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promote holiness and obedience to the haustible sense of humor, — and humor, love of God, — these were the real too, of a rare and delightful quality; matters that filled her mind. Even an never trite, still less rollicking, but fine earthly mother, more nobly occupied, and dry and debonair, — the humor could not be expected to pronounce if which tickles quietly, curling the lip of this toy were good or not, if this game the reader with an unconscious smile of was or was not to be pursued. And gratification, while rarely moving him what were all these varying affairs of to positive laughter. Mrs. Oliphant is the world, the poor illusions of political not exactly witty ; and her personages life, the excitements of the moment, but never talk epigrams, – that is to say, toys and games, in comparison with that her clever personages never do. Her vast and wise supervision of interests so fools, who are only less numerous and much greater, to which day and night, precious than Miss Austen's own, are through all vicissitudes of time, through involuntarily epigrammatic sometimes, revolution and quiet, through peace as when Miss Dora Wentworth, the and war, she gave her high attention ? youngest and softest of the three oldSome such lofty ideal conception as maid sisters, who played so important a this seized upon the mind of Lacordaire. part in the fortunes of that distinguished When we consider that it was he who family, learned, with pale dismay, that suggested the pilgrimage, it is easy to her strong - minded and overbearing conceive what his rapid conviction of its elder had succumbed, for the first time inappropriateness must have cost him. within the memory of man, to the pitiHe was startled, touched, awed, by his ful weakness of a nervous headache. discovery. A mother, in such circum- “I should n't wonder if it were the stances, may not always be guarded in Wentworth complaint,' said Miss Dora, her expressions, - may send the impor- with a sob of fright, to the increased tunate child away hurriedly and even indignation of the squire. barshly, in her preoccupation : but that “*I have already told you that the preoccupation is more than an excuse ; Wentworth complaint never attacks fe it is a sublime and overwhelming an- males,' Mr. Wentworth said, emphaticswer to all possibilities of objection.” ally, glad to employ what sounded like
The same qualities which are so fine- a contem uous title for the inferior ly exemplified here give animation and interest to Mrs. Oliphant's Historical “ « Yes, oh yes!' said Miss Dora, Sketches of the Reign of George II., from whom an emergency so unexand of the literati of a century ago in pected had taken all her little wits ; England. They are inevitably present but then Leonora is — not — exactly also in the little book on the Makers what you would call a — — female.'" of Florence, Dante, Giotto, Savonarola, There is, in fact, a strong family likealthough the latter was much too hur- ness between Mrs. Oliphant's humor riedly prepared, and is, upon the whole, and Miss Austen's. They get the same the least accurate and satisfactory of her sort of mildly malicious amusement out historical essays.
of the more obvious incongruities of life Now this interior method in the and character, have the same quick eye study of human character, this process for the manifold humors of situation. of sympathetic divination, which has There is nothing in Pride and Prejumade Mrs. Oliphant at once so inter- dice, or in Emma, more intrinsically deesting and so just a biographer, is one licious than the conception of the exuof the two main elements of her success berant self-devotion of Lucilla Marjorias a novelist. The other is an inex- banks, the “ object of whose life" it was
“to be a comfort to her dear papa,” new parish, - if only he could have the while that matter-of-fact gentleman lady there to help him. dreaded above all things else, and stout- “You have just said that I could ly resisted to the last gasp, her invasion not manage,' said the mild woman, not of the comfortable and irresponsible without a little vigor of her own, and bachelor existence into which he had how then could I help you, Mr. Proctor? lapsed during his widowerhood. Or than Lucy knows a great deal more about Phæbe Junior, — that type of the mod- parish work than I do,' she went on, ern young person who has enjoyed “ad- in a lower tone; and for one half vantages,” too broadly cultured and per- second there awoke in the mind of the fectly self-poised ever to be ashamed of elder sister a kind of wistful envy of her grandfather the butterman, — calm- Lucy, who was young and knew how ly and critically surveying in the mirror to manage, a feeling which died in her own blooming cheeks, and study- unspeakable remorse and compunction ing to contrive an evening costume as soon as it had birth. which should “throw her up and tone • But Lucy would not have me,' said her down.” Or than the consternation the late rector, “and indeed I should created in that same inimitable family not know what to do with her, if she circle of the Wentworths, when the in- would have me; but you, - it's a small souciant reprobate Jack, after playing parish, but it is a good living, — I should for some days, with great gusto, the part do all I could to make you comfortable. of repentant prodigal, delivered a grace- At least, we might try," said Mr. Procful farewell address to the assembled tor, in his most insinuating tone. • Don't conclave; informing them that, after the you think we might try? At least, it opportunity he had enjoyed of observing would do'-- he was going to say .no the checks and disappointments and gen. harm,' but on second thoughts rejected eral severity of discipline which they that form of expression. “At least, I seemed to think profitable for the saints should be very glad if you would,' said of the family, he had decided that his the excellent man, with renewed confuown best chance of enjoying any of their sion. It's a nice little rectory, with a good things was to get back to his evil pretty garden, and all that sort of thing; courses as fast as possible, which, ac- and — and I dare say there would be cordingly, he proposed to do.
room for Lucy - Don't you Best of all, perhaps, is the scene in would try?' the Perpetual Curate, where an under- “ As for Miss Wadehouse, she sat and standing is finally established between listened to him until he began to falter, those two awkward and self-conscious and then her composure gave way all at elderly lovers, the Fellow of All • As for trying,' she gasped, in Souls and the helpless fine lady, - who broken mouthfuls of speech, that had been drawn together, at first by a would never, never do, Mr. Proctor! common sense of shame at their inferi- It has to be done for good and all — if ority, in a desperate emergency, to the - if it is done at all,' sobbed the poor collected and efficient young scions of lady. a more practical generation. We take * « Then it shall be for good and all!' space to quote the entire scene, which cried Mr. Proctor, with a sudden imis brief and quite unique in its charm, pulse of energy." amid the voluminous annals of court- Here we have Mrs. Oliphant's huship. The shy old lover had begun mor at what may be called, for the lack warily, by suggesting that he thought he of a nicer term, its broadest ; but she is, might be able to get on very well in his if possible, even more delicately success
ful in portraying that strange mixture which frees her from her husband's merof tragedy and comedy which attends so ciless tyranny. many of the complications of actual life, All these are strange and poignant - griefs which have their absurd side, situations, presenting no end of curious a mocking, tantalizing success, an omi and touching aspects ; impossible to be nous prosperity; that everlasting in- apprehended, even, still less invented, congruity between individuals and their save by an exceedingly penetrating inaccidents, at which one is always uncer- telligence, a soul full of the keenest and tain alike, for one's self and for others, most catholic compassion. If Mrs. Oliwhether to laugh or cry. We have the phant's constructive art were equal to contrast between the knightly soul and her analytic power, she might rank with the sordid surroundings of the proud the few great dramatists of the world. young minister of Salem Chapel. We
We As it is, the fabric of fact and incident, have poor little Mrs. Vincent, meek, which she is so wonderfully competent mild, and fragile, but of indomitable to people with life and inform with vaspirit; full of pious and tender frauds; ried emotion, is often of an extremely trying in vain to screen with her tremu- loose and shaky description. Her peolous old hands, from the prying eyes of ple spring into being by multitudes, -a coarse “connection,” the grim tragedy into breathing, beaming, suffering bein which the fates of her innocent chil. ing. Her own ado is to find some plaudren had become involved; excusing sible occasion for all their joy and sorthe dark and dreadful preoccupation of row, their growth and transformation her son on the ground that he had in and decline ; in short, to make someherited her own bad temper! We have thing adequate happen to her creatures. set over against the majestic and mor- Now and then, as in the case of Zaidee, tal sadness with which Gerald Went- May, The Greatest Heiress in England, worth abjured his faith and renounced and that charming recent story In Trust, his active career the futile flurry of his she contrives a tolerably compact little wife's inconsequent and silly lamenta- plot; but for the most part she is easily tions. We have the hungry and bewil- and blandly indifferent to any such oblidered eyes of Valentine's gypsy moth- gation. Nothivg could be more absurd er turning from one to the other of her than the slight apology for an intrigue twin offspring, — so intimately united, afforded us both in the Perpetual Cuyet so immeasurably sundered, — from rate and in Miss Marjoribanks. We are the lawless tramp upon the country not so much as told what became of roads to the curled darling of fortune Rosa Elsworthy, whose name was so and exultant captain of the Eton crew. preposterously connected with that of We have the grand heroics of Paul the irreproachable young clergyman ; Markham's theoretical communism in while we are flatly informed, at the very connection with the unguessed fate outset, what is to be the upshot of the which is about to strip his young life of disinterested career of that great usurper all the high privileges and beauteous and most amiable of social reformers, refinements which he affects to despise. Lucilla. And yet, none of all Mrs. OliWe have the nervous and forlorn amen- phant's novels, and very few, indeed, of ities of the miserable wife in the Ladies the novels of recent times, will bear reLindores (the brutal domestic tyrant is reading like these two. We speak from the only type of villain whom Mrs. Oli- ample experience; for the hasty yet alphant draws with real gusto); her irre together delightful re-perusal, for which sponsible, yet in some sort sbameless, we have but now so gladly found excuse, transport of gratitude at the stroke must be at least our fourth, and we are beginning to feel qualified to speak for that municipality. These amounted to posterity. Again we are reminded of no less than the invasion of the town Anthony Trollope, and the singular man- by the innumerable sonls of all its dener in which Mrs. Oliphant's achieve- parted citizens, and the expulsion in a ment corresponds with his, and furnishes body of the living, who remained ena sort of complement to it. The former camped without the walls while the suwill live, for a time at least, because he pernatural visitation continued. The has left behind him so truthful a picture event, which occurred at midsummer, of the outer life of his generation, its
was accompanied by a sudden diminumanners and customs and fashions of tion of warmth and sunshine, and a speech and attire ; the latter, because shortening of the daylight hours to less she has delineated no less accurately its than their midwinter duration. To the perplexed and difficult interior life. awe-stricken watchers without the walls Once more, their faults of style are the city appeared enveloped in a dense alike. Both have the diffuseness which cloud or fog, such as M. le Maire has comes of hurry, — Mrs. Oliphant, too understood occasionally smothers the often the extreme wordiness which entire city of London. Nothing can comes of distracting hurry. The pro- surpass the verisimilitude with which lific are almost inevitably prolix. A this strange and powerful conception is true epigram takes almost as long in wrought out.
wrought out. The energy of its first making as a true crystal, and the veri- inspiration never flags. There is not est beginner in composition soon gets a an inconsistent occurrence and hardly a glimpse of the paradox that he who superfluous word in all the thrilling narwould be brief must take a great deal of rative. The French instinct in matters time about it. The writer who is essen- religious, so tender and genuine, though tially an artist will take that time, and so alien to our own, and the French turn be mindful of his own possible glory. of thought as well as expression, are The writer who has other and warmer faultlessly preserved. The subdued and and perhaps wider ends in view does breathless story has just enough, and not vex his righteous soul concerning never too much, of telling and touching “ form,” but far more probably attains detail. Here, for once, the very style his end. It is he, at all events, who has is perfect, in its directness and simplithe ear and the heart of the present pub- city. It is Mrs. Oliphant's highest litlic.
erary achievement; so high, indeed, It remains to say a word concerning that only in retrospect is it possible to the latest and not the least poetic de- regard it critically. It is a sacred poem velopment of the vigorous and many- in prose, and shakes the soul, at the sided talent under discussion. Since first perusal, with almost the force of an 1879 Mrs. Oliphant has published, along actual revelation. with other things in her accustomed Either our author was unexpectedly vein, some half dozen tales and sketches stimulated by the strong sensation of which may be described, collectively, as surprise and admiration created by the studies of the Unseen. The first of Beleaguered City, or the powerful private these, entitled The Beleaguered City, is impulse which produced that impressive altogether the most symmetrical and re- sketch is not yet exhausted; for she has markable. It purports to be the at- proceeded, since then, to make other tested narrative of the maire and sun- studies in the same weird line, all of dry citizens of the town of Semur, in them apparently serious, and some exHaute Bretagne, of a singular series of ceedingly striking. She would seem to events which at one time took place in have been seized with overpowering force by the conviction which, in one This notion, again, is further developed form or another, is persistently haunt- in the pathetic story of Old Lady Mary, ing so many of the more sensitive and whose agonized desire to return to earth visionary spirits of the day, that we and remedy a wrong done in mere heedare near some new 'revelation of that lessness and vanity is granted, indeed, Unseen, which, if it exist at all, must but to no purpose. She finds no effectneeds exist at this present moment of ual way of impressing her message upon time, just as truly as the visible system the living, not even upon the one dear of material things which is about us, survivor most loyally devoted to her and must needs have, moreover, some memory, and goes sadly and submissiveperfectly definite, though as yet undis- ly back to heaven. covered, connection with and relation In the Little Pilgrim, on the other to that system.
hand, an attempt is made to realize the What is the clue to this connection, adventures of a happy spirit, unvisited the master-word of this solemn and im- by any yearning to repass the barriers portunate enigma ?
which have suddenly divided her from If our loved and lost are living, what the land of the living. The reader is are they to one another and to us ? carried on for a little way, but the conNeedless to say that Mrs. Oliphant has ception is overwrought. From an ecstasy not solved this piercing question, but of faith it becomes a mere excursion of she has the air of having made certain fancy, and is the least successful, upon definite and, to her own mind, satisfac- the whole, of the supernatural studies. tory steps toward such a solution. These Finally, Mrs. Oliphant has made yet are clearly enough expressed in the another experiment in the same ghostly words of M. Lecamus, the only citizen direction, of late, in her extraordinary of the Beleaguered City who remained novel of The Wizard's Son, — a book inside among the dead, when the great which, in our opinion, comes so near to body of the living evacuated it: “If positive greatness that the sudden and you will take my word for it, they amazing falling-off in the final chapters know pain as well as joy, M. le Maire, moves one to a species of exasperation.
Those, who are in Semur. They are A very commonplace young Englishman not as gods, perfect and sufficing to falling heir to an ancient and ghost-enthemselves ; nor are they all-knowing cumbered inheritance in the Highlands of and all-wise, like the good God. They Scotland afforded a matchless opportuhope, like us, and desire, and are mis- nity for the calm and candid considerataken, but do no wrong. This is my tion of the relations between the canný opinion. I am no more than other and the uncanny, between the comforts men, that you should accept it without of modern civilization and the venerable support, but I have lived among them, phenomena of second-sight. The story and this is what I think.”
is accordingly conceived in a quaint A further persuasion that the efforts spirit of equal hospitality to the two of the dead to communicate with the sets of influences; and it is most skillliving are made upon their own respon- fully sustained up to the very last, being sibility, without any commission, though made to move smoothly and, so to speak, without prohibition, from the higher pow. naturally along the narrow line between ers, is foreshadowed in the farewell sigh the plainly possible and the theoreticalof one of the last lingering shades, when ly impossible. The human characters the army of souls finally decamps from are as distinct as need be, altogether Semur: “We have failed! Must not such as ourselves, and visited only from all fail who are not sent of the Father ?” time to time by the “ blank misgivings