Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

year by year. Ultimately it may leaven the entire mass, but up to the present time nothing can be more certain than that the travelled, cultured, broad-minded American does not reflect the views of the nation at large, with whom Great Britain is very far from popular. This, while to be regretted, is perhups not surprising when the past relations between the two countries are considered. As late as yesterday it might almost be said that Great Britain was the only enemy against whom the United States had ever taken up arms. For generations she has been represented to the American school boy and girl as the traditional foe, from whose tyranny and oppression their forefathers were delivered. The impressions thus inculcated are seldom effaced, for in the United States, as in all countries, school histories are the only histories ever opened by the immense majority of the population.

Were it not for this prejudice pervading the masses, all would be plain sailing. There is little doubt that had circumstances permitted a free hand to President McKinley, or to Mr. Hay, the Alaska boundary question would have been settled before this on terms alike honourable and satisfactory to both countries. Nor would it be extravagant to regard a majority of the United States members of the Joint High Commission, personally, as equally well disposed with the President and his Secretary of State. Unfortunately, the Senate had to be reckoned with, and political exigencies forbade the American plenipotentiaries to agree to any conditions unacceptable to that body.

A generation ago the Senate of the United States took high rank among the second chambers of the world, but of late years its prestige has waned, and though still numbering among its members statesmen who would lend distinction to any legislative body, the Senate itself has become more and more amenable to those ignoble methods which dominate American politics.

From the beginning of this controversy the feeling throughout the Pacific coast has been averse to what is termed' any cession of American territory,' meaning thereby any abatement of the extreme pretensions of the United States with respect to Alaska. On a mere rumoar a year ago that the American members of the Joint High Commission were disposed to consider an arrangement whereby Canada would receive a port on the Lyon Canal, a violent clamour arose in the West, which, being speedily heard in an assembly where almost every man has his ear to the ground and his eye on the next elections, proved disastrous to the negotiations.

This outcry against a settlement apparently so favourable to the United States was largely due to the effect which, by reason of the Navigation Laws, it would have had upon the carrying trade of the Pacific Coast. The bulk of supplies destined for the Yukon is shipped from Tacoma and Seattle, in Washington territory. Were Pyramid Harbour a British port, British vessels would be free to convey goods from United States ports to that point, while United States vessels would be precluded from carrying goods between Canadian ports and Pyramid Harbour. Here is one of the reasons which render the question of sovereignty so important in this controversy. Under the present laws British vessels may not carry goods from any American port to the Lynn Canal. It is true they can trade between British ports and the Lynn Canal, and a customs arrangement has recently been entered into between Canada and the United States, whereby goods arriving at Skagway may be bonded through to the Yukon district; but this bonding privilege is attended by restrictions more or less irksome, and is terminable at the pleasure of the American Government. Thus Canadian trade, flowing through American channels, is building up American towns in what Canada holds to be British territory. It is, perhaps, not surprising that Canadians should chafe under such a condition of affairs.

As regards the future of this question it is difficult to predicate anything. The United States, having secured under a modus vivendi possession of the heads of the Lynn Canal, are not likely to be in any hurry to disturb an arrangement so advantageous to them. On the other hand, various American industries are pressing for freer commercial relations with the Dominion, and Canada's refusal to treat on any of the remaining subjects of difference between the two countries until the question of the Alaska boundary is disposed of may lead to a revival of the International Commission.

The sinister influences which have hitherto stood in the way of an equitable settlement are at their minimum during the session of Congress immediately following a presidential election. Should Mr. McKinley be successful next November, it is possible that the new administration may feel itself strong enough to be able to prevail upon the Senate to sanction a treaty providing for a settlement of the question, either by compromise or by such a reference to arbitration as Canada can accept. Until then, at all events, matters must remain in statu quo.

[ocr errors]

:

ART. II.--1. The Island; or, the Adventures of a Person of

Quality. By RICHARD WHITEING. London: 1899. 2. Number 5 John Street. By RICHARD WHITEING. London:

1899. The relation in books between their literary merit and

their popularity forms a curious and interesting question, which would, if carefully studied, throw light upon many problems both of social and of literary philosophy. It is a question which is forced on the attention by books of various kinds, but by none so often and forcibly as it is by works of fiction. Numerous novels have been published during the past century which every cultivated, every fastidious reader recognises as admirable, alike in point of style and construction, as offering us brilliant pictures of lite, manners, and character, and as exhibiting a knowledge of human nature generally true and delicate, and not seldom profound. Such readers find such novels delightful. They read them again and again. They place them in the rank of classics. But of such novels, with a few important exceptions, the popularity, if estimated by the number of those who read them, is small. Let us take, for instance, the novels of that writer whose genius Lord Macaulay described as being next to Shakespeare's—the novels of Jane Austen. These wonderful works of art, which are still treasured to-day by all who are capable of distinguishing good literature from bad, though they have made this authoress immortal, never made her popular-popular in the sense of the word that would be attributed to it by a modern publisher. On the other hand, long novels, such as “The

Heavenly Twins' or The Christian,' and short novels, such as ‘Called Back' and 'The Mystery of a Hansom Cab,' which have no claim whatever to be regarded as literature at all, have been read in a single year by a larger number of people than have probably read •Emma' or · Mansfield • Park’ in ninety. Of this remarkable fact there is more than one explanation. We can on the present occasion only glance at the most obvious of them. One explanation is that, owing to various circumstances, a demand has arisen for novels which, instead of being read at leisure, are devoured in hurried intervals, like a stockbroker's luncheon in the City; in which all that is sought is excitement and distraction at the moment; and which are, when they have once been read, done with like an ended meal. Another

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

a

6

[ocr errors]

a

explanation is that a demand has arisen also for novels which are of a different and more serious kind, but which, instead of dealing with what is permanent in human life, deal exclusively with such problems or aspects of it as the circumstances of the hour have invested with special interest, and which distort or exhibit them with the fervour of an excited advocate. Such novels are works not so much of art as of journalism. No doubt to render them popular considerable talent is necessary; but their popularity has its foundation in their subjects rather than in theinselves, precisely as is the case with a war correspondent's letter, and bears no necessary relation to their enduring literary qualities. It is often, indeed, in inverse proportion to them, as is illustrated in a remarkable way by the novels of Mrs. Humphry Ward. Of these, Robert Elsmere,' which made her reputation as a writer, is, as a work of literary art, the worst. Its success was due to the fact that it was, under the guise of a story, a magnified leading article on the position of contemporary Christianity. It is perfectly true that this element of disguised journalism may often ruin a novel that would otherwise be good literature; but it is equally true that it may render a novel popular which, regarded as literature, is beneath even the criticism of contempt.

It by no means follows, however, because a novel which is devoured by the many is recognised by the few as being, in a literary sense, worthless, that the few may not find in it much food for reflection. The precise contrary is the case. What such novels as those we are considering—the novels which are disguised journalism-lose in literary value they gain as signs of the times, and if they achieve popularity they throw an instructive light, not only on the mental condition, the knowledge, and the sentiments of the authors, but also on those of the thousands who read them and take them seriously. Such novels, indeed, form for the thoughtful reader not, perhaps, valuable studies of the subjects with which they deal, but valuable evidence as to the manner in which multitudes are content to deal with them. They afford us glimpses, which are sometimes astonishingly vivid, into the workings of the popular mind.

We have been led to make these observations by the appearance of two recent works which, in a literary sense, are superior to many of their intellectual kindred, but which owe, nevertheless, the considerable success obtained by them entirely to their qualities as the writings of a polemical journalist who is using the incidents of the hour, and even of the minute, in order to point and preach a social and economic gospel. The works we refer to are The Island' and ‘Number 5 John Street, whose author, Mr. Whiteing, has been lately raised by them to celebrity. Of both these romances, or stories--they are hardly to be called novelsthe central subject is not the scene, the incidents, or the characters, but the nature and origin of the divisions between rich and poor, and the means by which Mr. Whiteing believes and would teach us that they can be obliterated. In Mr. Whiteing's philosophy there is, as we shall see presently, nothing that is original. On the contrary, the views he propounds are all of them extremely old. But what is original is the vitality, the eager good faith with which they are stated ; and what is interesting is the fact that a man of

! Mr. Whiteing's attainments should be capable of stating them, and capable of believing in them, as he does, and that a very considerable public should still exist in England which, to all appearances, is capable of taking them seriously.

"The Island' and Number 5 John Street,' though separate, are connected stories, the second being a sequel to the first. We will give the reader a brief account of both of them. The Island' in point of form is the autobiography of a peer who is young, wealthy, handsome, and, in addition to other advantages, suddenly wakes up one day to find that he is a social philosopher. Having acquiesced from his childhood upwards in the general features of civilisation, and having admired the elaborate manner in which civilised society is organised, scales fall from his eyes as he is watching a crowded thoroughfare in the City, and the conclusion is borne in on him that what he has admired as organisation is anarchy. Every one who is not rolling in a carriage or dressed in the extreme of fashion seems to his clarified vision to be groaning under an intolerable tyranny, or tormented with the restlessness that portends a near social revolution. He begins to feel misery tingling in the air everywhere. The thought of the condition of London weighs on his spirit like a nightmare, and in order to escape to a healthier and more hopeful atmosphere he betakes himself-it must be confessed with considerable simplicityto Paris. In Paris, however, he finds a repetition of everything that distressed and alarmed him in London, and he finally takes refuge in a ship, and goes for a long sea voyage. In the South Pacific he passes a lonely island, whose

« ZurückWeiter »