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The author of A Japanese Interior* had an advantage over most of the travelers and foreign residents who have written of Japan, in having been peculiarly intimately associated with the Japanese as they are among themselves, untouched by foreign influence. She was a teacher in the school for noble girls managed by the Imperial Household, one of the most anti-foreign of the Japanese schools, and she lived in a real Japanese home, where there was no other foreigner, and all her surroundings were Japanese. And she has used well her advantage in giving us an entertaining glimpse of Japan. ese life from a standpoint new most readers. The book is a series of letters extending over the year of the author's teaching in Japan-letters not written for publication, and from their natural, familiar, conversational tone all the more pleasant, and containing simply an account of the author's most interesting experiences and observations, presented without many reflections upon them, and needing none, for, on account of her peculiar experience, they are interesting enough to stand alone. Japan has been of recent years afflicted with a host of travelers who have stayed a few weeks or months there, and have then written books consisting of superficial observations of the most obvious external features of the life of the people, and imperfect generalizations there om. This book, result of the combi. nation of the author's peculiar opportunities and her keen and sympathetic observations, is a welcome change. It is not for her accounts of traveling under difficulties, or of public festivals and processions, or of shops or theatres, entertaining as these all are, that Miss Bacon's book is most valuable, for many travelers can tell us those things. But she lets us into the very life of the Japanese home, and into the thoughts and feelings of all in the household, from servant to mistress. She describes minutely and vividly their manner of living, their social etiquette, their weddings, their funerals, their little domestic merrymakings, their housekeeping, their meals, all the ways and affairs of the household. Few travelers can tell as she does, for example, of the vestibule of a Japanese house : “At this place bows and saio naras were exchanged on the part of all in the house whenever one member of the family went away on so much as a shopping expedition ; here, too, sounded the cheerful “O kaeri that announced the return of one of the occupants of the house, the breathless “O kyaku" shouted by the kurumaya of the coming guest so soon as he was within the gate, or the supplicating “go men nasai” with which the applicant for admission made known his presence."
And in her description of her school she exhibits a similar intimate knowledge with people of a different class, telling us of the little Japanese peeresses not as the casual visitor tells, who sees only the interesting outside, but showing us the far more interesting inside, the real natures and minds of her scholars. Further, on account of her position as a teacher to the daughters of the noble families, she was present
* A Japanese Interior. By Alice Mabel Bacon. Boston: Houghton, Mifflin
at various court functions, and saw from the inside, and rather familiarly, some of the life of the court, and of this, too, she has written. Of the Empress herself we are given a glimpse, for she was accustomed to visit often the Peeresses' school, and Miss Bacon could observe her closely. Here is her description of the Empress' appearance: “She was dressed entirely in white and looked very well, her white bonnet setting off to advantage her jet black hair. Her face is long and thin, her forehead high, and her head finely formed. Her expression is sad, and she looks as if these pomps and ceremonies were rather a bore to her.” So the author has known with more or less familiarity Japanese life from servant to Empress. The Japanese women figured more largely in her life than the Japanese men, and so it is with her book. This gives a peculiar interest to her book, for the ordinary traveler, who has not her opportunity of entering the Japanese homes, where only the women can be known, can not know them so well. Very much the same in origin with this interest is the chief interest of the book, and that which distinguishes it among other books of its kind, the interest which comes from the intimacy it shows with the life of Japan and the Japanese.
A large variety of things are subjects for the Ruminations* of Paul Siegvolk (Mr. Albert Matthews.) Thoughts on different topics concerning women, on various phases of American politics and social life, on topics in literature, on that ever fresh subject “ Life and Death," and on a number of characters from real life are contained in the book. These thoughts are presented in essays for the most part rather short and fragmentary, though some are longer and more exhaustive in treatment. There is not a great deal that is new in the book, and indeed the ingenious prologue quite disclaims any pretensions to novelty. However, things are often said which are really new, yet seem to be old, because they are said in such a quiet, unobtrusive way, with so little attempt at calling the reader's attention, as if all that is being said is matter of general thought, and because many of them belong to that class of truths which as soon as they are said every one feels he has known before in a semi-conscious way, though he has never clearly realized or expressed them, and which therefore, do not seem wholly new. Many old things too, are said in suggestive new ways. One of the newest subjects is The Ideal American Lady,” on which there is an essay of considerable length and comprehensiveness. The reader is at first sometimes tempted to doubt whether the being described is more like an angel or a prig, but on further consideration he becomes convinced that she is a most beautiful character, and near enough to the ideal lady, if an ideal lady can be agreed upon by general consent.
The essays are the work of a thoughtful, observant man, possessed of an abundant fund of sound every-day philosophy and common sense. Their manner is dignified, leisurely and quiet, not vivacious yet not monotonous or tiresome. Now and then there is a touch of kindly humor. Indeed kindliness is characteristic of the whole book. The author sees and criticises
*Ruminations : The Ideal American Lady and Other Essays. By Paul Sieg
volk. New York : G. P. Putnam's Sons.
keenly, but never bitterly nor maliciously. He is one who has lived long, has seen and thought much, and has grown old gracefully, without becoming soured and cynical, still finding, if his essay in the “The Amenities of Old Age” is to be trusted, much to enjoy. A healthy tone of happiness, of optimism, of freedom from all gloom and bitterness pervades the whole book. The author's theory of life is a joyous one. He believes in a self. control which is not asceticism, and which gives a wholesome enjoyment of all the pleasures of life. And there is all through the book a tone of lofty morality, of contempt for cheap and low and mean things and admiration for high and noble things. It may be truly said that the philosophy of the book does not always agree with contemporary thought. This may or may not be considered a blemish. But at any rate leaving out of the question its intellectual aspects, the book teaches practical lessons of sound sense, of thoughtfulness, of keen observation, of good nature, of kindness, of utility, of thought and action.
The Son of a Prophet* is, to use the words of the author's preface,“ attempt to create the character which uttered itself in the Book of Job, and to trace certain conditions, political, intellectual, and spiritual, which compelled this utterance.” In his following out of this purpose, Mr. Jackson has written a novel whose scene is laid in Palestine, Sinai, and Egypt, in the reigns of David and Solomon, and whose hero is Eleazar Ben-Shammah, grandson of two of David's three mighty men. His father, Shammah, had been a trusted embassador of David, sent to Bashan, Tyre, and Egypt, and on his travels had learned much of the religion of other nations, too much, in fact, for he became filled with a belief in the brotherhood of all men, and a conviction that the Hebrew religion should not be kept to the chosen people, but should be preached to other nations. This belief and this conviction he declared on his return to Jerusalem, and thereby aroused the anger of the priests. Benaiah, the king's general, who had an old grudge against his family, took advantage of his unpopularity to fasten on him an appearance of share in Adonijah's conspiracy, and then by all manner of wickedness caused his death. His house was confiscated, and his wife, his sister Ruth, and his son were driven into the wilderness of Judea, where a charitable former servant received them. Now began the training of the man who was to write the great book. He had before learned something of the faith of Israel from his grandfather, the saintly Eleazar, but in the lonely Jericho wilds his teaching became more real, more intense. His mother instructed him in the faith, and told him of his father's great thoughts. His aunt told him of the piety of Eleazar, and of his dream of the promised Savior of Israel. The wilderness was eloquent to him in its sublimity and silence. Often, too, his thoughts turned toward the mystery of why God had allowed the wicked Benaiah to live and prosper, and the good Shammah to be killed by him. But even in the wilderness the cruelty of Benaiah, who desired Ruth for his wife, pursued them, and they were driven to the caves of the hills, where Ruth was finally hunted to
* The Son of a Prophet. By George Anson Jackson. Boston: Houghton,
Mifflin & Co.
death. Ben-Shammah became the slave of an Ishmaelite until the year of Jubilee brought back his mother and him to the old house at Jerusalem, whither he soon brought his bride, a fair Ishmaelite. At Jerusalem he associated himself with the school of the Wise, led by Nathan, who strove in spite of a frivolous and idolatrous court, to bring back a purer worship, who had high thoughts of God, believing him the God of all nations, who pondered over the problems of creation, sin, evil, life and death, and were collecting the Scriptures. But the prejudice against Ben-Shammah still lived, and when his son in a time of popular wrath against the king's idolatry fired the temple of Astarte, the anger of the court broke forth. He and his son were forced to fly, his house was burned, his wife and mother killed. Even as he fled, he was overtaken, and his son was killed. Without friends, without hopes for himself or his people he was left to brood in solitude. Finally he decided to go to Egypt, where Jeroboam who had been associated with him in the reform party, was in exile. The ship in which he went was wrecked on the coast north of Sinai, and he found refuge in the tent of Jether, descendant of Jethro, host of Moses, who had like Jethro knowledge of and faith in God, and on whose serene, unmoved trust he leaned in his despair. While absent from Jether on a visit to Sinai his faith reeled for a time, but when he returned it was restored stronger than before. Then he went to Egypt, where he learned from an aged priest, his father's friend, who had an almost Hebrew faith in God, the mysteries of the Egyptian religion, and new thoughts of God and his providence. With Jeroboam, whose adviser he became, BenShammah soon returned to Israel, where he attempted in vain to restrain Jeroboam, after he became king, from his Egyptian wife's idolatry, but failed, fell into disfavor, and was shut up in a mountain cave.
Thence escaping he fled to Bashan, the home of his wife's father. Then there came back to him with new meaning a story he had learned from his father, the story of the good Iyob, a man of Bashan, who, while happy and prosperous, was sorely afflicted by repeated calamities, yet preserved his faith in God and his confidence in his own integrity until he was restored to happiness. He learned from tradition all he could about him, and thenceforth the instincts for humanity inherited from his father, the boyhood lessons from his mother and Ruth, the grievous experience of his life, his beholding of evil men in prosperity, and good men cast down, his God-given teachings in Sinai and Egypt, became elements affecting his conception of Iyob's character, and all his questionings about the problems of life, answered and calmed by unfaltering faith in God, found utterance in the book of Job, containing what he conceived Iyob's thoughts would have been. Having finished his work, he committed it to the Wise at Jerusalem, and returned to die in honor in Bashan.
Such is the story of an ambitious and in large measure a successful book. Like all historical novels it relies for its interest not only on its plot and characters, but also on the descriptions it gives of the life of the times and country of which it treats. There is about the pictures of that old life so remote from us in time, in place, in thought, an air of verisimilitude which makes them seem very real and lifelike. The conversations, it is true, sometimes seem rather stilted and unnatural, but it is hard to represent the talk of the men of that time in a way to suit everybody's idea of what
their talk was. Mr. Jackson has occasionally yielded to the temptation constantly besetting the historical novelist to turn aside from his straight road and paint gorgeous “word pictures” of the most picturesque events of the time, even if they are not intimately connected with the story. His vivid descriptions of the sacrifice to Moloch, the Temple of Astarte, the Festival of Atonement, the Court of Solomon, have, to be sure, not much to do with the story, yet one would be sorry to miss them, for they add much color and life to the book.
But the book does not rely for its interest on its reproduction of ancient life alone. It has one of the first requisites for a novel, and one that is not always possessed by historical novels, for it is by virtue of its plot intensely interesting. It is stirring and exciting, yet without exaggeration or improb. ability. And it has, aside from its plot, interest of a very real and modern kind, for the motives and actions of the characters, though they belong to a people so different from him in every way, can be easily understood and sympathized with by the modern reader. Some of the characters, Shammah, Jether, the Egyptian priest, Her-Har, Benaiah, are, apart from their lifelikeness, very striking personalities, and Ruth, in her short happy love and sad death, is a most pathetic and moving figure. As to the main character of the book, his career and his character are certainly impressive, and perhaps he is as near to the idea one has of the author of Job as any man could be. But the reader of Job can not escape the conviction that this book, in which “perplexity goes in the breadth and power of the tempest, the pathos is as if the heart of humanity had melted in tears, the contradictions appear in giant dimensions and the suffering is the collected suffering of the world,” is not the work of any man, however wonderful his gifts, his expe. rience, and his faith, but is an inspiration from God.
Found Wanting* is a story largely of Parisian life, not the life of the Parisian aristocracy, nor the life of the bourgeois, but the life of the foreigners, in this case mostly English, who seek pleasure or profit there, permanently or temporarily. There are newspaper correspondents, diplomats, litterateurs, artists, English folk who can not endure living anywhere but in Paris, and English folk who stay there for fun temporarily, a returned Australian, and a dazzling Russian countess. At a small dinner we are introduced at one fell swoop to “a couple of well known artists, the correspondent of a leading English paper, an African explorer,” and “a favourite American poetess.” The kind of life these people lead, which in spite of the fact that we are told some of them are poor, and have to work hard for a living, appears to be largely a dazzling round of the most recherché entertainments, where the most intellectual conversation is held, is described with great gusto, but grows rather tiresome, for it seems so very artificial and unnatural. Another unnatural thing in the book is the conversation, which is very stilted. The characters are altogether too careful about their grammar and diction in moments of excitement, and talk generally as if they had swallowed a dictionary and a book on " manners and social usages"
* Found Wanting. By Mrs. Alexander.
Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott