NEW NOVELS. * In John Halifax, the author of Olive has
made a consider- able advance upon her previous works. There is more solidity in the matter of the story ; the classes of society introduced into the tale are more varied, and have a broader character ; advantage is taken of public feelings and events during the wars of the French Revolution and the economical struggle that followed the peace, slightly but sufficiently to connect the hero with public affairs, so as to raise his position and advance his fortunes. The great source of interest in John Halifax, however, is an improved and masterly execution, employed upon more substantial matter. Every character is consistently conceived and very truthfully delineated ; the incidents, the scenes, the " still life," are painted with a power that sustains the attention of the reader notwithstanding some slowness in the movement of the story. The scene is laid in a small manufacturing English town and its vicinity, from the be- ginning of the French Revolution to the abolition of slavery. The interest turns upon the character, career, love and married life, of John Halifax ; who first appears as a poor half-starved boyish adventurer, and, after going through the various gradations of a tanner's business, rises to a partnership, marries a " lady," becomes a manufacturer, and dies a millionaire, respected, pious, and well advanced in years. It is not, however, the story that at- tracts the reader, but the number of characters connected with the story, and the broad yet minutely truthful traits that give them strength and individuality, as well as the incidents, mostly of common or domestic life, which, often slight in themselves, attract by their fitness and truth. Yet John Halifax has the defect which has more or less cha- racterized all the novels of this writer—there is something ex- treme. The object of the work, so far as it has a moral object, seems to be to inculcate the notion, that worth, resolution, perse- verance in the duty immediately before us, virtue, and piety, constitute " the gentleman," and entitle the man who possesses them to marry a lady of family, though he may have sprung from unknown parentage, made his first appearance hungry in the streets on the look-out for a job, and was only at last a tanner. The proposition might be admitted as a possible truth by many who would feel disinclined to receive it as a general truth, or to act upon it, from its moral unlikelihood if not impossibility. The John Halifax of the novel is indeed " all in all sufficient" ; but such a man is very difficult to find with every advantage of edu- cation and circumstances—in fact John is as great a nonsuch as Uncle Tom. We are not quite sure but that the feeling of the provincial gentry against tanning is exaggerated. A tanner is surely a manufacturer in business, or at least falls under the cate- gory which some parishes require in a committee-man, and the Horse Guards, it is said, in a candidate's father—" not exercising any retail trade." After all, the moral is imperfectly pointed. John Halifax knows nothing of his parents or family, and when he first turns up cannot write ; but he has a Greek New Testa- ment about him, from which it appears that his father was " Guy Halifax, gentleman." So that after all the motto of the book might be blood will win."
"All comedies are ended by a marriage " ; but in lohn Halffax half of the interest begins with the hero as a husband and father. Many scenes of family care, or tenderness, or pathos, will be found in the volumes. Here is one, when little Muriel, the eldest daughter, is discovered to be blind. It is on the day of the naming ; and Dr. Jessop, a very old friend, has dropped in late, startled the baby, and felt nettled at a remark of Mrs. Halifax.
"Ursula wisely began to talk of something else—showed Muriel's eye- lashes, very long for such a baby—and descanted on the colour of her eyes, that fruitful and never-ending theme of mothers and friends. " I think they are like her father's; yes, certainly like her father's. But we have not many opportunities of judging, for she is such a lazy young damsel, she hardly ever opens them—we should often fancy her asleep, but for that little soft coo ; and then she will wake up all of a sudden. There now, do you see her? Come to the window, my beauty, and show Dr. Jes- sop your bonny brown eyes.'
" They were bonny eyes, lovely in shape and colour, delicately fringed ; but there was something strange in their expression—or rather, in their want of it. Many babies have a round, vacant stare—but this was no stare, only a wide, full look, a look of quiet blankness—an unseeing look.
It caught Dr. Jessop's notice. I saw his air of vexed dignity change into a certain anxiety.
" Well, whose are they like' her father's or mine ? His, I hope—it will be the better for her beauty. Nay, we'll excuse all compliments.'
" can't exactly tell. I could judge better by candle-light.' " We'll have candles.'
" No—no ! Had we not better put it off altogether, till another day ? I'll call in tomorrow, and look at her eyes.' "His manner we:hesitating and troubled. John noticed it. " Love, give her to me. Go and get us lights, will you. " When she was gone, John took his baby to the window, gazed long and intently into her little face, then at Dr. Jessop. Do you think—no—it's not possible—that there can be anything the matter with my child's eyes ?' " Ursula coming in, heard the last words. " What was that you said about baby's eyes ? '
"No one answered her. All were gathered in a group at the window, the child being held on her father's lap, while Dr. Jessop was trying to open the small white lids, kept so continually closed. At last the baby uttered a little cry of pain—the mother darted forward, and clasped it almost savagely to her breast.
• John Halifax, Gentleman. By the Author of " The Head of the Family," 4e. In three volumes. Published by Hurst and Blackett. The Heirs of Blackrul' ge Manor : a Tale of the Past and Present. By Diana Butter. In three volumes. Published by Chapman and Ilall. The Ring and the Veil : a Novel. By James Augustus St. John. In three vo- lumes. Published by Chapman and Hall. Siberesirold: a Tale. By the Author of "A D'ap to Caleb a Sunbeam." Pub- lished by Parker and Son. Gleamorcen; or Medley Rectory : a Tale. By T. H. Millissy. Published by Hope. "'I will not have my baby hurt ! There is nothing wrong with her sweet eyes. Go away ; you shall not touch her, John.' " 'Love !"
"She melted at that low, fond word ; leaned against his shoulder, trying to control her tears.
" It shocked me so, the bare thought of such a thing. Oh ! husband, don't let her be looked at again.' " Only once again, my darling. It is best. Then we shall be quite sa- tisfied. Phineas, give me the candle.' "The words--caressing, and by strong constraint made calm and sooth- ing—were yet firm. Ursula resisted no more, but let him take Muriel— little, unconscious, cooing dove. Lulled by her father's voice, she once more opened her eyes, wide. Dr. Jessop passed the candle before them many times, once so close that it almost touched her face ; but the full, quiet eyes never blenched nor closed. He set the light down. " Doctor ! ' whispered the father, in a wild appeal against—ay, it was against certainty. lie snatched the candle, and tried the experiment him- self.
" She does not see at all. Can she be blind ? '
" Born blind.'
"Yes, those pretty baby-eyes were dark—quite dark. There was no- thing painful nor unnatural in their look, save, perhaps, the blankness of gaze which I have before noticed. Outwardly their organization was per- fect ; but in the fine inner mechanism was something wrong—something wanting. She never had seen—never would see—in this world."
The Heirs of Blackridge Manor is a fiction of great power and considerable literary skill, though it argues more cleverness
in applying common materials to the writer's purposes than ori- ginal knowledge of life or a true conception of the art of the novel- ist. If the work were put into a critical crucible, and the more
volatile parts driven off, the residuum would mainly consist of the usual property of romance-writers, mingled with contempo- rary knowledge picked up and cleverly used. The late Marquis of Hertford is a very conspicuous person in the piece ; not drawn from knowledge, nor altogether from Disraeli's fancy and favour- able portrait in Coningsby, but from the beau ideal of the intel- lectual (not moral) character which imaginative persons have as- signed to him, with variations especially towards the close of life, to give a sort of aristocratic force and dignity to the old roué. The people who surround him—chaplain, medical attendant, lady friend, valet—have no appearance of being drawn from life, but they are cleverly though abstractedly conceived. A young bar- rister of ancient family but reduced fortunes, resolutely struggling to make his way in the world, is also a conception rather than .a reality. The two contrasting old ladies—one hard, worldly, and opposed to all "humbug," the other seriously Calvinistic and given to religious meetings—are powerful and telling productions, but rather for the pointed remarks and sketches that are connected with them than as living people. Sir Charles Harrington, the fine old English gentleman, marrying a young wife, is a truthful portrait. Though most of these and various other persons are displayed conventionally and speculatively, they are presented with great power, and with a metaphysical skill that secures consistency. Perhaps the skill may be too much obtruded in the form of re- marks from the dramatis personae. There is no doubt but that the author relies too much upon an intense style of writing to produce an effect, and has recourse to very obvious arts. The suppers and dreams that precede what is the real catastrophe may be adduced as an example.
The story is complicated, and is disfigured by that eternal
per- son a Popish priest, bent upon aggrandizing his church. The leading idea strikes us as novel in itself, though the concomi- tants or " setting" of it are not new. This idea is the punishment of adultery in the offspring. In early life, Lord Audleigh had seduced the innocent wife of a confiding friend, a naval officer on foreign service. The lady dies in childbirth ; the husband does not survive his disgrace. Lord Andleigh brings up his own son under the name of the legal father, Widdrington. A suspicion of the fact, however, enters the mind of Randal Widdrington, and embitters his life. When by accident he discovers the whole truth and the probability of a public exposure, he takes leave of his betrothed and returns to Audley House ; where, dreams having shaken its occupants, and traces of blood having brought some of them together, their anxieties are roused, to be shockingly termi- nated.
" To remove the flower-stands and unlock the doors of the banqueting- room was the work of a few seconds. In front of his mother's picture; stretched at his length, lay Randal Widdrington flat on his face—his heart and the left side of his chest blown to pieces.. A paper web on the table, beside a candle yet burning in its socket. The following sentences were irregularly jotted down upon it. am a living wrong—an intruder on the inheritance of others. I was born for my own everlasting torment and the grief, shame, and perplexity of my race on all sides. It ur time I left the stage. No name must be written upon my tombstone. To the dates of A Birth and Death, add these words,
MAY HE SLEEP.'
" How came Mr. Widdrington here ? ' said Parkinson, rising tip from the body, and looking round, after he was satisfied that life had been for- hours extinct.
" Sir,' said Frangipanc, taking two keys from the table by the candle, these are a latch and master key. He must have come here in the night,'
" Another spectator joined his pallid face to those hanging over the corpse. Walton Struton hurried in; he had been told of the event by the police, were clearing the court of the rapidly-gathering throng. What is the meaning of this ? Has any motive been suggested for this terrible deed? Suicide, did you say ? Good God I Why, he was the luckiest fellow I ever heard of, and engaged to be married to a most charming woman !' " ' I have long known that he was mad,' interposed Parkinson, mys- teriously. On one point I have long seen his madness, and that cause in- fluenced him in the act of last night. The insanity which had been brood- ing or latent for years burst out in one wild paroxysm. I hare seen him desperately excited on this subject! It will kill Lord Audleigh I' cried the lawyer. "' No,' replied young Parkinson, eanfidently. Men who wish to live, don't die when they have pulses like his, 'which never intermits, and beats as if it were an iron rod under your fingers. He is heart-whole ; and there iznothing left but submission at this stage of the business, sir. It will make his lordship very nervous about himself, no doubt ; he always is .trightened when a eorpee.lies in the house. I shall have to give him the diagnostics of palsy and Bright's disease."' Thought and worldly observation as well as a good deal. of lite- rary merit are neutralized in The Ring and the Tied, by the au- thor's want of natural aptitude for fiction. it is not altogether a :deficiency of constructive skill or of dramatic power that mars this -novel ; though in neither of these necessary qualities is Mr. James Augustus St. John remarkable. He lacks the power of exciting the sympathy of the reader towards his persons ; in a large measure through the melodramatic virtues, and the vulgar or rather low vices they exhibit. Low life and vulgarity are-admissible in fic- tion when they do not constitute its staple; the licentiousness of unprincipled men upon town—the yet arker profligacy of the hero of the story—the exaggerated tricks: of fraudulent picture- dealers and similar adventurers—the society of inferior littdrateurs, artists, physicians, and philosophers, mostly of tainted morale— are things that repel the reader, especially when introduced for themselves and -without apparent purpose. The more romantic 'parts of The Ring and the Veil, if not so distasteful, are stale yet - wild. The hero has been ruined by a Romanist priest, who after • depriving him of " seven thousand a year," and reducing him to . escape starvation by singing in the streets, finally endeavours to deprive him of his bride by compelling her to take the veil. The early parts of the work seem to indicate that a novel of mo- .dern adventure was the scheme of the author, in which the hero should be sunk to the lowest dregs of poverty, make acquaintance with the most distressed or most reckless characters of London life, and carry,- the reader among the classes in which'. Mr. Mayhew luxuriates, till, by resolute working on any honest employment that offered, he gradually emerged from the gulf. But if Mr. St. John had such an idea, he has imperfectly- developed it. The incidents are improbable, and not well adapted to this idea. There is occasionally a certain matter-of-fact troth, the result of ac- : teal observation, but imperfectly presented, from lack of fusing -and creative power. The only parts of any value are scattered reflections. Here are some just remarks. " People at their ease talk glibly about the pleasures which even the poorest may feel in-the presence of Nature ; but the wretch who is penniless, ill-clad, homeless, hungry, sees no beauty in anything, and scarcely feels warm in the sun.
" Nothing is easier than to say that an able-bodied man in the prime of -life can always earn his bread. The fact is not so. Very often, health and - strength are as much perplexed what to do as age and weakness. I looked around me with an inquiring glance, and wished earnestly to find some place in the vast machine which I saw performing its evolutions before me. But every nook seemed to be occupied, and there was not another hand wanted to further a single operation.
" This conviction has been experienced by many ; and men have again and again remarked on it. But it seemed an original calamity to me ; and as I walked along sadly down Oxford Street and Holborn, and across Far- ringdon Street, and up Snow Hill, I came to the conclusion that I was a mere supernumerary in the world, for whom there was nothing left but to make my way out of it as speedily as possible."
There is truth, too, in these observations on the freedom of poverty.
• " His conjecture about the bedroom proved coil eLt, and the landlady, a tall woman about five-and-thirty, of a slovenly and dissipated air, lighted . me to it. Poverty -was natural to her, and she seemed. to enjoy it ;• which is the ease with many other persons. A superior situation, requiring certain moral observanoes and certain sacrifices to decorum, would be irksome to them; whereas the condition of a Pariah, bringing along with it almost un- -bounded liberty, is that which, if' the choice rested with-them, -they would
• voluntarily select."
In form Siberes•Wold is. that of -the juvenile, tale ; in matter .and spirit it is a didactic fiction. One object-is to expose the mischief produced by " District Visiting" and "Lay. Readers" ; but this is done with exaggeration in the instances and weakness in the logic. It is easy to take a parish where meddling ladies, :through the negligence: of a former rector, have -usurped. the pas- -tees function, and frighten the sick poor with visions of. a fiery future ; but it would be just as easy to reverse the example, and paint angels charitably and meekly assisting the divine. Tales by partisans with avowed objects conclude nothing, because they are onesided.
. The more eventful part of the story places two pupils in a clergy ,man's family. Frank Stapleton is a spirited, " good-hearted," careless young man, designed for the. church, for which he is not Well fitted. Arthur Warmsley is a contrast ; being lame and an -invalid, but of a thoughtful, sensitive, and spiritual cast of mind Of several love stories only one has any novelty, but that is con- siderable. Lilly,. -the niece of the - clergyman, Mr. Belfast—an amiable but yielding-tempered girl—accepts Frank—Stapleton, though loving Arthur Warmsley ; Arthur, who really loves Lilly, ...having been deterred from avowing his passion by a sense of his personal deficiencies, and an idea that Lilly was attached to 'Frank. These cross-purposes are managed with delicacy, and pursued to the end without flinching. The writing is elegant, 'id less laboured. than in some previous works. of the author.
Mr.-11- • '8 Glenmorven is also a didactic tale; the sbject being to exhibit. the ill effects of.ungoverned temper, and to .prove 'that judicious•mildness and firmness are often the best modes of managing self-willed people. The instanees are altogether ex- treme. The young Earl.of Glemnorven is not only a strange-but a bad temper, whom harshness provokes, and whom kindness does not mollify longer than it is his pleasure to be pleased. He is only reformed when by the •use of a knife in a fit of passion he has brought his beloved tutor to death's door—in fact, the Re- verend Mr. Herbert is given over, but recovers.
The book is well written • the author has ideas that are worth
publishing • and the story, wild in parts, is not without interest. This -wildness, and the extreme character of many of the didactic instances, injure the effect of the story, and give it a sort of rawness.