Pendennis is in Thackeray's best style, as the novelist of manners. It opens, like Vanity Fair, with a short amusing scene that poses, as the French say, some leading actor in the play, and encourages the reader to go on. Next follows, as is usual with our author, a short retrospective account of the people and places among whom the plot is laid, with a descriptive pedigree of his hero. In his habit of setting his portraits in a framework of family history (compare the Crawleys, the Newcomes, the Esmonds) he resembles, though with less prolixity, Balzac, and he displays much knowledge and observation of English provincial life. He is, we imagine, the first high-class writer who brought the Bohemian, possibly an importation from France, into the English novel; and the contrast between the seedy strolling adventurer and strait-laced respectability provides him with material for inexhaustible irony, with much good-natured sympathy for the waifs and strays. He has always a soft corner in his heart for reckless hardihood; and every one must be glad that his 'poor friend Colonel Altamont,' who had been doomed to execution, was respited at the last moment, as Thackeray tells us in his preface, on the very technical plea that the author had not sufficient experience of gaol-birds and the gallows. Merciful good nature toward a daring scamp, who was free with his money and kind to women, was probably at the bottom of the condonation. We know from a paper, reproduced (to our thinking unnecessarily) in one of these volumes, that in 1840 Thackeray went to see Courvoisier hanged, and was so much upset by the spectacle that he prayed for the abolition of capital punishment to wipe out its stain of national blood-guiltiness. It may be noticed, moreover, that his stern denunciation of crime and folly has by this time settled down into a philosophic mood that is almost fatalistic, as when he suggests that 'circumstance only brings out the latent defect or quality, and does not create it'; that 'our mental changes are, like our grey hairs and wrinkles, no more than the fulfilment of the plan of mortal growth and decay,' so that each man is born with the natural seed of fortune or failure. The voyage of life
'has been prosperous, and you are riding into port, the people huzzaing and the guns saluting, and the lucky captain bows from the ship's side, and there is a care under the star on his breast that nobody knows of; or you are wrecked and lashed, hopeless, to a solitary spar out at sea; the sinking man and the successful one are thinking each about home, very likely, and remembering the time when they were children; alone on the hopeless spar, drowning out of sight; alone in the midst of the crowd applauding you.'
In such fine passages as these we hear the elegiac strain of the antique world, wherein remorseless fate held dominion over human efforts and destiny. Like other great writers who are touched with humorous melancholy, he falls often into the moralising vein; he stops his narrative to address his reader with some ironical observation, after the manner of Fielding, whose leisurely tone of satire is so audible in the following quotation from Pendennis that he might well have written it:
'Even his child, his cruel Emily, he would have taken to his heart and forgiven with tears; and what more can one say of the Christian charity of a man than that he is actually ready to forgive those who have done him every kindness, and with whom he is wrong in a dispute?'
As we have said that Vanity Fair touches the climax of Thackeray's peculiar genius, so in our judgment Esmond shows the gathered strength and maturity of his literary power, and has won for him an eminent place in the distinguished order of historical novelists. We may say that the art of historical romance was brought to perfection in our own century, although French writers trace far back into the eighteenth century, and even further, the method of weaving authentic events and famous personages into the tissue of a story which turns upon fictitious adventures in love and war. The elder novelists dealt largely in extravagant sentiment, in conventional language, and in marvellous exploits embroidered upon the sober chronicles which served as the framework of their drama; they were content to set upon stilts the traditional hero or heroine of former days, whose ideas and conversation expressed with little disguise the manners, not of the period to which they belonged, but of the author's own time and of the society for whom he was writing. These books are, therefore, full of glaring anachronisms and improbabilities; the knights and dames are sometimes (as in the Grand Cyrus) thinly veiled portraits of contemporary notabilities, but they are often mere lay figures representing the prevailing fashions of thought and feeling. The virtuous hero abounds in judicious reflections; the heroines are chaste and beauteous damsels—Joan of Arc herself appears in one romance as an adorable shepherdess—and love-making is conducted after the model of a Parisian precieuse.
It is the opinion of a recent French critic, who has made careful study of his subject, that the new school was founded by Chateaubriand, who first, at the last century's end, laid an axe to the root of all this rhetorical artifice, these frigid and grotesque incongruities, and filled his romances with local colour, stamping them with the impress of reality and conformity to nature, by picturesque reproduction of the landscape, costumes, usages, and conditions of existence of the time and country in which he might be unwinding his tale. But Chateaubriand, like Byron (who was of a similar temperament), never could put himself, to use a French phrase, into another man's skin; he is to be detected soliloquising and dispensing noble sentiments under the costume of a Christian martyr or an American savage, and thus the fidelity of his scene-painting was still marred by the artificiality of the discourse. It was the Waverley novel that lifted the historical romance far beyond Chateaubriand's level, that established it, in England, France, and Italy on the true principle of creating vivid representations of a bygone age by a skilful mixture of fact and fiction, and by a correct and harmonious combination of characters, manners, and environment.
But during the twenty years that intervene between the dates, taken roughly, of Scott's worst novel and Thackeray's best, the flood tide of romanticism had risen to its highest point, and had then ebbed very low, on both sides of the British Channel. And we can see that the younger writer was no votary of the older school of high-flying chivalrous romance, with its tournaments, its crusaders, its valiant warriors, and distressed maidens. His youthful aversion for shams and conventionalities, his strong propensity toward burlesque and persiflage, his early life among cities and commonplace folk, seem to have obscured in some degree his appreciation of even such splendid compositions as Ivanhoe or The Talisman; or, at any rate, his sense of the ridiculous overpowered his admiration. The result was that, as Scott had exalted his mediaeval heroes and heroines far above the level of real life, had revived the legendary age of chivalry and adventure with all the magnificence of his poetic imagination, Thackeray had at first set himself, conversely, to strip the trappings off these fine folk, and to poke his fun at the feudal lords and ladies by treating them as ordinary middle-class men and women masquerading in old armour or drapery. He came in as a writer on the ebb-tide of romanticism, when the reaction showed its popular form in a curious outburst of the taste for burlesques and parodies on the stage and in the light reading of the time. Whether the creation of this taste is to be ascribed to the appearance of two writers with such genius for wit and fun as Thackeray and Dickens, or whether they only supplied a natural demand, may be questionable; they undoubtedly headed the army of Comus, and thereby raised the whole standard of facetious literature. But the defect of this school was its propensity to take a hilarious or sardonic view, not only of mediaeval romance, but of quaint old times generally; and one leading embodiment of this mocking spirit was Punch founded in 1841. A'Beckett's Comic History of England, which ran through many numbers, seems to this generation a dreary and deleterious specimen of misplaced farce; though historically it is not quite such bad work as Dickens's Child's History of England, which he meant to be serious. Among Thackeray's very numerous contributions to Punch are Miss Tickletoby's Lectures on English History, which might well have been consigned to oblivion, Rebecca and Rowena, and The Prize Novelists. The sarcastic and the sentimental temper must always be hostile to each other; between romance and ridicule the antipathy is fundamental; and although one regrets that he ever wrote Rebecca and Rowena, the melodramatic novels of Bulwer-Lytton were fair enough game for the parodist. However, it is certain that in his earlier writings Thackeray did much to laugh away the novel of mediaeval chivalry; and while we think he often carried his irreverent jocosity much too far, since after all chivalry is better than cockneyism, we may award him the very high honour of becoming, latterly, one of the founders of a new and admirable historical school in England.
The eighteenth century was always Thackeray's favourite period; he liked the rational, unpretentious tone of its best literature, its practical politics and tolerance, its common sense, and its habit of keeping very close, in art as in action, to the realities of the world as we find it. Swift is the most unromantic of any writer that possessed great imaginative faculty; Defoe was a master of minute life-like detail, an inimitable imitator of truth; Hogarth's paintings are like Wesley's or Whitefield's sermons, they are stern, unvarnished denunciations of vice and profligacy; Fielding was the easy, large-hearted moralist, who hated above all sins cant and knavery, loved to banter the parsons, to bring fops and boobies upon his stage, and to place in contrast the wide difference that then separated manners in town and in country. Perhaps Thackeray owes more to Fielding than to any other single literary ancestor; but all these influences were most congenial to his temperament, and informed his best work. His instinctive dislike of unreality, exaggeration, and fanciful ideals would have always prevented him from laying the situation of his story in some distant age, of which hardly anything is known accurately, and supplementing his ignorance by giving free scope to fantastic invention, as was the usage of the humble followers who tried in vain to conjure with the wand of Scott. He required a period which he could study, master, and sympathise with, and he found it in the eighteenth century; though in Esmond the plot, being founded on Jacobite intrigues and conspiracies, opens with the Revolution of 1688. He had taken great trouble, as usual, with the localities, knowing well that you never understand a battle clearly until you have seen its field.
'"I was pleased to find Blenheim," he wrote to his mother, "was just exactly the place I had figured to myself, except that the village is larger; but I fancied I had actually been there, so like the aspect of it was to what I looked for. I saw the brook which Harry Esmond crossed, and almost the spot where he fell wounded."'
Mrs. Ritchie quotes this letter as illustrating 'a sort of second sight as to places which my father used to speak of'; and it certainly attests his possession of the strong imaginative faculty which puts together vivid mental pictures.
The first page strikes the note of disenchantment, of escape from the spell of conventionalism and the shores of romance. Colonel Esmond, who tells his own tale, wishes the Muse of History to disrobe, to discard her buskins, and to deliver herself like a woman of the everyday world.
'I wonder shall History ever pull off her periwig and cease to be court-ridden? Shall we see something of France and England besides Versailles and Windsor? I saw Queen Anne tearing down the Park slopes after her staghounds, in her one-horse chaise—a hot redfaced woman.... She was neither better bred nor wiser than you and me, though we knelt to hand her a letter or a washhand basin. Why shall History go on kneeling to the end of time? I am for having her rise off her knees, and take her natural posture, not to be for ever performing cringes and congees like a Court chamberlain, and shuffling backward out of doors in the presence of the sovereign. In a word, I would have History familiar rather than heroic.'
No very deep philosophy in this, we might say, for surely historians up to Esmond's day had not all been pompous and servile, while something like dignity is desirable. But here we have Thackeray speaking through Esmond his own thoughts about history, and proclaiming the rise of naturalism against the romantic high-heeled school. And in a much later chapter, where Esmond visits Addison, we have the true realistic method of Tolstoi and other quite modern novelists, as compared with the old classic style of describing war. Addison has been writing a poem on the Blenheim campaign:
'"I admire your art," says Esmond to Addison; "the murder of the campaign is done to military music, like a battle at the opera, and the virgins shriek in harmony, as our victorious grenadiers march into their villages. Do you know what a scene it was? what a triumph you are celebrating, what scenes of shame and horror were enacted, over which the commander's genius presided as calm as though he didn't belong to our sphere? You talk of 'the listening soldier fixed in sorrow,' the 'leader's grief swayed by generous pity'; to my belief the leader cared no more for bleating flocks than he did for infants' cries, and many of our ruffians butchered one or the other with equal alacrity. You hew out of your polished verses a stately image of smiling victory; I tell you 'tis an uncouth, distorted, savage idol, hideous, bloody, and barbarous. The rites performed before it are shocking to think of. You great poets should show it as it is, ugly and horrible, not beautiful and serene."'
When Colonel Esmond has to describe the battles in which he himself took part, he avoids, as might be supposed, the high romantic style. But he does not, therefore, fall on the other side, into the mire of the writers who at the present day conscientiously give us the horrors of the hospital and all the brutalities of war, which Esmond knows, but does not choose to set down in his memoir. In his account of the Blenheim victory there is a skilful touch of the professional soldier, who records briefly the position of the armies and the tactical movements; and it lights up with suppressed enthusiasm when he records the intrepidity of the English regiments in that fierce and famous struggle. We read of Major-General Wilkes,
'on foot, at the head of the attacking column, marching with his hat off intrepidly in the face of the enemy, who was pouring in a tremendous fire from his guns and musketry, to which our people were instructed not to reply except with pike and bayonet when they reached the French palisades. To these Wilkes walked intrepidly, and struck the woodwork with his sword before our people charged it. He was shot down on the instant, with his colonel, major, and several officers,'
and the assault was repelled with great slaughter.
In this and other similar passages, you have the historic novelist at his best; the true facts are selected and arranged so as to form pictures of soul-stirring action; while their connection with his story is maintained by giving Esmond himself a very modest and natural share in the glorious victory:
'And now the conquerors were met by a furious charge of the English horse under Esmond's general, Lumley, behind whose squadrons the flying foot took refuge and formed again, while Lumley drove back the French horse, charging up to the village of Blenheim and the palisades where Wilkes, and many hundred more gallant Englishmen, lay in slaughtered heaps. Beyond this moment, and of this famous victory, Mr. Esmond knows nothing, for a shot brought down his horse and our young gentleman on it, who fell crushed and stunned under the animal.'
A lesser artist would have made his hero perform some brilliant exploit; but Thackeray prefers to sketch the scene as Wouvermans might have done it. We have not here the incomparable fire and spirit which Scott throws into the skirmishes at Bothwell Brig and Drumclog; we see the difference of mind and method; but we can have nothing except admiration for the rare imaginative faculty which enabled a quiet man of letters to deal so finely and faithfully, with such reserve and discrimination, with a subject that might easily have been spoiled by the noisy clatter and coarse colouring of the inferior artist. His full length portrait of Marlborough has been too often quoted to be reproduced here—'impassible before victory, before danger, before defeat; the splendid calm of his face as he rode along the lines to battle, or galloped up in the nick of time to a battalion reeling before the enemy's charge or shot.' Of Swift, Esmond says—'I have always thought of him and of Marlborough as the two greatest men of that age ... a lonely fallen Prometheus, groaning as the vultures tear him'; and with a few such strokes he gives etchings of other celebrities in letters and politics. One may observe with astonishment that the youthful Thackeray, who delighted in suburban chronicles, in mean lives and paltry incidents, has risen by middle age to the rank of an illustrious painter on the broad canvas of history. The annals of literature contain few, if any, other examples of so remarkable a transformation.
It is evident that Thackeray, like Scott, was an industrious collector of material for his novels from all sources; we may refer, for an instance, to a scene which will have left a passing impression upon many readers, where, as the French and English armies are facing each other on two sides of a little stream in the Low Countries, Prince Charles Edward rides down to the French bank and exchanges a salute with Esmond. It falls quite naturally and easily into the narrative, and reads like a very happy original conception; yet the incident, which is quite authentic, may be found in the papers obtained in the last century from the Scottish convent at Paris by Macpherson.
In The Virginians, which might have had for its second title Forty Years Later, the chronicle of the Esmond family is continued; with North America during the French war for the battlefields, Braddock, Wolfe, and Washington for the military figures, and Esmond's grandsons as the personages round whom the story's interest centres. It is a novel of very great merit, skilfully constructed, full of vivacious writing and delineation of character; and the novelist avails himself with his usual adroitness of the celebrated incidents of this period and the salient features of English society in the middle of the last century. Yet we must reluctantly admit that Thackeray has passed his climacteric, and that as a work of the historical school this book cannot claim parity with Esmond. George Warrington was on Braddock's staff at the fatal rout and massacre on the Ohio; his brother Harry was with Wolfe on the Plains of Abraham; they witnessed a battle lost and a battle won, and each saw his commander fall. But George's recital of his hairbreadth escape lacks the stern simplicity with which his grandfather told the story of Marlborough's wars; and the device of his being saved from the Indians by a French officer, who was his intimate friend, is so ingenious as to be a trifle commonplace. The author does not sketch in any details or personal adventures from the great fight under the walls of Quebec; he has fallen back, at this part of the story, into personal narrative, and The Warrington Memoirs only describe how the news of Wolfe's victory and death were acclaimed in London. In the War of Independence, George Warrington, who takes the British side, records the feelings and situation of an American Loyalist—a class to whom only Mr. Lecky, among historians, has done fair justice. There is much acute and well-informed reflection upon the state of the colonies at this time, the strong currents of party politics, and the exasperation which brought about the rebellion; but, on the whole, this part of the narrative has too much resemblance to real history. It has not enough of the imaginative and picturesque element to lift it above the comparatively prosaic level of an interesting memoir, though some good scenes and situations are obtained by making the two Warrington brothers take opposite sides. When we learn that, in 1759, the English Lord Castlewood repaired his shattered fortunes by marrying an American heiress, we are inclined to suspect that our author has taken a hint from the fashion of a century later.
In the story of Esmond Thackeray dropped the satirical tone, and indulged very rarely indeed in the habit of pausing to moralise, as writer to reader, upon social hypocrisy, servile obsequiousness, and whited sepulchres generally. In The Virginians he is less attentive to dramatic propriety; he begins again to turn aside and lecture us, in the midst of his tale, upon the text of De te fabula narratur. Sir Miles and Lady Warrington are scandalised by their nephew's extravagance, and refuse all help to the spendthrift.
'How much of this behaviour goes on daily in respectable society, think you? You can fancy Lord and Lady Macbeth concocting a murder, and coming together with some little awkwardness, perhaps, when the transaction was done and over; but my Lord and Lady Skinflint, when they consult in their bedroom about giving their luckless nephew a helping hand, and determine to refuse, and go down to family prayers and meet their children and domestics, and discourse virtuously before them...?'
And so on, for a page or two, in a tone that some may think almost as sophistical as the reasoning by which the Skinflints might excuse to themselves their pharisaical behaviour. Such interpolations are artistically incorrect, and out of harmony with the proper conception of a well-wrought work of fiction, in which the moral should be conveyed through the action and the dialogue, and the meditations should be left to be done by the reader himself.
We must, therefore, place The Virginians below Esmond in the order of merit. Nevertheless, these two novels, with Barry Lyndon, are most important and valuable contributions to the English historical series. Nothing like them had been written before, and nothing equal has been written after them, with the single exception of John Inglesant. They possess one essential quality that ought to distinguish all fiction founded on the history of bygone times—they are, so far as posterity can judge at all, faithful and effective representations of manners. Now, the inferior practitioner in this particular school, being prevented by indolence or incapacity from mastering his period and acquiring insight into its ways of thought and living, is too often content to cover up his deficiencies by indenting freely on the theatrical wardrobe and armoury. He deals largely in the costumes of the day; he supplies himself plentifully with old-fashioned phrases; he is fond of old furniture; he is strongest, in fact, upon the external and decorative aspect of the society to which he introduces us. Most of the romances written in imitation of Scott had this tendency; and this same feebleness underlies the superfluous minuteness of detail that may be observed in the decadent realists of the present day. Nothing of this sort can be alleged against Thackeray, who works from inward outwardly in his creations of character, and whose personages are truly historical in the sense that they move and speak naturally according to the ideas and circumstances of their age, the dialect and dress being merely added as appropriate colouring. It is, indeed, a peculiarity of Thackeray's novels, which distinguishes him alike from the romancer and the modern naturalist that they contain hardly any description, that he is never professedly picturesque, that he relies entirely on passing strokes and effective details given by the way. In Scott we have superb descriptive pieces of scenery, of storms, of the interiors of a castle or a Gothic cathedral; and some of the best living novelists are much given to elaborate landscape painting. But we doubt whether half a page of deliberately picturesque description can be found in any of Thackeray's first-class works. He will sometimes sketch off the inside of a house or the look of a town, but with natural scenery he does not concern himself; he is, for the most part, entirely occupied with the analysis of character, or with the emotional side of life; and he seems constantly to bear in mind the Aristotelian maxim that life consists in action. His principal instrument for the exhibition of motive, for the evolution of his story, for bringing out qualities, is dialogue, which he manages with great dexterity and effect, giving it point and raciness, and avoiding the snare—into which recent social novelists have been falling—of insignificance and prolixity. The method of easy, sparkling, natural dialogue for developing the plot and distinguishing the personages is said to have been first transferred from the theatre to the novel by Walter Scott. At any rate, the use of it on a large scale, which has since been carried to the verge of abuse, began with the Waverley novels; where we find abundance of that humorous vernacular talk in which Shakespeare excelled, though for the romance Cervantes may be registered as its inventor. In Thackeray's hands dramatic conversation, as of actors on the stage, becomes of very prominent importance, not only for the illustration of manners in society, but also for dressing up the subordinate figures of his company. He is now no longer the caricaturist of earlier days; he employs the popular dialect and comic touches with effective moderation. And he avails himself very freely, in The Virginians, of the privilege which belongs to the historical novelist, who is allowed to make the reader acquainted with the notabilities of the period not only for the movement of his drama, but also for a passing glance or casual introduction, as might happen in any place of public resort or in a crowded salon. Franklin, Johnson, and Richardson, George Selwyn and Lord Chesterfield, cross the stage and disappear, after a few remarks of their own or the author's. For military officers, who figure in all his novels, he has ever a kindly word; and also for sailors, although it is only in his last (unfinished) novel that he takes up the navy. For English clergymen, especially for bishops, he has no indulgence at all; and he seems to be possessed by the commonplace error of believing that the prevailing types of the Anglican Church in the eighteenth century were the courtier-bishop and the humble obsequious chaplain. The typical Irishman of fiction, with his mixture of recklessness and cunning, warm-hearted and unveracious, is to be found, we think, in every one of Thackeray's larger novels, except in The Virginians; the Scotsman is rare, having been considerably used up by Walter Scott and his assiduous imitators. We may notice (parenthetically) that our own day is witnessing a marvellous revival of Highlanders and Lowlanders in fiction, from Jacobite adventures to the pawky wit and humble incidents of the kailyard.
In The Newcomes we return regretfully to the novel of contemporary society; wherewith disappears all the light haze of enchantment that hangs over the revival of distant times, even though they lie no further behind us than the eighteenth century. Such a change of scene necessitates and completes the transition from the romantic to the realistic; for how can a picture of our own environment, which any one can verify, avoid being more or less photographic? In one sense it is a continuation of the historic novel, which has only to put off its archaic or literary costume to appear as a presentation of social history brought up to date; the method of minute description, the portrayal of manners, are the same, with the drawback that the celebrities of the day must be kept off the stage. Any eighteenth-century personage might figure, with effect, in The Virginians, while Macaulay and Palmerston could hardly have been sketched off, however briefly and good-naturedly, in The Newcomes. In all essential respects the tone and treatment are unaltered in the two stories; although the ironical spirit, restrained in the historical novels by a sense of dramatic consistency, is again among us having great wrath, as Thackeray surveys the aspect of the London world around him. The character of Colonel Newcome, his distinguished gallantry, his spotless honour, his simplicity and credulity, is drawn with truth and tenderness; and some of the lesser folk are admirable for their kindliness and unselfishness. But what a society is this in which the Colonel is landed upon his return from India! He calls, with his son, at his brother's house in Bryanston Square:
'"It's my father," said Clive to the "menial" who opened the door; "my aunt will see Colonel Newcome."
'"Missis not at home," said the man. "Missis is gone in the carriage. Not at this door. Take them things down the area steps, young man," bawls out the domestic to a pastry-cook's boy ... and John struggles back, closing the door on the astonished Colonel.'
An astonishment that most Londoners of his time would have assuredly shared; unless, indeed, the West-end doorstep has gained wonderfully by the scrubbing of sixty years. On the relations between masters and servants Thackeray was never more severe than in this book; he is irritated by the marching in of the household brigade to family prayers, and he declares that we 'know no more of that race which inhabits the basement floor, than of the men and brethren of Timbuctoo, to whom some among us send missionaries'—a monstrous imputation. He constantly resumes the moralising attitude; and his pungent persiflage is poured out, as if from an apocalyptic vial, upon worldliness and fashionable insolence. Sir Barnes Newcome's divorce from the unhappy Lady Clara furnishes a text for sad and solemn anathema upon the mercenary marriages in Hanover Square, where 'St. George of England may behold virgin after virgin offered up to the devouring monster, Mammon, may see virgin after virgin given away, just as in the Soldan of Babylon's time, but with never a champion to come to the rescue.' We would by no means withhold from the modern satirist of manners the privilege of using forcibly figurative language or of putting a lash to his whip. Yet if his novels are, as we have suggested, to be regarded as historical, in the sense of recording impressions drawn from life for the benefit of posterity, such passages as those just quoted from Thackeray raise the general question whether documentary evidence of this kind as to the state of society at a given period is as valuable and trustworthy as it has usually been reckoned to be. He has himself declared that 'upon the morals and national manners, works of satire afford a world of light that one would in vain look for in regular books of history'—that Pickwick, Roderick Random, and Tom Jones, 'give us a better idea of the state and ways of the people than one could gather from any pompous or authentic histories.' Whether Fielding and Smollett's contemporaries would have endorsed this opinion is the real question; for on such a point the judgment of Thackeray, who lived a century after them, cannot be conclusive. It is probable that to an Englishman of that day the novels of these two authors appeared to be extraordinary caricatures of actual society, in town or country.
On the other hand, the story is excellently conducted, and each actor performs with consummate skill his part or hers; for in none of his works has Thackeray given higher proof of that dramatic power which brings out situations, leads on to the denouement, and points the moral of the story, by a skilful manipulation of various incidents and a remarkably numerous variety of characters. There, is one chapter (ix. of vol. II.), headed 'Two or Three Acts of a Little Comedy,' where he carries on the plot entirely by a light and sparkling dialogue which may be compared to some of A. de Musset's wittiest Proverbes. It is a book that could only have been composed by a first-class artist in the maturity of his powers; and for that very reason we must regret that it is steeped in bitterness; while Thackeray's rooted hostility to mothers-in-law misguides him into the aesthetic error of admitting a virago to scold frantically almost over the colonel's death-bed. The unvarying meanness and selfishness of Mrs. Mackenzie, and of Sir Barnes Newcome, fatigue the reader; for whereas in the delineation of his amiable and high-principled characters Thackeray is careful to shade off their bright qualities by a mixture of natural weakness, these ill-favoured portraits stand out in the full glare of unredeemed insolence and low cunning.
In his last novel, broken off half-way by his death, Thackeray went back once more to that eighteenth century, which, as he says in one of his letters, 'occupied him to the exclusion almost of the nineteenth,' and to the method of weaving fiction out of historical materials. We have already remarked upon his practice of opening with a kind of family history, which explains the antecedent connections, relationship, and pedigree of the persons who are coming upon the stage, and marks out the background of his story. In Denis Duval he carries this preamble through two chapters, and arranges all the pieces on his board so carefully that an inattentive reader might lose his way among the preliminary details. One sees with what pleasure he has studied his favourite period in France and England, and how he enjoyed constructing, like Defoe, a fictitious autobiography that reads like a picturesque and genuine memoir of the times. Having thus laid out his plan, and prepared his mise en scene, he begins his third chapter with an animated entry of his actors, who thenceforward play their parts in a succession of incidents and adventures, that are all adjusted and fitted in to the framework of time and place that he has taken so much pains to design for them. In this manner he touches upon the great events of contemporary history, like the French War, or illustrates the state of England by bringing in highwaymen and the press-gang; while a minute description of localities lends an air of simplicity to the tale of an old man who has (as he says) an extraordinarily clear remembrance of his boyhood.
The Notes which appeared in the Cornhill Magazine, June 1864, as an epilogue to the last lines written by Thackeray, when the story stopped abruptly, throw curious light on the methods of gathering his material and preparing his work. Just as he visited the Blenheim battlefield, when he was engaged upon Esmond, so he went down to Romney Marsh, where Denis Duval was born and bred, surveyed Rye and Winchelsea as if he were drawing plans of those towns, and collected local traditions of the coast and the country, of the smugglers, the Huguenot settlements, and the old war time of 1778-82. The Annual Register and the Gentleman's Magazine furnished him with suggestive incidents and circumstantial reports which he expanded with admirable fertility of imagination; so that by combining what he saw with what he read he could lift the curtain and light up again an obscure corner of the Kentish coast, and the doings of the queer folk who lived on it a century before he went there. That he never finished this novel is much to be lamented, for Denis had just become a midshipman on board the Serapis, and we learn from these 'Notes' that he was to take part in the great fight which ended in the capture of that ship by Paul Jones, after the most bloody and desperate duel in the long and glorious record of the British Navy. Captain Pearson, who commanded the Serapis, reported his defeat to the Admiralty in a letter of which 'Mr. Thackeray seems to have thought much,' and, indeed, it is precisely the sort of document—quiet, formal, with a masculine contempt for adjectives (there is not one in the whole letter)—which denotes a character after Thackeray's own heart.
'We dropt alongside of each other, head and stern, when, the fluke of our spare anchor hooking his quarter, we became so close, fore and aft, that the muzzles of our guns touched each other's sides.'
Here we have the style which Thackeray loved; and 'tis pity that we have so narrowly missed the picture of a fierce naval battle by an artist who could describe strenuous action in steady phrase, and who knew that the hard-fighting commander is usually a cool, resolute, resourceful man, for whom it is a matter of plain duty to fight his ship till he is fairly beaten, and to report the result briefly, whatever it may be, to his superiors. One can observe the mellowing influence upon Thackeray of the atmosphere of past times and the afterglow of heroic deeds; for in Denis Duval there is no trace of the scorching satire which pursues us in The Newcomes; nor does he once pause to moralise, or to enlarge upon the innumerable hypocrisies of modern society. It is questionable, indeed, whether this fine fragment binds up well in a volume with the Roundabout Papers, which bring the author back into the light of common day, and to the trivialities of ordinary society.
It has not been thought necessary, in this biographical edition, to issue the several volumes in the order of the dates at which they were written; nor has the attempt been made to preserve some serial continuity of their style or subject. The arrangement, moreover, serves to accentuate unnecessarily the undeniable imparity of Thackeray's different books; for Punch and the Sketch Books are interposed between Barry Lyndon and Esmond; while even the wild and wicked Lyndon hardly deserved to be handcuffed in the same volume with Fitzboodle, whom in the body he would have crushed like an insect. Yet the classification of Thackeray's novels might be easily made, for Barry Lyndon, Esmond, The Virginians, and Denis Duval fall together in one homogeneous group, having a strong family resemblance in tone and treatment, and following generally the chronological succession of the periods with which they are concerned. If to Esmond is awarded the precedence that is due to him not by seniority, but by importance, we have the wars of the eighteenth century between England and France from Marlborough's campaigns down to Rodney's great naval victory of 1783, in which Duval was destined to take part. These works represent Thackeray's very considerable contribution to the Historic School of English novelists; and we may count them also a valuable commentary upon English history, for without doubt every luminous illustration of past times and personages acts as a powerful stimulant to the national mind, by exciting a keener interest in the nation's story and a clearer appreciation of its reality. Chateaubriand has affirmed that Walter Scott's romances produced a revolution in the art of writing histories, that no greater master of the art of historical divination has ever lived, and that his profound insight into the mediaeval world, its names, the true relation between different classes, its political and social aspects, originated a new and brilliant historical method which superseded the dim and limited views of scholarly erudition. For Thackeray we make no such extensive or extravagant claims; but it may be said that the dramatic conception of history in his novels and lectures was of great service to his readers and hearers by the vivid impressions which they conveyed of the life, character, and feelings of their forefathers, of their failings, virtues, and memorable achievements. Some material objections may be taken to the system of teaching by graphic pictures in Thackeray, as in Carlyle's French Revolution, and in both cases the philosophy leaves much to be desired, for the writer's own idiosyncrasy colours all his work. Yet when we remember how few are the readers to whom the accurate Dryasdust, with his careful research and well attested facts, brings any lasting enlightenment, we may well believe that very many owe their distinct ideas of the state of England and its people during the last century to Thackeray's genius for carefully studied autobiographical fiction.
To the four historical novels mentioned above let us add three novels of nineteenth-century manners—Vanity Fair, Pendennis, The Newcomes—and we have seven books (one incomplete) upon which Thackeray's name and fame survive, and will be handed down to posterity. The list is by no means long if it be compared with the outturn of Scott and Bulwer-Lytton, or of his foremost contemporary Dickens; and Stevenson, who resembles him in the subdued realistic style of narrating a perilous fight or adventure, has left us a larger bequest. But they are amply sufficient to build up for him a lasting monument in English literature; and their very paucity may serve as a warning against the prevailing sin of copious and indiscriminate productiveness, by which so many second-rate novelists of the present day exhaust their powers and drown a respectable reputation in a flood of writing, which sinks in quality in proportion to the rise in quantity.
How far the character and personal experiences of an author are revealed or disguised in his writings is a question which has often been discussed. Bulwer once endeavoured, in a whimsical essay, to prove that men of letters are the only people whose characters are really ascertainable, because you may know them intimately by their works; but herein he merely touched upon the general truth or truism that society at large judges every man only by his public performances, and does not trouble itself at all about anything else. In the category of those who display in their writings their tastes and prejudices, their feelings and the special bent of their mind, we may certainly place Thackeray, who was a moralist and a satirist, very sensitive to the ills and follies of humanity, and impressionable in the highest degree. For such a man it was impossible to refrain from giving his opinions, his praise or his blame, in all that he wrote upon everything that interested him; and in portraying the society which surrounded him, he inevitably portrayed himself. He displayed as much as any writer the general complexion of his intellectual propensities and sympathies; and we can even trace in him the existence of some of the minor human frailties which he was most apt to condemn, an unconscious tendency which is not altogether uncommon. But he is essentially a high-minded man of letters, acutely sensitive to absurdities, impatient of meanness, of affectation, and of ignominious admiration of trivial things; a resolute representative of the independent literary spirit, with a strong desire to see things as they are, and with the gift of describing them truthfully. He repudiated 'the absurd outcry about neglected men of genius'; and in a letter quoted by Mrs. Ritchie he writes:
'I have been earning my own bread with my own pen for near twenty years now, and sometimes very hardly too; but in the worst time, please God, never lost my own respect.'
His delicacy of feeling comes out in a letter from the United States, where he was lecturing—
'As for writing about this country, about Goshen, about the friends I have found here, and who are helping me to procure independence for my children, if I cut jokes upon them, may I choke on the instant'—
having probably in remembrance, as he wrote, Charles Dickens and the American Notes.
On the other hand, he was not free from the defects of his qualities, mental and artistic, from the propensity to set points of character in violent relief, or from the somewhat unfair generalisation which grows out of the habit of drawing types and distributing colours for satirical effect.
In regard to his religion, it appears to have been of the rationalistic eighteenth-century order in which moral ideas are entirely dominant, to the exclusion of the deeply spiritual modes of thought; and we may say of him, as of Carlyle, that his philosophy was more practical than profound. The subjoined quotation is from a letter to his daughter:
'What is right must always be right, before it was practised as well as after. And if such and such a commandment delivered by Moses was wrong, depend upon it, it was not delivered by God, and the whole question of complete inspiration goes at once. And the misfortune of dogmatic belief is that, the first principle granted that the book called the Bible is written under the direct dictation of God—for instance, that the Catholic Church is under the direct dictation of God, and solely communicates with Him—that Quashimaboo is the directly appointed priest of God, and so forth—pain, cruelty, persecution, separation of dear relatives, follow as a matter of course.... Smith's truth being established in Smith's mind as the Divine one, persecution follows as a matter of course—martyrs have roasted over all Europe, over all God's world, upon this dogma. To my mind Scripture only means a writing, and Bible means a book.... Every one of us in every part, book, circumstance of life, sees a different meaning and moral, and so it must be about religion. But we can all love each other and say "Our Father."'
This is true, stout-hearted, individualistic liberty of believing—an excellent thing and wholesome, though it by no means covers the whole ground, or meets all difficulties. The logical consequence is a strong distaste for theology, and no very high opinion of the priesthood, wherein we may probably find the root of Thackeray's proclivity, already mentioned, toward unmerited sarcasm upon the clergy. In the Introduction to Pendennis is a letter written from Spa, in which he says, 'They have got a Sunday service here in an extinct gambling-house, and a clerical professor to perform, whom you have to pay just like any other showman who comes.' It does not seem to have occurred to Thackeray that the turning of a gambling-house into a place of prayer is no bad thing of itself, or that you have no more right to expect your religious services to be done for you in a foreign land without payment than your newspapers or novels.
But these are blemishes or eccentricities which are only worth notice in a character of exceptional interest and a writer of great originality. Thackeray's work had a distinct influence on the light literature of his generation, and possibly also on its manners, for it is quite conceivable that one reason why his descriptions of snobbery and shams appear to us now overdrawn, may be that his trenchant blows at social idols did materially discredit the worship of them. His literary style had the usual following of imitators who caught his superficial form and missed the substance, as, for example, in the habit which arose of talking with warm-hearted familiarity of great eighteenth-century men, and parodying their conversation. It was easy enough to speak of Johnson as 'Grand Old Samuel,' and to hob-nob with Swift or Sterne, seeing that, like the lion's part in Pyramus and Thisbe, 'you can do it extempore, for it is nothing but roaring.'
Thackeray will always stand in the front rank of the very remarkable array of novelists who have illustrated the Victorian era; and this new edition is a fresh proof that his reputation is undiminished, and will long endure.
 The Works of William Makepeace Thackeray, with Biographical Introductions by his daughter, Anne Ritchie. In 13 volumes. London, 1898.—Edinburgh Review, October 1898.
 Now Lady Ritchie.
THE ANGLO-INDIAN NOVELIST
For the last one hundred and fifty years India has been to Englishmen an ever-widening field of incessant activity, military, commercial, and administrative. They have been occupied, during a temporary sojourn in that country, in acquiring and developing a great dominion. No situation more unfavourable to the development of imaginative literature could be found than that of a few thousand Europeans isolated, far from home, among millions of Asiatics entirely different from them in race, manners, and language. Their hands have been always full of business, they have been absorbed in the affairs of war and government, they have been cut off from the culture which is essential to the growth of art and letters, they have had little time for studying the antique and alien civilisation of the country. It seldom happens that the men who play a part in historical events, or who witness the sombre realities of war and serious politics, where kingdoms and lives are at stake, have either leisure or inclination for that picturesque side of things which lies at the source of most poetry and romance. And thus it has naturally come to pass that while Englishmen in India have produced histories full of matter, though often deficient in composition, and have also written much upon Oriental antiquities, laws, social institutions, and economy, they have done little in the department of novels.
That a good novel should have been produced in India was, therefore, until very recent times improbable; that it should have been successful in England was still less to be expected. For the modern reader will have nothing to do with a story full of outlandish scenes and characters; he must be told what he thinks he knows; he must be able to realise the points and the probabilities of a plot and of its personages; he wants a tale that falls more or less within his ordinary experience, or that tallies with his preconceived notions. Accordingly, any close description of native Indian manners or people is apt to lose interest in proportion as it is exact; its value as a painting of life is usually discernible only by those who know the country. The popular traditional East was long, and indeed still is, that which has been for generations fixed in the imagination of Western folk by the Arabian Nights, by the legends of Crusaders, and by pictorial editions of the Old Testament. It is seen in the Oriental landscape and figures presented by Walter Scott in The Talisman, which every one, at least in youth, has read; whereas The Surgeon's Daughter, where the scene is laid in India, is hardly read at all. Of course there are other reasons why the former book is much more liked than the latter; yet it was certainly not bad local colouring or unreality of detail that damaged The Surgeon's Daughter, for Scott knew quite as much about Mysore and Haidar Ali as he did about Syria in the thirteenth century and Saladin. But in The Talisman he was on the well-trodden ground of mediaeval English history and legend; whereas the readers of his Indian tale found themselves wandering in the fresh but then almost unknown field of India in the eighteenth century.
These are the serious obstacles which have discouraged Anglo-Indians from attempting the pure historical romance. They knew the country too well for concocting stories after the fashion of Thomas Moore's Lalla Rookh, with gallant chieftains and beauteous maidens who have nothing Oriental about them except a few set Eastern phrases, turbans, daggers, and jewellery. They could not use the true local colour, the real temper and talk of the Indian East, without great risk of becoming neither intelligible nor interesting to the English public at large. It may be said that before our own day there has been only one author who has successfully overcome these difficulties—Meadows Taylor, who wrote a romantic novel, now almost forgotten, founded upon the history of Western India in the seventeenth century. The period was skilfully chosen, for it is the time of the Moghul emperor Aurungzeb's long war against the Mohammedan kingdoms in the Dekhan, and of the Maratha insurrection under Sivaji, which eventually ruined the Moghul empire. The daring murder of a Mohammedan governor by Sivaji, the Maratha hero who freed his countrymen from an alien yoke, is still kept in patriotic remembrance throughout Western India. Nor is there anything in such a natural sentiment that need give umbrage to Englishmen; although the liberality of a recent English governor of Bombay who headed a list of subscriptions for public commemoration of the deed, betrayed a somewhat simple-minded unreadiness to appreciate the significance of historical analogies.
Meadows Taylor has treated this subject with very creditable success. He had lived long in that part of the country; he knew the localities; he was unusually conversant with the manners and feelings of the people, and he had the luck to be among them before the old and rough state of society, with its lawless and turbulent elements, had disappeared. He had himself been in the service of a native prince whose governing methods were no better, in some respects worse, than those of the seventeenth century; and his possession of good natural literary faculty made up in him a rare combination of qualifications for venturing upon an Indian romance. The result has been that Tara has not fallen into complete oblivion, though one may doubt whether it would now be thought generally readable. Although written so late as 1863, the influence of Walter Scott's mediaeval romanticism shows itself in the chivalrous language of the nobles, and in a somewhat formal drawing of the leading figures, as if they were taken from a model. But all the details are truly executed. There are sketches of scenery, of interiors, of dress, arms, and manners, which are clearly the outcome of direct observation; and the incidents have a genuine flavour. The misfortune is that these are just the sterling qualities which require special knowledge and insight for their appreciation, and are therefore missed by the great majority of readers. The following picture of a party of Maratha horsemen returning from a raid may be taken as an example:
'There might have been twenty-five to thirty men, from the youth unbearded to the grizzled trooper, whose swarthy, sunburnt face, large whiskers and moustaches touched with grey, wiry frame, and easy lounging seat in saddle, as he balanced his heavy Maratha spear across his shoulder, showed the years of service he had done. There was no richness of costume among the party; the dresses were worn and weather stained, and of motley character. Some wore thickly quilted white doublets, strong enough to turn a sword-cut, or light shirts of chain-mail, with a piece of the mail or of twisted wire folded into their turbans; and a few wore steel morions with turbans tied round them, and steel gauntlets inlaid with gold and silver in delicate arabesque patterns. All were now soiled by the wet and mud of the day. It was clear that this party had ridden far; and the horses, from their drooping crests and sluggish action, were evidently weary. Four of the men had been wounded in some skirmish, for they sat their horses with difficulty, and the bandages about them were covered with blood.'
No Indian novel, indeed, has been written which displays greater power of picturesque description, or better acquaintance with the distinctive varieties of castes, race, and habits, that make up the composite population of India. It was for a long time the only Indian novel in which the dramatis personae are entirely native.
Although Tara is unique as an Indian romance, there is another story which renders Indian life and manners with equal fidelity. Pandurang Hari was written by a member of the Indian Civil Service, and first published in 1826, though it reappeared in 1874, with a preface by Sir Bartle Frere. Here again the scene is in Western India, among the Marathas; but the period belongs to the first quarter of this century. It purports to be a free translation from a manuscript given to the author by a Hindu who had in his youth served with the Maratha armies, and latterly fell in with the Pindaree hordes, from whom he heard tales of their plundering raids. He eventually joins a band of robbers, and leads a wandering, adventurous life in the hills and jungles of the Dekhan, until the general pacification of the country by the British permits or obliges him to settle down quietly. The merit of the book consists entirely in its precise and valuable delineation of the condition of the country when it was harried by the freebooting Maratha companies, and in certain glimpses which are given of Anglo-Indian life in those rough days; for the writer, unlike Meadows Taylor, has no literary power, and can only relate accurately what he has seen or has carefully gathered from authentic sources.
We have thus only two novels worth mention which have preserved true pictures of the times before all the wild irregularity of Indian circumstance and rulership had been flattened down under the irresistible pressure of English law and order. The historical romance has shared the general decline and fall of that school in Europe; while as for the exact reproduction of stories dealing entirely with native life, very few Anglo-Indians would now attempt it, for such a book would find very scanty favour in England. Nearly all recent Indian novels have for their subject, not native, but Anglo-Indian society; the heroes and heroines, in war or love, in peril or pastime, are English; the natives take the minor or accessory part in the drama, and give the prevailing colour, tragical or comical, to the background. One of the best and earliest novels of this class is Oakfield, written about 1853 by William Arnold, a son of Dr. Arnold of Rugby, who, after spending some years in one of the East India Company's sepoy regiments, obtained a civil appointment in India, and died at Gibraltar on his way homeward. Some pathetic lines in the short poem by Matthew Arnold called A Southern Night commemorate his untimely death. The book is remarkable for the autobiographic description, too austere and censorious, of life in Indian cantonments, or during an Indian campaign, before the great Mutiny swept away the old sepoy army of Bengal. It represents the impression made upon a young Oxonian of high culture and serious religious feeling by the unmannerly and sometimes vicious dissipation of the officers' mess in an ill-managed regiment stationed up the country.
Oakfield, a clergyman's son, carefully bred up in Arnold's school of indifference to dogma and strictness in morals, finds himself oppressed by the hollow conventionality of religious and social ideas at home, and sees no prospect of a higher level in the ordinary English professions. He leaves Oxford abruptly for an Indian cadetship, and sets out with the hope of finding wider scope for work and the earnest pursuit of loftier ideals in India. He is intensely disappointed and disgusted at finding himself, on joining his regiment, among men who have very slight education and wild manners, whose talk is coarse, who gamble, fight duels, dislike the country, and care nothing for the people. The aims and methods of the Government itself appear to him eminently unsatisfactory, being chiefly directed towards such grovelling business as revenue collection, superficial order, and public works, with little or no concern for the moral elevation of the people. When his friends urge him to study for the purpose of rising in the service, civil or military, he asks: 'What then? What if the extra allowances have really no attraction? I want to know what the life is in which you think it good to get on. It seems to me that my object in life must be not so much to get an appointment, or to get on in the world, as to work, and the only work worth doing in the country is helping to civilise it.'
We have here the interesting, though not uncommon, case of a youthful enthusiast transported as if by one leap—for the sea voyage is a blank interval—from England to the Far East, from a sober and disciplined home to a loose society, from the centre of ancient peace and calm study to a semi-barbarous miscellany of races under an elementary kind of government. Ovid's banishment from Rome to the shores of the Euxine, to live among rude Roman centurions and subject Scythians, could have been no greater change, though Ovid and Oakfield are not comparable otherwise. The sight of a great Hindu fair on the river bank at Allahabad, as surveyed from the deck of a steamer, strikes him with that ever-recurrent feeling of a great gulf fixed between Europeans and natives: 'What an inconceivable separation there apparently and actually is between us few English, silently making a servant of the Ganges with our steam engines and paddles, and these Asiatics, with shouts and screams worshipping the same river!'
He meets a cool and capable civilian, who expounds to him the practical side of all these questions and administrative problems; and he makes a few military friends of the higher stamp, who stand by him in his refusal to fight a duel and in the court-martial which follows. Then comes the second Sikh war, with a vivid description, evidently by an eye-witness, of an officer's share in the hard-fought action at Chillianwalla, and of the other sharp contests in that eventful campaign. It is an excellent example of the skilful interweaving of real incident with the texture of fiction, showing the clear-cut lines and colour of actual experience gained in the fiercest battle ever won by the English in India:
'The cavalry and horse-artillery dashed forward, and soon the rolling of wheels and clanking of sabres were lost in one continual roar from above a hundred pieces of artillery. On every side the shot crashed through the jungle; branches of trees were shattered and torn from their stems; rolling horses and falling men gave an early character to this fearful evening.... The 3rd Division advanced, with what fatal results to the gallant 24th Regiment is well known.... Either by an injudicious order, or, as stated in the official despatch, by mistaking a chance movement of their commandant for a signal, the 24th broke into a double at a distance from the guns far too great for a charge; they arrived breathless and exhausted at the guns, where a terrific and hitherto concealed fire of musketry awaited them. The native corps came up and well sustained their European comrades; but both were repulsed—not until twenty-one English officers, twelve sergeants, and 450 rank and file of the 24th had been killed or wounded.... Oakfield counted the bodies of nine officers lying dead in as many square yards; there lay the dead bodies of the two Pennycuicks side by side; those of the men almost touched each other.'
The transfer of Oakfield to a civil appointment in no way diminishes his dissatisfaction at the spectacle of a Government that has no apparent ethical programme and misconceives its true mission:
'The Indian Government is perhaps the best, the most perfect, nay, perhaps the only specimen of pure professing secularism that the civilised world has ever seen since the Christian era, and sometimes, when our eyes are open to see things as they are, such a secularism does appear a most monstrous phenomenon to be stalking through God's world.... When the spirit of philosophy, poetry, and godliness shall move across the world, when the philosophical reformer shall come here as Governor-General, then the spirit of Mammon may tremble for its empire, but not till then.'
Yet, notwithstanding the author's solicitude for India's welfare, the natives make no figure at all in his story; they are barely mentioned, except where Oakfield denounces the unblushing perjury committed daily in our courts; and one can see that he does them the very common injustice of measuring their conduct by an ideal standard of morality. Anglo-Indian officials leave their country at an early age, in almost total ignorance of the darker side of English life, as seen in a police court or wherever the passions and interests of men come into sharp conflict. But this is just the side of Indian life that is brought prominently before them, at first, as junior magistrates and revenue officers, who sometimes do not care to look into any other aspects of it; and in consequence they stand aghast at the exhibition of vice and false-swearing. A London magistrate transferred to Lucknow or Lahore would find much less reason for astonishment.
The same criticism applies, for similar reasons, to Oakfield's unmeasured censure of the tone and habits prevalent among officers of the old Indian army; he probably knew nothing of regimental life in the English army sixty years ago, and therefore supposed the delinquencies of his own mess to be monstrous. It must be admitted, however, that morals and manners were loose and low in a bad sepoy regiment before the Mutiny. No two men could have differed more widely in antecedents or character than William Arnold and John Lang, whose novel, The Wetherbys; or, A Few Chapters of Indian Experience, was written a few years earlier than Oakfield. It deals with precisely the same scenes and society, at the same period, in the form of an Indian officer's autobiography. The book is clever, amusing with a touch of vulgarity, yet undoubtedly composed with a complete knowledge of its subject; for Lang was the editor of a Meerut newspaper, who took his full share of Anglo-Indian revelry, and who knew the Indian army thoroughly. Whereas in Oakfield the tone rises often to righteous indignation, in The Wetherbys it falls to a strain of caustic humour, and in the modern reader's mouth it might leave an unpleasant taste; yet the verisimilitude of the narrative would be questioned by no competent judge. As Oakfield fought at Chillianwalla, so Wetherby fights in the almost equally desperate battle of Ferozeshah, where the English narrowly escaped a great disaster; and here, again, we have a momentary ray of vivid light thrown upon the battlefield by a writer who had associated with eye-witnesses, though he was not one of them. It is difficult to give an extract from this part of the tale, because Lang's power lies not in description, but in characteristic conversation; so we may be content, for the purpose of bringing out the contrast between two very diverse styles, with a specimen of his comic talent, as exhibited in the injunctions laid upon her husband by the vulgar half-caste wife of a poor henpecked officer just starting for the campaign:
'Well, then,' she continued, 'keep out of danger. If your troop wishes to charge into a safe place, let 'em. You don't want brevet rank, or any of that nonsense, I hope. Make as much bluster and row as you like, but for Heaven's sake keep out of harm's way.... You need not write to me every day, but every third or fourth day, for the postage is serious. If you should happen to kill any Sikhs, search them, and pull down their back hair; that's where they carry their money and jewels and valuables. A sergeant of the 3rd Dragoons, like a good husband, has sent his wife down a lot of gold mohurs and some precious stones that he found tied up in the hair of a Sikh officer. And, by the by, you may as well leave me your watch. You can always learn the time of day from somebody; and if anything happened to you, it would be sold by the Committee of Adjustment, and would fetch a mere nothing.'
This is unquestionably a grotesque caricature; yet the ladies of mixed parentage were quaint and singular persons in the India of sixty years ago. As Arnold could hardly have failed to read The Wetherbys before he wrote Oakfield, the book may have suggested to him the plan of going over the same ground upon a higher plane of thought and treatment. The two books stand as records of a state of society that has now entirely passed away, and from their perusal we may conclude that, among the many radical changes wrought upon India by the sweeping cyclone of the great Mutiny, not the least of them has been a thorough reformation of the native army.
When we turn to the Indian novels written after the Mutiny we are in the clearer and lighter atmosphere of the contemporary social novel. We have left behind the theoretic enthusiast, perplexed by the contrast between the semi-barbarism of the country and the old-fashioned apathy of its rulers; we have no more descriptions, serious or sarcastic, of rakish subalterns and disorderly regiments under ancient, incapable colonels; we are introduced to a reformed Anglo-India, full of hard-working, efficient officers, civil and military, and sufficiently decorous, except where hill-stations foster flirting and the ordinary dissipation of any garrison town. It is, however, still a characteristic of the post-Mutiny stories that they find very little room for natives; the secret of successfully interpreting Indian life and ideas to the English public in this form still awaits discovery. One of the best and most popular of the new school was the late Sir George Chesney, whose Battle of Dorking was a stroke of genius, and who utilised his Indian experiences with very considerable literary skill, weaving his projects of army reform into a lively tale of everyday society abroad and at home. The scene of A True Reformer opens at Simla, under Lord Mayo's vice-royalty, names and places being very thinly disguised; the hero marries a pretty girl, and starts homeward on furlough, thereby giving the writer his opportunity for bringing in a description of a railway journey across India to Bombay in the scorching heat of May:
'And now the day goes wearily on, marked only by the change of the sun's shadow, the rising of the day-wind and its accompaniment of dust, and the ever-increasing heat. The country is everywhere the same—a perfectly flat, desert-looking plain of reddish brown hue, with here and there a village, its walls of the same colour. It looks a desert, because there are no signs of crops, which were reaped two months ago, and no hedgerows, but here and there an acacia tree. Not a traveller is stirring on the road, not a soul to be seen in the fields, but an occasional stunted bullock is standing in such shade as their trees afford. At about every ten miles a station is reached, each exactly like the previous one and the next following.... Gradually the sun went down, the wind and dust subsided, and another stifling night succeeded, with uneasy slumbers, broken by the ever-recurring hubbub of the stoppages.'
On reaching home Captain West learns, like the elder Wetherby in Lang's story, that an uncle has died leaving him a good income; so he enters Parliament, and the remainder of his autobiography is entirely occupied by an account of his efforts in the cause of army reform, which eventually succeed when he has overcome the scruples and hesitation of the prime minister—Mr. Merriman, a transparent pseudonym. The author's plan of endeavouring to interest his readers in professional and technical questions is very creditably carried out, for the book is throughout readable; and it also shows that on the subject of military organisation Chesney was often in advance of his time; but the scene changes from India to England so very early in the narrative that this novel takes a place on our list more by reason of its Anglo-Indian authorship than of its connection with India.
In The Dilemma, on the other hand, Chesney gives us a story with characters and catastrophes drawn entirely from the sepoy mutiny. The main interest centres round the defence of a house in some up-country station that is besieged by the mutineers, and for such a purpose the writer could supply himself, at discretion, from the abundant repertory of adventures and the variety of personal conduct—heroic, humorous, or otherwise astonishing—which had been provided by actual and recent events. We have here, indeed, a dramatic version of real history; and, since the original of an intensely tragic situation must always transcend a literary adaptation of it, the fiction necessarily suffers by comparison with the fact. Yet the novel contends not unsuccessfully with this disadvantage, and in the lapse of years, as the real scenes and piercing emotions stirred up by a bloody struggle fade into distance, the value of Chesney's work may increase. For it preserves a true picture, drawn at first hand, of the time, the circumstances, and the behaviour of an isolated group of English folk who, while living in a state of profound peace and apparent security, found themselves suddenly obliged to fight desperately for their lives against an enemy from whom no quarter, even for women and children, could be expected in case of defeat.
We may now take up a book of a very different kind, the production, not of an Anglo-Indian amateur, but of an eminent English novelist who has lived, though not long, in India—Mr. Marion Crawford. Here we are back again in the region of romance, for, although the story opens at Simla in Lord Lytton's reign and during the second Afghan War, Mr. Isaacs, the hero (whose name gives the book its title) is outwardly a Persian dealer in precious gems, but esoterically an adept in the mysteries of what has been called occult Buddhism. This queer science, as professed by a certain Madame Blavatsky, had much vogue in Northern India about 1879, particularly at Simla. To sceptics it appeared to be an adroit mixture of charlatanry and mere juggling tricks, with some elementary knowledge of the beliefs and practices of the true Indian Yogi, who seeks to attain supernatural powers by rigid asceticism, and who has really some insight into secret mental phenomena, being in this line of discovery the forerunner of the English Psychical Society.
The part played in this story by Mr. Isaacs, who is not in all respects an imaginary personage, might remind one of Disraeli's Sidonia. He is an enigmatic character, versed in the philosophy of the East and the West, who excels on horseback and in tiger shooting, yet can discourse mystically and can bring the mysterious influences at his command to bear upon critical situations. The novel has thus two sides: we have the usual sketch of Anglo-Indian society—the soldiers, the civilians, the charming young English girl whom Mr. Isaacs fascinates. But a writer of Mr. Crawford's high repute is bound to put some depth and originality into his Indian tale, and so we have the Pandit Ram Lal, who is somehow also a Buddhist, and who is Mr. Isaacs's colleague whenever occult Buddhism is to give warning or timely succour. The chief exploit occurs in a wondrous expedition to rescue and carry away into Tibet the Afghan Amir, Sher Ali, who had just then actually fled from Kabul before the advance of an English army; and it must be confessed that so fantastic an adventure sounds rather startling in connection with a bit of authentic contemporary history.
On the whole, whether we assume that the object of a novel is to illustrate history, or to present a faithful reflection of life and manners, or to render strenuous action dramatically yet not improbably—by whatever standard we measure Mr. Crawford's book, it cannot be awarded a high place on the list of Indian fiction. But we have run over this list so rapidly, touching only upon typical examples, that we are now among the latest writers of the present day; and we may take Helen Treveryan (1892) as a very favourable specimen of their productions. Comparing it with earlier novels, we may remark, in the first place, that there is no great variety of plot or treatment, Anglo-Indian society being everywhere, and at most times, very much the same, except so far as closer intercourse with Europe softens down its roughness, materially and morally, increases the feminine element, and assimilates its outer form to the English model. Helen Treveryan, whose author is a very distinguished member of the Indian Civil Service, is, like all other novels of the kind, the narrative of the adventures, in love and war, of a young English military officer in India. The characters are evidently drawn from life; the main incidents belong to very recent Indian history; the description of society in an up-country station, with which the movement of the drama begins, is an exact and humorous photograph. A tiger hunt is done better, with more knowledge of the business, than a similar episode in Mr. Crawford's novel; and the passionate love between Guy Langley and Helen Treveryan is well painted in bright colours to intensify the gloom and pathos of Langley's death in battle.
As Chesney went to the sepoy mutiny for his scenes of tragedy and heroism, so Sir Mortimer Durand (we believe that the original pseudonym has been dropped) takes them from the second Afghan War, having been at Kabul with General Roberts in the midst of hard fighting, where he first placed his foot on the ladder which has led him upward to high places and unusual distinction. In the chapters describing the march upon Kabul, its occupation, the rising of the tribes, and their attack upon the British army beleaguered in the Sherpur entrenchments, we have simply a memoir of actual events, written with truth, spirit, and with the pictorial skill of an artist who understands the value and proportion of romantic details. The English commanders, the Afghan sirdars, and several other well-known folk are mentioned by name; the skirmishes and perilous situations are described just as they really occurred. No book could better serve the purpose of a home-keeping Englishman who might desire to see as in a moving photograph what was going on in the British camp before Kabul during the perilous winter of 1879-80, to hear the camp-talk, and to realise the nature and methods of Afghan fighting.
'He turned to the westward, and as he did so there was a flicker in the darkness, where the rugged top of the Asmai Hill could just be made out. For an instant there was perfect silence; then, as the flame caught and flared, there rose from the men around him a low, involuntary "A—h," such as one may sometimes hear at Lord's when a dangerous wicket goes down. Then in the distance two musket shots rang out, and after them a few more; but along the cantonment wall all was silent; men stood with beating hearts awaiting the onslaught. For some minutes the suspense lasted, and then suddenly burst from the darkness a wild storm of yells, "Allah, Allah, Allah," and fifty thousand Afghans came with a rush at the wall, shouting and firing. The cantonment was surrounded by a broad continuous ring of rifle-flashes, and over the parapet and over the trenches the bullets began to stream.'
But the subjoined extract, which gives Langley's death, is a better example of the book's general style—cool, circumstantial, abhorrent of glitter or exaggeration, leaving a clear impression of things actually witnessed and done, a brief glimpse of one of the incidents that remain stamped on the brain of those who saw it, but are otherwise forgotten in war-time, after a day or two's regret for the lost comrade.
'They were all weary, and marched carelessly forward in silence. The night was closing fast, and a little fine snow was falling.... There was a sudden flash in the darkness to the right, a shot, and then a scattering volley. Guy Langley threw up his arms with a cry, and as the startled horse swerved across the road he fell with a dull thud on the snow. There was a moment of confusion, but the Sikhs, though careless, were good soldiers, and two or three of them dashed towards the low wall from which the shots had come. They were just in time to see four men running across a bit of broken ground towards a deep water-cut, fringed with poplars. The horsemen were very quick after them, being light men on hardy horses; and one of the four Afghans, a big man in a dirty sheepskin coat, lost his head, and ran down under a bit of wall; the other three crossed the water-cut. The horsemen saw the position at once, and rode after the man on their side of the trench. They were up to him in a minute, and Atar Singh made a lunge at him with his lance; but the Afghan avoided it, and swinging up his heavy knife cut the boy across the hand. Before he could turn to run again a second horseman was on him, and with a grim "Hyun—Would you?" drove the lance through his chest.'
The dialogue is occasionally used to bring out contending views in regard to Indian politics, as might be expected from a writer who has thoroughly studied them. At a Simla dinner-party the conversation turns upon the question whether, in the event of a collision between the armed forces of Russia and England on the Indian frontier, the Anglo-Indian army could hold its own successfully against such a serious enemy. We have on one side the man of dismal forebodings, so well known in India, and against him the hopeful, resolute officer, who lays just stress on England's superior position, with all the strength and resources of India and the British empire at her back. One supremely important point in the discussion is, by consent of both speakers, the probable behaviour in such a crisis of the native Indian army; and we may here express our agreement with the view that our best native regiments would prove themselves faithful soldiers and formidable antagonists to the Russians. As is well said in the course of the argument, the Sikhs and Goorkhas faced us well when they fought us, 'and with English officers to lead them, why should they not face the Russians?... I believe the natives will be true to us if we are true to ourselves; some few are actively disloyal, but not the mass of them. If we begin to falter they will go, of course; but if we show them we mean fighting they will fight too.' This is the true political creed for Englishmen in India, outside of which there is no salvation, but the reverse.
It is perhaps to be regretted that so capable a writer upon Indian subjects has given us nothing of native life and character beyond a few silhouettes; and after Guy Langley's death, when the scene is transferred entirely to England, the story's interest decidedly flags. Yet we may fairly assign a high place in the series of Indian novels to Helen Treveryan, not only for its literary merits, but also for the historical value of the chapters which preserve the day by day experience of one who took his share in the culminating dangers and difficulties of an arduous campaign.
Mrs. Steel's book, On the Face of the Waters, has been so widely read and reviewed since it appeared, so lately as 1897, that another criticism of it may appear stale and superfluous; yet to omit mentioning in this article the most popular of recent Indian novels would be impossible. Here, at any rate, is a book which is not open to the remark that the Anglo-Indian novelist usually leaves the natives in the background, or admits them only as supernumeraries. For Mrs. Steel's canvas is crowded with Indian figures; their talk, their distinctive peculiarities of character and costume, their parts in the great tragedy which is taken as the ground-plan of her story, are so abundantly described as occasionally to bewilder the inexperienced reader. The scene of action is the Sepoy mutiny at Meerut and the siege of Delhi, and while the Indian dramatis personae are mainly types of different classes and castes—except where, like the King of Delhi, they are historical—the English army leaders act and speak under their own names, as in Durand's book, being of course modelled upon the ample personal knowledge of them still obtainable from their surviving contemporaries in India.
The book, in fact, attempts, as is frankly stated in its preface, 'to be at once a story and a history.' And we observe that Mrs. Steel tells us, as if it were a credit and a recommendation to her work, that she 'has not allowed fiction to interfere with fact in the slightest degree.'
'The reader may rest assured that every incident bearing in the remotest degree on the Indian Mutiny, or on the part which real men took in it, is scrupulously exact, even to the date, the hour, the scene, the weather. Nor have I allowed the actual actors in the great tragedy to say a word regarding it which is not to be found in the accounts of eye-witnesses, or in their own writings.'
Is such minute matter-of-fact copying a virtue in the novelist? or is it not rather a defect arising out of a misunderstanding of the principles of his art? In our opinion the business of the novelist, even when he chooses an historical subject, is not to reproduce as many exact details as he can pick out of memoirs, official reports, and histories, but, on the contrary, to avoid making up his story out of a string of extracts and personal reminiscences, or at any rate to use his skill rather for disguising than for disclosing the precise verbal accuracy of his borrowed material. What would be thought of a naval romance that adopted, word for word, the authentic account of Nelson's death, or of a military novel that seasoned a full and particular account of Waterloo with a few imaginary characters and incidents? Any one who has observed how two fine writers, Thackeray and Stendhal, have brought that famous battle into the plot of their masterpieces (Vanity Fair and La Chartreuse de Parme), will have noticed that they carefully avoid the crude and undisguised employment of detail, either in words or incidents; they allow fiction to interfere very constantly with fact in all petty matters of this sort; their art consists, not in historical accuracy, but in verisimilitude; they discard authentic phrases and incidents; they do not aim at precision, but at dramatic probabilities. But Mrs. Steel does not only draw too copiously, for a novelist, upon history; she also undertakes to pass authoritative judgments upon disputable questions of fact and situation, with which fiction, we submit, has no concern. She very plainly intimates that nothing but culpable inaction and want of energy prevented instant pursuit by a force from Meerut of the mutineers who made a forced march upon Delhi on the night of May 10, and whose arrival produced the insurrection in that city.
'Delhi lay,' she says, 'but thirty miles distant on a broad white road, and there were horses galore and men ready to ride them—men like Captain Rosser, of the Carabineers, who pleaded for a squadron, a field battery, a troop, or a gun—anything with which to dash down the road and cut off that retreat to Delhi.'
To argue the point in this review would be to fall into the very error on which we desire to lay stress, of attempting to deal with serious history in a light, literary way. We shall therefore be content with reminding our readers that Lord Roberts, who is perhaps the very best living authority on the subject, has come to the conclusion, after a careful survey of the circumstances, that the refusal of the Meerut commanders to pursue the mutineers was justifiable.
Yet Mrs. Steel's performance is better than her principles. The unquestionable success of On the Face of the Waters is in no way due to her scrupulous exactitude in particulars, for if this had been the book's chief feature it would have failed. She has a clear and spirited style; she knows enough of India to be able to give a fine natural colour to the stirring scenes of the Sepoy mutiny, and to execute good character-drawing of the natives, as they are to be studied among the various classes in a great city. And whenever her good genius takes her off the beaten road of recorded fact her narrative shows considerable imaginative vigour. The massacres at Meerut and Delhi, the wild tumult, terror, and agony, are energetically described; and her picture of the confusion inside Delhi during the siege is admirably worked up, remembering that she wrote forty years after the event, at a time when the people and even the places had very greatly changed. The storming of the breach at the Kashmir gate by the forlorn hope that led the English columns is dexterously brought into an animated narrative; and although that story has been much better told in Lord Roberts's autobiography, we need not look too austerely on the crowd of readers who find history more attractive under a thin and embroidered veil of fiction.
A still more recent novel, entitled Bijli the Dancer (1898), should be mentioned here, not only for its intrinsic merits, but also because the author has boldly faced the problem of constructing a story out of the materials available from purely native society, the stock themes and characters of Anglo-India being entirely discarded. Bijli is a professional dancing girl, whose grace and accomplishments so fascinate a great Mohammedan landholder of North India, that he persuades her to abandon her profession and to abide with him as his mistress. This arrangement is correctly treated in the book as quite consistent with the maintenance of due respect and consideration for the Nawab's lawful wife, who occupies separate apartments, and, according to Mohammedan ideas in that rank of society, has no reasonable ground for complaint. Yet Bijli, though she has every comfort, and is deeply attached to her lord, grows restless in her luxurious solitude; she pines for the excitement and triumphs of singing and dancing before an assembly. So, in the Nawab's absence, she takes professional disguise, and sings with a lute in the harem before his wife. To those who would like to see a Mohammedan lady of high rank in full dress, the following description of costume may be commended:
'She was dressed and adorned with scrupulous care; her eyebrows trimmed of every stray hair that might deform the beauty-arch; the lids pencilled with lampblack; the palms of her hands and the soles of her feet stained with henna; not one stray lock encroached on the straight parting of her glossy hair.
'She wore gold-embroidered trousers of purple satin, loose below the knee and full over the ankles, and fastened round her waist by a gold cord with jewelled tassels. A black crape bodice adorned with spangles and gold edging confined her full bosom, and an open vest of grey gauze with long, tight sleeves hung loosely over her waistband. Upon the back of her head was thrown a veiling-sheet of the fine muslin known as the dew of Dacca. Her feet and hands, arms and wrists and neck, were adorned with numerous rings, jewels, and chains, and from her nose was hung a ring of gold wire, on which was strung a ruby between two grey pearls.'
But Bijli's intrusion into the harem is a grave breach of etiquette; she is detected, and told to be gone, though the lady bears her no malice. The incident brings home to her a sense of degradation; she asks the Nawab to marry her, and her discontent is increased by his refusal, until at last she escapes secretly from his house. The Nawab follows, and finds her in a hut on the bank of a flooded river which has stopped her flight; but after a really pathetic interview she returns to her free life—and 'thus ended the romance of Bijli the Dancer.'
In this short story, written with much truth and feeling, the style and handling rises above the commonplace device of dressing up European sentimentality in the garb and phraseology of Asia; and we have, so far as can be judged, a fairly real picture of the inner and the emotional side of native life in India, sufficiently tinged with romantic colouring. The fascination which professional dancers often exercise over natives of the highest rank is a well-known feature of Indian society; and although the dancer is always a courtesan, yet to invest her with a capacity for tender and honourable affection is by no means to overstep the limits of probability. We have noticed this book because it proves that the study of native manners, and sympathetic insight into their feelings and character, still survive among Anglo-Indians, albeit officials; and because it stands out in quiet relief among tales of fierce wars and savage mutiny; it neither chronicles the heroic deeds of Englishmen, nor does it devote even a single page to the loves, sorrows, or comic misadventures that break the monotony of a British cantonment.
The Chronicles of Dustypore, by H. S. Cunningham, takes us back again from the sombre, half-veiled interior of an Indian household, into the fierce light which beats upon English society at some station in the sun-dried plains of the Punjab. We have here a sketch, half satirical, half in earnest, of official work and ways, with one or two personages that can be easily identified from among the provincial notabilities of twenty years ago. The book, which had considerable success in its time, will still provide interest and amusement for those who enjoy an exceedingly clever delineation of familiar scenes and characters; and it is in the main as true and lively a picture of Anglo-Indian life as when it was first written. Here is the summer landscape of the Sandy Tracts, a region just annexed to British administration after the usual skirmish with, and discomfiture of, the native ruler:
'Vast plains, a dead level but for an occasional clump of palms or the dome of some despoiled and crumbling tomb, stretched away on every side and ended in a hazy, quivering horizon that spoke of infinite heat. Over these ranged herds of cattle and goats, browsing on no one could see what; or bewildered buffaloes would lie, panting and contented, in some muddy pool, with little but horns, eyes, and nostrils exposed above the surface. Little ill-begotten stunted plants worked hard to live and grow and to weather the roaring fierce winds. The crows sat gasping, open-beaked, as if protesting against having been born into so sulphurous an existence. Here and there a well, with its huge lumbering wheel and patient bullocks, went creaking and groaning night and day, as if earth grudged the tiny rivulet coming so toilfully from her dry breast, and gave it up with sighs of pain. The sky was cloudless, pitiless, brazen. The sun rose into it without a single fleck of vapour to mitigate its fierceness ... all day it shone and glistened and blazed, until the very earth seemed to crack with heat and the mere thought of it was pain.'
Such is the environment in which many English officers live and labour for years; and this is the side of Anglo-Indian existence that is unknown to, and consequently unappreciated by, the rapid tourist, who runs by railway from one town to another during the bright cold winter months, is delighted with the climate and the country, takes note of the deficiencies or peculiarities of Anglo-Indians, and has a very short memory for their hospitality. The narrative carries us, as a matter of course, to a Himalayan Elysium, with its balls, picnics, and its flirtations, among which the leading lady of the piece is drawn to the brink of indiscretion, but steps happily back again into the secure haven of domestic felicity. A good deal of excellent light comedy and sparkling dialogue will always maintain for this novel a creditable place upon the Indian list; and as an indirect illustration of the social wall that separates ordinary English folk from the population which surrounds them, it is complete, since we have here a story plotted out upon the stage of a great Indian province which contains absolutely no mention of the natives beyond occasional necessary reference to the servants.
For a strong contrast to Dustypore, both in subject and style of treatment, we may take a story which merits notice, even though it be hardly long enough to be ranked among Indian novels. The Bond of Blood, by R. E. Forrest (1896), draws, like Bijli the Dancer, its incidents and their environment exclusively from Indian life; and the book may be placed high in this class of difficult work, which few have ventured to attempt, and where success has been very rare. It is a study of peculiarly local manners, that may be also called contemporary; for though the period belongs to the early years of this century, yet the sure drawing from life of a skilful hand may still be verified by those readers who actually know the customs and feelings at the present day of the Rajput clans, among whom primitive ideas and institutions have been less obliterated in the independent States than in any other region of India. The descriptive and personal sketches attest the writer's gift of close observation; there is good workmanship in all the details; his sentences hit the mark and are never overcharged or superfluous. The tale is of a dissipated Rajput chief, to whom a moneylender has lent a large sum upon a bond which has been endorsed by the sign-manual of the family Bhat, or hereditary bard, herald, and genealogist—an office of great repute and importance in every noble Rajput house. Debauchees and cunning gamblers empty the chief's purse; the moneylender, an honest man enough in his way, is obliged to press him for the sum due; until at last the bewildered chief is persuaded by one of the gamblers to declare flatly that he will not pay at all, whereupon the creditor falls back upon the surety. Now the Bhat has pledged upon the bond not his property but his life, according to an ancient and authentic custom among Rajput folk, as formerly throughout India, whereby a man who has no other means of enforcing a just claim against a powerful debtor has always the resource of bringing down upon him a fearful curse by committing suicide before his door. The Rajput chief pretends that the bond is illegal and void, being founded upon an obsolete custom disallowed by the English rulers; but in truth he has brought himself to believe that the blood penalty will not really be paid, and he is struck with horror when the Bhat, after formal and public warning, stabs his own mother in the chief's presence, whereupon the curse falls and clings to the family. We may add that the substitution of the Bhat's mother for himself as an expiatory victim is in accordance with accepted precedents on such occasions, while it makes room for a pathetic situation, and greatly enhances the dramatic interest of the closing scene. Here we have the antique Oriental version of the story in Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice, where Shylock takes the same kind of security from Antonio, upon whose person he subsequently demands execution of his bond of blood; nor does the law refuse it to him. But the Hindu custom is so far milder than the Venetian code that the Rajput Shylock could not have rejected a tender of full payment in cash. Mr. Forrest's tale might be turned into an effective stage-tragedy if the main incident were not too shockingly improbable for Europeans, although to an Indian audience it would be credible enough. The final scene of the mother's death is stamped on the reader's imagination by the writer's power of giving intense significance not only to the speech but to slight movements of the actors, so that the mental picture becomes almost objective, while the strained expectation of the crowd makes itself felt by the force of the words.