THE BACHELOR OF THE ALBANY
Is a clever novel in the smart style. The author is acquainted with ac- tual life, and has observed public events and public men. With a strong bent for exposing social weaknesses or natural vices, he indulges in very little exaggeration against them ; and he has, what is rare in satirists, a genial feeling, displaying kindly characters with as much zest as the fool- ish, mean-spirited, or base. His composition is close, pointed, and full of matter; but he is rather prone to over-illustrate a topic, which gives an appearance of writing artifice. His persons and incidents are mostly such as we meet with in every-day life; forming, in fact, a series of social sketches such as might occur to any one, and deriving their ef- fect from the truth of their lineaments and the manner of their delineation. Apart from the heroine and her concomitants, which are intended to form the mystery and romance of The Bachelor of the Albany, any fami- lies engaged in business, mingling in society, and marrying and giving in marriage, see and do as much as those in the fiction. The romantic part, or at least the part intended for romance, is rather a drag than otherwise. It disturbs the flow of the social sketches, without being either very probable in itself or agreeable in the incidents that conduce to the denouement.
The object of The Bachelor of the Albany is to point the moral, that matt is not to aim at living for himself alone, and that a person who en- deavours to escape from the duties and responsibilities of life will suffer the evils without tasting of the good. This excellent idea is not very effectively developed. Mr. Barker, "the Bachelor," is a man of some twelve or fifteen hundred a year, with a paradoxical and caustic genius, and a temper that seems more bristling than it really is, from his having nourished antipathies and oddities. As a contrast to Barker, we have his friends the Spreads, the beau ideal of an English merchant-family of the older school ; and as a contrast to them, Mr. Narrowsmith, the miserly partner of Mr. Spread, with his wife and daughter. There are also some other natural and lifelike groups,—as the rotund and jovial pluralist of the Irish Church, who embodies its enormities in his own person ; and the Misses Smyly. The upshot of the whole put in motion is, that the Bachelor of the Albany, after being led through a variety of annoying troubles—terrified by the idea of a cubbish nephew who he thinks is advertising for him, elected to Parliament against his will and induced to sit out of spite, plunged into the annoyances of public business, and charged with the responsibility of a guardianship to the daughter of an old friend—is finally married to Laura Smyly, and takes his share of life's duties and business.
In respect of story, The Bachelor of the Albany is not much ; and perhaps events are not the author's strong point.
"Si vis me flere, ciolendum est Primum ipsi tibi." Btrt weeping, or anything else, is vainly attempted for which the author has no vocation. We suspect this writer has little sympathy with the deeper events of life,—if, indeed, depth belongs to contemporary life at all, otherwise than as an exception. Births, marriages, and deaths take place, the same as at any other time, and meetings of creditors show changes of fortune : but action and passion are needed for a story of
interest, and these are seldom found in modern life. A true mo- dern novel, perhaps, is little more than a succession of social sketches, strung together by some purpose, just sufficient to make a beginning and an end, as well as to give a unity to scenes and persons, so that the reader feels the interest of acquaintanceship, instead of having to introduce himself afresh at each new chapter. Such is about the character of The Bachelor of the Albany; but it would have been better had the ro- mantic part been a little more probable, or dispensed with altogether, and had the endeavour of Mr. Barker to isolate himself from troubles failed rather essentially than by accidents. Perhaps, too, something more of earnestness in the affairs of men, and still more in their feelings and those of women, would have given greater interest and a more lifelike character to the story. The composition, however facile and flowing, is often too smart; as if the author were thinking more of his writing than the thing itself. Christmas, for example. "It was now verging to the season which in Catholic Oxford is called the Feast of the Nativity, but by Protestant England is still named Christmas—the season of pudding and pantomimes, mince-pies and maudlin sentiment, blue noses and red books. Now nurseries were growing licentious, and the masters and mistresses of seminaries, the lie-rods and the She-rods of British infancy, pre- paring turn their innocents loose and wild upon the world. Now were ma- licious bachelors purchasing small drums and tiny trumpets, to present to the children of unfortunate married men. Now young ladies were busily exchanging polyglots and pin-cushions, beautiful books and books of beauty, Olney Hymns and Chapotae's Letters, with cases and boxes of twenty kinds. Now landlords were beginning to get praised in provincial papers for lowering rents that ought never to have been so high; and labouring men were about to be compensated for a year of hunger, with a single day of roast beef and plum-pudding. Folly, in white waistcoat, was now quoting old songs, and dreaming of new monasteries; as if it was a whit less difficult to turn a modern Christmas into an ancient Yule than tcchange a lump of sea-coal into A log of pine. Sensible people, on the con- trary, content to live in their own times, and not so ravished as Mr. Owlet with the ages of darkness, or the things thereof, were buttoning their coats without a sigh for the doublets of their fathers—going to and fro upon railroads, with a decided preference of speed and security to rubbery and romance; nay, they were despatching or meditating hospitable messages to their friends, and preparing for the festivities of the season, without a thought of a boar's head, or a notion on the subject of mediaeval gastronomy." There is the habitual effort to be pointed in the following, but the point is more in place.
THE HOUSE OF THE SPREADS.
The house of the Spreads was a model-house; not a model of splendour and luxury, but of respectability and comfort. It was the freshest, wannest, bright- est, airiest, cleanliest, snuggest house, that ever you set your foot in. The de- fects of its light were thaw of the climate; and if its atmosphere was not always the purest, its corruptions were chargeable upon the general atmosphere of Liver-
It was obvious at a glance, at good sense and correct taste were the regu- Clit that g principles of all the household arraogements. You could have inferred the
mind in the drawingroom from the order in the kitchen, and argued from the cook or the housemaid up to Mrs. Spread herself. There is nothing more cha- racteristic of the residences of people ot true refinement than what may be called harmony of style; offices in the ratio of the house; servants enough, and no more; liveries, equipages, plate, furniture, decorations, all in keeping with each other, and adjusted to the proprietor's rank and fortune. The Spreads understood this perfectly; they were free from the two vulgarities of wealth—superfluity and dis- play: a quiet elegance and a liberal economy distinguished their establishment in all its departments. Then, those departments never came into colliatou: there was no confusion of jurisdictions or clash of offices; there was a place fur everything, and everything was in its place. The butler did not groom the homes, nor did the groom open the wine; the cook never made the beds, the housemaids never dressed the dinner; the kitchen did not intrude into the hall, and the nursery was never known to invade the parlour.
As a contrast to the Spreads, we may take a sketch of the house of the partner; where, the object being satire, the artificial style is still more in keeping with the subject. "Ins parlour, figuratively called a dining-room, by the side of what, metaphori- cally speaking, might be said to be the fire, sat in domestic council Mr. Narrow- smith and his wife. It was quite a winter-piece. The painter to take the picture should have been one whose line was boors in a frost. The room looked funereal, as if it had been furnished by an undertaker, and a particularly gloomy one. The curtains, newly hung, were of some paltry drab-coloured stutf, and as much too narrow and too short as it was possible to make them without their ceasing to suggest the idea that they were designed for curtains. A wretched Kiddermin- ster, the more wretched fur being new like the curtains, and much too small for the space to be covered, bad been violently stretched and tortured with tacks to make the most of it; and when the most was made, it left a broad track of board extending all round the apartment, as bare as the pavement in the street. This track was studded with dingy mahogany chairs, few and far betweeen; a dozen being required to do the duty of twice that number, like a garrison after a bloody siege. T he shrivelled rug on the hearth-stone made as poor an attempt to cover it as the tortured Kidderminster did to cover the floor. The cold black stone was only about three quarters concealed by it; and a villanously meagre cat—a cat as lean as Cassius—sitting right in the centre of the rug, with her green eyes pensively fixed upon the grate, as if she was pondering upon the vice of avarice, plainly proved, that not so much as a fat mouse did credit to Mrs. Narrowsmith's housekeeping. "Mr. Isaac Narrowsmith—a small, mean man, dressed in seedy black, with vul- gar arithmetic in every line of his pinched and sallow features, little, sharp, snit- pitions eyes, and a nose not worth talking about—having made up his little mind to give a miserable dinner, was now debating with his worthy consort upon the guests to be invited, and the cheap dishes and false wines to. be imposed upon such should honour their bad cheer. it was to be at once their annual dinner to the Spreads, and a feast to celebrate their removal to Rodney Street from the baser quarter of the town, where they had previously resided. If harmony of tastes is a pledge of happiness in the married state, Mr. and Mrs. Narrowsunith ought to have been happy as turtle-doves; for the lady was in her way, and in her depart- ments, as pitaul and griping as the gentleman. They had but one soul between them, and that might have been lodged in a nut-shell. Mr. Spread (who, as we have seen, was one of the few who now condescend to read Pope) used to call them Mr. and Mrs. Gripus; and Philip, being fresh from the study of mechanics, gave them the sobriquet of the male and female screw. "Mrs. Narrowsmith was a tall, muscular, harsh woman, with fiat, square, pale, rigid, frigid features; she would have made an admirable matron of a workhouse or a gaol. When Mr. Narrowsmith married her, she was the widow of a rich planter in the West Indies; and she looked like a woman who could brandish the whip and wallop her negresses. She was about as genial as an icicle, and as mild a creature as a white bear after a bad day's fishing in the frozen seas. She was even harder, colder, and keener than her husband. The thermometer fell in her neighbourhood; she actually radiated cold, and people who sat beside her got sore throats. She had one good point, her hair—that was beautiful—a golden brown, and remarkably luxuriant; but, as it were to compensate for its beauty, it PM clumsily arranged—part held in awkward captivity by a comb of spurious tortoise- shell, part falling in graceless negligence upon a shoulder unworthy to receive it. Ot the maternal air and aspect she had nothing. Who could fieney.that dry, harsh, frigid woman, suckling a babe ?—though you could easily figure her to yourself chronicling small, very small, beer."