16 NOVEMBER 1867, Page 18

THE ROMANCE OF A GARRET.* THE author of this book,

Mr. Sydney Whiting, is a true humorist, and may even prove to be one of no mean order. We do not remem- ber for many years to have met with any character sketched with richer humour than Patrick O'Aisey, the Anglo-Irish editor, who figures so prominently in this unequal and inartistic book. It is

a character saturated with the true Irish essence,—that good- humoured disproportion of ideas and motives which seems in itself a stroke of Nature's humour,—that light heart which associates on

equal terms the most trivial concerns with the most momentous, the gravest ends with the lightest, the most urgent necessities with

the most superfluous flashes of enjoyment. The character of such an Irishman as THE O'Aisey is in itself the proof that there is infinite humour as well as infinite austerity in the purpose of creation, and admirably has Mr. Whiting worked it out, so as to make it at once a rich store of laughter, and a most in-

structive comment on the sublime irrationality which drives Englishmen to madness, in their attempt to govern that inconse- quent race. Almost every word that comes out of O'Aisey's month is an illustration of this character,—his similes are as humorous as his actions, and from the same cause, the piebald way in which the sublime is spotted with the common-place, the beautiful with the grotesque, shrewdness with childlike folly, the most unprinci- pled selfishness with equally unprincipled generosity. Take his sarcasm on the great Butcher grievance, which, though by no means the best, is one of the most separable of his orations :—

" It's the butchers, Colonel ! Matrimony would be an excellent in- stitution in its way, but is spoiled by the butchers, and those horrible • carnarbn tabor= ' with headless beasts in a row ; and the necessity of buying a portion thereof is an offence to the sensibilities of an Irish gentleman. IThen I have a seat in Parliament, I'll get an Act to close those infamous temples, with their floors of sanguineons sawdust, odour of carnage, and a general look inside of an under-done aurora borealis on a horizan of fat—a lovely metaphor, though a little strained perhaps, bnt quite worthy the calliptedia in my fertile brain. As for the high priests, with their purple garments, sacrificial glaive, hieroglyphics called bills, and insolence to the vestal virgin or servant-maid you send to expostulate at the ruin they're bringing to your hearth and home, I'd send them to the shambles, and see how they like a little delicate decollation.—I would, on my honour, Colonel.'" Or take this dissertation on debt, which has all the Irish dash and ingenuity, with the humour to apply to individual debt, what is in

some measure really true of a popular debt contracted by Govern- ment :-

"O'Aisey would speak of debt as a blessing. I remember his say- ing, when I expressed a holy horror of owing a sovereign to any one, 'Debt, sirr, is the greatest boon sent into the world ! it's betthor than hope even ; and the story of Pandora's box will remain a wake inven- tion till they revise it, and make debt as the blessing left at the bottom. The greather the amount of debt, the greather the boon ; . and if it's subdivided among a number of intelligent people, Bo much the betther, for a number of intelligent people take an interest in you, and not till then. How solicitous they are after your health ; how delighted when they hear you are likely to get an appointment ; and how they help you up the laddher ; with what delicacy as to the risks of travelling they keep you at home ; and how they glory in your success, whatever it may be. Even in your private affairs they take a personal interest ; and it may so happen they'd sooner ye had a chronometer in your pocket, jewelled in twenty holes, than a Geneva thing that requires shaking when yo want it to go. Ah, me boy ! it's the perfection of happiness when yor fellow-craters take a rule interest in your move- ments, and there's nothing like debt to accomplish the same.'"

Patrick O'Aisey, or The O'Aisey, as he should be called, is always and everywhere equally good, and there is a harum-scarum fertility

about his images and thoughts which shows that the author, if not himself. an Irishman, has an imagination never at fault for an

illustration of his conception.

There are other things which show the humorist in this book, eapellially many of the remarks of the lodging-housekeeper, Mrs.

Skinner ; but she is very inferior to The O'Aisey, being in fact generally quite out of drawing, both in character and in speech, though usually amusing enough. Her dialect itself, also, is clearly an artificial composition, never spoken by any living Eng- lishwoman. A lodging-housekeeper in Mrs. Skinner's position

• The Romance of a Garret. A Tale of London Life. By Sydney Whiting. 2 vols. I,oadon : Chapman and Hall.

would be utterly unlikely to use " denige " for " deny," like Mrs. Gamp ; or " sivrin " for "sovereign," or " notfin” for "nothing." (She would, in all probability, have pronounced it "nothink.") Her bad grammar and ill distributed h's might be natural, but the malformations of her words are not a lodging-house keeper's malformations at all, but arbitrary manufactures of the author's. And her sentiments are even more capriciously and arbitra- rily manufactured than her dialect. Nothing can be more un-

natural than her panegyric /2 Thomas More) on her friend and assistant, Dorothea, whom the hero ultimately marries, or the whole conversation in which this fancy lodging-house keeper weighs the pros and cons for her lodger's step in marrying a sort of upper servant. The dialect and the sentiment of the following passage, for instance, are alike utterly artificial :—

" Well, sir, it's nataral you shouldn't understand parables, and wot I mean is this : Him as made all things—for I wouldn't name no name, cos it's profane, sir,—must have had a long time to form all this par- ticular world; and all the while when He was making of the seas, and of the skies, and of the trees, and of the water, fresh and salt, and of the wegetables, and of the beastes, that awful! (like them one sees at the Christial Pallas), all the while, says He," Wait a bit and you'll see what is coming by and by." And sure enough, after getting tired of calling forth all them ugly critturs, B, A, Moth, Hick-the-Sore-Eye, Master Don Maggy-Thereon, and others more horrible still, with names like Christians, He made 'oman—lovely 'oman—out of His last and brightest smile; and I'll ask you, air, whether Derry Vance isn't as good a speci- men as ever came out of the primal mould ; and tho' she's 'umble, and

• needlewoman as was in seeming, not all the queens as ever was crowned can trace their pedigree further back'ard nor Derry, for she goes back for her origin right into the hands of her Creator, she does.' =Brava, Mrs. Skinner ! you certainly do not serve out niggardly measure of praise when you like a person.'—'Lor, Sir! there's them as does, and them as doesn't ; and do you know, air' (lowering her voice to a sort of confidential whisper), I once see'd Derry with noffin Good Heavens, Mrs. Skinner!' exclaimed I, half starting from my

chair, am perfectly shocked at such a speech !'—' Shocked, sir !' said she, with groat dignity, and speaking crescendo again ; 'are you shocked at the rows and rows of figgers with non on at the Christial Pallas and other places ? Don't jump to conclusions, sir, as unworthy of yourself as of me, a woman turned of fifty. Do you think l'd speak in a lightaome or porient way of dear, dear Dorry Vance? No, sir, I'd cut my tongue in pieces fast; but I say agin—and no westal wirgin could say it with more purity—I say agin I once saw Derry Vance with noffin on, a stepping oat of a bath, and as I held a lavender scented towel to dry her, sir, thinks I to myself, if every hempress as ever sat upon a throne were to take a bath with Derry, leaving of their hermine, and jewels, and fine linen, and golden tissue, and trailing garments at the door, and Derry were put in amongst 'em, with her 'amble matures left outside also, I'd defy all the hangels in 'eaven to say who was queen and who commoner. It's the dress and external circumstances as makes a monarchy, sir, as you know better nor I do ; and Derry Vance might ascend a throne to-morrow, if limbs like an ivory goddess, and loveliness of form in general, wur the qualities chosen for hexaltation to that 'ere dignity. Dear, dear Derry You've got a treasury, you has, Mr. Anthony, sir • and I'll sayno more at this sitting, cos its affecting to my 'art—and after all, sir, I'm not a worry strong 'Oman.'"

When you consider, first, that Mrs. Skinner is Mrs. only by brevet rank, being an excellent old spinster, as we are expressly informed, this last passage of panegyric on a young woman to whom her gen- tleman-lodger had just engaged herself, is perhaps as undramatic as it is possible to conceive. But Mrs. Skinner is throughout the book a mere mouthpiece for any oddity that occurs to the author which cannot be otherwise got in. She is not a woman, but a voice for miscellaneous blunders, often humorous, and misspellings often almost as happy as the best of Thackeray's,—as, for example, "in a bay hence," for "in abeyance,"—but neither blunders nor misspel- lings are in the least proper to her assumed situation and character. On the other hand, her doublings and unscrupulous inventions in the way of clever fibs when fencing with her lodger, are not unworthy of having a character to themselves ; and one is rather incensed at the reckless way in which the author uses what he might have made into a living and effective figure, as a receptacle for all the shreds and patches of oddity which he cannot conveniently fasten on to any other.

That Mr. Whiting is not devoid of genuine dramatic insight his character of Colonel Stigand,—a sort of cross between Colonel Newcome and Sir Walter Scott's "Antiquary," with an infusion of the modern scientific spirit,—seems to show. He is admirably drawn in those long, formal colloquies in which he is first intro- duced to the reader, though he is rather hardly used in being made the mere instrument of the regular common-place romance, and sent to Jamaica and back for no earthly purpose, except to heighten the hero's troubles at an important crisis of the tale. Colonel Stigand deserved better handling than to be despatched to travel about to get up evidence (which is never used) against a mulatto poisoner, and to be made to proclaim himself the uncle of the heroine, and urgently anxious to endow her with 12,000/. at the end of the book. That is a stock use for him for which he was much too good. We may add that the character of Dorothea Vance, slight as the sketch is, shows clearly that the author is no SAINT JEROME.* Again, the same sort of gaps and incorporated foreign sub- vice of his Goths. He marries her ; an ex-Emperor sings stances, by the intrusion of which the author spoils his the wedding song ; among the wedding gifts is a tray full real dramatic talent, he also sprinkles with unfortunate of jewels from the sack of Rome. The daughter of Theodosius assiduity through this awkwardly patched two-volume story. bears a son to her barbarian husband, and calls him by her father's Almost all the first half of the first volume is very poor name ; but the child dies, the father is murdered by a groom, all literary "shop,"—containing much anecdote of the mechanical the pent-up barbarism of the Gothic race bursts forth again ; the detail of newspaper and magazine contributors' duties and diffi- next king, Sigeric, makes Placidia walk twelve miles in front of his culties, such as seems to have a sort of mysterious sacredness in hoise in a crowd of captives ; his successor, again, Wallin, sells her some people's eyes, though it is really no better worth recording back to her brother Honorius for G00,000 measures of wheat. She

than the detail of a cobbler's duties and difficulties in learning to is next forced to marry a Roman general, Constantius, and ambi- wax his thread and use his awl, or a grocer's in wrapping up tea tion now seems to replace love in her heart. Without affection and sugar in neat little parcels. The first half of the first volume,— for her second husband, she obtains honour after honour for her did not stray gleams of ability shine out here and there,—would son Valentinian, for herself, and for her husband, who receives certainly be wearisome enough to deter most people from going on from her brother the title and the purple mantle of an emperor. with the book at all. And even when the life of the book really But he dies six months after, and Placidia takes possession of her

begins, there are too many utterly unmeaning interludes, brother's palace at Ravenna, where, surrounded by a guard of What on earth, for instance, can the visit to the Duke of Goths, Ataulf's gift to her, she rules her weaker brother lIonorius Coalfield's at the end of the story be thrust upon 'us for ? Is it and the Western Empire. Then a darker shadow still falls upon to introduce an aristocratic element pandering to vulgar taste ? her life. She becomes the object of her brother's incestuous pas. If so, the author should scarcely have betrayed that he sion, which in tarn, repelled, passes into furious hatred. Brother is in the habit of thrusting his knife into salt-cellars at and sister have each their partizans ; blood is abed in the quarrel.

friends' tables, as he does (Vol. I., p. 30), for certainly the Duke She is driven from Ravenna to Rome, reduced to poverty, relieved of Coalfield and his party cannot have looked on unmoved at such by the generosity of Count Boniface, who sends her from Africa a proceeding as that. What makes us suspect that the imbecile money and means of transport to Constantinople ; nearly ship- episode at the Duke of Coalfield's is thrust upon us with some wrecked on the Adriatic, disgraced and put in seclusion by Theo- half-snobbish design, is the following foolish sentence just before dosius If., Emperor of the East, on reaching Constantinople; then,

that episode :— on the death of Honorius, restored, as well as her son, to all former "I would also, while on this purely egotistical theme, emphasize the dignities, and sent back to Italy to rule as Regent in his name. fact, that my associations in life were, to a certain extent, amongst in- Here, whilst signalizing herself RS the restorer of the Catholic tellectnal men and refined women ; and though I have refrained from policy of her father, Theodosius I., she shows her gratitule to depicting drawing-room scenes of and and elegance—the rustling of Count Boniface by showering honours upon him. But a false silks, the flutter of fans, the noiseless footfall of lacqueys on velvet ear- pets, the clumps of wax lights with their tender-tinted souls, the clink te of the Dresden tea-service, or the low buzz of conversation from the lips into Africa. Too late the truth is revealed, when Aetius has of lords and ladies lounging on gilt fauteuils, it must not be supposed possessed himself of practically supreme power in Europe, and that such scenes (a little more real, perhaps) were unknown to me ; but Genseric is master of Rome's chief corn market. Yet Bonifaoe as they are described every day by pens more or less eminent, in almost every novel one takes up, I have confined myself to a portraiture of the returns to Italy, is again invested with the generalship-in-chief more vulgar husk of my working life, and of the events which occurred and the patriciate. He marches against Aetius, defeats his troops, in my humble home in Mrs. Skinner's lodgings." but in a personal encounter with him receives a deadly wound ; —which, if true, is not quite consistent with the hero's habit of and Aetius, after his death, reconquers influence and dignity.

helping himself to salt with his knife. Placidia's career is now practically at an end. She had neglected In short this seems to us the book of a true humorist, who has her children; her old age was embittered by the vices of her son, probably not a little dramatic talent, but who is strangely reckless Valentinian, and the scandalous adventures of her daughter, and inartistic in its use. Dialect, character, and story are all Honoria, who at sixteen or seventeen sent a ring of betrothal by spoiled by strata which seem so foreign to the conception of the a eunuch's hands to the great: barbarian king of the day; the Hun author, that we wonder at times whether somebody else has not Attila. Placidia died at sixty-two, and was buried by her own written a few words, or a few lines, or a few pages here and there, desire in imperial robes, and sitting upon a cypress-wood throne. to eke out the MS. The O'Aisey is the only completely conceived Surely such a life, dull though its close be, is a romance in itself.

and completely executed sketch in the book. There is much else It is, however, upon his Jerome that M. Thierry has expended in it that is clever and humorous, and the sketch of the little the most care and ,labour,—a labour literally of love, since he consumptive thief has a pathos and beauty of its own ; but there speaks of both " loving " and "admiring" his hero. And no is scarce anything else the ability of which is not dashed with doubt there is much to admire in the career of the rough Dalmatian, utterly incongruous elements. Nothing strikes us as odder than and there must have been much to love, if we may judge by the that such a writer as Mr. Whiting, should be able to endure to fascination which be seems to have exercised, especially over intersperse his best scenes with talk so utterly foreign to his pur- • Saint Jerome; is Bacilli Chretienne 11 Rome. a l'ISm,yration Chretienne en nrre pose, or any purpose, as much that we find in these pages. ct Cie. 1807.