Produced by Charles Bowen from page scans provided by
Google Books (University of Virginia)
Produced by Charles Bowen from page scans provided by
1. Page scan source: Google Books https://books.google.com/books?id=4qdEAAAAYAAJ
(University of Virginia)
2. The diphthong oe is represented by [oe].
3. Missing pages were provided by the 1844 edition.
4. Table of contents is provided by the transcriber.
G. P. R. JAMES
GEORGE ROUTLEDGE AND SONS LIMITED
The Introduction is written by Laurie Magnus, M.A.; the Title-page is designed by Ivor I. J. Symes.
George Payne Rainsford James, Historiographer Royal to King William IV., was born in London in the first year of the nineteenth century, and died at Venice in 1860. His comparatively short life was exceptionally full and active. He was historian, politician and traveller, the reputed author of upwards of a hundred novels, the compiler and editor of nearly half as many volumes of letters, memoirs, and biographies, a poet and a pamphleteer, and, during the last ten years of his life, British Consul successively in Massachusetts, Norfolk (Virginia), and Venice. He was on terms of friendship with most of the eminent men of his day. Scott, on whose style he founded his own, encouraged him to persevere in his career as a novelist; Washington Irving admired him, and Walter Savage Landor composed an epitaph to his memory. He achieved the distinction of being twice burlesqued by Thackeray, and two columns are devoted to an account of him in the new “Dictionary of National Biography.” Each generation follows its own gods, and G. P. R. James was, perhaps, too prolific an author to maintain the popularity which made him “in some ways the most successful novelist of his time.” But his work bears selection and revival. It possesses the qualities of seriousness and interest; his best historical novels are faithful in setting and free in movement. His narrative is clear, his history conscientious, and his plots are well-conceived. English learning and literature are enriched by the work of this writer, who made vivid every epoch in the world’s history by the charm of his romance.
“Arrah Neil; or, Times of Old” is a characteristic mixture of history and sentimental romance. The historical matters are concerned with an early episode in the Great Civil War, which centred in the destinies of the important town of Hull, the “magazine of the North.” Sir John Hotham was governor at the time that the King hoisted the Royal Standard at Nottingham, and though he closed the gates against his Majesty, it was felt by both sides that his defection from the Parliament was not at all unlikely, especially if they persisted in extreme measures. This doubtful attitude of Sir John, the strained relations between him and his son, Colonel Hotham, and the hopes and fears of the Royalist party as to the possession of Hull, are the historical elements in the plot, and give rise to an intricate series of extremely entertaining as well as exciting events. The plot is hardly well put together; James does not trouble himself much about his “loose ends,” and it looks as though the French mission, on which the King sends the Earl of Beverly and Captain Barecolt, were merely a pretext for their subsequent adventures. On the other hand, the novel contains one singular and striking success. James often attempts low comedy and frequently fails, but in the boasting, swaggering, and resourceful Barecolt, the indomitable Royalist soldier, who “might have become almost as great a man as he fancied himself if it had not been for his swaggering, drinking, drabbing, and lying propensities,” he has given us what, according to the limits of his genius, corresponds to Scott’s Captain Dalgetty. Barecolt is a character in every sense of the word, and his sayings and doings are as amusing as the strange events that befall him are exciting. The story of Arrah Neil is–a rare thing for James–a tragic one; the mystery of the plot is happily solved, yet the end is pathetic. But the pathos is by no means bitter or unmitigated, since the parallel half of the story ends satisfactorily, and due retribution falls on the offenders. James takes up the story of the Civil War again in “The Cavalier” and “Henry Masterton,” both of which deal with a more disastrous period in the career of the Royalists. Sir John Hotham and his son ultimately paid the penalty of their indecision, with their heads.
About two centuries ago, in times with which we are all familiar, as they comprised a period of English history, the events of which have affected the social condition of the British people more than almost any which have preceded or followed that period–about two centuries ago, there stood upon the slope of a gentle hill, in a picturesque part of England, an old brick mansion of considerable extent, and of a venerable though flourishing exterior. On the right hand and on the left there was a wood of various trees, amidst which Evelyn might have delighted to roam, choice children of the British forest, mingled with many a stranger grown familiar with the land, though not long denizened in it. In front was a terrace flanked with quaintly-carved flower-pots of stone; and beyond that stretched a lawn several roods in extent, leaving the mansion fully exposed to the eye of every one who wandered through the valley below. Beyond the lawn again a wide view was obtained over a pleasant scene of hill and dale, with the top of a village church and its high tower peeping over the edge of the first earth-wave; and far off, faint and grey, were seen the lines of a distant city, apparently of considerable extent. The house itself had nothing very remarkable in its appearance, and yet circumstances compel us to give some account of it, although it is but building up to pull down, as the reader will soon perceive. The middle part consisted of a large square mass of brickwork, rising somewhat higher, and projecting somewhat farther, than the rest of the building. It had in the centre a large hall-door, with a flight of stone steps, and on each side of the entrance were three windows in chiselled frames of stone. On either side of this centre was a wing flanked with a small square tower, and in each wing and each tower was a small door opening upon the terrace. Manifold lattices, too, with narrow panes set in lead, ornamented these inferior parts of the building in long straight rows, and chimneys nearly as numerous towered up from the tall peaked roofs, not quite in keeping with the trim regularity of the other parts of the edifice. The whole, however, had a pleasant and yet imposing effect when seen from a distance; and to any one who looked near, there was an air of comfort and cheerfulness about the mansion which well compensated for the want of grace. The view, too, from the terrace and the windows was in itself a continual source of calm and high-toned pleasure to the minds that dwelt within, for they were those that could appreciate all that is lovely, more especially in the works of God; and over the wide scene came a thousand varying aspects, as the clouds and sunshine chased each other along, like the poetical dreams of a bright and varying imagination. Morning and sunset, too, and moonlight and mid-day, each wrought a change in the prospect, and brought out something new and fair on which the eye rested with delight.
It was evening: the lower limb of the large round sun rested on a dark line of trees which filled up one of the slopes of the ground about six miles off; and above the bright and glowing disc, which seemed to float in a sea of its own glory, were stretched a few small dark clouds, edged with gold, which hung over the descending star like a veil thrown back to afford one last look of the bright orb of day before the reign of night began. Higher still, the sky was blushing like a bride; and woods and fields, and distant spires and hills, all seemed penetrated with the purple splendour of the hour. Nothing could be fairer or more peaceful than the whole scene, and it was scarcely possible to suppose that the violent passions of man could remain untamed and unchastened by the aspect of so much bright tranquillity.
Winding along at the foot of the hill, and marking the commencement of what might be called the plain–though, to say the truth, the wide space to which we must give that name was broken by innumerable undulations–appeared a hard but sandy road, from which a carriage-way led by a circuit up to the mansion. In some places high banks, covered with shrubs and bushes, overhung the course of the road, though in others it passed unsheltered over the soft, short grass of the hill; but just at the angle where the two paths separated, the ground rose almost to a cliff, and at the bottom was a spring of very clear water gathered into a little stone basin.
By the side of the fountain, at the time we speak of, sat a figure which harmonised well with the landscape. It was that of a young girl, not yet apparently sixteen years of age. Her garb appeared to be that of poverty, her head uncovered by anything but rich and waving locks of warm brown hair, her face and neck tanned with the sun, her feet bare, as well as her hands and her arms above the elbows, and her apparel scanty, and in some places torn, though scrupulously clean. She seemed, in short, a beggar, and many a one would have passed her by as such without notice; but those who looked nearer saw that her features were very beautiful, her teeth of a dazzling whiteness, her limbs rounded and well formed, and her blue eyes under their long jetty eyelashes as bright, yet soft, as ever beamed on mortal man. Yet there was something wanting in her face, an indefinable something, not exactly intellect, for there was often a keen and flashing light spread over the whole countenance. Neither was it expression, for of that there was a great deal. Neither was it steadiness, for there frequently came a look of deep thought, painfully deep, intense, abstracted, unsatisfied, as if the mind sought something within itself that it could not discover. What it was it is difficult, nay, impossible to say; yet there was something wanting, and all those who looked upon her felt that it was so.
She sat by that little fountain for a long time, sometimes gazing into the water as if her heart were at the bottom of the brook; sometimes, suddenly looking up, with her head bent on one side, and her ear inclined, listening to the notes of a lark that rose high in air from the neighbouring fields, and trilled the joy-inspired hymn under the glowing sky; and as she did so, a smile, sweet, and bland, and happy, came upon her lip, as if to her the song of the lark spoke hope and comfort from a higher source than any of the earth.
While she was thus sitting, more than one horseman passed along the road; but the poor girl gave them only a casual glance, and then resumed her meditations. One or two villagers, too, on foot, walked on their way, some of them giving her a nod, to which she answered nothing. A thin and gloomy-looking personage, too, with a tall hat and black coat and doublet, rode down from the mansion, followed by two men of somewhat less staid and abstinent appearance; and as he passed by he first gazed on her with not the most holy smile, but the moment after gave her a sour look, and muttered something about the stocks. The girl paid him no attention, however.
At length a horse trotting briskly was heard coming along the high-road; and a moment after, a gay cavalier, well mounted and armed, with feather in his hat and gold upon his doublet, long curling locks hanging on his shoulders, and heavy gilt spurs buckled over his boots, appeared at the angle of the bank. There he pulled up, however, as if doubtful which path to take; and seeing the girl, he exclaimed in a loud but not unkindly tone, “Which is the way to Bishop’s Merton, sweetheart?”
The girl rose and dropped him a graceful curtsey, but for her only reply she smiled.
“Which is the way to Bishop’s Merton, pretty maid?” the stranger repeated, bringing his horse closer to her.
“The village is out there,” replied the girl, pointing, with her hand along the road; “the house is up there,” she added, turning towards the mansion on the hill; and then she immediately seated herself again with a deep sigh, and began once more to gaze into the fountain.
The stranger wheeled his horse as if to ride up to the house, but then paused, and springing to the ground, he turned to the girl once more, asking, “What is the matter with you, my poor girl? Has any one injured you? Is there anything ails you? What makes you so sad?”
She looked in his face for a moment with a countenance totally void of expression, and then, gazing down into the water again, she resumed her meditations without making any reply.
“She must be a fool,” the stranger said, speaking to himself. “All the better for her, poor girl; I wish I were a fool too. One would escape half the sorrows of this life if he did not understand them, and half the sins, too, if he did not know what he were about. What a happy thing it must be to be a rich fool! but she is a poor one, that is clear, and the case is not so fortunate. Here, sweetheart; there’s a crown for thee. Good faith! I am likely, ere long, to thank any man for one myself, so it matters not how soon the few I have are gone.”
The girl took the money readily, and dropped the giver a low curtsey, saying, “Thank your worship; God bless you, sir!”
“He had need, my pretty maid,” replied the stranger, “for never man wanted a blessing more than I do, or has been longer without one.” And thus speaking, he sprang upon his horse’s back again, and rode up towards the house.
When he was gone, she to whom he had spoken continued standing where he had left her, meditating sadly, as it seemed, for several minutes; and at length she said in a low tone, “Alas! he does not come–he does not come. Perhaps he will never come again–oh, how I wish he would stay away!”
The whole speech was as contradictory as a speech could be, especially when the look and manner were taken as part and parcel thereof. But there was nothing extraordinary in the fact; for man is a mass of contradictions, and there is scarce one enjoyment that does not partake of pain, one apprehension that is not mingled with a hope, one hope that is not chequered by a fear. Antagonistic principles are ever warring within us, and many of the greatest contests result in a drawn battle. If, however, the girl’s first words and the last had been evidently in opposition to each other, the wish with which she concluded was instantly belied by the glow upon her cheek, and the light in her eye, when she once more heard the sound of a horse’s feet coming from the direction of the little town of Bishop’s Merton.
“It is he!” she cried, with a smile, “it is he! I know the pace, I know the pace!” and running into the middle of the road, she gazed down it, while a horseman, followed by three servants, came on at a rapid rate, with a loose rein and an easy seat. He was a young man of seven or eight-and-twenty, with long fair hair, and pointed beard, tall and well made, though somewhat slight in form, with a grave and even stern cast of features, but a broad high forehead, clear but well-marked brows, and lips full but not large. His face, as I have said, was grave, and seemed as he rode forward, unsusceptible of any but a cold thoughtful expression, till suddenly his eyes lighted on the poor girl who was watching him, when a bright and beaming smile broke over his whole countenance, and a complete change took place, like that which spreads over a fine country when the storm gives place to sunshine.