A NOBLE LIFE.*
Wit confess to having taken up this book with a strong feeling of prejudice. Miss Muloch's chef d'oeuvre, John Halifax, Gentleman, thebook which fixed her reputation and carried her name into house- holds where novels are usually despised, always struck us as an un- naturaland heated, though well intended book. The hero, meant tobe .so perfect a delineation of a man, is a tgl e-exaltie woman in trousers, and his relation to his Quaker friend simply a flirtation. He fights the ordinary battle of life as if a water claim were a battle of Armageddon, and woos his wife very much as if he were prepar- ing for holy orders. It is melancholy to see such an ideal accep ted as it has been by the women of the lower middle class, and imitated right and left by the people who manufacture goody stories for the quasi religious magazines, more grievous to see how rapidly the infection of a heated style can spread. Miss Muloch, however, has to-day found a subject on which her power, such as it is, can be exerted to the full, and in which her special deficiencies seem no longer unnatural. She has made a hero of a helpless and deformed cripple who was also as Earl, and the strangeness of the position makes exalts writing seem almost in place. No man can quite put himself in the mental attitude of such a figure, and his womanishness therefore does not jar, rather lends to his.figure the necessary quality of perfect resignation. The picture of the hero, born an Earl and master of a great property, deformed in every limb, unable to move without assistance, with withered hands and shrunken face, but with a clear brain and a lofty courage, able to rule all dependents and secure the love of all with whom he came in contact, bearing -calmly the burden it has pleased God to impose, and working through all obstacles to the end he deemed best for those entrusted to his care, is a most touching one, and it is undisturbed by other figures. There are but three characters in the story, the " wee Earl," small as a child and feeble as an infant, fed by others and -carried from couch to chair, but obeyed nevertheless by right of intellect as well as position ; Captain Bruce, his cousin, suave, accomplished, and false ; and Helen Cardross, the Highland minis: -ter's daughter, upright, high-minded, and helpful, with strong affection and stronger sense of duty, but under pressure showing herself as hard as steel. They and their relation to each other fill the whole canvas, and it always seems sufficiently lull. None of them are thoroughly' drawn, even of the Earl we see but those qualities indispensable to a conception of his -character, but still two of them at least live, and one, the Earl, himself, inspires the reader with that deep painful pity for his misfortunes and confidence in his intellect and his character which he would have inspired in life. With the emeption of one scene between Helen Cardross and her sou, which is in the worst teach-by-example style, sad shows all the author's .old ignorance, not only of the impulses but of the ways of men, the incidents are all of the moat natural kind. That the heir to a vast property, six feet high, and just returned from college, should "fling himself at his mother's knees, and sob in her lap, and pray for forgiveness with the humility of a child," because he had spent a couple of hundred more than his allowance on dress and amusement, is laughably absurd, but it is the only blot of the kind. It was natural that the cripple Earl, so helpless, and so intelligent, should fall back for aid on the sympathy of the only girl he knew, mature,' that it should deepen into intense love, most natural that he should conceal that fact from himself as well as Miss Muloch has concealed it in words from her readers, natural that he should be -deceived by the cheerful handsome soldier who hoped to be his heir, and natural that when the child. of Helen Cardross was also a Bruce and his own next of kin, he should choose him as an heir and treat him as a son. That is the whole story. There is no love plot, no melodrama, no side or subordinate current of events, nothing to mar the picture which never quits the reader's mind, and which sketched fifty times in the story is perhaps most Completely described in this scene. The Earl, it must be premised, has been little seen, and a vague rumour has got abroad that he • d Noble Z.i.te. Dyck. of Coalman. 2 yoli. Unitas: Hoist sad Btackott.
is insane, or as the Scotch peasantry put it, "is no a' there," but a shepherd from a distant mountain on the estate has come to beg a remission of rent. The Earl's servant objects to his admittance :-
"' Just by the door—eh?—and he's coming ben—the ill-mannered loon I' cried Malcolm, angrily, as he interrupted the intruder—a tall, gaunt figure wrapt in a shepherd's plaid, with the bonnet set upon the grizzled head, in that sturdy independence—nay, more than independ- ence—rudeness, rough and thorny as his own thistle, which is the characteristic of the Scotch peasant externally, till you get below the surface to the warm, kindly heart.—'I'm no ill-mannered, and I'll just gang through the faale house till I find my Lord,' said the old. man, shaking off Malcolm with a strength that his seventy odd years seemed scarcely to have diminished. 'I'm washing nae harm to ony o' ye, but I maim get speech o' my Lord. He's no a bairn : he'll -be are-and- twenty the thirtieth o' June. I mind the day weal, for the wife was brought to bed o' her last wean the same day as the Countess, and our Dougal's a brew callant the noo, ye ken. Gin the Earl has ony wits ava, whilk folk thocht was aye doubtfu,' he'll has gotten them by thiii time. I mann speak wi' himsel'. Unless, as they said, he's no a' there.' Haud your tongue, ye fule cried Malcolm, stopping him with a fierce whisper. Yon's my Lord!' The old shepherd started back— for at this moment a sudden blaze-up of the fire showed, sitting in the corner, the diminutive figure ; attired carefully after the then fashion of gentlemen's dress ; every thing rich and complete—even to the black silk stockings and shoes on the small, useless feet, and the white ruffles half hiding the twisted wrists and deformed hands.—' Yes —1 am the Earl of Cairnforth. What did you want to say to me ?'—He was so bewilderod—wthe rough shepherd, who had spent all his We on the hill- sides, and never seen or imagined so sad a sight as this, that at first he could not find a word. Then he said, hanging back and speaking con- fusedly and humbly, 'I ask your pardon, my Lord—I didna ken—I'll no trouble ye the day.'—' But you do not trouble we at all. Mr. Monteith is not here yet ; and .I know nothing about business--still if you wished to speak to me, do so : I am Lord Cairnfortlx.'—' Are ye ?' said the shepherd, evidently bewildered still, so that he forget his natural awe for his feudal superior. 'Are ye the Countess's bairn, that's just the age o' our Dougal ? Doagal's are o' the gamekeepers, -ye :ken—aic a brew fellow—sax feet three. Yell hse seen him maybe ?'—' No—but I should like to see him. And yourself; are you a tenant of mine, and what did you want with me?' Encouraged by the kindly voice, and his own self-interest becoming prominent once more, old Dougal told his tale."
The book of course leaves a sense of pain, but it is not what is popularly called a story with a bad ending, and despite the ex- aggeration of the style and the inartistic effort to impress, few men and no women will read a Noble Life without feeling
themselves the better and the stronger for the effort.