WITH AN INTRODUCTION BY
E.P. DUTTON AND COMPANY
My first acquaintance with Mr. Merrick's engaging and stimulating muse was made in the pages of Violet Moses, an early work, which appeared, I remember, in three volumes. Reading it again in the light of my appreciation of what its author has done since, I think of it now as I felt of it then. It has great promise, and though its texture is slight its fibres are of steel. It shows the light hand, which has grown no heavier, though it has grown surer, the little effervescence of cynicism, with never a hiccough in it, the underlying, deeply-funded sympathy with real things, great things and fine things, and the seriousness of aim which, tantalisingly, stops short just where you want it to go on, and provokes the reader to get every book of Mr. Merrick's as it appears, just to see him let himself go—which he never does. He is one of the most discreet dissectors of the human heart we have.
In Violet Moses Mr. Merrick avoided the great issue after coming up against it more than once. So did he in The Quaint Companions, a maturer but less ambitious study. I don't know why he avoided it in Violet's case, unless it was because he found it too big a matter for his light battery. In the Companions' case I do know. It was because he came upon another problem which interested him more, a problem with a sentimental attraction far more potent than any he could have got out of miscegenation. The result was the growth, out of a rather ugly root, of a charming and tender idyll of two poets, an idyll, nevertheless, with a psychological crux involved in its delicate tracery. All this seems a long way from Cynthia, which is my immediate business, but is not so in truth. In Cynthia (which, I believe, followed Violet) you have a problem of psychology laid out before you, and again Mr. Merrick does not, I think, fairly tackle it. But he fails to tackle it, not because it is too big for his guns, as Violet's was, and not because he finds another which he likes better, as he did when he was upon The Companions, but because, I am going to suggest, he found it too small. He took up his positions, opened his attack, and the enemy in his trenches dissolved in mist.
The problem with which Cynthia opens is the familiar one of the novelist, considered as such, and as lover, husband, father and citizen. Now it's an odd thing, but not so odd as it seems at first blush, that while you may conceive a poet in these relations and succeed in interesting your readers, you will fail with a novelist. I cannot now remember a single interesting novel about a novelist. There is Pendennis of course; but who believes that Pen was a great novelist, or cares what kind of a novelist he was? Who cares about Walter Lorraine? Would anybody give twopence to read it? The reason is that in the poet the manifestations of literary genius are direct and explicit—some are susceptible of quotation, some may be cut out with the scissors—while in the novelist they are oblique and implied. Humphrey Kent in Cynthia is in no sense an explicit genius; we are not, in fact, told that he was a genius at all. His technique seems to have been that of Mr. George Moore, then rather fashionable. The book puts it no higher than this, that the hero, with an obvious bent for writing, marries in a hurry and then finds out that he cannot be an honest man and support his wife and child by the same stroke. It is not whether he can be a good novelist and a good lover too, but whether he can be a good novelist and pay his bills. That's not very exciting, though George Gissing in New Grub Street drew out of it a squalid and miserable tale which, once begun, had to be finished. Luckily, in Cynthia, Mr. Merrick finds a secondary theme, and handles it so delicately and so tenderly that the book has an abiding charm because of it. That theme is the growth of Cynthia's soul.
I myself am one of Cynthia's victims, and I am sure that Mr. Merrick is another. He sketches her with admirable reticence in the beginning, where she is shown to us as very little more than a pretty girl. His strokes are few and sure. But she grows from chapter to chapter, and at the end, after the tragic crisis, she sweeps onward to the sentimental crisis which crowns the tale of her married life with a dignity and grave beauty which justify a belief in Hestia, even now, when modern testimony and practice alike are against such a belief. She justifies Mr. Merrick's conclusion too. It is seldom enough that we are able to believe in the happy solution of such troubles as he has traced out in Cynthia. Cynics against inclination, we feel that the dog will return to his vomit after the easy reconciliation and facile tears upon Hestia's generous bosom. Not so here. Cynthia has got her Humphrey for what he is worth, and will hold him. She is one of Mr. Merrick's loveliest women; and he has made many lovely women.
Two friends were sitting together outside the Café des Tribunaux at Dieppe. One of them was falling in love; the other, an untidy and morose little man, was wasting advice. It was the hour of coffee and liqueurs, on an August evening.
"You are," said the adviser irritably, "at the very beginning of a career. You have been surprisingly fortunate; there's scarcely a novelist in England who wouldn't be satisfied with such reviews as yours, and it's your first book. Think: twelve months ago you were a clerk in the city, and managed to place about three short stories a year at a guinea each. Then your aunt what-was-her-name left you the thousand pounds, and you chucked your berth and sat down to a novel. 'Nothing happens but the unforeseen'—the result justified you. You sold your novel; you got a hundred quid for it; and The Saturday, and The Spectator, and every paper whose opinion is worth a rush, hails you as a coming light. For you to consider marrying now would be flying in the face of a special providence."
"Why?" said Humphrey Kent.
"'Why'! Are you serious? Because your income is an unknown quantity. Because you've had a literary success, not a popular one. Because, if you keep single, you've a comfortable life in front of you. Because you'd be a damned fool."
"The climax is comprehensive, if it isn't convincing. But the discussion is a trifle 'previous,' eh? I can't marry you, my pretty maid, et cetera."
"You are with her all day," said Turquand—"I conclude she likes you. And the mother countenances it."
"There's really nothing to countenance; and, remember, they haven't any idea of my position: they meet me at a fashionable hotel, they had read the book, and they saw The Times review. What do they know of literary earnings? the father is on the Stock Exchange, I believe. I am an impostor!"
"You should have gone to the little show I recommended on the quay, then. I find it good enough."
Kent laughed and stretched himself.
"I am rewarding industry," he said. "For once I wallow. I came into the money, and I put it in a bank, and by my pen, which is mightier than the sword, I've replaced all I drew to live during the year. Ain't I entitled to a brief month's splash? Besides, I've never said I want to marry—I don't know what you're hacking at."
"You haven't 'said' it, but the danger is about as plain as pica to the average intelligence, all the