THE INVISIBLE PLAYMATE.* Tun mite of a book certainly has
in it a vein of true genius for the delineation of children and the delight in children, which is considerable enough to give it true distinction. We rather wish that, tiny as the book is, it had been tinier. The last two " appendices," the study after Jean Paul Richter, called "An Unknown Child-Poem," and "At a Wayside Station," indicate a certain excess of satisfaction in senti- mental rapture which is worthy of Sterne, and which give a too much honeyed effect to an otherwise pathetic and also buoyant humour. The prose poem after Jean Paul has been made familiar to Englishmen by Carlyle's Clothes' philosophy, and we may easily have too mach of that which only genius like Jean Paul's or Carlyle's can render truly original. Again, in the study "At a Wayside Station,' there is a luxuriance of sentiment which is a little mawkish. But the first story, " The Story of the Unseen," with the buoyant and lively " Rhymes about a Little Woman which belong to it, constitute a gem in their way, and a gem of which the preternatural or supernatural element is not in any way overdone. Indeed, though that touch of supernaturalism is the culminating point of the story, it is hardly its main charm, while it gives the tale its significance and character of distinction. The real charm of it is the eager, almost riotous, delight in childish nonsense which pervades these few pages, and revels in the rhymes "About a Little Woman." The overflow of irrepressible delight in the wonder of childhood, the "innumerable smile" of a heart that is all joyousness, seems to us quite unique. We never read better nonsense-verses over a baby's whims and charms. There is a buoyancy in them which carries off the pathos of the conclusion, —if, indeed, as perhaps it does, it wants carrying off,—so that no one could properly apply the word " sentimental" to the tale. It is a bright and sunshiny little study of early childhood, with an end that, though pathetic, is far from tragic, since it carries on the joy of the visible into the joy of the invisible world. It would be difficult to express the leap of the heart with which this sort of tender passion for a child may fill a man better than in such verses as these :—
" She was a treasure ; she was a sweet ;
She was the darling of the Army and the Fleet!
The crews of the line-of-battle ships went wild !
Whole regiments reversed their arms and sighed!
When she was sick, for her sake The Queen took off her crown and sobbed as if her heart would break."
Or than in this rush of jubilant waywardness :— " What shall we do to be rid of care ?
Pack up her best clothes and pay her fare; Pay her fare and let her go By an early train to Jer-I-Cho.
There in Judaea she will be
Slumbering under a green palm-tree; And the Arabs of the desert will come round When they see her lying on the ground,
And some will say " Did you ever see Such a remark-a-bil babee ?"
• The Invisible Playmate : a Story of the Unseen. With Appendices. By William Canton. London : Isbister and Co.
And others, in the language the Arabs use, "Nous n'avons jantais vu Imo telle pappoose ! "
And she will grow and grow ; and then She will marry a chief of the Desert men ;
And he will keep her from heat and cold, And deck her in silk and satin and gold—
With bangles for her feet and jewels for her hair, And other articles that ladies wear!
So pack up her best clothes, and let her go By an early train to Jer-I-Cho !
Pack up her best clothes, and pay her fare ; So we shall be rid of trouble and care ! "
There is the same bubbling up of an irresistible and nnre- sided waywardness in this discovery that the child must be of Early English origin :-
" We in our degeneracy say 'milk' ; she preserves the Anglo- Saxon meolc.' Hengist and Horse would recognise her as a kins- woman. Through the long ages between them and her, the pleasant guttural pronunciation of the ancient pastures has been discarded by all but the traditional dairyman, and even he has modified the o into u. Similarly a wheel' is a hweol: But, indeed, she. is more A-S than the Anglo-Saxons themselves. All her verbs end in en,' even' I am-en: It is singularly interesting to me to watch the way in which she adapts words to her purposes. She uses knee' for 'to sit down' To-day she made me 'knee' in the arm-chair beside her. Too big' expresses, comically enough sometimes, all kinds of impossibility. She asked me to play one of her favourite tunes. Pappa cannot, dearie." Oh !' —with much surprise—' Too big ? ' "
Evidently the baby had anticipated that ante-penultimate Lord Derby who translated the Iliad, and who made Achilles say to Priam when he comes to beg the body of Hector, "Knee me no knees." Then the names the father invents for his wee daughter, like Pinaforifera, for example, are full of genuine glee; and the fear he expresses lest, when she tries to blow out the stars, she might succeed, since "this young person's powers are too miraculous to allow of any trifling with the stellar systems," is conceived in the mood of a delightful gaiety. Now and then, too, the father's musings take a pathetic turn, as when he notices that the baby when restless is quieted by his holding her hands :—
"Accept for future use this shrewd discovery from my experi- ence. When a baby is restless and fretful, hold its hands ! That steadies it. It is not used to the speed at which the earth revolves and the solar system whirls towards the starry aspect of Hercules (half a million miles a day !) Or it may be that coming out of the vortex of atoms it is sub-conscious of some sense of falling through the void. The gigantic paternal hands close round the warm, soft, twitching fists, soft as grass, and strong as the everlasting hills."
And this observation takes shape in a really beautiful little poem which we cannot forbear quoting :—
" Hold thou my hands !
In grief and joy, in hope and fear, Lord let me feel that Thou art near, Hold Thou my hands !
If e'er by doubts Of Thy good fatherhood depressed, I cannot find in Thee my rest, Hold Thou my hands !
Hold Thou my hands,—
These passionate hands too quick to smite,
These hands so eager for delight,—
Hold Thou my hands !
And when at length, With darkened eyes and fingers cold, I seek some last loved hand to hold, Hold Thou my hands ! "
We will leave the supernatural incident with which the story closes for our readers to discover for themselves. It certainly adds greatly to the effect of the whole, and launches the passion of the father's love with a thrilling, though rather a melancholy plunge into the life beyond.
Mr. Canton shows real genius in this story, but he must beware of indulging himself too much in the kind of medita- tion of which the last two appendices give us samples. This sort of musing easily gets unreal, and that, too, without its unreality being easily perceived. There is no question as to Sterne's genius, but he spoiled it by excesses of this kind; and it is a kind with which the imagination is very soon more than satiated. Mr. Canton himself perceives this, for he says of the study, "At a Wayside Station" :—" There I have been daft enough to write the matter out in full, and you can read it, if paternity and its muddle-headedness do not fill your soul with loathing." There is some danger in that direction, and we think that particular matter would have been better not " written out in full." The microscope should hardly be turned on all our little whims and fancies, if they are to remain,—as we hope they will,—as healthy and joyous as these "Rhymes about a Little Woman."