Mn. BESTIt is well known to the reading public as a Roman Catholic gentleman with a turn for literature, who for tfiirty year&
and more has occasionally favoured the world with the result of his observations. Indeed, observation is his strongest quality; a minute accuracy producing the effect of reality rather than lite ralness. Till his last publication, "Modern Society in Rome," Mr. Beate had chiefly confined himself to depiction ; and the better portions of that work consisted of descriptions of actual man ners, the invented story having rather a heavy air. His present fiction of Akazor, or the Dark Ayes, is an historical romance, the scene of which is laid in Sicily during the twelfth century, under the reign of the Norman sovereign William the Wicked. We do not know whether the author intended to suggest a resemblance to the present King of Naples, but some of his descrip tions tend that way. The work also displays a knowledge of Sicilian history and scenery, as well as of mediteval antiquities. The singular state of society in the island, with its native Sicilians, its Saracen settlers, and its Norman rulers, is judiciously used to give variety to the incidents and persons, as well as to influence the action. The author turns to account his observations on men in drawing his characters and exhibiting their motives; he connects his story sufficiently with history, by placing his hero, Taverna, at the head of a revolt of the Barons,—though the proper business of a novel may be delayed while the persons are engaged in war and politics. As is usually the case with historical romances, the tone is too modern : the knowledge of the author may make his accessories mediteval, but thoughts and speech are of our time. There are, however, novelty of scenery and subject in Alcazar, with plenty of variety and. adventure. The tragical nature of the termination is consistent with the times and with the elements of the talc; but it will be distasteful to the mere novel-reader.
To some, the preface will have more interest than the story, from the glimpse it gives of a systematic censorship, and indeed persecution, towards Roman Catholic and in a less degree towards all writers. Mr. Beste appears to be by nature a moderate and sensible man, with the toleration which gentlemen mostly entertain for mere differences of opinion. He cannot be charged with laxity or lukewarmness in religion—rather, indeed, the reverse. He does not go out of his way to engage in controversy, perhaps he is not controversial ; but in dealing with controversial results, or the effects of religion, he is Romanist enough. In "Modern Society in Rome" the Protestants wore pamted hard and worldly, irreligious in feeling if not conviction, and holding their creed lightly. It was only in the true Church that • Aleazar ; or the Dark Ages : a Novel. By J.11ichard Bette, Esq., Author of "The Wabash," &e. In three volume,. Published by Hurst and Blodgett. The ROW: Pass; or Englishmen in the Highlands. By Erick Mackenzie. la three volumes. Published by Smith and Elder.
you could find genuine faith, and a religious spirit operating upon the character and the events of daily life. The experience of Mr. Beste has induced him to form an unfavourable opinion of the temporal government of the Pope, and therefore he is put under ecclesiastical ban. Before the beginning of the following extract, he has been defending himself from a charge of being animated by religions or sectarian feeling in "Modern Society."
"That such was not the character of the book, is shown by the reception it met with from the-three Catholic periodicals to which the publishers sent copies as a matter of course: the editor of one of these reviewed it in what he thought a safe manner, and was told, by what he considered the highest authority on such matters in England, that, if he was unwilling to condemn the work, he ought not to have noticed it at all; the editor of the second declared that he would not write against it, und dared not write in its favour ; whilst, for the third publication, an approving notice was prepared, at the request of the editor, but was rejected by the ecclesiastical censorship to which the writer chose to submit his paper ! "This last-mentioned gentleman is no politician, but ranks among his coreligionists as one of the first theologians in England. His approval of the work showed that it contained nothing which these parties could object to on theological grounds; whilst its condemnation by the others proved that its scope was not the furtherance of their own or any other religious views; but that they were scandalized by the liberality and freedom and independence of my remarks on the temporal administration of Rome. I knew Pius the Ninth himself to have Italian and liberal aspirations, and I did not spare councillors and a system which he himself had not energy to discard. I am told that I should have been pardoned if I had condemned the Pontiff and spared the system.
"It may well be believed that it is unpleasant to me to enter into these explanations. I am compelled to do so because it has been reported (however erroneously) that my novel has been placed in the Index of Books forbidden at Rome ! No question of faith was involved in the matter of those volumes ; for, as I was not called upon to advance any, so did I not compromise any : though I have my own religious convictions, I do not feel myself called upon in these books to propose them, nor to shock those of others ; but questions of political government, questions affecting the material wellbeing of Italy were involved, and because I wrote frankly on these subjects, I am denounced by English Catholic writers, who would deny to themselves the liberty of thought, speech and action, which is exercised by their I co-religionista all over the world. t may be gall and wormwood to these gentlemen, but if they exclude all liberal-minded Catholic politicians in Europe and America from fellowship, they will leave themselves, I am happy to say, in a very very small minority indeed ! "I trust to the honourable conduct of the general press of England to protect me from the misrepresentation of bigots and sycophants."
No one, of course, can rationally expect that he will receive the countenance of those whom he opposes. IleligMnists rail at one another ; a politician bawls against a rival ; and if "an enemy" has "written a book," it finds little mercy. It is not the mere ecclesiastical opposition to Mr. Bette that is the question ; a clergyman has the same right to criticize as anybody else. It is the systematic manner, the organized censorship established, and the evident power of enforcing it, that give its peculiarity to the ease. No body of writers would submit to this kind of irresponsible dictation and control, were it not that the influence of the priesthood' can manifestly affect their circulation.
Although there is no direct resemblance in The Boua Pass to the Drente novels, it has this feature in common with them : the book appears to be the result of a close but narrow examination of life and scenery, the high persons and general story being the product of pure fancy or imagination. In this task Miss Brontë was not altogether successful ; in part from a want of natural delicacy, whioh accompanied her strength, and which want had never been supplied by conventional training ; in part from the limited sphere of her observation. If" How can we reason butfrom what we know" ho true of argument, it is equally true of invention. Imagination may give form and spirit, but the matter to be combined must be the result of knowledge. As regards Highland scenery, Highland peasantry, and Highland middle life it there is such a thing, Erick Mackenzie is at home. He has also a knowledge of shooting-boxes, and externally of the wealthy Southrons who annually frequent them. He fails in attempting to exhibit their characters in discourse, or to connect them with the romance of the story. Being deficient in the strength of delineation which characterized Miss Bronte, and. sometimes aiming at results by incident rather than as she did by occurrences as influenced by and influencing peculiar natures, Erick Mackenzie verges upon the improbable and melodramatic, or indeed the unpleasing. There may be in him the material of a novelist, but he has much to acquire, much to improve, in fact much to amend.
The Roan Pass is the name of a particular place in a Highland district where three English sportsmen spend the shooting-season ; Marelunoram, the principal hero, being the tenant. The three visitors become intimate with the family of a laird in the vicinity, consisting of himself and his three daughters. The fortunes and of course the loves of these dramatis personte constitute the leading subject of the talc; but they are varied by subordinate incidents among the peasantry and the followers of the sportsmen, as well as by the Highlanders, their characters and scenery. A great defect in the writer, and one which unless he can correct it will ever militate against his success, is the rendering his principal persons often distasteful ; the females by something like forwardness, the men not only by want of principle but a levity respecting that want more often found in novels than in life. The principal interest of the story centres upon Marchmoram and Esme, one of the daughters of Macneil the laird of Glenbenrough. Estee is sacrificed to an ambitious match, for Marchmoram is a Such a struggle may inspire interest, but not when the lover is exhibited in the following fashion. Florh, Esme's foster-mother,. has occasion to go to the shooting-box. Esme has accompanied her, and is persuaded by Florh, who has a kind of supernatural reputation, to listen at the window, where Marchmoram and a friend are talking confidentially.
"Marchmoram did not immediately reply ; and when he did, it was to say very abruptly, 'Herbert, have you really no thoughts whatsoever of marrying ? I should like to see you driven to that state.' " ' Me, Godfrey! no, not I,' Auber replied. 'But, apropos, now we are alone, I want to lay my ease before you, and ask you to help me if you can: if not, you ought, at any rate, to feel remorse; for you, I suspect, are the cause of its present hopelessness. Do you recollect a little theory I opened to you in our last conversation on that confounded Lucia; whose death, bythe-bye, I am glad Gupini has ascertained. It was that of cultivating intimate acquaintance with a fresh susceptible mind—a sort of Platonic love, that gives one power without responsibility.'
" Ilere—Marchmoram striking the fire-irons with his heel, accidentally (for he muttered at the noise that ensued when they came clattering down) —Auber was interrupted for a moment ; but he went on, in the subsequent silence, with perfect equanimity.
" ' Well, you knew very well where I pointed, and you showed no discouragement then, gave merely asking, with a brotherly kind of interest, whether what was play to me might not prove deadly to her. Was it not so ? '
" Esme's eyes had been fixed upon Marchmoram all the while she was gazing through the open window : they had never once turned to Auber, though she might have seen the face of the latter from where she stood. Her expression of agonized suspense was terrible • and later, when she heard the more cruel words, an on-looker might have timed horror in the burning dilated eye and half-opened lip ; but it was the horror of a passionate, injured woman. "Marchmoram gave a little laugh, and replied, That was kind of me, and as much as could have been expected ; furl have never seen your power fail where you chose to exert it, Herbert; and I had some feeling of pity here.'
" ' But,' pursued Auber, 'Iam going to put you on your defence : I suspect that when I spoke to you then, you had been before, or rather.after me, for you left this part of the country later than I did last year. I suspect you were the selfish oue, Godfrey, and that you have robbed me of the bloom of my Highland water-lily.'
" You are mistaken,' was the reply. " Esme could not now see Marchmoram's face, for he had turned to confront Auber during the last speech ; nor did she detect the exact tone of his voice—she merely heard the words as they fell distinct and heavy on her heart as a death-knell.
" 'l ought to be mistaken,' Auber replied, 'but I fear I am not : you have outrun me in enjoyment, at any rate. But you are luxurious in your stoicism, Godfrey : you thought the toilsome pursuit of ambition required some recreation, and, without remorse, you rob me of my coveted plaything for an hour's solace for yourself. Was this fair ? ' " Pshaw ! you know well I have for some time been engaged to Lady Ida Beauregard,' Marchmoram replied, with forced calmness. "A convulsive sound as of impeded respiration made both men start and turn their heads towards the window. All was quiet and still without. Suchlike sounds are sometimes heard on the night air, when the living world is at rest : perhaps it was a vagrant gust of wind sobbing from the hill.
"Auber resumed the conversation.
"'Of course I do ; but that does not weaken my argument. Lady Ida! we know very well there is more rigour than fondness there ; but if in your bachelor pursuit of her you required such mental relaxation as philandering, you may, go farther than flirtation at a future time.' "'No, no, Marchmoram replied, sinking his voice deeper; 'the tie that thus binds me for ever to my future busy political life should surely satisfy me. Every year, as I grow older, the tires of youthful passion will fade away before colder habit : I know well enough what marriage is sometimes, and what my marriage with Lady Ida is to be.' " Esme did not mark the bitter zest with which his words were spoken : to her they sounded but exultant throughout. That first astounding declaration, spoken so decidedly, in his own calm clear voice, paralyzed her. The sudden blow fen upon her with a stunning force that deadened sensation for the moment : it astounded her not only infliction. its unexpectedness but by the accidental and unintentional manner of its The careless ease cool self-possession, and unconscious indifference of Marchmoram, amaled and confounded her : it was like a momentary glimpse into the future, where she read her doom. Her faculties were benumbed by the shock of this cruel revelation. She pressed her temples against the cold stone wall' and tried to mutter apmver for strength to move front the spot.
"By the time that Esme had recovered herself, Marchmoram had nodded good night to Auber, who lounged into his room, leaving the door open. There was perfect stillness ; the midnight air was serene and sultry. Marchmoram had risen and stood leaning upon the mantelpiece, his head upon his arms, when suddenly a wailing voice broke the stillness—it was wafted in like a sigh= Ah ! Godfrey, farewell !' "The strong man started and shook with emotion ; the sweat stood on his brow. In a moment he rushed forward and sprang from the window out upon the heather : his eye fell upon a white floating figure, vanishing like a wraith over the ridge of the foremost hill that sloped down upon dark Loch Nightach."