It begins by the sketch of an illegitimate child, written in Bage's worst vein of hard rasping irony, entirely devoid of the delicate spring and "give" which irony requires, and which constitutes the triumph even of such things as A Tale of a Tub and Jonathan Wild.

The school of Bage and Cumberland, the former of whom bears some little resemblance to his countrywoman George Eliot, was, with or without Bage's purpose, continued more or less steadily; indeed, it may be said to be little more than a variant, with local colour, of the ordinary school of novel-writing. But it was not this school which was to give tone to the period.

One does not quite know why Scott, who included in the Ballantyne Novels three of Bage's, Mount Henneth , Barham Downs , and James Wallace , did not also include, if not The Fair Syrian , two others, Man as He is and the still later Hermsprong, or Man as He is Not . This last has sometimes been regarded as Bage's masterpiece: but it does not seem so to the present writer.

The series runs in curious parallel to that of Bage's work: for Alwyn, the liveliest and the earliest by far of the three, is little more than a study partly after Fielding, but more after Smollett, with his own experiences brought in. The other two are purpose-novels of anarchist perfectibilism, and Holcroft enjoys the traditional credit of having directly inspired Godwin.

The first, second, and fourth of these were admitted by Scott to the "Ballantyne Novels," the others, though Hermsprong is admittedly Bage's best work, were not. It is impossible to say that there is genius in Bage; yet he is a very remarkable writer, and there is noticeable in him that singular fin de siècle tendency which has reasserted itself a century later.