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From The Leader, March 21.
WE are learning the lesson of Rowland Hill's post-office. What was that lesson? It may be divided into several heads. First, the Penny Post has taught us that services such as those which the post renders may be rendered at very cheap uniform rates with greater efficiency and larger profits than on a scale of varying high charges. Secondly, we have learnt that Government service has attractions even when the rate of pay is reduced to an ultra-economical level. Thirdly, we are becoming convinced by the great success of Rowland Hill's plans that there are some other things which, done on the principle of low charges and economical management, may be more efficiently performed for the public by Government agency than by private enterprise. In all probability we shall arrive in time at the conviction that one of these departments is that of railway communication. Ireland will probably be made the scene of an experiment which is likely to lead to great results, and probably, in the end, to the adoption on equitable terms, and the management with increased safety and economy, of the railway lines in England. But these events are as yet only dimly foreseen. A more immediate result of Rowland Hill's teachings will be the establishment of a Government system of electric telegraphy for the public service. Of course the existing systems will be utilised; but we venture to prophesy an improvement in management and increased facility of use, such as it has hardly entered into the minds of electric directors to conceive, and such as most certainly none of them would have dared
Mr. Gladstone is the originator of the scheme, but it may be hoped that even before his anticipated return to power Parliament may initiate its adoption. A Bill is already drafted for the purpose, and it is founded upon the inquiries of one of the most efficient of our public officers, Mr. Scudamore. This gentleman was author of the details of the Post Office Savings' Bank, and he has now once more undertaken some pioneering which is likely to precede a great advance in civilisation. The telegraph system of this country is a disgrace to joint-stock enterprise. It is dear, it is irregular, it is incomplete. Those who use it find it full of vexations and in
cumbered with extra expenses. Moreover, throughout a vast extent of country it is practically useless. Only where there are great centres of population does it even pretend to be effective. Cases of local grievance under it are exceedingly common. It was said some time ago that Caithness lost thousands a-year in the value of its herring-take for want of a telegraph, which has been sought in vain. Wales suffers greatly from similar causes. Then there are to be considered the expenses of porterage, which in some places have amounted to nearly a pound on a shilling message. In fact, the dependence of the telegraph on private enterprise renders it weak, inefficient, and untrustworthy. The companies have not the courage or the capital to try small prices and perfect completeness. Consequently they cannot fathom the resources which, on a cheap system, would be immediately open to them. Make the thing work well for a uniform rate of a shilling and no porterage for twenty words, and the telegrams will be many times multiplied. Make the charge sixpence, and the letter-post itself will hardly be a greater establishment that the "lightning-post" as it has been aptly called which is to be established on the principles of which the Post-office is so striking an exemplar. Any one who has been in Belgium knows how simple is the arrangement of the lightning-post of that country, and how widely the facilities it affords are used by the people. Stamps are sold just as for letiers, and messages are posted by lightning as freely as by mail. The price or twenty words is but half a franc. The result is that both in Belgium and in Switzerland, where the organisation and the prices are similar, the use of telegraphy is common to an extent which positively shames our more wealthy and more busy land.
We can find it in our hearts to hope that not even the great political interests which just now press for adjustment will be suffered to interfere with the early passing of this eagerly-expected measure. It is not a matter calling for political confidence, but for administrative energy, and this will be forthcoming whenever the enterprise is sanctioned by Government. As the proposed acquisition of the lines is not to be compulsory, there can hardly be even a discussion upon any point of principle; and we would fain believe that when Mr. Hunt and Mr. Sclater-Booth ready, Parliament will be found perfectly willing.
DE FOE'S NOVELS.
From The Cornhill Magazine. | enter the hole, or as we might rather say, the key refuses to enter the lock, and the gates of glory remain obstinately closed. Now it may be that the felicitous choice of situation to which Lamb refers gave just the turn which fitted the key to the lock; and it is little use to plead that Roxana, Colonel Jack, and others might have done the same trick if only they had received a little filing, or some slight change in shape: a shoemaker might as well argue that if you had only one toe less his shoes wouldn't pinch you.
ACCORDING to the high authority of Charles Lamb, it has sometimes happened "that from no inferior merit in the rest, but from some superior good fortune in the choice of a subject, some single work" (of a particular author's)" shall have been suffered to eclipse, and cast into the shade, the deserts of its less fortunate brethren." And after quoting the case of Bunyan's Holy War as compared with the Pilgrim's Prog- To leave the unsatisfactory ground of ress, he adds that" in no instance has this metaphor, we may find out, on examination, excluding partiality been exerted with more that De Foe had discovered in Robinson unfairness than against what may be termed Crusoe precisely the field in which his talthe secondary novels or romances of De ents could be most effectually applied; and Foe." He proceeds to declare that there that a very slight alteration in the subjectare at least four other fictitious narratives matter might change the merit of his work by the same writer, Roxana, Singleton, to a disproportionate extent. The more Moll Flanders, and Colonel Jack, - which special the idiosyncrasy upon which a man's possess an interest not inferior to Robinson literary success is founded, the greater, of Crusoe, "except what results from a less course, the probability that a small change felicitous choice of situation." Granting will disconcert him. A man who can only most unreservedly that the same hand is perform upon the drum will have to wait perceptible in the minor novels as in Robin- for certain combinations of other instruments son Crusoe, and that they bear at every before his special talent can be turned to acpage the most unequivocal symptoms of. De count. Now, the talent in which De Foe Foe's workmanship, we venture to doubt surpasses all other writers is just one of the "partiality" and the "unfairness" of those peculiar gifts which must wait for a fapreferring to them their more popular rival. vourable chance. When a gentleman, in a The instinctive judgment of the world is not fairy story, has a power of seeing a hundred really biassed by anything except the intrin- miles, or covering seven leagues at a stride, sic power exerted by a book over its sympa- we know that an opportunity will speedily thies; and as in the long run it has honoured occur for putting his faculties to use. Robinson Crusoe, in spite of the critics, and the gentleman with the seven-leagued boots has comparatively neglected Roxana and is useless when the occasion offers itself for the companion stories, there is probably telescopic vision, and the eyes are good for some good cause for the distinction. The nothing without the power of locomotion. apparent injustice to books resembles what To De Foe, if we may imitate the language we often see in the case of men. A. B. be- of the Arabian Nights, was given a tongue comes Lord Chancellor, whilst C. D. remains to which no one could listen without believfor years a briefless barrister; and yet for ing every word that he uttered a qualifithe life of us we cannot tell but that C. D. cation, by the way, which would serve its is the abler man of the two. Perhaps he owner far more effectually in this commonwas wanting in some one of the less conspic- place world than swords of sharpness or uous elements that are essential to a success-cloaks of darkness, or other fairy parapherful career; he said, "Open, wheat?" nalia. In other words, he had the most marinstead of "Open, sesame!" and the barriers vellous power ever known of giving verisiremained unaffected by his magic. The or- militude to his fictions; or, in other words dinary metaphor about the round pegs and again, he had the most amazing talent on the square holes requires to be supplemented. record for telling lies. We have all read For a second-rate success it is enough to fix how the History of the Plague, the Memoirs a round peg, with more or less accuracy, of a Cavalier, and even, it is said, Robinson into a round hole of about the right size; but Crusoe, have succeeded in passing themfor one of those successes which make a man selves off for veritable narratives. A more famous at a blow, you have to find a queer- curious case is that of the Memoirs of Capshaped peg to match some strangely polygo-tain Carleton, which Dr. Johnson accepted nal hole to a nicety. If the least corner as genuine, but which has always passed for runs out at a wrong angle the peg refuses to De Foe's. Lord Stanhope, however, in a,
note to his War of the Succession in Spain, son who appeared to me in Canada!" declares his belief in its authenticity, principally, it seems, on the ground of a discovery that a Captain Carleton was really taken prisoner, as is related in the memoirs, at the siege of Denia, in Spain. It is still, however, possible, as the internal evidence would seem to suggest, that De Foe made use of the real Captain Carleton's papers as a foundation, or even as the substance of his narrative. In any case, it is as characteristic that a genuine narrative should be attributed to De Foe, as that De Foe's narrative should be taken as genuine. We may add an odd testimony to De Foe's powers as a liar (a word for which there is, unfortunately, no equivalent that does not imply some blame) of later occurrence. Mr. M'Queen, quoted in Captain Burton's Nile Basin, names Captain Singleton as a genuine account of travels in Central Africa, and seriously mentions De Foe's imaginary pirate as "a claimant for the honour of the discovery of the sources of the White Nile."
Many people are diverted from the weak part of the story by this ingenious confirmation, and, in their surprise at the coherence of the narrative, forget that the narrative itself rests upon entirely anonymous evidence. A chain is no stronger than its weakest link; but if you show how admirably the last few are united together, half the world will forget to test the security of the equally essential parts which are kept out of sight. De Foe generally repeats a similar trick in the prefaces of his fictions. ""Tis certain," he says, in the Memoirs of a Cavalier, "no man could have given a description of his retreat from Marston Moor to Rochdale, and thence over the moors to the North, in so apt and proper terms, unless he had really travelled over the ground he describes," which, indeed, is quite true, but by no means proves that the journey was made by a fugitive from that particular battle. He separates himself more ostentatiously from the supposititious author by Some of the literary artifices to which praising his admirable manner of relating De Foe owed his power of producing this the memoirs, and the "wonderful variety of illusion are sufficiently plain. Of all the incidents with which they are beautified ;” fictions which he succeeded in palming off and, with admirable impudence, assures us for truths, none is more instructive than that they are written in so soldierly a style, that admirable ghost, Mrs. Veal. It is, as that it "seems impossible any but the very it were, a hand-specimen, in which we may person who was present in every action study his modus operandi on a convenient here related was the relater of them." In scale. Like the sonnets of some great poets, the preface to Roxana, he acts, with equal it contains in a few lines all the essential spirit, the character of an impartial person, peculiarities of his art, and an admirable giving us the evidence on which he is himcommentary has been appended to it by self convinced of the truth of the story, as Sir Walter Scott. The first device which though he would, of all things, refrain from strikes us is his ingenious plan for manu- pushing us unfairly for our belief. The facturing corroborative evidence. The writer, he says, took the story from the ghost appears to Mrs. Bargrave. The story lady's own mouth; he was, of course, obliged of the apparition is told by a very sober to disguise names and places; but was himand understanding gentlewoman, who lives self "particularly acquainted with this within a few doors of Mrs. Bargrave; " lady's first husband, the brewer, an 1 with and the character of this sober gentlewoman his father, and also with his bad circumstanis supported by the testimony of a justice of ces, and knows that first part of the story.” peace at Maidstone, "a very intelligent The rest we must, of course, take upon the person." This elaborate chain of evidence lady's own evidence, but less unwillingly as is intended to divert our attention from the the first is thus corroborated. We cannot obvious circumstance that the whole story venture to suggest to so calm a witness that rests upon the authority of the anonymous he has invented both the lady and the writperson who tells us of the sober gentlewo- er of her history; and, in short, that when man, who supports Mrs. Bargrave, and is he says that A. says that B. says something, confirmed by the intelligent justice. Sim- it is, after all, merely the anonymous ple as the artifice appears, it is one which who is speaking. In giving us his authoriis constantly used in supernatural stories of ty for Moll Flanders, he ventures upon the the present day. One of the commonest of more refined art of throwing a little disthose improving legends tells how a ghost credit upon the narrator's veracity. She appeared to two officers in Canada, and professes to have abandoned her evil ways, how, subsequently, one of the officers met but, as he tel's us with a kind of aside, and the ghost's twin brother in London, and as it were cautioning us against over-increstraightway exclaimed, "You are the per-dulity, it seems" (a phrase itself suggest
and myself that the gown had scoured." To this crushing piece of evidence, it seems that neither Mr. Veal nor the notorious liar could invent any sufficient reply.
ing the impartial looker-on) that in her old story, who could have had no conceivable age "she was not so extraordinary a peni- motive for inventing such a fiction. The tent as she was at first; it seems only" (for, argument is finally clenched by a decisive after all, you mustn't make too much of my coincidence. The ghost wears a silk dress. insinuations)" that indeed she always spoke In the course of a long conversation, she with abhorrence of her former life." So incidentally mentioned to Mrs. Bargrave we are left in a qualified state of confidence, that this was a scoured silk, newly made up. as if we had been talking about one of his When Mrs. Bargrave reported this remarkpatients with the wary director of a reform-able circumstance to a certain Mrs. Wilson, atory. "You have certainly seen her," exclaimed This last touch, which is one of De Foe's that lady, "for none knew but Mrs. Veal favourite expedients, is most fully exemplified in the story of Mrs. Veal. The author affects to take us into his confidence, to make us privy to the pros and cons in regard to the veracity of his own characters, till we are quite disarmed. The sober gentle One can almost fancy De Foe chuckling woman vouches for Mrs. Bargrave; but as he concocted the refinements of this most Mrs. Bargrave is by no means allowed to marvellous narrative. The whole artifice, have it all her own way. One of the ghost's so far as we have traced it hitherto, is, communications related to the disposal of a indeed, of a simple kind. Lord Sundercertain sum of 10l. a year, of which Mrs. land, according to Macaulay, once ingeniBargrave, according to her own account, ously defended himself against a charge of could have known nothing, except, by this treachery, by asking whether it was possisupernatural intervention. Mrs. Veal's ble that any man should be so base as to do friends, however, tried to throw doubt upon that which he was, in fact, in the constant the story of her appearance, considering habit of doing. De Foe asks us in subthat it was in some way disreputable for a stance, Is it conceivable that any man should decent woman to go abroad after her death. tell stories so elaborate, so complex, with One of them, therefore, declared that Mrs. so many unnecessary details, with so many Bargrave was a liar, and that she had, in inclinations of evidence this way and that, fact, known of the 10l. beforehand. On the unless the stories are true? We instincother hand, the person who thus attacked tively answer, that it is, in fact, inconceivaMrs. Bargrave had himself the "reputation ble; and, even apart from any such refineof a notorious liar." Mr. Veal, the ghost's ments as we have noticed, the circumstanbrother, was too much of a gentleman to tiality of the stories is quite sufficient to make such gross imputations. He confined catch an unwary critic. It is, indeed, perhimself to the more moderate assertion that fectly easy to tell a story which shall be Mrs. Bargrave had been crazed by a bad mistaken for a bona fide narrative, if only husband. He maintained that the story we are indifferent to such considerations must be a mistake, because, just before her as making it interesting or artistically satisdeath, his sister had declared that she had factory. We may pledge our words that nothing to dispose of. This statement, the following narrative is false from beginhowever, may be reconciled with the ghost's ning to end; and yet, if any of our readers remarks about the 10., because she obvi- read it in a newspaper, or heard it told ously mentioned such a trifle merely by viva voce, they would probably receive it way of a token of the reality of her appear- without hesitation: "On the 8th of Januance. Mr. Veal, indeed, makes rather a ary last we were walking down the Strand. better point by stating that a certain purse Just before us was an old woman, in a red of gold mentioned by the ghost was found, shawl, and with a large umbrella. We had not in the cabinet where she told Mrs. Bar- not time to remark the other details of her grave that she had placed it, but in a comb-dress. Just as she stepped upon the crossbox. Yet, again, Mr. Veal's statement is ing where Craven Street joins the Strand, here rather suspicious, for it is known that a hansom cab, driven by a man with large Mrs. Veal was very particular about her cabinet, and would not have let her gold out of it. We are left in some doubts by this conflict of evidence, although the obvious desire of Mr. Veal to throw discredit on the story of his sister's appearance rather inclines us to believe in Mrs. Bargrave's
black whiskers, whose number began with
course, dissuade our readers, to try what that which he afterwards practised in may be called the force of conviction which fiction. On both occasions he was punished belongs to bare assertion. Tell a large for assuming a character for purposes of company that the Emperor Napoleon has mystification. In the latest instance, it is landed with 100,000 men at Dover; or that seen, the pamphlet called What if the Prea heavy dining-room table has risen into tender Comes was written in such obvious the air without being touched, and rapped irony, that the mistake of his intentions out a lively tune against the chandelier, must have been wilful. The other, and and the odds are that half of them will better known performance, The Shortest believe you. Indeed, so simple are man- Way with the Dissenters, seems really to kind, in spite of many newspapers, that have imposed upon his readers. The case most people will take a thing as gospel is much as if Mr. Bright should have been truth, simply on the score of having read it prosecuted, first, for having assumed the in print. We cannot, then, take the mere character of a follower of Dr. Pusey, and fact of producing a truthful narrative as, secondly, for having assumed that of a supof itself, very remarkable; if the story is porter of Lord Derby; and we must supnot too obviously moulded so as to produce pose that he had, in the first case at least, a given result, or is enforced with a suffi- put on the mask so successfully that the cient number of irrelevant details, the feat, genuine High Churchmen were fairly taken such as it is, may be pretty certainly per- in, and were only roused from their deluformed. Sometimes, indeed, De Foe seems sion by discovering the fearful scrape into to overreach himself. Colonel Jack, at the which their false guide had led them. It is end of a long career, tells us how one of difficult in these days of toleration to his boyish companions stole certain articles imagine that any one can have taken the at a fair, and gives us the list, of which violent suggestions of the Shortest Way as this is a part: — 66 5thly, a silver box, with put forward seriously. To those who 73. in small silver; 6, a pocket-handker- might say that persecuting the Dissenters chief; 7, another; 8, a jointed baby, and a was cruel, says De Foe, "I answer, 'tis little looking-glass." The affectation of cruelty to kill a snake or a toad in cold extreme precision, especially in the charm- blood, but the poison of their nature makes ing item "another," destroys the perspec- it a charity to our neighbours to destroy tive of the story. We are listening to a those creatures, not for any personal incontemporary, not to an old man giving us jury received, but for prevention: his fading recollections of a disreputable Serpents, toads, and vipers, &c., are childhood. noxious to the body, and poison the sensitive life: these poison the soul, corrupt our posterity, ensnare our children, destroy the vital of our happiness, our future felicity, and contaminate the whole mass." concludes, " Alas, the Church of England! What with popery on the one hand, and schismatics on the other, how has she been crucified between two thieves! Now let us crucify the thieves! Let her foundations be established upon the destruction of her enemies: the doors of mercy being always open to the returning part of the deluded people; let the obstinate be ruled with a rod of iron!" It gives a pleasant impression of the spirit of the times, to remember that this could be taken for a genuine utterance of orthodoxy: that De Foe was imprisoned and pilloried, and had to write a serious protestation that it was only a joke, and that he meant to expose the nonjuring party by putting their secret wishes into plain English. 'Tis hard," he says, " that this should not be perceived by all the town; that not one man can see it, either Churchman or Dissenter." It cer tainly was very hard; but a perusal of the
The peculiar merit, then, of De Foe must be sought in something more than the circumstantial nature of his lying, or even the ingenious artifices by which he contrives to corroborate his own narrative. These, indeed, show the pleasure which he took in simulating truth; and he may very probably have attached undue importance to this talent in the infancy of novel-writing, as in the infancy of painting it was held for the greatest of triumphs when birds came and pecked at the grapes in a picture. That this power rested upon something more than a bit of literary trickery, may be inferred from De Foe's fate in another department of authorship. Of his remarkable political writings, this is not the place to speak, although it might be interesting to trace in them some of the same qualities, especially the strong vernacular style, running at times into diffuseness and over-asseveration, which is so conspicuous in his novels. It seems, however, to be a more special indication of his peculiar cast of talent, that he twice got into trouble for a device exactly analogous to