« PrethodnaNastavi »
village audience (as does the father of Otto von Saale); he is a perfectly possible character, while he once more enforces the Shorthousian doctrine. Blanche, the daughter, cannot understand this view of things, and longs for self-sacrifice. So her heart is shut to the charms of George Falaise, to her own infinite loss, as we are given to understand. The first meeting of the two is very good:
'Then, with the air of a Christian girl of the second century being led to martyrdom, she rose from her seat and said :
"You would like to go round the garden."
""I wonder," he said, "why it is, when we look upon anything like this-woods, you know, and-what do you call it?—the distant plain, and the sky-you, you think it is so beautiful. Why do you?"
Now it may seem a curious thing, but this remark attracted the girl more than, a moment or two ago, she could have supposed that any word of her companion could have done. It seemed to her Socratic. 'She had read, over and over again, translations of one or two of Plato's dialogues, with a desperate determination to find out what it was that was so supremely great in them, and she had succeeded in grasping that peculiarity of Socrates which made him so great and so detested the habit of asking questions which nobody could answer. She looked at her companion with a glance that so nearly approached to interest that it sent the blood dancing through every vein.
'He felt bound to relieve what he fancied was her embarrassment, not knowing, ignorant boy as he was, that at certain moments the female mind delights in being embarrassed.
"I suppose," he said, "I suppose that if I knew more about tints, and gradations of light and shadow, and foregrounds, and all that sort of thing, I should understand it better."
The mystic light, the unknown Infinite, faded from before her at these commonplace words.' (Pp. 52-54.)
With Paul Damerle on his side we get away from all reality into the atmosphere of the penny number, and the fall is precipitous.
'He turned into this remote corner and knocked at the door of a dingy-looking red-brick house. It was opened immediately by three servants.
"Lady Elizabeth Poer?" he said.'
These two stories of modern life are accounted Shorthouse's distinct failures. It is obvious that it is in such as these that his peculiar idealisations are brought to the rudest proof. The Countess Eve' is, again, a rather childish attempt to play a game which was hardly worth playing. Miss Thackeray (Mrs. Richmond Ritchie) had executed the
tour de force of turning some of the best-known nursery tales into stories of contemporary life with new furniture ' and effects.' As tours de force they passed well enough; but once the thing had been done, all the charm of the experiment was gone; and why several other writers-and among them Miss Yonge and J. Henry Shorthouse-should have tried their hands at the same legerdemain is not now explicable. The Countess Eve' is the result, so far as Shorthouse is concerned; only it deals, not with a nursery tale, but with the Garden of Eden. It is a story artistically above the level, perhaps, of Sir Percival' or 'Blanche,' seeing that the fantastic atmosphere is never broken by the sound of everyday affairs-no rude axe daunts the nymphs of Shorthouse's world. The mystic world is suggested with fine effect; and we have only to compare this story with, say, Miss Yonge's 'My Young Alcides' to see of how much keener a temper is our author's writing. In this tale, but much better and more fully in some of the others, are found two elements with which he evidently loved to deal: the place of music in the intellectual life and a sort of idealised stage, the notion of which Shorthouse must, one thinks, have taken from German romance, and, in fact, took most probably from 'Wilhelm Meister.' Whether he was a good musician or a good critic of music we are not told; and, in truth, that matters little. But in an admirable passage at the opening of 'The Teacher of the Violin,' telling of the effect on Otto's temperament of wood and wind, in certain places of 'The 'Countess Eve,' and in the second volume of 'John Inglesant,' Shorthouse has written well on this head. The ideal stage appears in 'The Countess Eve' and in 'Helena von Saarfeld,' one of the short stories. And both these elements are united in 'The Little Schoolmaster Mark,' which, it has been already said, if it stood quite alone, would be a very considerable achievement, so admirably does it absorb and re-embody the delicate and evanescent spirit of German romance in the days of Jean Paul, the later spirit of Goethe. Jung's 'Heinrich Stillings Leben ' has given the framework of the story. But it often reminds one of Wilhelm Meister'-nowhere more than in the passages which are concerned with the theatrical company with which the hero, the devout and simple peasantboy, gets so strangely involved. Mark is a sort of male counterpart of Mignon, religion taking in him the place which love takes with Mignon; and the Prince's sister is a counterpart of Katerina von Klettenberg, who furnished the material for the 'Bekentnisse einer schönen Seele.'
How admirably is all this rendered by the language of the story!
"They had discovered in the deepest dell of their native mountain a deserted babe-the offspring doubtless of the loves of some wandering god. They were become its nurses, and fed it upon sacred honey and consecrated bread. Of immortal birth themselves, and untouched by the passing years, the boy became, as he grew up, the plaything, and finally the beloved, of his beautiful friends. But the boy himself is indifferent to their attractions, and careless or averse to their caresses. He is often lost to them, and wanders in the mountain fastnesses with the fawns and kids.
'Rural dances, and games and sacrifices were presented with delicately conceived grouping and pictorial effect. Then the main action of the drama developed itself. The most lovely of the nymphs, the queen and leader of the rest, inspires a devoted passion in the heart of the priest of Apollo, before whose altar they offer sacrifice, and listen for guiding and response. She rejects his love with cruel contempt, pining always for the coy and errant boy-god, who thinks of nothing but the distant mountain summits and the divine whispers of the rustling woods. The priest, insulted and enraged, invokes the aid of his divinity, and a change comes over the gay and magic scene. A terrible pestilence strikes down the inhabitants of these sylvan lawns, and gloomy funerals and the pathetic strains of dirges take the place of dances and lively songs.
"The terrified people throw themselves before the altar of the incensed Apollo, and the god speaks again. His anger can be appeased only by the sacrifice of the contemptuous nymph who has insulted his priest, or of some one who is willing to perish in her place. Proclamation is made across the sunny lawns, inviting a victim who will earn the wreath of self-sacrifice and of immortal consciousness of a great deed, but there is no response.
. . . There spreads a rumour among the crowd-fanned probably by hope that at the last moment a god will interfere. speak of the wandering boy, if he could only be found. Surely heso removed from earthly and selfish loves, so strange in his simplicity, in his purity-surely he would lay down his guileless life without a pang. Could he only be found, or would he appear!
'The herald's voice had died away for the third time amid a fanfare of trumpets. At the foot of the steps of the long terrace, by the Roman fountain, a delicate and lovely form stood on the grassy verge before the altar, by the leaping and rushing water's side; a little to the left, whence the road from Hades was supposed to come, stood the divine messenger, the lofty herald. Clad in white, with a white wand, behind the altar stood the wretched priest, on whom the fearful task devolved; the passion of terror, of pity, and of love, traced upon his face; all sound of music had died away; a hush as of death itself fell upon the expectant crowd; from green arch and trellised walk the throng of masques, actors and spectators alike, pressed forward upon
The priest tore the fillet from his
And of course it is before all things the language of 'John Inglesant' which makes that book a thing of worth and perAs the author had far more leisure for this than for anything else he produced, so it very much betters the others in almost every quality, but most of all in its completeness and dignity. From the very first the excellence of the writing seizes us-in the account of how Richard Inglesant was sent by Cromwell, Earl of Essex, to bring to reason the monks of Westacre, and how the Prior, despite all forewarning, preached his sermon in defiance of the civil power, whereby the priory was dissolved and Westacre came into the Inglesant family. A subsidiary intention is, of course, that religion revenges itself by taking possession of the mind and character of the grandson. It is Nikita's 'It 'felt strange taking that oath before the ikon' translated in a new way, according to Shorthouse's philosophy. But, that apart, how admirable an introduction to the story is this picture of Richard Inglesant beholding Westacre for the first time!
'In the middle of the summer afternoon he crossed the brow of the hilly common, and saw the roofs of the Priory beneath him surrounded by its woods. The country all about lay peaceful in the soft, mellow sunlight; wide slopes of wood, intermixed with shining water, and the quiet russet downs stretching beyond. Richard had sent on a man the day before to warn the Prior, who had been expecting his coming all day. The house stood with a little walled court in front of it, and a gate-house; and consisted of three buildings-a chapel, a large hall, and another building containing the Prior's Parlour and other rooms on the ground floor, and a long gallery or dormitory above, out of which opened other chambers; the kitchens and stables were near the latter building, on the right side of the court.' (P. 10.)
We have often contrasted Shorthouse with Thackeray, but here they meet on the common ground of style. The passage just quoted recalls another, more excellent still, wherein Esmond watches the sun set behind the rookery of Castlewood the day the new lord comes into possession. The banished prior, whose zeal possibly in the eyes of our author lacked culture from its excess-though of course we are not to hold Shorthouse responsible for this detailbecomes a sort of ghost in the fashion of Sir Walter's ghosts. Richard's son Eustace succeeds to Westacre, and this Eustace, a courtier like his father, takes up the elder
of his twin sons to be a page to the king; but he leaves John Inglesant to solitude or the companionship of the servants and the chaplain; until turns up Father St. Clair (Father Hall) the Jesuit, the moving spring of Johnny's life, and alas! decidedly the most conventional character in the book. Father Hall is a close parallel to the Father Holt of Esmond, and consequently less original tha that personage, who on his side is not convincing. But the description of Johnny's religious doubts and searchings of heart is admirably done, and is quite outside the sphere of Thackeray; and admirable are the little sketches of the priests and parsons of the neighbourhood whom the lad visits in search of light. One of this group has a curious and doubtless quite accidental likeness to the astrologer-chaplain in the Chartreuse de Parme.' Artistically considered, this portion of John Inglesant' is as good as any in the whole first volume and better than almost any part in the second, even as the writer's understanding of English scenery and English character is superior to his understanding of Italian scenery and Italian character. For seeing that John Inglesant' is really more than aught else the biography of a soul, such a discourse as the following by Inglesant's Platonic parson-friend is as important as any historical event with which the hero was afterwards mixed up.
'Here, in this book which I was reading when you so kindly came to see me, are withered flowers, which I have gathered in my rambles, and keep as friends and companions of pleasant places, streams, and meadows, and of some who have been with me-and now are not. There is one; this single yellow flower. It is a tormentilla, which is good against the plague. What is it, that, as I hold it, makes me think of it as I do? Faded flowers have something to me miraculous and supernatural about them, though, in fact, it is nothing wonderful that the texture of a flower being dried survives. It is not in the flower, but in our immortal spirit that the miracle is. All these delightful thoughts that come into my mind when I look at this flower-thoughts, and fancies, and memories-what are they but the result of the alchemy of the immortal spirit, which takes all the pleasant, fragile things of life, and transmutes them into immortality in our own nature! And if the poor spirit and intellect of man can do this, how much more may the supreme creative intellect mould and form all things, and bring the presence of the supernatural face to face with us in our daily walk.' (P. 41.)
Then Johnny goes up to London and becomes a supernumerary page at Court. It is during this time that he makes his first visit to the lay monastery Little Gidding,