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Mr. MacDonald as a Constructor of Stories. 21 much insistence upon the authority of Scripture, but Biblical similitudes are not unfrequent, and the language is often enriched by Biblical phrase. *If I could get them,' says one of Mr. MacDonald's clergymen, whom we may safely take for himself, to like poetry and beautiful things in words, it would not only do them good, but help them to see what is in the • Bible, and, therefore, to love it more ; for I never could 'believe that a man who did not find God in other places, as 'well as in the Bible, ever found Him there at all. And I

always thought, that to find God in other books enabled us to 'see clearly that He was more in the Bible than in

any

other book, or all other books put together.' The supreme revelation of God he finds in Christ. In Him he sees what is 'eternally beyond' abstract truth; the ideal in the real, the ' living truth, not the truth that I can think, but the truth that *thinks itself, that thinks me, that God has thought, yea, that 'God is, the truth being true to itself and to God and to man'Christ Jesus, my Lord, who knows, and feels, and does the

truth. I have seen Him, and I am both content and unsatis'fied. For in Him are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.'

The test of value in works of fiction being in our opinion the amount of truth they contain, we are but slightly interested in the question of Mr. MacDonald's success or failure in the construction of his plots. The importance and enduring worth of Thackeray's novels are closely connected with his habit of almost dispensing both with plots and heroes. His account of the Newcome family has a strict historical value, as a delineation of domestic life in England, in the early part of the nineteenth century, and our confidence in the verisimilitude of the picture is increased by his contemptuous violation, in the fortunes of Clive and Ethel, of those rules by which the ordinary novelist arranges his births, deaths, and marriages. Life in England, seen through the medium of Thackeray's sad and stern philosophy—this is all that men of sense care to look for in his novels. On like principles we are mainly indifferent to the way in which MacDonald pairs off his ladies and gentlemen, and secures the required amount of winding and eddying, fretting and foaming, in his streams of true love; we reserve our attention for the representation, with comments annexed, which a mind of unquestionable genius, profound religious feeling, extraordinary powers of thought, and unbounded human sympathy, gives of the world in which we live. But whatever importance we may or may not attach to the matter, it must be admitted that George MacDonald is not specially happy

or inventive in the construction of his plots. In David Elginbrod and Alec Forbes, substantially the same outline of story is made use of, and there is nothing in it, to begin with, felicitous enough to entitle it to this distinction. Hugh Sutherland, who, viewed from the novelist's stand-point, plays the part of hero in the former work, becomes acquainted with Margaret Elginbrod, is favourably impressed with her, and makes, in turn, an impression still deeper. Margaret, in fact, loves him. He goes to a different part of the country ; is introduced to Euphra Cameron ; falls violently in love with her; has the mortification to find that one Count Halkar, of the sublime scamp species, was before him in enslaving the lady's affections; witnesses her demise; and then, harking back upon the milder affection of other years, proposes to Margaret, and is accepted. Alec Forbes, who is both really and ostensibly the hero of the novel called after him, is a schoolfellow of Annie Anderson's, likes her well but with no particular depth of affection, is passionately loved by her in turn, leaves the district, sees Katie Fraser, loves her to distraction, is cut out by a handsome scoundrel, clad, not this time as a foreign count but as a Highland chieftain, weeps over the sudden death of Miss Fraser, and, after calming his nerves by a cold bath, in the form of a trip to the Arctic regions, settles into mild connubial felicity with Annie. This is repetition without even disguise. In cases where there is less of the appearance of a plot, Mr. MacDonald's success is greater. The thread of narrative on which the tales which make up the bulk of the novel of Adela Cathcart are hung, is light and graceful; and a background of connected incident, bearing upon the personal history of the clergyman, in the Annals of a Quiet Neighbourhood, pleasantly relieves the serious business which is transacted in the foreground of the picture.

There is in the genius of MacDonald a strong affinity for the marvellous. In the Highlands of Scotland, though the very mists of the mountains seem now to be rent and dissipated by material civilization advancing with its steam-engines and its railway-trains, you may still occasionally meet with that mood of mind, characteristic of a peculiar stage of intellectual development, in which superstitions, once terrible, continue to be half believed, and to furnish an element of picturesqueness and poetry to the thinking and feeling of the people. Goethe was in time to catch the last gleams of this popular poetry of the wonderful, as they faded from the old forests of Germany. The Erlking, with his streaming hair, which is already found to have a suspicious resemblance to the mist of evening, and his daughters, who are half surmised to be only the grey

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willows shivering in the dusk, is a perfect example of the legendary figure, which once oppressed the soul with awe, but is now becoming picturesque and poetical. To make the Erlking adequately terrific, even for pjetical purposes, Scott recommends that Goethe's poems should be read by the light of a candle long in the wick and in a solitary room, about midnight. There are still Highlanders who believe in witchcraft, and second-sight, and the wheeling and marshalling of ghostly armies on the moors, when their tarns glimmer white in the moon. These things were probably real enough to MacDonald in his childhood, and it is an advantage for him, as an artist, to have known as a fact, perhaps to have experienced as a feeling, those emotions of half-painful, half-pleasurable dread which he depicts in his works. It is, we suppose, slight praise to say of his Portent: a Story of the Second Sight, that it is the finest piece of literary art ever founded upon the superstition it embodies. In its way, it is a masterpiece. The execution is equal to that of anything we have from the hand of MacDonald, if not superior. În language at once nervous and splendid, with rapid, firm, decisive strokes, never loitering in sentimental digression, never intruding philosophy, never overdoing description, he tells his weird and awful tale. His pen is at once pencil and paint-brush ; for we behold every scene and every figure in trenchant outline; and yet we see the whole, as through the rich brooding colours of a sultry and gorgeous sunset. That too-muchness, which the keen censor has not unfrequently to rebuke in his other writingsthat accumulation of rhetorical and poetical effect, until the imagination of the reader is wearied-cannot be complained of here. The sketches of hill scenery, though brief, are instinet with power, and are brought, by subtle imaginative touches, into harmony with the general impression of the piece. The 'great mountain,' for example, of which we afterwards hear so much, is at once thrown into the sphere of our intellectual vision, and invested with the appropriate atmosphere of wonder and awe, in the few following words :

* It was a mighty thing, a chieftain of the race, seamed and scarred, featured with chasms and precipices and overleaning rocks, themselves huge as hills; here blackened with shade, there overspread with glory; interlaced with the silvery lines of falling streams, which, hurrying from heaven to earth, cared not how they went, so it were downwards. Fearful stories were told of the gulfs, sullen waters, and dizzy heights, upon that terror-haunted mountain. In storms, the wind roared like thunder in its caverns and along the jagged sides of its cliffs, but at other times that uplifted land--uplifted, yet secret and full of dismay-lay silent as a cloud on the horizon,'

In the conduct of the tale, the supernatural element is managed with consummate skill. There is exactly enough of it; too much were as fatal to success as too little. When a modern writer introduces the supernatural frankly as such, he at once loses his hold upon the reader's sense of the wonderful. The whole is felt to be mere imaginative play. This is the secret of Scott's failure with the White Lady of Avenel. She is not connected in any way with reality ; and the wonders she performs-the resuscitation of Sir Piercie Shafton, for instance -strike the mind as nonsensical. Had Scott connected the lady and her performances with natural sights and soundsmysterious gleamings of light in the gorge of the glen, strange echoes from the hollows of the rocks—and brought out his quasisupernatural effects by the action of these on the excited imagination of Halbert Glendinning, the whole conception would have attained a higher character. Mr. Matthew Arnold's Forsaken Merman appears to me, for the same reason, to be on the wrong side of that chasm which, though very deep, separates but by a step the sublime from the absurd. In MacDonald's tale, that deep chord in our human nature which responds to the wonderful, is kept in strong and sustained vibration; and yet we are never fairly out of the world of fact. Between the associations of a Highland childhood, the impressions of a dream-haunted youth, the experiences of an adventurous, passionate, and strangely circumstanced manhood, and the mysterious phenomena of somnambulism and complete or partial insanity, there is no lack of materials wherewith to construct a scientific theory of the dread and demon-like agencies which torment Duncan Campbell and Lady Alice. It is in this subtle blending of the real and the imaginary, the natural and the preternatural, that the secret of success in dealing with the wonderful lies for modern writers. The reader of Jane Eyre is mystified, almost appalled, by the apparition of the spectral woman at the bedside of the girl; but this is nothing to the shudder of thrilling horror which passes over him, when he learns that she was no spectre, but an actual living thing, which might have throttled the little governess.

It adds, perhaps, to the fascination of The Portent, that it is not didactic. This can by no means be said of Phantastes : a Faerie Romance. It is didactic from beginning to end. Nor can we affirm that it is free from the fault of too-muchness previously referred to. The tired imagination droops her wing and shades her eye in the bewildering complication of its wonders, the dazzling blaze of its splendour. Palaces shining like silver, galleries of precious stones, marble, porphyry, jasper, agate, ranged in melody His Powers of Imagination.

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of successive colours, demon shadows, demon trees, magical fountains, magical mirrors, radiant maidens who beam into life from alabaster through the gradual resurrection of music, marble statues in glimmering halls gifted with the power of leaving their pedestals at pleasure and disporting themselves on the light fantastic toe, relapsing into the serenity and silence of stone at a moment's notice, enchantments, forests, preternatural oceans, knights, giants, monsters, grottoes, deadly combats, victories, defeats, ghosts, fairies, dwarfs, ghouls, spectre-wolves, grisly phantoms, amaze, confound, and overwhelm the reader. Such a book would be a rare boon to a German professor of metaphysico-literary criticism. He might puzzle over its meaning for fifteen years, and find that at the end its deeper significance was only beginning to dawn upon his moral consciousness. Happily the main drift of its teaching is discernible without effort. That selfishness is the bane of moral worth, and essentially at variance with the nature of love; that action is better than speculation; that conceit and vanity are weaker than humility ; that presumption heralds failure; that a noble death is better than a degraded life-these are a few of its main posi. tions. No one can read it without being astonished at the power and luxuriance of Mr. MacDonald's imagination. The tone is perhaps too uniform, and there is a lack of sprightliness and humour. In such performances, the element of humour should be very prevailing. The pages ought to sparkle with fun. There are some traces of mild satire, but only a few. 'In 'a wood in fairyland, I found myself listening attentively, and ' as if it were no unusual thing with me, to a conversation be*tween two squirrels or monkeys. The subjects were not very

interesting, except as associated with the individual life and ' necessities of the little creatures : where the best nuts were to • be found in the neighbourhood, and who could crack them best, 'or who had most laid up for the winter, and such like; only

they never said where the store was. There was no great . difference in kind between their talk and our ordinary human 'conversation. Very mild satire this, like aërated water with a faint suspicion of raspberry vinegar. Better is the account of the creatures who, when they saw a little girl seeking for wings, absolutely insisted upon throwing her down and walking over her. They were of blocks of wood, roughly hewn into the semblance of men; there were head, body, legs and arms, but nothing which you could say quite corresponded to the • human face divine.' When one of them rushed at and attacked the little girl, the knight struck at him and cut off a leg; but the separated portions hobbled to each other and got

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