THE author of these volumes did not live to see them published, and this fact necessarily modifies the critic's tone in speaking of them. We do not intend by this that the book should be pro- nounced better than it is. Criticism is bound to judge of litera- ture, as of other things, upon its merits, and not to take undue account of circumstances. But in criticising the work of con- temporary authors, the reviewer, unconsciously or not, addresses himself at least as much to the author as to the reader. If he find matter to praise, he wishes the author to know it ; if he must blame or correct, it is to the author that the blame or advice is spoken ; and it is left to the reader to determine, from what is thus written, whether or not the book is worth his perusal. In the present case, however, it is the reader alone who is concerned, since the author, whether for good or ill, has written her last, and is beyond the reach of reviewers, amiable and otherwise.
There is a romantic flavour in Miss Duff's writing, and a pervading fancifulness. In the more laboured parts of her book, she seems to have followed the worst of all possible models,—Ouida ; not in her subject-matter, for the story is in the highest degree pure and honest, but in her style. There is an affected calm of philosophic sadness, an artificial artlessness and wistfulness, and a gratuitous verbosity, all much to be deprecated. But they are not native to Miss Duff; they are the result of inexperience, and a desire to appear more at ease than she really is in her official dress. When the subject rises to higher levels of sentiment, the author forgets her models, and allows the sentences to shape themselves with that spontaneous clearness that comes only from genuine feeling. The grammar is legitimate throughout, and although there is too much broken French scattered along the pages, and although the hints of miscellaneous cultivation in poetry and other branches of the polite arts are made rather too conspicuous, yet it may fairly be said that Miss Duff's sins in this respect are not so bad as our experience of young- lady novelists might have led us to expect.
As for the story itself, the worst that can be said of it is, that it is rather awkwardly worked out; and that instead of being expanded into two volumes, it should have been allowed to confine itself to the twenty pages or so which would naturally contain it. Miss Duff intended to create a dark and mysterious back-ground for her tale ; but although the shadows are black enough, the mystery is non-existent, the prologue being given, not obliquely or in ambiguous glimpses, as a more experienced artist would have given it, but in direct and bald narrative. The reader is never for a moment left in doubt as to the significance of any important point of the plot ; nobody is mystified but the characters themselves, and even they, so far as we can see, might just as well have had their eyes opened from the first. Moreover, the above mentioned prologue is tacked on to the story proper in the most arbitrary and im- probable manner imaginable ; the tragedy which it describes is in no respect related to or atoned for by the tragedy which follows it ; there is no compensation for wrong done, no poetical justice is satisfied, nor is any attempt made to show that " the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune" are compatible with the higher benefits of an omniscient Providence. Yet the book is written in anything but a cynical spirit ; on the contrary, the religious tone is deep and sincere, and the author's faith in the goodness and propriety of things in the main, is evidently not disturbed
• Honor Cartniclatel: a Nova By Henrietta A. Duff. 2 vols. London : Bentley and Bon.
by the manifest failure of the present story to illustrate that truth. 'Upon the whole, therefore, we must come to the con- clusion that Miss Daft had not thoroughly digested her materials, or that want of practice prevented her from writing down upon paper the conception that existed in her mind.
Nevertheless, after all drawbacks have been admitted, there is a great deal in the book that is good, agreeable, and touching, there are even Some features that might be called original. These last, however, are not exhibited in the treat- ment either of the plot or of the characters ; but they character- ise some of the workings of the author's mind. She occasionally views the phenomena of life under a fresh aspect ; and this gift or faculty—leaving out of account its special truth or pro- fundity in any particular instance—may be taken as indicative of literary promise, not destined in this case to be fulfilled. Indeed, one becomes much more interested in the author than in the story ; there is a good deal more of the former than of the latter in the two volumes, and what there is, is revealed in a more natural and spontaneous way. Miss Duff might have lived to write novels of genuine and abiding value.
The scene of Honor Carmichael is laid for the most part in France, and it begins with some account of the fortunes of a noble French Legitimist family, consisting of a father and two daughters. Circumstances bring the elder of these two girls, Edmee, acquainted with a certain Colonel Murray, the black-sheep of his family, and in every respect as fascinating and as irre- claimable as the young-lady novelist's heart could desire. He and Edmee fall in love with each other, and the match is at first favoured by the father, who, however, subsequently dis- misses the Colonel very abruptly, on discovering that he was concerned in the Polish rebellion. After years of separation, during which the Colonel becomes a confirmed gambler, he re- appears at the chateau, and tries to renew his relations with Edm6e. But she had promised her father to have nothing more to do with him, and therefore denies him admittance; whereupon he takes successful steps to captivate the heart of the younger sister, Arlotte, and finds no difficulty in winning and marrying her. The marriage turns out badly ; Edmee retires to a convent ; and Arlotte dies, a few years after the birth of a daughter, her husband having previously rented or sold the chateau, to settle his gambling debts. Thus far the prologue.
Honor Carmichael is the eldest daughter of a London clergy- man, and is beloved by a young man called Stephen Aylmer. She becomes engaged to him just as she and her little sister Gladys are on the point of accompanying their father to a French sea-side town, the latter having effected a temporary exchange of pulpits with the incumbent of the parish. Before long, Honor rescues from drowning a young lady who turns out to be no other than the daughter of Colonel Murray and the dead Arlotte ; and it is in this way that the first part of the book is brought into connection with the latter part. Miss Murray is represented as a pretty and captivating young lady, and in no long time she repays the service which Honor has rendered her by marrying Stephen, and going with him to India. Honor is a well conceived and unhackneyed character, tall, with slightly stooping shoulders, dreamy blue eyes, and a
nature which lives in an atmosphere of self-abnegation and gentleness. We shall leave the reader to find out what other sorrows or joys were in store for her, and who Sister Genevieve was, and how it came about that the sinful Colonel met his deserts. The later chapters of the work are in every respect superior to the earlier ones, and there is no little pathos and beauty in some of the closing scenes of an imperfect but, on the whole, likeable and commendable little story.