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dilloes of fictitious fashionable life rather than its crimes, and who write as a fast young lady resident in a garrison town might be supposed to write while aping the character of a fast young man. Mr. Wilkie Collins originated the Old Bailey school, and Mr. Edmund Yates may be regarded as the Principal of the Ladies' Fast-Life Literary Academy. Of this school, Miss Annie Thomas may be selected as a promising pupil. There may not be much Real Life in her books, but it cannot be denied that there is a good deal of "Bell's Life." Authoresses of this type feel an inward conviction that they are really rather ignorant of the actual doings of that mysterious bearded animal called Man; but they believe they cannot be far wrong if they make him smoke, drink, and swear inordinately, and talk unceasing slang. An atmosphere of distrust, moreover, envelopes Miss Thomas's characters. Husbands and wives watch each other furtively when the postman arrives, for there is pretty sure to be some compromising missive in the letter-bag. A low moral tone, we are compelled to say, distinguishes most of Miss Thomas's books; and we wonder, as we read, where an educated lady can have picked up such mean and unworthy conceptions of her fellow-creatures. Can she believe that her novels are genuine pictures of English life? or does she sedulously collect all the disagreeable stories she hears, and weave them together for the sake of gratifying a debased public taste. It is wearisome work to read much about ill-behaved, disreputable people. Even Thackeray was too fond of the seamy side of human nature; and if the great satirist lessened his merits by such descriptions, what shall we say of Miss Thomas, who possesses neither the playful humour nor the keen sarcasm which brighten Thackeray's meanest and most repulsive conceptions? There is some smartness and cleverness in her books, but we have found them rather unreadable, and we rise from them with a sense of relief that the real world is better than Miss Thomas's world.
The writings of Mrs. Edwards, the authoress of the "Morals of Mayfair," etc., are quite free from the coarse and prosaic materialism of which we have just been complaining, but they are the more mischievous on account of the refinement and ability which they display. In spite of her intellectual superiority, we must class Mrs. Edwards's earlier works with those of the sensational and rapid school. There is the same lack of real nobleness and heroism in her creations. In "Miss Forrester," for example, the heroine, with whose joys and sorrows we are expected to sympathise, begins by deliberately starving
an old lady to death; but Honoria Forrester is a beauty, and we are craftily led to forget her evil-doing in contemplation of her lovely yellow hair. "Steven Lawrence, Yeoman," however, shows a great improvement. It is a very clever story, infinitely superior to the best of Miss Braddon's chronicles of horrors; in fact, not a sensation narrative at all, and, as far as the tale has yet proceeded, though some painful scenes are evidently impending, little objection can be taken to its moral tone.
Mrs. Lynn Linton, another authoress of real talent, deserves notice here. Her writings display some of the moral defects of the modern feminine school, but her faithful pictures of north country life, though they do not atone for these defects, dispose us to treat her with leniency.
There is a comparative originality and earnestness of purpose about the novels of Miss Florence Marryat which stays our critical wrath; but they are not the sort of books which we should like to see written by a woman whom we loved and respected. Take Miss Marryat's last book, "The Confessions of Gerald Estcourt." It is better worth reading than some of the trash to which we have alluded; its pictures are more like pictures of real life; its characters resemble real men and women; still it deals with topics which, if they must be handled at all, we would sooner see handled by men.
And what shall we say of Ouida-the mysterious Ouida, whose nom de plume may denote either gender, but whose writings betray the fair hand of Woman? Ouida's morality is of the loosest; and if we treat her with less severity than she seems to deserve, it is because the incidents of her stories take place in an unreal fantastic fairy land. We never think of Chandos as a modern English gentleman, when we read of his glorious beauty, his brilliant intellect, his oriental indolence. It is the denizen of another planet whom we see lazily opening heaps of pink and green-scented notes between the puffs of his narghileh, or banqueting in old Pagan fashion with a wreath of roses dipped in Burgundy upon his marble brow. Ouida, who may be regarded as the literary god-daughter of Lord Lytton and "Guy Livingstone," really possesses no small amount of poetical power, and force of description. But the morality of her writings is utterly unsound, and might do much harm, were it not that the scenes she depicts are unlike anything under the sun. We laugh at her grandiloquence and her classical allusions, but we gravely lament the laxity of her moral fibre.
Last, youngest, and perhaps most pernicious of all the pupils of the Fast-Life Literary Academy, we must name the authoress of "Cometh Up as a Flower," that book with such a sweet Scriptural title, and-in spite of its perpetual Biblical quotations-such very unscriptural morality. "Cometh Up as a Flower" being a first work, we might have passed it by as an efflorescence of youthful imprudence; but the writer has since seen fit to issue a second book, with a still longer title and a still more objectionable moral tone. Both these novels are devoted to the glorification of love-love of the most burning, sensual type; and in either case the heroine is represented as eager to court eternal damnation for the sake of the briefest possible indulgence of her mad passion. These books are undoubtedly clever, and, we regret to say it, undoubtedly popular; but they cannot be called wholesome reading, for they only serve to stimulate our passions, which are quite strong enough without artificial encouragement. The novels are a strange farrago of Scripture and slang, pathos and petulance, commonplace remarks put in affectedly smart language, bursts of rhetoric and indifferent grammar. It puzzles us to conceive how a well-bred young woman can write such books. Does she evolve these passionate scenes out of her inner consciousness, or has she really had a King Olaf and a Dare Stamer of her own? In the latter case it would have been wiser to leave such reminiscences to the obscurity of her diary.
Fortunately there are still some ladies left to sustain the literary honours of their sex. Miss Amelia B. Edwards and Mrs. Riddell perhaps approach nearest to the sensational school, but they are distinguished from it by their superior ability, and by their power of creating an interest in something nobler than vice or criminality. But even Mrs. Riddell is fond of bigamy; the plot of her best book, "George Geith," turns upon it. Why are ladies so attracted by bigamy, and why is it always bigamy of the excusable sort? In real life bigamy is usually an aggravated crime, being simply seduction under another name. Mrs. Riddell possesses poetical feeling and dramatic power, but her moral reflections are apt to be tedious. Lady writers who are neither fast nor sensational are much given to sermonizing. There is too much of this sort of padding in the novels of Miss Yonge and Miss Mulock, of whose works we would otherwise speak with unfeigned admiration and respect. George Eliot towers far above all the authoresses we have hitherto mentioned, but her genius is so exceptional, and so different in quality from that of any of her compeers, that we scarcely reckon her as a representative female novelist. For this honourable post we should
rather select such a writer as the late Mrs. Gaskell, or the present Miss Thackeray. In all the qualities in which women excel men, in delicacy of touch, in minute observation, in the art of telling a simple story, both these writers take an eminent rank.
To conclude. It does not appear to us that any woman has originated, or is likely to originate, a new school of fictional literature. Women succeed best when they confine themselves to that range of subjects which comes naturally under female observation. When they attempt a wider range, they become mere copyists of men, and like many copyists, they exaggerate the defects of their masters, outvying them in coarseness, in repulsiveness, and in laxity of tone. We have thought it right to speak plainly in this article, but we trust that we have used no unnecessary personality. We have been compelled to mention names, and to criticise sharply some of the productions which have appeared under those names, because we feel convinced that these productions cannot but cause mischief. Possibly this taste for stories about disreputable people may in time pass away; but before it passes away it may do irreparable injury. Young people may grow up in the belief that the fair surface of society is due to an organized hypocrisy, that in reality we are all cheats, gamblers, seducers, bigamists, murderers. As a practical result their own moral standard will be lowered. "Why should I shrink from committing this pleasant sin ?" they may ask. “I shall be no worse than my hypocritical neighbours ?" And what is the remedy for this diseased literary appetite? The remedy is obvious, but not easy of application, for it requires that the taste of the novel-reading public should be considerably raised. At present the standard is deplorably low. The dainty lady who, on stepping from her brougham at Mr. Mudie's door, asks for the last sensational or sensual novel, and the ragged urchin who buys the "Hatchet of Horror" in Drury Lane, are, in point of real taste and culture, pretty much on a level.
The Story of Corn Light.
THE story of 'Lorn Light, that lends its lamp
And many a gallant heart has found a tomb.
West of the point whereon the lighthouse stands,
That boasts a tiny pier, of stone rough-hewn,
Here, summer visitors-like swallows-came,
And gleamed along the sands. But when the year, Forewarned of death, touched all the woods with flame For funeral pyre, then would they disappear: Wherefore they knew not what the winters brought To that small village by the water's edge; How with the cliffs the furious ocean fought,
Broke on their breast, and leapt from ledge to ledge.
Nor knew they what it was to wait and yearn
For those whose boats might never more come homeSo wondered why the fishers' wives should turn Eyes dim with awe to that long line of foam
That long, white, angry bar across the tide,
Seen in the daylight, heard in midnight gloom, Those rocks, throughout the sea-coast wild and wide, Known, feared, and hated as the Reef of Doom.
In that small village Richard Masters dwelt,
A longing for some nobler work afloat.