Page images

he is prompt to respond to the summons. Of two courses he will always choose the more absurd, and any crotchet or rash act has an irresistible charm, if it only sets his interests and common sense at defiance. The object of his early adoration has taken leave of her husband, and a very delicate reason is assigned for the sudden snapping of the ungenial connexion. Matters might have been simplified had the husband had the courtesy to die; and with advancing years and failing strength he might have taken himself away to the other world politely and decorously. But that natural solution would have been too much in accordance with conventional rule. Beauchamp not inconsistently engages himself to a girl whom he may have reason to respect, but never pretended to regard with affection. Possibly be pledges himself out of gratitude to her guardian, who has inoculated him with the visionary doctrines which have marred a promising career. At least, they have so far marred it as to make him a political failure, and an object of ridicule to his friends and relations, although their abilities were infinitely inferior to his own. But otherwise his follies have cost him nothing, so we fail to find a moral or a meaning in his story. For his tragic end was a simple accident, the result of his acting upon one of his habitual impulses; and it was his unfortunate betrothed who was the more to be pitied, though we doubt whether the happiness she had hoped for would have long outlasted the honeymoon.

We have found as little meaning, and certainly less of moral, in Mr. Meredith's last novel. The style is exceptionally involved, and the purpose is phenomenally obscure. As in • One of Our Conquerors,' the main interest in the plot turns upon the false position of an unacknowledged wife. But in the former novel vice was visited by retribution; in

Lord Ormont and his Aminta'the sinners not only escape with impunity, but have coals of fire heaped upon their heads, and are blessed by a victim to whom cursing came naturally, and who was the last man to let injury pass unavenged. If there be a moral, the moral is this: That it is safe to give illicit affection free course, and not only right, but wise to run away with the wife of your benefactor. Matthew Weyburn has no sort of claim to Aminta beyond that of a foolish boyish fancy. If they had a common tie, it was in a sympathetic hero worship. Young Weyburn, who must have been a precocious and rather priggish private schoolboy, bad devoted himself to the study of contemporary military history. He made a personal griev

ance of the wrongs and grievances of Lord Ormont, the brilliant Indian general, who had been misconceived and maltreated by a scurrilous press and an ungrateful country. A strange coincidence makes Weyburn confidential secretary to Lord Ormont. The injured and neglected hero is writing his memoirs, which are to be an indictment of the crass stupidity and gross ingratitude of that lout' the English people. Weyburn admires as much as ever, but he is thrown into familiar relations with the insulted wife. The superficial ice of that frozen statue is melted, and she first betrays herself when she and her old school acquaintance stand together over the death-bed of his mother. When she flies from the stately home and the protection of her chivalrous but egotistical husband, she confides unreservedly in Weyburn, who for the time, to do him justice, does not abuse the trust. They come to un understanding in circumstances which should have cooled or tempered the passion. It is grotesquely characteristic of Mr. Meredith, and yet a delightful bit of extravagant comedy, when the world is well lost for both of them in the waves, as they indulge in a prolonged and epigrammatic tête-à-tête while bathing off the Essex coast. Weyburn's secretaryship has only been an interlude in his fixed life purpose, which was to become the philanthropic principal of an international school. The prelude of a culpable elopement would hardly have seemed a recommendation to parents, but Weyburn actually makes capital out of crime. For the gifted and charming companion of his flight is there to superintend a seminary for young ladies. Weyburn's worldly success in the circumstances is something of a shock to our moral principles, but Lord Ormont's conduct throughout staggers us still more. We should have said that no man was less likely to bend his will to popular prejudice, and having placed a coronet on Aminta's head, why should he hesitate to avow the act? He is robbed of the wife he really adores by the favoured protégé he has admitted to his intimacy; and a chance brings him into contact with the ravisher when the pair who have outraged him were peaceable and prosperous. By all we know of human nature and of this hot-tempered and vindictive soldier, we should look for a terrible outbreak of wrath. A word from him as to their past would suffice to ruin them. We do not pretend to say whether it is from transcendental generosity or sublime contempt, but the fateful word is never spoken. On the contrary, Lord Ormont sends his favourite grandson to be educated and cherished by the vipers w'uo had stung him

When the pair wings him into admitted to his in,

when he had taken them to his bosom. What is the mean. ing of it all ? we ask again, as we have to ask so often in attempting the interpretation of these novels. As the mystic of fiction, Mr. Meredith takes precedence before Browning, the mystic of poetry, as in the eccentric contortions of his style he far surpasses Carlyle. To the last, and after conscientious and scrutinising study, we dare hazard no conjecture as to whether he thinks in the dialect he has originated or does his work in ordinary English, translating as he goes along. We believe that most brilliant writers yield to the fascination of their own fictions, and that their enjoyable abstraction among the creations of their fancy sweetens the intellectual toil, and repays them for physical exhaustion. But we feel inclined to pity Mr. Meredith for the self-imposed and intolerable strain which turns to incessant tours de force what might be pleasant diversions in light literature. And when criticism concerns itself with a man of his calibre, it is impossible to avoid an uneasy consciousness that the fault may be ours if we have not adequately appreciated the genius we have cordially recognised. For undoubtedly the man must be extraordinarily gifted who by persevering determination has asserted a position which makes it a fashion to profess some familiarity with his novels among triflers who, if they cared to read, could have scarcely a glimmer of their meaning.

ART. III.-State Papers relating to the Defeat of the Spanish

Armada, anno 1588. Edited by John Knox LAUGHTON, M.A., R.N. Printed for the Navy Records Society.

2 vols. London: 1894. THESE volumes compose the first publication of a society

which has undertaken a task in the prosecution of wbich it deserves to be encouraged by every patriotic British subject. The Navy Records Society, as we learn from its prospectus, has been established for the purpose of printing rare or unpublished works of naval interest, and aims at rendering accessible the sources of our naval history. The general indifference of English historical writers, especially those of our own age, to naval affairs has aroused the astonishment of foreigners. It may be stated with confidence that in no maritime country in the world has less attention been paid to the naval side of the national history than in our own. This has not been always, if ever, due to a want of sympathy with the actors in the great inaritime drama which has for its dénouement the British Empire as we now see it. The illustrious writer whose loss we are still mourning-Professor J. A. Froude—was not only an enthusiastic admirer of the deeds of English seamen: he was also passionately attached to the sea, and had no mean practical knowlege of seamanship himself. More than any other Englishman he has spread abroad amongst his countrymen a knowledge of the deeds of the Elizabethan seamen, amongst whom were the men whose share in the great events of 1588 is described, in many cases by themselves, in these two volumes. Whatever charges of inaccuracy or want of precision may be made against him, no one can deny that he used his admirable power of dramatic presentation to make these worthies live again for his contemporaries, and that his inimitably pellucid style reached no higher point than when it was employed in narrating or commenting on their exploits.

Notwithstanding this, our naval history has not received, at the hands of our own fellow-subjects at least, the treatment to which its importance entities it, and which, as we believe the contents of these volumes will go far to prove, its intrinsic interest would justify. It is a really surprising fact that no one has yet been found to give us a continuation of the work of Sir Harris Nicolas.* This being so, we hail

* This is said in no disparagement of the work of such writers as Mr. Oppenheim and others, whose occasional papers are of great value,

with especial pleasure the appearance of this Navy Records Society publication. The guise in which it appears is decidedly attractive. The binding is neat and appropriate. The printing and paper are admirable; and we hope that we are right in inferring from the excellence of both that the funds of the Society are in a satisfactory condition. But this is a work which has strong claims on public support, and for the sum of one guinea the subscribers will receive two highly interesting volumes annually.

Of the manner in which Professor Laughton has performed his editorial work we must speak at greater length. The Professor's unrivalled knowledge of naval history, and his considerable experience of naval life, qualify him especially for the task of editing the memorials of one of the most momentous periods in the annals of our fleet. High expectations were formed of the manner in which be would acquit hiinself, and they have not been disappointed. Mere editingin the sense of preparing transcripts of old documents for the press and appending short comments to them—was but a small part of his labour. The book as it stands is largely his own production. The documents which it contains had to be selected from a great mass of official papers, and the task of selecting them must have been a more difficult and onerous one than that of 'editing' the selection when made. Opinions may differ as to the inclusion or omission of one document or another; but we anticipate a very general acceptance of the conclusion that, taken as a whole, no better selection could have been made. Where there is disagreement as to the importance of any particular paper, we think it nearly certain that no one would be more readily taken as arbiter than Professor Laughton. The notes of the editor leave nothing to be desired. They are never too long; they contain interesting, and quite sufficient, biographical information about the persons whose names occur in the text; and they explain with clearness the meaning of rare words and archaic phrases. After repeated examinations of every State paper in the two volumes, we feel bound to say that we are unable to point out any passage on which an additional note would be desirable.

T'he part of the work which is most likely to be frequently perused from beginning to end is the Introduction, seventysix pages in length, prefixed to the State papers. This not only contains a succinct and careful history of the Armada campaign, expanded from a former lecture of Professor Laughton's at the Royal Institution; it comprises also

« PreviousContinue »