Miss PEARD'S new story is one of those few novels which a male, rather than a female critic, may without any insincerity describe as charming. If not a very great work of fiction—but how long is it since a great work of fiction has been produced ? —it is certainly as near perfection as anything of the kind that has been published for many years. After reading Near Neighbours, one cannot but be grateful to the author for giving us such a sunny picture of Dutch middle-class life ; above all, for exhibiting in so graceful an alliance the Teutonic love of duty with Teutonic archness, beauty, and simplicity,. There is a craze in England at present for "quaint Dutch interiors," Dutch art, Dutch everything ; and there have been worse crazes. Present-day Holland may not be exactly the realisation of the political ideal of an Englishman or of a German. Both feel "the strain of empire," both are compelled to bear the responsibilities of the civis Roman as, and to take what pleasure is possible for them in seeking to rise to the height of these responsibilities. But the busy, thriving, compact community whose centre and social Mecca is the Hague, has for both attractions not unlike those of the little country town for the man whom youthful ambition has tempted to leave it. If the. weary citizen of London, or New York, or Berlin, wishes to steep. his mind in the homelier ideals of his race, he could hardly do betterthan spend six weeks in Holland, taking as his headquarters the Hague, or the neighbouring seaside resort of Scheveningen, which the desecrating hand of fashion has not yet converted into a Brighton or a Scarborough, and from itmaking excursions all over the country. Miss Peard may be almost said to do this for us by deputy. If she is not personally familiar with the Hague, and Amsterdam, and Arnheim, and Utrecht, and Alkmaar, and with the middle-class society in which town-councillors and professors, parliamentary deputies and ship. captains, meet on a footing of equality, she has got-up her subject as thoroughly as Moore got-up his materials for Lelia Rookh. In any case, she has in Near Neighbours given us an agreeable and not too complicated plot, and a series of delightful sketches, both social and personal. The artistic value of these last lies in this, that the subordinate characters are quite as well drawn as the minor. Indeed, we should say that nine out of ten male readers will prefer Cootje Van Weede—the bright, happy, vivacious deputy's wife, with her shrewd worldliness and delight in match-making, but also with ber perfectly genuine "attacks of sentiments" for her husband—to her more emotional friend, Johanna Steen, whose views on duty are somewhat strained. On the whole, perhais, the best female character in the story is Madame Marken, the gossiping widow, who ousts Johanna from her place as the housekeeper of her brother Frans, by marrying him, and who seems the most selfish in the book. But if she is devoid of romance, she is also devoid of cant, and one is convinced, even before the closing chapter, that she has more heart than she is credited with, even by herself. The weaker men, too, in Near Neighbours are, on the whole, better drzwn than the stronger. The hero, Professor Mathias, is no doubt a "fine fellow," of the Kingsleyan type ; bnt we strongly suspect him of preaching to Johanna after marriage. He is not so natural as the rather vacillating, but by no means bad, Captain Wrangel, of the
mercantile marine, to whom, indeed, Miss Peard, if not Johanna Steen, is not quite just, or Frans Steen, the town-councillor, who is "a prop" in municipal affairs, but at home is a grumbling weakling. The single unsatisfactory character in the story is the student with whom Hilvardine, Frans Steen's pretty but unmanageable daughter, carries on a flirtation more f.om wilfulness than from anything else. One can pardon and understand Van Regensdorff's passion and jealousy, but not
the caddish meanness which makes him give up to Hilvardine
only some of her letters. His violent death is too much of a relief and of a pleasure to the reader of the story, in which he plays so unworthy a part, although it is evidently intended to set free those excellent women, Madame Steen and Madame Van Weede, to marry Hilvardine to some man, not of her but of their choice. For the society to which Miss Peard introduces us is governed by the Shakespearean law of altruism ; each of its members loves himself or herself last ; and marriage is an
arrangement made by the contracting parties in accordance with the views of their friends, rather than of themselves, as to their duty. The bits of Dutch scenery that are to be found in Near Neighbours are very nearly as good as the sketches of Dutch character, and higher praise we cannot give.
Farnell's Folly is an American story of considerable power, but, like Lord Salisbury's invective, wanting in finish. The centre of the plot is the contrast which it exhibits between Ward Farnell, a bankrupt merchant, and his daughter Julia. The contrast is improbably, unnaturally violent. Ward Farnell, after misfortune, becomes a shiftless boaster and tippler,—a sort of Pecksniff, in short. Julia, again, is self-reliant, energetic, magnanimous, loving,—an American counterpart, indeed, of Agnes in David Copperfield. But is it possible to think of Agnes as one of Pecksniff's daughters ? The male and female villain of the story are also rather unsatisfaCtory as portraits. . The motives of Adolphus Daskill, who spirits away the hapless Marian Fenway from that painfully-good apprentice Willie Rayburn, are rather too mixed and mysterious. But be is a man of the world or he is nothing; and Mr. Trowbridge commits a mistake in art in allowing him to make a dishonourable -proposal to Julia Farnell. None but a fool could have said what he did to a woman of such obviously strong character; and Daskill is not a fool, except in the sense that every man is who does not obey the moral law. Then, how comes it that Mrs. Chilgrove, the Borgian individual who blights Marian Fenway's happiness, disappears at the end, without explaining herself to Willie Rayburn, since she confesses to having been morally magnetised by him ? In spite of such blemishes, however, Farnell's Folly is, as a story, decidedly above the average, either of British or of American fiction. It contains some genuine characters, such as Carolus, Rayburn's miserly and somewhat Mephistophelian uncle, and the Fenways. Mrs. Fenway, as an example of the sub-middle class American woman, whose faults are those of the head and not of the heart, is a really excellent sketch. Many of the other characters, too, indulge in clever Poyserian talk. Good work, more perfect work than Farnelre Folly, may reasonably be expected from Mr. Trowbridge.
Miss Blind has in Tarantella not very much of a story, and what there is does not leave a very pleasant taste in the mouth. A diabolic countess, bitten, or supposed to have been bitten, in her wild Italian youth by a tarantula, comes in between the angelic South-German Mina Lichtenfield, and Emanuel, her (the countess's) husband, or one of her two husbands. Mina dies, but Emanuel will have nothing to say to his, or rather, the other husband's countess. On the contrary, when she seeks to claim him, "Emanuel, seized afresh with delirium, suddenly threw himself out of bed, and in his white night-shirt, with glaring eyes and lifted hand, came rushing towards her, crying, 'Get thee behind me, Satan !' " Although " Satan " in this case does not exactly obey the command, yet "his gaunt appearance, attenuated frame, and grey, shaggy hair, with the horror as of madness in his look and accent, were so dreadful, that the woman fled screaming out into the wintry night." Emanuel, however, is a musician, and consoles himself for the loss of Mina by "striking-out a new vein in a certain dramatically musical development of the symphony ; and there was an upward-soaring, Heaven-aspiring quality in some of this later work suggesting those rapt Madonnas which the Italian painters loved to depict as borne aloft on a cloud of loveillumined seraph-faces. Indeed, you might have thought yourself listening to a picture of Raphael's, if a picture of Raphael's
had sound in it." Finally, we learn that "the quintessence of Mines being had passed into music—music which at last altogether ceased to be the medium of personal desire, and became the purest expression of the blended yearning of infinite human hearts flamelike aspiring towards that sublimation of love and beauty and delight which has haunted our vision since the dawning of man, and which the universal heart expresses in the words,—' I shall rise again.'" There is, in truth, far too
much sad nonsense of this kind in Tarantella. But Miss Blind could, unless we are mistaken, draw a German landscape and
tell an idyllic German story ; and it is to be hoped that she will in future confine herself to such work, and let the rhapsodies and entanglements of virtuosi alone.
We should say that the author of Mr. Montenello is a very young man, and that this is his first book. If so, it is not without promise; Mr. Baillie Hamilton may, if he works hard, attain a position midway between Mr. Hawley Smart and the late Mr. Whyte Melville. He describes Mr. Montenello as "a romance of the Civil Service." But there is not much of a romance in it, although the mysterious Mr. Montenello turns out to be an earl, who for no very good reason effaces himself and his dignity. Nor can Mr. Hamilton be said to take us behind the scenes of the Civil Service. Its younger members are represented as being fall of animal spirits, and as having a great capacity for smoking, shooting, and talking slang. Mr. Montenello would have been
the better without an idiotic though innocent Irish Peer—a gross caricature of Lever's typical Irishman—who is known as "The Cadger," swears abundantly in the company of his male friends, and at a ball addresses a lady thus :—
"'I say, Lady Adelaide that's an awfully nice dress you've got on. I don't understand much about ladies' dresses, you know ; but it seems
to me there's something uncommon smart about yours I say, do you mean to tell me that your maid makes all your dresses P By Jove ! I wish I'd got a man who could make all my coats and trousers ; what a lot of trouble it would save one.'"
The Civil Servants, however, are quite chivalrous in their dealings with the other sex ; and Mr. Hamilton's female characters, such as the heroine, Miss Graham, and the sprightly Lady Adelaide, are better drawn than the males.
When next he writes he should avoid extravagances of plot, such as making one of his heroes act as an engine-driver for a time.
Ichabod is a clever, but not quite satisfactory book; its cleverness, to a certain extent, defeats itself. John Ichabod is a sort of philosophical Gradgrind,—an inquiring spirit who accepts
nothing but facts, and to whom heart is not a fact. But, unfortunately, he discovers that he has a heart, and that he has hopelessly lost it to Ianthe Lee, who, in turn, has lost hers to Tony Sebright, whom he has been trying to " form " on his own principles. So he takes an overdose of laudanum, and dies. Miss Thomas's object evidently is to disgust us with the kind of teaching which produces characters of the Ichabod type. Yet we are not quite sure that she succeeds. Some of her readers, at all events, will come to the conclusion that Ichabod is more worthy of Ianthe Lee than Sebright, who, after all, is not much better than a cub. Besides, lchabod, who looks upon men generally as shams, and attributes to them mean motives—thus "heroism, generosity, and friendship are masks for selfinterest "—has courage, and is not afraid to face a country mob whom he has aroused to fury by an iconoclastic speech.
Miss Thomas would have achieved a greater artistic success had she in a third volume raised Ichabod from the slough of a dreary intellectual realism into the dignity and true reality of the moral life. Still, there are passages in the life of this poor pilgrim without love that are humorous and enjoyable, even although some of them border on farce.