Taus is an extravagant sensation novel, but still one far from destitute of ability. It gives us the impression of an author whose talent and whose culture—he has clearly much of both— intermit like a beating pulse, leaving intervals in which both fail, and yet successive marked points at which both impress the reader. The only equal and well-sustained part of the story is the account of the Devonshire farmer and his family, which, even if, here and there, there be an abrupt failure of nature in the effort to make too great an impression, is, on the whole, exceedingly good, lively, and interesting. The heroics of the story are pitched in a key which quite deafens the ear,—the heroine herself being one of the most improbable young persons yet invented by the sensation school, and, her possibility granted, one of the least agreeable. The author has advisedly given her that intermittent fevei of nature which seems best to suit his style of delineation ; but as there are many passages, of course, iii which he does not speak in her name, but in that of others of his characters, it is evident that the jerkiness of his style is not merely dramatic. The artistic excuse for the periodic shriek which seems to characterize the book would be, of course, that it is the autobiography of a young lady whose brain has been so prematurely developed that at seven years of age she was subject to fits, from which her parents bad feared that the 'undermining of her reason might be the result, though they were assured by the highest medical advice that she would grow out of all risk from them before the age of fifteen or sixteen, if kept free from undue excitement. At the age of ten the violent and extraordinary crime which deprived her of her father stirs up all the latent frenzy of her temper, and though not subduing her reason, is meant, we suppose, slightly to cloud and overshadow it, especially at recurring crises. This is clearly the novelist's "motive" for the gratuitous and Usually imbecile violence of his heroine, which is evidently intended to diminish as it goes on, and to be excited to its last insane burst by a stimulant injudicieusly administered to her, when exhausted, in a cup of tea. But though the author has thus prepared himself with a reason for the spasm of the book, purporting, as it does, to be written by this violent though gradually subsiding young lady,—we think we may take for granted that the intemperate air which pervades it is not merely assumed for dramatis purposes, since besides showing the same jerky vehemence of metaphor in parts which do not affect to be written by Clara Vaughan, there is the same in- artificial sensationalism about the plot. So far as a young lady who is subject to spasms of overmastering passion makes her own destiny, we may suppose that that destiny will be a little spasmodic. But it is exceptionally unfortunate that this clipper craft, which carries, like the ship of Ulysses, its own freight of white squalls tied up inits own bags, meets also with nasty weather and" lumpy" water, due not to any careless release of the impris- oned passions, but to the mere violent caprices of fortune. And this is exactly the destiny prescribed to Clara Vaughan. This moral convulsionnaire has a doubly convulsive fate prepared for her,—in part due to her own convulsions, in part to the convulsions of others. A Corsican family, and that very undesirable import from Corsica—the institution of the vendetta, surround her on • Clara Vaughan. A novel, In three volume& London: Macmillan. 1864.
every side. Moreover, the London police-agents whom she is so unfortunate as to meet with seem to take a delight in getting her into perfectly useless and absolutely resultless midnight excite- ment, in a manner very discreditable to the shrewdness of that force. Finally, though a young woman of strong natural abilities,
as we are told, she yet does, not from excitement but apparently from deep consideration, things so wonderfully silly, as this for instance—to take infiuite trouble to get an exceedingly strong Devonshire fanner, because he is strong in his muscles, to protect her uncle against an assassin who carries both poniard and pistols, when the weakest person arm,c1 with pistols would certainly have answered the purpose vastly better. Altogether, the heroine, Clara Vaughan, and her revenge are a tissue of absurdities, of which it is not the least that she, a highly educated and refined, if impassioned, young lady, should say that the imputations on her father's memory had proved "liar's spittle ;"—or even should inquire anxiously of her housekeeper when approaching her lover's
residence as fullows :—" No smuts upon my nose, Mrs. Fletcher, I hope? I never feel sure in London ;" or that she should make the following rather obscure reflections on Saint's Days and Lent(?) on occasion of the anniversary of her father's death :— "It was the 30th December, 1830, and though I crouch not to the mumming of prigs scolloped out to the throat, who block out with a patchwork screen the simple hearth of religion, and kneel at an ashbin to warm themselves; though I don't care a herring for small anniversaries dotted all over the calendar, and made by some Murphy of old; yet I reverence deeply the true feasts of Church and Chapel, the refreshings of faith and charity, whereupon we forgive and are sorry for those wit) work hard to mar them." These being specimens of her calmer reflections, it is difficult to understand how she was so unusually popular and beloved as she is repre- sented. We might, perhaps, put up with a young woman who, in a spasmodic fit of excitement brought on by injudiciously adrni- nistered brandy, proposed to herself, with regard to her father's murderer, to "seize the incarnate devil, trample his spine, and make his tongue sputter in dust," though it strikes us as rather a Billingsgate species of fury far a young lady, even though there were brandy in her head. But a young woman who denounces
High-Church scrupulosities in such very violent fashion at her
leisure, and connects the irreproachable memory of her father, even in a moment of thankfulness, with phrases so very vulgar as we have quoted, could scarcely, we submit, be the universal idol she is represented to be.
The same intermittent vehemence and jerky culture, and obser- vations not diffused through the book, but coming in spurts, appear to be the radical faults in the minor sketches. For instance, the little London lodging-housekeeper, Mrs. Shelfer, fails of being amusing, chiefly, we fancy, because the author has quite over- done the incoherence of vulgar life. Mrs. Shelfer is doubtless a study from life, but the abrupt links of association which often mark vulgar persons' conversation broaden,—in the hands of a writer whose own style is too often a series of random ehots at his meaning,—into yawning chasms of wide disconnection. Here is her introduction to the reader :—
" Mrs. Sheller came out at once, sharp and quick and short, and wonderfully queer. At first she took no notice at all of either of us, but began pulling with all her strength at the straps of the heaviest boxes, which, by means known to herself alone, she contrived to drag through the narrow passage, and down three low steps into the little kitchen. Then she hurried back, talking all the time to herself, re- opened the door of the fly, jumped in, and felt under both the seats, and round the lining. Finding nothing there, she climbed upon the driver's box and thoroughly examined both that and the roof. Being satisfied now that none of our chattels were left in tho vehicle, she shook her little fist at two or three boys, who stood at the corner near the mews, and setting both hands to the farmer's great hamper or 'maim' (as he called it), she dragged it inside the front door, and turned point-blank upon me. 'Pray, my good friend, how many is there ? I'm sure I don't know, Mrs. Sheller, your cousin knows best.'—' Ah, they're terrible fellows them cabbies, terrible ! '- The cabman stood by all the time, beating his hands together.—' Twas only last time I went to Barbican, one of 'em come up to me, "Mrs. Sheller," says he, "Mrs. Sheller ! " says I, "pray my good friend, how, do you know my name ?"—" Ho, I knows Charley well enough," says he "and there ain't a better fellow living."—" A deal too good for you," says I, "and now pray what's your business with me ?”—" Why old lady," he says, as impudent as the man with the wooden leg, "you've been and loft your second best umbrella under the seat of the Botany Bay Bus."—" Catch me !" says I.—" Its Bible truth," says he, "and my old woman's got it now."—" If you never get drunk," says I, "till that imp- brelLa runs in your shoes, your old woman needn't steal her lights,' and with that I ran between the legs of a sheep, hanging up with my Tuscan bonnet on trimmed with white—nothing like it, my good friend, the same as I've had these two and twenty years.'—' What for, Mrs. Sheller ?' I asked in great surprise.—' Why for the butcher to see me, to be sure, Miss. You see he wanted to get we down the mews, and murder me with my little wash-leather bag, as I was going to pay the interest on Sheller's double-barrel gun. Ah yes !' with a short sigh, 'and there'll be four and ninepence again next Tuesday."
Now we have no hesitation in saying that this is not any lodging-house woman's talk, though it may be copied from it. The stitches are all dropped, as it were, and though people of this class often connect their ideas together by very odd stitches, you see clearly enough what they are. How differently Dickens manages Mrs. Gamp's sliding-scale of associations ; for instance, when she first offers buttered toast to her superiors, and then gently ' passes into a train of' reflections, proving that she has really cut it for herself, " P'raps somebody would like to try a new- laid egg or two not biled too hard. Likeways a few rounds o' buttered toast first cuttin' off the crust in consequence of tender teeth and not too many of 'em ; which Gamp being in liquor, struck out four, two single and two double as was took by Mrs.
Harris for a keepsake and is carried in her pocket at this present hour, along with two cramp bones, a bit o' ginger and a grater like a blessed infant's shoe in tin with a little heel to put the nutmeg in: as many times I've seen and said and used for candle when required within the month,"—this is lucidity itself com- pared with Mrs. Shelfer, who is always going to be amusing, but is not, because even if the woof of special eccentricity is perfect,
the warp of common-place human nature at the bottom has been somehow omitted.
Yet the novel has plenty of shrewd remark in it, some scattered gleams of poetical feeling, and not a little real humour. The Devonshire sketches are much the best. What can be more telling and humorous than the following, on Farmer Huxtable's two babies in attendance on Miss Clara Vaughan's class :—" My class consisted of ten, or rather was eight strong, the two weenies (big baby and little baby), only attending for the sake of example, and because they would have roared if parted froin the other children. So those two were allowed to spraddle on the door, where sometimes they made little rollers of themselves with Much indecorum, and between whiles sat gravely sucking their at red fingers, and then pointed them in a glistening state at me or my audience, and giggled with a large contempt.' And many
a Sally Huxtable's letters, or rather " papper-scrawls," to Miss Clara Vaughan are perfect models of the Devonshire vernacular humour. We can only permit ourselves one specimen from the letter in which Sally announces that her father is going to town to wrestle with the champion of England for the honour of
Devonshire, and for the £100 which he will earn for his family if he can win the match :—
"And please, Kiss, when we brings home the money, I be to go to Miss I3owden's, in Boutport Street and our Jack to be put to a day- school not more than six miles away, and then I hope he know himself ond look higher than that minx of a Tabby Badcock. What do you think, Miss Clara, you would never believe it I know, but only a week ite last Tuesday I come sudden round the corner, and catched her a kissing of our Jack in the shed there by the shoot. And after all you taught her, Miss ! Jack he ran away, as red as mangawazzle, but that brazen slut, there she stand with her legs out, as innocent as a picture. Never sword I said, but with no more to do I put her head in the calves' iltommick as we makes the cheese with, in a bucket handy. It would have done you good to see her Miss, she did cry so hard, and she smell a it for a week, and it cure our Jack, up to Sunday anyhow. Mother come out at the noise, but her see that she deserve it, and the runlet was no account, except for the pigs, because it were gone by. I hope she know her manners now and her spear in life with her sheep's eyes, and not come trying to catch any of my family. Well, Miss Clara please, father want mother to go ; but no say she, with all they '—she ought to have said 'them 'Miss, now hadn't she ought?' with all they young pigs, and the brown cow expecting every day, and Suke no head at all, and all the children and little Clara,'—she call her ' Clara ' now, Miss,—` why farmer what be thinking of 7' Then father rub the nose of him, you know the way he do it, Miss, and he say, 'I must have some one. London be such a wicked place.' Mother look up very sharp at that, and say quite peart, Take your daughter, farmer Huxtable, if you wants to be kept respectable.' So I be to go Miss, and go I wouldn't without Jack and leave him along of that sly at Tabby, and her got sweet again now ; besides I want him to choose alnife I promised him, same as he saw to Coom one time, if he wouldn't let Tabby kiss him with seven blades and a corkscrew, and
give eighteen pence for it, that I will."
It almost seems as though the racy vernacular of Devonshire aatisfied that morbid hunger of the author's for strong writing Which in the other parts of the novel makes the style periodically almost rancid. The writer wants that equability of discrimination
and temperateness of taste which is the first condition, the very grain, as it were, of a work of art,—but of the keen shrewd quali-
ties which, if engrafted on such a groundwork, give life and anima- tion to a novel, he is in no want. Measured by the standard of siensation novels, his work is in many respects very good,—though ii lacks the peculiar power for &closely knitted plot—so good that
it ought to be worth trying by a much higher standard, which It is not.