11 DECEMBER 1880, Page 18


THE preface to this book tells us that its aim is twofold, viz., —"To give English readers unacquainted with foreign lan-

guages some insight into the writings of the best foreign novelists ; and also, by means of extracts from these novelists, to depict the life, character, and scenery of the various countries of which they write. To this end, it was needful to select such writers as are most popular and most national." To accomplish this object, we have two volumes containing English transla- tions of extracts from the works of a variety of foreign novelists ; and to each extract is prefixed a short account of the author's life and writings. France is represented by George Sand, Daudet, Cherbuliez, Fenillet, Gaboriau, Henry Murger, Balzac, and Sandeau ; Germany, by Freytag, Marlitt, Heyse, Auerbach, Spielhagen, and Hacklaender ; Holland, by Busken-Huet and Bosboom-Toussaint ; Italy, by Farina ; Spain, by Caballero; Austria, by Stifter ; Poland, by Kras- zewski ; Galicia, by Von Sacher-Masoch ; Hungary, by Jokai ; Russia, by Turgenieff; Sweden, by Flygare-Carlen ; Norway, by Bjornson; and Switzerland, by Keller,—a list of twenty-six names, many of which are likely to be unfamiliar to the ears of English readers.

To an undertaking of this kind, three obstacles suggest themselves as inseparable from its very nature,—first, the diffi- culty of conveying a complete idea of each author in the neces- sarily short space allotted to him ; secondly, the difficulty, arising from the same cause, of making the extract interesting —for how seldom are detached chapters out of novels amusing or satisfactory to read !—thirdly, the difficulty of translation, for there is about a work in its original form and language a subtle charm which can no more be exactly reproduced in even the best of translations, than can the delicacy of flavour possessed by a dish at its first cooking survive when it reappears as a rechavffe. The first of these three difficulties is of course insuperable, since no skill can avail to give an exhaustive notion of any writer in a few pages. But the other two obstacles have been very successfully met, and we think that the editors of the book before us are much to be congratulated on the way in which they have performed their work, so as to make it both entertaining and instructive. The preface says that each section shall be made "interesting in itself, and to contain something of a story ;" and this promise is amply fulfilled. All kinds of styles appear in turn; we have scenes in town and country, pathetic and humorous, domestic and adventurous, tranquil and energetic, picturesque and dramatic, mournful and laughable; and this constant change gives the book great piquancy and relish.

Each extract is stamped with the individuality cf its own country. Freytag's amusing account of the pretty domestic troubles caused to wives by the eccentricities of absent-minded, impractical, dreamy, professorial husbands, depicts people who could belong only to Germany. Farina's two vehemently affectionate couples, with their absurdly earnest quarrels and reconciliations, are essentially Italian. And Busken-Huet's phlegmatic pair of lovers, who were contentedly engaged to each other for twenty-seven years (when the romance was cut short by the death of the gentleman, at the age of fifty-five), would seem out of place anywhere but in Holland. The extracts contain also interesting descriptions of national ceremonies and customs peculiar to the peasantry of various countries ; and amongst these, Keller's account of the way in which cheerful re- signation to the course of events, and the rights of life over death, are (or were) inculcated at a Swiss funeral, seems exceptionally curious; he describes the burial as being followed by about two hours of heavy and melancholy feeding, after which cheer- fulness is gradually permitted to creep in and gain ground, till it finally culminates in noisy festivity and boisterous dancing. The wide difference existing between the northern and southern temperaments is, of course, very apparent in such a heterogeneous mixture of writings ; and as the reader passes from one to the other, he cannot fail to be impressed by the contrast between the earnest, serious, patient, stern, grave, steadfast elements which mark the northern populations, and the gay, impulsive, fiery, excitable, changeable, light-hearted characteristics of the southern people.

The carefully-written, short, biographical notices given of each author form an important feature of the book, and here also evidences of national peculiarities and systems sometimes • Rev-Hours with Portilm A-statists. By Helen and Mice Zimmern. London : /dams. &minion.

crop out; as in the subjoined quotation from the notice on Turgenieff, where the despotism :and corruption described indi- cate a thoroughly Russian state of affairs

After this be travelled on the Continent, and wrote his Memoirs of a Sportsman, in which he depicted some of the scenes of Russian life with which he had become acquainted while traversing the neighbourhood of Oral. The book exposed with relentless force the terrors and abuses of serfdom; it painted the peasants' mental and physical degradation; it held up to view the deadly dull country society of Russian nobles, and their half-barbarous characters. The work created a deep and lasting sensation ; it opened the eyes of intelligent Russians to one of the worst features of their civilisation ; it was admired and landed. When Turgenieff returned to St. Peters- burg in 1850 he found himself famous, too famous for his peace ; for the book that had given pleasure to the intelligent bad given offence at Court. Ttirgenieff's next production was not allowed to pass the censorship so easily. This official had been purblind, as is the wont of his kind, and had seen nothing further in these stories than truth- ful representations of reality. His eyes were now officially opened for him. An article on Gogol, by Turgenieff, was easily proved to contain revolutionary sentiments ; and its author was banished to his estates. Here he continued to hunt and write; and some of his most gloomy stories of serfdom date from this period, among them Mumu and The Wayside Inn. According to his own account, he was visited

every six weeks by a police official, who came to look after him, and regularly presented his authorisation to meddle, asking Turgenieff, at the same time, what he should do. Your duty,' replied Tnrgenieff, returning to him his paper, in which as regularly he wrapped a five- rouble note, whereupon the official departed, and for another six weeks Turgenieff was unmolested."

In these biographical sketches the compilers of the book express their opinions with great decision, and occasionally give a little insight into their views on subjects other than literary ; for instance, in the notice on Bjornson, they observe, when speaking of the King of Sweden, that "this monarch is more than commonly enlightened for a sovereign,"—from which

it may be inferred that they do not, as a rule, hold crowned heads in much esteem. Perhaps this republican bias may account for the fact that there is not in the whole book one single representation of a Court or courtier, and only two, or perhaps three, of life amongst the aristocracy.

It seems useless to select any particular extract for recom- mendation, since, where all are good, the preference will naturally depend greatly upon the individual fancy and mood of the reader; but we may mention that we have ourselves especially enjoyed the humour to be found in Freytag's German Professor, Cherbuliez's 'dee de lean Teterol, and Henry Murger's Passage of the Red Sea.

We should like Henry Greville to have been accorded a

place; and think it would not have been amiss to find room for tile Berthet's description (in the Tour du Teli- graphe) of the strange !mules south of Bordeaux, where he shows the silent, knitting, stilt-mounted herdsmen taking to flight at the approach of a stranger, followed by their bark- ing dogs and bleating flocks. The preface states, "We think no apology needed for discarding Zola and his school;" but yet there are in the Assommoir one or two powerful and vivid pictures of Parisian low life, which would have added to the completeness of a portfolio meant to illustrate varying phases of national life, and which might, we venture to think, have been admitted with advantage. Again, had we ourselves desired to give an example of George Sand's power of writing a rustic idyl, we should have made the selection rather from La Petite Pculette than from La Mare an Diable; both works are equally idyllic, but the ex-

quisite charm and grace of the love-story in the former seems to us superior to that in the latter. It is, of course, impossible to expect that every one should take exactly the same view of what authors and extracts ought to have been chosen to carry out the purpose of a work of this nature, and we have just shown one or two of the points where it might, to our mind, have been improved. But we do not think that whoever trusts himself to the guidance of the Mesdames Zimmern will repent of having done so, or complain of the paths along which he will be taken. May we not. hope some day to see the things that are now

omitted appear in a second series of the work ? It is likely, we fancy, to find a permanent home on the library-shelves of lovers of literature and students of national manners and customs.