THIS is a very pretty story, and one well suited to the capacities of girls of sixteen or seventeen years old,—a class of readers which it is often difficult to supply with light literature, and which, perhaps, deserves more attention than it generally re- ceives from writers of merit. Miss Sewell and Miss Yonge are almost the only authors of any literary fame who have hitherto devoted their pens to the phases of undeveloped womanhood, and to the adventures and vicissitudes of ordinary, middle-class, family life, as they present themselves to the ordinary well- brought-up girls of English middle-class homes. Mrs. Moles- worth is a most welcome addition to the standard school-room authors ; and her present book will delight many girls of refined tastes and simple habits, who will find themselves able to appre- ciate every scene and character in this pleasant story. Mrs. Molesworth's love scenes, and the love affairs of her heroines, are especially well managed. Though few and simple, and forming • Lettice. By Mrs. Molesworth. London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge.
only a very small portion of the story, they are touched with truth and delicacy, and will satisfy naturally and pleasantly the girlish craving for romance, of a real and possible kind, such as most girls dream about, and hope for in their own future.
But " Lettice's " prejudice and obstinacy seem to be rather overdrawn for a sensible young woman of twenty, and (judging from a somewhat extensive acquaintance with boys) we believe that no ordinary youth of seventeen would be overruled, as " Arthur " was, by an elder sister's authority and influence. The whole story, which is well told and interesting, hinges on an inherited family quarrel, handed down to the second generation, and violently taken up by the self-willed and high- minded heroine. Her brother's weakness and its unfortunate consequences break down her resolution; the paternal kindness of the offending uncle softens her heart; and her repentance is as thorough and as characteristic as her folly, which is saying a great deal. The unlucky Arthur is represented as having no especial fault beyond a weakness of mental and moral fibre which is really carried to an incredible pitch. He goes in, with- out a word of remonstrance, for an army examination which he secretly dreads and detests to a degree second only to the dislike he has for the profession of arms (for which he had been intended by his father). He conceals these feelings for nine months, during which time he reads hard for the examination; he refuses an excellent offer of a congenial opening in business ; and then, having fainted from nervousness during his examina- tion, he runs away, intending to sail for America ; but finally pulls up in a small north-country town, on the way to Liver- pool, where he has an offer of a shopman's place at a draper's— on the strength of his appearance being " so very genteel." And all this because he dare not express opinions and ideas which would jar with those of a sister only three years older than himself, whom he describes as writing him "terrible letters." Such conduct betokens a degree of mental, moral, and muscular flabbiness very unusual in English lads; and Mrs. Molesworth's girl-readers will scarcely find Arthur's counterpart among their brothers and cousins. Of Lettice's practical sense and ready cleverness, we are told much, but we are not given many instances of it. Her overstrung sense of independence and authority, combined with her childish vehemence of prejudice, render her a domestic tyrant, and a silly one too. The gentle younger sister would be naturally subdued by Lettice's courage and outspoken ways ; but a schoolboy brother, well on in his teens, would have promptly rebelled against her empire. A notice of any book of Mrs. Molesworth's would be incom- plete without mention of her peculiar faculty for describing Nature, and its effect on the mind of spectators ; she must her- self be not only a keen observer of Nature, but also a sympa- thiser with its various moods; the discord between glorious weather and scenery and overpowering sorrow of heart could scarcely be better expressed than it is in this book. The same correct appreciation of natural tone is constantly, though less formally expressed, in former works. " Carrots " remarks on a wet day, " It's worry dull to-day, Floss ; the sea looks dull too ; it isn't dancey a bit to-day, and the sands look as if they would never be nice for running on again." And in another place he remarks," But it's not fancies, Sybil ; the hills have got lots of different faces; that one up there has looked quite different several times this morning. First it looked smiley and smooth, then it got all cross and wrinkly, and now it looks as if it were going to sleep." Sybil stared up at the hill he was pointing to. " I see what you mean," she said ; " but it's only the shadows of the clouds." A great hill's changes of aspect are very truly expressed in these simple baby-phrases, which were probably taken word for word from lips of a real child.
But this book, good as it is, will not bear comparison with Mrs. Molesworth's books about children. Those readers of Mrs. Molesworth who have known and loved Carrots and his dear elder sister- Floss, and the no less delightful Herr Baby and his family, will probably be disappointed with her performance as the historian of a half grown- up family. They will scarcely recognise the hand that so faithfully depicted the combination of innocence and wisdom, simplicity and courage, that we find in those fascinating heroes of the nursery. How lovingly was the guardian. sister Floss described—four years older than Carrots, and much wiser, but still his playmate and second self, as well as his guardian angel embodied in the flesh. Carrots is, perhaps, Mrs. Molesworth's masterpiece, and is one of the truest and sweetest histories of childhood that has ever been written. It photo-
graphs the love and honour of a childish soul, the pathos of its sorrows, the courage of its faith ; it makes us realise the child's
dread of not being able to " understand " or be understood by
its elders (always the greatest trouble of a happy child's life) ; and last, but not least, it does full justice to the extraordinary questions which occur in wonderful variety to the infant mind, and which hopelessly puzzle the elders to answer. For instance, Carrots propounds an ingenious query as to "which was
made first : the rivers or the rain P" an inquiry which rivals the famous subject for meditation propounded by the owl of fable : " Which came first : the owl or the egg ?"—a subject which the wise fowl recommended as affording a subject for end- less and peaceful meditation. Both of these questions, how- ever, are simple, when compared with one put to this writer by a stolid boy, aged four, at a Scripture lesson upon the Fall. He was pleased with the story, and asked, "Did God make the serpent go into the Garden, or was it that he couldn't help it P" That was a poser for the hapless teacher. Herr Baby is another creation, almost as pleasing as Carrots, and his brother and sisters are also excellent; they are rather quarrelsome, but not unpleasantly so,—j wit naturally, as nice children who are rather over-indulged generally are. Herr Baby is not quite so good a child as Carrots, but he shows a stronger character and no less honesty and straight. forwardness, whilst his remarks are certainly more original. He had accidentally broken some precious glass jugs belonging to his mother, and much prized by her; he is promptly forgiven, but remains very penitent, and with a deep sigh he remarks,— " If God had not put so much 'sinking into his head, it would have been much better ! Him 'sinks and 'sinks, and zen him can't help wanting to do 'sings zat moment minute' And then, when he leaves home for the first time, he sorrows for all the things left behind in the drollest, yet most natural, way : the rabbits, the pussy, the stablemen, and even the trees in the garden, the dear, " gentle " flowers, the tables and chairs, and last, "Him's poor little bed will be so cold and lonely. Him 'sinks going away is werry sad."
In fact, Mrs. Molesworth is an ideal artist of children and their immediate belongings. Why should she lose a great part of her power when she depicts the doings of youth rather than those of early childhood P Probably because she has not the same comprehension and appreciation of the elders that she has for the little ones ; she understands them less, and, therefore, paints them with less vigour and accuracy. We cannot avoid the question, why this should be the case, not only with our present authoress, but also with at least half the world of grown-up people, who feel an attraction to children of six or eight years old which does not extend to the maturer age of sixteen or eighteen ? Pro- bably it may be because this age has approximated more nearly to the elders in desires and capacities, without having gained much apparent advantage by the diminution of the distance between them. Grown-up young people have lost the advantage of perfect faith in the power and knowledge of their seniors, with- out being yet on an equality with them. " Mother " is still adored, but the word no longer Stands in their young hearts for God, as it does, and will always do, with many little ones. The first result of their growing perception is that children lose transparency as they grow older ; they keep their thoughts to themselves, and are consequently less easily understood by their seniors. They often appear commonplace and uninteresting, perhaps even sulky, whilst their hearts and minds are fall of ideas, wishes, fancies, and fallacies, which they either cannot, or dare not, explain to those to whom they owe obedience—that greatest bar to free intercourse when the ruler is not the undoubted mental and moral superior of the ruled. They have lost the faith, the transparency of childhood. Gone, are,- " The trailing clouds of glory that do come
From God, who is our home."
And even Mrs. Molesworth's delicate perceptions partially fail her as she paints the Youth moving daily farther from the visions of Infancy. She does not wholly realise the "vision splendid," which still attends him, and which never deserts some few highly favoured souls even to the end of their days.