29 APRIL 1899, Page 3


Whyte-Melville's works has conferred a real benefit on the reading public, especially on that numerous section that already knew and loved the author in the plain and unpre- tending dress of earlier editions. Whyte-Melville, as his editor says, cared but little in what form his books were published, and displayed none of that fondness for his own ereations which delights in good print, wide margins, and fitting illustrations. He wrote because it amused him to write, and because he had something to say about the sport that was the chief happiness and consolation of his life ; but neither the immediate sale of his works, nor their ultimate place in the public favour were matters of great interest to him. Probably no one would have been more surprised than himself to foresee the lasting popu- larity of his contributions to the current literature of the day. In one respect, at least, as Sir Herbert Maxwell remarks, this carelessness as to the form of publication is to be deplored. Had he desired an illustrator for his sporting novels, to whom would he have turned but to his contemporary, John Leech ; and what would we not give now for a copy of Market Harborough or Tilbury Nogo adorned with illustra- tions from the latter's inimitable pencil? Oar regret that this natural alliance between author and artist never took shape is only heightened by the illustrations that have been supplied by Mr. Hugh Thomson to the volume, Riding Re- collections, now before us. Mr. Thomson is an admirable artist, possessed of humour as well as a happy knack of de- lineating horses ; but neither his horses nor his humour are in their right place in Whyte-Melville's pages. They that hunt in the Shires do not, as a rule, ride cart-horses, nor do they often present the appearance and dress of cor- pulent coachmen. If a reader of Whyte-Melville requires a picture to illustrate any particnlar scene, his best resource would still be to turn to the old numbers of Punch, and suit himself amongst the delightful sketches of John Leech, any one of whose hunting characters might have walked straight out from the author's pages. There he will find the Honour- able Crasher, Mr. Sawyer, Tilbury Nogo himself, and charming Kate Coventry in their very habits as they lived.

Do people still read Whyte-Melville? One cannot but believe that they do ; or hope, if that is not the case, that with this new edition there may be a revival of his old popularity. His novels, as Sir Herbert Maxwell says, have little in common with the problem stories, philosophical or morbid as the case may be, that seem to have taken such a hold of the reading public of late years. They may be of little value as "human documents," to use that greatly mis- applied term, but, as the editor adds, with our fall agreement and sympathy-

" As long as chivalry in man and tenderness in maid have any hold upon English readers—as long as people take delight in descriptions of honest love-making, adventure, and field sports, or final amusement in gentle satire of well-to-do folk and kindly raillery at the foibles of all classes—as long as the public is not too critical to enjoy pictures of the general prevalence of good over evil in the world as we have it—so long shall Whyte- Melville find high favour with wholesome minds.'

That is well said, and fitly sums up the main characteristics of Whyte-Melville's work. His own honest and chivalrous soul was quick to recognise and reflect the good that lay even in things apparently evil. Looking back in memory through that now distant portrait gallery, one of the chief delights of boyish days, we cannot at the moment recall a single one of Whyte-Melville's characters that was not without some amiable trait, some redeeming touch of manliness or kindness. And what true gentlemen were his modest and unassuming heroes, and how wholly loveable his favourite heroines !

There is, at least, one type of English men and maidens that

• Rieliag Recollections. By G. J. Whyte-Melville. London W. Thacker and Us. f1O..3d,net.] no other writer has ever portrayed so pleasantly and yet so faithfully. Not very clever, perhaps, or well-informed ; con- tent to take their pleasures as they found them, and incurious as to the hidden meanings of the great world; faithful to the simple creed that was taught them at their mothers' knees.

Such characters offer little matter for reflection to the keen student of humanity, who finds in the dissection of the

abnormal a more attractive pursuit. But what more should a novel-reader desire, if he merely turns to the novelist for rest and recreation ? And apart from the question of character, Whyte-Melville was a born story-teller whose tales, full of satis- fying incident, never flagged. The art, which other and some-

times greater writers have often never fully acquired, seemed to be his by nature. He could not tell a story ill ; and generally

he told it so well that it was hard to lay the unfinished volume by. Nor should we forget to recall the manysided versatility of the author of The Interpreter, The Gladiators, Holmby House, and Uncle John. To have written equally brilliantly

of the camp as well as the field, of life in ancient Rome and in the English country-house, is no small proof of the wide know- ledge and fertile imagination of the writer. But his chief claim to a permanent place among remembered English novelists must always be based upon his interpretation of English outdoor sporting life. Sir Herbert Maxwell, in his preface to Biding Recollections, gives so just and excellent an

appreciation of this side of Whyte-Melville's work that we cannot refrain from quoting his words :—

"He was at his best—and therein almost unrivalled—in describing the incidents of the hunting-field. Nimrod ' could stir the pulses of his readers by recounting the business of the chase and the performance of individuals ; Surtees had the knack of throwing a life-like picture on the screen, and impar. ing a sense of wind and weather, of scents and sounds, of life and movement in the open air and a wild country. But neither of them had the secret of Whyte-Melville's glamour, which invested the raptur- ous reality with an air of romance, and gave to technical details the momentous import of the operations of war ; neither of them kept before his readers, as Whyte-Melville did, the ideal of a cultivated, accomplished, lofty-minded, warm-hearted English gentleman. To him must be given the palm among all who have hitherto celebrated the glories of the noblest among British field sports."

The secret, we think, lay in the fact that Whyte-Melville's own passionate love of fox-hunting led him to see in the

hunting-field the epitome of our wider national life. The gallant soldier, the just and patient lawgiver, the long- enduring explorer, were all reflected there in the men who rode straight and reeked nothing of falls, who gently coaxed a young horse in the way it should go, and who cheerfully plodded back home, some twenty miles perhaps, through wet and darkness. He never insisted upon the lesson, save by some occasional half-humorous, half-philosophical comment, but the lesson is always there for those who care to read it.

Above all, the dominant note of Why Is-Melville's fiction is its cheery optimism. Right always triumphs over wrong in the end ; the brave always win the fair. Even when he allows a character to come to utter and hopeless grief over some moral fence, as is the case of the luckless hero of Good for Nothing he cannot leave him without some kindly bene- diction and hint of another happiness elsewhere. It has been remarked that he was wont to take a somewhat cynical view of married life ; and yet it must be admitted that nothing could be more tender than his drawing of the young girl, or more chivalrous than the tone he adopted in speaking of women generally. At the worst his views of marriage hardly amounted to a graver accusation than that a wife did not always realise a lover's dreams. His love-making, like his sport, was honest, sweet, and wholesome ; and his kindly pictures of English country life more than deserve the pleasant setting of this handsome edition.