THE HILLYARS AND THE BURTONS.*
THERE is real pleasure in reading one of Henry Kingsley's novels, but it is pleasure of a peculiar kind. It is not intellectual at all in seeming, but rather the pleasure one has in standing on a breezy upland, and drinking in the fresh air, swallowing the breeze with- out thought of the quarter from whence it comes. What matter if it has blown over a marsh, if there is a trace of chill in it, as if to the consumptive it might not be altogether beneficial?—to the strong it brings health and life and new energy, and, rarest enjoyment of all, a full perception of their own strength to do battle with trouble and opposition. There is a contagion of high spirits about Henry Kingsley, as about, for example, Thomas Hughes, which to those who can catch it is bewitching, which renders them unwilling to criticize, anxious only to enjoy an influence which, whether they can analyze it or not, will they feel leave them happier and healthier than before. The man flings thoughts at you as a child flings sea spray, and if you are in health and in the humour, and amid weather decently favourable to the sport, you know, as you brush the spray off and chide half angrily at your tormentor, that you are refreshed and strengthened. What is the use of criticizing the spray flung, of anathematizing the bit of seaweed which is sticking to your lip, or complaining of the badness of the aim ? The seaweed was in the water and the aim is part of the fun, and if you want either exchanged for something better, walk away at once, and be done with a pleasure which you were never intended to enjoy. As for a scientific analysis of the water thrown, God help the man whose brain at such a moment even tempts him to attempt one! Mr. Kingsley in his preface hints or says that this particular story of his has a philosophic object, that he wants to paint the struggle between love and duty, leaving it to every reader to decide which wins, and which ought to win. Well, he hasn't done it. We ask any right-minded person, man or woman over eighteen, when he or she has closed the third volume, after a good five hours' spell of consecutive reading, whether he or she cares one straw about either love or duty, Erne or Emma Barton, whether he or she does not in fact hold them mere makeweights in the tale ? The philosophic point is a failure even as an artistic effort. Erne, a gentleman bred up to manhood as a polished hermit, loves Emma, heroic but ungrammatical daughter of a blacksmith. Emma re- turns his love, but has resolved to devote herself to a crippled brother, and consequently rejects her suitor persistently until it is just too late. The question suggested is whether she was wrong or right, and the answer would seem to be simply that suicide can never -be a duty except for a cause involving more than an In- dividual; but in truth the question is never fairly raised. The brother can get along very well without Emma, has a grand head and physical capacity sufficient to thrash bullies, has a noble father and nobler mother—the latter of whom, by the way, is the only description of a high-spirited, saintly cow we ever saw in print—has a keen, able, devoted brother, forces himself up from a blacksmith's forge in Chelsea to a seat in the Cabinet in Australia, marries a gloriously pretty woman, and is altogether the sort of man who does not need the exercise of all that self-denial. Then the lover is a muff—very high-spirited, very deeply wronged, very noble, and all that, but still a muff 1—and the reader feels that love as opposed to duty never gets fair play. That is, he would feel, only he does not care one straw about either Emma, or Erne, or the philosophy of the question. He is reading about the old black- smith with his huge frame and grand, solid, peacemaking, money- making ways ; and George Hillyar, the polished devil, half-aris- tocrat, half convict ; and Reuben Barton, aristocrat in workman's jacket, -who might have been a convict but that the fates are pro- pitious; and Sam Burton, convict in grain, described with a loving malignity possible only to an Australian who is also a Kingsley ; and Lashio. Burke, grand Irish virago and woman of sense ; and Gerty Hillyar, silly, loveable, little Australian, with her rich and • The Wilton and the Burtons. 57 Henry Kingsley. LaBdon:4Masminata.
original slang ; and a whole group of Australian statesmen, and little bits of description, pages scattered here and there which make the blood of ordinary men to flush over their foreheads, and compel critics every now and then to pause for an epithet, and mutter something about Homer which is unintelligible but quite satisfactory to their own minds. Hang Erne and Emma! Ask a man who has ever been in a tropical storm how much he cares about them while he is reading that description of a true Southern cyclone in the last chapter of the last volume. They are in the crisis of their fate, and who cares, with that "shrill yell of the wind" whistling in his ears ? It has been the luck of this reviewer to be in a storm of this kind, and also to read and write many descriptions of such storms, but he has never seen, and never expects again to see in this life, anything like that chapter. Oh for a book of tropical travel by Mr. Henry Kingsley ! Why on earth does he sit writing rubbishy love stories, and trying to paint in characters which he only half understands when he can describe like this ?—
" At eleven o'clock in the morning Erne and I were standing to- gether at the fence at the lower end of my garden, looking across the bay, when our attention was attracted to a vivid green cloud approach- ing with horrible rapidity from over the sea ; and at the same time we be- came aware of a dull roar which grew upon the ear each moment. Before we had at all appreciated the dreadful disaster which had fallen upon the unfortunate town, I saw the first house struck by the wind fall crashing over after half a minute's resistance, an utter rum, the shingles and weather-boards which had composed it flying before the blast like chips of cardboard. Instantly, or it seemed to us instantly, we were thrown headlong down, bruised and terrified; and the wind, seizing the earth, raised an atmosphere of flying stones and sand to a height of some six feet from the ground, which followed its course, as it seemed to us, with the rapidity of a projectile, and lacerated our hands and faces until the blood ran from them. I raised myself as well as I could, hold- ing on by the post of the garden gate, and looked toward my house, ex- pecting to see it in ruins ; but close as it was I could not see it, for the unnatural driving fog which was between me and it. A fog of stones, and dust, and sticks, and boughs ; nay, even as we found afterwards, of seaweed, which must have been carried above a mile ; and fierce sting- ing rain, which I thought was from above, but which was only the spray
blown from the surface of the ocean, a mile off
Erne forced his way into the house, and we three stood staring at one another. I was the first to look out at the door, and the first thing I saw was the newly-built wooden church disappearing, board by board, shingle by shingle, as if with an invisible fire. The thought of my father and mother came over me with a shock, and I dashed out of the house, and sped away towards their house—not two hundred yards away —down the wind. I was blown over and braised in an instant. Now I was up, now I was down again ; now trying to stop and see where I was going, and now falling headlong over some heap of incongruous ruin
already half piled over with a heap of fuming sand Martha, with the child, the two maids, and my groom, were all standing close together near the door, silent and terrified at the horrible shrill yell of the wind; like infinite millions of voices, all fiercely crying out the same words. I saw that Erne was standing by the fire-place, but I knew that his thoughts were the same as mine ; so I dared not look at him, for fear of seeing my own fear look at me out of his oyes. . . .
Back through the groaning forest came the return blast, crashing the half-burnt trees into ruins, and bearing the smoke of the burning tree-stems before it like a curtain of darkness. We spoke no more, for this new phase of the hurricane was more terrible to look on than any which had preceded it. I saw the forest light up again into a more lurid blaze than before, which apparently was bearing down straight upon us; • and I would have ran back that I might perish with my wife and my child in my arms. But Trevittick's strong hand restrained me, and he laughed.—' Don't be a coward,' he said, 'there is no danger now. Look at this, man, if you have courage ; you will never see the like in fifty lives. Look aloft.'—I did so. The smoke was clearing fast, and I saw overhead, to the windward, a wall of ink-black cloud, from which streamed, spreading below as they ware caught by the wind, four or five dark purple cataracts of rain. Terrible enough this ; but why were they lit up with strange coruscating splendours of scarlet, of orange, and of violet? That was caused by the incessant leaping lightning which followed the curtain of rain.—All night the wind rushed round the house like the sighs of a dying giant ; all night the thunder snarled, and the lightning leaped and hissed, till the house was as bright as day ; and I sat, with the child upon ray knee and my wife sitting at my feet, listening to the fierce deluges of rain which were spouting from the house-eaves."
Or who worries about silly Erne while reading those kit-cat sketches of great Australians, which one feels, without knowing the men, to be so true, and yet so over-favourable, or fears for over- wise Emma while listening to the soft babble with which the beautiful, silly, little colonist whom the author loves so well pre- pares for -herself and all around her lifelong misery ?
We are not going to summarize the story of The Hdlyars and the Buttons. Let those who have time and patience work it out, complicated as it is by every possible variety of impossible sensa- tional incident ; they will find both very sorely taxed. All that we can promise them is, that while they read the most improbable things will seem perfectly natural, that in every chapter they will find a few lines of description which they would not have missed for the world, that in every page almost they will stumble over some incident which will strike them as being truer to the eater-
nals of nature than anything they have ever read in their lives. They may not be interested in the characters ;—we have not been certainly, and are inclined to think that with the exception of Sam Burton, who is a creation, a living convict as he is, and therefore about as unlike the ideal of Victor Hugo as the ideal of Punch,—they will think them, as we do, rather sha- dowy, somewhat of the clothes-peg order, upon whom quali- ties are hung without much attention to outline, but what then? Suppose Turner's figures were sketches, outlines, dabs of colour introduced only to show that the scene was habitable, what then? Is the sunlight less bright, or" those yellow wolds crossed with belts of colourless forest" less real, or the glades lesstempting, or the storm on the canvass less lurid and awe-inspiring? Take what you get, and be thankful that if you have not everything, what you have is the best of its kind. A breeze in a tropical delta is not a thing to be analyzed, but to be swallowed, and Mr. Henry Kingsley's stories, amidst the oceans of mud and miasmatic jungles and slimy creeks, so deep and devoid of coolness, which make up sensational literature, are as breezes in a tropical delta, full of life and freshness and vigour-giving qualities. Pleasanter draught can no man have, and if it does not fire his blood or stimulate his brain like more artificial compounds, it does send through him that sense of the felicity of existence which the men of cities in this nineteenth century so sadly lack. His work is to the highest work what Australia is to England, and what would not men weary of civilization give for a trip to Australia which cost neither time nor money ?