30 JUNE 1855, Page 26


Le Curi Manqué is a curious work, for its pictures of French peasant manners ; its account of village priests ; and its quiet but bitter satire on the selfishness of the Romanist country clergy, and the ignorance in which they leave their flocks. As a story, the book is not much; substantially it is only the childhood and school-life of Jules Dubo, the son of peasants, but designed and educated for the church, till, having fallen several times in love, he at last feels that the priesthood is not his vocation, and, deserting the "great seminary,' he enlists in the army. The filling up of the story shows remarkable skill, for the easy natural way in which it carries out the author's intention of exhibiting "social and religious customs" in provincial France. The amiable family of the great seigneur the patrons of Jules and his mother—the picture of the village school and schoolmaster—the sketches of the peasantry, their religious knowledge, and matter-of-course submis- sion to their pastors—the manner in which the cures conduct themselves, manage their parishes, and teach their flocks religion —are very truthfully delineated, with all the ease and some of the animation of a good French litterateur. The nature of the book, which professes to deal with selected facts, and to be fiction only in its form and arrangement, occasionally gives rise to a literalness which is almost flat. The matter-of-fact jars with the form of fiction.

The mother of Jules was very devout, or at least superstitious. A story is told of the death of a heretic who was kind to Jules; the child is taken to look at the corpse, about which it is intimated there has been some foul play. As a consequence, he is afflicted with a nervous disorder, for which he is carried to a certain saint, where his mother is fleeced by the priest. The saint has the repu- tation of oaring him ; but in reality Jules gets weary of the pil- grimages and ceremonies, and moreover is frightened at the ul5ly image of the saint ; so he denies being afraid, instead of owning fear as formerly. Afterwards he becomes ill bodily, and is taken to a priest who practises medicine with the reputation of a conjuror. He professes to receive no money; but his servant takes

• Le Cure Manqué; or Social and Religious Customs in France. By Eugene de Courcillon. Published by Low and Co.

Aspen Court : a Story of our own time. By Shirley Brooks. In three volumes. Pubhshed by Bentley. Constantine; or the Last Days of an Empire. By Captain Spencer, Author of "Travels in &cassia," " Travels In European Turkey," "The Crimea," &e. iii two volumes. Published by Low and Bon.

it; and superstition enoonnters another practitioner on its way home.

"On our return we met an old woman well known to my parents. This woman also had her peculiar reputation ; for she treated what are called maladies of saints,' and made pilgrimages as a business, and her neuvaines were always followed by the cure of the sick person for whom she prayed. As soon as she saw me she said to my parents, You must be rich to spend your money upon medicines : your child, I am, certain, has the malady of some saint' ; whereupon she proposed to examine the part affected. Having done so, she said, I was not mistaken; your child has the " carreau," and the " carreau" is the disease of Saint Martin.'

"My father and mother never for a moment doubted the efficacy of the medicine of Monsieur le Cure; but they thought two precautions better than one, and that a neuvaine to Saint Martin could do no harm. It was agreed, therefore, that the old woman should immediately commence a neuvaine in the name of my parents; and as every person must live by their business, she was paid in advance for herself and for the priest who should say the masses.

"This time our neuvaine was accomplished without much trouble to my mother or myself. We had only to make one pilgrimage to the church of the saint, and make a vow that, if I was cured, I would go there once a year during my life on the day of the festival of Saint Martin, in order to have a gospel said in his honour in the church of Brachy. " The next day I commenced taking doses of the medicine of the Cure of Toequeville; and the old woman, on her part, commenced the neuvaine. At the end of a few days my mother and I went to the church of Brachy, where, before an image of Saint Martin, we repeated the ceremonies with which we had wearied ourselves before the image of Saint Eutrope, who had cured me from fear ; only Saint Martin did not frighten me as Saint Eutrope bad done. He was represented in the dress of a soldier, mounted upon a fine grey horse. With his left hand he extended the mantle which he wore; in his right he carried a wooden sword, with which he severed the mantle, which he wished to share with a tattered beggar prostrated at the feet of his horse."

The account of the old village schoolmaster, appointed by priestly influence in spite of his total inefficiency, and retained there by the same means, might perhaps be matched at home, sub- stituting some other word for priestly. The preparations for con- firmation might have been paralleled formerly, save in the matter of the aged : this in Lammerville arose from the Archbishop, a bon vivant, courtier, and sportsman, not having visited that part of his diocese for twenty years.

"My Lord of Croy, our Archbishop, was better as a courtier than an eccle- siastic. His devotion to the chase had not allowed him time, for twenty years, to visit his diocese ; so that the greater part of the inhabitants of Lam- mervdle had never received the Holy Ghost.' When it was noised abroad that at last my lord had decided to impart the Holy Ghost to all in his dio- cese, Monsieur the Cure of Lammerville opened a list in which all those who had never been confirmed were written down. On this list persons of all ages were inscribed. There were children of twelve years, and old men of sixty. The mayor himself, who was sixty-five years old, found himself ob- liged to consent to be made a 'perfect Christian' for the first time in his life. He at first refused to undergo the process ; but the cure menaced him with spiritual and civil excommunication, and he yielded the point. "At the first meeting of the neophytes, the cure sold to each one a little book, entitled Catechism for Confirmation.' This little book was divided into seven lessons, and it was therefore decided that there should be seven preparatory meetings. Each one must learn and repeat it. But it was not an easy matter for them to learn the lessons. Only four or five out of the whole two hundred who were to be confirmed were able to read at all. Appeal was made to the compassion of the charitable, and each individual of the parish who was able to read had committed to him several who were destitute of that accomplishment, to catechize and instruct according to the best of his ability. I had committed to my charge a couple of venerable old women, whose united age was a hundred and ten years. Add to this the ten and a half years of my own age, and the sum of the years of teacher and pupils would amount to one hundred and twenty and a half years. One of my pu- pils, notwithstanding her advanced age, learned her lesson very well at the third repetition of it; but the other was much more thick-skulled. I could get nothing into her head. The poor old creature did not know a word of her prayers, notwithstanding my beet exertions. She was far beyond my teaching."

Some of the stories will appear irreverent ; but it is rather the practice or superstition they show up—it is the thing de- scribed which is censurable, not the description.

The distinguishing traits of Aspen Court, by Mr. Shirley Brooks, are smart writing and familiarity with what is called town life. The story, however, embraces higher elements than can be gathered from attorneys' offices and the clerks,. dancing academies for "grown-up gents and ladies," and the other scenes and characters obvious to experience or eyesight in London. Its interests, indeed, are essen- tially of a romantic, not to say tragic kind. There is a shrewd, sharp, successful attorney, who in the prime of early manhood allows a client to marry a scamp, because said attorney is in love with her himself, but being married and hopeless, resolves that she shall not wed a man whom she was likely to love, and so dooms her to a life of misery. There is a Popish priest, in love with Lilian Trevelyan, the heroine ; practising all kinds of arts to break off her attachment to the hero, Bernard Carlyon, apparently a lawyer's articled clerk; and his arts failing, resorting to violence. There are the old mys- teries of a father watching over an nnavowed son, and of a young woman turning out a nobleman's natural daughter ; together with the well-worn incident of a family having wrongful possession of an estate. With these common properties of romance are mingled characters of high and Parliamentary or political life; seen, how- ever, from the outside, and often as much caricatured as depicted. The smart writing, which never leaves Mr. Brooks as long as there is a possibility of using it with propriety, and a certain knowing- ness in the author, impart a species of contemporary air to much of his narrative and many of his scenes ; though there is little in them that is real and lifelike. He appears to have adopted fiction rather through external influence than native bent. His best and most striking portraits—those which are gathered from the slaiiur line of life—are rather an assemblage of traits and qualities

real living persons. His other characters are well designed and clearly drawn; but they are conceptions, not creations—the production of a sharp observer and a very clever writer, but who has not the faculties essential to the novelist. This is visible even in drawing what may be called public characters. In Lord Rook- bury, for instance, there is an assemblage of traits such as popu- lar opinion ascribes to wicked aristocrats, rather than a living roué. This is part of his elaborate character.

"So far I have stated nothing against Lord Rookbury. He was an ex- ceedingly clever person ; shrewd, audacious, and sarcastic, with ample means, and plenty of will. Also, let us give him his further due. He was a finished gentleman in manners, incapable of coarseness except under strong provocations, and remarkably pleasant in the society of women. At the time we speak of, his tall figure, thin almost to fragility, but upright as a column, had not stiffened with age. His small, well-made head was per- fectly bald. Wrinkles had reluctantly intruded to disturb the delicate Saxon features ; and perhaps the habitual doubt—I do not like to write distrust,— which marked the old man's' face, had aided to deepen the lines near the mouth. The cold blue eye was undimmed, and the teeth were white and perfect. Carefully, but not foppishly dressed, and bearing himself loftily and well, Lord Rookbury looked an excellent type of the English gentleman of rank, and when foreigners came to hear the debates in the Lords they alwaya marked him out as somebody, and were surprised to be told (by officials) that he was= 0, nobody particular—a peer.' And by this time men with not a twentieth part of Rookbury's talent, had learned to speak of him as a mere orotcheteer, and even to pity him as possibly a little cracked.

"I am afraid that I must not let him down so easily. He was a sad old reprobate —and there you have it in half a line. A fine classical scholar, he wrote reprobate,—and verses as good as Lord Wellesley's ; but all the purity was in the style. He liked Juvenal ; which was odd, for that uncompromising gen- tleman lashes avarice, fraud, and luxury, and Lord Rookbury practised all three. Chiefly, you would wonder that a man who looked so well, and spoke so boldly, was a downright cheat. And yet he was one. I do not think he exactly loved money for its own sake, and he would certainly spend it un- hesitatingly in the gratification either of a pleasure or a vengeance ; but he liked to take advantage of everybody. It was curiously developed, this passion for getting the pull,' as he called it ; and he would make private sacrifices that the world might see him a winner. During _part of his life he took to the turf; and more than one person now lives virtuously on the pension Lord Rookbury bestowed as a reward for taking the public shame of a daring turf-swindle' contrived by himself. You cannot cheat much at whist in England, but at &tate, in his own house, Lord Rookbury managed to win so wonderfully from a French gentleman, who knew himself to be of the first force, that the latter insisted on moving the table. There were looking-glasses in the room, by the way ; and somehow Lord Rookbury not only won no more, but thought it well to return his past winnings."

There is in Aspen Court not only good writing but over-writing. The narrative is frequently suspended for long descriptions, a shade too much in the inventorial way ; and for talk to develop what the author may conceive telling peculiarities. This fault is perhaps less ascribable to the writer than to the piecemeal mode of publication. The fiction originally appeared in Bentley's Miscel-


Constantine, or the Last Days of an Empire. Captain Spencer is well known for various books of travel in various countries from Italy to Tartary ; which books have not been without in- terest. That interest, however, arose as much from the advantage of time and place as from the inherent descriptive or reflective powers of the writer. Were it otherwise, a man may be well fitted to transcribe what he sees and yet not qualified to write a novel. A traveller with knowledge and some descriptive power will produce agood book if he has such fresh fields as Captain


Spencer had n Circassia, the Crimea, and similar regions' a good many years ago. In a fiction there must be judgment to choose the subject and temper the invention, together with imagi- native and dramatic qualities. In all these our author is deficient, and the high-pitched fluency he does possess is rather an injury than a benefit; it turns his narrative into rhapsody.

The subject of the novel is the reign of Constantine Paleologns, the last of the Eastern Cfesars and the capture of Constantinople by Mahomet the Second. Constantine or the Last Days of an Empire, is not, however, an historical romance, but history run wild. The writer professes to adhere closely to the actual ; yet he violates it without scruple whenever he thinks he can improve the fact into a striking incident. In a critical sense, however, he adheres closely to what may be called history : that is, we have far too much of historical dealing with public events, with very little of those private incidents and passions which constitute the interest of romance. A person who knew nothing of the last days of Constantinople may get a much fuller account of it than any- where else, as well as of the private thoughts and confidential dis- course of the parties engaged according to the notions of Captain Spencer; but he will not find very much of what is meant by romance.

A novel, however, was not the sole aim of our author, but some- thing of much greater extent and importance. He is very averse to the Turks historically and actually ; equally averse to the Rus- sians; who, he intimates with some truth, occupy a position simi- lar to that of the Turks in the days of Mahomet the Second : he would therefore set up a Greek empire. Alas, alas, Captain, what do you say of the Greek kingdom ? and why should the Greeks, who are a minority, domineer as a people over the Bul- garians, Moldavians, Wallachians, or as religionists over the Armenians and other Oriental Christians ?