LISABEE'S LOVE STORY.*
THE author of Dr. Jacob could scarcely write any novel without touches of that shining grace and natural poetry which connect the novel with the idyl, and mingle a refreshing atmosphere of tranquil imagination with the necessary excitements of romance. There are plenty of such touches in the present story, which loosely as it is pieced together and inadequately as it is worked out, contains many traces of a far higher faculty than is ordinarily employed in the manufacture of novels. But this is a very inferior book to Dr. Jacob, and falls, we think, in the vagueness and sketchiness of its workmanship, considerably below the level of the first story by the same author, John and I. The truth is, we apprehend, that the writer,—surely a lady ?—is working a not very strong but rare and delicate imaginative faculty in the common literary harness of the press, in which wa may be quite sure it will soon be exhausted, and prove unequal even to competition with the drudging imaginations of the regular trade. We do not mean that there are not fine imaginations—usually masculine how- ever—which will bear the !waviest and most repeated calls upon their efforts, and acting-times grow stronger by the work. But when it is so, the merit of their work usually consists rather in qualities which are at the call of the will and under its domin- ion, than in any atmosphere of beauty. A writer like De Foe, for instance, whose whole power consists in the vice-like grip of his imagination over details, could turn out story after story with no sense of exhaustion, and only that difference in power which resulted from the suitability or unsuitability of the subject to his genius. In writing of a subject like the plague of London, where external circumstantiality and minuteness of realism were almost everything, and the terrible nature of the subject itself supplied the unity of ideal effect, he rises almost to sublimity. Writing a fictitious history of the Devil,' where everything would depend on the subtlety of imaginative idealism, he is dull beyond conception. Again, Sir Walter Scott's imagination, though it had powers much nearer to those of the poet than De Foe's, was not of the kind to suffer most by constant and rei- terated effort. Historical materials always excited his imagina- tion most ; it kindled beneath the pressure of a wealth of tradi- tion, and was never so little impressive as when it was most com-
pletely left to the guidance of his own spontaneous thought. But the fascination of a vastly less considerable genius than that of these
great masculine writers often depends on qualities far less under control, far more of that airy and volatile kind which does not yield any fruit to the straining of the will. The author of Dr. Jacob is one of these. You could never say of her pictures that they are strongly outlined. But when they are happiest they are thoroughly pervaded by that soul of beauty brimming over earthly scenes which is not strictly speaking pictorial so much as idyllic. We mean that their charm consists far less in the graphic strength of the picture engraved on the imagination than in the aroma of loveliness which reaches what we may call the soul of sense. There are writers graphic beyond measure who never leave this feeling. Lord Macaulay, for instance, cuts the spectacle of a character or a scene on the mind with no common power, but how like the metallic daguerreotype is the picture he
draws ! Miss Broad, again, was a most powerful painter, but scarcely ever gave an idyllic beauty to a single scene. George Eliot, on the contrary, has this (with most other powers of the novel-writer) in its highest perfection. There is no more lovely idyl in the language than the picture of Hefty in her
dairy in Adam Bede. Thackeray had this power in great per- fection, and has lavished it most on us in Esmond. Dickens Lisqbee's Love Mori,. By the Author of John end I; Dr. imb, .te. London : Hurst and Blackett. is wholly destitute of it. Among critics, Charles Lamb, and a very different and much gloomier writer, Hazlitt, possessed it. It is not strictly due to strength of imagination, but to a visionary faculty often consistent with a very imperfect imagination,— a visionary faculty which loves to play over homely, earthly scenes, and dislikes soaring into ideal worlds. It is, we believe, one of the most fascinating and also one of the least controllable of im- aginative gifts,—a sort of dew of feeling bathing the field of vision which often gives it a glory, just as Claude's pictures have a glory, independent of strong drawing. It goes for the most part with humour, usually with light, playful humour. The author of Dr. Jacob has a large share of this gift, but it is not at her own control, and writing so fast as she is now doing, she often substi- tutes for it a mawkish German sentimentalism—which is about as like it as is the cold mist which an east wind drives up before it, to the amethyst depths of autumnal horizons. For example, here is a picture which, though it chiefly respects cattle, we do not hesi- tate to call idyllic in its beauty. It relates to a Suffolk farmer in trouble :— "The early morning air, to which he had been accustomed from boy- hood, soothed him. He made the circuit of the farmyard slowly, now pausing to speak a word to the horsemen busy in the stables, or the la- bourer preparing his hoes. Farmers have always their favourites of stock and produce ; and William Plumtree's favourites were bullocks and beetroot. He scolded his horses, growled and grumbled at his pigs for fatting slowly, spoke in slighting terms of his sheep to their faces, and called the hens bad layers before throwing down their matutinal corn. And he often practised little tricks on his pigs, sheep, and hens ; giving them odd lots of corn and beans, musty peas, and rotten potatoes, chuckling the while over their gullibility. But he treated his bullocks with a never-varying respect, making way for the finest and handsomest as for the parson ; inviting them to oat with all manner of flatteries and coaxings, quite blushing if the oil-cake came short, and the great calm faces looked reproachfully at him. He was in the habit, too, of stroking their necks and apostrophizing the rolls of fat on their ribs; whenever the ribs fattened slower than usual, the fact was commented upon outside the bullock yard. To-day the large, soft-coated, sweet-breathed things lay sleeping pile mile in their cosy shed, a single streak of light stretch- ing sword-like over the dark red, dusky mass ; by and by, an imperti- nent cock flew up to the window, and raising his neck, flapping his wings, and standing on tip-toe, prepared to blow his shrill trumpet. But the farmer had no patience with cocks just then. Taking up a smooth round stone, he aimed it at chs.nticleer's most conceited-looking leg, and sent him away, his mission unperformed. This little bit of tyranny seemed to soften and soothe William's temper. He leaned on the low open wall of the shod, and almost smiled, when there came a simultaneous snort, a shaking of sleek limbs, a shower of dust in his eyes, and the handsome, heavy, soft-treading animals crowded to the feeding-place. He piled some cut beetroot into the trough with a slow, practised band, every onward movement of which was followed by the nearest by- stander. In less than five minutes the fifteen heads were bent over the juicy food—eyes, mouth, and nostrils having precisely the same expression —shoulder, neck, and forelegs having precisely the same angle of inclination. And there was such an earnestness as well as simultane- ousness in the act, that one might have thought the boasts understood the importance of their making hearty meals ; indeed, they appeared leagued in a guild add corporation of eating—sworn to eat so much at any risk or cost. William watched the monotonously working jaws with a calm instinctive satisfaction. There is no solace for sorrow like that of a favourite occupation which has never too intimately tasted of our joys. Here Arthur had not come ; his lavish praise of everything at Sycalhore Farm, his interest in horses, and pigs, and sheep, his critical but amateur knowledge of farming, made all other places speak of him, look astonished and ashamed of him. But the bullocks were recently purchased, and ignored Arthur altogether ; moreover, they looked burly, and plump, and proaperaus, as if they could not possibly belong to a man in trouble, and never once pricked up their ears with an expression of sympathy."
Here, on the other hand, is a passage which tries to be written in the same mood, but which betrays again and again by its strained tone and sentimental word-compounds that it is false metal :— "The privilege of nursing ! Some may think there is scant privilege in broken rest, in breathing the atmosphere of physic and pain, in being led by weak, faint hands to the very threshold of the dark, silent Un- known; in quitting (perhaps never to return the same again) the bright, flower-grown, happy places of life. But for such pain and sacrifice what holy and unspeakable gnerdon is won ! If we have climbed Calvary, we have also caught glimpses of the Glory. If we have lost some youth, some freshness of feeling, and some capability of common happiness, we have gained a hundred, nay, a thousand-fold, in the strength that is begotten of sorrow, in the capability of happiness heaven-born, not earthly ; in the attainment of a peace, never again to be too painfully disturbed. And what inestimable treasures of love and memory remain to us ! We have seen the receding tide of a preeious life, with childish wonder that sunset should be so radiant. The tide goes out slowly. By and by, the skies are grey and cold, the sands are bare, and were we monarchs twice as potent as the great King of tho Purple East, or the God-crowned Christ-named Solomon, we could not call a wave back again. Well for us to have gained a waif or stray of tide so wistfully watched ! Woe for us to have missed such watching There are no balms, no more happy heart prophecies, no more youth, for those whose beloved ones have died far off and beyond reach of love. The day breaks, but without Auroras. Winter goes ; the Spring comes never. Only high and unutterable consolations reach each heart- solitudes."
Heart-prophecies," heart-solitudes,' holy and unspeakable guerdons,' and the rest,—they are all the spurious words which try and bring back the atmosphere of visionary feeling to a mood which is out of tune with it. And this is a fault recurring again and again in Lisabee's Love Story.
A. very different fault, due probably to the same cause—a too rapid productiveness—is the great deficiency in the drawing of the cha- racters. Arthur Leebridge, the principal character, is perhaps dis- tinctly sketched, but there is nothing like the fulness of drawing which the interest of the circumstances requires. We slightly dislike him throughout, and more than ever at the end. Yet we are evidently intended to be reconciled to him, and there is a vague sense throughout that the author is failing to bring out fine characteristics which she sees herself, and which are her justifications for making him her principal figure. Then the child Minchen is a far more carelessly executed though evidently strongly conceived picture. There is a painful sense of inadequacy and scrappiness about the working out of this figure evidently very subtly conceived. She fails, too, to excite the interest the author intends, and, chiefly from the want of detailed effects calculated to impress the conception on the mind of the reader. She is a figure "going to be created." The best by far of the more careful sketches is the old farmer William Plumtree himself. There is power and pathos in the picture both of his life and his death, and he alone satisfies us.
As a whole, the story is loosely knit, wandering, and ineffectual, though many of the scenes are coloured in with that poetic beauty and light airy touch which is the author's most characteristic charm. In the power of drawing character she has many superiors and many equals, but if she would write only in her happy moods, there are very few English novelists who could excel her in giving a soul of beauty to homely natural scenes.