12 AUGUST 1905, Page 20


A JAY OF ITALY.* OF late years we have had a flood of novels dealing with the Renaissance in Italy, and there is a real danger that the

Renaissance mannerism may become as arid a convention as any in historical fiction. It is not very hard to catch the trick of extravagant frankness and garish colour which may seem to many the authentic note of the era. But in all this we are apt to forget that the Renaissance, in spite of decadent elements, was a new birth and not a decline. In Mr. Capes's words, "the wind blew from Florence, and all the peaceful vales, so long trodden into a bloody mire, were

awakening to the ecstasy of the Promise. That men interpreted according to their lights—lights burning fast and

passionate in most places, but in a few quiet and holy." It is this last truth which clever writers like Mr. Maurice Hewlett are apt to forget. A picture filled with hot, bard lights is not only untrue to life, it is conspicuously untrue to this epoch of history. In all the riot of lust and blood there is a still, small voice proclaiming the New Way, and to see only a welter of lawlessness is to miss the essential vitality which gives it character and significance.

Because he has avoided this danger we set a high value upon Mr. Capes's new tale. He has taken for his subject Milan at the end of the fifteenth century, when the Sforzas held the throne, and Ludovico's predecessor, Galeazzo, ran his strange course of mysticism and madness. To this City of the Plains comes a boy, the bastard of a great house, brought up by priests in a country monastery, and inspired with a new gospel for his countrymen. His creed is that strange mixture of pagan naturalism and Christian dogma which was to dominate the best minds of a later generation. He comes with a message of peace, of a religion of which natural joy was a part, of a purity beyond asceticism and a worship in which persecution and pain had no share. He heals Galeazzo for the moment of his mad humours, and the Duke becomes his slave. There is a holocaust of follies in Milan such as Savonarola decreed at Florence, and for a while Court and populace run riot in a strange devotion to simplicity and virtue.

Mr. Capes has caught to perfection the atmosphere of this modish pietism, sincere enough for the moment, but resting only on sentiment and fancy. And then troubles begin to thicken round the saint's path. The Duke departs on a campaign, leaving Bernardo as his vicegerent, and a woman who is in love with him, and whom he has scorned in his innocence, plots his fall. Lying rumours are set going. The Duke is led to suspect his wife's constancy, and to believe that Bernardo is plotting with Republicans in the town. His madness comes back, be sends a message to kill the saint, and the boy is starved to death in a dungeon. But on the Duke's return his death is avenged, since Galeazzo is slain at the church door by the Republicans who had tried in vain to make Bernardo of their number. His faithful comrade, Carlo, breaks into the dungeon, and carries the body back to the Abbey in the hills where the boy had lived. And so "there survived in Lombard legend the story of a marvellous boy, who coming to earth and Milan once upon a time with some strange message of Christ in Arcady, had taken the winter in men's hearts with a brief St. Martin's summer of delight, and had so, in the bright morning of his promise, been snatched back to the heaven's nursery from which he had estrayed, leaving faint echoes of divinity in his wake."

It is a beautiful fancy, and the originality of the conception

• 4 Jay of Italy. By Bernard Capes. London : Methuen and Co. 163.]

loses none of its power in the telling. Bernardo's charm is so patent that his brief mastery of the Court is convincing to the reader, and the brilliant scene when he administers justice in the Duke's hall is natural and credible for all its strange- ness. Excellent, too, is the picture of Galeazzo, the sick tyrant, of the great Ludovico, and of Beatrice, "the jay of Italy, whose mother was her painting." But, after Bernardo, the finest portraits are those of Caelo Lanti, the gross, honest swaggerer, who is the saint's most loyal servant, and the fool Cicada, whose wild history we leave the reader to discover. The last scene in the dungeon seems to us to rise to a great height of tragic power. We have some faults, indeed, to find with Mr. Capes. His euphuism sometimes gets out of hand and mars the poetry of his tale, and sometimes he lingers so long on an emotion that the reader is a little repelled. But for the work as a whole we have nothing but praise. It is not only the best that Mr. Capes has done, but one of the finest romances we have read for many days.

Mrs. Alemere's Elopement. By Charles Marriott. (Eveleigh Nash. 6s.)—Mr. Charles Marriott has travelled a long way from the literary style of "The Column," and now clothes his un- doubted cleverness in phrases which are far more easily under- stood by the plain reader. In his mental standpoint, however, Mr. Marriott remains very much where he was, maintaining his preference for analysing the minds of his characters when he has placed them in circumstances which are always difficult, and often not a little equivocal. It would be the greatest possible relief and change to modern readers if novelists would remember that there are ten Commandments, all of which it is only too easy to break ; for, apart altogether from any more serious point of view, the breaking of the Seventh Commandment as a constant "air with variations" has become so worn and conventional a theme in fiction that intelligent authors would do well to avoid it. The subject-matter of Mrs. Alemere's Elopement is very honestly announced in the title, and the whole book is a record of a matrimonial imbroglio of so complicated a nature that it can only end with the death of the lady who fills the title-role. The novel is exceedingly clever, and the characters, especially the minor characters, are vividly portrayed. As to the success of the book as a whole, it is only possible to use once more the well- known tag, and say that for "people who like that sort of thing, it is just the sort of thing they will like." The story is moral in so far that the wicked people come to a bad end, but there is unfortunately no one, except a rather wooden young lady, in whom it is possible to take any real interest; and it is not easy for the reader to feel active enthusiasm for a work of fiction in which his sympathy is never once seriously aroused.

A Grand Duke of Russia. By Fred Whishaw. (F. V. White and Co. 6s.)—Mr. Whishaw calls his new novel "A Story of the Upheaval," and the book is so up to date that the people's petition of that "miserable Sunday" last January occupies a place ten chapters earlier than the end of the book. Novels which deal with the historic events reported in the newspapers a few months before give the reader an uncomfortable feeling that the story they are reading has not been properly assimilated by its author, and that they are being called upon to peruse pages of notes for • novels rather than a completed work of fiction. Fastidious people also will not be pleased by the idea of a man deliberately marrying the late mistress of his own father ; for although the hero of the book is the unacknowledged son of the "Grand Duke Maximilian," both father and son are perfectly aware of their relationship, and frequently allude to it. Mr. Whishaw's familiarity with Russia makes this book interesting for the light it casts on the internal situation of the country, but regarded purely as a novel it is not very successful.

At Close Range. By F. Hopkinson-Smith. (W. Heinemann. 6s.)—In this collection of American stories Mr. Hopkinson- Smith warns his readers that he is describing, not a series of exciting events, but the working of the minds and hearts of his characters. English people will find it a little difficult to sym- pathise with the morality of the magnificent young man, usually known as the Rajah of Bungpore, who entertains at Sherry's, leaving other men to pay the bill ; but the author seems to find his methods quite excusable. In the first story of all there is a very vivid description of a cross-country railway journey against time, the traveller being delayed by snowstorms and unexpected accidents ; but perhaps the most attractive sketch in the book is the last, entitled "A Pot of Jam." Here the action takes place once more on the train, and the attraction of the sketch lies in the contrasting portraits of two women. The problems contained in the book are not very subtle, but almost all the stories are pleasant reading.