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sweet and happy lights of the most modern culture, he struck once more the keynote of the old folk lore, infusing modern harmonies into the work. Children read for the sake of the old key-note, the nursery tale music, while older folk read for the sake of the second or inner meaning. It is greatly to be wished that writers who cannot follow in his steps, would leave this kind of writing alone. Cynicism for the nursery we have had in great abundance, and the majority of adult readers are as ready for the brummagem article as for the real product. They are, necessarily, in too much haste to distinguish ; their palates have not been cultivated up to the point of discrimination ; and yet, when challenged with their incapacity, they can easily ride off upon the plea that these are matters of taste.
The writings of Mrs. Gatty and her daughter, of Mr. Allingham, and one or two others, have had a powerful effect in directing public taste into right channels in these matters.
In the article in Household Words from which we have quoted, Mr. R. H. Horne took to some of the old nursery tales objections which we think were fantastic. He complained that they had in them so much fighting and slaughter. His essay opened indeed by quoting the well-known jest of Whately, that persecution was taught even in the nursery :
“Old Daddy Longlegs
Wouldn't say his prayers ;
And throw him down stairs."
But this remark was a jest—at least we hope so, for the credit of Whately's per. spicacity. There are nursery tales in which, the symbolic or mythological meaning being obscured, there seems to be injustice or cruelty; for instance, “ Jack the Giant Killer" seems, we say, to the adult who pauses to analyze the narrative; but we should be very much surprised to see a child who received any moral idea, one way or the other, from a nursery rhyme. A story like that of "Jack and the Bean. stalk " is not like a police report. The whole thing is too remote for moral suggestion of any kind. It is quite unnecessary to explain to a child that the Giant's harp means the Wind, or that all such stories are myths of the conquest of man over the wild forces of Nature. It would spoil the fun. When you begin by sending a boy up a bean-stalk to kill a giant, the whole business is taken so far out of the range of common things that you need not fear your little boy will steal sweetstuff because Jack carried off the harp, any more than that he will kill his uncle because, in another tale,
“To finish Jack's story
Of slaughtering glory,
Jack sent to the dead,
For he cut off his head,
A child thinks of the killing of a giant as an adult thinks of the killing of a tiger. And what harm ?
The precise reform which the writer in Household Words looked forward to has not yet come about, nor will it come. And no extensive reform of any kind can be expected till the majority of parents are more cultivated, not to say till they have by nature higher qualities of mind and heart to begin with. As it happens, the best things that have been done in this department of literature have originated with certain publishers who have rather felt for a market than waited for one. There is now a fair quantity of really good children's writing; but of course there is still more which is bad or indifferent. With two or three exceptions, all the periodicals for the very young are tracts—they are not literature at all. The selection of topics is carried forward upon the coarsest and most obvious principles. The vanity of the young people is deliberately pandered to, and that of their parents too, for that matter. Not the slightest account is taken of the fact that the child ceases to be delightful either to himself or his elders if you take away the innocence and the unconscious humour. The humour of this sort of writing is, nearly all of it, conscious and deliberate. More than half of it, indeed, turns upon matters which have no existence for any human being that does not read newspapers and novels. It is actually thought proper for children to talk about the “upper ten thousand ;” to call a mother "a maternal parent;" or to use phrases such as “that respected individual.” Cynical turns of thought, such as even no man of the world under thirty can understand, are thought fit for little girls of eight or nine. As for the innocence—the happy innocence—what becomes of it? In these tract-periodicals the children are taken to the very threshold of crime, and over it; not incited to it, of course, but made to think about it, and about human misery in general. Pictures and stories of the wretchedness of the back slums of cities—tales which run through long records of sordid sufferingare thought proper for these rosebuds of our homes, if the writing be only sprinkled thick with pseudo-evangelical allusions. Add some contemptible verses, and some still more contemptible Scripture conundrums, and your child's magazine is complete. But it is not literature.
Except within a certain narrow circle, children's books of late years do not come under these precise condemnations; though many of them are quite bad enough on other grounds. The series to which we now introduce the reader are admirable. Mrs. O'Reilly's books belong to a school which may be said to represent the genteel comedy of children's literature-a school which has greatly flourished of late years. The scenes are laid for the most part amid the life of the classes who are well-to-do; there is no violent pathos, as indeed there ought not to be; there is no farce, or burlesque, which also is objectionable in writing intended for the young, and unwelcome to little readers: the general effect is pleasant and picturesque; the key is not pitched too high for quite ordinary purposes; the innocent prejudices of society are allowed free play in the stories ; common motives of action, such as love of praise and want of energy, are not treated harshly; and there is a perpetual succession of small incident and natural chit-chat. Of course, in writing for the young, a great deal that is welcome in the “society” novel can find no place, while simplicity and innocent humour must take up much room, to say nothing of the tenderness. Good books for children must, so to speak, be always within hail of our deepest affections. But, allowing for these points, there is much in the pleasant little tales of Mrs. O'Reilly and the school in which she is a skilled mistress, to remind one of Mr. Trollope. Something similar -to take another instance-might be said of the admirable stories of Mrs. J. H. Ewing, though this must be read with the exclusion of work like “The Brownies.” The matter of Mrs. Ewing is, besides, more closely packed than that of Mrs. O'Reilly.
But it is scarcely possible, we think, to read “ Cicely's Choice” without thinking of Mr. Trollope. It is an adn oly natural and pleasing story of a half-spoilt young lady, who, in a dependent position, had, at sixteen years of age, her girlishly haughty notions of making herself independent of the help of her friends. The first chapter, in which we are introduced to the two leading characters, Cicely and Aunt Joan, is the very model of an easy opening. There is no formal laying of the cloth ; no set statement of any problem to come; and yet it is all there; so that when you get to the end, you look back, and feel that it was “all there” from the first.
FORMER volume of sermons by Mr. Page Roberts having gone through four editions and been warmly received in quarters as far apart as the Westminster
Review, the Nonconformist, the Church Herald, and the Spectator, one naturally expects a new volume from the same pen to be worth more than casual attention. In point of fact, these are very good sermons, simple, forcible, saturated with the results of recent culture, not over the heads of ordinary hearers, and, last not least, short. The sermons now before us were, with two exceptions, delivered to country audiences. The keynote of the discourse on "Revivalism" which was delivered at Westminster Abbey, is pitched no higher than that of the others: which says much for the preacher's command of his material and manner. The first sermon in the book, preached at Stowmarket, is upon “Evolution ;” and there is perhaps not one of them, which would have been entirely applicable in, say, the time of Paleyso great is the change which has come over our ways of looking at sacred things and speaking of them! Mr. Page Roberts appears to be a very liberal theologian, but very decidedly a Churchman-as may be seen at a glance from his discourse entitled, “ The King's Highway.”
Here is a short passage which will very well exemplify the directness and simplicity of the preacher's manner :
“Yes, you believe that God sees you every moment, and that every moment you are in his power. But what difference does that belief make to you? Does it stop you from an unfairness in the shop or market, or on the exchange, when that unfairness will bring gain ? A man would be sorry for his friends to think that he cheated or lied, but he does not care that God sees him and that He knows the pretence to the uttermost. There is no use in talking of his faith, he believes in vain.
“Again, we all believe that we are created by God to live for evermore, and that our future life will be the natural result of this; in other words, that God will render to every man according to his deeds. There are few men here, few men anywhere, who do not believe such simple, such elementary truths as these. But we act as though we did not believe in it at all, we act as though we believed that in death we come to our final resting-place. We believe that we are passing on quickly to the new and eternal world, and that each day is doing something to make our happiness or misery in that world--and yet we toy and play, idle and pass time, and are sometimes ennueyed to death ; or we work, and degrade, and descend, till all noble sentiments have perished out of our nature, until the bell tolls, and there is a solemn funeral for one who has believed in vain. Better believe one thing in reality than a thousand things in vain. And it may be, in the last great day of definition, the despised Deist, who believing in God has sought as best he could to serve Him, may find it more tolerable then than he who on every Sunday cried
Lord ! Lord !' but believed in vain, because he did not the things which Christ spake unto him.”
Certainly, there is no beating about the bush here. The most cultivated hearer finds nothing to complain of in the language used: the most ignorant can follow it. In what direction volumes like those of Mr. Page Roberts find their largest circulation we do not happen to know; but such discourses must make very useful models for young and inexperienced preachers who have brains, honesty of purpose, and a hatred of affectation.
It is to be hoped, however, that young and inexperienced preachers will not, by reading these or similar discourses, be tempted to go out of their depth or beyond
Reasonable Service. By W. Page Roberts, M.A., Vicar of Eye, Suffolk, Author
and God.” London: Smith, Elder, & Co.
their range. The simplicity of manner which Mr. Page Roberts so successfully cultivates is a good thing when united with information and command of principles. But it would be a very infelicitous result if inferior preachers were led to fancy that it is an easy, thing to deal as Mr. Page Roberts does with Comte and Tyndall in the pulpit: keep within sight of the least instructed hearer and yet never offend the most cultivated. It may well be added that the gift of taking up topics of the day and yet retaining the true keynote of the sermon is a very rare one. Those who have not the self-control of Mr. Page Roberts should not be in haste to attempt what he has done so well.
THE SHADOW OF THE SWORD. *
\HE time has gone by for reviewing Mr. Buchanan's Romance, and it is not
in these pages that any general sketch of its plan will be sought for. But
it need not, for all that, be passed over, without any attempt at a judgment of its claims as a work of art, or any word as to its moral scope.
“The Shadow of the Sword,” though it took its place among the novels of the year, is a "Romance,” and is altogether an exceptional book. It is a storyfounded, we learn by a side-note, upon real characters and real incidents,— a story of a Breton fisherman, Rohan, and his sweetheart, Marcelle, whose courtship and betrothal befall in the midst of the great Napoleonic wars. We think that, as a prose romance, it is a mistake. Mr. Buchanan has, or had, theories of his own about prose and poetry, and the superior possibilities of rhythm which lie folded up in the former. Admiring readers will say that he has by his practice done something to discredit his theory; and we do very distinctly maintain, recalling the well-known Miltonic phrase, that the poet has written this book with his left hand. It is so written that we feel what the power of the right hand must be ; but lefthanded work it is—an exercise-a passing effort (for the effort is visible) of a man of genius, and no more.
Those who have read the book will best know what high praise this is. The conception is so fine, and the descriptive passages are so powerful, that one cannot help feeling that hardly anything is too much to look for from such a writer, if he can only concentrate himself. He knows, better than reviewers can tell him, the natural limitations of prose story-telling; he may like something craggy to break his mind upon ; but, after all, there is no use in dissipating strength; and though Mr. Buchanan may have reasons for using his left hand rather than his right, he can have none that are good, if his right hand would serve his purpose equally well. As a poet he is always effective, and often great; but as a story-teller in prose he is, with all his splendour and pathos, a somewhat washed-out copy of -himself.
The general burthen of the story is probably known to most of our readers. Mr. Emerson has told us something that happened one day when he was out on a visit with Mr. Carlyle. Mr. Carlyle inquired, after dinner, if he could quote to them any American idea? Thus challenged, writes Mr. Emerson, I bethought me neither of court, cacus, nor newspaper (we quote from memory), but unfolded, as I was able, the great doctrine of no-government and non-resistance, and obtained a kind of hearing for it. I fancied, he adds, that one or two of my anecdotes produced some impression upon Mr. Carlyle. Sancta simplicitas! But Mr. Buchanan's hero, Rohan, like Mr. Emerson's, thinks a man too noble a creature to be butchered;
* The Shadow of the Sword. A Romance. By Robert Buchanan. Three volumes. London : Richard Bentley and Son. 1876.
flies the conscription for conscience sake; is branded as a coward for it; and up to the end of the romance is a broken, unwed man, though not lonely, for Marcelle is with him. What Mr. Carlyle or even Mr. Emerson would say to the appearance of such a book in the very midst of the massacres in the East we cannot guess. But we can confidently inform the reader that if, upon the word of any review of this romance (and we have seen such reviews), he believes that Rohan is a coward, he is wofully misled. He is not a coward but a hero, and we shall be surprised if at some distant day Mr. Buchanan does not paint him over again—with his right hand. More strength to his arm when he does so !