28 MARCH 1885, Page 18


CARLYLE, writing half a century ago on Diderot, lifted up his voice and warned British novelists that their hour had come and their vocation gone. The reading public was sated with fiction and was pining for fact. Memoirs and letters, biography and autobiography, historical essays, and studies of all descriptions were to supplant thenceforward and for ever that taste for romances, tales, and novels, which magicians like Scott and Fielding had created at once and gratified. Heu vatum ignarce mettles! Never, perhaps, since Tom Warton declared that "the Shakespeare of a more civilized age would not give the world the Sabbath of the witches and the cauldron of incantation," has a literary forecast verified so completely George Eliot's assertion that the most gratuitous form of error is prophecy. There

was come excuse for Carlyle. The horizon, when he wrote, was not bright, though it was soon to become so with the coming glories of a constellation of novelists, which for the number and brightness of its stars, has not been equalled in the literature of our own or any other country. Yet novel writing has never counted more numerous votaries than it counts at present in England, where the vanished or waning stars of that famous constellation have as yet been succeeded by no luminaries of proportionate brightness and magnitude. The causes of this state of things are not far to seek. For Carlyle's wish was father to his thought; and he did not see, or would not observe, that "What is fact P" is a harder question to answer

than Pilate's. Easy writing may be all that Sheridan called it, and more; but the rank and file of the army of penmen will not

easily be brought to share its delights, and to live laborious and ill-paid days for the sake of that praise which Phcebus bragged about when he touched John Milton's "trembling ears." There is, moreover, in the art, or trade, or profession of novel-writing, a larger element of chance than in any other department of literature; and the majority of Englishmen, though they cannot amuse themselves with cards and dominoes for unlimited hours and infinitesimal stakes, are sportsmen at heart, and not at all averse from pursuits in which chance in the last resort sits arbiter. Prizes like those which have fallen to the fortunate

writers of Ministering Children and Called Back set pens a-going by battalions, which the fame and money earned bya Dickens

or a Trollope would have left quite innocent of ink. It would be vain to deprecate, and unfair to disparage, this natural, if not commendable, phase of the "struggle for existence." So, with all due exception made of "scrofulous" novels, the efforts of a "brother man" or "sister woman" to furnish employment for the idle, and relaxation for the strenuous, should be " gently " and " gentlier scanned." There are limits, of course, to the

leniency here commended ; and we are glad to say that Mrs. Pirlcis's latest novel stands well within those limits. ,Tudith Wynne is a good novel of its kind, and its kind is in fashion.

Horrificari vult populus, horrzficetur. . There is a murder in Judith Wynne, and a cruel attempt to murder, a double suicide

with one victim, and ghosts in two, at least, of the predicaments.

With the ghost proper, with the only ghost that deserves that grand old name, Mrs. Pirkis does not meddle. The Psychical Research Society, though willing enough to act in the spirit of Mrs. Glasse's famous precept, has failed hitherto to catch that ghost, and seems not indisposed to give him up. That ghost is the ghost whose objective reality Dr. F. G. Lee will swear to ; but which Schopenhaner more cautiously defines as a vision formed in a living brain by the action of a dead man's volition, as the death-wraith is supposed to be by that of a dying man's.

But if Mrs. Pirkis has no ghost proper, she has his cousingerman in a gruesome doppelganger, of whom we shall here give a glimpse sans phrases. The hero is speaking to the heroine, who has just saved him from the nameless horrors of a naunted chamber, on the threshold of which they are standing :—

" •

Supposing,' he went on, you knelt there praying instead of sleeping—not one night, but night after night—praying for a message, a sign, and for all answer there came to you '—here his voice sank to a hoarse whisper—' an awful shape, near, nearer, till you felt its coldness touching your cheek, your hand ; supposing when it stood close to yon—close, mind, I say—you saw that its hands were red with blood ; supposing, when you baked up into its face, you saw that it was your own ! Ah, God !' he broke off with a groan, it is there again. Help me ! help me !' he cried in the same piteous, passionate tones Judith had heard before. 'Now it stands before the light and shuts it out ! Ah, Heaven have mercy !' His face grew livid with terror, his eyes were wild and fixed, his strong frame quivered."

Of the ghost in the other predicament—the ghost who would fall so infallibly into the clutches of Messrs. Mask-dyne and Cooke if they were engaged to track him—we shall also give a glimpse. The heroine is again in question :— " What was it that had awakened her ? she asked herself, as she sat upright in bed, and listened intently for the repetition of some noise which had distinctly crossed her dreams. It could not have been the Striking of the clocks, for at that moment the one in the hall below sounded the hour, three distinct bells. She had been asleep, then, longer than she thought, four or five hears, and it had seemed only like a five minutes' doze. Hark ! she held-in her breath and strained her ears to listen; there it wasagain, a footfall at her door, a rustling out in the corridor it seemed to be. For a moment 911 But we have introduced Mrs. Pirkis's ghosts to the reader; and if he desires their better acquaintance, he must make it for himself.

Individual facts are frequently more difficult to ascertain than general truths ; and the novelist's path is made so straight for him, because for the incidents, or facts, that is, of his story there is no authority to call against his own. He may provoke our laughter if he chooses to misrepresent the admitted facts of history, as Victor Hugo does without scruple; but we are not now thinking so much of historical novelists and the extent of their license, as of novelists who are purely and simply imaginative. So long as these last do not violate the laws of probability too obviously, it is difficult to set bounds to what pranks they may fairly play with "understood relations" and coincidences that may seem to out-miracle the miraculous. An able advocate would from one year's file of the Times construct on behalf of the most extravagant series of incidents conceivable, a defence which would justify their author for reminding his critics of the sound French proverb : —" Le vraisemblable est le vrai pour lea sots." But the novelist, though practically amenable to no law in the invention and disposal of his facts, has no such chartered liberty in the delineation of his characters. These must act in some accordance with the influences to which human beings are ordinarily subject, or the novel itself will be a bungled chaos. Judith Wynne is not a bungled chaos. The heroine is formed on Jane Eyre's pattern, with a large mixture of that "sounder religious feeling" which Southey missed in the Essays of Ella, and is drawn with vigorous consistency. Engaged in such a struggle as "a daughter of the gods divinely tall and most divinely fair" might have waged unsuccessfully, this plainfeatured little lady wins all along the line, thanks to a faith as strong as love or death, and to 'energy' as firm as Charlotte Corday's. We need not enter into the details of that struggle, as it will be sufficient for our purpose to say that Mrs. Pirkis has proved equal to the task of making them very interesting. There are mysteries to be solved ; and when these are solved, there are difficulties to be overcome by the great-hearted Judith which will keep the drowsiest of readers from nodding. And the minor characters in this novel play their parts very effectively. The hero's blind and ailing mother meets her share of life's troubles with a cheery stoicism, which serves as an excellent foil to the testiness of her fine old housekeeper, brimming-over with Welsh irascibilities and Welsh superstitions. The hero's younger brother is capitally sketched with a firm, quick pencil, and so are his tutor's daughters—the beauty who jilts and the hoyden who marries him. But Judith's character is the cord which holds this book together ; and though we could wish her a better husband than that "tremendous monste-inform'-ingens-horrendons " fellow, the Rev. Wolfgang Reece, we have little doubt that her masterful righteousness brought Mrs. Pirkis's amorphous hero to his bearings before his married life had lasted many moons. Of the astonishing sinner, Miss Delphine Pierpoint, the " Vivien " whom Merlin, Mr. Wolfgang, is saved from by the skin of his teeth, we hardly know what to say. So long as she steers by the compass of her native depravity we can follow her course without bewilderment. But if such a vulgar Vivian could so lose her heart to such a prrenuptially henpecked Merlin, that to assuage its pangs no remedies less potent than prussic-acid and a precipice would suffice—then Mrs. Pirkis knows better than /Elms did or than we do "farms quid femina possit." We would by no means insinuate that she does not, and we prefer to leave her " Vivien " to the tender mercies of female readers and critics. Her " Merlin " we make bold to reject on our own account. We can understand his sin, and we can partly understand his remorse ; but his passage from remorse to repentance baffles us. Love comes to save him when his mind is perplexed in the extreme by the claims of a guilty accomplice, and the terrors of a horrible doppelganger. And to love in its noblest form the man yields not ignobly for a time. But a change—and how such a change could come upon a clergyman of Mr. Reece's antecedents we cannot guess—comes over the spirit of this dreaming "Merlin." He flies for an opiate to the dry light of J. S. Mill's philosophy, and that opiate, strange to say, makes an intolerable Macheath of him. His love for Judith Wynne burns stronger than ever ; but he drives her from him gX41, avont 7t OVIGV,in order that he may be happy with his other dear charmer, a "harlotry player" and masher-queen or quean, whom the veritable Maclseath would have laughed at. The little bit of dynamite, so to speak, which blew Miss Delphine unmarried to Shakespeare's ever-quoted "bourne," must be left for the reader's own discovery. We shall conclude this desultory notice of a novel, which stands well on the sunny side of the line which divides readable from unreadable works of fiction, by quoting a short

specimen of the way in which Judith Wynne bore herself during the explosion :—

"You—you—you did this,' exclaimed Wolf, a terrible twanging harshness making itself heard in his voice. 'Judith, Judith, was this well done ? It was well done.'—' What, to keep me agonised, tortured, saffering, my brain racked, my senses almost leaving me, my heart wellnigh broke!'—' It was well done, say,' answered Judith loudly, clearly, her voice as decisive as his own in "his best days, and I would do it over again to-morrow if it had to be done. I would rack your brain, I would break your heart a thousand times over sooner than have it hard, stubborn, callous as it has been in the days gone by.'—' YOi. would do this—you ? Aye, I would do this. I have done it today. I would do it again to-morrow should the need arise.'—Wolf opened his lips as though about to speak, then he caught back his breath with a gasp saying nothing.—' Hear her, she threatens you, my Wolf,' said Delphine softly.—' I do,' said Judith, once more turning round and confronting the woman. So far as he shows mercy to himself, so far will I have none for him. I will be pitilessso far as he shows himself pity.'"