THREE NOVELS.* IT is undoubtedly a rash and reprehensible course
of conduct to judge of a book by the name ; but, unfortunately, the practice is by no means uncommon. On the turf, if a racehorse proves a failure, its name is sometimes changed, in the hope of an accompanying change of luck ; but this course is not open to the novelist; wherefore it behoves him to be particularly careful in the choice of a title. "The bearings of which observation lies in the application of it." Ccnvard and Coquette is not a bad book, but it could hardly have had a less attractive title. Nor can we suppose that the author is unskilled in nomenclature, for, when once we have taken the extreme step of opening the book, our eyes are refreshed by the most sensational headings to the chapters,—" A Face at the Window," "The Hidden Horror," " Sound amid the Snow," "The Inquest," ..tc. The story is that of a young lady, of that type which has frequently reappeared in fiction,—who is adored by everybody within her reach, and is the providence and guiding.star of all around her, and yet spends that short period of her existence during which she is the heroine of a one-volume novel in an atmosphere of horrors and mysteries which would turn her hair prematurely white, but that this would not be becoming. We believe it is unusual for young ladies, even if their parents are in India, to betake themselves to farmhouses on their own responsibility, immediately after they leave school, and it is certainly injudicious to allow them to do so when the farmhouses teem with fascinating artists and handsome young farmers. We do not get any very satis- factory explanation of the reasons which led Miss Winifred Gerard to establish herself at Kirk Hall ; we accept the fact that she is there, and wait for events to come. There is no lack of sensational incident, but we feel that the element of surprise is wanting. We know too well what is going to happen. Given a heroine who arrives at a strange house, and finds there two men, one of whom has a cer- tain fascination for her, while the other is rewarded with a kind of grateful contempt for his various services, it does not require much penetration to discover the real hero, especially when the latter is undeniably the handsomest of the two. Nor is it difficult to conjecture, when one of the principal characters says, "I shall sleep soundly to-night "—and not only says it himself, but induces the author to make his words the heading of a chapter—that he is going to be murdered. The practised novel-reader will also divine at once that the murder will be committed by the wicked brother, and that the virtuous brother will be accused of it. For his comfort, we will say that he will not be quite right in his surmise. We are glad to add that, after many vicissitudes, the end of the story is happy, though the last chapter but two contains a massacre of the less important personages which might have touched the heart of Herod. As regards the delineation of character, the heroine—who, we are bound to admit, is not inaptly described in the title—is decidedly well drawn. Her folly is natural folly ; her changes of sentiment, her likes and dislikes, are exactly what we should have expected from such a girl as she describes herself to be ; her exaggerated idea of the mysteries of the unknown house, her terror of things not at all terrific, are perfectly in keeping with the character of the imaginative and inexperienced school-girl, and such vagaries as she does indulge in are the natural outcome of her sense of independence and emancipation. The rough, faithful servant, 'Giner, is also cleverly depicted. But Stanley Carryl is an instance of a character which is incongruous and impossible in Nature, that of a man who would be a pattern of good breeding and a perfect gentleman if be were not an arrogant snob. George Eliot tried to represent much the same kind of character in her last novel in the person of Grandcourt, and even she, perhaps, failed. It may be observed that both the great novelist who is gone, and the contemporary novel-writer of whom we speak, take the first decent opportunity to get rid of their social monster.
When we find in the second chapter of a novel that the hero is "ushered into the reception-rooms" of a lady he calls upon, and finds them "crowded with a fashionable assembly ;" when he "slowly makes his way through the elegant crowd towards a. fair, young girl," and remarks to her that "every one seems
• Coefissions of a Coward dad Coquette. Edited by the Author of "The Parish of Hilhy." London : Ward and Downey. l836.—Ths Leaven of Malice: a Noce. By Hamilton Evelae. London : Swan Sonnensobein and Co. 1886—Ride Sue ton. By E. G. Wolrige. London r Bevington and Co. to have partaken enough of the Chinese beverage" (which is, in the boorish, tea), we abandon all idea of stirring incident, and compose our minds for a narrative of the healthful but unex- citing temperature of the Queen or the Court Journal. But the reader who forms such an idea of The Leaven of Malice will find himself greatly mistaken. Once get away from the fashionable surroundings of Belgravia to the more con- genial atmosphere of the Highlands, and it simply rains horrors and supernatural appearances. We begin gently with a mysterious light on the castle loch, to prepare our minds for the time when there appears, "as if rising slowly out of the lake itself, a white, fleccy-looking cloud, and reflected in the midst of this cloud the faint shadow of a woman. The appearance lasted only for a few moments, and then, as it gradually faded away, a hollow voice, as if rising from below the ground where they stood, repeated distinctly Laird of Auchtofeldie, what have you done with Anita's child ?'" This, however, is quite a trifling incident compared with the horrors which follow. Claps of thunder, accompanied by agonising shrieks, are heard just "as the clocks throughout the vast building struck the hour of midnight," pieces of a woman's dress still moist with HUNAN BLOOD (in capital letters) are found underneath a fallen tower, black monsters with green eyes confront an exploring party in the dungeons of the castle, and a "hollow, mocking laugh" (shade of Mrs. Radcliffe ! not even the mocking laugh is omitted) responds to the hero's denunciation of the "impudent tomfoolery of some person or persons unknown." Apart from the blood-curdling scenes at the old Highland castle, the story has no remarkable interest. The characters include a hero, a villain, and at least three heroines. There is the worldly heroine, with whom most of the characters are in love from time to time ; and the heroine in humble life, who is courted by the villain in her poverty, and by the hero when her real parentage is discovered and she comes between him and his expected inheritance; and there is also a third heroine, whom the author seems to intend for a sort of seraphic buffoon. The villain, who is a very mild villain, makes honoarable proposals to Effie, the humble heroine (his announcement of which fact elicits from the hero the courteous rejoinder, "Could anything you ever did be honourable ?"), and being rejected by her, very sensibly transfers his affections to the worldly-minded heroine, who accepts him. For this infamous conduct he is attacked by Effie's brother, and grossly insulted by the hero in his own rooms ; under which cir- cumstances there is obviously no resource left to him but to go and get killed in an accident on the Stelvio Pass. Another prominent character is an old Highland gentleman, who tells a long-winded story about his early marriage in Spain, breaking off every now and then in the most pathetic parts to remark that "the valley of Aranjuez stands about 1,500 feet above the level of the sea," or that Toledo is the Tarshish of the Bible (By the way, we were always brought up to believe that Cadiz was the original Tarshish ; perhaps Mr. Rider Haggard will kindly settle this point for us.) Not the least remarkable thing about The Leaven of Malice is the extraordinary jargon em- ployed by the Scotch characters. We should much like to know in what part of the United Kingdom it is spoken.
To those persons of nervous or delicate constitution to whom excitement is dangerous, we can recommend Hilda Egerton. as a book they may safely read. We fear, however, that the minds of the general public are not sufficiently well regulated to enable them to enjoy it thoroughly, for most people prefer to read books in which there are incidents to be found here and there. Still, there are, no doubt, many advantages in the class of literature which has not too much interest. The reader of Hilda Egerton will feel no impulse to rush through the book with unseemly haste, nor will he be tempted to indulge in the irregular practice of looking on to the end to see what is going to happen. From the very first, he will feel a comforting convic- tion that nothing is ever going to happen, and he may read on placidly till slumber overtakes him, if he has nothing better to do. The busy man, on the other band, who is infected with the vice of novel-reading, will be able to lay down the book at once, and return without a sigh to the duties of every-day life. The characters in the novel before us may be briefly described in the immortal words applied to the little girl, who had a little curl that hung down over her forehead :— " When they are good, they are very, very good,
And when they are bad, they are horrid.'
The greater number, however, are of the very, very good class. Hilda Egerton herself seems almost too good to live, and cer- tainly far too good to be the heroine of a novel. The principal character of the other type is the heroine's mother, who behaves in a manner which is considered as little less than fiendish ; trying to persuade her daughter to marry a man she does not like, engaging herself to a devoted lover whom she does not regard with absolute adoration, and putting the finishing touch to her iniquities by retiring to a Catholic convent. The author of Hilda Egerton appears to be of a decidedly poetical turn. Not only does he (or she) indulge in endless quotations, but he even manages to relieve the monotony of his own sentences by a judicious transposition of words, which produces a result equally surprising and pleasing. For instance, "She went to bed," is a mere vulgar announcement of a commonplace fact ; but " To bed she went," has all the subtle charm of poetry.
We desire to speak with all respect of contemporary writers of fiction, but we feel obliged to put the question whether it is not trifling with the public intelligence to write and publish such works as Hilda Egerton, and The Leaven of Malice. We feel inclined to ask, with Falstaff,—" Is there not wars? Doth not the King lack subjects ? " Is there no harmless manner of living that the authors of these books can find for themselves, without crowding our overladen shelves with fresh rubbish ? Boileau, in his Art Poetique, tells of an unskilful physician who renounced his profession and achieved distinction as an architect. Might not some of our novelists follow his example, and choose some other profession in which their failures would at least not be so public ?