16 OCTOBER 1880, Page 16


Tins is a novel which no one can read without pleasure. In plot, in treatment, and as regards most of the characters, it is almost devoid of faults. The least admirable things about it are its title, which stops, as it were, with a rising inflection,. which is yet not an interrogative one ; and the character of the nominal hero, a vague, bilious, aristocratic young gentleman, who would not eat his cake when he might have done so, and who, when he made the discovery that the republicanism of condescension is a very different matter from the republicanism of necessity, vindicated his injured self-importance by attending, in full evening dress, a mass-meeting of corduroyed communists,. and there giving the lie to his former master in social philo- sophy, Spears, the demagogue. Mr. Paul Markham's reality is lost in his cantankerousness ; and our chief cause for regretting the castigation which overtakes him, is due to the fact that there is not flesh-and-blood enough about him to encourage- the belief that it hurt him much. It is difficult to draw- blood from an abstraction. In order to clear the ground at once of all debateable subjects, and leave a free field for the expression of the comfort this novel has afforded us, be it remarked here that the portrait of the above- mentioned Spears, though painted with evident pains and con- siderable incidental success, strikes us as, upon the whole, nu- lifelike. Why are fictitious demagogues so often possessed of rugged features, and an expression varying between sternness and kindliness ? We have a recollection of a certain president of a Trades Union in Mr. Charles Reade's novel,—Put Yourself in His Place, who seemed to us more like the real thing. How- ever, Spears, if not wholly real in himself, is the occasion of the display of much charming reality in others ; and he might be a. good deal worse than he is, and still remain tolerable. When we have added that the book contains a fair amount of intelli- gent and readable padding, chiefly in the guise of a running analysis of and commentary upon the sayings and doings of the characters, which scarcely require elucidation, we shall have exhausted the catalogue of our complaints.

The plot of the story, if not novel in its essential fea- tures, is made interesting by the manner in which it is de- veloped, and by numberless little incidental refinements and devices. It has a mystery in it, but not a harrow- ing or portentous mystery,—in fact, one foresees very early in the story what the general course of things is likely to be ; but the charm of the tale is enhanced rather than dimin- ished by this transparency, because we are constantly called upon to admire the simplicity, naturalness, and dexterity where- with the successive complications are introduced and unravelled.. The idea of introducing, out of a clear sky, a claimant to an estate the inheritance of which was supposed to be as settled as the succession of the seasons, is not unknown to novelists ; but to make the disinherited gentleman deserve his fate by the whimsical and empty perversity of his own disposition is a, delightful stratagem, and renders the good-humour of the reader imperturbable through all vicissitudes. Again, the, honesty, simplicity, and mingled gentleness and firmness of the " little gentleman " who represents the disturbing element in the tale, is a most happy variation upon the conventional treatment in such cases. And Mr. Paul's love-affair (if such a. name may be applied to it) is ingeniously contrived to sound as accompaniment to the prevailing sentiment of the story, and at the same time to humiliate the objectionable persons, and to. gratify the well-disposed ones.

• He That Will Not When He May. By Mrs. Oliphant. 3 vela. London:. Maur aulllan and Co. Of the last-named, there is an unusually large number, and wenre undecided as to whether the fascinations of Lady Mark- hark or of Sir Gus are the more irresistible. Lady Markham is certainly one of the most agreeable acquaintances we have met with in fiction, and there is nothing said of her, or that she says and does, that is not true and in character. She is a lovely, slender, sensitive woman, who is exquisitely polite by instinct, but not the less tremulously staunch and valiant upon occasion, —noble-minded herself, and sure to call forth and to sympa- thise with the latent nobility of others. Her perfect manners, in which is not a vestige of stiffness or insincerity, but which are the genuine and unconscious manifestation of her nature, are everywhere made to tell throughout the book, without ex- aggeration or apparent effort on the author's part. Very few contemporary novelists could either conceive or delineate such a lady as this. All her little ways and traits are lovingly and humorously portrayed. The morning after her first interview with Spears, who has puzzled and disturbed her not a little by his republican unceremoniousness, she came down to break- fast with a cap, "a thing which she only wore when she was out of sorts,—a kind of signal of distress." In the third volume, when Mrs. Lenny tells her the story of Sir William's first wife (of whose existence Lady Markham had been ignorant until after the baronet's death), "she listened with a strange feeling that she was herself the girl who was being talked of, who had died so young." This is a touch un- surpassed for delicacy and insight. But the book has many such. Lady Markham is the mother of six children, of whom the four younger ones are described as no one else, except, per- haps, Jean Ingelow, can describe children. Their character- istics are as distinct as they are true ; and the observations they make aid in no small degree our understanding and apprecia- tion of the grown people. They call Sir Gus " the little gentle- man," and the little gentleman he remains to us thenceforth. Roland did not dance so well as his brother Harry, because he was "generally thinking of something else ;" Bell was brighter than Mary (whose name was pronounced " Marie," with a strong accent on the last syllable), and was accustomed frankly to allude to her own cleverness and personal beauty, which she made the standard of those qualities in her friends. An im- portant member of the Markham family is old Brown, the butler, who, although no more obtrusive in the book than he was in reality, is so utterly and convincingly the genuine Eng- lish butler of the best class, in his speech, in his reflections, in his acuteness, in his conscientiousness, and in his deference, that he absolutely stands out from the pages, and does not seem to be written about at all. The subtle but un- mistakable differences between him and young Charles, the footman, who, when inspecting with Brown the dusty port- manteau of the, as yet, unrecognised Colonel Lenny, wants to know, " Is all the beggars coming on visits P I ain't a-going to wait on another, not if my wages was doubled !" are set forth with unerring accuracy. As for the Colonel, whom the children call " poor gentleman," in recognition, probably, of his bronzed and elderly but genial and winning appearance, he is a most enjoyable type of an old West-Indian soldier, as simple and as

courteous as Colonel Newcome himself, and neither so proud nor so hot-tempered. These are mere sketches, but they are worth more than many finished portraits. Mrs. Lenny, lean, brown, impulsive, and good-hearted, with a certain feminine manliness and self-sufficiency, the result of many years' cam- paigning and knocking about the world, is scarcely less attrac- tive than her husband. She arrives at Markham in a con- spicuous pink bonnet; her only luggage is a moderate hand-bag, but this is found to contain a wonderful and economical "evening body," which she wears at dinner. She artlessly

explains to Lady Markham, the most perfectly and unob- trusively dressed woman in the world, how great a saving of trouble and expense this evening body is, "made with good

black silk. It costs a little more at the time, but what does that matter ? And there you are, both for morning and even- ing, quite set up." "It is a very admirable plan, 1 am sure," Lady Markham said, with great seriousness, checking, with a look, the laugh that was in Alice's eyes. Could anything be more humorous than this idea of poor dear Mrs. Lenny being "very kind after dinner," and explaining her simple artifice to her hostess, by way of giving her a lesson !

But after all, perhaps the character who dwells most plea- santly in the memory is that of the resolute, honourable, quaint, affectionate "little gentleman," who is the real hero of the

book. His small stature, his large dignity, his polite curiosity, his combined self-assertion and self-abnegation, his slender brown hands; his attire, perfectly neat and unexceptionable, but lighter than the average English garments, and hot following the prevailing cut ; his extreme sensibility to the harshness of the English climate, his dolorous incompatibility with tradi- tional English habits, his devotion to the children, and his funny little love-making episode,—all these things render him irresistibly dear to us. He is quite original, too ; at least, we do not know where to look for his fellow in modern fictitious literature. His whole attitude and situation in the story are almost pathetically humorous, and yet we are always more• inclined to respect him than to smile at him. He comes over to England expecting a cordial reception, and somewhat to his dismay he finds himself forced by circumstances into the rae of a smouldering bomb-shell, whose mere existence threatens the happiness of the people he most wished to please. It is all expressed in this touching, yet arch paragraph, in the third volume :—" When dinner was over, and Mr. Brown, with his too. observant eyes, was got rid of, the forlorn little stranger, who was the new baronet, the conqueror, the master of the situa- tion, could almost have wept, so lonely and left out did he feel."

But we must deny ourselves the pleasure of lingering longer among these charming people to whom Mrs. Oliphant has in-• troduced us, and surrender her book to our readers. In the course of the story, some allusion is necessarily made to the existing contest between poverty and wealth, and the statement of both sides of the question is fair and equable, without being in the least exhaustive or argumentative. The aristocratic: party are left in rather the better situation of the two. As a whole, the current of the tale flows pellucidly and smoothly along, amidst scenery which is always pleasing, but never striking, impressive, or terrible. There are no vivid colours, nor startling situations, no passionate episodes. In fact, the• story is almost too intensely English—English of the higher and-more refined class, where mental and moral agitations are educated into harmlessness—it is even more English, we mean to say, than it is illustrative of human nature in general. Such people, such events, are to be found nowhere else than in Eng- land; they are the result and expression of centuries of English civilisation. Mrs. Oliphant has written so much, that she is almost too completely mistress of her art; we find in her none of the struggles and flashes, the whims and the fire, of tumultuous genius labouring to achieve expression. Her book is a calm and harmonious reflection, not a picturesque and im- passioned creation. She writes from the fullness of experience, with the mastery of methods. She has no cause to plead, no wrongs to right, no spite to gratify, but only a story to tell; And we do not know where to look among her sister-novelists for any one who could—considering all things—have told it so• well.