Зображення сторінки

such. Surely, oblivion or death were the only alternatives that remained to this unfortunate lady, who, even by means of her sufferings, was not made worthy to enter into the sacred enclosure of her neighbor's visiting circle.

There is no loneliness so pathetic as that which a stranger feels in a large circle of people who know each other very well. Such cases of loneliness often occur at our summer resorts, and the new-comer, who stands on the outskirts of pleasant social life, needs only a hand stretched forth, a smile, a word, to feel that the world, which a moment before seemed so small and so cold, has broadened out to fair and generous dimensions, and that it is a place where the sun shines and the birds sing. It must be a woman's hand that is reached forth, for women are, to an almost unlimited extent, the arbiters of fate in social circles. A word or a glance from them often settles the status of some stranger for the entire season. Being powerful, let them be generous! The spreading about them of a pleasant and cheerful atmosphere is one of the important social missions of woman, and in no other position does she more charmingly reveal her nobility, tact, and sweetness than by drawing together those with whom she is thrown for weeks or months in hotel or boarding-house, and thus creating what may most truly be called society. Dr. Joseph Leidy, who knows so much of the habits of the infinitesimal forms of life, speaks with humorous gravity of the kindly disposition evinced by some of the tiniest living creatures to hand around their food to their fellows, saying that this is the dawning of the social instinct in these unreasoning atoms. It seems as if we who belong to the highest order of intelligence should find a positive delight in giving of our best, which is ourselves, and thus placing those around us “in harmony with their environment,” which is the most comprehensive definition of human happiness that the philosopher has yet been able to give us.

It is not necessary for us all to have such an experience as that of the Rev. Edward Everett Hale, who entertained a nobleman all unwittingly, who came to him in the guise of a beggar, to know that we often lose rare opportunities in life by extreme exclusiveness, which, after all, is only a polite synonyme for narrowness and provincialism. If we cannot regale impecunious Hungarian exiles with cold mutton, and conversation fit for the gods, an opportunity is offered to most of us, once in a lifetime at least, to entertain some sort of an angel, unawares, although it may come to us as devoid of cherubic lines as was Mr. Hale's nobleman of quarterings.

The beautiful law of natural selection is surely a better guide in choosing companions than a comparative study of heraldic quarterings, and whether it be like choosing like, or finding delight in difference, as positive and negative attract each other, if only the selection be natural it is almost sure to be a happy one, and the more cosmopolitan we become in our ideas the more fully shall we realize that culture and experience create centres of interest for those who have learned from books and from life, no matter what part of the world or what section of the city they come from.

It is their broad education that renders travelled men and women such delightful companions. They are able to make themselves agreeable in any circle that they enter, because they have something to talk about that is not limited to the circumference of the lives about them. They touch no sensitive points, they stir up no personal animosities, because they take us into so wide a field that personalities are lost sight of, just as in distant landscapes small features become indistinct.

Is not this the true delight of conversation ?—what Emerson calls “walking among the stars," rather than being “pinned to the wall” by some petty discussion on commonplace subjects.

Anne H. Wharton.


The many admirers of Mrs. Amélie Rives Chanler were perhaps astonished that she should have chosen an Italian background for this, her second sustained work of fiction. It is a long way from Virginia to the Villa Demarini, with olive-trees and ilexes on its lawn, not to mention “the ruins of a little marble temple." But Mrs. Chanler makes the journey with a good deal of boldness and considerable artistic ease.

What chiefly surprises a reader familiar with “The Quick or the Dead ?is the extreme difference of method between that performance and “The Witness of the Sun.” In the first realism took shapes of so nude a candor that propriety rolled up its eyes and mourned a deliberated prurience. In the second the realism is constantly veiled by an idealistic mode of treatment that floods nearly every chapter with a golden languor and a scent of fresh-blown roses. Mrs. Chanler has chosen a mise en scène that is perilously old for the novelist of to-day. We have a sense that her inanimate material is too pliant beneath her hand, that the path she treads has been foot-worn by numberless predecessors. A villa on the Mediterranean, with its music floating to us across bloom-wreathen porticos, with terraces glimmering in the moonlight, with sunsets dying beyond knots of pines, with orioles, orange-trees, and butterflies like living jewels,-we seem to have known all this a good deal longer ago than yesterday. We cannot help wondering a little why an American author should have chosen such a locale in this age, when it seems that half the novelist's battle is to find some attractive corner of even our Western hemisphere that has not been mercilessly “done." Still, just as the beauty of Italy is its own excuse for being, so is the choice of Mrs. Chanler to be indulged on a similar ground. Verona must not be prohibited from all future poets because Romeo and Juliet once lived and

loved there, nor the Hellespont because Leander once swam it with so impas· sioned a purpose. If again to "use” Italy is to tread a beaten track, Mrs.

Chanler moves along, nevertheless, with a commendable grace of her own. After all, it is not so much this foreign encompassment that strikes us oddly. American story-tellers whose names are now enshrined in distinction have made their pages glow again and again with Roman, Venetian, or Florentine coloring, and yet have dealt, at the same time, in types of character saliently American. Mrs. Chanler has not done this. It would seem that she had not only changed her sky but her spirit as well, for there is not a personage in “The Witness of the Sun” that can be called less alien to these shores than its nightingales or its pomegranates. Ilva, Nadrovine, Madame Nadrovine, Lotta, Demarini, they are all European and make the tale sometimes read like a translation from Georges Sand. The dainty American who hates a novel that treats of his own country (and he is by no means as scarce a personage as might patriotically be imagined) will exult in Mrs. Chanler's new production. To him whose tastes regarding the lands in which his fiction shall be located are comfortably cosmopolitan,



this tale will speak chiefly through the intensity of its feeling and the opulent glamour of its poetry.

Not that it can be called a perfect piece of art, in spite of possessing so many lovely and eloquent passages, in spite of revealing that its creator has achieved a maturer and nicer tact than of old, and in spite of avoiding at nearly all times the least awkward excursion among les choses qui ne se disent pas. Before stating just where lies what is perhaps its pivotal mistake, I should like to record how charmingly many scenes in this novel are portrayed. The first meeting between Ilva and Nadrovine, after the former has become a grown-up young lady, is a bit of workmanship delicate and fanciful enough to stamp Mrs. Chanler as a poet if one had never seen a line of verse that she had written. Highflown" it will be called by the matter-of-fact throng who unhesitatingly speak thus of such English masterpieces as “ Ariadne” and “Signa,"—who would say it of “The Marble Faun,” and even of “ Corinne,” if they dared. Such judges are worthy of all respect. They are not critics, but their effect upon the ultimate verdict accorded every meritorious work is not to be underestimated. Their sobriety measures by its disapproval, very often, the imaginative range of what is truly poetic in prose, and both because of their number and the gentle ferocity of their condemnation they are alike a reason why poetry goes out of fashion for a decade or two and afterwards triumphantly comes in again. The interview between the lovers, three days later, is wrought out with a still more felicitous charm. Ilva's confession that she knows of her own beauty and in a certain way both understands and appreciates it, finely harmonizes with the simple buoyancy of her temperament as already suggested and sketched. She is only seventeen years old, and she is brought into the society of a man ten years or so her senior, whose genius as a famous novelist she has begun ardently to revere. The author here exquisitely says of Ilva,

“She seemed as much a child to him as she had done seven years ago in her brown holland frock and flowing mane. But she was not as much a child: she was like a rose-branch on which some flowers are in full bloom and others yet in the bud.

All the descriptions of their early flirtations and love-makings partake of the same picturesqueness in simile and metaphor. Even Nadrovine's reflections concerning the dawn of his own attachment are tinged with the same prismatic hues: “How vigorous and spirited she had looked” (he muses) “while putting forth all that tirade against him! She reminded him of a young Caryatid who was fully capable of supporting the temple of her convictions. He fell to wondering how her lovely curves would express themselves beneath the folds of a Greek peplos. There should be a crown of red roses on her hair, some of their shaken leaves upon her breast, one of her long white arms sunk deep into thick grass." . . Again he fancies her a sultana, and surrounds her“ with Circassian girls, who fanned her with wonderful plumes that leaped like flames from long wands of ivory.

This kind of narrative is very different the neat, close, demure style by which not a few modern writers have won celebrity in the present day. For them “color" is an element whose use gains all its force from little tiny outbursts that are promptly succeeded by a kind of repentant, self-controlled grayness. They are afraid of a polysyllable, too, as if it were a critic in disguise, and when they employ one it seems to fit into their surrounding text like the larger central stone in a mosaic of minute particles. But Mrs. Chanler, who


[ocr errors]


once erred in the reckless cult of illegitimate words and phrases, now swings to no opposite extreme in the matter of a conscious and disciplined “style.” She still writes as if she had little care for style, so that her thoughts may be garbed in the airy verbal brilliancy which best becomes them. Her models, if she has any, may be said to belong to the past rather than the present. She is now and then extravagant, but it is an extravagance born of youthful fire rather than that hyperbole sometimes enmantling poverty and barrenness of conception. Occasionally she lapses into bathos, as in the sentence, “His throat ... looked 80 sensitive in its brown clearness that the girl wondered the dancing flecks” (born of sunshine among leaves) did not tickle him.But such instances are rare, and a hundred graces like these repay us for the few that occur: "The western light was in her eyes and on her bair.”. “The green lights of the first few stars shone down upon them through the rich haze, like glow-worms seen through a vast cobweb. Overhead was the sound of the wind in the pines and the call of the nightingales.” ...“ Just let me say what is in my heart. I feel that what is there must run into your heart like a stream into the great sea. It is wonderful to think that I have your love,-I out of the world! It is as though a great star were to concentrate its light all on some little flower and say, 'I will shine only for this flower that I love.""..."A lustrous quivering began to fill the air,--the light from the rising moon. White flowers appeared here and there from the shadows, as the stars had appeared at first in the heavens.

“The hearts of most men are like the grates in inns, where the wood is laid ready for kindling; and the smile of any pretty woman is enough to set it in a blaze.”

Here is quite a long paragraph of quotations, -almost a larger one than the present limited article should dare to afford. Yet there are many others, equally pungent and aromatic, that could be copied at random as these have been. Enough are given, however, to show the romantic trend of the entire little history, and if they seem to remind us of other pages in other fervid love-chronicles, we must remember that, after all, the romancist can no more do without his flowers and stars and moons and sunsets and breezes fluting amid foliage, than the sedater student of commonplace life can do without his gray tones, his timidly accurate managements of landscape, his careful and often stirring presentments of a smile, a frown, an intonation, a neck-tie, a stair-carpet, or a provincial teatable. To the wider-minded watcher of literary developments—the observer unhampered by theory and anxious for the discovery of some one large law even amid chaos—all antagonistic modes and means have their due separate values.

The plot of Mrs. Chanler's novel may be briefly stated. Ilva Demarini, an Italian girl of good parentage, is beloved by Vladimir Nadrovine, a distinguished young Russian author. Nadrovine's mother, a woman of surprisingly youthful appearance and great personal fascination, adored by her son and adoring him in return, wholly disapproves of the proposed marriage. She believes that Vladimir will regret becoming the husband of a mere shallowbrained child, and she is also stung by a maternal jealousy that she makes little effort to master. One day, while Signor Demarini, the father of Ilva, is renewing to her the vows of an old attachment, she perceives her son standing between the folds of a near portière, and deliberately pretends to return the elderly Italian's passionate advances. Vladimir, wild with rage, challenges Demarini as soon as the latter has left Madame Nadrovine's presence. The duel takes place, and Vladimir kills the father of his intended wife. Ilva, though almost

crazed with grief, seeks the unhappy woman who is blamable for all her misery, and behaves toward her with the most angelic clemency. Madame Nadrovine, however, repulses her, and at the same time declares that she has no knowledge whither her son has fled. Afterward, with the aid of a detective, she finds out that he is in Paris, and joins him there. He is recovering from a long illness and in wretched surroundings. But already he has dedicated his future life to the priesthood, and, notwithstanding all his mother's prayers and protestations, he becomes a monk in the monastery of Alceron. Madame Nadrovine presently falls the victim of an illness brought on by exposure to the elements while following her son from Paris and beseeching him to change his gloomy resolve. We leave her still living, though shorn of her beauty and with all her pride in the dust. The fates of Ilva and Vladimir are happier, though in a way more tragic. By accident they meet on the sea-shore. Nadrovine (now Brother Félicien) is making a journey from Alceron to Vaudebec, a village ten miles distant, on an errand of mercy to a starving family. Here, after a mutual recognition full of the stormiest suffering on either side, the lovers are swallowed up by a quicksand and sink to death clasped in one another's arms.

There is plenty of drama in all this, and Mrs. Chanler has not seldom managed it most effectively. The visit of Ilva to Madame Nadrovine after Demarini's death and the flight of Vladimir is thrillingly described. The Russian woman's cruelty and distrust wound like slashes of knives, and the despair, supplication, and humility of Ilva are painted with heart-breaking pathos. This part of the tale reads as if it were a leaf torn from the final scenes of some such work as Moths" or “Wanda." There is no self-restraint; all is a lava-like outpour of epithet and interjection. Such exuberance leaves no conviction of reserve-power behind it, for the dog-wood that uncloses to us fifty sudden and superb blossoms in a single day is indeed spendthrift beside the plants that delight us through successive months of the summer-tide with their sweet floral economy. It is precisely this abandonment and surrender in Mrs. Chanler's literary attitude which will conspire with her frequent gorgeousness of diction to keep certain courts of sanction closed against her. Not that she need ever choose to walk in them, for the groves which cluster there are pruned with an academic primness that would scarcely please her, and the statues on the terraces are all very decorously draped. There is a certain kind of English critic whom one can imagine as being extremely hostile to Mrs. Chanler. He is apt to write for journals like the Saturday Review, and certain words and phrases make him inwardly palpitate with wrath. His British phlegm is so great that he has a private resentment against the sunset whenever it presumes to be specially vivid of tint, and he holds in secret abomination certain effects of nature such as tulips, hollyhocks, and peonies, thinking them unpardonably vulgar. Adjectives like “superb” or “sculpturesque" or “opaline” he would enjoy seeing forever banished from the dictionary, and moonlight in literature he considers odious, not to say criminal. Any reference to the kind of kisses bestowed between lover and mistress he hates as a grammarian would hate a transitive verb with a nominative for its object, and the pen that dwells fondly upon a description of the lips, eyes, arms, or bust of a heroine he regards with no more consideration than if it had forged a check or slandered anonymously. Letters are for this person a partially-drained swamp, one tract of which has been made endurable by means of well-tended lawns and macadamized pathways, and one of which remains in its primitive state, full of

« НазадПродовжити »