* Harcourt. By G. L. Tottenham. London : Smith, Elder, and Co.
IT is interesting when an author leaves a distinct impress of him- self on the mental retina of the reader, and if we are not very much• mistaken, this is so in the book before us. We could almost smile- at the transparency and simplicity of the self-portraiture, though in saying so we lay ourselves open, if we are mistaken, to the- retort—cordial, we hope—that we have a good deal of transparent simplicity ourselves to be so easily taken in. In the author we picture to ourselves a man, young and ingenuous, generous, affectionate,. imaginative, cultivated, and refined, but very impulsive, and who, has, somehow, already fallen out with the world, or at least with society, and who stands with his arms resolutely folded, and a look of scornful independence on his compressed lips and contracted brow. Nevertheless the picture is anything but one of a soured nature, but rather of one in whom a just indignation has roused a superficial and youthful cynicism.
If this sketch does not describe the author, at least it represents- the central figure of his book, except that in the latter case society has done the hero no injury except by revealing its wide-spread hollowness and conventionality, a discovery which every generous nature has to make, and at which he invariably for " wide-spread '"
reads " universal," and allows himself the luxury of a sweeping bitterness of feeling, until experience has taught him that the hollowness and conventionality belong, with exceptions, to society itself, and not to the individuals that compose it, who, for the- most part, feel its emptiness as much as he does, though they may not have chosen him for their confidant. There is a great deal of good work in Mr. Tottenham ; he is not only high-principled and religious, but what is more appreciated in a novel-writer, acute, genial, and imaginative ; and when he has come down from his
pedestal and sees the world, not with less indignation,
where it is wrong, but with a calmer judgment and a more tender patience, and when he has lost a little of the youthful stiltedness. of style that loves superlatives and compound adjectives and high-flown, majestic passages, and is rather too free with the streams, and the stars, and the birds, and flowers, and occasionally deals in the affectation of a newly-coined expression—what, for- instance, is " the digestive manufacture of a wreath of wilds flowers "?—he will write, not perhaps exciting novels, but what is far better, pleasant, lively transcripts of society, descriptions of nature, and expressions of his own thoughts and opinions, which- will leave the reader not only pleased and cheerful, but better and worthier for the reading. We have said that Mr. Tottenham's stories. will notperhaps be very exciting, but we judge from the one before us alone, the only one we have seen, though we suppose from the title-page that he has tried his 'prentice-hand.on a story made out of the Irish tenant-right question. With such limited opportunity we should say that plot was not Mr. Tottenham's forte, for while, in this story, it is as good as in many another—an estate wrongfully
enjoyed, and a beautiful foundling coming to her rights —and though the mystery begins with the first volume and is referred to from time to time—just to keep us quiet, as an auctioneer produces a tempting lot every now and then, reserving his best things till later—Mr. Tottenham is in no hurry to complicate or elucidate it ; —he loves rather to describe and cogitate ; beauty, whether natural or mental, and character and feeling are his favourite subjects ; and the incidents are left to ripen in silence, and are all gathered rather hurriedly in the last half of the third volume. But a very • little more art and care would have spread them satisfactorily over two, if only we could get rid of the detestable three-volume -system, which must be weariness to the spirit of the novelist, and which insures us worthless padding, such as we find towards the -end of the first and in the beginning of the second volumes of Harcourt.
Mr. Tottenham's love of children and young people is something .quite remarkable in a young man, or rather, perhaps, it is his vivid memory of nursery life that is so unusual. He writes with all the freshness and circumstance of a clever governess who spends her life amongst young children. In these scenes he is unique, and we mourned when he came out of the nursery to see the boys off to school. Not so " Watty," as the governess—a capital picture -of the fretful, discontented members of that much tried class— was familiarly called by the boys, who worried her out of her life,—
" When not engaged out of doors in swinging within an ace of their lives, screaming about the shrubberies, rolling on the turf with Juno, an elderly and apathetic bloodhound, or in other pastimes of a like nature carefully chosen to snit a thermometer at 80° in the shade ;"
or,— " Scampering up and down the passages in-doors, in riotous protest against their enforced confinement, with go-carts or any other article in which, as the men of science say, a rattle was potential, in their train."
But we must give part of the pie-nic scene, in which grandmamma, governess, boys, and dog are equally admirable, to say nothing of wasps and midges :-
"With the concurrence therefore of Algy and his mother, the plot was laid, preparations made, and all kept a profound secret until luncheon-time on the following day, when, the weather being propitious, it was to be put into execution. And for fear, then, of possible conse- quences to his elderly relative, if the announcement of so much pleasure in prospect should be made too suddenly, he proceeded in the most cautious and considerate manner to let out the little animal [the secret] they had with such difficulty been retaining in suffocating confinement for nearly four-and-twenty hours. Isn't it a beautiful day, grand- mamma ? ' he began. And finding that there was no inclination on her part to dispute the seemingly irrelevant proposition, he looked slyly at his mother to see if she entered into his artful method of disclosure, and
.continued Do you like peaches, grandmamma ?' Lady Harcourt admitted that she had a certain partiality for that fruit. We are going to take a whole basketful,' cried Algy, in great glee.—' Oh, Algy, how stupid you are !' exclaimed Arthur, reproachfully. 'Now she must have guessed.' Algy looked conscious of having been guilty of unpardonable indiscretion. ' Did you really guess, grandmamma?' he asked, as if the fate of a world depended upon her answer. And the old lady, seeing that there was something coming which would require a proper effort of astonishment upon her part, was quite puzzled. Well, we've got a sur-
prise for you,' cried Arthur. ' Try and guess what it Yes, yes, do guess!' echoed Algy. clapping his hands in great excitement. All sorts of improbable schemes having been guessed to no purpose, Arthur at last said, ' Shall I tell, mamma?' And his mother thinking that it was cruel to keep poor grandmamma in suspense any longer, he figura- tively raised the curtain and disclosed to view a projected tea-party for that evening in the wilderness.—' That will be delightful,' exclaimed Lady Harcourt, clasping her black mite and rings in ecstacy at the 'thought of the creeping things innumerable that do abound in shady wildernesses, with which, as a dweller by essential preference in the town, she was not very much in sympathy. And you invented this little treat all for me ?'—' Oh ! we shall like it, too,' answered Arthur, • candidly enough. 'We are going to make a fire, and boil the kettle, and do everything ourselves, with only Sidonie to help us. And Violet and Lewis and Mrs. Wyndham, and perhaps Mr. Wyndham, are all .coming ; and we shall have the greatest fun, you'll see.' Grandmamma feigned to be quite elated at the prospect of so mach truly rural enjoy- ment, and luncheon concluded in a general hubbub of excitement. Shall I be required, Lady Caroline,' asked Miss Watts as she left the room after the children, being evidently not under the influence of the delusion prevalent for the moment, that there was enjoyment in the air. And whenever one finds oneself among people suffering from a delusion 'of this kind, and exhilarated in consequence, it is only due to oneself and kind to them, to adopt some such method as Miss Watts had hit upon for guarding against the assumption that one shares their feelings in any way Tho rectory contingent presently arriving, the children set off to make their preparations. accompanied by Lady Caroline's maid and Juno, who brought up the rear on all occasions with that listless apathy of a disappointed dog which never left her, even when most blunderingly gay. Like Miss Watts, she did what she -conceived to be her duty by the boys, but evidently considered that to show interest in any of their amusements was not an item in her agree- ment; and as she, too, was very much drawn down about the corners 'of the mouth, it is conceivable that a mutual confidence might have shown that in early youth they both had loved, not wisely, but too well.
. . . . And so the camp-stools were occupied, and the feast went merrily on, to the great astonishment of the peeping birds overhead, and to the great entertainment of the midges, who felt that the oppor- tunity was not to be lost of inculcating the moral lesson that no happiness on earth is without alloy. Grandmamma, however, not showing that reckless partiality for peaches which had been expected from her, the boys were very reluctantly obliged to help her to get through the pile : and the entertainment then was brought suddenly to a close by the appear- ance on the scene of a most discourteous wasp, who bustled about from one dish to another *ith a most astounding assurance, visiting first one plate and then another, and buzzing loudly the whole time, as much as to say,' What is this ? ' and What have we got here, eh?' and finally, making a dart at Lady Harcourt as the head of the party, with a Why don't you make me more welcome' air, persisted so viciously in its en- deavours to occupy her nose, that she was obliged to beat a precipitate retreat."
There is a most comical quarrel over a pack of cards, which we should much like our readers to enjoy as we have done, and an
admirable description of the excitement at a game of "old maid." But little people are not the only people Mr. Tottenham under- stands. The loving tact, the tenderness, and indulgence, and shielding propensities of the pleasant, high-spirited mother, and the pardonable manoeuvres by which she makes the unaffectionate father the apparent provider of all sorts of pleasures for his boys, are drawn with a woman's skill and insight into woman ; while the dull and somewhat heavy father, interested only in Parlia- mentary routine, is just as ably done, with his sound conscien- tiousness, dashed by a touch of selfishness that exhibits itself with a shy uncomfortableness, and is little more than caution. The genial statesman, with his two lives, official and domestic, and bis thoroughly disagreeable Countess, are further evidences of Mr. Tottenham's ability. The Earl has been making amusing comments on the children's quarrel at cards referred to :—
" The rest of the party laughed, but Lady Inverness sat grim and unmoved, as she always did when her lord was more than usually entertaining ; when admiration was expressed for him in her presence, faintly assenting, as much as to say that society saw only one side of him During the session of Parliament he would bo detained unusually late, perhaps, at the House of Lords, and would come home, elated after a successful speech, to find her ladyship preparing to dine out without him, and in full irritation at having then to -wait until he was ready to accompany her. Not a word of sympathy or interest, but the same old look of ill-tempered resignation and agrieved self-promin- ence to which it was so depressing to return, and which success in
public life so little compensated Platitude as it is that riches, rank, and power do not make happiness of themselves for their posses- sors, it is a platitude that very few people believe in, when looking upon those advantages from the outside."
But in justice to Lady Inverness, we must relate that in nursing she sometimes came "out in quite a new light, as a soft, bright day will sometimes intervene in winter's blustering moods, to show what capabilities nature is ever holding in reserve." Every character in the book, even the least interesting, has its own individuality. From the worldly grandmother, with her amusing and uncomplimentary remarks on her son to his wife, down to the trifling "Algy," or to the laconic Highland driver who,
"When questioned upon any feature of interest which they passed, would reply stolidly that he was no acquent,' and lapse again into silence until, perhaps, a shepherd, smoking his pipe upon a wayside stone, with his colley dog thrusting his nose into his hand, and looking up with mild affectionate eyes into his face, would be passed, and at him he would discharge a fearful guttural, and then retire once more into himself ; the only remark which he volunteered during the whole of the first stage being in a gloomy pass where, indicating with his whip a presumably historic cairn, he observed in low and lugubrious tones, That's one of our graves.' "
A propos of the Highland driver, he is an actor in an effective ghost story. We must not forget old Mr. Quorn, the sporting
clergyman, and his sister, Jemima, who, if she is, as we think, a caricature, is the only one in the book. The effect of long habit upon the former in producing an unconscious but absolute indiffer- ence to the severities of his sister's speech is very capitally illus- trated; they will converse in alternate paragraphs, her remarks a
series of taunts, insults, or reproaches ; his the good-humoured expression of consecutive thought, without an idea apparently that she is even cross :-
" `Psha! Tailby, do you moan to tell me after all these years that she didn't know very well what she was doing ? ' rejoined Miss Quorn, contemptuously : 'It's very well known when a girl leaves her home, without saying a word to anybody, why she does it, and the sooner she is forgotten then, the better for the credit of her relations. No one but an idiot would go on talking about her.'—' Never denied her anything— never denied her anything ; poor girl—poor girl ; died unhappy, perhaps ; poor Madeline She was fond of you, Jemima,' the old man added, absently ; you could say a good word for liar, then ; soured now ; soared, —soured."
Then there is the Rector, learned in head and shallow in heart, --who hates to hear " that wretched bell" announcing visitors or parishioners,—and his gentle, purely domestic wife. And there are, besides the hero—whom we have already sketched—the rival heroines, widely different, and the unsuccessful one of whom is
an object of our sincere commiseration. But we have left no room for the author's shrewd, sensible remarks, of which the following is
only one of many :-
"' think people are too hard upon the rising generation,' Lady Caroline said. 'We don't make sufficient allowance for the mellowing influence that time has upon the manners, and forget that half the dignity of age lies in its experience ; '" —nor for the beautiful descriptions of natural scenery which abound. Here is a passage about the Highlands and Highland deer- *The stillness of a lovely peace was upon the world. The castle stood out from its woods, a silent and imposing pile ; the river gleamed along its wooded reaches in pools of silver-blue or rapid, white with glittering foam; upon the distant slopes and peaks that ranged away to the dim horizon line there was a delicately blended blue and purple haze that was the softest poetry of colour; and to enhance the still beauty of repose that hung about the heights, there came sounding through the clear air from time to time the tinkle of a sheep-bell from the mountain side When presently he again returned to con- sciousness of external things, the first object that met his eye upon a neighbouring sky-line was the presumed victim of that shot, slowly descending the rocky face, with drooping antlers, hanging tongue, and faltering steps that stumbled and half recovered, and again gave way, ns the stately beast sank down at last to die among the rocks, alone. There was such an infinite pathos in the sight of the poor brute escaping to that solitary height to end in slow anguish its grand ranging life of freedom that all the sportsman died within him, and a feeling of man's cruelty alone remained. In fancy he seemed to realise acutely the pro- testing struggle still to live, the gradually failing strength as the life- blood ebbed away and the eyes grew dim ; to hear the despairing invoca- tion to all the spirits of the mountain and the waste, and finally the agonised farewell to all the loved haunts of glen and shore and height, so lately roamed over in all the glad exuberance of conscious strength and freedom, and the picture was saddening beyond expression. '41.1y was there so much pain in the world ? Why did there ring through all creation, from man and brute alike. that ever recurring cry of anguish, the natural offspring of implanted instincts?"
For the fine description of a storm in the Alps we have no room. Nor have we space to do justice to the humour which abounds throughout, and which often adds so much point to shrewd observation upon life and manners. On the other hand, we have two or three slight but adverse criticisms to make. Beauty of description is often marred by incongruous and sometimes mixed metaphor, or by the questionable taste of alliteration ; and as we have said already, by the too liberal reference to birds and streams, and the other favourites of lovers of nature. Again, we think it a pity not to consider Mr. Trollope's rights-reserved to sur- names appropriate to character or occupation. We have here a long string of such names,—Cypher, Harkaway, Tattler, Blush- ington, Loquax, Cynical Pepper, &c. Lastly, we would call Mr. Tottenham's attention to an oversight in not acknowledging, by inverted commas, his obligations to Mr. Tennyson, and we fancy to others, though we admit that the passages thus unconsciously plagiarised are too well known not to be recognised by tolerably well-read persons.