6 MARCH 1880, Page 17

GREENE FERNE FARM.* THIS kindly little book may be taken

to define conclusively its author's limitations as a writer. As a work of art—whether novel, story, tale, or romance—it is absolutely non-existent. We observe that none of the above designations are appended to the title, and this is, perhaps, intended to be accepted as an indication that Mr. Jefferies has no ambition to be looked upon as a purveyor of fiction. He has already become widely and favourably known as the author of the Gamekeeper at Home, and other productions of that class, and his present venture can be pronounced a success only in so far as it adheres to the same lines. It is full of thoughtful and accurate descriptions of the face of nature and of still-life. It also contains portraits of rustics and other people, which, as mere portraits, have more or less resemblance to reality, especially the rustics. Nay, many of the remarks of the latter appear, so far as one may judge, dialectically and sentimentally correct. It is only when the figures begin to move, to brush together, to develope, to attempt anything approaching to dramatic action, that the incorrigible " thinness " begins. It is a side of life which Mr. Jefferies so evidently cares nothing about, that one cannot help being amused at his perfunc- tory pretence of caring. There was once a Judge who complained of the difficulties of his position, on the ground that he would have found no trouble in making his decision, so long as only the counsel for the plaintiff was allowed to speak ; but that as soon as the counsel for the defendant began, he was all at sea. Mr. Jefferies gets on capitally so long as everybody stands still, so long as Mr. Jefferies confines himself to certain detached observations which Mr. Jefferies' ears may have actually heard ; but no sooner do his people launch out into extended dialogue, and compli- cated play of purpose, than their historian loses his breath and his self-possession, and is presently fain to betake himself to his fields and his forests once more,—to solace himself with the perfume of the pines, the hues of the morning sky, the flight of swallows, the monotonous," lousing" splash of the mill-race, and such-like matters. With these he is at home, and few know better than he how to make the reader at home with him. His descriptions are, however, less remarkable for breadth and comprehensiveness than for curious minuteness and truth ; his observation is as original as it is minute ; and he constantly surprises us in an agreeable way, by telling us unhackneyed facts about familiar objects. He is thoughtful as well as observant ; he philosophises in a gentle strain about the things which he sees, and makes us appreciate what lessons or beauties, other than the merely superficial ones, are contained in them. Picturesque ideas are no less friendly to Mr. Jefferies than picturesque scenes ; he has a good chapter here called "The Nether Millstone," in which he dwells very gracefully on the hard and unsympathetic character of the rich and miserly miller, Andrew Fisher, who has lived ninety years, and seen the graves of all his former acquaintances, rivals, and enemies ; who has done wicked and brutal deeds, who has never had an unselfish or kindly emotion, and who now sits, friendless and

• Greene Ferns Farm. By Richard Jefferies. 1 vol. London; Smith, Elder, and Go, unrepentant, in the old house which has been his and his fore- fathers' for hundreds of years. The lonely and unlamented death of this old reprobate is also well conceived, though the conception is scarcely so completely realised ; but it is an effec- tive touch to make the farm-women, going home in the evening- with their burdens, curtsey to Fisher as they pass the window where he is sitting, not knowing that he has been already for many hours a corpse, " with the glint of the crescent moon upon his eyeball." The evening fog upon the downs, in which Geoffrey and Margaret lose their way, is admirably brought before us ; but the description is too long-drawn-out for so brief a. volume. Mr. Jefferies has humour, too, of an arch and unobtrusive kind, somewhat reminding us, as do several other features of his writing, of the work of a far stronger man,—Thomas Hardy. The chief objection to all this descrip- tive business is, that it makes too constant a demand upon the- reader's attention. Every sentence is something by itself, there is no advancing or culminating sweep of thought. It is a long series of tiny detached pleasures ; they cannot be massed to- gether in a larger aggregate pleasure ; they end by producing a, peculiar kind of weariness. In a book like the Gamekeeper at Home this can hardly be considered a fault, because then we know what we have to expect; and moreover, we do not think of reading it consecutively through, but we dip into it here and there, and having extracted our morsel of sweetness, are content to let the rest go for the present. But when the book purports to be a story, dipping in here and there will not do ; we are bound to find out what the story is, and when we come upon broad tracts of picturesque country scenery, intercalated between what should be interesting episodes of the tale, the unregenerate instinct is simply to pass these over wholesale, whereby all that is really most valuable (in the present volume, at least) is lost.. Mr. Jefferies probably intended to make the human interest in his story just sufficiently strong to give life and variety to the descriptions, but such half-hearted measures are seldom suc- cessful. The " natural " interest in a work of fiction should not only be strictly subordinate to the human interest, but it should be introduced only in so far as it may serve to give the latter additional prominence and significance. Beyond those limits it is an impertinence, though it may be a very pretty one.

Felix, Valentine, Geoffrey, Margaret, and May,—thesa are the names of the nominal heroes and heroines of Greene Perna Farm. But, to our thinking (and, we venture to suspect, to. Mr. Jefferies' thinking also), the really important characters are Ruck and Hedges, Rause and Tummas, Jabez the Shepherd, the lambs and ewes bleating and feeding in the meadows, the cracked bell of the village church ringing, "Ding-ding-dill, dill-ding-dill !" Augustus, the drunken ex-soldier, who, "as a man of experience, slightly unsteady on his own legs," says of two drunken brawlers, whom he separates by thrusting a great double-handled mug between them, "They won't know nothing about it to-morrow morning ;" the morning sky, blue like sapphire, or "like the eye of a lovely woman ;" the hot sun- shine in the hayfield, and the thirsty hayniakers. It is these, at all events, that we remember after the book has been closed ; though, no doubt, Margaret may have been very beautiful to look at, May a charming girl, and the young gentlemen presentable enough in their way. But none of the five are alive, or make any attempt to be so, though Geoffrey comes rather near being killed by the discharge of a shot-gun in the last chapter but one. Mr. Jefferies has really no imagination whatever ; he does not even show a desire to have any. And his characters always have the appearance of wishing to get through thinking about each other and current events, in order to indulge in the only true enjoyment incident to mankind,—contemplation of the, face of Nature. It is commonly considered a disservice to a, work of fiction to analyse its plot ; and we shall make no such analysis in the present instance, partly because of our charitable feelings towards the author, and partly because there is no plot. to analyse. We are not sure, however, that a succinct state- ment of what Messrs. Felix, Valentine, and the rest are sup- posed to do and become might not enhance, rather than diminish, the popularity of Greene Fenix Farm, because its readers would then feel at liberty to devote themselves to the face of Nature with an untroubled spirit, and to let the heroes and heroines alone.. Let us have as many more Ganwkeepere at Home and Amateur Poachers as Mr. Jefferies pleases to give us, but no more hybrida like the present.