19 AUGUST 1905, Page 20

ALL books of school-life must be largely based on the

actual experiences of the writer, but, granting this premiss, there is scope for great diversity of treatment, according as the writer inclines to the realistic or the romantic method, according as he endeavours to reconstruct the boy's point of view or adopts that of manhood. Again, he may frankly disclose the par- ticular school which he means to depict, as in the case of Tom Brown's School Days and Mr. Vachell's The Hill; or disguise the locale under an alias; or attempt to give a general or composite picture of school-life, in which the element of direct portraiture is minimised. Mr. Portman, in his very lively, wholesome, and interesting story, entirely eschews a sentimental tone; his method is frankly realistic ; and while coining a fictitious name for the school he describes, he identi- fies it almost at the very outset by the nomenclature of the dormitories. Of his general loyalty to his school there can be no doubt, but we cannot congratulate him on his dis- cretion. No clue ls given to fix the date of the story, but the general impression conveyed is certainly that the picture is one of contemporary public-school life; and inasmuch as the narrative is extremely circumstantial, while the characters,

• Hugh Randal. By Lionel Portman. London: Akton Elvers. (6e.)

especially those of the masters, suggest direct portraiture from real originals, the story, which in its earlier chapters gives a somewhat lurid picture of incompetence, indiscipline, and gross bullying, constitutes a grave indictment of persons presumably still living, and can hardly fail to inflict serious pain on the representatives of a regime so uncompromisingly attacked. Mr. Reece, the head-master up to p. 160, is described not only as a cold and unsympathetic personage, but as a snob of the worst type,—see p. 129, where he is represented as rejoicing when high social influences are brought to bear on the Governors to prevent the expulsion of a worthless boy because be happened to be a Peer, and his retention at the school was important at a time when the numbers were beginning to go down.

Mr. Reece's methods are further illustrated by an incident which we quote in full, because, quite apart from the question whether the portrait is drawn from life or not, the passage is thoroughly typical of Mr. Portman's merits and limitations as a chronicler of school-life :—

" Confirmation is not in itself one of the things—like discipline, responsibility, the game-spirit, and the various rubs and rivalries of their corporate life—which have much effect on boys at school. A few respond to- it warmly and derive great benefit, even permanent benefit. The majority regard it as rather an irksome process, to be got through with as little fuss as possible. A religion which appeals so largely to the gentler side of human nature RS Christianity cannot expect to have much effect on the young barbarian.' Nevertheless, the preparation for the ceremony, if not the ceremony itself, has a real value. For it gives a head-master his great—usually his one—chance of exerting personal influence on the individual boy. And if he be wise and strong, he will make a great deal of this chance. He is not, like the tutor, so near to the boy's daily life, so much the scrutator of their petty faults that he fails to secure their respect when speaking of deeper matters. He is not in the delicate position of the father ; who, if he has any strong religious con- victions, would as soon face a firing-party as speak of them to his son. He is far more competent for the task than the mother; who, as a rule, has plenty of convictions, and is only too ready to speak of them ; but too often does more harm than good, because she does not know where to stop, and cannot understand that after a certain age the masculine view of religion differs very largely from the feminine. His opportunity is unique ; and parents who decline to let him use it, by having their sons confirmed at home, cannot be credited with much wisdom. Unhappily there was no such head-master available in this case. Mr. Reece did his best. He addressed all the candi- dates collectively once a week, and individually two or three times. But he was too cold, too distant and conventional to win much attention, and his endeavours were apt to produce results as comic as they were futile and regrettable. Thus, one of his first inquiries to a candidate coming for a private talk was, What is your besetting sin ? ' The candidate, as a rule, had not the dimmest idea ; and, being suddenly confronted with the question for the first time, found himself quite unable even to hazard a guess. Mr. Reece insisted on his making researches, and sent him away for a fortnight to make them. But by the end of the fortnight the unfortunate youth had as a rule failed to find any light, and was driven to seek advice from his fellows. Them he generally found to be in no less a difficulty; and as none felt able to solve it for himself, they agreed to 'pool' any conclusion at which they might severally arrive. This term, for instance, the nine members of one dormitory who were about to be confirmed produced in combination an answer that completely baffled the catechist. As each was called upon to face the question and give the result of his inquiries, each replied, with drooping eyes and a voice full of remorse, Getting out on to the roof at night, sir, and smoking cigarettes.' What was to be done? Mr. Reece could not violate the sanctity of the confessional by punishing the culprits. He could not for the same reason inform their tutors. He could not confiscate the cigarettes; for these, according to the smokers' perfectly true story, had all been burnt. And yet he could not overlook the offence. He took the only course possible—told the head prefect of the dormitory that he suspected some such freak, and ordered an investigation of the window bars. But here again he found himself checkmated. For the head prefect indignantly denied the possibility of the story. And the carpenter, sent to try the bars, reported that they were immovably secure. No human being could force more than one arm between them, much less his shoulders or body. So we were nine goals to a try that journey,' remarked one of the candidates. And it was tragically true. Mr. Gurney gained more attention than his chief from the boys. For he did all he could to avoid saying anything that could be branded as 'pi-jaw.' With as little mention of religion as possible, he spoke as friend to friend rather than master to boy of general principles of conduct, with special referente to the pitfalls awaiting the adolescent male. And because he'was a man and a gentleman, and a very sound cricketer; because he said, Do the right thing because it is the right thing,' he was listened to more than most of his colleagues, and had no little success. So far, then, as Larne was concerned, Hugh was left very much to himself, and to the solemn impressions which such a preparation will naturally have on those of tender age. No course, as it happened, could have been better for him; for he was one of

those boys—more numerous than parents are apt to think—who may be trusted to make the most of their lives without being driven or lectured; and beyond the riotous exuberance of his age had not shown any tendency to go astray."

This may not be a very distinguished or elevated way of treating a serious problem, but the crudity of the author's conclusions is redeemed by a certain practical common sense. Mr. Portman professes no great belief in the power of schoolmasters to influence their charges profoundly. He quotes with approval a phrase of Bowen's that the best they can do is to arrange that Virtue shall have a chance. But his illustrations show that this "arrangement," when contrived by a strong and judicious man, may achieve remarkable results. Mr. Portman is no wholesale depreciator

of schoolmasters, and his portraits of the hero's tutor, Mr. Gurney, and of the new head-master are as sympathetic as those of Messrs. Reece and Wardron and Allardyce are uncomplimentary, while the highest praise of all is lavished on the wife of one of the assistant-masters. For the rest, we may observe that the main drawback of the story, on which we have already commented, is all the more to be regretted in that the book as a whole is a faithful and honest attempt to trace the career of an average "human boy," who, after many stumbles and lapses, fights his way to a position in which he wins the respect of masters and boys alike. Though a less vivid and entertaining reconstruction

of the boy's point of view than is to be found in Godfrey Marten, it has the advantage of not being exclusively con. cerned with the boy out of school hours. An attempt, good as far as it goes, is made to delineate the relations of boys and masters in school-time as well.

The Image in the Sand. By E. F. Benson. (William Heinemann. 6s.)—This is a story of the blackest of Black Arts in the most modern setting. Miss Jervis and her father, travelling in Egypt, fall in with an adventurer called Henderson, who has secured a mysterious amulet which has power to call up the spirit of a dead Egyptian. He breaks the amulet at a ruined temple in the presence of the father ; the daughter comes suddenly upon the scene, and, being without, the magic circle, falls in some mysterious way under the power of the released spirit, Set-nekht, and indirectly of Henderson, its master. The scene then changes to England, where the heroine is about to marry a most desirable young man, when Henderson returns from his travels and falls in love with her. He uses his power to compel her to come to him when he calls, and so hypnotises her that, against her desire and judgment, she obeys him. At last, to clinch his domination, he bids Set-nekht bring her to him. There is a tremendous struggle between the lady and her lover, who, as the only remedy, drugs her into unconsciousness, and her peril is removed by the murder of Henderson at the bands of Abdul, her faithful Arab servant. With Henderson, for some unexplained reason, departs the uneasy spirit of Set-nekht. It will be seen that in this work Mr. Benson has entered the province of Mr. lichens. But his quick, vivacious talent is not well adapted for a tale of intangible mystery, which wants an atmosphere beyond Mr. Benson's powers. The English scenes are well done, and the latter part of the drama is worked out with much skill ; but when we should be thrilled we are only puzzled. The Egyptian chapters do not provide a sufficient background of horror, and the raising of the spirit and all the rest of the machinery belong to the stock incidents of this type of fiction. To succeed in that most difficult of enterprises, the weaving of mystery into our prosaic modern life, a writer must either, devise some very original and subtle motif, or he must have an exceptional gift of emotional and suggestive description. The second part of the story would be convincing and powerful were the reader properly impressed by the first. But if he is not disquieted by the preliminary horror, he is apt to be indifferent to Mr. Benson's skilful climax.

A Tragedy in Commonplace. By M. Urquhart. (Methuen and Co. OS.)—This is a minute and carefully written study of a woman whose intentions and wishes are good, but who allows her pride and ill-temper to lead her into doing as much harm as if she had been thoroughly vicious. As Sophia O'Neill is the wife of a country clergyman, the theatre of her life is her own house, and her victims are her children, especially her only daughter. The story of a long struggle between a narrow and obstinate mother and her equally self-willed but much cleverer daughter cannot be-very pleasant reading, for domestic tragedies which arise from the clash of characters are painful from their very futility. Mrs., or Miss, Urquhart (there is strong internal evidence that the author is a woman) dissects her personages remorselessly and with considerable ability. The story is what "Elizabeth" would call "sehr modern," for it leaves the problem of the book only half solved, as the reader feels no assurance that Joan, Sophia's daughter, will, though her mother is dead, ever recover from the disasters of her early upbringing. To tell the truth, Joan, owing to the cruelty with which she is treated, is a most unpleasant young person, and there seems little hope that her easy-going father will ever be able to give her sufficient guidance to enable her to become a useful and agreeable human being. The gloomy theme of the book is well thought out, and the writing is good, but people who read novels in order to be amused will do well to avoid A Tragedy in Commonplace.

The New Minister. By Orme Agana. (Ward, Lock, and Co. 6s.)—The story published by " Orme Agnus " under the name of The New Minister is by no means equal as an artistic achievement to "Sarah Tuldon " or "The Root." Although there is one excellent piece of character-drawing in the book, the novel is scrappy and disconnected, and in fact more suggestive of the modern type of story which is published in complete sections in a monthly magazine than of a well-balanced work of fiction. After the first introduction of the new minister to his "circuit," each chapter in the book contains a separate spiritual adventure on the part of the hero, an adventure in which he is almost uniformly successful in saving a soul. For a book of this kind to be credible the author must each time convince the reader of the persuasive nature of the methods employed by the minister, and this " Orme Agnus" does not succeed in doing. The figure of Hosea Fream, the delightful old oil-dealer, is extremely attractive, though on decidedly conven- tional lines. People who enjoy a series of well-written tracts may like the book, but it will not add to " Orme Agnus's " artistic reputation.