« PrejšnjaNaprej »
The personnel of the fleet, both as to officers and men, has never been better than it is at present. It is only fair to them that there should be a system of administration which by organisation will enable the country, immediately on the outbreak of hostilities, to derive the full benefit of that energy, courage, readiness of resource, and activity of mind which have always been the distinguishing characteristics of British seamen.
No fault can be found personally with the members of the present board. They have done more for the benefit of the service than has been done for a very long time; but they are still working under the same system, which has proved itself so constantly to be weak, inefficient, and bad. The reforms they have initiated are principally those connected with the dockyard and manufacturing departments, and creating a direct financial control, which never existed before; but the great question of organisation for war in all its details is still lamentably inadequate. It is no use continuing the expense of a fighting navy at all, unless it is enabled to do promptly, thoroughly, and effectively in time of war what is expected of it. We know that our fleet is short of armour-clads and cruisers, and is not in the state of strength it should be; but what we have got ought to be thoroughly organised, and a plan of preparation made out now in time of peace for all possible and likely contingencies in time of war.
There can be no doubt that the evidence to be given before the Royal Commission on the system of administration for the Navy will hasten those reforms the service generally consider so necessary.
Captain Royal Navy.
· ROBERT ELSMERE'
HUMAN NATURE, when aggrieved, is apt and quick in devising compensations. The increasing seriousness and strain of our present life may have had the effect of bringing about the large preference, which I understand to be exhibited in local public libraries, for works of fiction. This is the first expedient of revenge. But it is only a link in a chain. The next step is, that the writers of what might be grave books, in esse or in posse, have endeavoured with some success to circumvent the multitude. Those who have systems or hypotheses to recommend in philosophy, conduct, or religion induct them into the costume of romance. Such was the second expedient of nature, the counterstroke of her revenge. When this was done in Télémaque, Rasselas, or Coelebs, it was not without literary effect. Even the last of these three appears to have been successful with its own generation. It would now be deemed intolerably dull. But a dull book is easily renounced. The more didactic fictions of the present day, so far as I know them, are not dull. We take them up, however, and we find that, when we meant to go to play, we have gone to school. The romance is a gospel of some philosophy, or of some religion; and requires sustained thought on many or some of the deepest subjects, as the only rational alternative to placing ourselves at the mercy of our author. We find that he has put upon us what is not indeed a treatise, but more formidable than if it were. For a treatise must nowhere beg the question it seeks to decide, but must carry its reader onwards by reasoning patiently from step to step. But the writer of the romance, under the convenient necessity which his form imposes, skips in thought, over undefined distances, from stage to stage, as a bee from flower to flower. A creed may (as here) be accepted in a sentence, and then abandoned in a page. But we the common herd of readers, if we are to deal with the consequences, to accept or repel the influence of the book, must, as in a problem of mathematics, supply the missing steps. Thus, in perusing as we ought a propagandist romance, we must terribly increase the pace; and it is the pace that kills.
Among the works to which the preceding remarks might apply, | Robert Elsmere. By Mrs. Humphry Ward, Author of Miss Bretherton.
In 3 vols. London: Smith, Elder, & Co., 1888.
the most remarkable within my knowledge is Robert Elsmere. It is indeed remarkable in many respects. It is a novel of nearly twice the length, and much more than twice the matter, of ordinary novels. It dispenses almost entirely, in the construction of what must still be called its plot, with the aid of incident in the ordinary sense. We have indeed near the close a solitary individual crushed by a waggon, but this catastrophe has no relation to the plot, and its only purpose is to exhibit a good deathbed in illustration of the great missionary idea of the piece. The nexus of the structure is to be found wholly in the workings of character. The assumption and the surrender of a Rectory are the most salient events, and they are simple results of what the actor has thought right. And yet the great, nay, paramount function of character-drawing, the projection upon the canvas of human beings endowed with the true forces of nature and vitality, does not appear to be by any means the master-gift of the authoress. In the mass of matter which she has prodigally expended there might obviously be retrenchment; for there are certain laws of dimension which apply to a novel, and which separate it from an epic. In the extraordinary number of personages brought upon the stage in one portion or other of the book, there are some which are elaborated with greater pains and more detail, than their relative importance seems to warrant. Robert Elsmere is bard reading, and requires toil and effort. Yet, if it be difficult to persist, it is impossible to stop. The prisoner on the treadmill must work severely to perform his task: but if he stops he at once receives a blow which brings him to his senses. Here, as there, it is human infirmity which shrinks; but here, as not there, the propelling motive is within. Deliberate judgment and deep interest alike rebuke a fainting reader. The strength of the book, overbearing every obstacle, seems to lie in an extraordinary wealth of diction, never separated from thought ; in a close and searching faculty of social observation; in generous appreciation of what is morally good, impartially ? exhibited in all directions: above all in the sense of mission with which the writer is evidently possessed, and in the earnestness and persistency of purpose with which through every page and line it is pursued. The book is eminently an offspring of the time, and will probably make a deep or at least a very serisible impression; not, however, among mere novel-readers, but among those who share, in whatever sense, the deeper thought of the period.
The action begins in a Westmoreland valley, where the three young daughters of a pious clergyman are grouped around a mother infirm in health and without force of mind. All responsibility devolves accordingly upon Catherine, the eldest of the three ; a noble character, living only for duty and affection. When the ear heard her, then
? Mrs. Ward has given evidence of this impartiality in her Dedication to the memory of two friends, of whom one, Mrs. Alfred Lyttelton, lived and died unshaken in belief. The other is more or less made known in the pages of the work.
it blessed her; and when the eye saw her, it gave witness to her.3 Here comes upon the scene Robert Elsmere, the eponymist and hero of the book, and the ideal, almost the idol, of the authoress.
He had been brought up at Oxford, in years when the wholesale discomfiture of the great religious movement in the University, which followed upon the secession of Cardinal Newman, had been in its turn succeeded by a new religious reaction. The youth had been open to the personal influences of a tutor, who is in the highest degree beautiful, classical, and indifferentist; and of a noble-minded rationalising teacher, whose name, Mr. Grey, is the thin disguise of another name, and whose lofty character, together with his gifts, and with the tendencies of the time, had made him a power in Oxford. But, in its action on a nature of devout susceptibilities as well as active talents, the place is stronger than the man, and Robert casts in his lot with the ministry of the Church. Let us stop at this point to notice the terms used. At St. Mary's the sight and the experience touched his inmost feeling, and satisfied all the poetical and dramatic instincts of a passionate nature.'' He carried his religious passion ... into the service of the great positive tradition around him.' This great, and commonly life-governing decision, is taken under the influence of forces wholly emotional. It is first after the step taken that we have an inkling of any reason for it. This is not an isolated phenomenon. It is a key to the entire action. The work may be summed up in this way: it represents a battle between intellect and emotion. Of right, intellect wins; and, having won, enlists emotion in its service.
Elsmere breaks upon us in Westmoreland, prepared to make the great commission the business of his life, and to spend and be spent in it to the uttermost. He is at once attracted by Catherine; attention forthwith ripens into love; and love finds expression in a proposal. But, with a less educated intelligence, the girl has a purpose of life not less determined than the youth. She believes herself to have an outdoor vocation in the glen, and above all an indoor vocation in her family, of which she is the single prop. A long battle of love ensues, fought out with not less ability, and with even greater tenacity, than the remarkable conflict of intellects, carried on by correspondence, which ended in the marriage between Mr. and Mrs. Carlyle. The resolute tension of the two minds has many phases; and a double crisis, first of refusal, secondly of acceptance. This part of the narrative, wrought out in detail with singular skill, will probably be deemed the most successful, the most normal, of the whole. It is thoroughly noble on both sides. The final surrender of Catherine is in truth an opening of the eyes to a wider view of the evolution of the individual, and of the great vocation of life ; and it
3 See Job xxix. 11.
* i. 121, 123.
5 i. 128.
involves no disparagement. The garrison evacuates the citadel, but its arms have not been laid down, and its colours are flying still.
So the pair settle themselves in a family living, full of the enthusiasm of humanity, which is developed with high energy in every practical detail, and based upon the following of the Incarnate Saviour. Equipped thus far with all that renders life desirable, their union is blessed by the birth of a daughter, and everything thrives around them for the formation of an ideal parish.
But the parish is adorned by a noble old English mansion, and the mansion inhabited by a wealthy Squire, who knows little of duty, but is devoted to incessant study. As an impersonated intellect, he is abreast of all modern inquiry, and, a “Tractarian ' in his youth, he has long abandoned all belief. At the outset, he resents profoundly the Rector's obtrusive concern for his neglected tenantry. But the courage of the clergyman is not to be damped by isolation, and in the case of a scandalously insanitary hamlet, after an adequate number of deaths, Mr. Wendover puts aside the screen called his agent, and rebuilds with an ample generosity. This sudden and complete surrender seems to be introduced to glorify the hero of the work, for it does not indicate any permanent change in the social ideas of Mr. Wendover, but only in his relations to his clergyman.
There is, however, made ready for him a superlative revenge. Robert has enjoyed the use of his rich library, and the two hold literary coinmunications, but with a compact of silence on matters of belief. This treaty is honourably observed by the Squire. But the clergyman invites his fate. Mr. Wendover makes known to him a great design for a ‘History of Testimony,'' worked out through many centuries. The book speaks indeed of the long wrestle' of the two men, and the like. But of Elsmere's wrestling there is no other trace or sign. What weapons the Rector wielded for his faith, what strokes he struck, has not even in a single line been recorded. The discourse of the Squire points out that theologians are men who decline to examine evidence, that miracles are the invention of credulous ages, that the preconceptions sufficiently explain the results. He wins in a canter. There cannot surely be a more curious contrast than that between the real battle, fought in a hundred rounds, between Elsmere and Catherine on marriage, and the fictitious battle between Elsmere and the Squire on the subject of religion, where the one side is a pæan, and the other a blank. A great creed, with the testimony of eighteen centuries at its back, cannot find an articulate word to say in its defence, and the downfall of the scheme of belief shatters also, and of right, the highly ordered scheme of life that had nestled in the Rectory of Murewell, as it still does in thousands of other English parsonages.
It is notable that Elsmere seeks, in this conflict with the Squire,
6 ii. 243.
& ii. 244, 245.