THE force of simplicity could no further go than in the title of this story—" Robert Lynne, by Mary Bridgman "—unless, indeed,. it had been possible, without outraging truth, to call it "John. Smith, by Mary Jones ;" but Miss Bridgman is conscientious, and though she might have taken possession of "John Smith" as a title, she could not, in the matter of her own name, disregard fact, as did the mendacious epitaph-writer ; and even he, as we all know, felt compelled to add the confession ;— " Her name was Smith, it wasn't Jones,
But Jones was put to rhyme with stones."
But simplicity is the order of the story, and the title is therefore in keeping with what follows ; it is not, however, the simplicity of ideas or of nature, but what we may call, perhaps, a numerical and mechanical simplicity. The scene is confined to one place, the time to one seaside season, the dramatis personte to one narrow circle of friends, and the interest to one solitary mystery—gathered and dispersed in one week—and it is such a tiny little mystery that it is quite a stroke of genius to accumulate two volumes of matter- around so minute a nucleus. Springing out of this little mystery, however, there is a little offshoot of a surprise prepared for us, lest we should be somewhat disappointed to find that all is over long before the end of the book. Since the interest lies thus in a mystery and a surprise, it will be clear that it is a sensational novel—though of the mildest form—and therefore it is scarcely necessary to add that we find the characters principally lay figures, without a particle of reality in them ; we speak of those concerned in the movement of the story only, for there are two or three lively and humorous sketches of quite subordinate personages. But it is time we verified our assertions by a glance at the story.
A Mr. and Mrs. Campbell are staying at an ugly, half-built. watering-place for the benefit of the lady's health ; they have one daughter, Rose, who falls in love with the son of an old friend of her father, who unexpectedly arrives from abroad ; this is Robert Lynne, and here the simple element crops up, and we rejoice in; the pretty alliteration, Rose and Robert ; he is taken into part- nership by Mr. Campbell, and leaves for London, and in his. absence a lovely widow arrives at the town, and makes the acquaintance of Rose. By an accident, a letter of the widow's comes into the hands of her neighbour, a gossiping old maid, who. keeps a sharp look-out, and reports to Mr. Campbell that his future son-in-law has been corresponding with and surreptitiously visiting and kissing the lovely widow; Mr. Campbell writes for an explana- tion, but, of course, Robert does not receive the letter for a few days;. and, meantime, we have our little excitement, and Mr. Campbell's. friends their little agony or scandal, as the case may be; when Robert returns from his business on the Continent, he states that the widow is his sister, and so our little bubble bursts ; then follows the modest little surprise. Robert's lovely sister is not a widow at all, but has lost sight of her husband for some years, and Mr. Camp- bell fortunately happening at this juncture to break his head—the consequences are not serious—his wife telegraphs for her brother, who turns out to be the long-lost husband. We have no scruple in revealing the plot, which is sufficiently absurd, because the merit of the novel consists solely, as we have hinted, in the humour of one or two of the characters and in the liveliness of the- scenes in which they figure. The plot is bentath notice, for no sort of adequate causes are assigned for the concealment of his. marriage by Mrs. Campbell's brother, and for the inability of hus- band and wife to find each other ; though we are treated, in the second volume, to an objectionable retrospect, called "a glimpse of the past,"—would it were only a glimpse, alas ! it is a long but- not a fond gaze, occupying four chapters, or a hundred pages,— partly for this purpose, and partly—most unnecessarily—to bring up the history of dear Robert and his sister from their birth to his. elucidation of the mysterious relation existing between himself and the pseudo-widow.
Before we turn to the clever side—as we regard it—of Miss. Bridgman's story, we wish to point out to her and to her sister and brother authors, that if a word or an expression be found in print, most people unhesitatingly believe it to be correct, and that it be- hoves them, therefore, to be careful that in flooding the world with what is called light literature—we know to our cost that. it is oftener heavy -they do not do their part to extend and per- petuate the use of loose and provincial and incorrect English. We say this now with less hesitation, because Miss Bridgman's book— very far, as it is, from a faultless composition—is really better- written than many that are daily issued from the press. Sucl. expressions as the following, which we hear used every day, are * Robert Lynne, A Novel_ By Mary Bridgman. London: Tinsley Brothers.
numerous in the volumes before us ; but we should involve our- selves in a labyrinth of trouble if we began to criticize the examples
of curious grammar, order, and punctuation which we may conclude are specialties sacred to Miss Bridgman alone :— "'Very shocked,' very surprised.'—' Not clothed like decent English people should be.'—' She had watched her like a cat watches a mouse.' A pleasant companion of an evening.'—' To sit alongside.'—' Remain- ing on the best of terms.'—' He started off to superintend the bringing of him home.'—' Inclined to resent being awoke.'—' I don't think I'll need to do so.'—' She set tIli down making flannel petticoats.'—' 0, its a her is it ? She continued to walk up and down, quite unconscious she was an object of interest.'"
But Miss Bridgman can undoubtedly lay claim to the character of a humorist of considerable merit. When she escapes from what she mistakenly considers her legitimate work as a regular novelist, and—leaving the principal personages—allows herself a little relaxation amongst the humble subordinates of her story, she is exceedingly sprightly and amusing, and betrays great aptitude both for detecting and describing the humorous element in what is passing under her notice. In this kind of writing she would shine, and it is a pity that she should spend her time in failing to
construct an exciting plot, or to interest her readers in estimable people, or to touch their hearts with scenes of love or sorrow. Her forte is fun, and surely she might be content with a sphere in which
there is so much scope for giving real enjoyment, and making the searchers after relaxation or recreation forget themselves in smiles and laughter at the harmless expense of fictitious creations. We fear we shall scarcely meet with her approval when we affirm that her best sketches in this story are those of Fanny Wilkinson and Dicky Blake, and next to them of Miss Gladwin and Mr. Selwyn ; and of these the two last are the least successful, because it is attempted to make Mr. Selwyn something more and better than a selfish dandy with a turn for repartee, and Miss Gladwin than an active busy-body with a turn for philanthropy ; both are there- fore inconsistently drawn, —not reaching the standard of goodness assigned to them, while the qualities in which they are ridiculous are absolutely caricatured. It is too much to tell us, for instance, that a selfish and epicurean egotist yearns tenderly for his missing wife and —finding her—makes a fond husband and loving father ; or that an unprincipled spendthrift should suddenly prove himself a thought- fal provider for the old age of a poor domestic. In the same way, it is absurd to represent a slanderous old woman drawing
largely upon her imagination to vilify and traduce two unoffend- ing strangers, and afterwards—from no motive but a pure sense of right and justice, and with a most painful effort to subdue her feeling of degradation—apologizing for her conduct when she finds she has been in error. The faults are highly coloured to obtain picturesque effects, and then virtues have to be dashed in, without thought or consistency, to give dignity and tone to what other- wise might be too broadly caricature. But where there is no effort to sustain the dignity of her characters, and she allows herself full
liberty amongst the young men and maidens and other un- important individuals of her story, they become real and life-like ; even the element of caricature disappears, and they are full of natural fun and gaiety. We wish we had room for more extracts, for we should enjoy to introduce our readers to Miss Gladwin's household gods, and enable them to be present at
her interview with Mr. Selwyn on the subject of foreign mis- sions; we should like, too, that they should witness the sparring between Mr. Selwyn and his niece, and meet Dicky Blake—so complacent in his fine clothes—as he enacts the part of amateur lecturer on "France—political, social, and literary," or figures in the self-constituted character of detective-policeman. But we must confine ourselves to our favourite, Fanny Wilkinson, and even
of her we shall only be able to present a glimpse. She is the Rector's daughter, and Rose is driving past the rectory in a pony carriage, and hears repeated" Helloes," which come—she at length discovers—from an apple tree :—
" 'Stop a minute, Rose,' cried the mysterious voice, and I'll be with you.' The cotton dress moved in the tree, and tho wearer of it jumped to the ground, and pushing open the garden-gate came out to where Rose awaited her. 'Why, Fanny,' said the latter, what have you been doing to yourself ?' It was a question Fanny Wilkinson would have taken a long time to answer. She appeared about sixteen, and as she stood at the gate, with the sunlight streaming on her, she looked pretty and picturesque ; for her face was bright and pleasing, and her hair, although in somewhat of a rumpled state, was of a rich brown, in parts made golden by the sunlight. Picturesque, too, certainly ; for she had on a light cotton dress and a little apron, in which she held some rosy- cheeked apples ; and her hair, which ought to have been properly and tidily arranged, hung in heavy masses on her shoulders. Her dress, too, had a large tear in it, which perhaps added to the effect. 'At the present moment,' said Fanny, approaching Rose, am in disgrace, and am supposed to be in the schoolroom, learning those pages of that brute Racine by heart.'—'In disgrace !' said Rose, laughing. 'An unusual occurrence for you, Fanny.'—' Very,' said Fanny ; 'only about six times a week, excepting Sundays. Miss Stevenson may be clever, but she isn't quite clever enough for me. She's gone off for a walk with the others, and tells one to keep in the schoolroom all the morning till I've learnt this. A likely joke on a floe day ! So as soon as her ladyship's back was turned, I slipped out of the window and round the garden, and perched myself up in my favourite nook. It was such fun, Rose, to watch your face,—you looked so awfully puzzled.'—'And how will you account to Miss Stevenson for your absence when she returns ?'—' 0, I shall slip down as soon as I see her coming again, in through the window, and be studying bard when she enters the room.'—'Does bard study always tumble your hair like that ?' asked Rose with a smile.—' Always,' said Fanny ; 'and tears my frocks into the bargain ; there'll be another task for that, I suppose. 0 dear, how, lucky you are to be out of school, and going to be married ! I wish I were you, Rose; but I suppose I shall have to remain with that old cat a year or two more.'—' What a very lady-like expression!' observed Rose.—' Now don't, Rose, . talk about being unladylike. That's just like Miss Stevenson; every- thing is unladylike with her. It's unladylike to talk slang, and it's unladylike to have one's hair untidy, or to go and talk to the cook. For my part,' said Fanny, 'I think the cook fifty times nicer than Miss Stevenson.'—' And why are you in disgrace ?' asked Rose.—' Ala !' said Fanny, you'd never guess. We'd a letter this morning from Harry' (Harry was the Rector's eldest son at sea), and he talked in it of sending another from the Cape. Now would you believe it? Miss Stevenson turns Harry's letters into a regular geography lesson ; and as soon as breakfast was over, she set me to work out the ship's course on the globe. And simply because I said Cape Horn was the extreme point of Africa, she's given me this to learn ;' and Fanny held out a shabby little book with contempt. 'No one but Miss Stevenson would have had the refined cruelty to make one's brother's letters into lessons. I only wish Harry would smuggle her on board, and leave her at some dreadful place or other.'"