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Mr. Smith seceded from “The London Journal' and joined the staff of a rival print of the same kind— The Family Paper' of Messrs. Cassell—where it is said that he was not quite so successful. He had, however, founded a school of romancers which is with us to this day. Mr. Pierce Egan the Younger, whose name suggests memories of the Tom and Jerry era, was the most successful amongst them; but he was nearly, if not quite, equalled by a certain Mrs. E. D. E. N. Southworth—whose name will not be found in Mr. Mudie's lists—Miss Braddon, Mr. Charles Reade, and Mrs. Henry Wood, whose romances, however, scarcely hit the popular taste. Mr. Smith had founded his school, and the class for which he catered was satisfied with his method. Its principal characteristics were summed up some time
and they have not changed in the interval. The romances of Mr. Smith and his imitators, it was said, 'contain plenty of vice and not a little crime, but the criminal always comes to grief in the end, and virtue is duly rewarded with wealth and titles and honour. The villains are generally of high birth and repulsive appearance; the lowly personages always of ravishing beauty and unsullied virtue. Innocence and loveliness in a gingham gown are perpetually pursued by vice and debauchery in varnished boots and spotless gloves. Life is surrounded by mystery ; detectives are ever on the watch, and the most astonishing pitfalls and mantraps are concealed in the path of the unwary and the innocent. Nor are reflection and observation wanting. Maxims of the most tremendous morality, overwhelming aphorisms, and descriptive passages of surpassing fineness are scattered lavishly over the pages.'
So far as it goes, this description was perfectly accurate in the fifties and still remains so; but one really important point has been omitted—the stories are all identically the same. When one has been read, all have been read; the names and the localities only are changed. Lady Laura's hair is brown, and her eyes are blue in one story; Lady Constance in another has black hair and violet eyes, but each goes through the same adventures, each is made love to by an unprincipled adventurer
- Captain Hawke in one story, Major Falcon in another-each rejects his guilty overtures with the same superb disdain, and if, when the trying scene is over, Lady Constance goes into hysterics, Lady Laura takes her revenge by falling into a deathly swoon.' So with the other persons of the story. For some inscrutable reason known only to the penny romancer, the baronet is always a villain, is always the possessor of colossal wealth, which he squanders remorselessly for the guiltiest purposes, while the Earl is as invariably the best and noblest of
mnen, against whom calumny and cruelty launch their envenomec) shafts in vain. There is always a stolen child and a missing box of deeds, containing amongst other things the parchment certificate of the marriage of the hero's parents, without which of course—the Registrar-General's office being unknown in the land of Smithian romance—the hero is considered by everybody to be of illegitimate birth. When at last, through the supernatural skill of the detective and the simple mother wit of the comic servant, the missing deed-box is discovered, the hero is placed in possession of his title and estates; the wicked baronet is discomfited and sent into exile; the intriguing lawyer, whose intrigues would not have puzzled a child, is led off to the hulks, which, it appears, still exist at Chatham; and the virtuous heroine is rewarded for her constancy by promotion from the servants' hall to that coronet which, as Foote taught the world a century and a half ago, is the invariable reward of * Piety in pattens.'
All this, it will be said, is very poor stuff, but the popular appetite for it seems to be practically inexhaustible. The London Journal' is still in existence, though but the ghost of its former self, subsisting mainly, as it would seem, on its ancient reputation, and by the republication of those thrilling romances of Mr. Smith by which it first achieved success. Its place has been taken by a rival publication almost identical in size, shape, and general appearance, which has for title “The London Reader,' and is now in the twenty-seventh year of its existence, and by a . Family Reader' now in its twentieth year. All three have something more than a family likeness ; even the illustrations might be drawn by the same hands. The men are always ten and a half feet high at the least, and the women about eight feet. Both are handsome in the same way, with straight noses and strongly accentuated mouths; and both, men and women alike, habitually stand with the head a little on one side, the body leaning forward, and one hand thrust backwards behind the hip, an attitude into which a lay-figure may be put readily enough, but which no human being would voluntarily adopt.
These illustrations were adopted in the first instance as a means of marking the difference between • The London Journal,' and its predecessor amongst the penny weeklies, 'The Family Herald.* This last-named paper, which made its first appearance in 1844, is a really favourable specimen of the class to which it belongs, and has had the honour of being praised by two such very dissimilar critics as the late Leigh Hunt and The Saturday Review' in its former days. Hunt, in the last pages
of his Autobiography,' tells how in his old age he was still cheerful and could still call for and enjoy his . Family Herald,' adding a few words of kindly commendation of the little paper. The Saturday,' in its turn, once allowed an article in praise of it to appear in its columns, which, though perhaps a little warmer in its eulogies than the circumstances warranted, was not without a certain justification. The Family Herald’is, in fact, what it has always been, a very creditable specimen of the popular literature of the day. The bulk of the matter is, of course, fiction, but space is found for other things. Of the fiction it may at once be said that it will compare favourably not merely with that which appears in magazines of its own class, but with the stories which adorn the pages of magazines of much greater pretension. Several well-known writers, indeed, first made their bow to the public in the pages of The Family Herald,' notably that Miss Warden whose House on the Marsh' was the sensation of the season a few years ago. In themselves the stories are at worst inoffensive, but they have certain positive merits which can be fully appreciated only after a long course of penny fiction. In the first place, the tales are not too ‘genteel ;' in the second, they are not wildly sensational. In other words, the writers do not strive to make up for their incapacity to delineate character by nicknaming their puppets out of the highest ranks of the peerage, and by putting into the mouths of high-born ladies language and ideas which would be considered vulgar even by the shop-girls and apprentices who form the majority of the readers of these papers. Nor do they endeavour, as a rule, to atone for the feebleness of their grasp of character by inventing situations of impossible horror and incongruity. The stories are, in short, very fair specimens of fiction of the second order, and may certainly claim recognition on the ground of morality and good feeling. That part of • The Family Herald' which is not occupied by novels, serial and other, is filled with miscellaneous clippings on various subjects; riddles, and an essay on some social or general topic not political. These
essays will seem to most readers the weakest part of the paper. They are very trite and commonplace, and consist mainly in the repetition of two or three obvious reflections in a variety of ways.
Partly by way of supplement to their weekly issues and partly as independent speculations, the proprietors of some of these periodicals publish short stories in a separate form, each complete in a single issue, to which they give the name of Novelettes.' Those of “The Family Herald’ are of much the same character as the stories in that journal. They are perfectly
cleanly, sometimes rather dull, and sometimes mildly sensational. If their readers get little moral or ethical teaching from them, they are at least able to while away their leisure pleasantly. It is not always possible to speak as gently of some other of these publications. The Bow Bells Weekly'—a rival of “The Family Herald, which after sundry vicissitudes has lately made its appearance in a new form-publishes one of these Novelettes' every week.
The idea seems to be successful one, for the issue has continued for a period of about a dozen years, but an examination of the stories does not leave behind it a very exalted idea of the intellectual capacity of either writers or readers. The stories are all of high life,' or rather of something which the writers imagine high life to be. The puppets invariably address each other in the very finest English-finest from the point of view of the servants' hall, that is to say; and when the author speaks in his own person, his skilful manipulation of the pronouns who,' “whom, and which,' with and without the conjunction, affords the reader a wonderful insight into syntax. The incidents are of the most romantic and blood-curdling description, the mysteries. enthralling, and the passions of every personage of the fiercest kind. A murder or two, a mysterious disappearance, an abduction attempted or successful, are but parts of the common form in which these romances are cast, and in the end everything always comes right; virtue, youth, and beauty-inseparable allies in these stories—are triumphant, and the villain, as always happens in real life, meets the fate he deserves. Of course it would be absurd to look for perfection, but it might have been hoped that the standard would be a little higher than it is. The publishers would seem, however, to understand their business, and, finding that trash will meet a. ready market, content themselves with supplying it.
At the same time it might have been hoped that some effort. would be made to rise above the level of mawkish silliness with which they appear to be content. One, in the series entitled • The Princess's Novelette,' is as fair a specimen of this quality as could be desired. The heroine is the daughter of a London banker who is hustled by a body of working men at a station on the Underground Railway. She is rescued by a gentleman who offers a striking contrast to the gay youth of gilded saloons.' Arrived safely at home, she contrasts her hero with her own brother, by profession a soldier,' whom she at once puts through his facings with the question : «« Augustus, are you fearless and brave? Ella, my dear,” said Mrs. Laughton, “what an extraordinary
question to put to your brother! Soldiers are not all intended to risk their lives. The common privates, sons of labourers and mechanics, are drilled on purpose to fight. Gentlemen officers are to keep them in their proper places.
Satisfied apparently with this lucid explanation, Ella's ideas respecting marriage are altered,' and she sets to work to find the hero who saved her from the wicked working man. In the most artless way in the world she gets his name and address at the station and sets a private detective on his track, instructing him to meet her at the house of a nurse formerly in the service of the family. Having thus discovered all about her hero, she intrigues for an invitation to a house where she expects to meet him. There she flirts outrageously with a baronet of great wealth concerning whom the reader learns nothing save that he speaks of a waltz as the mazy. Having refused the baronet's offer of marriage, she invites herself to the house of an aunt in the country, in the hope that her hero, who rejoices in the remarkable name of Edwy Delyun, may make his appearance there. “Tastily but simply dressed,' she walks along the road which Mr. Delyun must traverse on arriving, in hope of seeing him, and on the following day takes a light rod' and goes out fishing by herself. She succeeds, of course, in hooking first the bough of a tree and next the susceptible heart of the innocent Edwy. Matters are brought to a crisis by a jealous poacher, who imagines that the young lover is endeavouring to secure the affections of a maid-servant of whom he is enamoured, and who naturally, according to the writers of penny fiction, shoots him in the back. The wound is a trifling one, but the fair Ella obtains assistance and completes her triumph.
This agreeable picture of maidenly modesty and the manners of good society is paralleled by The Illustrated Family Novelist,' the number of which now before us relates the loves and sorrows of a young lady who falls in love with a handsome actor whom she accidentally meets in the street, and who moves heaven and earth to win him, the moral for the benefit of the smart shop-girls and milliners' apprentices who may be seen studying the paper in omnibuses and tramcars, being of course the desirability of making acquaintance with handsome and interesting young men in the street, Much the same kind of moral is enforced in all these · Novelettes,' which increase in number and apparently in popularity with every succeeding month. For this latter accident their extreme cheapness may possibly account; they are certainly amongst the least costly specimens of popular literature with which the student can make acquaintance. The price is always the same, a penny; and for that sum the reader