MISS MARJORIBANKS.* Miss Marjoribanks is perhaps the cleverest of all of the excessively clever series of Chronicles of Carlingford, and is indeed a great triumph of a certain school of art,—art of that kind the marvel of which is enhanced to ordinary readers by the extremely slight texture of the materials in which it works. It is almost a confiture among novels ; and yet perhaps scarcely a confiture, unless that may be a configure in which the acidulated flavour predominates over the sweet. Almost the whole of the authoress's great skill is spent on photographing the social effect of turns of conversation, refined delicacies of manner, nuances of worldly meaning and expression, mere evanescent flavours, in short, of drawing-room demeanour, which very few men would note at all, and very few women even would interpret with sufficient eye for their minute dramatic effect to think of building them up into a story of social
• Miss Marjonibante. By the author of Salem Chapel, $ vole. Edinburgh: Binek• wood. enterprise. Nor indeed are we sure that the present authoress would have cared for her story of social enterprise apart from the vein of not very cynical mockery which runs through this, as through all the series of the Chronicles of Carlingford, and which gives us the impression that the authoress takes even more pleasure in so showing off her puppets that the world may laugh at them, than in so dressing them up tlut the world shall absolutely believe in them. There is satire in almost all her best sketches, but we should scarcely say that the authoress of these tales is a satirist. We should sooner call her an exceedingly clever literary mimic. A satirist,—like Thackeray, for example, —loves to plunge his dissecting-knife into the very nerves and marrow of human nature and show its flaws, but he takes no special pleasure in laughing at the mere peculiarities and eccentri- cities of classes and individuals. Now this seems to us precisely what the very kindly mockery of the authoress of the Chronicles of Carlingford is directed at. Like one of her own characters in this last and very amusing tale, Mrs. Woodburn the mimic, she catches the accent and mannerism of a school or an individual, feeling that there is something of weakness in it, not quite sure in what the weakness consists, and instead of probing it to the bottom and identifying its deficiencies with the radical deficiencies of human nature, simply presenting us with a very amusing mimicry of it. Take, for example, the sketch of the Broad-Church Arch- deacon Beverley in this tale. Nothing can be more skilful than the way in which the mannerism of the Broad-Church is hit off. We are told that his remark concerning Miss Marjoribanks' "Thursday evening," on the first of them on which he had the privi- lege of being present, was : —"I have no doubt it was a very pleasant party if I could have got the key-note." He said of Miss Marjori- banks herself that "she had a fine, clear, candid nature ;" of Mrs. Chiley, that "she was a good, pure, gentle woman ;" and Mrs. Woodburn the mimic says, in his manner, and with his exact way of "lifting his finger," after she is reconciled to Miss Marjori- banks, "It was only necessary that we should get into full sympathy with each °tar, as human creatures." These little instances no doubt give skilfully enough the ostentatious vagueness of catholic philosophy and sentiment, of which certain schools of thought more or leas allied with the Broad Church are sometimes guilty; while the imperiousness and positiveness of the Archdeacon's personal demeanour carry with them the notion of ecclesiastical promotion and success. But in all this, while there is much more than a mere sketch,—and certainly not a sympathetic sketch, but a sketch in the subrisive manner,—thero is none of the satirist's deep scorn which loves to sound the bottom of selfish and feeble attitudes of mind. It is mimicry rather than satire; the feeling of an amused mind noting not so much what it finds weak and mean, nor what it finds strong and noble, but what it finds odd and laughable, and carrying the reader no further than to the full appreciation of the oddity aud laughableness. The authoress seldom gets to the human nature beneath the characteristic turns of feature which she touches off so skilfully.
If in any case she does get beyond this happy intellectual mimicry in this story, it is in the sketch of Miss M.arjori- banks herself. There is more both of satire and of sympathy,— nor are the two by any means incompatible, —in this admirable figure than in any other which we remember by this authoress, unless it be that of Mr. Tozer, the dairy and butterman. There is something in the conception of Lucille Marjoribanks that reminds us,—completely different as the external world in which she moves is,—of Miss Austen's Emma. Both are managing, clever, young women of the world, not without a heart, but with a predominant social ambition which keeps the heart in check. Lucilla is, however, much the more satirically sketched of the two. Her deep stratum of surface conventionalism,—her reiterated and rather bald formulas of filial and religious duty,—her unaffected self-im- portance,—her thorough disinterestedness as a social ruler, dis- interestedness which enables her even to promote directly the triumph of personal rivals without a sigh, rather than to sacrifice the public good of the society which she loves to assemble and rule on her "Thursday evenings,"—her splendid frankness in avowing her fondness as a hostess for "a man who can flirt,"— her deep dismay at the prospect of any discovery that Carlingford society had endorsed a fashionable reputation on which even a breath of suspicion, though it were only as to name, could rest,— are all drawn with something more than the dexterity of intel- lectual imitativeness. There is a touch very near that of a satirist about the picture of Miss Marjoribanks' able conventional respect for religion, and cuckoo formula as to its being the object of her life to be "a comfort to dear papa ;" and yet it falls short of satire, the inner sentiment of the book being after all rather respectful to conventional formalities than otherwise. There is a touch, again, very near to the highest power in the description of how mach real feeling there is underlying this calm, conventional, managing, self-occupied character; and yet it falls short of the highest power by failing to mark the inferiority of the shallower to the deeper tone of character with sufficientforce and keenness, with anything like passion. In short, what the authoress of the Chronicles of Carlingford wants in order to lift these clever tales to the first rank in literature is any real intensity of feeling ; not of course in her characters, but in her own delineating manner. Where she has tried to introduce this, as in the absurdly romantic episode of Salem Chapel, her manner has always rung hollow ; and where, as in this admirable tale, she leaves out all attempt to reach this level, there is a certain thinness of effect in spite of all the skill and felicity of conception.
Where one feels this slight thinness most is in the iteration with which she harps upon a good hit when she has once made it. Like her own "young man from 'Omerton who made an 'it," she is apt to be so pleased with herself for having made it that she scarcely shows fertility enough in developing it, and strikes the same note again and again in a manner that pleases us for a long while, but fatigues a little before it is done. This is so even, where the 'hit' is thoroughly good, as, for example, in the case of Lucilla's filial formula as to her wish to be a "comfort to dear papa." But where the hit is either common-place or poor, as, for ,example, the reference to the self-satisfaction that swelled Lucilla's heart in her "maidenly" solitude, when she retired to rest after one of her social successes, or Barbara Lake's " level " black brows, blazing eyes, flushed face, and " tin " silk dress, or Rose Lake's idea of her own " Career " and notion that a family of artists had a position of their own, the barren reiteration of the point is rather vexatious and irritating to the reader.
But after making all deductions for the thinness of the material in which the authoress works, and her tendency to pet her own hits, the picture of Lucille Marjoribanks and her father, and the sort of society at Carlingford of which age is the centre, is one of the highest skill. Indeed it is seldom enough that one reads through three volumes about mere social manceuvrea with such sustained interest and continual food for the sense of humour. As a specimen—not of the very highest social aplomb of this calm young heroine, but of the highest that we can render intelligible in a reasonably short extract, take her defeat of the worthy evangelical rector, who, hearing of her defenceless position in sometimes hav- ing, though motherless, to entertain fast and hardly religious young men in her father's house, brings a respectable but timid widow whom he hopes to persuade Dr. Marjoribanks to accept as her gouvernante. Even this passage is rather long, but it is impossible to judge of the delicate execution of the book without a specimen of some length :— " It is so good of you to come,' Lucille said ; you that have so much to do. I scarcely could believe it when I saw you come in: I thought it must be for papa.'—' I did hope to find Dr. Marjoribanks,' said the Rector, but as he is not at home, I thought it best to come to you. This is Mrs. Mortimer,' said Mr. Bury, taking the chair Lucille had indicated with a certain want of observance of his companion which betrayed to the keen perceptions of Miss Marjoribanks that she was a dependant of some kind or other. The Rector was a very good man, but he was Evangelical, and had a large female circle who admired and swore by him ; and, consequently, he felt it in a manner natural that he should take his seat first, and the place that belonged to him as the principal person present ; and then' to be sure, his mission here was for Mrs. Mortimer's as well as Miss Marjoribank's 'good.' After this intro- duction, the figure in black put up its veil, and revealed a deprecating woman, with a faint sort of pleading smile on her face. Probably she was making believe to smile at the position in which she found herself ; but anyhow she took her seat humbly on another chair at a little dis- tance, and waited as Lucille did, for the next golden words that it might please the Rector to say.—' My sister told me what happened yesterday,' said Mr. Bury. She is very sorry for you, Miss Marjoribanks. It is sad for you to be left alone so young, and without a mother, and exposed to—to temptations which it is difficult to withstand at your age. Indeed, at all ages, we have great occasion to pray not to be led into temptation ; for the heart of man is terribly deceitful. After hearing what she had to say, I thought it best to come up at once this morning and talk to Dr. Marjoribanks. I am sure his natural good sense will teach him that you ought not to be left alone in the house.'—'I do not see how papa can help it,' said Lucille. 'I am sure it is very sad for him as well; but since dear mamma died there has been nobody but me to be a comfort to him. I think he begins to look a little cheerful now,' Miss Marjori- banks continued, with beautiful simplicity, looking her adversary in the face. 'Everybody knows that to be a comfort to him is the object of my life.'--' That is a very good feeling,' said the Rector, 'but it does not do to depend too much upon our feelings. You are too young to be placed in a position of so much responsibility, and open to so much temptation. I was deeply grieved for Dr. Marjoribanks when his part- ner in life was taken from him ; but any dear Miss Lucille, now you have come home, who stand so much in need of a mother's care, we must try to find some one to fill her place.'—Lucilla uttered a scream of ii•ennine alarm and dismay and then sbe garde to herself, and saw the force of her position. She had it in her power to turn the tables on the Rector, and she did not hesitate, as a weaker woman might have done, out of consideration for anybody's feelings. 'Do you mean you have found some one for him to marry ?' she asked, with a look of art- less surprise, bending her earnest gaze on Mr. Bury's face.—As for the Recto; he looked at Lucille aghast, like a man caught in a trap.—' Of course not, of course not,' he stammered, after his first pause of conster- nation; and then he had to stop again to take breath.—Lucilla kept up the air of amazement and consternation which had come naturally at the first, and had her eyes fixed on him, leaning forward with all the eager anxiety natural to the circumstances, and the unfortunate clergy- man reddened from the edge of his white cravat to the roots of his grey hair. He was almost as sensitive to.the idea of having proposed some- thing improper as his sister could have been, though indeed, at the worst, there would have been nothing improper in it had Dr. Marjoribanks made up his mind to another wife.—' It is very dreadful for me that am so young to go against you,' said Lucille; but if it is that, I cannot be expected to take any part in it—it would not be natural. It is the great object of my life to be a comfort to papa ; but if that is what you mean, I could not give in to it. I am sure Miss Bury would understand me,' said Miss Marjoribanks ; and she looked so nearly on the point of tears, that the Rector's anxious disclaimer found words for itself.—'Nothing of the kind, my dear Miss Lucille—nothing of the kind,' cried Mr. Bury; 'such an idea never came into my mind. I cannot imagine how I could have said anything—I can't fancy what put such an idea—Mrs. Mortimer, you are not going away ?'—Lueilla had already seen with the corner of her eye that the victim had started violently, and that her heavy veil had fallen over her face—but she had not taken any notice, for there are cases in which it is absolutely necessary to have a victim. By this time, however the poor woman had risen in her nervous, undecided way.—' I had better go—I am sure I had better go,' she said, hurriedly, clasping together a pair of helpless hands, as if they could find a little strength in union. 'Miss Marjoribanks will understand you better, and you will
perhaps understand Miss Marjoribanks—'—' Oh, sit down, sit down,' said Mr. Bury, who was not tolerant of feelings. 'Perhaps I expressed myself badly. What I meant to say was, that Mrs. Mortimer, who has been a little unfortunate in circumstances—sit down, pray—had by a singular providence just applied to me when my sister returned home yesterday. These things do not happen by chance, Lucille. We are taken care of when we are not thinking of it. Mrs. Mortimer is a Christian lady for whom I have the greatest respect. A situation to take the superintend- ence of the domestic affairs, and to have charge of you, would be just what would suit her. It must be a great anxiety to the Doctor to leave you alone, and without any control, at your age. You may think the liberty is pleasant at first, but if you had a Christian friend to watch over and take care of you—What is the matter ?' said the Rector, in great alarm.—It was only that the poor widow who was to have charge of Lucille, according to his benevolent intention, looked so like fainting, that Miss Marjoribanks jumped up from her chair and rang the bell hastily. It was not Lucilla's way to loose time about anything ; she took the poor woman by the shoulders and all but lifted her to the sofa, whore she was lying down with her bonnet off when the Rector came to his senses. To describe the feelings with which Mr. Bury contemplated this little entr'acte, which was not in his programme, would be beyond our powers. He went off humbly and opened the window when he was told to do so, and tried to find the eau-de-cologne on the table ; while Thomas rushed down-stairs for water at a pace very unlike his usual steady rate of progress. As for Lucille, she stood by the side of her patient quite self-possessed, while the Rector looked so foolish.—' She will be all right directly,' Miss Marjoribanks was saying; 'luckily she never went right off. When you don't go right off, lying down is every- thing. If there had been any one to run and get some water she would have got over it ; but luckily I saw it in time.'—What possible answer Mr. Bury could make to this, or how he could go on with his address in sight of the strange turn things had taken, it would have been hard to say. Fortunately for the moment he did not attempt it, but walked about in dismay, and put himself in the draught (with his rheumatism), and felt dreadfully vexed and angry with Mrs. Mortimer, who, for her part, now she had done with fainting, manifested an inclination to cry, for which Mr. Bury in his heart could have whipped her, had that mode of discipline been permitted in the Church of England. Lucille was merciful, but she could not help taking a little advantage of her victory. She gave the sufferer a glass of water, and the eau-de-cologne to keep her from a relapse, and whispered to her to lie quiet; and then she came back and took her seat, and begged the Rector not to stand in the draught."
The mere sketches of the story are almost all admirable, es- pecially some of the older characters. Mi. Chiley is perfect of her kind, and Dr. Marjoribanks, strong, sensible, rather grim, kind-hearted; but a man of this world, with a Scotch humour, and Scotch dourness, and Scotch speculativeness as well as Scotch canniness in money matters, is still better. In her incidents the authoress is sometimes a little unreal. It would be difficult to imagine how a penniless barrister of no first- rate abilities could save enough in a ten years' career in Caletitta to buy an estate and think of becoming a county member. And how Lucille managed to get anything worth mention for the good-will of her father's practice as a physician after her father's sudden death, when there was in fact only. an introduction to give for Dr. Ryder's money, we are very much puzzled indeed to know. A physician in good practice might no doubt sell the good-will of his practice in his lifetime, because he could go on with it himself if the buyer did not offer sufficient consideration, but Dr. Marjori- banks when dead had nothing to give, and Lucille could not have conducted his practice if she had wished. It naturally fell to the other physicians of Carlingford, and we feel therefore more desire than ability to believe that Dr, Ryder, poor AS he was, was so
kind as to pay her a considerable sum for a practice which she could not secure to him, and he must have had in nearly equal degree without any payment at all.