Page images
PDF
EPUB

* Farina,' like 'Shagpat,' is a grotesque travesty of romance and passion, where, as we are hurried along in the fantastical changes of moods, we scarcely know when to sinile or be serious. It is a travesty of the legends of the feudal Rhine, and of the guilds of the wealthy cities of the Empire. Making every allowance for comedy or caricature, the mediæval life is marvellously vivid. Farina’rises to the sublimity of momentous single combat between the embodied spirit of Evil and the saintly champion of the Church, as when the Archangel Michael contended with the Devilamid lightnings and storm on the summit of the Drachenfels ; and it drops and ends in the comical bathos of distilling the eau de Cologne which made the fortune of the first of the Farinas. Extravagant as the story is, and as it is meant to be, it is nevertheless a spirited and natural piece of writing. There are sundry of these delightful love-passages in which Meredith excels: there are the feats of wild chivalry and reckless adventure, that fire the blood as we follow them, although they go beyond the limits of the credible. The young author, evidently fresh from a tour on the Rhine, before the broad and flowing' river had been defaced by the industrial prosperity which he would despise and detest, had transferred the bright local colouring to his canvas. He conjures up the mediæval Cologne, the Northern Rome for its sanctity, the Northern Venice for its commerce, where the chimes of its hundred churches, dedicated to obscure saints and mythical martyrs, echoed the thunders of the peal from the minster, when pilgrims from all Northern Europe laid their tributes at the venerated shrine of the Three Kings. There are the narrow streets, gloomy at noonday, overshadowed by the Gothic gables of houses that at night become so many civic fortresses. Notwithstanding the rapacity of baronial robbers, the great merchants of the flourishing city had been accumulating wealth. Gottlieb von Groschen, the father of the lovely heroine, had bought, like the Fuggers, the favour of the Emperor by free-handed lending on slight security. His buffet is overburdened with silver and gold; his cellars are stocked with the choicest vintages from the sunny slopes of Worms to the castlecrowned Bacharach, and the daughter who is to inherit his wealth is a paragon of matchless beauty. What more need be asked to suggest illustrative situations? Feudal tyrants and their fierce retainers are set upon the maiden and her wealth, and they succeed in spiriting her away to a fortress in the volcanic uplands of the Eiffel. There is hot pursuit; the beauty is sought and brought back before her purity has been sullied. Superstition and supernatural interposition, and secret passages are all brought into play, to inake the most extravagant of the episodes somewhat less incredible. That may all be said to be de jeu, and though Mr. Meredith's romance runs often into rhodomontade, we still maintain that · Farina' is excellent in its manner, and, what is more to our present purpose, is natural and pleasing in style. Mr. Meredith excels in delicately touching off attractive women, though he will injure his first taking effects by persistently returning to touch and retouch. But in our opinion he has never presented a more fascinating girl than the fair daughter of Von Groschen. Thank Heaven, she is not too clever, though sprightly and even witty as well as modest and virtuous. But she suns herself in the glow of her own beauty, and in the consciousness of her command of the susceptible hearts of the admirers she dazzles by her charms. There is delightful satire in the overflow of her youthful spirits, and in her mockery of the respectable virgin aunt, who wistfully longs for the love-grapes that are sour. She is always breaking out into songs, which, though not much in themselves, are appropriate and charming in their simplicity. We do not know that Mr. Meredith would select the following as a sample of his best poetry—probably now-a-days it is blemished to him by the sweet simplicity which commends it to our memory and fancy :

• The thrush and the lark and the blackbird,

They taught me how to sing :
And Ó that the hawk would lend his eye,

And the eagle lend his wing!
• For I would view the lands they view,

And be where they have been :
It is not enough to be singing

For ever in dells unseen.' With The Ordeal of Richard Feverel’he took his new departure. It was his first serious piece of English fiction. It is the fruit of profound and deliberate thought, and is full of those flashes of the fancy which, if they do not fail to illuminate the reader, nevertheless put a severe strain on his intellect. Still the novel is in many respects agreeably and intelligibly conventional. There are scenes which strongly appeal to us, and whole chapters which we can comprehend or appreciate with no excessive effort. Yet already there is ample subject for painful meditation, if we are determined to puzzle out the author's innermost meaning. No novelist has been more philosophical or has bestowed more thoughtful labour on his work. As in ‘Diana of the Cross

ways,' there are pregnant extracts from a diary, condensing the experiences of a cynical woman of the world, so here quotations are interspersed from “The Pilgrim's Scrip,' an unpublished volume by a speculative recluse, who would regulate his world on a system. There are epigrams and aphorisms and mystical paradoxes, which may be interpreted by various meanings. As for example, . For this reason so

many fall away from God who have attained to Him; that they cling to Him with their weakness and not their

strength. We select the aphorism at haphazard, and it may be heterodox or orthodox, as we understand it-it is one of the puzzles which Mr. Meredith delights in propounding. Sir Austin Feverel will bring up his only son on

the system, and thence the ordeal which has a tragic termination. Mr. Meredith scatters the gifts of fortune with a careless magnificence worthy of Lord Beaconsfield. Sir Austin, a landowner of the olden time, has boundless wealth which is always increasing, and he pensions or maintains in ample luxury the impecunious members of his family. Mr. Meredith, in his vein of humorous analysis, elaborately describes them all. There is the maimed soldier who consoles himself for the mutilation which has shelved him, with free indulgence in pleasure, keeping up the family credit for hospitality by entertaining his friends in the baronet's deserted mansion in London. There is the dyspeptic making himself at home in the ancestral seat in the country, a worn-out gourmet who endures the torments of Tantalus, whether he tastes or avoids the dishes which would bring terrible retribution on the morrow. Mr. Meredith, who must be surely a bon vivant from the gusto with which he dwells on French cookery and old wine, sympathetically depicts the hesitation of the dyspeptic over the second glass of venerable Madeira. And among the collateral relatives there is Adrian Harley, who had been destined for the Church, although he had never taken orders. He was his eccentric uncle's intellectual favourite : he is the most clever and quick-witted of the family, and like the author's characters, with scarce an exception, they all excel in conversational repartee. Mr. Meredith has given special attention to Adrian, and he is the masculine of the fair heroine of 'the Egoist'-'a dainty rogue in delicate porcelain,' But with his undeniable merits as a figurant in genteel comedy,

icts the french coolvant from om. Mr. M.

we confess we hardly know what to make of him. He is sly, Jesuitical, insidious, and in any commonplace novel we should say he was destined to deeds of stealthy villainy, and very probably intriguing to supplant the heir. Yet Adrian's inveterate spirit of mischief seems rather amiable than malignant; his conceptions of morality are elastic in the extreme, and he looks on with the interest of a dispassionate sage at those juvenile outbreaks which border upon the vicious. But far from doing young Richard any actual injury, he inclines to screen the scrapegrace he encourages.

On the other hand, we see Mr. Meredith in a very different aspect when he deals with ingenuous youth and plain-spoken farmers. His boys are capital, and he is as tolerant of their indiscretions as Adrian Young Richard Feverel is all that the fondest father could desire. He is handsome and highspirited, and naturally frank and generous. Had he been sent to a public school, the novel would never have been written. But his father educates him privately and on the system, and the system which makes him headstrong, selfconfident, and uncandid is answerable for his follies and his fate. He has his shadow and humble worshipper in the son of his father's lawyer, who ultimately, with the consolidation of his character, developes into his staunchest friend. The two boys are delightful, and never more so than when, as we are sorry to say, like Roger, the monk of the 'Ingoldsby • Legends, they get excessively drunk. Mr. Meredith reproduces young Dick's intoxicated babble with inimitable realism, without a touch of vulgarity. The boys go poaching, and though the baronet's domains are wide, they must needs be trespassing on the land of a neighbouring farmer. There is a capital scene when they are caught in flagrant delict by the sturdy farmer Blaize, who metes out terrible justice with his horsewhip in response to the cock pheasant which has been flung in his face. Then there is one of Mr. Meredith's character touches, indicating the dark future of his young hero, which seems as yet so bright and promising. His comrade would fill his pocket with stones, and take boyish vengeance from a safe distance. Richard has his full share of the pride of the Feverels, which is to hurry him afterwards to an untimely end, because his indulgent father has, for once, been coldly unforgiving. In his precocious vindictiveness he resorts to an act of revenge which brings him within reach of the law, and constrains him, sorely against his will, to ask grace of the outraged farmer. That is one of those telling

situations in which Mr. Meredith is admirable, wrought out with equal humour and power, and bringing out in strong relief the characters of the persons concerned. The hot-tempered but jovial farmer, mollified by the baronet's advances, is willing to forgive; but he insists on each word of the apology stipulated for. The proud boy wellnigh chokes over the humble pie; nor would fear of consequences have induced him to swallow it had he not stood convicted by shame and conscience.

And Mr. Meredith, when it pleases him to make them simple and unaffected, can paint women to the life, and make them strangely fascinating. He has the sense of beauty strongly developed, and no subject excites him more passionately. He knows how women may be wooed and won, according to their several moods and temperaments. Alive to the beauties of Nature as he is to the beauty of woman, he grasps and harmonises appropriate surroundings with his instincts of deep poetic feeling. There are three fair candidates for Richard's hand or affections. One who has been reared under his roof is regarded with the familiarity which breeds indifference. She is doomed to love and suffer in silence. Another, who is amusingly outspoken, is so much of a tomboy that he almost forgets her sex, and in any case would have stopped at good fellowship. But his heart has already been taken by storm by the third, and it is no wonder. Lucy, the niece of Farmer Blaize, is enchanting, and the looks that dazzle are the least of her seductions. Mr. Meredith works this girl into a noble woman, through an ordeal more severe than that of Feverel. The pair meet in comically romantic fashion on the banks of the Thames, where Richard chivalrously rescues her from nothing worse than wet shoes. We extract some of the most striking passages to do justice to the natural Mr. Meredith :

When Nature has made us ripe for love, it seldom occurs that the Fates are behindhand in furnishing a temple for the flame.

'Above green-flashing plunges of a weir, and shaken by the thunders below, lilies golden and white were swaying at anchor among the reeds. Meadow-sweet hung from the banks, thick with weeds and trailing bramble, and there also hung a daughter of earth. Her face was shaded by a broad straw bat with a flexible brim, that left her lips and chin in the sun, and, sometimes nodding, sent forth a light of promising eyes. Across her shoulders and behind flowed large loose curls, brown in shadow, almost golden where the ray touched them. On a closer inspection you might see that her lips were stained. This blooming young person was regaling on dew.berries. . . . The little skylark

« PreviousContinue »