24 NOVEMBER 1877, Page 20


Tnrcrui are certain writers in the ranks of fiction whose aim would seem to be a purely negative one, and amongst such writers Richard Blackmore is perhaps the best known and most widely read. By nature and education scholarly, if not a scholar, poetical, if not a poet, he has produced a series of romances and poems of whieli the predominating element is their absolute harmlessness. Beginning his literary career with poetry, original and translated, but soon taking to the writing of romances, he established his reputation by a work still well known to the public as Lorna Doone. Without dwelling on this work, we may remark in passing that probably no story ever achieved such popularity which treated so minutely of the details of the domestic life of a bygone age. Dutch painting in literature had hitherto been confined to a time contemporaneous with that in which the author wrote, and the historic novel was considered to have done much if it only reproduced broadly the more striking features of the manners, customs, and thoughts common to the age it de- picted. Such were the novels of Scott and Lytton, and their practice had been followed by many more authors. But the majority of the matter of Lorna Doone, and almost the whole of the interest, was concentrated in the domestic details of Jan Ridd's farm, and the sketches of scenery and animal life which were interwoven with it. The more absolutely trivial the inci- dent to be described, the greater was Mr. Blackmorels success in telling it ; and it was this power of telling, in quaint, rather affectedly old-fashioned English, the little incidents of every-day life which formed the leading characteristic of the writer's work. For the rest, lie has always possessed the power of describing Nature, especially in her more abnormal phases. This much will apply to the whole of Mr. Blackmore's work, and it was with the expectations caused by such previous writing that we sat down to peruse Brom; or, Illy Father's Sin.

We expected to find only a "day of small things,"—paragraphs told in curious English, partly Biblical, partly Chaueerian, partly Classical, a book which should run on pleasantly enough for the first hundred pages or so, and then repeat itself in various manners till the required space was exhausted. And such is Erma. No mother will forbid her child to read such a book ; hundreds of perfectly well-meaning persons will praise its good morale, its elegant English, its pretty descriptions, and no blush will by any possibility rise to the "cheek of the young person" as she quietly turns over its pages. Of "what I said to Betty, and what Betty said to me," and all that sort of talk, which neither advances the story, heightens the interest, nor means anything in particular, there is far too much throughout the book, and there is no doubt but that the story would have been greatly improved had it been condensed into one volume. Again, though there is, as we shall proceed to show, ahnost a plethora of incident throughout the book, this is related in such a milk-and-watery, unsubstantial kind of 'manner, that it leaves the reader absolutely unmoved, and he ranges it in his mind with the fact that the heroine had "a frock which improved 'with washing," with the remarks made by the major to the cabman, and other matter equally relevant and interesting. In fact, the book is tedious from beginning to end, wearying and unsatisfying. It dribbles on, and at last it dribbles out, and barring the impression it leaves upon us that its author is a cultivated man, who has a knack of combining scenery, sentiment, and a little very cheap philosophy, we might as well have spent our time in dozing over, say, Martin Tupper.

But it is time that we gave our readers some idea of the plan, we cannot say plot, of this book ; and we do so with the greater readiness, that we are not likely to interfere with any interest they may feel during its perusal. " My Father's Sin" is parricide, which has been committed (or not committed, as the case may be) before the opening of the story,—the first incident in which is the death of "my father" by starvation in a desolate part of the Sierra Nevada. He is 'supposed to have starved himself for days

lest his little daughter should want for provisions, and it is worthy of notice that here, as in many other places in the book, Mr.

.Blackmore does not stop to consider probability in the least. For it seems inconceivable that a father should deliberately starve

* Emma ; or, icy Fathood Sin, By R. D. Blaamore, London mith, E]dor, and Co. himself to death for the sake of leaving his child alive in the de- sert ; or if he wished to do so, that she, a girl of fifteen, and represented as being excessively old for her age, should not discover that he is so doing, and endeavour to prevent him. However, the father dies, and the child is saved by an old friend of her father's, who has settled in the Far West. He acts as a sort of guardian to the girl, and his son naturally falls in love with her. "Sawyer Gundry," for so is he called, from his occupation, is the exact counterpart of Jan Ridd, in Lorna Doone, and conducts himself in much the same way. And here it is worth while to notice one of Mr, Blaekmore's most irritating peculiarities, which is, that his char- acters, from the beginning to the end, always do what they ought to do, and think what they ought to think. They are (the good ones, we mean), to use an expressive Americanism, " chockful" of proper sentiments, and are always expressing these sentiments to you, as much as to say, Look at them now, is not that the way I ought to speak ?' One instance of this will do as well as a hundred, and the following is a good example :—" It would have been reckless of me to pretend to say what anybody ought to do ; from the first to the last I left everything to those who knew so much better, but at the same time, I felt that it might have done no harm if I had been more consulted, though I never dreamed of saying so." This seems a very trivial speech, but when there are three volumes of autobiography, as there are here, and the heroine is always explaining herself after the above fashion, it grows tedi- ous, and we wish she would do something wrong, even by accident. The raison d'être of the book is the discovery by the heroine of the man who has killed her grandfather, and this does not begin to happen till the second volume. The first is full of the life at the mill, of Sawyer Gundry, and various frontier incidents, which read as if Mr. Blackmore had a fast-failing memory of some of Bret Harte'simining stories. This first volume is nevertheless the best part of the book, and though it abounds with ridiculous inci- dents, flows on with a certain amount of interest. The character of Ephraim Gundry, son of the old Sawyer, is forcible, and the sketches of the old Indian servant and the grumbling foreman of the mill are amusing.

As we hinted before, there is plenty of incident ; a man shot by the Sawyer, a spy lost in a snow-drift (or supposed to be), a tree cut clown which is a furlong long and of a proportionate girth ; a nugget as heavy as a ton, the destruction of the mill by flood, and the rescue of the Sawyer by the heroine,—and many minor events, are all in this first volume, which closes with the voyage of Erema to England, on her mission of duty. Our extract is from, the account of the destruction of the saw-mill by a sudden flood :—

"Then suddenly wiping my oyes, I beheld a• thing which entirely changed mo. A vast, broad wall of water, nearly as high as the mill itself, rushed down with a crest of foam from the mountains. It seemed to fill up all the valley and swallow up all the trees a whole host of animals fled before it nuil birds like a volley of bullets flew by. I lost not a moment in running away, and climbing a rock and hiding, It was base, ungrateful, and a nasty thing to do; but I did it almost without thinking. And if I had stayed to cry out, what good could I have done ? —only to be swept away Now, as far as I can remember anything out of so much horror, I must have pooped over the summit of my rock when the bead of the deluge struck the mill. But whether I saw it, or whether I know it by any more summary process such as outruns the eyes sometimes, is more than I here presume to say. Whichever way I learned it, it was thus. A. solid mass of water, much bigger than the mill itself, burst on it, dashed it to atoms, leaped off with it, and spun away the great wheel anyhow, like the hoop of a child sent trundling. I heard no scream or shriek, indeed the bellow of a lien would have been a more whisper in the wild rear of the elements."

All this is good enough, but we naturally imagine that a force sufficient to smash a solidly-built mill to atoms would 'render it excessively unpleasant for any person inside,—indeed, that there would have been but little of him left. This, however, is not the ease, for the Sawyer is rescued by Erema a mile lower down the stream, as he floats by on "a wattle of brushwood," and is only a little exhausted by the accident.

The second volume is concerned with the steps by which the murderer is traced,—and here we must leave the reader to find out the remainder of the mystery for himself. As we have hinted, Mr. Blaelcmore is at his best in the description of inanimate nature, and though this book is far inferior in this respect to his preceding works, there are several passages of real feeling and beauty, of which perhaps the best is the description of the little village of Shoxford, of which we have only space for the conclusion :—

"But now every trouble has boon settled for the beat. The long grass is mown, and the short grass browsed ; and the capers of the fairies and caprices of the cows have dappled worn texture with a deeper green. Therefore, let' eyes that are!lathered here—as any but a very bad eye must be, with so many changes of aoftnesa—follow the

sweet lead of the valley ; and there, in a bend of the gently-brawling river, stands the never-brawling church. A church less troubled with the gift of tongues is not to be found in England. A church of grey stone, that crumbles just enough to entice frail mortal sympathy, and confesses to the storms it has undergone in a tone that conciliates the human sigh. The town" is largo, and high enough to tell what the wind is without any potato-bury on the top, and the simple roof is not associated with tiles of misguided fancy. Bat grey rest, and peaoo of ages, and content of lying calmly six feet deeper than the bustle of the quick, memory also, and oblivion, following eaoh other slowly, like the shadows of the churchyard trees,—for all of these no better place can be, no softer comfort."

To sum up our opinion of this work, we think it to be un- worthy of Mr. Blackmore's talents. With his sympathy with nature and his power of drawing character, he might have given us a story as beautiful as it was simple and natural ; as it is, he has only produced a third-rate magazine fiction, loose and wildly improbable in construction and incident, and most tedious in narration. That it is redeemed here and there by bits of de- scription like the above is no compensation for work so inferior to that which he might have produced.