles, some full and some empty, in the corner of the room opposite the linen ; and scattered about the floor were several large locks of beautiful soft yellow hair, which you might have almost taken for a woman's, so fine and luxuriant did they look.
Beneath a punkah, which a bearer more than nine-tenths asleep was drowsily pretending to pull, was just such a camp-bed as Julian Jenks had seen in Mr. Phillimore's quarter ; and on this bed, which was surely never designed for an invalid, lay the unfortunate, fever-stricken patient, his head shaven close to the scalp, his left arm bandaged and bloodstained, and his brows bearing evident symptoms of having lately worn a garland of leeches. Tossing about restlessly, as though seeking in vain for an easy position, and groaning like a person with a weight upon his chest, he presented to Julian Jenks and Mr. Phillimore, as they entered, an aspect to the last degree pitiable: and Julian felt his heart sink within him, as he contemplated the pale sunken cheeks, the emaciated limbs, and the distorted features of one who a few months before he bad seen in all the fulness of youth and health and boundless animal spirits, with a face and a figure that might have served as a model for the painter or the sculptor who would body forth a Ganymede or an Antinous. Julian crept towards the sick boy's bed, and seated himself on a chair beside it. At first he felt a choking sensation that prevented him from uttering a word, but he took one of the patient's hands into his own and looked at him with melancholy kindness. Presently he said, "Appleby !"
The suffering youth turned his face towards Julian, stared at him with a 'vague delirious look, shook his head, and then turned it away again, with a long deep groan, which penetrated the very heart of his old associate.
"Don't you know me, Appleby ? I think you must, we have been so very much together. Don't you know Jenks—your old, old friend ?—you ought to remember me, Appleby. Think a little, and I'm sure you will recollect our walks to the Addington Bills—to Beckenham—to Norwood ?—think a little; and how we went on Sundays to Sydenham—you, Pultuney, and 1? "
"I know it was very foolish of me," returned the fever-stricken sufferer with a vacant and almost idiotic look ; "but I'm very young, I didn't know better—I had nobody to give me good advice—I couldn't help it—I couldn't, indeed. Ha, ha, be! it was good fun though—give me some soda-water." "He is wandering," whispered Phillimore. "I know what he means; he is thinking of our last revel. Poor fellow ! I'm afraid that some part of this is his own fault—perhaps mine."
"He was not wild when I knew him," said Julian, with a sigh, as he un- twisted the wire from the soda-water bottle, and poured out the effervescent fluid into a tumbler that would scarcely, contain it. " Here, my poor fellow, drink this ; perhaps it will refresh you a little."
The poor youth drained the tumbler eagerly ; and when he had done so, he shook his head, and made some incoherent remarks about its being "poor stuff," and not "beer," and then told them to give him something better.
"I tell you I want it—I'm thirsty—beer shrub, you khitmutgar—ktou- ha, ha, ha! What a lark, to be sure—three in a buggy—all through the bazaar—and two of us drunk as blazes! Well, well, I know it was wrong; but I couldn't help it—I couldn't indeed—I am not quite seventeen yet." "No," said Julian, still bolding him by the hand. " I know you're not— dear little fellow! how I do wish he'd remember me for a moment !—Appleby- Charles—there now-1 used to call you Charles at Addiscombe—dear Charles, I think you should know me—I am Jenks—Julian Jenks—I am come to nurse you. He looks me in the face like an idiot!"
" Well, now, that was good," continued the delirious youth—" to think that I beard her talking to me—her, too, out here, and calling me Charles '—ha, ha! that is good—almost as good as three in a buggy, and two of them drunk as blazes—well, 1 know 'twits very stupid, very wrong—but that cursed curacoa- such a mixture—oh! ye gods!—porter, cornea, and champagne "—And thus be went on wanderingly ; always alluding to the foolish debauch, which Mr. Phillimore said had taken place only the day before the poor fellow was first taken ill—laughing every now and then at some absurd feature in his remini- scences, and checking himself to give vent to his self-reproaches and confes- sions of folly. After one of these incoherent bursts of regret, he turned sud- denly upon his back, and held out both his arms, with his bands straightened, as a person does when be is describing the length of any particular object, and Said with a slight chuckle, " Ah I it will be that long—yes, 1 think it will be just that."
" What will, Charley ? what will be that long? " asked Julian in his kindest tone, and none were kindlier than his. " What are you speakingd, Charley ?"
" Well now, ha, ha! that's very strange," muttered the sick youth, "I thought I heard it again—ha, ha! how very odd—out here too, and it called me Charley l "
" I did call you, Charley," continued Julian. " I asked what it was you were thinking of—what will be that long?"
" That long—yes, that long "—still retaining his arms in the same position. " That long, and with brass nails in it—my coffin! ha, ha!"
" Do not talk in that way, Charley." " And Jenks will he chief mourner. I think he will walk first—he said be was very fund of me always—and Pultuney —lie will go, too—I think he will go, too—ba, ha! only seventeen—they didn't think that, Ill answer for it." And in this manner be continued for some lime, deliriously talking in a low voice about his coffin, and his old friends, and his follies ; every now and then interspersing his incoherencies with a few faint chuckles, which were more pain- ful to hear than any thing else, as they resembled in their sound something between the gibber of an ape and the laugh of an idiotic child.