THE WORLD WE LIVE IN.*
GRATIFYING tokens of a much-needed and long-desired revolu- tion in the method of publishing novels are becoming numerous. We may yet survive the three-volume-novel system altogether; and how good that would be, perhaps only the practised re- viewer, " with grey hairs and a moral sense," like Martin Chuzzle- wit's Colonel, who has not descended to "skipping," is qualified to declare. He knows what is the needless labour of reading stories in three volumes, and he can form a tolerable idea of what the toil of writing them must be. Deeply refresh- ing to so experienced a person is the sprinkling of pleasant novels, each in two pretty light handy volumes, which has recently laid the dust in his path, and promises showers in future. This great improvement was begun in the case of Mr. Marion Crawford's recent novels, To Leeward and A Roman Singer, and Mr. Hamilton Aide's Introduced to Society. As we noticed lately, it was continued when The Giant's Robe appeared in a single volume. We now have The World we Live in, by Mr. Oswald Crawford, better known by his delightful works on Portugal and his recent English Comic Dramatists than as a writer of fiction, but who has written some charming stories under the name of " John Dangerfield."
There is a pleasant assurance in a first glance at these wide, flat, small, admirably printed volumes that there will be little, if any, padding in them; and there is none. There is a very good story, told with skill, taste, and what in music is called brio. The reader thinks immediately what a good comedy it would make. The scene—a great hall in a million- aire's Scotch palace ; with galleries approached by broad stair- cases, and people constantly coming and going—is actually set before our eyes ;. and the incidents furnish a drawing-room drama, ready made. It would, however, require both extra- ordinarily good acting, of the refined and subtle kind which is very rare, and that indefinable usage hardly ever forthcoming. The winding-up of the cleverly conducted intrigue that forms the story is eminently dramatic; and three characters at least,— the Countess von Schimmerling, Bauer, and Colonel Tremayne, —are worthy of actors of the first class.
In one sense there is not much in the story of The World we Live in. It is a single-motived, short, direct narrative; but in another sense there is a great deal in it. The talk is excellent ; various, natural, without descending to the wearisomeness of tea-and-toast realism ; characteristic, so that we know the talkers, and make mental portraits of them. The scene of the story is laid in a splendid house; the atmosphere is that of wealth, luxury, and pleasure ; but there is not a touch of Onidaism about it; no trailing laces, sumptuous cashmeres, roses bathed in priceless wine, or draughts of burning curacoa. The people are gentlefolk, with the exception of Bauer, who is a singularly successful impostor ; and the shades of eccentricity which the author permits himself to introduce into their sayings and doings are never too deep or over-obtrusive. Mr. Oswald Crawfurd is a master of the art of hinting. For instance, the reader knows perfectly the precise estimation in which the husband of Lady Diana Follett (who is immensely fond of him) is to be held ; and yet, from the first mention of him as "an extraordinarily handsome gentleman of about thirty," to the epigrammatic answer made to him by his brother-in-law, with which the story ends, Mr. Follett does not make half a dozen appearances. Then there is an American girl, Miss Langham, who merely flits across the pages, but she becomes an acquaint- ance for life. Colonel Tremayne is, perhaps, the least convincing portrait in the carefully drawn collection. There is a slight trace of the Guy Livingstone school of hero about him, duly subjected, of course, to Mr. Crawfurd's better taste. The other • The World we Live in. By Oswald Crawfurd. London: Chapman and Ball, people are more manifestly and really of the world we live in than is " Jim " Tremayne, who buries himself for five years in the interior of Asia because Miss Nancy Stone marries Count von Schimmerling. But then, if he had not done this very nn-clubbable and un-masherlike thing, he could not
have come home with a pocket-book fall of pickings from Sindbad's Valley of Diamonds, to rescue his lady - love and rout the nefarious but delightfully commonplace swindler, whose indescribably irritating German pronunciation of the
English tongue is the best thing of the kind that has been done since Captain Costigan, in Pendennis. The general company are very amusing, all in the quietest, best-bred, most casual way ;
a pleasant flavour of cynicism pervades a scene in which the assembled party get a fright as to whether they have not too confidently welcomed Colonel Tremayne as a millionaire, and each member of it begins to " slack off ;" but a timely relief is derived from the display of the eminently portable property in the Colonel's pocket-book. Thil scene, which might be transferred to the stage exactly as it stands, is a test of the author's skill and taste. Had he possessed less of either, its genteel comedy would have sunk into farce.
Among the types conveniently assembled for our amusement at Sir John Smith's Highland palace two of the most diverting are Dr. and Mrs. Bent, whom the vivid Miss Langham regards with interest, distracted only by the apprehension that she may be wasting precious time and losing sight of other distinguished persons,—an apprehension under which our American cousins must labour pretty continuously, considering the present pace of society. Mrs. Bent's talk is very amusing—she is a kind of suave Mrs. Hominy in English " high life "—so is the silence of the learned doctor, " the prophet of the new dispensa- tion, but a prophet who would never preach." Mrs. Bent's definition of the " old Karma that is passing away, and the new Karma that is beginning,' is excellent fooling; and we suspect that many of Mr. Crawfurd's readers will, like our- selves, feel a guilty and ear-heating consciousness that they have occasionally listened with seriousness, even deference, to utterances quite as nonsensical :-
"' Stay,' said Miss Langham ; What is a Karma P'—' Ab, dear Miss Langbam, I am afraid you are still sadly exoteric P'—' Yes; but what is Karma?'—' I fear, if you ask me for a scientific definition, I could not give you one.'—' Yes • but please explain it to me, anyhow.'—' I could not. I have myself only an occalt sense of it, and a sense rather of its great importance, than of its having any definite signifi- cation. It is, I fancy, one of those terms, and Dr. Bent fully agrees with me, by which some very enlightened person, some exoteric sage of superlative insight—perhaps several thousand years ago, expressed some truth which he alone bad grasped, and which be found too subtle to expound and impart even to the initiated ; and now occultists use these terms reverently and symbolically, so that when we say Karma—.'—' You mean Karma—nothing more or less.'— ' Ob,' cried Mrs. Bent, with a tone of conviction, a great deal more than less.' "
• We have given hardly a taste of the quality of Mr. Oswald Crawford's big little book. It is like the conjuror's bottle: there is a sip of something for everybody in it, and each of us may choose our own wine daintily, while we discern the precise kind of physic Mit will be good for the faults and follies of our neighbours, as dispensed by this dexterous " drawster."