29 AUGUST 1891, Page 24


For God and Humanity is distinctly a novel with a purpose ; but it is a purpose which is primarily biographical, and only secondarily didactic. Mr. Haskett Smith is an ardent disciple of the late Laurence Oliphant, and for some years antecedent to the death of his leader he was a member of Oliphant's community at Haifa, on the lower slope of Carmel. Urged probably by a desire to preserve in some kind of por- traiture those spiritual lineaments which he may have thought were presented with insufficient distinctness in Mrs. Oliphant's biography, Mr. Hackett Smith has chosen to avail himself of the vehicle of fiction, and has made Oliphant the hero, not of a new memoir, but of a somewhat loosely constructed romance. We cannot think that anything of importance has been gained, and much that would have been of interest has clearly been lost, by this choice ; for though the novel is, of course, the most generally attractive of literary forme, it does not follow that a mixture of fiction and biography will be more attractive than biography pure and simple, especially when, as in the present case, there is a general desire for trust- worthy information concerning a man whose personality and career had an enigmatic interest. Mr. Hackett Smith's Cyril Gordon is in many ways an interesting figure, and is in one way very satisfactory as a portrait, inasmuch as it enables us to realise the combination, in the model from which it is painted, of the shrewd, practical wisdom of the man of the world with the utter unworldliness—in the ordi- nary sense—of the spiritual enthusiast. As an artist, too, the author has done wisely in excluding from his pages all references to those phantasies of psychological speculation which made Oliphant's intellectual position so practically un- intelligible even to reasonably sympathetic persons, and in representing him solely as a man fired with enthusiasm for the primitive Christianity of the Sermon on the Mount, and roused to antagonism by what he considered the unholy com- promises of the modern Christian world. It is the fictitious element in For God and Humanity which is the element of weakness; and to say this is, of course, equivalent to saying that the book as a whole is a failure. The mere story is amateurishly cumbrous and shapeless, and the subsidiary characters are like the actors in a one-part play, who appear on the stage only to provide situations in which the " star " may make his points.

We do not know whether Mr. Algernon Gissing, author of A Moorland Idyl, is a relative of Mr. George Gissing; but if they are not united by any tie of kinship, it is rather an odd coincidence that both should devote themselves so sedulously to the delineation of the sombre aspects of life, and that—as if by mutual arrangement—one should restrict himself to rural and the other to urban surroundings. Mr. Algernon Gissing's new book is, we are glad to say, not quite so con-

• (1.) For Sod and Humanity : a Romance of Mount Cannel. By Haskett Smith, M.A. 3 vole. Edinburgh and London W. Blackwood and Son.—(S.) A Moorland Idyl. By Algernon Gissing. 3 vols. London : Hurst and Blackett. —(3.) Ronnie Kate. By Mrs. Leith Adams. 3 vole. London : Regan Paul, Trench, Trftbner. and Co.—(4.) She Aldermen's Children. By James Brinsley Richards. 3 vols. London : R. Bentley and Son.—(5.) So Near Akin. By X. A. Bengough. 3 vols. London: R. Bentley and Son.—'6.) A Scotch Earl. By the Countess of Munster. 3 vols. London: Hurst and Blackett.—(7.) A Divided Duty. By Ida Lemon. London: F. Warne Co.

tinuously and relentlessly gloomy as one or two of its pre- decessors; but between him and positive cheerfulness of theme and treatment there is still a great golf fixed. Still, if A Moorland Idyl be not exhilarating, it is in parts decidedly powerful, and as a whole decidedly interesting, though. not so interesting as it might have been had Mr. Gissing been able to work his way to a stronger and more artisti- cally satisfying conclusion. Of course the failure of the heroine's marriage and her subsequent death were not to be avoided, for such a story as that of Isabel Few could not by any possibility have the commonplace " happy ending " of a fairy-tale ; but in Mr. Gissing's novel the closing scene is not inevitable ; it is mechanical and arbitrary, and therefore it leaves upon the mind an impression of triviality and ineffectiveness. Mr. Gissing must be, we think, somewhat deficient in intellectual staying power, for in this book, as in one or two of his other stories, certain parts are so strong as to make us wonder that it is not stronger as a whole. Mr. Heathpool, the minister, with the wild, passionate nature which years of enforced and voluntary repression have not sufficed to tame, is a powerfully conceived creation ; but the author seems unable to do full justice to his conception, and the approaches to each crisis in his history are much more impressive than the crisis itself. A Moorland Idyl is far from being a commonplace novel, but if it were more commonplace, it might be less disappointing.

Mrs. Leith Adams's Bonnie Kate is so graceful and pretty, so sweet and wholesome a story, that one has no temptation to dwell upon its faults, or even to mention them at all, " save in the way of kindness ;" but there can be no unkindness in ad- vising the author to keep clear of that fascinating but dangerous motive, the matrimonial misunderstanding. The desertion of a faithful and tender husband by a wife who devotedly loves him, is not very easily made credible to the imagination, and it is quite certain that the difficulties of the undertaking are not surmounted by Mrs. Leith Adams. If the latter half of the second volume could be cut out, the book would be immensely improved ; but then, to speak paradoxically, it would be ruined as well, for the excision would remove the narrative key-stone, and the whole story would go to pieces. At any rate, the third volume would be impossible, and most readers would prefer the presence of half-a-dozen weaknesses of structure to the absence of that exquisitely and tenderly painted picture of the Irish Quaker household, in which poor Kate finds rest and peace after her weary journey of despair. Not less successful is that other household in the remote York- shire village, to which the self-made John Granger takes the gently nurtured bride who has been so cruelly left in ignorance of what is in store for her among her husband's people. We incline to think that there are touches of caricature in the redoubtable Aunt Libbie who brings about the catastrophe already referred to ; but Farmer Granger and his invalid wife, and the twin-girls Leah and Rachel, could not well be truer than they are. Of the warm-hearted and deliciously plain-spoken Melissa we shall say nothing, because justice to Melissa cannot be done in a sentence ; and we can only add that Mrs. Leith Adams introduces us not only to some delightful human beings, but to some not less delightful dogs. Jack," Yap,' and Chloe' will be taken to the hearts of all dog-lovers.

Like most contemporary novels in which the interest depends on a somewhat complicated plot, The Alderman's Children is crowded with improbabilities both of character and incident, and it cannot even be said that Mr. Brinsley Richards takes any trouble to soften down their rude aggressiveness. The villain of fiction—especially when he is a villain who moves in respectable society—is seldom a very lifelike personage; but Chauncey Travers is a trifle more incredible than the ordinary member of his tribe. Forgeries and miscellaneous swindles are his habitual weaknesses, but his great coup is the violent murder of a City Alderman, whose mansion he enters with a stolen latch-key, makes his way to the Alderman's presence, cuts his throat from ear to ear, arranges the body in such a position as to leave no doubt upon the mind of the coroner's jury that the case is one of suicide, and then leaves the house as be entered it, without any member of the family having the slightest suspicion of what has been going on. This worthy has a sister, the wife of a man in a convict-prison, who supports herself by keeping a small shop, and who, though presented to our notice as a most

high-minded young woman, allows herself to be known as the Baroness de la Neva, and to be used as a decoy-duck for the very foolish young man, Charlie Harrowell, whom Travers is bent upon getting into his clutches. Other• absurdities of in- vention are not wanting, and yet, in spite of them all, The Alderman's Children is sufficiently interesting to attract the reader who is not squeamish in the matter of probability.

So Near Akin is apparently a first book, and it is a book from which it is not easy to estimate the author's possibilities as a writer of fiction. It is full of exaggeration, and there is a general lack of imaginative perspective, but the characters and situations are vividly realised, and the businesslike directness of the style gives a certain impression of vigour. The story is not pleasant, for of the numerous characters introduced, there is hardly one which appeals in any degree either to the reader's liking or admiration. They all represent different varieties of two types, and of two only, the Pharisee and the Publican,—the self-conscious prig and the reckless Bohemian. The heroine is one of the Bohemians. She is the daughter of an eminently respectable and Evangelical family at Clapham, and while quite a child she runs away in order to put herself under the protection of the black-sheep of her race, an uncle William, who is a strolling player of the baser sort. She is brought back, but a few years later she repeats the experiment as the only means of escape from an engagement into which she has drifted with Sir Henry Stephens, one of the most objection- able of the prigs. The experiment is hardly successful, for it ends in her becoming the wife of her cousin, George Paton, another prig, who marries her, not because he loves her—for his -emotion much more nearly resembles hatred—but apparently because he thinks it his duty to save her from moral ruin. George is really a strongly drawn figure, in whose character the admirable and the repulsive elements are very skilfully combined ; and the third volume, in which he is most pro- minent, is in many respects a powerful piece of work, though it would be much more truly powerful if it did not leave the impression that the writer is deliberately piling on the agony —manufacturing circumstances of gratuitous misery for the sake of a strong emotional effect. There are passages in So Near Akin which it is possible to admire, perhaps to admire strongly ; bat enjoyment of the book as a whole will be impos- sible even to the most easily satisfied reader.

The Countess of Munster has, we regret to say, mistaken her vocation, for she is not and never will be a capable novelist. Curiously enough, A Scotch Earl is not even a moderately lifelike picture of that section of the world which its author must know best, but an utterly unhumorous caricature ; and had no name appeared on the title-page, it might—and not without some show of reason—have been attributed to some narrowly fanatical Republican or Socialist, full of eagerness to pour contempt upon the society of rank and wealth. Nor has the novel any merits of either construction or style to atone for its really grotesque presentation of character and incident ; for the mere story is disjointed, incoherent, even absurd, and Lady Munster's manner of telling it is the manner of the unpractised literary amateur. There are passages of reflection and comment which show that the author's sympathies go out to all things lovely and of good report; but these things, admirable as they are in their own way, do not suffice to make a satisfying work of fiction.

A Divided Duty is a capital story of Parisian life, or, more properly, of life in Paris, for the heroine is an English girl who has gone to the French capital to earn her living by teaching ; and the principal characters are also English, though there are some bright sketches of the Parisian families in which Leslie Maunsel finds her first and only pupils ; while the introduction of the poor, starving Frenchman, M. Vaillant, gives us an episode of genuine and unforced pathos. The humorous element is provided by the good-natured M. Leon, whose Gallieised English is very well managed; and by the eccentric Miss Duckworth, Leslie's sometime governess and present hostess, who, having devoted herself to art, deliberately cultivates slatternliness and mild Bohemianism as the outward and visible signs of the artistic temperament. There is also a somewhat elaborate plot, with the nature of which we do

• not become acquainted until we reach the concluding chapters ; but it adds little to the interest of a story which owes its charm to the quiet truthfulness of its character-studies, and to its simple, cultivated literary style. A Divided Duty, though in no way remarkable, may be commended heartily and un- reservedly as a pleasant and well-written story.