28 JANUARY 1882, Page 20


WE shall watch the result of Messrs. Longmans' speculation in this book with great interest. They have resolved to try whether the old method of publishing novels is compatible with compara- tive cheapness, and have issued In Trust in three volumes, of the usual size and appearance, at 12s. 6d. That is slightly above M. Levy's usual price for a novel in paper covers, four francs a volume, but is as low as any publisher can reasonably be expected to go. If further cheapness is required, the size must be reduced. If the experiment succeeds, the death-blow will have been given to the old prohibitory price for a novel; and though we hardly expect success, believing, as we recently said, that the English are not a book-buying people, we should be delighted to find ourselves mistaken. The experiment, at all events, has a fair chance. Messrs. Longmans have given us good type, good paper, and a binding in rather unusually good taste, and have selected a novel which should attract a wide class of readers. It is a capital love-story, of the unsensational kind, with good and unexpected situations, admirable dialogue, personages who are not lay-figures, and something more, a character quite original and fresh. We do not mean to say that in our judgment it is one of Mrs.

• In Trust. By Mrs. Oliphant. London : Longmans and Co. (3 Tols., 12s. 63.)

Oliphant's best, but then we belong to those few who place Mrs. Oliphant's stories on a separate shelf, who read them again and again with ever increasing pleasure, and who believe most sincerely that if she did not economise her power so deliberately, if she would ever consent to " waste the mercies" and throw her whole force into a single tale, all England would recognise the presence among us of another novelist of the first class. Mrs. Oliphant has not done this yet. Her forte lies in the painting of scenes of strong, and yet subdued and, as it were, conventional emotion,—emotion as it is to-day, when one sits down to dinner though the heart is breaking, and writes politely in the most furious rage—and in delineations of certain kinds of female character ; but she will not in any one novel give many scenes or many characters re- quiring work. There are always one or two exciting situations, and generally one original character depicted with great pains, and sometimes, as in the case of Phcebe, in Phcebe Junior, with astonishing success ; or, as in the case of Giovanna, in Whiteladiee, with startling insight into rare but existing types ; but the reviewer always feels as if he would have liked a little more for his expenditure of intellectual money. To quote the best known of her novels, Miss Marjoribanks in the story of that name fills the canvas too completely, as completely as she filled it in her own imagi- nation,—an effect which is not quite real. In Carlingford, Miss Marjoribanks was only Miss Marjoribanks, though she did re- organise society. The deficiency is the more notable, because Mrs. Oliphant constantly gives in her books hints of characters of rare interest, like the half-good, half-cynical mimic of that very story, whom we should all be so glad to know, and whom she perversely keeps in the shadow, only suffering her to peep out now and again, like a flavour in a dish. In In Trust, the flavour is afforded by Mrs. Mountford, an absolutely usual person, indicated in a few strokes with astonishing skill, but who never from beginning to end does anything except work in Berlin wools ; and in Keziah Worth, a pretty lady's-maid, introduced to give her views upon marriage. The butler, a well-to-do man, past middle-age, wants to marry her :—

" Marry him ? is that what is the matter ? It must be some one you don't like, or you wouldn't cry so.'—` It isn't so much that I don't like him. If that was all,' said Keziah, with philosophy, 'I wouldn't mind so much. Many a girl has had the same to do. Yon have to take the bitter with the sweet, as aunt always says?— ' Keziah r exclaimed Anne, with consternation. Yon wouldn't mind then what are you crying for ? And why do you try to cheat me into sympathy,' cried the young lady, indignantly, if you don't mind, as you say ?'—Keziah by this time had mastered her tears. She had dried the spot carefully and tenderly with a handkerchief, pressing the muslin between two folds.—' Miss Anne,' she said, don't you say as I'm cheating, or my heart will break. That is one thing nobody can say of me. I tell him honest that I can't abide him, and if he will have me after that, is it my fault ? No, it's not that,' she said, shaking her head with the melancholy gravity of superior experience : I wasn't thinking just of what I'd like. You ladies do what you please, and when you're crossed, you think the world is coming to an end ; but in our class of life, you're brought up to know as you can't have your own way.'—' It is not a question of having your own way. How could you marry a man you did not —love ?' cried Anne, full of wrath and indignation, yet with awe of the sacred word she used. Was it too fine a word to be used to little Keziah ? The girl gazed at her for a moment, half-roused, half- wondering ; then shook her head again.—' Oh, Miss Anne, love ! a girl couldn't love an old man like that ; and he don't look for it, aunt says. And he'd think a deal of me, more than—than others might. It's better to be an old man's darling than a young man's slave. And he's got plenty of money—I don't know how much—in the bank ; and mother and all of us so poor. He would leave it to me, every penny. You can't just hear that, Miss Anne, can you, and take no notice ? There's a deal to be said for him, I don't deny it ; and if it was only not being fond of him, I shouldn't mind that.'—' Then you must not ask me to be sorry for you,' said Anne, with stern severity, if you could sell yourself for money, Keziah ! Bat, no, no, you could not do it, it is not possible—you, a girl just my age, and brought up with me. You could not do it, Keziah. You have lived here with me almost all your life.'—' Miss Anne, you don't understand. You've been used to having your own way ; but the like of us don't get oar own way. And aunt says many a lady does it and never minds. It's not that,' said Keziah, with a fresh outburst of tears. 'I hope as I could do my duty by a man whether I was fond of him or whether I wasn't. No, it isn't that ; it's—it's the other one, Miss Anne.' "

Keziah's idea is that love is a kind of selfishness, and that duty, of which she has a very inadequate conception, is the impulse to be obeyed; and she does obey it, but is all the while, though so separate, quite ordinary, quite unheroic, and very far from either bad or unhappy.

Keziah is a mere outline, scarcely even that, the author devoting herself to the careful sketching-in of three characters, Anne Mountford, the heroine, a girl of limited and reticent, but

noble nature, who can bear any suffering, but cannot bear to have her affairs discussed ; Cosmo Douglas, a lover of the period, engaged to Anne ; and Rose 31ountford, sister of Anne, a pretty, prosaic, direct little person, as able as is compatible with want of real intellect, and, unknowingly, profoundly selfish upon points. Anne, though meant to be very charm- ing, is the least thing in the world of an automaton, a per- son who obeys her thoughts rather than thinks her thoughts, and sometimes gives the reader the impression of a stately figure walking in a dream, and unable to exercise complete volition ; and Cosmo Douglas is artistically a failure. His appearance is very well painted, but there is no body in the clothes. We know what he will do, and more or less accurately why he does it, and there is great skill in the art with which he is kept from being utterly contemptible ; but all the same, he leaves the impression of a well-painted actor, not of the man the actor is representing. Mrs. Oliphant, in fact, has observed that kind of man till she knows how he would behave, and how he would reason, and what he would say quite perfectly, but she does not know him himself

at all. Her insight fails her, as it has always hitherto failed her, when she has tried to describe, not an exceptional man, like Mr. Dumaresq, in the Rose in ,Tune—a wonderful bit of portraiture —or Jack, the child in The Richest Heiress in England, of whom Charles Dickens would have been proud; but the ordinary man who lives and moves among us, and flirts, and dines out,

and marries. She does not see that Cosmo Douglas in the flesh, though he might have acted precisely as he did, would have seemed either more or less of a cur to himself, would either have obeyed his selfish reason more completely, or have been more the sport of good impulses from within. He is scarcely natural, though we all know him,—an effect drolly incomplete and un- satisfying. Not so Rose. She is first merely described, then you are interested in her, then you know her as you know your friends, and then almost in a moment the knowledge becomes complete, and you see how the pleasant little girl, with her shallow but real affections, and her thin but straight-going mind, and her 'primitive," almost childlike, qualities, has in her a capability almost of great crime. Events have so happened that the little woman, who has inherited, not illegally, but unjustly, a good fortune, is likely to be deprived of it. If her sister Anne does not marry a lover who has neglected her, the fortune will go away to Anne. Rose, though she likes the sister, is roused to a passion of self-defence, and writes to the recreant lover, Cosmo Douglas, to bribe him to propose again :—

" Rose's letter to Cosmo had been conceived in a sudden commotion of feeling, in which her instincts and sensations had come uppermost, and got almost out of her own control. That savage sense of pro- perty which exists in unreasoning childhood had risen to flame and fire within her, mingled with and made still more furious by the terror and panic of possible loss. Beneath all her gentleness and smoothness, and the many glosses of civilisation that clothed her being, Rose had an entirely primitive nature, tenacious of every personal belonging, fall of natural acquisitiveness and a love of having, which children and savages share with many highly cultivated persons. She was one of those who, without any conscious evil meaning, are rendered desperate by the idea of personal loss. Her first impulse, when she knew that her 'rights' were in danger, was to fight for them wildly, to turn upon all assailants with impassioned fury. She did not want to hurt any one, but what she had got she meant to keep. The idea of losing the position to which she had been elevated, and the fortune which had made her for the last year so much more important a person than before, filled her with a kind of cruel panic or fierce terror, which was ready to seize at any instru- ment by which its enemies could be confounded. This fierce passion of fear is apt to do more mischief than deliberate cruelty. It will launch any thunderbolt that comes to hand, arrest the very motion of the earth, if possible, and upset the whole course of mortal living. It is more unscrupulous than any tyrant. Hose was altogether possessed by this ferocious terror. When she saw her property and importance threatened, she looked about her wildly to see what machinery she could set in motion for the confusion of her enemies and her own defence. The character of it, and the result of it to others, seemed entirely unimportant to her, if only it could stop the danger, forestall the approaching crisis."

The girl is like that, or nearly like that, to the end, and yet she is so drawn that you know she is only an ordinary human being, rather foolish and very self-indulgent ; and when she escapes all poetical justice, the reader does not really mind. Rose is admirably painted, a distinct addition to the large gallery of the heroines of fiction, as utterly apart from the tigress women of modern novels as it is conceivable to be, and yet with something of the panther in her, too. - But all this while, we have said nothing of the story. We do not intend to say anything of the story beyond this, that with the exception of Heathcote Mountford's action, which is throughout

wanting in life and purpose, as it would hardly have been, and the over-drawn introduction, it is an exceedingly well-told story, which we cannot criticise, for this reason. We must, if we do, betray the author. Mrs. Oliphant, allowing for a little weak- ness in her notions of English law—which, for example, would, under the arrangement finally suggested, have left the title of both girls to their lands unmerchantable—draws her plot well, and in this book gives the reader two distinct surprises. We have read more novels than we care to remember, and every one of Mrs. Oliphant's, and we frankly confess that we did not expect either Mr. Mountford's will, to which everything has so carefully led up, or the ultimate solution. To criticise the story, we must reveal the unexpected point of the will, and the art which has led up to it, yet never hints at it, and the singular completeness of the revelation, both as to Anne and Rose, in the ultimate and, to us, most unexpected settlement ; and that would be unfair both to Mrs. Oliphant and to Messrs. Longmans, who are making an experiment of the greatest interest to literature. All we can say, therefore, is that those who imagine, from a certain tediousness in the first chapters, that the story is to be without interest, are utterly mistaken, and that they will lay down In Trust with a feeling that, as novel-readers, they have thoroughly enjoyed themselves, and that, as critics, they have received just that limited amount of true food for thought which it is Mrs. Oliphant's pleasure in each successive novel to dole out. A little more liberality, and we should be all content.