Page:Littell's Living Age - Volume 133.djvu/378

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.



tleman," in 1857, may be regarded as a landmark in the literary life of its author, who, on the occasion of her marriage in 1865, received a pleasant reminder of the popularity of this favorite novel: it took the form of a gold pen-holder, with the words "John Halifax" inscribed thereon, and expressed the appreciation of an anonymous admirer.

From a group of books published in 1866 "Christian's Mistake" stands rather prominently forward, and, among the still later products of this writer's pen, may be singled out for a few words of special notice, a little story, simple in style and charming in its simplicity, entitled "My Mother and I." It is not always given to us to see in imagination the actual scenes which have inspired our authors and which have seen them write; but just this once, reader, we can indulge in a play of fancy of the kind if you will.

In a western county of England is a certain beautiful village, Freshford by name. There the grass seems greener than elsewhere, the sky bluer, the water clearer. It is a quiet, quaint little spot, with an old-fashioned beauty quite its own; moreover it produces to perfection those specialities for which good villages are famous, viz.: the best butter and eggs, always, and the best violets, cowslips, and primroses in the season. Its air must be conducive to literary pursuits, since local embryo poets are tempted to put its beauties into print, since Sir William Napier honored it with his presence while he wrote the principal part of his "History of the Peninsular War," and since, under the influence of its freshening breezes, Miss Muloch produced the greater portion of "My Mother and I." The scene of this story is laid, partly in the village of Freshford, and partly in the classic city of Bath, close by, which, in point of fashion has, like many of its inhabitants, seen its best days. Those who have read the book and visited the places described therein, will be ready to admit that the delineations it contains are truthful as well as charming, and that the writer has been as observant as "Cap'en Cuttie" would have been under similar circumstances - that she has seen beauty and made "notes on't."

The writings of Miss Muloch, from the appearance of her first novel, "The Ogilvies," in 1849, to the publication of her last, about which reviewers have had something to say of late, present a goodly pile. They do not point to a pen, prolific as that of a Miss Braddon, for instance, but they betoken a well-filled literary life. Individually they differ in merit, as do the works of most authors; but en masse they are knit together by fibres of strength which render them powerful to repel the attacks of critics. In what consists the strength of these books? Not in intellect alone, although intellect is there - nor in a faultless manner of wielding the English language, which manner is not there - nor in any wonderful fertility of imagination, for the literary blossoms we are discussing, may rather be likened to the flowers of the seringa-tree, fair and delicately tinted, than to luscious, rich-hued exotics overweighted with their own luxuriance. Whence then comes their strength ? From a moral beauty which underlies and consolidates them from the exemplification of the writer's argument that "the heart is the key to the intellect." Miss Muloch has found the key whereof she speaks. A large-hearted charity and a sublime philosophy are to be found in her books, and are always guided by a calm, clear-sighted judgment. The philosophy is not one that stops to discuss, but which pierces the often nebulous atmosphere of human reasoning, and sees beyond shafts of light; which seizes them, as it were, with the needle-point of intellectual acumen, and places them before the reader's mind - shafts of truth so fine and subtle, that, were they subjected to the breath of disquisition, they would disappear from sight as do widening circles in the water.

That our author can create character is evident. Come forward, nurse Elspie - you who are so instinct with individuality and nationality - come forth from your place among humble heroines of fiction, and testify to this. To the same effect on this subject speaks Elizabeth Hand, another servant; so, from the infant world, does the blind child Muriel; and so do Hilary, Olive, and other excellent specimens of young womanhood, scattered throughout Miss Muloch's books.

This writer is most at home when depicting humanity under its favorable aspects. Her heroines are often heroic, self-sacrificing beings, who glide about doing good, and from their virtues seem half angelic; yet we feel that they are human - that they have been drawn from life. But not always equally successful are her unamiable personages who appear now and then. One of these is Miss Gascoigne, in "Christian's Mistake." This person performs the part of disagreeable relative. Not, therefore, is she untrue to life; far