25 JANUARY 1890, Page 19


"Om! here is a book by Blank or I will take this, for it is certain to be good!" How often have those of us who haunt circulating libraries listened. to some such sentence as this.; and it is a sentence which has doubtless been often applied of late weeks to Kit and Kitty, and. will as certainly be often used in the same connection during the weeks that are immediately ahead, of us. That a book by Mr. Blackmore ought to be good, is unquestionable; but whether the book will be good, dependsupon Mr. Blackmore himself; and before now he has disappointed those worthiest of his admirers who testify to the intelligent sincerity, of their admiration not by a lazy satisfaction with any novel which bears his name upon. its title-page, but by a demand that his present shall be worthy of his past. If it be asked. whether Kit and Kitty is worthy of the author of Lorna. D0021.6, and of two or three other stories from the same pen that might be named, the answer of such admirers must be a regretful but emphatic "No." They will find certain passages stamped with the un- mistakable hall-mark of genius, but the book as a whole will disappoint them, for they will, feel that it lacks form, restraint, imaginative coherence, and credibility,—all the characteristics of great art. The first volume, and por- tions of the remainder of the book, consist of a rural, or rather suburban, idyll—very pretty. and graceful in its main scheme, but largely spoiled by over-elaboration—and all the rest is melodrama, whioh seems to us of the cheapest kind, with impossible villains, incredible plots, and a final scene of butchery which rivals the close of the last act of Hamlet. It. is these villains and plots which are, from an artistic point of view, the rain of the book,—for all that relates to the love- story of Kit, the young market-gardener, and Kitty, the well- born girl, and to Kit's life at Sunbury with his uncle Cornelius, is wholly delightful, or, at any rate, would be so were the technical details of fruit-growing introduced a little less aggressively. Gardening is an occupation which lends itself to imaginative treatment. "God Almighty," says Bacon, "first planted a garden. And, indeed, it is the purest of human pleasures." But,, after all, many of the processes by which fruit is prepared for the London markets are in themselves as prosaic as the processes of quarrying or carpentering, and should in art be treated lightly and allu- sively, not elevated to the dignity of a theme. Still, though Mr. Cornelius Orchardson the gardener, has a way of over- topping Uncle Corny the man, he is one of those creations—. instinct with a free simple life, like the life of trees or of harm- less wild animals—of which Mr. Blackmore has a monopoly, the monopoly of genius. Whether the type of which Uncle Corny is a specimen exists still, or whether it has been killed out by the complexities and sophistications of modern civilisa- tion, we cannot say ; it suffices that he lives in Mr. Blackmore's pages, and companionship with him is refreshing to the mind (L) Kit and Kitty : a Story of West Middlesex. By R. D. Blaokmore. 3 vols. London : Sampson Low and Co.—(2.) The BeU of St. Paul's By Walter Besant. 3 vols. London : Chatto and Windus.—(3.) Would You Kill Him F By George Parsons Lathrop. 3 vols. Edinburgh: David Douglas.—(4) The Triumphs of Manhood. By Marie Connor (Mrs. Leighton). 3 vols. London Chapman and Hall.—(5.) Mrs. : a Rambling Story. By John Strange Winter. 2 vois. London : P. V. White and Co.—(6.) Arminell: a Social Romance. By the Anther of " Mehalah,” &e. 3 vols. London : Methuen and Co. —(7 ) The Forsaken Inn By Anna Katharine Green. London : George Routledge and Sons. much in the same way that the perfume of a flowering bean? field or of newly turned earth is refreshing to the sense. Aunt Parslow, with her interesting but uncertain family of dogs, makes a similar impression upon us, and no reader worth his salt can ignore, or be ungrateful for, characters like these, or for the irrepressible Sam Henderson, who, in spite of his un- promising introduction, grows steadily into high favour. Then there are shrewd reflections upon life, and effective incidents, like Kit's homeward journey in the snowstorm, which have the vigour and charm of Mr. Blackmore's best work, and which make us grieve all the more that so much work which is very far from being his best has been put into these three volumes.

The Bell of St. Paul's is a very good specimen of Mr. Besant's average work, which is equivalent to saying that it is characterised by certain defects too obvious to be missed even by the most careless reader, and by certain merits which tend to deprive these defects of what would otherwise be their irritating quality. The defects are clumsiness of narrative- construction, occasional farfetchedness of situation and char- acter, and a certain fantastic exaggeration, like that which appears so often in the books of Mr. Besant's master, Dickens. The beauties can be appreciated much more readily than they can be described, because they stand in a much more intimate relation than that occupied by the defects to the author's purely personal qualities. They are the outcome of an English sturdiness of nature, a cheerful optimism which can still look facts in the face, a real and not affected belief in the romance and picturesqueness of ordinary life, especially dingy London life, and a generous store of humour, as humour was in that older time, before " subtlety " had begun to be talked about, and when people expected the humorous writer occasionally to make them laugh. These things being so, it is natural that Mr. Besant should be least satisfactory when he is consciously trying to do something, and most delightful when he is simply being himself. His plots must, of course, always be deliberate, and here the plot is particularly clumsy and irritating, with the farther disadvantage of wanting novelty, one important idea being reproduced from Children. of Gibean,. But what reader of any spirit or decency of feeling will grumble at a little plot-tanglement in a book where he knows he may at any moment chance on such pages as the never-to-be-forgotten description of the sunset-show on Bank- side by Southwark Bridge, or such a delicious fancy as the chapter in which Althea Indagine leads the young Australian through the City not of Victoria, but of Elizabeth, compelling him to shut his eyes to the prose and grime of three centuries, to see only the immortal haunts of the Muses and the men who were of the Muses' company ? Then there is the dainty, half Dickens-like, half Lamb-like sketch of the members of the quaint little Bankside colony who flit so winningly through the pages of the story, to say nothing of other passages less gossamer-like in humorous texture, but all the more likely to be enjoyed by simple-minded readers who frankly confess that they like nothing better than a good laugh. Perhaps the one instance in which this broader kind of humour will fail to please is the story of bow Lawrence Waller has a bogus sheet inserted into a genuine number of the Saturday Review, the manufactured addition containing an article expatiating upon the national fame of the poet Clement, Indagine, who, poor old man, has, quite correctly, regarded himself as one entirely forgotten in the world. In spite of the superficial kindliness of the motive, there is a real want of delicacy and refinement in the young man's humiliation of the old one, even though the poor poet's childlike vanities and egotisms were exposed only to a loving, sympathetic audience. Mr. Besant, especially in those old days when he and his friend Rice worked together, has pro- duced books more striking in substance and more compact in structure than The Bell of St. Paul's ; but it can truthfully be said that no element which contributed to the charm of the earlier books is altogether absent from this latest story.

If Mr. Lathrop, instead of calling his novel Would You. Kill Hint had entitled it "Would You Kill Her?" the most simple-minded reader would have rushed out to the inquiry with quick comprehension, and would have answered it.—of course, in a Pickwickian sense—with a most emphatic affirma- tive. There is something almost uncanny in the ingenuity with which Mr. Lathrop has constructed a woman who is altogether free from vulgar crime, who is even regarded by those who know her best as a model of the gentler and

tenderer virtues, and who nevertheless, with motives so in- adequate as to be practically non-existent, acts with a gratuitous fiendishness sufficient in amount to supply material for a score of full-blown murderers. Still, though the matri- monial drama of Roger Holsclaw and his wife, in which Miss Lily Britton plays with such consummate success the rile of first villain, is doubtless the part of the book for the sake of which the whole has been written, it seems to us by no means the most interesting portion of the story,—the comparative lack of interest being doubtless due to the fact that Mr. Lathrop has become engrossed in his "white devil," and becomes much less attractively bright and dramatic than he is in the first half of the book, which is, we suppose, to be regarded as merely introductory. Seldom has an aggressively dry subject—specially dry when considered as material for fiction—been treated with such brightness, lucidity, and deep interest as distinguish Mr. Lathrop's telling of the story of Roger's brief but exciting experiences as a speculator in corn "futures." To make the mysteries of " longs " and " shorts " simply intelligible to the non-commercial novel-reader is in itself a triumph, for nowadays, unfortunately, the novel which must be read slowly in order to be understood is doomed ; but to make these things not only intelligible but interesting, and even exciting, is a triumph of a quite exceptional character. Though we fear that Mr. Lathrop will think us very deficient in discrimi- nation, we must say that we think his first volume is his best ; and every one will agree that his " bulls " and " bears " are, at any rate, livelier company than the quartette of performers in the dismal tragedy to which the latter half of the story is devoted. The story of the events which lead up to the murder —if murder it can be called—of the fateful incident itself, and of Roger Holsclaw's after-experiences, is told with unmis- takable power; but it is not a story which purifies by pity and terror,—it is simply a story which harrows us and makes us miserable. The real " purpose " of this latter portion of the book seems to be the ventilation of the author's anti-capital- punishment opinions ; but as many people who do not at all agree with those opinions will answer the special question concerning Holsclaw just as Mr. Lathrop answers it, the in- trusion of controversial matter seems curiously unnecessary.

Mrs. Leighton, who, as Miss Marie Connor, has written two or three fairly well-known novels, makes what is decidedly her most ambitious attempt in the new story to which she has given the extraordinary title, The Triumph of Manhood. Of course, this title is in itself commonplace enough ; it might have been given to any one of the thousand stories of nobility or heroism without exciting any comment what- ever ; but here manhood, so far from triumphing, does not even hold its own, and the picture presented to us is one of moral collapse and degradation, which is partly pitiable, partly revolting. The French priest Deronval is presented to us in what may be described as literary lime-light, and has a good deal of histrionic picturesqueness; but when all these carefully arranged adventitious attractions are removed, we see him clearly for what he is,—a poor, miserable creature, with not sufficient backbone either for a saint or for a consistent, thoroughgoing sinner. It seems inconceivable that any one should think of associating the triumph of manhood, or of any other good thing, with the life of a man who is faithless to his Church, faithless to the woman whom he loves, who allows himself to be held in degrading subjection by a villain who knows his secrets, and who only at the very last moment of his life confesses the crime for which his daughter's lover has been arrested. Nor can it be said that there are many other characters in the book whose existence compensates us for being compelled to make the acquaintance of M. Louis Deronval. We are introduced to a number of the pupils in a French pensiannat, and though Mrs. Leighton, in speaking of the abstract girl, says ecstatically, "There is nothing sweeter on earth, nothing purer, nothing holier, nothing that in its essence is so nearly divine," the concrete girls who are under the charge of Madame Mars spend most of their energies in arranging compromising meetings with neighbouring young men, and inventing lies by which these indiscretions may be kept secret. Mrs. Leighton has shown before now that she is not devoid of power, and there are some vigorous situations in this book, especially in the third volume ; but the story is sentimental and unwholesome, and, as a picture of life, alto- gether false.

In Mrs. Bob, the writer who chooses to be known as "John Edinburgh Printed for the Grampian Club. 1889.

Strange Winter" utilises in a very lively and interesting fashion the idea that the great jewel-robberies by which the fashionable world is sometimes startled are effected by persons holding a very different position from that occupied by the ordinary housebreaker. By holders of this theory, the criminals are supposed to be in the habit of mixing, unsus- pected and on equal terms, with their victims,—a hypothesis which, were it tenable upon other grounds, would doubtless provide an explanation of much that is otherwise almost inexplicable. When Mr. and Mrs. Bob Markham pur- chase the Manor Lodge, and make it more attractive than it has ever looked before, they are not long in making troops of friends, though no one knows anything of them but that they come from Australia, that they are very rich, and that they have those frank, open-hearted Colonial manners which are so very winning. Mr. Stephen Howard, Mrs. Bob's brother, who is an almost constant visitor at the Lodge, is by no means the least attractive mem- ber of the family, and when he falls in love with and finally marries Miss Julia Trafford, every one considers her a very lucky young lady. So apparently she is, for she has a husband who is devoted to her, and who has the means of supplying her with every comfort and luxury ; but one or two trifling occurrences give her a feeling of disquietude by sug- gesting the suspicion that she does not possess Stephen's entire confidence, though she is entirely unprepared for the shock of the revelation that he is a member of the notorious and suc- cessful gang of jewel-robbers by whose depradations ao many of her own friends have suffered. It would be unfair to say how this discovery comes about, or what course is taken by the disconcerted wife, for the author may fairly demand that her ingenuity in devising expedients should be allowed to have its full effect ; but it may be said that the compromise between conscience and comfort hit upon by Mrs. Howard is really very curious. Of course the story is impossible ; but it is very readable, though the writer might with advantage restrain that occasional flippancy of style which is always common, and sometimes just a trifle vulgar.

When a writer who is a man not merely of ability but of genius, condescends to produce work that is manifestly un- worthy of him, the impulse of the critic is to remember the past, and say as little about the present as possible. We must not, however, let gratitude for bygone gifts blind us to the fact that the poorness of Arminell—and it is most miserably poor—is a poverty that is much more largely the result of want of decent care than of any failure of power ; and in literature even more frequently than in life, carelessness is an offence of the first magnitude, deserving to be treated with the scantiest mercy. Mr. Baring-Gould has been very slovenly before now, but never so obviously contemptuous of the just claims of his readers, or of his own literary responsibilities, as in the pages of the book which he absurdly calls "a social romance." About a third of the entire work consists of a padding of thin didactic passages, mainly cynical in tone, which might have been gathered at random from the author's commonplace-book, for all the relevance they have to the bits of story between which they are sandwiched ; while the story itself, which fills the remaining two-thirds, has neither the merit of lifelikeness, nor the kind of interest which sometimes belongs to the improbable, or even to the absurd.

The Forsaken Inn does not demand lengthy criticism. It is a fairly well-constructed and well-written romance of the very old-fashioned kind, the principal items in the bill of fare being an oak-panelled parlour, a secret chamber with the usual sliding panel, a male and female miscreant, a lovely victim, a brutal murder, an amateur hermit, an amateur detective of the feminine sex, and a fine melodramatic display of retributive poetic justice on the very spot where the crime has been committed. The book is not one the reading of which would be found remunerative by any moderately cultivated person ; but it will serve to kill time on a railway journey, and is, apart from its necessary horrors, quite devoid of offence.