"THE AALER1CAN SENATOR."*
Mn. ANTHONY TROLLOPE rarely writes a bad book, and almost as rarely now writes one which may be distinctively called good. We take his more recent novels very much as we take English weather, —as something good in the main for health and amusement, though rarely affording special opportunities for either. The skies are some- what dull above us, perhaps, and the sun rarely breaks through, and when it does, affords but a weak, somewhat uncertain, light ; but we need not fear the drenching torrents of the tropics, nor guard against the sunstroke of brighter climes. We are here annoyed by no improbable crimes, no illicit loves ; at worst, a mild complication ensuing upon a young man being unable to pay his tailor's bill, or a young lady's not exactly knowing her own mind, is all we have to expect ; and we know by experience that in the end the young gentleman's tailor will be paid in the most satisfactory manner, and the young lady's correct sentiments will guide her aright in her choice of a husband. We open any of our author's works, and we find the same thing in slightly varied forms,—a group of people, some of them titled, moving along decently in their various ways, when somehow a slight thread of complication arises, the interest centres in one or two of the group, and continues till the three volumes are full, and the author's task finished. The puppets are put back in the box, the showman puts on his coat, and the play is over. We had seen the characters created without emotion, we leave them with- out regret, our only prominent feeling is one of mild wonder that the book should ever have come to an end ; for in this respect, Mr. Trollope follows life closely. His works are not dramatic unities, but rather leaves from the lives of respectable people, taken perhaps from the most interesting portion of the chapter. Moderate in all things, he is most moderate in his language ; his characters seldom fail to express themselves with tolerable propriety ; and if one of his male characters says a naughty word, it may be taken for granted that he is one whom the author intends to be considered as a person on the high-road to the devil. And if this be the case with the men, it is still more the case with the women of his fictions. Reviewing in our mind a long procession of Manes, Kates, Alices, &c., we cannot remember one case where the heroine has committed a greater fault than being unable to make up her mind. Indeed, this state of indecision is gene- rally the cause of three-fourths of the troubles which human flesh is heir to, at any rate as depicted by Mr. Trollope ; and certainly half the contents of any of his works is occupied by debates of hero or heroine, whether or no he or she should do such a thing or not. Through every variety of pro and con meanders the argument, till we at last begin to believe that there • The American Sumter. By Anthony Trollope. London: Cbapmin and Hall.
is no reason why any one should decide upon doing any- thing, when there are so many reasons to be given for not doing it. Thus it would seem as if a sort of dullness must attach to Mr. Trollope's fictions, but in truth this is seldom the case. On one or two occasions, notably in The Eustace Diamonds and Ile Knew he was Right, he has stretched the chord of interest to breaking; but as a rule, the story, though progressing slowly and circuitously, does progress, and the very slightness of the dramatic action prevents our feeling impatient at the delay of its. fulfilment.
If we have delayed our readers over-long with the preamble, we can only plead in excuse that The American Senator is open to the praise and blame which must be accorded to Mr. Trollope's works as a whole, and that all we have said above applies to this work in particular as much as to the earlier ones in general.
There is, however, a new element of interest signified by the title. "The American Senator" is a gentleman who comes over to England to examine English institutions, and to try and dis- cover the reason that his countrymen, while speaking of England, on the whole, as a decayed, worn-out country, yet evidence the greatest respect for English institutions, English manners, and English customs. Now, it may easily be imagined that in com- petent bands—and for a task of this kind Mr. Trollope's are very competent—this might be made a most entertaining and original book—and the part of it which is devoted to explaining and de- scribing Mr. Gotobed's impressions of England is excessively clever and interesting. But unfortunately, Mr. Trollope was tempted by his tremendous facility of writing, and the conse- quence is that he has spun out what should have been a /en d'esprit in one volume, into a three-volume love-story, where the American Senator appears every now and then for a short time, when he is wanted to fill up the gaps. This is the more irritating as, considered in the light of a story, the work is perhaps the least interesting our author has ever written. The hero is a young man named Laurence Tweutyman, who passes his life, or, at all events, that portion of it which appears in this book, in proposing to a young lady called Mary Masters, daughter of a county-town solicitor. Miss Masters, very properly, in our opinion, rejects Mr. Twentyman promptly two or three times, but as that has no perceptible effect upon him, she promises to give him a final answer in two months, and this promise she keeps, rejecting him again, by letter this time. It might be supposed that even Mr. Twentyman would have had enough of it after this, but this is not the case, for he makes another assault upon her, and is at last finally disposed of by being told that she loves another. Soon after, the " other " having inherited some property, proposes, is joyfully accepted, and that portion of the story comes to a close. There is, how- ever, another love-story, which occupies at least as large a portion of the book as this one,—we mean the account of how the Honour- able Miss Trefoil is engaged to a Foreign-Office gentleman, lately Plenipotentiary at Washington, and at the present time living on his estate of £7,000 a year in the country ; and how this young lady, not satisfied with her fiance" s financial and social position, endeavours to capture and hold fast a certain Lord
Rufford, whose estates are worth £40,000 a year. The descrip- tion of this attempt is the only interesting part of the book, apart
from the American's sayings and questions, of which, as we have said, there is comparatively little, the Senator disappearing occa- sionally even for a volume at a time. There is also a fourth thread of interest, almost entirely of the padding order, connected with the of a fox in one of the favourite hunt coverts. With these remarks upon the plot, we make our first extract from the Senator's opinions, the subject being fox-hunting. Mr.
Gotobed has been taken down to the meet by his friend John Morton, the late plenipotentiary at Washington, and is having the "master of the fox-hounds" pointed out to him :—
" That's Captain Glomax, I suppose,' said Morton.—' I don't know him, but from the way he's talking to the huntsman you may be sure of He is tho groat man, is he ? All those dogs belong to him ?'— ' Either to him or to the bunt.'—' And ho pays for those servants ?'— ' Certainly.'—' He is a very rich man, I suppose.'—Then Mr. Morton endeavoured to explain tho position of Captain Glomax. He was not rich. He was no one in particular, except that be was Captain Glouaax, and his one attribute was a knowledge of bunting. He did not keep the dogs out of his own pocket. He received £2,000 a year from the gentlemen of the county, and he himself only paid anything which the hounds and horses might cost over that.—' He's a sort of upper servant, then ?' asked the Senator.—' Nut at all ; he's the greatest man in the county on hunting days.'—' Does lie live out of it ?'—' I should think not.'—' It's a deal of trouble, isn't it?' 'Full work for an active man's time, I should say.'—A great many more questions were asked and answered, at the end of which the Senator declared that he did not quite understand it, but that as far as he saw, he did not think much
of Captain Glomax. 'If he could make a living out of it, I should re- spect him,' said the Senator, 'though it's like knife-grinding or handling arsenic—an unwholesome sort of profession.'—'I think they look very nice,' said Morton, as one or two well turned- oat young men rode up to the place.—' They seem to me to have thought more about their breeches than anything else,' said the Senator. 'But if they are going to hunt, why don't they hunt? Have they got a fox with them ? ' Then there was a further explanation. 'Now they're hunting,' said Mr. Morton to the Senator.— ' They all seemed to be very angry with each other at that narrow gate.'—' They were in a hurry, I supposd.'—' Two of them jumped over the hedge. Why didn't they all jump ? How long will it be now before they catch him ? '—' Very probably they may not catch him at all.'—' Not catch him after all that? Then the man was certainly right to poison that other fox in the wood. How long will they go on ? —‘ Half an hour, perhaps.'—' And you call that hunting ! Is it worth the while of all those men to expend all that energy for such a result. Upon the whole, Mr. Morton, I should say that it is one of the most in- comprehensible things I have ever seen in the course of a rather long and varied life. Shooting I can understand, for you have your birds. Fishing I can understand, as you have your fish. Here you get a fox to begin with, and are all broken-hearted.* Then you come across another after riding about all day. and the chances are you can't catch him ! '—'I suppose,' said Mr. Morton, angrily, ' the habits of our country are incomprehensible to the people of another. When I see Americans loafing about in the bar-room of a hotel I am lost in amaze- ment.'—' There is not a man you see who couldn't give a reason for his being there. He has an object in view, though perhaps it may be no better than to rob his neighbour. But here there seems to be no pos- sible motive.' "
This quotation will give a better idea than any long description could, of the way in which the Senator looks at English customs, and of the manner in which his shrewd common-sense remarks perplex his English host ; hunting, as looked at from the utilitarian point of view, being certainly a puzzle, Mr. Morton has no chance with the Senator, who regards all things from that stand-point. One more quotation we must give from the Senator's opinions, and this time it shall be a quotation from a letter which he writes to a brother senator in New York. The young lord here referred to is Lord Rufford, the victim of Miss Trefoil's fascinations, and the picture drawn of his usual life is, we think, remarkable for its terse vigour and freedom from exaggeration :— "I have lately become acquainted with a certain young lord of this class, who has treated me with great kindness, though I have taken it into my head to oppose him in a mattor in which he is much interested. I ventured to inquire of him as to the pursuits of his life. He is a lord, and therefore a legislator, but he made no scruple of telling me that he never goes near the Chamber in which it is his privilege to have a seat. But his party does not lose his support. Though he never goes Lear the place, he can vote, and is enabled to trust his vote to some other more ambitious lord who does go there. It required the absolute -evidence of personal information from those who are themselves con- cerned to make me believe that legislation in Great Britain could be carried on after such a fashion as this. Then he told me what he does do. All the winter he hunts and shoots, going about to other rich men's houses when there is no longer sufficient for him to shoot left on his own estate. That lasts him from the let of September to the end of March, and occupies all his time. August he spends in Scotland, also shooting other animals. During the other months he fishes, and playa cricket and tennis, and attends races and goes about to parties in London. His evenings he spends at a card-table, when he can get friends to play with him. It is the employment of his life to fit in his amusements so that he may never have a dull day. Wherever he goes be carries his wine with him, and his valet and his grooms, and if he thinks there is any- thing to fear, his cook also. He very rarely opens a book. He is more ignorant than a boy of fifteen with us, and yet he finds something to say about everything. When his ignorance has been made as clear as the sun at noonday, he is no whit ashamed. One would say that such a life would break the heart of any man ; but, upon my word, I doubt whether I ever came across a human being half so satisfied as this young lord."
With this graphic picture of an aristocrat's life, we must close our notice. The portrait is certainly done in harsh black lines, and there is no softening of the unpleasant truth. And yet it is very little more than strict truth ; and there are others beside American Senators who lament its verity.