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Lippincott's Magazine of Popular Literature and Science Volume 15, No. 89, May, 1875
Author: Various
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Les Pleiades. Par le comte de Gobineau. Stockholm and Paris.

The author of this book has traveled extensively, and has been a keen observer of men and manners, as well as a diligent student of history and ethnography. He has represented his government in countries so remote and contrasted as Persia and Sweden, has made antiquarian researches in the islands of the Mediterranean, has visited parts of America, and has won reputation as a scholar and writer by a number of works on such abstruse questions as Oriental philosophy and religion, the cuneiform inscriptions and the distinctions of race. The present book is merely a novel, yet it was clearly intended to embody the deepest and maturest thoughts of the author in regard to "the proper study of mankind," both individually and collectively. The nature of man, how it is affected by diversity of circumstances, by nationality, descent, rank and occupation, by the relations of class to class, of society to the individual, of personal will to a controlling destiny,—this may be said to form the motive of the volume; and though such action as there is in it takes place chiefly at the court of one of the minor states of Germany, this narrow field was evidently selected on a similar principle to that of the Greek drama, with its "unities" of time and place and the narratives and explanations of the Chorus. The discussions in the book embrace all the problems of history, the characters are of different nationalities, and are all enriched by the fruits of culture and travel, and the story is a series of crucial tests by which, as we are to infer, the author's theories are verified. This plan is not absolutely novel. Goethe had adopted a still slighter though far happier framework for his ripest thoughts and profoundest observations. Yet even Goethe's exquisite art was at fault when he sought to extend the original design; and if the first part of Wilhelm Meister is the most perfectly constructed work in the whole range of literature, the second is merely a heap of precious materials, with here and there such groupings and dispositions as indicate how details had been conceived, while the general plan refused to shape itself in the master's mind. Count Gobineau's failure is of a different kind. His story is not only grotesque in construction, but inartistic in all its parts. In every group of incidents there is the same lack of harmony and completeness as in the adaptation and subordination of each to the whole. Nor, with all the author's knowledge of life and of men, has he succeeded in creating characters recognizable as life-like and as veritable originals. Single features are well drawn, certain temperaments are keenly analyzed, but the whole conception is never firm, consistent and complete. The simplest, like old Lanze and his daughter Lina, are intrinsically commonplace; the most elaborated, like Madame Tonska and the duke Jean-Theodore, waver between familiar types and questionable shadows; and those that, like Laudon and the Gennevilliers, promise better results, are imperfectly developed. Such defects would be fatal in a novel of the ordinary kind. But this is not a novel of the ordinary kind. The real staple of the book consists not of the incidents and the characters, but of discussions and reflections which sparkle with wit, with shrewd observation, and with ingenious if not absolutely profound speculation. There are a hundred little essays in it, compact with thought and bristling with epigram, that have an eighteenth-century flavor, and suffuse with a sauce piquante what would otherwise have been a flavorless dish. Whether the theory from which the title of the book is derived, and which is expounded at length in the opening chapters, would bear a rigid examination, or was even meant to be taken seriously, may be doubted. It is, at all events, very poorly illustrated by the characters and events selected to exemplify it.



Books Received.

Africa: The History of Exploration and Adventure from Herodotus to Livingstone. By Charles H. Jones. With illustrations. New York: Henry Holt & Co.

The Vatican Decrees in their bearing on Civil Allegiance. By Henry Edward, Archbishop of Westminister. New York: Catholic Publication Society.

Six Months under the Red Cross with the French Army. By George H. Boyland. Cincinnati: Robert Clarke & Co.

The Tower of Babel: A Poetical Drama. By Alfred Austin. Edinburgh and London: Wm. Blackwood & Sons.

Young Folks' History of the United States. By T. W. Higginson. Illustrated. Boston: Lee & Shepard.

Baby Died To-day, and Other Poems. By the late William Leighton. London: Longmans, Green & Co.

Goethe's Hermann and Dorothea. Vol. I. of German Classics. New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons.

Types and Emblems: A Collection of Sermons. By C. H. Spurgeon. New York: Sheldon & Co.

The Maintenance of Health. By J. M. Fothergill, M.D. New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons.

A Passionate Pilgrim, and Other Tales. By Henry James, Jr. Boston: James R. Osgood & Co.

Christian Belief and Life. By A. P. Peabody, D.D., LL.D. Boston: Roberts Brothers.

Ezra Stiles Gannet: A Memoir. By his son, W. C. Gannet. Boston: Roberts Brothers.

Recollections and Suggestions. By John, Earl Russell. Boston: Roberts Brothers.

Birds of the North-west. By Elliot Coues. Washington: Government Printing-office.

Morality of Prohibitory Liquor Laws. By W. B. Weeden. Boston: Roberts Bros.

Victor La Tourette: A Novel. By a Broad Churchman. Boston: Roberts Brothers.

Domus Dei. By Eleanor C. Donnelly. Philadelphia: P. F. Cunningham & Son.

Poems of Twenty Years. By Laura W. Johnson. New York: De Witt C. Lent.

Protection and Free Trade. By Isaac Butts. New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons.

Mistress Judith. By C. C. Frazer Tytler. New York: Henry Holt & Co.

Generalship: A Tale. By George Roy. Cincinnati: Robert Clarke & Co.

THE END

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