"The Green Ray" is in Jules Verne's best manner: it contains some of the impossibilites raisonnets which are at once his distinguishing characteristic and the secret of his world wide popularity. Most of the marvels or impossibilities in "The Green Ray " are to be found in the picture there presented to us of Scottish names, manners and costumes. It will hardly be denied that such a Scotch family name as "Ursiclos," and such clans as the clan "McDouglas" and " the clan "Melville," are sufficiently impossible ; nor can it be counted as anything less than a marvel for a lowland gentleman's butler to wait at dinner and perform all his other duties clad in the "garb of old Gaul!" But these and innumerable errors of the same kind are all due, apparently, to a fixed idea on the part of M. Verne that all Scotchmen are Highlanders. The story is a perfect setting for the admirable descriptions of Scotch scenery which are the best feature in the book. The illustrations, too, are unusually good, and, together with the beautiful type and delicately toned paper, greatly enhance the charms of the little volume.
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The Green Ray
Jules Verne – A Biographical Primer
The Green Ray
The Green Ray, J. Verne
Jazzybee Verlag Jürgen Beck
86450 Altenmünster, Loschberg 9
Frontcover: © Can Stock Photo Inc. / Angelique
Jules Verne (1828–1905), French author, was born at Nantes on the 8th of February 1828. After completing his studies at the Nantes lycée, he went to Paris to study for the bar. About 1848, in conjunction with Michel Carré, he wrote librettos for two operettas, and in 1850 his verse comedy, Les Pailles rompues, in which Alexandre Dumas fils had some share, was produced at the Gymnase. For some years his interests alternated between the theatre and the bourse, but some travellers’ stories which he wrote for the Musée des Familles seem to have revealed to him the true direction of his talent—the delineation, viz., of delightfully extravagant voyages and adventures to which cleverly prepared scientific and geographical details lent an air of versimilitude. Something of the kind had been done before, after kindred methods, by Cyrano de Bergerac, by Swift and Defoe, and later by Mayne Reid. But in his own particular application of plausible scientific apparatus Verne undoubtedly struck out a department for himself in the wide literary genre of voyages imaginaires. His first success was obtained with Cinq semaines en ballon, which he wrote for Hetzel’s Magazin d’Éducation in 1862, and thenceforward, for a quarter of a century, scarcely a year passed in which Hetzel did not publish one or more of his fantastic stories, illustrated generally by pictures of the most lurid and sensational description.The most successful of these romances include: Voyage au centre de la terre (1864); De la terre à la lune (1865); Vingt mille lieues sous les mers (1869); Les Anglais au pôle nord (1870); and Voyage autour du monde en quatre-vingts jours, which first appeared in Le Temps in 1872.The adaptation of this last (produced with success at the Porte St Martin theatre on the 8th of November 1874) and of another excellent tale, Michael Strogoff (at the Châtelet, 1880), both dramas being written in conjunction with Adolphe d’Ennery, proved the most acceptable of Verne’s theatrical pieces. The novels were translated into the various European languages—and some even into Japanese and Arabic—and had an enormous success in England. But after 1877, when he published Hector Servadac, a romance of existence upon a comet, the writer’s invention began to show signs of fatigue (his kingdom had been invaded in different directions and at different times times by such writers as R. M. Ballantyne, Rider Haggard and H. G. Wells), and he even committed himself, somewhat unguardedly, to very gloomy predictions as to the future of the novel. Jules Verne’s own novels, however, will certainly long continue to delight readers by reason of their sparkling style, their picturesque verve—apparently inherited directly from Dumas—their amusing and good-natured national caricatures, and the ingenuity with which the love element is either subordinated or completely excluded. M. Verne, who was always extremely popular in society, divided his time for the most part between Paris, his home at Amiens and his yacht. He was a member of the Legion of Honour, and several of his romances were crowned by the French Academy, but he was never enrolled among its members. He died at Amiens on the 24th of March 1905. His brother, Paul Verne, contributed to the Transactions of the French Alpine Club, and wrote an Ascension du Mont Blanc for his brother’s collection of Voyages extraordinaires in 1874.
THE BROTHERS SAM AND SIB
One after another these names re-echoed through the hall of Helensburgh; it was the way the brothers Sam and Sib had of summoning their housekeeper.
But just now these diminutives had no more power of bringing forth the worthy dame than if her masters had bestowed on her her rightful title.
It was Partridge the factor, who, with his hat in his hand, made his appearance at the hall-door.
Addressing the two good natured-looking gentlemen seated in the embrasure of a bow-window in the front of the house, he said,—
“You were calling Dame Bess, masters, but she is not in the house.”
“Where is she, then, Partridge?”
“She has gone out with Miss Campbell for a walk in the park.”
Then, at a sign from his masters, Partridge gravely retired.
These gentlemen were the brothers Sam and Sib—christened Samuel and Sebastian—Miss Campbell’s uncles, Scotchmen of the old school, and of an ancient Highland clan; they reckoned a hundred and twelve years between them, with only fifteen months’ difference in age, Sam the elder, and Sib the younger.
To give a slight sketch of these paragons of honour, benevolence, and unselfishness, it need but be said that their whole lives had been consecrated to their niece. Her mother, their only sister, was left a widow a year after her marriage, and survived her husband a very short time. Sam and Sib were thus left sole guardians of the little orphan, who very soon became the one object of their thoughts and mutual affection.
For her sake they remained celibates, being of that number of estimable persons whose earthly career is one long course of self-denial. And does it not say much for them when the elder brother constituted himself father, and the younger one mother to the child, so that it came quite naturally to Helena to address them with,—
“Good morning, Papa Sam. How are you, Mamma Sib?”
And to whom can they better be compared, though not business-men, than to those two charitable merchants, so generous, united, and affectionate, the brothers Cheeryble, of London, the most worthy characters that ever emanated from the imagination of Dickens? It seems impossible to find a more exact likeness, and should the author be accused of borrowing their type from that chef-d’œuvre “Nicholas Nickleby,” no one can for a moment regret such an appropriation.
Sam and Sib Melville were united by their sister’s marriage to the ancient family of Campbell.
They had been to the same college and sat in the same class, thus their ideas of things in general were much alike, and they expressed them in almost identical terms; the one could always finish the other’s sentence with similar expressions and gestures. In short, these two beings might have been one, save for some slight difference in their physical constitutions; Sam was a little taller than Sib, and Sib a little stouter than Sam. They might easily have exchanged their grey hair without altering the character of their honest faces, stamped with the nobility of the descendants of the clan Melville.
Need it be added that in the cut of their clothes and the choice of the cloth their tastes were alike, except that—how can this slight difference be accounted for?—except that Sam seemed to prefer dark blue and Sib dark maroon.
In truth, who would not have been glad to know these two worthy gentlemen? Accustomed to tread the same path through life, most probably they would not be far apart when the final halt should come. These last pillars of the house of Melville were solid, and might for a long while yet support the old edifice of their race, which dated back as far as the fourteenth century—from the time of Robert Bruce and Wallace, that heroic period during which Scotland disputed her right of independence with England.
But because Sam and Sib Melville had no longer occasion to fight for the welfare of their country, because their lives were passed in the ease and affluence which fortune had bestowed upon them, they are not to be reproached with it, nor must it be thought that they had degenerated, for their benevolence alone carried out the generous traditions of their ancestors.
Now each of them enjoying good health, and without a single irregularity in their lives to reproach themselves with, were destined to become aged without growing old either in body or mind.
Perhaps they had one failing—who can boast of being perfect? This was a habit of embellishing their conversation with quotations borrowed from the celebrated master of Abbotsford, and more especially from the epic poems of Ossian, which they doted upon. But who could blame them for it in this land of Walter Scott and Fingal?
To put a finishing-stroke to the sketch, it must be remarked that they were great snuff-takers. Now every one knows that the sign of a tobacconist’s shop all over the United Kingdom is more often than not a valiant Scotchman with a snuff-box in his hand, parading himself in his national costume. Very well, then, the brothers Melville might advantageously have figured as these signs, posted up over the shop windows. They took as much snuff, if not more than any one living north or south of the Tweed. But now for a characteristic detail, they had but one snuff-box between them—and an enormous one it was! This portable piece of furniture was continually being passed from one brother’s pocket to the other’s; it was a kind of link between them. As a matter of course, they both felt a desire to inhale the excellent narcotic powder at the same moment, were it ten times an hour. When one drew the snuff-box from the depths of his pocket, they were both ready for a good pinch; and if they sneezed, they did not forget the customary “God bless you!”
In short, these brothers were mere children in all that concerned the realities of life; knowing little enough of the practical things of this world, and of business affairs, either commercial or financial, absolutely nothing, nor did they make any pretence to such knowledge; in politics they were perhaps Jacobites at heart, still retaining some of the old prejudice against the reigning house of Hanover, dreaming perhaps of the last of the Stuarts, as a Frenchman might of the last of the Valois; in matters of sentiment they were still less learned.
The brothers had but one object in life, and that was to divine their niece’s thoughts and wishes, to direct them aright, if necessary, and to develop them; finally, to marry her to an excellent young man of their choice, who could not do otherwise than make her happy.
So they thought—or rather to hear them speak, one might have supposed that they had found the very man on whom must devolve this agreeable duty.
“So Helena has gone out, Sib?”
“Yes, but it is just five o’clock, and it will not be long before she is home.”
“And when she comes in—”
“I think, Sam, it would be as well to have a serious talk with her.”
“In a few weeks the child will be eighteen.”
“The same age as Diana Vernon, Sam. Is she not just as charming as that adorable heroine of Rob Roy?”
“Yes, with her attractive ways—”
“Her bright intellect—”
“The originality of her ideas—”
“She reminds one more of Diana Vernon than of Flora Maclvor, the grand and stately heroine of Waverley!”
The brothers, proud of their national author, mentioned the names of several other heroines from the “Antiquary,” “Guy Mannering,” “The Fair Maid of Perth,” &c, but all to their thinking must yield the palm to Miss Campbell.
“It is a young rose-tree which has bloomed rather early, brother Sib, and which needs but—”
“A support. Now, I am tired of saying that the best support must be—”
“Must be a husband, decidedly; for he, like the prop, takes root in the same soil—”
“And naturally grows with the rose-tree which he protects.”
Between them the brothers had borrowed this metaphor from the “Complete Gardener.” Undoubtedly they were satisfied with it, for it brought a contented smile on each honest face. Sib opened the mutual snuff-box, daintily put in his fingers and then passed it to his brother, who, after taking a large pinch, deposited it in his pocket.
“So we are quite agreed, Sam.”
“As usual, Sib.”
“Even to the choice of the gardener?”
“How could any one be found more sympathetic, or likely to suit Helena, than this young savant who on several occasions has evinced sentiments so honourable—”
“And so sincere on his part—”
“It would be difficult indeed, He is well educated, a graduate of the universities of Oxford and Edinburgh—”
“A physicist like Tyndall—”
“A chemist like Faraday—”
“Thoroughly conversant in every subject—”
“And no matter what question you put to him, never at a loss for an answer—”
“Descended from an excellent Fifeshire family, and, besides, heir to an ample fortune—”
“Without taking into account his very agreeable personal appearance, at least to my thinking, even with his aluminium spectacles!”
Had the spectacles been of steel, nickel, or even of gold, the brothers would never have regarded them as a latent defect. ’Tis true these optical appendages suit young savants, and give an air of discretion highly appropriate.
But was this graduate of the above-mentioned universities, this physicist and chemist, agreeable to Miss Campbell? If Miss Campbell were indeed like Diana Vernon, Diana Vernon, one knows, had no feelings beyond a very reserved friendship for her learned cousin Rashleigh, and never married him to the end of the story.
Good! but that need not make the brothers uneasy, and they brought all the experience of two old bachelors to bear upon the subject.
“They have met already once or twice, Sib, and our young friend did not seem insensible to Helena’s beauty.”
“I should think not, indeed! If the divine Ossian had to celebrate her virtues, beauty, and grace, he would have called her Moina, that is to say, beloved of all—”
“Unless he had named her Fiona, Sib, the incomparable beauty of the Gaelic epoch!”
“Did he not picture our Helena when he wrote:—
She left the hall of her secret sigh! She came in all her beauty, like the moon from the cloud of the east— Loveliness was around her as light. Her steps were the music of songs.
Happily, the brothers here ended their quotations, and fell from the somewhat misty regions of the poets into the realms of reality.
“Surely,” said the one, “if Helena pleases our young savant, he cannot fail to please—”
“And if, on her part, Sam, she has not given as much attention as is due to the great qualities with which he is so liberally endowed by nature—”
“It is simply because we have not yet told her it is time to think of getting married.”
“But when once we have turned her thoughts that way, whilst admitting that she may have some objection, if not to the husband, at least to matrimony—”
“She will not be long in giving her consent, Sam—”
“Like the excellent Benedick, who, after resisting for a long while—”
“Ended, at the conclusion of Much Ado about Nothing, by marrying Beatrice.”
This was how Miss Campbell’s uncles arranged affairs, and the dénouement of their plan seemed to them as simple as that of Shakspere’s comedy.
They rose with one accord, smiled knowingly at each other, and gleefully rubbed their hands. This marriage was a settled affair! What difficulty could arise? The young man had as good as asked their consent, the young girl would give her reply, as to which they need not trouble themselves for a moment. Everything was most desirable, and only the day remained to be fixed.
Indeed it should be a fine ceremony; it should take place at Glasgow, certainly not in the cathedral of St. Mungo, the only church in Scotland, except that of St. Magnus, that had been respected at the time of the Reformation. No! it was too large, and consequently too gloomy for a wedding which, according to the brothers’ ideas, should be a brilliant display of youth, a beam of love! They would rather choose St. Andrew’s, or St. Enoch’s, or even St. George’s, in the best part of the city.
The brothers went on developing their plans rather in the form of a monologue than a dialogue, for it was always the same train of ideas, expressed in the same way. As they talked they had before them a view of the beautiful trees in the park, where Miss Campbell was now walking, and the grassy slopes through which wound a bright stream, while overhead the sky was shrouded with a slight mist, which seems peculiar to the Highlands of Scotland. They did not look at each other, there was no need for it; but from time to time they grasped each other’s hands, as though to keep up a communication of thought by means of some magnetic current.
Yes! it should be magnificent! They would do the thing handsomely. The poor of West George Street, if there were any—and where are they not to be found?—should not be forgotten on this joyful occasion. If by chance Miss Campbell should wish that it might take place very quietly, and insisted on her uncles listening to her, they would know how to be firm with her for the first time in their lives; they would not yield on this point, nor any other. The guests at the bridal feast should quaff wine to their hearts’ content, but with all due ceremony; and Sam’s hand was held out simultaneously with Sib’s, as though they were already exchanging the famous Scotch toast.
At this moment the hall-door was opened, and a young girl, with cheeks glowing with health after her rapid walk, appeared. In her hand she held a newspaper, and going up to the brothers, she honoured them with two kisses each.
“Good-morning Uncle Sam,” said she.
“Good-morning, dear child.”
“And how is Uncle Sib?”
“Wonderfully well, thank you, my dear.”
“Helena,” said Sam, “we have a little arrangement to make with you.”
“An arrangement! what arrangement? What have you two uncles been plotting together?” asked Miss Campbell, as she looked roguishly from one to the other.
“You know that young gentleman, Mr. Aristobulus Ursiclos?”
“Yes, I know him.”
“Do you like him?”
“Why should I not like him, uncle?”
“Well, after mature consideration, brother and I think of proposing him to you as a husband.”
“I marry? I!” exclaimed Miss Campbell, and her pretty lips parted with the most musical laughter that had ever resounded through the great hall.
“Do you not want to be married?” asked her Uncle Sam.
“Why should I?”
“Never?” inquired Sib.
“Never!” replied Miss Campbell, assuming a serious air, which her smiling lips quite contradicted. “Never, uncles—at least, not till I have seen—”
“Seen what?” cried the brothers.
“Until I have seen the Green Ray.”
The house occupied by the uncles and their niece was situated three miles from the little hamlet of Helensburgh, on the banks of Gare Loch, one of the most picturesque lakes which capriciously indent the right bank of the Clyde.
During the winter they lived in Glasgow, at an old mansion in West George Street, in the most aristocratic part of the new town, not far from Blythswood Square. There they stayed for six months in the year, unless some whim of Helena’s, to which they yielded without a murmur, took them off for a visit to Italy, Spain, or France. In the course of these travels they saw everything from their niece’s point of view, going where she liked, stopping where it pleased her to stop, and admiring nothing but what she admired. Then, when Miss Campbell closed the book in which she jotted down her impressions of the journey, they quietly returned to Scotland, and very willingly resumed their comfortable quarters in West George Street.
About the third week in May the brothers generally experienced a great desire to be back in the country, and this happened just as Helena showed the same inclination to leave the noise of Glasgow, and fly from the hubbub of business, which sometimes inundated even the neighbourhood of Blythswood Square, to breathe a purer atmosphere than that of the commercial city.
Thus the whole household, masters and servants, set out for the country house about twenty miles distant.
The village of Helensburgh is a pretty little place, and has become a much frequented bathing-resort by those who are at leisure to vary excursions up the Clyde with tours to Loch Katrine and Loch Lomond.
The brothers had chosen the best place possible for their house, about a mile from the shores of Gare Loch, surrounded by magnificent trees, near a stream, and standing on undulating ground which had all the appearance of a private park. Cool, shady retreats, grassy slopes, clumps of trees, flower-beds, pastures kept especially for sheep, silvery lakes adorned with swans, those graceful birds of whom Wordsworth writes,—
“The swan floats double—swan and shadow.”
Finally, everything that nature could unite to gladden the eyes without betraying the handiwork of man. Such was the summer residence of this wealthy family.
It may be added that from one part of the park, lying above Gare Loch, the view is charming. Beyond the narrow gulf on the right the eye rests on the peninsula of Roseneath, on which stands a pretty Italian villa, belonging to the Duke of Argyll; to the left lies the little hamlet of Helensburgh, with its undulating line of houses along the coast, and here and there the spire of a church; its elegant pier running out into the waters of the lake for the service of steamers, and its background of hills enlivened with picturesque villas. Facing you on the left bank of the Clyde, Port Glasgow, the ruins of Newark Castle, Greenock and its forest of masts, decorated with many-coloured flags, form a very varied panorama, from which it is difficult to turn away.
From the top of the principal tower of the house, the view was more beautiful still, with a glimpse of two horizons.
The square tower, with pepper-boxes standing out airily from three angles of its summit, ornamented with battlements, and its parapet girt with stone lace-work, rose still higher at its fourth angle in an octagonal turret, with an inevitable flag-staff. This keep of modern construction thus overlooked the whole of the building proper with its irregular roofing, its windows capriciously placed here and there, and its numerous gables and chimneys.
Now it was on this highest platform of the turret, beneath the national colours floating in the breeze, that Miss Campbell loved to sit and dream for whole hours together. She had made it a cosy little place of refuge, where she could read, write, or sleep at any time, sheltered from the sun, wind, and rain. Here she was most often to be found; and if not here, she was wandering through the park, sometimes alone, sometimes accompanied by Dame Bess, unless she were riding her favourite little horse over the neighbouring country, followed by the faithful Partridge, who had to urge on his steed in order to keep up with his young mistress.
Among the numerous domestics, we must single out these two honest servants, who, from their childhood, had been attached to the Campbell family.
Elizabeth, the “Luckie,” as they call a housekeeper in the Highlands, could count as many years as she had keys on her bunch, and they were no less than forty-seven. She was a thorough manager: serious, orderly, skilful, superintending the whole household. Perhaps she imagined that she had reared the two brothers, although they were older than herself, but most certainly she had bestowed maternal care on Miss Campbell.
Next to this valuable stewardess figured Partridge, a servant entirely devoted to his masters, always faithful to the time-honoured customs of his clan, and invariably dressed in Highland costume.
With an Elizabeth to manage the household and a Partridge to look after it, what more could be wanted to ensure domestic felicity?
It has doubtless been remarked that when Partridge answered the brothers’ call he had spoken of their niece as Miss Campbell.
Had the Scotchman given her her baptismal name, and called her Miss Helena, he would have committed an infraction of Highland etiquette; never indeed is the eldest or the only daughter of good family called by her Christian name. If Miss Campbell had been the daughter of a peer, she would have been called Lady Helena. Now this branch of the Campbells to which she belonged was only collateral and but distantly connected with the direct branch of the Campbells whose origin goes back to the Crusades. For many centuries branches from the old tree had been separated from the direct line of the glorious ancestor now represented by the clans of Argyll and Breadalbane; but however distant the connexion might be, Helena, on her father’s side, had some of the blood of this illustrious family in her veins.
Still, though she was but Miss Campbell, she was a true Scotchwoman, one of those noble daughters of Thulé, with blue eyes and fair hair, whose portrait, engraved by Finden or Edwards, and placed among the Minnas, Brendas, Amy Robsarts, Flora Maclvors, Diana Vernons, would have held its own in those “keepsakes” in which the English used to gather the feminine beauty of this great novelist.
Miss Campbell was indeed very charming, with her pretty face, blue eyes, blue as her native lakes, her elegant figure, and somewhat haughty demeanour, her dreamy expression, except when a gleam of humour animated her features, her whole person, in fact, so graceful and distingué.
Helena was good as well as beautiful. Heiress to her uncles’ wealth, she was not vain of riches, but by her charity endeavoured to verify the old Gaelic proverb, “May the hand which opens freely be always full!”
Attached above everything to her country, her clan, and her family, she was a true Scotchwoman, heart and soul, and would have given the preference to the most consummate Sawney over the most imposing of John Bulls. Her patriotic being thrilled like the strings of a harp when the voice of a mountaineer, singing some Highland pibroch, reached her across the country.
De Maistre has said, “There are in me two beings: myself and another.”
The “myself” of Miss Campbell was a serious, reflecting being, looking upon life from the point of view of its duties rather than its rights.
The “other” was a romantic being, somewhat prone to superstition, fond of the marvellous tales which spring up so naturally in the land of Fingal; following the example of the Lindamiras, those adorable heroines of chivalrous romance, she would visit the neighbouring glens to listen to the “bagpipes of Strathearne,” as the Highlanders call the wind when it whistles through the lonely alleys.
The brothers loved Miss Campbell’s two personalities equally well, but it must be confessed that if the first charmed them by her good sense, the second occasionally embarrassed them with her unexpected remarks, her capricious flights of imagination, and her sudden excursions into dream-land.
Had she not just now given them a most singular answer?
“I marry?” had said the one being. “Marry Mr. Ursiclos? We shall see about that; we will talk about it another time.”
“Never! until I have seen the Green Ray!” the other had replied.
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