By Author [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Title [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Language
all Classics books content using ISYS

Download this book: [ ASCII | HTML | PDF ]

Look for this book on Amazon

We have new books nearly every day.
If you would like a news letter once a week or once a month
fill out this form and we will give you a summary of the books for that week or month by email.

Title: The Delicious Vice
Author: Allison, Young Ewing
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.

*** Start of this LibraryBlog Digital Book "The Delicious Vice" ***


Pipe Dreams and Fond Adventures of an Habitual Novel-Reader Among Some
Great Books and Their People

By Young E. Allison

_Second Edition_

(Revised and containing new material)

CHICAGO THE PRAIRIELAND PUBLISHING CO. 1918 Printed originally in the
Louisville Courier-Journal. Reprinted by courtesy.

First edition, Cleveland, Burrows Bros., 1907.

Copyright 1907-1918


It must have been at about the good-bye age of forty that Thomas Moore,
that choleric and pompous yet genial little Irish gentleman, turned a
sigh into good marketable “copy” for Grub Street and with shrewd economy
got two full pecuniary bites out of one melancholy apple of reflection:

  “Kind friends around me fall
  Like leaves in wintry weather,”

  --he sang of his own dead heart in the stilly night.

  “Thus kindly I scatter thy leaves on the bed
  Where thy mates of the garden lie scentless and dead.”
 --he sang to the dying rose. In the red month of October the rose is
forty years old, as roses go. How small the world has grown to a man of
forty, if he has put his eyes, his ears and his brain to the uses for
which they are adapted. And as for time--why, it is no longer than a
kite string. At about the age of forty everything that can happen to a
man, death excepted, has happened; happiness has gone to the devil or
is a mere habit; the blessing of poverty has been permanently secured
or you are exhausted with the cares of wealth; you can see around
the corner or you do not care to see around it; in a word--that is,
considering mental existence--the bell has rung on you and you are up
against a steady grind for the remainder of your life. It is then there
comes to the habitual novel reader the inevitable day when, in anguish
of heart, looking back over his life, he--wishes he hadn’t; then he asks
himself the bitter question if there are not things he has done that he
wishes he hadn’t. Melancholy marks him for its own. He sits in his room
some winter evening, the lamp swarming shadowy seductions, the grate
glowing with siren invitation, the cigar box within easy reach for that
moment when the pending sacrifice between his teeth shall be burned out;
his feet upon the familiar corner of the mantel at that automatically
calculated altitude which permits the weight of the upper part of the
body to fall exactly upon the second joint from the lower end of the
vertebral column as it rests in the comfortable depression created by
continuous wear in the cushion of that particular chair to which every
honest man who has acquired the library vice sooner or later gets
attached with a love no misfortune can destroy. As he sits thus,
having closed the lids of, say, some old favorite of his youth, he will
inevitably ask himself if it would not have been better for him if he
hadn’t. And the question once asked must be answered; and it will be an
honest answer, too. For no scoundrel was ever addicted to the delicious
vice of novel-reading. It is too tame for him. “There is no money in

       *       *       *       *       *

And every habitual novel-reader will answer that question he has asked
himself, after a sigh. A sigh that will echo from the tropic deserted
island of Juan Fernandez to that utmost ice-bound point of Siberia where
by chance or destiny the seven nails in the sole of a certain mysterious
person’s shoe, in the month of October, 1831, formed a cross--thus:

                     * * *

while on the American promontory opposite, “a young and handsome woman
replied to the man’s despairing gesture by silently pointing to heaven.”
 The Wandering Jew may be gone, but the theater of that appalling
prologue still exists unchanged. That sigh will penetrate the gloomy
cell of the Abbe Faria, the frightful dungeons of the Inquisition, the
gilded halls of Vanity Fair, the deep forests of Brahmin and fakir, the
jousting list, the audience halls and the petits cabinets of kings of
France, sound over the trackless and storm-beaten ocean--will echo, in
short, wherever warm blood has jumped in the veins of honest men and
wherever vice has sooner or later been stretched groveling in the dust
at the feet of triumphant virtue.

And so, sighing to the uttermost ends of the earth, the old novel-reader
will confess that he wishes he hadn’t. Had not read all those novels
that troop through his memory. Because, if he hadn’t--and it is the
impossibility of the alternative that chills his soul with the despair
of cruel realization--if he hadn’t, you see, he could begin at the very
first, right then and there, and read the whole blessed business through
for the first time. For the FIRST TIME, mark you! Is there anywhere in
this great round world a novel reader of true genius who would not do
that with the joy of a child and the thankfulness of a sage?

Such a dream would be the foundation of the story of a really noble Dr.
Faustus. How contemptible is the man who, having staked his life freely
upon a career, whines at the close and begs for another chance; just
one more--and a different career! It is no more than Mr. Jack Hamlin, a
friend from Calaveras County, California, would call “the baby act,”
 or his compeer, Mr. John Oakhurst, would denominate “a squeal.” How
glorious, on the other hand, is the man who has spent his life in his
own way, and, at its eventide, waves his hand to the sinking sun and
cries out: “Goodbye; but if I could do so, I should be glad to go over
it all again with you--just as it was!” If honesty is rated in heaven
as we have been taught to believe, depend upon it the novel-reader
who sighs to eat the apple he has just devoured, will have no trouble

What a great flutter was created a few years ago when a blind
multi-millionaire of New York offered to pay a million dollars in cash
to any scientist, savant or surgeon in the world who would restore
his sight. Of course he would! It was no price at all to offer for the
service--considering the millions remaining. It was no more to him than
it would be to me to offer ten dollars for a peep at Paradise. Poor as I
am I will give any man in the world one hundred dollars in cash who will
enable me to remove every trace of memory of M. Alexandre Dumas’ “Three
Guardsmen,” so that I may open that glorious book with the virgin
capacity of youth to enjoy its full delight. More; I will duplicate the
same offer for any one or all of the following:

“Les Miserables,” of M. Hugo.

“Don Quixote,” of Senor Cervantes.

“Vanity Fair,” of Mr. Thackeray.

“David Copperfield,” of Mr. Dickens.

“The Cloister and the Hearth,” of Mr. Reade.

And if my good friend, Isaac of York, is lending money at the old
stand and will take pianos, pictures, furniture, dress suits and plain
household plate as collateral, upon even moderate valuation, I will go
fifty dollars each upon the following:

“The Count of Monte Cristo,” of M. Dumas.

“The Wandering Jew,” of M. Sue.

“The Memoirs of Barry Lyndon, Esq.,” of Mr. Thackeray.

“Treasure Island,” of Mr. Robbie Stevenson.

“The Vicar of Wakefield,” of Mr. Goldsmith.

“Pere Goriot,” of M. de Balzac.

“Ivanhoe,” of Baronet Scott.

(Any one previously unnamed of the whole layout of M. Dumas, excepting
only a paretic volume entitled “The Conspirators.”)

Now, the man who can do the trick for one novel can do it for all--and
there’s a thousand dollars waiting to be earned, and a blessing also.
It’s a bald “bluff,” of course, because it can’t be done as we all know.
I might offer a million with safety. If it ever could have been done the
noble intellectual aristocracy of novel-readers would have been reduced
to a condition of penury and distress centuries ago.

For, who can put fetters upon even the smallest second of eternity? Who
can repeat a joy or duplicate a sweet sorrow? Who has ever had more than
one first sweetheart, or more than one first kiss under the honeysuckle?
Or has ever seen his name in print for the first time, ever again? Is it
any wonder that all these inexplicable longings, these hopeless hopes,
were summed up in the heart-cry of Faust--

“Stay, yet awhile, O moment of beauty.”

       *       *       *       *       *

Yet, I maintain, Dr. Faustus was a weak creature. He begged to be given
another and wholly different chance to linger with beauty. How much
nobler the magnificent courage of the veteran novel-reader, who in the
old age of his service, asks only that he may be permitted to do again
all that he has done, blindly, humbly, loyally, as before.

Don’t I know? Have I not been there? It is no child’s play, the life of
a man who--paraphrasing the language of Spartacus, the much neglected
hero of the ages--has met upon the printed page every shape of perilous
adventure and dangerous character that the broad empire of fiction could
furnish, and never yet lowered his arm. Believe me it is no carpet duty
to have served on the British privateers in Guiana, under Commodore
Kingsley, alongside of Salvation Yeo; to have been a loyal member of
Thuggee and cast the scarf for Bowanee; to have watched the tortures of
Beatrice Cenci (pronounced as written in honest English, and I spit upon
the weaklings of the service who imagine that any freak of woman called
Bee-ah-treech-y Chon-chy could have endured the agonies related of that
sainted lady)--to have watched those tortures, I say, without breaking
down; to have fought under the walls of Acre with Richard Coeur de Lion;
to have crawled, amid rats and noxious vapors, with Jean Valjean through
the sewers of Paris; to have dragged weary miles through the snow with
Uncas, Chief of the Mohicans; to have lived among wild beasts with Morok
the lion tamer; to have charged with the impis of Umslopogaas; to have
sailed before the mast with Vanderdecken, spent fourteen gloomy years
in the next cell to Edmund Dantes, ferreted out the murders in the Rue
Morgue, advised Monsieur Le Cocq and given years of life’s prime in
tedious professional assistance to that anointed idiot and pestiferous
scoundrel, Tittlebat Titmouse! Equally, of course, it has not been all
horror and despair. Life averages up fairly, as any novel-reader
will admit, and there has been much of delight--even luxury and
idleness--between the carnage hours of battle. Is it not so? Ask that
boyish-hearted old scamp whom you have seen scuttling away from the
circulating library with M. St. Pierre’s memoirs of young Paul and his
beloved Virginia under his arm; or stepping briskly out of the book
store hugging to his left side a carefully wrapped biography of Lady
Diana Vernon, Mlle. de la Valliere, or Madame Margaret Woffington; or
in fact any of a thousand charming ladies whom it is certain he had met
before. Ladies too, who, born whensoever, are not one day older since
he last saw them. Nearly a hundred years of Parisian residence have not
served to induce the Princess Haydee of Yanina to forego her picturesque
Greek gowns and coiffures, or to alter the somewhat embarrassing status
of her relations with her striking but gloomy protector, the Count of
Monte Cristo.

The old memories are crowded with pleasures. Those delicious mornings in
the allee of the park, where you were permitted to see Cosette with her
old grandfather, M. Fauchelevent; those hours of sweet pain when it was
impossible to determine whether it was Rebecca or Rowena who seemed to
give most light to the day; the flirtations with Blanche Amory, and the
notes placed in the hollow tree; the idyllic devotion of Little Emily,
dating from the morning when you saw her dress fluttering on the beam as
she ran along it, lightly, above the flowing tide--(devotion that is yet
tender, for, God forgive you Steerforth as I do, you could not smirch
that pure heart;) the melancholy, yet sweet sorrow, with which you
saw the loved and lost Little Eva borne to her grave over which the
mocking-bird now sings his liquid requiem. Has it not been sweet
good fortune to love Maggie Tulliver, Margot of Savoy, Dora Spenlow
(undeclared because she was an honest wife--even though of a most
conceited and commonplace jackass, totally undeserving of her); Agnes
Wicklow (a passion quickly cured when she took Dora’s pitiful leavings),
and poor ill-fated Marie Antoinette? You can name dozens if you have
been brought up in good literary society.

       *       *       *       *       *

These love affairs may be owned freely, as being perfectly honorable,
even if hopeless. And, of course, there have been gallantries--mere
affaires du jour--such as every man occasionally engages in. Sometimes
they seemed serious, but only for a moment. There was Beatrix Esmond,
for whom I could certainly have challenged His Grace of Hamilton, had
not Lord Mohun done the work for me. Wandering down the street in London
one night, in a moment of weak admiration for her unrivalled nerve
and aplomb, I was hesitating--whether to call on Mrs. Rawdon Crawley,
knowing that her thick-headed husband was in hoc for debt--when the
door of her house crashed open and that old scoundrel, Lord Steyne, came
wildly down the steps, his livid face blood-streaked, his topcoat on
his arm and a dreadful look in his eye. The world knows the rest as I
learned it half an hour later at the greengrocer’s, where the Crawleys
owed an inexcusably large bill. Then the Duchess de Langeais--but all
this is really private.

After all, a man never truly loves but once. And somewhere in Scotland
there is a mound above the gentle, tender and heroic Helen Mar, where
lies buried the first love of my soul. That mound, O lovely and loyal
Helen, was watered by the first blinding and unselfish tears that
ever sprang from my eyes. You were my first love; others may come and
inevitably they go, but you are still here, under the pencil pocket of
my waistcoat.

Who can write in such a state? It is only fair to take a rest and brace
up. [Blank Page]



There is, of course, but one sort of novel-reader who is of any
importance He is the man who began under the age of fourteen and
is still sticking to it--at whatever age he may be--and full of
a terrifying anxiety lest he may be called away in the midst of
preliminary announcements of some pet author’s “next forthcoming.” For
my own part I cannot conceive dying with resignation knowing that the
publishers were binding up at the time anything of Henryk Sienckiewicz’s
or Thomas Hardy’s. So it is important that a man begin early, because he
will have to quit all too soon.

There are no women novel-readers. There are women who read novels, of
course; but it is a far cry from reading novels to being a novel-reader.
It is not in the nature of a woman. The crown of woman’s character is
her devotion, which incarnate delicacy and tenderness exalt into
perfect beauty of sacrifice. Those qualities could no more live amid the
clashings of indiscriminate human passions than a butterfly wing could
go between the mill rollers untorn. Women utterly refuse to go on with a
book if the subject goes against their settled opinions. They despise a
novel--howsoever fine and stirring it may be--if there is any taint of
unhappiness to the favorite at the close. But the most flagrant of all
their incapacities in respect to fiction is the inability to appreciate
the admirable achievements of heroes, unless the achievements are solely
in behalf of women. And even in that event they complacently consider
them to be a matter of course, and attach no particular importance to
the perils or the hardships undergone. “Why shouldn’t he?” they argue,
with triumphant trust in ideals; “surely he loved her!”

There are many women who nibble at novels as they nibble at
luncheon--there are also some hearty eaters; but 98 per cent of them
detest Thackeray and refuse resolutely to open a second book of Robert
Louis Stevenson. They scent an enemy of the sex in Thackeray, who never
seems to be in earnest, and whose indignant sarcasm and melancholy
truthfulness they shrink from. “It’s only a story, anyhow,” they argue
again; “he might, at least write a pleasant one, instead of bringing in
all sorts of disagreeable people--some of them positively disreputable.”
 As for Stevenson, whom men read with the thrill of boyhood rising new
in their veins, I believe in my soul women would tear leaves out of his
novels to tie over the tops of preserve jars, and never dream of the

Now I hold Thackeray and Stevenson to be the absolute test of capacity
for earnest novel-reading. Neither cares a snap of his fingers for
anybody’s prejudices, but goes the way of stern truth by the light of
genius that shines within him.

If you could ever pin a woman down to tell you what she thought, instead
of telling you what she thinks it is proper to tell you, or what she
thinks will please you, you would find she has a religious conviction
that Dot Perrybingle in “The Cricket of the Hearth,” and Ouida’s Lord
Chandos were actually a materializable an and a reasonable gentleman,
either of whom might be met with anywhere in their proper circles, I
would be willing to stand trial for perjury on the statement that I’ve
known admirable women--far above the average, really showing signs of
moral discrimination--who have sniveled pitifully over Nancy Sykes and
sniffed scornfully at Mrs. Tess Durbeyfield Clare. It is due to their
constitution and social heredity. Women do not strive and yearn and
stalk abroad for the glorious pot of intellectual gold at the end of the
rainbow; they pick and choose and, having chosen, sit down straightway
and become content. And a state of contentment is an abomination in the
sight of man. Contentment is to be sought for by great masculine minds
only with the purpose of being sure never quite to find it.

       *       *       *       *       *

For all practical purposes, therefore--except perhaps as object lessons
of “the incorrect method” in reading novels--women, as novel-readers,
must be considered as not existing. And, of course, no offense is
intended. But if there be any weak-kneed readers who prefer the
gilt-wash of pretty politeness to the solid gold of truth, let them
understand that I am not to be frightened away from plain facts by any
charge of bad manners.

On the contrary, now that this disagreeable interruption has been forced
upon me--certainly not through any seeking of mine--it may be better to
speak out and settle the matter. Men who have the happiness of being in
the married state know that nothing is to be gained by failing to settle
instantly with women who contradict and oppose them. Who was that mellow
philosopher in one of Trollope’s tiresomely clever novels who said: “My
word for it, John, a husband ought not to take a cane to his wife
too soon. He should fairly wait till they are half-way home from the
church--but not longer, not longer.” Of course every man with a spark
of intelligence and gallantry wishes that women COULD rise to real
novel-reading Think what courtship would be! Every true man wishes to
heaven there was nothing more to be said against women than that they
are not novel-readers. But can mere forgetting remove the canker? Do not
all of us know that the abstract good of the very existence of woman is
itself open to grave doubt--with no immediate hope of clearing up? Woman
has certainly been thrust upon us. Is there any scrap of record to show
that Adam asked for her? He was doing very well, was happy, prosperous
and healthy. There was no certainty that her creation was one of that
unquestionably wonderful series that occupied the six great days.
We cannot conceal that her creation caused a great pain in Adam’s
side--undoubtedly the left side, in the region of the heart. She
has been described by young and dauntless poets as “God’s best
afterthought;” but, now, really--and I advance the suggestion with
no intention to be brutal but solely as a conscientious duty to the
ascertainment of truth--why is it, that--. But let me try to present the
matter in the most unobjectionable manner possible.

In reading over that marvelous account of creation I find frequent
explicit declaration that God pronounced everything good after he had
created it--except heaven and woman. I have maintained sometimes to
stern, elderly ladies that this might have been an error of omission by
early copyists, perpetuated and so become fixed in our translations. To
other ladies, of other age and condition, to whom such propositions
of scholarship might appear to be dull pedantry, I have ventured the
gentlemanlike explanation that, as woman was the only living thing
created that was good beyond doubt, perhaps God had paid her the
special compliment of leaving the approval unspoken, as being in a sense
supererogatory. At best, either of these dispositions of the matter is,
of course, far-fetched, maybe even frivolous. The fact still remains
by the record. And it is beyond doubt awkward and embarrassing, because
ill-natured men can refer to it in moments of hatefulness--moments
unfortunately too frequent.

Is it possible that this last creation was a mistake of Infinite Charity
and Eternal Truth? That Charity forbore to acknowledge that it was a
mistake and that Truth, in the very nature of its eternal essence, could
not say it was good? It is so grave a matter that one wonders Helvetius
did not betray it, as he did that other secret about which the
philosophers had agreed to keep mum, so that Herr Schopenhauer could
write about it as he did about that other. Herr Schopenhauer certainly
had the courage to speak with philosophical asperity of the gentle
sex. It may be because he was never married. And then his mother wrote
novels! I have been surprised that he was not accused of prejudice.

But if all these everyday obstacles were absent there would yet remain
insurmountable reasons why women can never be novel-readers in the sense
that men are. Your wife, for instance, or the impenetrable mystery
of womanhood that you contemplate making your wife some day--can you,
honestly, now, as a self-respecting husband of either de facto or in
futuro, quite agree to the spectacle of that adored lady sitting over
across the hearth from you in the snug room, evening after evening, with
her feet--however small and well-shaped--cocked up on the other end of
the mantel and one of your own big colorado maduros between her teeth!
We men, and particularly novel-readers, are liberal even generous, in
our views; but it is not in human nature to stand that!

Now, if a woman can not put her feet up and smoke, how in the name
of heaven, can she seriously read novels? Certainly not sitting bolt
upright, in order to prevent the back of her new gown from rubbing the
chair; certainly not reclining upon a couch or in a hammock. A boy, yet
too young to smoke may properly lie on his stomach on the floor and read
novels, but the mature veteran will fight for his end of the mantel as
for his wife and children. It is physiological necessity, inasmuch as
the blood that would naturally go to the lower extremities, is thus
measurably lessened in quantity and goes instead to the head, where a
state of gentle congestion ensues, exciting the brain cells, setting
free the imagination to roam hand in hand with intelligence under the
spell of the wizard. There may be novel-readers who do not smoke at the
game, but surely they cannot be quite earnest or honest--you had better
put in writing all business agreements with this sort.

       *       *       *       *       *

No boy can ever hope to become a really great or celebrated novel-reader
who does not begin his apprenticeship under the age of fourteen, and, as
I said before, stick to it as long as he lives. He must learn to scorn
those frivolous, vacillating and purposeless ones who, after beginning
properly, turn aside and whiling away their time on mere history, or
science, or philosophy. In a sense these departments of literature are
useful enough. They enable you often to perceive the most cunning and
profoundly interesting touches in fiction. Then I have no doubt that,
merely as mental exercise, they do some good in keeping the mind in
training for the serious work of novel-reading. I have always been
grateful to Carlyle’s “French Revolution,” if for nothing more than that
its criss-cross, confusing and impressive dullness enabled me to find
more pleasure in “A Tale of Two Cities” than was to be extracted from
any merit or interest in that unreal novel.

This much however, may be said of history, that it is looking up in
these days as a result of studying the spirit of the novel. It was
not many years ago that the ponderous gentlemen who write criticisms
(chiefly because it has been forgotten how to stop that ancient waste
of paper and ink) could find nothing more biting to say of Macaulay’s
“England” than that it was “a splendid work of imagination,” of Froude’s
“Caesar” that it was “magnificent political fiction,” and of Taine’s
“France” that “it was so fine it should have been history instead
of fiction.” And ever since then the world has read only these three
writers upon these three epochs--and many other men have been writing
history upon the same model. No good novel-reader need be ashamed to
read them, in fact. They are so like the real thing we find in the
greatest novels, instead of being the usual pompous official lies of
old-time history, that there are flesh, blood and warmth in them.

In 1877, after the railway riots, legislative halls heard the French
Revolution rehearsed from all points of view. In one capital, where I
was reporting the debate, Old Oracle, with every fact at hand from “In
the beginning” to the exact popular vote in 1876, talked two hours of
accurate historical data from all the French histories, after which
a young lawyer replied in fifteen minutes with a vivid picture of the
popular conditions, the revolt and the result. Will it be allowable, in
the interest of conveying exact impression, to say that Old Oracle was
“swiped” off the earth? No other word will relieve my conscience.
After it was all over I asked the young lawyer where he got his French

“From Dumas,” he answered, “and from critical reviews of his novels.
He’s short on dates and documents, but he’s long on the general facts.”

Why not? Are not novels history?

Book for book, is not a novel by a competent conscientious novelist
just as truthful a record of typical men, manners and motives as formal
history is of official men, events and motives?

There are persons created out of the dreams of genius so real, so
actual, so burnt into the heart and mind of the world that they have
become historical. Do they not show you, in the old Ursuline Convent at
New Orleans, the cell where poor Manon Lescaut sat alone in tears? And
do they not show you her very grave on the banks of the lake? Have I
not stood by the simple grave at Richmond, Virginia, where never lay the
body of Pocahontas and listened to the story of her burial there? One
of the loveliest women I ever knew admits that every time she visits
relatives at Salem she goes out to look at the mound over the broken
heart of Hester Prynne, that dream daughter of genius who never actually
lived or died, but who was and is and ever will be. Her grave can be
easily pointed out, but where is that of Alexander, of Themistocles, of
Aristotle, even of the first figure of history--Adam? Mark Twain found
it for a joke. Dr. Hale was finally forced to write a preface to “The
Man Without a Country” to declare that his hero was pure fiction and
that the pathetic punishment so marvelously described was not only
imaginary, but legally and actually impossible. It was because Philip
Nolan had passed into history. I myself have met old men who knew sea
captains that had met this melancholy prisoner at sea and looked upon
him, had even spoken to him upon subjects not prohibited. And these old
men did not hesitate to declare that Dr. Hale had lied in his denial and
had repudiated the facts through cowardice or under compulsion from the
War Department.

       *       *       *       *       *

Indeed, so flexible, adaptable and penetrable is the style, and so
admirably has the use and proper direction of the imagination been
developed by the school of fiction, that every branch of literature has
gained from it power, beauty and clearness. Nothing has aided more in
the spread of liberal Christianity than the remarkable series of “Lives
of Christ,” from Straus to Farrar, not omitting particular mention of
the singularly beautiful treatment of the subject by Renan. In all of
these conscientious imagination has been used, as it is used in the
highest works of fiction, to give to known facts the atmosphere and
vividness of truth in order that the spirit and personality of the
surroundings of the Savior of Mankind might be newly understood by and
made fresh to modern perception.

Of all books it is to be said--of novels as well--that none is great
that is not true, and that cannot be true which does not carry inherence
of truth. Now every book is true to some reader. The “Arabian Nights”
 tales do not seem impossible to a little child, the only delight him.
The novels of “The Duchess” seem true to a certain class of readers, if
only because they treat of a society to which those readers are entirely
unaccustomed. “Robinson Crusoe” is a gospel to the world, and yet it is
the most palpably and innocently impossible of books. It is so plausible
because the author has ingeniously or accidentally set aside the usual
earmarks of plausibility. When an author plainly and easily knows
what the reader does not know and enough more to continue the chain of
seeming reality of truth a little further, he convinces the reader of
his truth and ability. Those men, therefore, who have been endowed with
the genius almost unconsciously to absorb, classify, combine, arrange
and dispense vast knowledge in a bold, striking or noble manner, are the
recognized greatest men of genius for the simple reason that the readers
of the world who know most recognize all they know in these writers,
together with that spirit of sublime imagination that suggests still
greater realms of truth and beauty. What Shakesepare was to the
intellectual leaders of his day, “The Duchess” was to countless immature
young folks of her day who were looking for “something to read.”

All truth is history, but all history is not truth. Written history is
notoriously no well-cleaner.



Once more and for all, the career of a novel reader should be entered
upon, if at all, under the age of fourteen. As much earlier as possible.
The life of the intellect, as of its shadowy twin, imagination, begins
early and develops miraculously. The inbred strains of nature lie
exposed to influence as a mirror to reflections, and as open to
impression as sensitized paper, upon which pictures may be printed
and from which they may also fade out. The greater the variety of
impressions that fall upon the young mind the more certain it is that
the greatest strength of natural tendency will be touched and revealed.
Good or bad, whichever it may be, let it come out as quickly as
possible. How many men have never developed their fatal weaknesses until
success was within reach and the edifice fell upon other innocent ones.
Believe me, no innate scoundrel or brute will be much helped or hindered
by stories. These have no turn or leisure for dreaming. They are eager
for the actual touch of life. What would a dull-eyed glutton, famishing,
not with hunger but with the cravings of digestive ferocity, find in
Thackeray’s “Memorials of Gormandizing” or “Barmecidal Feasts?” Such
banquets are spread for the frugal, not one of whom would swap that
immortal cook-book review for a dinner with Lucullus. Rascals will not
read. Men of action do not read. They look upon it as the gambler does
upon the game where “no money passes.” It may almost be said that the
capacity for novel-reading is the patent of just and noble minds. You
never heard of a great novel-reader who was notorious as a criminal.
There have been literary criminals, I grant you--Eugene Aram Dr. Dodd,
Prof. Webster, who murdered Parkmaan, and others. But they were writers,
not readers And they did not write novels. Mr. Aram wrote scientific and
school books, as did Prof. Webster, and Dr. Wainwright wrote beautiful
sermons. We never do sufficiently consider the evil that lies behind
writing sermons. The nearest you can come to a writer of fiction who
has been steeped in crime is in Benvenuto Cellini, whose marvelous
autobiographical memoir certainly contains some fiction, though it is
classed under the suspect department of History.

How many men actually have been saved from a criminal career by the
miraculous influence of novels? Let who will deny, but at the age of
six I myself was absolutely committed to the abandoned purpose of riding
barebacked horses in a circus. Secretly, of course, because there were
some vague speculations in the family concerning what seemed to be
special adaptability to the work of preaching. Shortly after I gave that
up to enlist in the Continental Army, under Gen. Francis Marion, and no
other soldier slew more Britons. After discharge I at once volunteered
in an Indiana regiment quartered in my native town in Kentucky, and beat
the snare drum at the head of that fine body of men for a long time. But
the tendency was downward. For three months I was chief of a of robbers
that ravaged the backyards of the vicinity. Successively I became a spy
for Washington, an Indian fighter, a tragic actor.

With character seared, abandoned and dissolute in habit through and
by the hearing and seeing and reading of history, there was but one
desperate step left So I entered upon the career of a pirate in my ninth
year. The Spanish Main, as no doubt you remember, was at that time upon
an open common across the street from our house, and it was a hundred
feet long, half as wide and would average two feet in depth. I have
often since thanked Heaven that they filled up that pathless ocean in
order to build an iron foundry upon the spot. Suppose they had excavated
for a cellar! Why during the time that Capt. Kidd, Lafitte and I
infested the coast thereabout, sailing three “low, black-hulled
schooners with long rakish masts,” I forced hundreds of merchant seamen
to walk the plank--even helpless women and children. Unless the sharks
devoured them, their bones are yet about three feet under the floor of
that iron foundry. Under the lee of the Northernmost promontory, near
a rock marked with peculiar crosses made by the point of the stiletto
which I constantly carried in my red silk sash, I buried tons of plate,
and doubloons, pieces of eight, pistoles, Louis d’ors, and galleons by
the chest. At that time galleons somehow meant to me money pieces in
use, though since then the name has been given to a species of boat. The
rich brocades, Damascus and Indian stuffs, laces, mantles, shawls and
finery were piled in riotous profusion in our cave where--let the whole
truth be told if it must--I lived with a bold, black-eyed and coquettish
Spanish girl, who loved me with ungovernable jealousy that occasionally
led to bitter and terrible scenes of rage and despair. At last when I
brought home a white and red English girl whose life I spared because
she had begged me her knees by the memory of my sainted mother to spare
her for her old father, who was waiting her coming, Joquita passed all
bounds. I killed her--with a single knife thrust I remember. She was
buried right on the spot where the Tilden and Hendricks flag pole
afterwards stood in the campaign of 1876. It was with bitter melancholy
that I fancied the red stripes on the flag had their color from the
blood of the poor, foolish jealous girl below.

       *       *       *       *       *

Ah, well--

Let us all own up--we men of above forty who aspire to respectability
and do actually live orderly lives and achieve even the odor of
sanctity--have we not been stained with murder?--aye worse! What man has
not his Bluebeard closet, full of early crimes and villainies? A certain
boy in whom I take a particular interest, who goes to Sunday-school and
whose life is outwardly proper--is he not now on week days a robber of
great renown? A week ago, masked and armed, he held up his own father in
a secluded corner of the library and relieved the old man of swag of
a value beyond the dreams--not of avarice, but--of successful,
respectable, modern speculation. He purposes to be a pirate whenever
there is a convenient sheet of water near the house. God speed him.
Better a pirate at six than at sixty.

Give them work to do and good novels to read and they will get over it.
History breeds queer ideas in children. They read of military heroes,
kings and statesmen who commit awful deeds and are yet monuments of
public honor. What a sweet hero is Raleigh, who was a farmer of piracy;
what a grand Admiral was Drake; what demi-gods the fighting Americans
who murdered Indians for the crime of wanting their own! History hath
charms to move an infant breast to savagery. Good strong novels are the
best pabulum to nourish difference between virtue and vice.

Don’t I know? I have felt the miracle and learned the difference so well
that even now at an advanced age I can tell the difference and indulge
in either. It was not a week after the killing of Joquita that I read
the first novel of my life. It was “Scottish Chiefs.” The dead bodies of
ten thousand novels lie between me and that first one. I have not read
it since. Ten Incas of Peru with ten rooms full of solid gold could
not tempt me to read it again. Have I not a clear cinch on a delicious
memory, compared with which gold is only Robinson Crusoe’s “drug?” After
a lapse of all these years the content of that one tremendous, noble
chapter of heroic climax is as deeply burned into my memory as if it had
been read yesterday.

A sister, old enough to receive “beaux” and addicted to the piano-forte
accomplishment, was at that time practicing across the hall an
instrumental composition, entitled, “La Rève.” Under the title, printed
in very small letters, was the English translation; but I never thought
to look at it. An elocutionist had shortly before recited Poe’s Raven
at a church entertainment, and that gloomy bird flapped its wings in my
young emotional vicinity when the firelight threw vague “shadows on
the floor.” When the piece of music was spoken as “La Rève,” its sad
cadences, suffering, of course, under practice, were instantly wedded in
my mind to Mr. Poe’s wonderful bird and for years it meant the “Raven”
 to me. How curious are childish impressions. Years afterward when I
saw a copy of the music and read the translation, “The Dream” under the
title, I felt a distinct shock of resentment as if the French language
had been treacherous to my sacred ideas. Then there was the romantic
name of “Ellerslie,” which, notwithstanding considerable precocity in
reading and spelling I carried off as “Elleressie” Yeas afterward when
the actual syllables confronted me in a historical sketch of Wallace,
the truth entered like a stab and I closed the book. O sacred first
illusions of childhood, you are sweeter than a thousand year of fame! It
is God’s providence that hardens us to endure the throwing of them down
to our eyes and strengthens us to keep their memory sweet in our hearts.

       *       *       *       *       *

It would be an affront then, not to assume that every reputable novel
reader has read “Scottish Chiefs.” If there is any descendant or any
personal friend of that admirable lady, Miss Jane Porter, who may now be
in pecuniary distress, let that descendant call upon me privately with
perfect confidence. There are obligations that a glacial evolutionary
period can not lessen. I make no conditions but the simple proof of
proper identity. I am not rich but I am grateful.

It was a Saturday evening when I became aware, as by prescience, that
there hung over Sir William Wallice and Helen Mar some terrible shadow
of fate. And the piano-forte across the hall played “La Rève.” My heart
failed me and I closed the book. If you can’t do that, my friend, then
you waste your time trying to be a novel reader. You have not the true
touch of genius for it. It is the miracle of eating your cake and having
it, too. It must have been the unconscious moving of novel reading
genius in me. For I forgot, as clearly as if it were not a possibility,
that the next day was Sunday. And so hurried off, before time, to bed,
to be alone with the burden on my heart.

  “Backward, turn backward, O Time in your flight--
  Make me a child again just for tonight.”

There are two or three novels I should love to take to bed as of
yore--not to read, but to suffer over and to contemplate and to seek
calmness and courage with which to face the inevitable. Could there be
men base enough to do to death the noble Wallace? Or to break the heart
of Helen Mar with grief? No argument could remove the presentiment, but
facing the matter gave courage. “Let tomorrow answer,” I thought, as the
piano-forte in the next room played “La Rève.” Then fell asleep.

And when I awoke next morning to the full knowledge that it was Sunday,
I could have murdered the calendar. For Sunday was Dies Irae. After
Sunday-school, at least. There is a certain amount of fun to be to
extracted from Sunday-school. The remainder of those early Sundays
was confined to reading the Bible or storybooks from the Sunday-school
library--books, by the Lord Harry, that seem to be contrived especially
to make out of healthy children life-long enemies of the church, and to
bind hypocrites to the altar with hooks of steel. There was no whistling
at all permitted; singing of hymns was encouraged; no “playing”--playing
on Sunday was a distinct source of displeasure to Heaven! Are free-born
men nine years of age to endure such tyranny with resignation? Ask
the kids of today--and with one voice, as true men and free, they will
answer you, “Nit!” In the dark days of my youth liberty was in chains,
and so Sunday was passed in dreadful suspense as to what was doing in

       *       *       *       *       *

Monday night after supper I rejoined Sir William in his captivity and
soon saw that my worst fears were to be realized. My father sat on the
opposite side of the table reading politics; my mother was effecting the
restoration of socks; my brother was engaged in unraveling mathematical
tangles, and in the parlor across the hall my sister sat alone with
her piano patiently debating “La Rève.” Under these circumstances I
encountered the first great miracle of intellectual emotion in the
chapter describing the execution of William Wallace on Tower Hill. No
other incident of life has left upon me such a profound impression.
It was as if I had sprung at one bound into the arena of heroism.
I remember it all. How Wallace delivered himself of theological and
Christian precepts to Helen Mar after which they both knelt before the
officiating priest. That she thought or said, “My life will expire with
yours!” It was the keynote of death and life devotion. It was worthy to
usher Wallace up the scaffold steps where he stood with his hands bound,
“his noble head uncovered.” There was much Christian edification, but
the presence of such a hero as he with “noble Head uncovered” would
enable any man nine years old with a spark of honor and sympathy in him
to endure agonizing amounts of edification. Then suddenly there was a
frightful shudder in my heart. The hangman approached with the rope, and
Helen Mar, with a shriek, threw herself upon Wallace’s breast. Then the
great moment. If I live a thousand years these lines will always be
with me: “Wallace, with a mighty strength, burst the bonds asunder that
confined his arms and clasped her to his heart!”

       *       *       *       *       *

In reading some critical or pretended text books on construction since
that time I came across this sentence used to illustrate tautology. It
was pointed out that the bonds couldn’t be “burst” without necessarily
being asunder. The confoundedest outrages in this world are the capers
that precisionists cut upon the bodies of the noble dead. And with
impunity too. Think of a village surveyor measuring the forest of Arden
to discover the exact acreage! Or a horse-doctor elevating his eye-brow
with a contemptuous smile and turning away, as from an innocent, when
you speak of the wings of that fine horse, Pegasus! Any idiot knows
that bonds couldn’t be burst without being burst asunder. But, let the
impregnable Jackass think--what would become of the noble rhythm and the
majestic roll of sound? Shakespeare was an ignorant dunce also when
he characterized the ingratitude that involves the principle of public
honor as “the unkindest cut of all.” Every school child knows that it is
ungrammatical; but only those who have any sense learn after awhile
the esoteric secret that it sometimes requires a tragedy of language to
provide fitting sacrifice to the manes of despair. There never was yet
a man of genius who wrote grammatically and under the scourge of
rhetorical rules. Anthony Trollope is a most perfect example of the
exact correctness that sterilizes in its own immaculate chastity.
Thackeray would knock a qualifying adverb across the street, or thrust
it under your nose to make room for the vivid force of an idea. Trollope
would give the idea a decent funeral for the sake of having his adverb
appear at the grave above reproach from grammatical gossip. Whenever I
have risen from the splendid psychological perspective of old Job, the
solemn introspective howls of Ecclesiasticus and the generous living
philosophy of Shakespeare it has always been with the desire--of course
it is undignified, but it is human--to go and get an English grammar
for the pleasure of spitting upon it. Let us be honest. I understand
everything about grammar except what it means; but if you will give me
the living substance and the proper spirit any gentleman who desires the
grammatical rules may have them, and be hanged to him! And, while it
may appear presumptuous, I can conscientiously say that it will not be
agreeable to me to settle down in heaven with a class of persons who
demand the rules of grammar for the intellectual reason that corresponds
to the call for crutches by one-legged men.

       *       *       *       *       *

If the foregoing appear ill-tempered pray forget it. Remember rather
that I have sought to leave my friend Sir William Wallace, holding Helen
Mar on his breast as long as possible. And yet, I also loved her! Can
human nature go farther than that?

“Helen,” he said to her, “life’s cord is cut by God’s own hand.” He
stooped, he fell, and the fall shook the scaffold. Helen--that glorified
heroine--raised his head to her lap. The noble Earl of Gloucester
stepped forward, took the head in his hands.

“There,” he cried in a burst of grief, letting it fall again upon the
insensible bosom of Helen, “there broke the noblest heart that ever beat
in the breast of man!”

That page or two of description I read with difficulty and agony through
blinding tears, and when Gloucester spoke his splendid eulogy my head
fell on the table and I broke into such wild sobbing that the little
family sprang up in astonishment. I could not explain until my mother,
having led me to my room, succeeded in soothing me into calmness and
I told her the cause of it. And she saw me to bed with sympathetic
caresses and, after she left, it all broke out afresh and I cried myself
to sleep in utter desolation and wretchedness. Of course the matter
got out and my father began the book. He was sixty years old, not an
indiscriminate reader, but a man of kind and boyish heart. I felt a sort
of fascinated curiosity to watch him when he reached the chapter that
had broken me. And, as if it were yesterday, I can see him under the
lamplight compressing his lips, or puffing like a smoker through them,
taking off his spectacles, and blowing his nose with great ceremony and
carelessly allowing the handkerchief to reach his eyes. Then another
paragraph and he would complain of the glasses and wipe them carefully,
also his eyes, and replace the spectacles. But he never looked at me,
and when he suddenly banged the lids together and, turning away, sat
staring into the fire with his head bent forward, making unconcealed use
of the handkerchief, I felt a sudden sympathy for him and sneaked out.
He would have made a great novel reader if he had had the heart. But he
couldn’t stand sorrow and pain. The novel reader must have a heart
for every fate. For a week or more I read that great chapter and its
approaches over and over, weeping less and less, until I had worn out
that first grief, and could look with dry eyes upon my dead. And never
since have I dared to return to it. Let who will speak freely in other
tones of “Scottish Chiefs”--opinions are sacred liberties--but as for
me I know it changed my career from one of ruthless piracy to better
purposes, and certain boys of my private acquaintance are introduced to
Miss Jane Porter as soon as they show similar bent.



The very best First-Novel-To-Read in all fiction is “Robinson Crusoe.”
 There is no dogmatism in the declaration; it is the announcement of a
fact as well ascertained as the accuracy of the multiplication table.
It is one of the delights of novel reading that you may have any opinion
you please and fire it off with confidence, without gainsay. Those who
differ with you merely have another opinion, which is not sacred and
cannot be proved any more than yours. All of the elements of supreme
test of imaginative interest are in “Robinson Crusoe.” Love is absent,
but that is not a test; love appeals to persons who cannot read or
write--it is universal, as hunger and thirst.

The book-reading boy is easily discovered; you always catch him reading
books. But the novel-reading boy has a system of his own, a sort of
instinctive way of getting the greatest excitement out of the story, the
very best run for his money. This sort of boy soon learns to sit with
his feet drawn up on the upper rung of a chair, so that from the knees
to the thighs there is a gentle declivity of about thirty degrees;
the knees are nicely separated that the book may lie on them without
holding. That involves one of the most cunning of psychological secrets;
because, if the boy is not a novel reader, he does not want the book to
lie open, since every time it closes he gains just that much relief
in finding the place again. The novel-reading boy knows the trick of
immortal wisdom; he can go through the old book cases and pick the
treasures of novels by the way they lie open; if he gets hold of a new
or especially fine edition of his father’s he need not be told to wrench
it open in the middle and break the back of the binding--he does it

There are other symptoms of the born novel reader to be observed in him.
If he reads at night he is careful to so place his chair that the light
will fall on the page from a direction that will ultimately ruin the
eyes--but it does not interfere with the light. He humps himself over
the open volume and begins to display that unerring curvalinearity of
the spine that compels his mother to study braces and to fear that he
will develop consumption. Yet you can study the world’s health records
and never find a line to prove that any man with “occupation or
profession--novel reading” is recorded as dying of consumption. The
humped-over attitude promotes compression of the lungs, telescoping of
the diaphragm, atrophy of the abdominal abracadabra and other
things (see Physiological Slush, p. 179, et seq.);

To a novel reading boy the position is one of instinct, like that of
the bicycle racer. His eyes are strained, his nerves and muscles at
tension--everything ready for excitement--and the book, lying open,
leaves his hands perfectly free to drum on the sides of the chair, slap
his legs and knees, fumble in his pockets or even scratch his head as
emotion or interest demand. Does anybody deny that the highest proof of
special genius is the possession of the instinct to adapt itself to the
matter in hand? Nothing more need be said.

       *       *       *       *       *

Now, if you will observe carefully such a boy when he comes to a certain
point in “Robinson Crusoe” you may recognize the stroke of fate in his
destiny. If he’s the right sort, he will read gayly along; he drums,
he slaps himself, he beats his breast, he scratches his head. Suddenly
there will come the shock. He is reading rapidly and gloriously.
He finds his knife in his pocket, as usual, and puts it back; the
top-string is there; he drums the devil’s tattoo, he wets his finger
and smears the margin of the page as he whirls it over and then--he

Oh, Crackey! At this tremendous moment the novel reader who has genius
drums no more. His hands have seized the upper edges of the muslin lids,
he presses the lower edges against his stomach, his back takes an
added intensity of hump, his eyes bulge, his heart thumps--he is

Terror, surprise, sympathy, hope, skepticism, doubt--come all ye
trooping emotions to threaten or console; but an end has come to fairy
stories and wonder tales--Master Studious is in the awful presence of
Human Nature.

       *       *       *       *       *

For many years I have believed that that
Print--of--a--Man’s--Naked--Foot was set in italic type in all editions
of “Robinson Crusoe.” But a patient search of many editions has
convinced me that I must have been mistaken.

The passage comes sneaking along in the midst of a paragraph in common
Roman letters and by the living jingo! you discover it just as Mr.
Crusoe discovered the footprint itself!

No story ever written exhibits so profoundly either the perfect
design of supreme genius or the curious accidental result of slovenly
carelessness in a hack-writer. This is not said in any critical spirit,
because, Robinson Crusoe, in one sense, is above criticism, and
in another it permits the freest analysis without suffering in the
estimation of any reader.

But for Robinson Crusoe, De Foe would never have ranked above the level
of his time. It is customary for critics to speak in awe of the “Journal
of the Plague” and it is gravely recited that that book deceived the
great Dr. Meade. Dr. Meade must have been a poor doctor if De Foe’s
accuracy of description of the symptoms and effects of disease is not
vastly superior to the detail he supplies as a sailor and solitaire upon
a desert island. I have never been able to finish the “Journal.”
 The only books in which his descriptions smack of reality are “Moll
Flanders” and “Roxana,” which will barely stand reading these days.

In what may be called its literary manner, Robinson Crusoe is entirely
like the others. It convinces you by its own conviction of sincerity.
It is simple, wandering yet direct; there is no making of “points” or
moving to climaxes. De Foe did unquestionably possess the capacity to
put into his story the appearance of sincerity that persuades belief at
a glance. In that much he had the spark of genius; yet that same case
has not availed to make the “Journal” of the Plague anything more than
a curious and laborious conceit, while Robinson Crusoe stands among
the first books of the world--a marvelous gleam of living interest,
inextinguishably fresh and heartening to the imagination of every reader
who has sensibility two removes above a toad.

The question arises, then, is “Robinson Crusoe” the calculated triumph
of deliberate genius, or the accidental stroke of a hack who fell upon a
golden suggestion in the account of Alexander Selkirk and increased
its value ten thousand fold by an unintentional but rather perfect
marshaling of incidents in order, and by a slovenly ignorance of
character treatment that enhanced the interest to perfect intensity?
This question may be discussed without undervaluing the book, the
extraordinary merit of which is shown in the fact that, while its idea
has been paraphrased, it has never been equalled. The “Swiss Family
Robinson,” the “Schonberg-Cotta Family” for children are full of merit
and far better and more carefully written, but there are only the desert
island and the ingenious shifts introduced. Charles Reade in “Hard
Cash,” Mr. Mallock in his “Nineteenth Century Romance,” Clark Russel in
“Marooned,” and Mayne Reid, besides others, have used the same theater.
But only in that one great book is the theater used to display the
simple, yearning, natural, resolute, yet doubting, soul and heart of man
in profound solitude, awaiting in armed terror, but not without purpose,
the unknown and masked intentions of nature and savagery. It seems
to me--and I have been tied to Crusoe’s chariot wheels for a dozen
readings, I suppose--that it is the pressing in upon your emotions of
the immensity of the great castaway’s solitude, in which he appears like
some tremendous Job of abandonment, fighting an unseen world, which is
the innate note of its power.

       *       *       *       *       *

The very moment Friday becomes a loyal subject, the suspense relaxes
into pleased interest, and after Friday’s funny father and the Spaniard
and others appear it becomes a common book. As for the second part of
the adventures I do not believe any matured man ever read it a second
time unless for curious or literary purposes. If he did he must be one
of that curious but simple family that have read the second part of
“Faust,” “Paradise Regained,” and the “Odyssey,” and who now peruse
“Clarissa Harlowe” and go carefully over the catalogue of ships in
the “Iliad” as a preparation for enjoying the excitements of the city

Every particle of greatness in “Robinson Crusoe” is compressed within
two hundred pages, the other four hundred being about as mediocre trash
as you could purchase anywhere between cloth lids.

       *       *       *       *       *

It is interesting to apply subjective analysis to Robinson Crusoe. The
book in its very greatness has turned more critical swans into geese
than almost any other. They have praised the marvelous ingenuity with
which De Foe described how the castaway overcame single-handed, the
deprivations of all civilized conveniences; they have marveled at the
simple method in which all his labors are marshaled so as to render his
conversion of the island into a home the type of industrial and even of
social progress and theory; they have rhapsodized over the perfection
of De Foe’s style as a model of literary strength and artistic
verisemblance. Only a short time ago a mighty critic of a great
London paper said seriously that “Robinson Crusoe and Gulliver appeal
infinitely more to the literary reader than to the boy, who does
not want a classic but a book written by a contemporary.” What an
extraordinary boy that must be! It is probable that few boys care for
Gulliver beyond his adventures in Lilliput and Brobdignag, but they
devour that much, together with Robinson Crusoe, with just as much
avidity now as they did a century ago. Your clear-headed, healthy boy is
the first best critic of what constitutes the very liver and lights of
a novel. Nothing but the primitive problems of courage meeting peril,
virtue meeting vice, love, hatred, ambition for power and glory, will
go down with him. The grown man is more capable of dealing with social
subtleties and the problems of conscience, but those sorts of books do
not last unless they have also “action--action--action.”

Will the New Zealander, sitting amidst the prophetic ruins of St.
Paul’s, invite his soul reading Robert Elsmere? Of course you can’t say
what a New Zealander of that period might actually do; but what would
you think of him if you caught him at it? The greatest stories of the
world are the Bible stories, and I never saw a boy--intractable of
acquiring the Sunday-school habit though he may have been--who wouldn’t
lay his savage head on his paws and quietly listen to the good old tales
of wonder out of that book of treasures.

       *       *       *       *       *

So let us look into the interior of our faithful old friend, Robinson
Crusoe, and examine his composition as a literary whole. From the moment
that Crusoe is washed ashore on the island until after the release of
Friday’s father and the Spaniard from the hands of the cannibals, there
is no book in print, perhaps, that can surpass it in interest and the
strained impression it makes upon the unsophisticated mind. It is
all comprised in about 200 pages, but to a boy to whom the world is
a theater of crowded action, to whom everything seems to have come
ready-made, to whom the necessity of obedience and accommodation to
others has been conveyed by constant friction--here he finds himself
for the first time face to face with the problem of solitude. He can
appreciate the danger from wild animals, genii, ghosts, battles, sieges
and sudden death, but in no other book before, did he ever come upon a
human being left solitary, with all these possible dangers to face.

The voyages on the raft, the house-building, contriving, fearing,
praying, arguing--all these are full of plaintive pathos and yet of
encouragement. He witnesses despair turned into comfortable resignation
as the result of industry. It has required about twelve years. Virtue is
apparently fattening upon its own reward, when--Smash! Bang!--our young
reader runs upon “the--print--of--a--man’s--naked--foot!” and security
and happiness, like startled birds, are flown forever. For twelve more
years this new unseen terror hangs over the poor solitary. Then we
have Friday, the funny cannibals later and it is all over. But the vast
solitude of that poor castaway has entered the imagination of the youth
and dominates it.

These two hundred pages are crowded with suggestions that set a boy’s
mind on fire, yet every page contains evidence of obvious slovenliness,
indolence and ignorance of human nature and common things, half of which
faults seem directly to contribute to the result, while the other half
are never noticed by the reader.

How many of you, who sniff at this, know Crusoe’s real name? Yet it
stares right out of the very first paragraphs in the book--a clean,
perhaps accidental, proof of good scholarship, which De Foe possessed.
Crusoe tells us his father was a German from Bremen, who married an
Englishwoman, from whose family name of Robinson came the son’s name
which was properly Robinson Kreutznaer. This latter name, he explains,
became corrupted in the common English speech into Crusoe. That is an
excellent touch. The German pronunciation of Kreutznaer would sound like
Krites-nare, and a mere dry scholar would have evolved Crysoe out of the
name. But the English-speaking people everywhere, until within the past
twenty years or so, have given the German “eu” the sound of “oo” or “u.”
 Robinson’s father therefore was called Crootsner until it was shaved
into Crootsno and thence smoothed to Crusoe.

But what was the Christian name of the elder Kreutznaer? Or of the boy’s
mother? Or of his brothers or sisters? Or of the first ship captain
under whom he sailed; or any of them; or even of the ship he commanded,
and in which he was wrecked; or of the dog that he carried to the
island; or of the two cats; or of the first and all the other tame
goats; or of the inlet; or of Friday’s father; or of the Spaniard he
saved; or of the ship captain; or of the ship that finally saved him?
Who knows? The book is a desert as far as nomenclature goes--the only
blossoms being his own name; that of Wells, a Brazilian neighbor; Xury,
the Moorish boy; Friday, Poll, the parrot; and Will Atkins.

       *       *       *       *       *

You may retort that all this doesn’t matter. That is very true--and be
hanged to you!--but those facts prove by every canon of literary art
that Robinson Crusoe is either a coldly calculated flight of consummate
genius or an accidental freak of hack literature. When De Foe wrote, it
was only a century after Drake and his companions in authorized
piracy had made the British privateer the scourge of the seas and had
demonstrated that naval supremacy meant the control of the world. The
seafaring life was one of peril, but it carried with it honor, glory and
envy. Forty years later Nelson was born to crown British navalry with
deathless Glory. Even the commonest sailor spoke his ship’s name--if it
were a fine vessel--with the same affection that he spoke his wife’s
and cursed a bad ship by its name as if to tag its vileness with

When De Foe wrote Alexander Selkirk, able seaman, was alive end had
told his story of shipwreck to Sir Richard Steele, editor of the English
Gentleman and of the Tattler, who wrote it up well--but not half as well
as any one of ten thousand newspaper men of today could do under similar

Now who that has read of Selkirk and Dampierre and Stradling does not
remember the two famous ships, the “Cinque Ports” and the “St. George?”
 In every actvial book of the times, ship’s names were sprinkled over the
page as if they had been shaken out of the pepper box. But you inquire
in vain the name of the slaver that wrecked “poor Robinson Crusoe”--a
name that would have been printed on his memory beyond forgetting
because of the very misfortune itself. Now the book is the autobiography
of a man whose only years of active life between eighteen and twenty-six
were passed as a sailor. It was written apparently after he was
seventy-two years old, at the period when every trifling incident and
name of youth would survive most brightly; yet he names no ships, no
sailor mates, carefully avoids all knowledge of or advantage attaching
to any parts of ships. It is out of character as a sailor’s tale,
showing that the author either did not understand the value of or was
too indolent to acquire the ship knowledge that would give to his work
the natural smell of salt water and the bilge. It is a landlubber’s sea

Is it in character as a revelation of human nature? No man like unto
Robinson Crusoe ever did live, does live, or ever will live, unless as a
freak deprived of human emotions. The Robinson Crusoe of Despair Island
was not a castaway, but the mature politician. Daniel Defoe of Newgate
Prison. The castaway would have melted into loving recollections; the
imprisoned lampoonist would have busied himself with schemes, ideas,
arguments and combinations for getting out, and getting on. This poor
Robin on the island weeps over nothing but his own sorrows, and,
while pretending to bewail his solitude, turns aside coldly from
companionships next only in affection to those of men. He has a dog, two
ship’s cats (of whose “eminent history” he promises something that is
never related), tame goats and parrots. He gives none of them a name,
he does not occupy his yearning for companionship and love by preparing
comforts for them or by teaching them tricks of intelligence or
amusement; and when he does make a stagger at teaching Poll to talk it
is for the sole purpose of hearing her repeat “Poor Robin Crusoe!”
 The dog is dragged in to work for him, but not to be rewarded. He dies
without notice, as do the cats, and not even a billet of wood marks
their graves.

Could any being, with a drop of human blood in his veins, do that? He
thinks of his father with tears in his eyes--because he did not escape
the present solitude by taking the old man’s advice! Does he recall his
mother or any of the childish things that lie so long and deep in
the heart of every natural man? Does he ever wonder what his old
school-fellows, Bob Freckles and Pete Baker, are doing these solitary
evenings when he sits under the tropics and hopes--could he not at
least hope it?--that they are, thank God, alive and happy at York? He
discourses like a parson of the utterly impossible affection that
Friday had for his cannibal sire and tells you how noble, Christian and
beautiful it was--as if, by Jove! a little of that virtue wouldn’t have
ornamented his own cold, emotionless, fishy heart!

He had no sentimental side. Think of those dreary, egotistic, awful
evenings, when, for more than twenty years this infernal hypocrite kept
himself company and tried patiently to deceive God by flattering Him
about religion! It is impossible. Why thought turns as certainly to
revery and recollection as grass turns to seed. He married. What was his
wife’s name? We know how much property she had. What were the names of
the honest Portuguese Captain and the London woman who kept his money?
The cold selfishness and gloomy egotism of this creature mark him as a
monster and not as a man.

       *       *       *       *       *

So the book is not in character as an autobiography, nor does it contain
a single softening emotion to create sympathy. Let us see whether it
be scholarly in its ease. The one line that strikes like a bolt of
lightning is the height of absurdity. We have all laughed, afterward
of course, at that--single--naked--foot--print. It could not have
been there without others, unless Friday were a one legged man, or was
playing the good old Scots game of “hop-scotch!”

But the foot-print is not a circumstance to the cannibals. All the stage
burlesques of Robinson Crusoe combined could not produce such funny
cannibals as he discovered. Crusoe’s cannibals ate no flesh but that
of men! He had no great trouble contriving how to induce Friday to eat
goat’s flesh! They took all the trouble to come to his island to indulge
in picnics, during which they ate up folks, danced and then went home
before night. When the big party of 31 arrived, they had with them one
other cannibal of Friday’s tribe, a Spaniard, and Friday’s father. It
appears they always carefully unbound a victim before despatching him.
They brought Friday pere for lunch, although he was old, decrepit and
thin--a condition that always unfits a man among all known cannibals
for serving as food. They reject them as we do stringy old roosters for
spring chickens in the best society. Then Friday, born a cannibal and
converted to Crusoe’s peculiar religion, shows that in three years he
has acquired all the emotions of filial affection prevalent at that time
among Yorkshire folk who attended dissenting chapels. More wonderful
still! old Friday pere, immersed in age and cannibalism, has the
corresponding paternal feeling. Crusoe never says exactly where these
cannibals came from, but my own belief is that they came from that
little Swiss town whence the little wooden animals for toy Noah’s Arks
also came.

A German savant--one of the patient sort that spend half a life writing
a monograph on the variation of spots on the butterfly’s wings--could
get a philosophical dissertation on Doubt out of Crusoe’s troubles with
pens, ink and paper; also clothes. In the volume I am using, on page 86,
third paragraph, he says: “I should lose my reckoning of time for want
of books, and pen and ink.” So he kept it by notches in wood, he tells
in the fourth paragraph. In paragraph 5, same page, he says: “We are
to observe that among the many things I brought out of the ship, I
got several of less value, etc., which I omitted setting down as in
particular pens, ink and paper!” Same paragraph, lower down: “I shall
show that while my ink lasted I kept things very exact, but after that
was gone I could not make any ink by any means that I could devise.”
 Page 87, second paragraph: “I wanted many things, notwithstanding all
the many things that I had amassed together, and of these ink was one!”
 Page 88, first paragraph: “I drew up my affairs in writing!” Now, by
George! did you ever hear of more appearing and disappearing pens, ink
and paper?

The adventures of his clothes were as remarkable as his own. On his very
first trip to the wreck, after landing, he went “rummaging for clothes,
of which I found enough,” but took no more than he wanted for present
use. On the second trip he “took all the men’s clothes” (and there were
fifteen souls on board when she sailed). Yet in his famous debit and
credit calculations between good and evil he sets these down, page 88:

  EVIL                  |         GOOD
  I have no clothes to  | But I am in a hot climate,
  cover me.             | where, if I had
                        | clothes (!) I could hardly
                        | wear them.

On page 147, bewailing his lack of a sieve, he says: “Linen, I had none
but what was mere rags.”

Page 158 (one year later): “My clothes, too, began to decay; as to
linen, I had had none a good while, except some checkered shirts, which
I carefully preserved, because many times I could bear no other clothes
on. I had almost three dozen of shirts, several thick watch coats, too
hot to wear.”

So he tried to make jackets out of the watch coats. Then this ingenious
gentleman, who had nothing to wear and was glad of it on account of the
heat, which kept him from wearing anything but a shirt, and rendered
watch coats unendurable, actually made himself a coat, waistcoat,
breeches, cap and umbrella of skins with the hair on and wore them in
great comfort! Page 175 he goes hunting, wearing this suit, belted by
two heavy skin belts, carrying hatchet, saw, powder, shot, his heavy
fowling piece and the goatskin umbrella--total weight of baggage and
clothes about ninety pounds. It must have been a cold day!

Yet the first thing he does for the naked Friday thirteen years later
is to give him a pair--of--LINEN--trousers! Poor Robin Crusoe--what a
colossal liar was wasted on a desert island!

       *       *       *       *       *

Of course, no boy sees the blemishes in “Robinson Crusoe;” those are
left to the Infallible Critic. The book is as ludicrous as “Hamlet” from
one aspect and as profound as “Don Quixote” from another. In its pages
the wonder tales and wonder facts meet and resolve; realism and idealism
are joined--above all, there is a mystery no critic may solve. It is
useless to criticize genius or a miracle, except to increase its wonder.
Who remembers anything in “Crusoe” but the touch of the wizard’s hand?
Who associates the Duke of Athens, Hermia and Helena, with Bottom and
Snug, Titania, Oberon and Puck? Any literary master mechanic might real
off ten thousand yards of the Greek folks or of “Pericles,” but when you
want something that runs thus:

  “I know a bank whereon the wild thyme blows!
  Where oxlip and the nodding violet grows--.”

why, then, my masters, you must put up the price and employ a genius to
work the miracle.

Take all miracles without question. Whether work of genius or miracle of
accident, “Robinson Crusoe” gives you a generous run for your money.



After the first novel has been read, somewhere under the seasoned age
of fourteen years, the beginner equipped with inherent genius for novel
reading is afloat upon an open sea of literature, a master mariner of
his own craft, having ports to make, to leave, to take, so splendid
of variety and wonder as to make the voyages of Sinbad sing small by
comparison. It may be proper and even a duty here to suggest to the
young novel reader that the Ten Commandments and all governmental
statutes authorize the instant killing, without pity or remorse, of
any heavy-headed and intrusive person who presumes to map out for him
a symmetrical and well-digested course of novel reading. The murder of
such folks is universally excused as self-defense and secretly applauded
as a public service. The born novel reader needs no guide, counsellor
or friend. He is his own “master.” He can with perfect safety and
indescribable delight shut his eyes, reach out his hand, pull down any
plum of a book and never make a mistake. Novel reading is the only
one of the splendid occupations of life calling for no instruction or
advice. All that is necessary is to bite the apple with the largest
freedom possible to the intellectual and imaginative jaws, and let the
taste of it squander itself all the way down from the front teeth until
it is lost in the digestive joys of memory. There is no miserable quail
limit to novels--you can read thirty novels in thirty days or 365 novels
in 365 days for thirty years, and the last one will always have the
delicious taste of the pies of childhood.

If any honest-minded boy chances to read these lines, let him charge
his mind with full contempt for any misguided elders who have designs of
“choosing only the best accepted novels” for his reading. There are no
“best” novels except by the grace of the poor ones, and, if you don’t
read the poor ones, the “best” will be as tasteless as unsalted rice.
I say to boys that are worth growing up: don’t let anybody give you
patronizing advice about novels. If your pastors and masters try
oppression, there is the orchard, the creek bank, the attic room, the
roof of the woodshed (under the peach tree), and a thousand other places
where you may hide and maintain your natural independence. Don’t let
elderly and officious persons explain novels to you. They can not
honestly do so; so don’t waste time. Every boy of fourteen, with the
genius to read ‘em, is just as good a judge of novels and can understand
them quite as well as any gentleman of brains of any old age. Because
novels mean entirely different things to every blessed reader.

       *       *       *       *       *

The main thing at the beginning is to be in the neighborhood of a good
“novel orchard” and to nibble and eat, and even “gormandize,” as your
fancy leads you. Only--as you value your soul and your honor as a
gentleman--bear in mind that what you read in every novel that pleases
you is sacred truth. There are busy-bodies, pretenders to “culture,” and
sticklers for the multiplication table and Euclid’s pestiferous theorem,
who will tell you that novel reading is merely for entertainment and
light accomplishment, and that the histories of fiction are purely
imaginary and not to be taken seriously. That is pure falsehood. The
truth of all humanity, as well as all its untruth, flows in a noble
stream through the pages of fiction. Do not allow the elders to persuade
you that pirate stories, battles, sieges, murders and sudden deaths, the
road to transgression and the face of dishonesty are not good for you.
They are 90 per cent. pure nutriment to a healthy boy’s mind, and any
other sort of boy ought particularly to read them and so learn the
shortest cut to the penitentiary for the good of the world. Whenever you
get hold of a novel that preaches and preaches and preaches, and can’t
give a poor ticket-of-leave man or the decentest sort of a villain
credit for one good trait--Gee, Whizz! how tiresome they are--lose it,
you young scamp, at once, if you respect yourself. If you are pushed you
can say that Bill Jones took it away from you and threw it in the creek.
The great Victor Hugo and the authors of that noble drama “The Two
Orphans,” are my authorities for the statement that some fibs--not all
fibs, but some proper fibs--are entered in heaven on both debit and
credit sides of the book of fate.

There is one book, the Book of Books, swelling rich and full with
the wisdom and beauty and joy and sorrow of humanity--a book that set
humility like a diamond in the forehead of virtue; that found mercy and
charity outcasts among the minds of men and left them radiant queens in
the world’s heart; that stickled not to describe the gorgeous esotery of
corroding passion and shamed it with the purity of Mary Magdelen; that
dragged from the despair of old Job the uttermost poison-drop of doubt
and answered it with the noble problem of organized existence; that
teems with murder and mistake and glows with all goodness and honest
aspiration--that is the Book of Books. There hasn’t been one written
since that has crossed the boundary of its scope. What would that
book be after some goody-goody had expurgated it of evil and left it
sterilized in butter and sugar? Let no ignorant paternal Czar, ruling
over cottage or mansion, presume to keep from the mind and heart of
youth the vigorous knowledge and observation of evil and good, crime and
virtue together. No chaff, no wheat; no dross, no gold; no human faults
and weaknesses, no heavenly hope. And if any gentleman does not like
the sentiment, he can find me at my usual place of residence, unless he
intends violence--and be hanged, also, to him!

       *       *       *       *       *

A novel is a novel, and there are no bad ones in the world, except those
you do not happen to like. Suppose a boy started with Robinson Crusoe
and was scientifically and criminally steered by the hand of misguided
“culture” to Scott and Dickens and Cooper and Hawthorne--all the
classics, in fact, so that he would escape the vulgar thousands? Answer
a straight question, ye old rooters between a thousand miles of muslin
lids--would you have been willing to miss “The Gunmaker of Moscow” back
yonder in the green days of say forty years ago? What do you think of
Prof. William Henry Peck’s “Cryptogram?” Were not Sylvanus Cobb, Jr.,
and Emerson Bennett authors of renown--honor to their dust, wherever it
lies! Didn’t you read Mrs. Southworth’s “Capitola” or the “Hidden Hand”
 long before “Vashti” was dreamed of? Don’t you remember that No. 52
of Beadle’s Dime Library (light yellowish red paper covers) was
“Silverheels, the Delaware,” and that No. 77 was “Schinderhannes,
the Outlaw of the Black Forest?” I yield to no man in affection and
reverence for M. Dumas, Mr. Thackeray and others of the higher circles,
but what’s the matter with Ned Buntline, honest, breezy, vigorous,
swinging old Ned? Put the “Three Guardsmen” where you will, but there is
also room for “Buffalo Bill, the Scout.” When I first saw Col. Cody, an
ornament to the theatre and a painful trial to the drama, and realized
that he was Buffalo Bill in the flesh--why, I was glad I had also read
“Buffalo Bill’s Last Shot”--(may he never shoot it). The day has passed
forever, probably, when Buffalo Bill shall shout to his other scouts,
“You set fire to the girl while I take care of the house!” or vice
versa, and so saying, bear the fainting heroine triumphantly off from
the treacherous redskins. But the story has lived.

       *       *       *       *       *

It was a happy and honored custom in the old days for subscribers to
the New York Ledger and the New York Weekly to unite in requests for
the serial republication of favorite stories in those great fireside
luminaries. They were the old-fashioned, broadside sheets and, of
course, there were insuperable difficulties against preserving the
numbers. After a year or two, therefore, there would awaken a general
hunger among the loyal hosts to “read the story over,” and when the
demand was sufficiently strong the publishers would repeat it, cuts,
divisions, and all, just as at first. How many times the “Gunmaker
of Moscow” was repeated in the Ledger, heaven knows. I remember I
petitioned repeatedly for “Buffalo Bill” in the Weekly, and we got
it, too, and waded through it again. By wading, I don’t mean pushing
laboriously and tediously through, but, by George! half immersion in the
joy. It was a week between numbers, and a studious and appreciative boy
made no bones of reading the current weekly chapters half a dozen times
over while waiting for the next.

It must have been ten years later that I felt a thrill at the coming of
Buffalo Bill himself in his first play. I had risen to the dignity of
dramatic critic upon a journal of limited civilization and boundless
politics, and was privileged to go behind the scenes at the theatre and
actually speak to the actors. (I interviewed Mary Anderson during her
first season, in the parlor of the local hotel, where honest George
Bristow--who kept the cigar stand and could not keep a healthy
appetite--always gave a Thanksgiving order for “two-whole-roast turkeys
and a piece of breast,” and they were served, too, the whole ones going
to some near-by hospital, and the piece of breast to George’s honest
stomach--good, kind soul that he was. And Miss Anderson chewed gum
during the whole period of the interview to the intense amusement of
my elder and brother dramatic critic, who has since become the honored
governor of his adopted state, and toward whom I beg to look with
affectionate memory of those days.) Now, when a man has known novels
intimately, has been dramatic critic, and has traveled with a circus, it
seems to me in all reason he can not fairly have any other earthly
joys to desire. At fifteen I was walking on tip-toe about the house
on Sundays, and going off to the end of the garden to softly whistle
“weekday” tunes, and at twenty I stood off the wings L. U. E., and had
twenty “Black Crook” coryphees in silk tights and tarletan squeeze
past in line, and nod and say, “Is it going all right in front?”
 They--knew--I--was--the--Critic! When you can do that you can laugh at
Byron, roosting around upon inaccessible mountain crags and formulating
solitude and indigestion into poetry!

I waited for Buffalo Bill’s coming with feelings that can not be
described. It was impossible to expect to meet Sir William Wallace
in the flesh, or Sir Wilfred of Ivanhoe, or Capt. D’Artagnan, or
Umslopogaas, or any one of a thousand great fighting heroes; but here
was Buffalo Bill, just as great and glorious and dashing and handsome
as any of them, and my right hand tingled to be grasped in that of the
Bayard of the Prairies. And that hand’s desire was attained. In his
dressing-room between acts I sat nervously on a chair while the splendid
Apollo of frontiersmen, in buckskin and beads, sat on his trunk, with
his long, shapely legs sprawled gracefully out, his head thrown back so
that the mane of brown hair should hang behind. It was glistening with
oil and redolent of barber’s perfume. And we talked there as one man
to another, each apparently without fear. I was certainly nervous and
timid, but he did not notice it, and I am frank to say he did not appear
to feel the slightest personal fear of me. Thus, face to face, I saw the
man with whom I had trod Ned Buntline’s boundless plains and had seen
and encountered a thousand perils and redskins. When the act call came,
and I rose to go, a man stopped at the door and said to him:

“What shall it be to-night, Colonel?”

“A big beef-steak and a bottle of Bass!” answered Buffalo Bill heartily,
“and tell ‘ern to have it hot and ready at 11:15.”

The beef-steak and Bass’ ale were the watchwords of true heroism.
The real hero requires substantial filling. He must have a head and a
heart--but no less a good, healthy and impatient stomach.

In the daily paper the morning I write this I see the announcement of
Buffalo Bill’s “Wild West Show” coming two week’s hence. Good luck to
him! He can’t charge prices too steep for me, and there are six seats
necessary--the best in the amphitheater. And I wish I could be sure the
vigorous spirit of Ned Buntline would be looking down from the blue sky
overhead to see his hero charge the hill of San Juan at the head of the
Rough Riders.

       *       *       *       *       *

This digression may be wide of the subject of novel reading, but
the real novel reader is at home anywhere. He has thoughts, dreams,
reveries, fancies. All the world is his novel and all actions are
stories and all the actors are characters. When Lucile Western, the
excellent American actress, was at the height of her powers, not long
before her last appearances, she had as her leading man a big, slouchy
and careless person, who was advertised as “the talented young English
actor, William Whally.” In the intimacies of private association he
was known as Bill Whally, and his descent was straight down from “Mount
Sinai’s awful height.” He was a Hebrew and no better or more uneven and
reckless actor ever played melodramatic “heavies.” He had a love for
Shakespeare, but could not play him; he had a love of drink and could
gratify it. His vigorous talents purchased for him much forbearance.
I’ve seen Mr. Whally play the fastidious and elegant “Sir Archibald
Levison” in shiny black doe-skin trousers and old-fashioned cloth
gaiters, because his condition rendered the problem of dressing somewhat
doubtful, though it could not obscure his acting. He was the only
walking embodiment of “Bill Sykes” I ever saw, and I contracted the
habit of going to see him kill Miss Western as “Nancy” because he
butchered that young woman with a broken chair more satisfactorily than
anybody else I ever saw. There was a murderer for you--Bill
Sykes! Bad as he was in most things, let us not forget
that--he--killed--Nancy--and--killed--her--well and--thoroughly. If that
young woman didn’t snivel herself under a just sentence of death, I’m no
fit householder to serve on a jury. Every time Miss Western came around
it was my custom to read up fresh on “Oliver Twist” and hurry around and
enjoy Bill Whally’s happy application of retribution with the aid of
the old property chair. There were six other persons whom I succeeded in
persuading to applaud the scene with me every time it was acted.

But there’s a separate chapter for villains.

       *       *       *       *       *

Let us return to the old novels. What curious pranks time plays with
tastes and vogues. Forty years ago N. P. Willis was just faded. Yet he
was long a great comet of literary glitter and obscured many men of much
greater ability. Everybody read him; the annuals hung upon his name; the
ladies regarded him as a finer and more dashing Byron than Byron.
The place he filled was much like that of Congreve, before whom
Shakespeare’s great nose was out of joint for a long time; Congreve, who
was the margarita aluminata major of English poesy and drama and public
life, and is now found in junk stores and in the back line on book
shelves and whom nobody reads now. Willis had his languid affectations,
his superficial cynicism and added to them ostentatious sentimentality.

Does anybody read William Gilmore Simm’s elaborate rhetoric disguised
as novels? He must have written two dozen of them, the Richardson of the
United States. Lovers of delicious wit and intellectual humor still
read Dr. Holmes’ essays, but it would probably take a physician’s
prescription to make them swallow the novels. In what dark corners of
the library are Bayard Taylor’s novels and travels hidden? Will you come
into the garden, Maud, and read Chancellor Walworth’s mighty tragedies
and Miss Mulock’s Swiss-toy historical novels, or will you beg off,
like the honest girl you are, and take a nap? Your sleepiness, dear Miss
Maud, does you credit. By the way, what the deuce is the name of anyone
of these novels? I can recall “Elsie Vernier,” by Dr. Holmes and then
there is a blank.

But what classics they were--then! In the thick of them had appeared a
newspaper story that struggled through and was printed in book form. Old
friends have told me how they waited at the country post-offices to
get a copy, delayed for weeks. It was a scandal to read it in some
localities. It was fiercely attacked as an outrageous exaggeration
produced by temporary excitement and hostile feeling, or praised as a
new gospel. It has been translated into every tongue having a printing
press, and has sold by millions of copies. It was “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.”
 It was not a classic, but what a vigorous immortal mongrel of human
sentiment it was! What a row was kicked up over Miss Braddon’s
“Octoroon,” and what an impossible yellowback it was! The toughest piece
of fiction I met with as a boy was “Sanford and Merton,” and I’ve been
aching to say so for four pages. If this world were full of Sanfords
and Mertons, then give me Jupiter or some other comfortable planet at a
secure sanitary distance removed.

I can’t even remember the writers who were grammatically and
rhetorically perfect forty years ago, and also very dull with it all.
Is there a bookshelf that holds “Leni Leoti, or The Flower of the
Prairies?” There are “Jane Eyre,” “Lady Audley’s Secret,” and “John
Halifax, Gentleman,” which will go with many and are all well worth the
reading, too. Are Mrs. Eliza A. Dupuy, Mrs. E. D. E. N. Southworth,
Mrs. Caroline Lee Hentz and Augusta J. Evans dead? Their novels still
live--look at the book stores. “Linda, or the Young Pilot of the Belle
Creole,” “India, the Pearl of Pearl River,” “The Planter’s Northern
Bride,” “St. Elmo”--they were fiction for you! A boy old enough to have
a first sweetheart could swallow them by the mile.

You remember, when we were boys, the circus acrobats always--always,
remember--rubbed young children with snake-oil and walloped them with a
rawhide to educate them in tumbling and contortion? Well, if I could get
the snake-oil for the joints and a curly young wig, I’d like to get back
at five hundred of those books and devour them again--“as of yore!”



The people that inhabit novels are like other peoples of the earth--if
they are peaceful, they have no history. So that, therefore, in novels,
as in nations, it is the great restless heights of society that are to
be approached with greatest awe and that engage admiration and regard.
Everybody is interested in Nero, but not one person in ten thousand can
tell you anything definite about Constantine or even Marcus Aurelius. If
you should speak off-handedly about Amelia Sedley in the presence of a
thousand average readers you would probably miss 85 per cent. of effect;
if you said Becky Sharp the whole thousand would understand.

There is this to be said of disreputable folk, that they are clever and
picturesque and interesting, at least.

An elderly jeweler in New York City was arrested several years ago
upon the charge of receiving stolen gold and silver plate, watches and
jewelry from well-known thieves. For forty years he had been a
respected merchant, a church officer, a husband, father, and citizen, of
irreproachable reputation, with enduring friendships. He was charitable,
liberal and kindly. For decade after decade he was the experienced, wise
and fatherly “fence” of professional burglars and thieves. Why, it would
be an education in itself to know that man, to shake his honest hand,
fresh from charity or concealment, and smoke a pipe with him and
hear him talk about things frankly. When he gave to the missionary
collection, rest assured he gave sincerely; when he “covered swag,”
 into the melting pot for an industrious burglar, he did so only in the
regular course of business.

Strange as it may seem, even criminals have human feelings in common
with all of us. The old Thug who stepped aside into the bushes and
prayed earnestly while his son was throwing his first strangling
cloth around the throat of the English traveler--prayed for that son’s
honorable, successful beginning in his life devotion--was a good father.
And when he was told that the son had acted with unusual skill, who
can doubt that his tears of joy were sincere and humble tears of
thankfulness? At least Bowanee knew. Can you not imagine a kind-hearted
Chinese matron saying to her neighbor over the bamboo fence, “Yes,
we sent the baby down to the beach (or the river bank or the forest)
yesterday. We couldn’t afford to keep it. I hope the gods have taken its
little soul. At any rate it is sure of salvation hereafter.”

       *       *       *       *       *

Some twenty years ago I took the night train from Pineville to
Barbourville, in the Kentucky mountains, reaching the latter place
about 11 o’clock of a cold, rainy, dark November night. Only one other
passenger alighted. There was an express wagon to take us to the town,
a mile or so distant, and the wagon was already heavy with freight
packages. The road was through a narrow lane, hub-deep with mud, and
what, with stalling and resting, we were more than half an hour getting
to the hotel. My fellow passenger was about my age, and was a shrewd,
well-informed native of the vicinity. He knew the mineral, timber and
agricultural resources, was evidently an enterprising business man and
an intelligent but not voluble talker. He accepted a cigar, and advised
me to see the house in Barbourville where the late Justice Samuel Miller
was born. At the hotel he registered first, and, as he was going to
leave next day and I was to remain several days, he told the clerk to
give me the better of the two rooms vacant. It was a very pleasant act
of thoughtfulness. The name on the register was “A. Johnson.” The next
day I asked the clerk about Mr. Johnson. My fellow passenger was Andy
Johnson, whose fame as a feud-fighter and slayer of men has never been
exceeded in the history of mountain feuds. He then had three or four men
to his credit, definitely, and several doubtful ascriptions. He added a
few more, I believe, before he met the inevitable.

Now, while Mr. Johnson, in all matters where killing seemed to him to be
appropriate, was a most prompt and accurate man in accomplishing it, yet
he was not the murderer that ignorant and isolated folks conceive such
persons to be. The cigar I had given him was a very bad, cheap cigar,
and, if he had merely wanted murder, he had every reason to kill me for
giving it to him, and he had a perfect night for the deed. But he smoked
it to the stub without a complaint or remark and saw that I got the best
room in the hotel. Johnson was a cautious and considerate fellow-man,
whose murders were doubtless private hobbies and exercises growing out
of his environment and heredity.

One of the houses I most delight to enter in a certain town is one where
I am always sure to see a devoted and happy wife and beautiful,
playful children clustering around the armchair in which sits a man who
committed one of the most cold-blooded assassinations you can imagine.
He is an honored, esteemed and model citizen. His acquittal was a
miracle in a million chances. He has justified it. It is beautiful to
see those happy children clinging to the hand that--

Well, dear friends, the dentist is not a cruel man in his social
capacity, and you can get delicious viands instead of nauseous medicines
at the doctor’s private table.

That is why beginning novel readers should take no advice. Strike out
alone through the highways and lanes of story, character and experience.
The best novelist is the one who fears not to tell you the truth, which
is more wonderful than fiction. It is always the best hearts that bend
to mistakes. Absolute virtue is as sterile as granite rock; absolute
vice is as poisonous as a stagnant pond. No healthy interest or
speculation can linger about either. Enter into the struggle and know
human nature; don’t stay outside and try to appear superior.

For, which of us has not his crimes of thought to account for? Think
not, because Andy Johnson or William Sykes or Dr. Webster actually
killed his man, that you are guiltless, because you haven’t. Have you
never wanted to? Answer that, in your conscience and in solitude--not to
me. Speak up to yourself and then say whether the difference between you
and the recorded criminal is not merely the difference between the overt
act and the faltering wish. It is a matter of courage or of custom.
Speaking for one gentleman, who knows himself and is not afraid to
confess, I can say that, while he could not kill a mouse with his own
hand, he has often murdered men in his heart. It may have been in fiery
youth over the wrong name on a dancing card, or, later, when a rival
got the better of him in discussion, or, when the dreary bore came and
wouldn’t go, or, when misdirected goodness insisted on thrusting upon
him intended kindness that was wormwood and poison to the soul. Are
we not covetous (not confessedly, of course, but actually)? Is not
covetousness the thwarted desire of theft without courage? How many
of us, now--speaking man to man--can open up our veiled thoughts and
desires and then look the Ten Commandments in the eye without blushing?

       *       *       *       *       *

The bravest, noblest, gentlest gentleman I have ever known was the Count
de la Fere, whom we at the Hotel de Troisville, in old Paris, called
“Athos.” He was not merely sans peur et sans reproche as Bayard, but was
positive in his virtues. He fought for his friends without even asking
the cause of the fray. Yet, what a prig he seemed to be at first, with
his eternal gentle melancholy, his irreproachable courtesy, unvarying
kindness and complete unselfishness. You cannot--quite--warm--to--a--man

But, when he ordered the gloomy and awful death of the treacherous
Miladi, woman though she was, and thus as a perfect gentleman took on
human frailty also, ah! how attractively noble and strong he became I In
that respect he was the antithetical corollary of William Sykes, who was
a purposeless, useless and uninterestingly regular scoundrel, thief and
brute, until he redeemed himself by becoming the instrument of social
justice and pounding that unendurable lady, Miss Nancy, of his name,
into absence from the world. Perhaps I have remarked before--and even if
I have it is pleasant to repeat it--that Bill Sykes had his faults, as
also have most of us, but it was given to him to earn forgiveness by the
aid of a cheap chair and the providential propinquity of Miss Nancy. I
never think of it without regretting that poor Bill Whally is dead. He
did it--so--much--to--my--taste!

Who shall we say is the most loved and respected criminal in fiction?
Not Monsignor Rodin, of “The Wandering Jew;” not Thenardier in “Les
Miserables.” These are really not criminals; they are allegorical
figures of perfect crime. They are solar centers, so far off and fixed
that one may regard them only with awe, reverence and fear. They are
types of fate, desire, temptation and chastisement. Let us turn to our
own flesh and blood and speak gratefully of them.

       *       *       *       *       *

Who says Count Fosco? Now there is a criminal worthy of affection and
confidence. What an expansive nature, with kindness presented on every
side. Even the dogs fawned upon him and the birds came at his call.
An accomplished gentleman, considerately mannered--queer, as becomes a
foreigner, yet possessing the touchstone of universal sympathy. Another
man with crime to commit almost certainly would have dispatched it with
ruthless coldness; but how kindly and gently Count Fosco administered
the cord of necessity. With what delicacy he concealed the bowstring
and spoke of the Bosphorus only as a place for moonlight excursions. He
could have presented prussic acid and sherry to a lady in such a manner
as to render the results a grateful sacrifice to his courtesy. It was
all due to his corpulence; a “lean and hungry” villain lacks repose,
patience and the tact of good humor. In almost every small social and
individual attitude Count Fosco was human. He was exceedingly attentive
to his wife in society and bullied her only in private and when
necessary. He struck no dramatic attitudes. “The world is mine oyster!”
 is not said by real men bent on terrible deeds. Count Fosco is the
perfect villain, and also the perfect criminal, inasmuch as he not only
acts naturally, but deliberately determines the action instead of being
drawn into it or having it forced upon him.

He was a highly cultivated type of Andy Johnson, inasmuch as crime
with him was not a life purpose, but what is called in business a
“side-line.” All of us have our hobbies; the closely confined clerk
goes home and roots up his yard to plant flower bulbs or cabbage plants;
another fancies fowls; another man collects pewter pots and old brass
and the millionaire takes to priceless horses; others of us turn from
useful statistics and go broke on novels or poetry or music. Count Fosco
was an educated gentleman and the pleasure of life was his purpose;
crime and intrigue were his recreations. Andy Johnson was a good
business man and wealth producer; murder was the direction in which
his private understanding of personal disagreements was exercised and
vented. Some men turn to poker playing, which is as wasteful as murder
and not half as dignified. Count Fosco is the villain par excellence of
novels. I do not remember what he did, because “The Woman in White” is
the best novel in the world to read gluttonously at a sitting and then
forget absolutely. It is nearly always a new book if you use it that
way. When the world is dark, the fates bilious, the appetite dead
and the infernal twinges of pain or sickness seem beyond reach of the
doctor, “The Woman in White” is a friend indeed.

       *       *       *       *       *

But the man of men for villains, not necessarily criminals; but the
ordinary, every-day, picturesque worthies of good, honest scoundrelism
and disreputableness is Sir Robert Louis Stevenson. You can afford
conscientiously to stuff ballot boxes in order that his election may be
secured as Poet Laureate of Rascals. Leaving out John Silver and Billy
Bones and Alan Breck, whom every privately shriven rascal of us simply
must honor and revere as giants of courage, cunning and controlled,
conscience, Stevenson turned from singles and pairs, and in “The Ebb
Tide,” drove, by turns, tandem and abreast, a four-in-hand of scoundrels
so buoyant, natural, strong, and yet each so totally unlike the others,
that every honest novel reader may well be excused for shedding tears
when he reflects that the marvelous hand and heart that created them are
gone forever from the haunts of the interestingly wicked. No novelist
ever exposed the human nature of rascals as Stevenson did.

Now, lago was not a villain; he was a venomous toad, a scorpion, a
mad-dog, a poisonous plant in a fair meadow. There was nobody lago
loved, no weakness he concealed, no point of contact with any human
being. His sister was Pandora, his brother made the shirt of Nessus,
himself dealt in Black Plagues and the Leprosy. The old Serpent was
permitted to rise from his belly and walk upright on the tip of his tail
when he met Iago, as a demonstration of moral superiority. But think
of those three Babes-in-the-Wood villains, skipper Davis, the Yankee
swashbuckler and ship scuttler; Herrick, the dreamy poet, ruined by
commerce and early love, with his days of remorse and his days of
compensatary liquor; and Huish, the great-hearted Scotch ruffian, who
chafed at the conventional concealments of trade among pals and never
could--as a true Scotchman--understand why you should wait to use a
knife upon a victim when promptness lay in the club right at hand--think
of them sailing out of Honolulu harbor on the Farallone.

Let who will prefer to have sailed with Jason or Aeneas or Sinbad; but
the Farallone and its precious freight of rascality gets my money every
time. Think of the three incomparable reprobates afloat, with one case
of smallpox and a cargo of champagne, daring to make no port, with over
a hundred million square miles of ocean around them, every ten lookout
knots of it containing a possible peril! It was simply grand--not
pirates, shipwrecks or mutinies could beat that problem. And the pathos
of the sixth day, when, with every man Jack of them looking delirium
tremens in the face and suspecting each the other, Mr. Huish opened a
new case of champagne and--found clear spring water under the French
label! The honest scoundrels had been laid by the heels by a common wine
merchant in the regular way of business! Oh, gentlemen, there should be
honor in business; so that gallant villains can be free of betrayal.

The keynote of these gentlemen is struck in the second chapter, where
all three of them writing lies home--Davis and Herrick, sentimental
equivocations, Huish the strongest of brag with nobody to send it to.
In a burst of weakness Davis tells Herrick what a villain he has been,
through rum, and how he can not let his daughter, “little Adar,” know
it. “Yes, there was a woman on board,” he said, describing the ship
he had scuttled. “Guess I sent her to hell, if there’s such a place.
I never dared go home again, and I don’t know,” he added, bitterly,
“what’s come to them.”

“Thank you, Captain,” said Herrick, “I never liked you better!”

Is it not in human nature to cuddle to a great sheepish murderer like
that, who groans in secret for his little girl--if even the girl was
truth? I think she turned out a myth, but he had the sentiment.

Was there ever a more melancholy, remorse-stricken wretch than Cap’n
Davis? Or a gentler and seedier poet than Herrick? Or a more finely
sodden and soaked old rum sport than Huish (not--Whish!) But it was not
until they fell in with Attwater that their weakness as scoundrels was
exposed. Attwater was so splendidly religious! He was determined to have
things right if he had to have them so by bloodshed; he saved souls by
bullets. Things were right when they were as he thought they should
be. And believing so, with Torquemada, Alexander Sixtus and other most
religious brethren, he was ready to set up the stake and fagot and
cauterize sin with fire. One thing you can say about the religious folks
that are big with cocksureness and a mission--they may make mistakes,
but the mistake doesn’t talk and criticise.

       *       *       *       *       *

The only rascal worthy to travel in company with Stevenson’s rascals
is the Chevalier Balibari, of Castle Barry, in Ireland, whose admirable
memoirs have been so well told by Mr. Thackeray. The Baron de la Motte
in “Denis Duval,” was advantageously born to ornament the purple and
fine linen of picturesque unrighteousness--but his was a brief star that
fell unfinished from its place amidst the Pleiades. Thackeray’s genius
ran more to disreputable men than to actual villains. But he drew two
scoundrels that will serve as beacon lights to any clean-souled youth
with the instinct to take warning. One was Lord Steyne, the other, Dr.
George Brand Firmin; one the aristocratic, class-bred, cynical brute,
the other the cold, tuft-hunting trained hypocrite. What encouragement
of self-respect Judas Iscariot might have received if he had met Dr.

Dr. Chadband, Mr. Pecksniff, Bill Sykes, Fagin, Mr. Murdstone, of
Dickens’ family--they are all strong in impression, but wholly unreal;
mere stage villains and caricatures. A villain who has no good traits,
no hobbies of kindness and affection, is never born into the world; he
is always created by grotesque novel writers.

The villains of Dumas, Hugo, Balzac, Daudet are French. There may have
been, or may be now such prototypes alive in France--because the Dreyfus
case occurred in France, and no doubt much can happen in that fine,
fertile country which translators cannot fully convey over the
frontiers; but they have always seemed to me first cousins to my
friends, the ogres, the evil magicians and the werewolves, and, in that
much, not quite natural.

For heroes of the genuine cavalleria type, plumed, doubleted, pumpt and
magnificent, give me Dumas; for good folks and true, the great American
Fenimore Cooper; but for the blessed company of blooming, breathing
rascals, Stevenson and Thackeray all the time.



Let us agree at the start that no perfect hero can be entirely mortal.
The nearer the element of mortality in him corresponds to the heel
measure of Achilles, the better his chance as hero. The Egyptian and
Greek heroes were invariably demi-gods on the paternal or maternal side.
Few actual historic heroes have escaped popular scandal concerning their
origin, because the savage logic in us demands lions from a lion; that
Theseus shall trace to Mars; that courage shall spring from courage.

Another most excellent thing about the ideal hero is that the immortal
quality enables him to go about the business of his heroism without
bothering his head with the rights or wrongs of it, except as the
prevailing sentiment of social honor (as distinguished from the inborn
sentiment of honesty) requires at the time. Of course, there is a lower
grade of measly, “moral heroes,” who (thank heaven and the innate sense
of human justice!) are usually well peppered with sorrow and punishment.
The hero of romance is a different stripe; Hyperion to a Satyr. He
doesn’t go around groaning page after page of top-heavy debates as to
the inherent justice of his cause or his moral right to thrust a tallow
candle between the particular ribs behind which the heart of his enemy
is to be found--balancing his pros and cons, seeking a quo for each
quid, and conscientiously prowling for final authorities. When you
invade the chiropodical secret of the real hero’s fine boot, or brush
him in passing--if you have looked once too often at a certain lady, or
have stood between him and the sun, or even twiddled your thumbs at him
in an indecorous or careless manner--look to it that you be prepared
to draw and mayhap to be spitted upon his sword’s point, with honor.
Sdeath! A gentlemen of courage carries his life lightly at the needle
end of his rapier, as that wonderful Japanese, Samsori, used to make the
flimsiest feather preside in miraculous equilibration upon the tip of
his handsome nose.

No hero who does more or less than is demanded by the best practical
opinion of the society of his time is worth more than thirty cents as
a hero. Boys are literary and dramatic critics so far above the critics
formed by strained formulas of the schools that you can trust them.
They have an unerring distrust of the fellow who moves around with his
confounded conscientious scruples, as if the well-settled opinion of the
breathing world were not good enough for him! Who the deuce has got any
business setting everybody else right?

Some of these days I believe it is going to be discovered that the
atmosphere and the encompassing radiance and sweetness of Heaven are
composed of the dear sighs and loving aspirations of earthly motherhood.
If it turns out otherwise, rest assured Heaven will not have reached
its perfect point of evolution. Why is it, then, that mothers
will--will--will--try, so mistakenly, to extirpate the jewel of honest,
manly savagery from the breasts of their boys? I wonder if they know
that when grown men see one of these “pretty-mannered boys,” cocksure
as a Swiss toy new painted and directed by watch spring, they feel an
unholy impulse to empty an ink-bottle over the young calf? Fauntleroy
kids are a reproach to our civilization. Men, women and children, all of
us, crowd around the grimy Deignan of the Merrimac crew, and shout and
cheer for Bill Smith, the Rough Rider, who carried his mate out of the
ruck at San Juan and twirls his hat awkwardly and explains: “Ef I hadn’t
a saw him fall he would ‘a’ laid thar yit!”--and go straight home and
pretend to be proud of a snug little poodle of a man who doesn’t play
for fear of soiling his picture-clothes, and who says: “Yes, sir, thank
you,” and “No, thank you, ma’am,” like a French doll before it has had
the sawdust kicked out of it!

       *       *       *       *       *

Now, when a hero tries to stamp his acts with the precise quality of
exact justice--why, he performs no acts. He is no better than that poor
tongue-loose Hamlet, who argues you the right of everything, and then,
by the great Jingo! piles in and messes it all by doing the wrong thing
at the wrong time and in the wrong manner. It is permitted of course to
be a great moral light and correct the errors of all the dust of earth
that has been blown into life these ages; but human justice has been
measured out unerringly with poetry and irony to such folk. They are
admitted to be saints, but about the time they have got too good for
their earthly setting, they have been tied to stakes and lighted up
with oil and faggots; or a soda phosphate with a pinch of cyanide of
potassium inserted has been handed to them, as in the case of our old
friend, Socrates. And it’s right. When a man gets too wise and good
for his fellows and is embarrassed by the healthful scent of good human
nature, send him to heaven for relief, where he can have the goodly
fellowship of the prophets, the company of the noble army of martyrs,
and amuse himself suggesting improvements upon the vocal selections
of cherubim and seraphim! Impress the idea upon these gentry with

       *       *       *       *       *

The ideal hero of fiction, you say, is Capt. D’Artagnan, first name
unknown, one time cadet in the Reserves of M. de Troisville’s company
of the King’s Guards, intrusted with the care of the honor and safety of
His Majesty, Louis XIV. Very well; he is a noble gentleman; the
choice does honor to your heart, mind and soul; take him and hold the
remembrance of his courage, loyalty, adroitness and splendid endurance
with hooks of steel. For myself, while yielding to none who honor
the great D’Artagnan, yet I march under the flag of the Sieur Bussy
d’Amboise, a proud Clermont, of blood royal in the reign of Henry
III., who shed luster upon a court that was edified by the wisdom of M.
Chicot, the “King’s Brother,” the incomparable jester and philosopher,
who would have himself exceeded all heroes except that he despised the
actors and the audience of the world’s theater and performed valiant
feats only that he might hang his cap and bells upon the achievements in

Can it be improper to compare D’Artagnan and Bussy--when the intention
is wholly respectful and the motive pure? If a single protest is
heard, there will be an end to this paper now--at once. There are some
comparisons that strengthen both candidates. For, we must consider the
extent of the theater and the stage, the space of time covering the
achievements, the varying conditions, lights and complexities. As,
for instance, the very atmosphere in which these two heroes moved, the
accompaniment of manner which we call the “air” of the histories, and
which are markedly different. The contrast of breeding, quality and
refinement between Bussy and D’Artagnan is as great as that which
distinguishes Mercutio from the keen M. Chicot. Yet each was his own
ideal type. Birth and the superior privileges of the haute noblesse
conferred upon the Sieur Bussy the splendid air of its own sufficient
prestige; the lack of these require of D’Artagnan that his intelligence,
courage and loyal devotion should yet seem to yield something of their
greatness in the submission that the man was compelled to pay to
the master. True, this attitude was atoned for on occasion by blunt
boldness, but the abased position and the lack of subtle distinction of
air and mind of the noble, forbade to the Fourth Mousquetaire the last
gracious touch of a Bayard of heroism. But the vulgarity was itself

       *       *       *       *       *

Compare the first appearance of the great Gascon at the Hotel de
Troisville, or even his manner and attitude toward the King when he
sought to warn that monarch against forgetfulness of loyalty proved,
with the haughty insolence of indomitable spirit in which Bussy threw
back to Henry the shuttle of disfavor on the night of that remarkable
wedding of St. Luc with the piquant little page soubrette, Jeanne de

D’Artagnan’s air to his King has its pathos. It seems to say: “I speak
bluntly, sire, knowing that my life is yours and yet feeling that it is
too obscure to provoke your vengeance.” A very hard draught for a man
of fire and fearlessness to take without a gulp. But into Bussy’s manner
toward his King there was this flash of lightning from Olympus: “My
life, sire, is yours, as my King, to take or leave; but not even you
may dare to think of taking the life of Bussy with the dust of least
reproach upon it. My life you may blow out; my honor you do not dare
approach to question!”

There are advantages in being a gentleman, which can not be denied.
One is that it commands credit in the King’s presence as well as at the

It is interesting to compare both these attitudes with that of
“Athos,” the Count de la Fere, toward the King. He was lacking in
the irresistibly fierce insolence of Bussy and in the abasement of
D’Artagnan; it was melancholy, patient, persistent and terrible in its
restrained calmness. How narrowly he just escaped true greatness. I
would no more cast reproaches upon that noble gentleman than I would
upon my grandmother; but he--was--a--trifle--serous, wasn’t he? He was
brave, prompt, resourceful, splendid, and, at need, gingerish as the
best colt in the paddock. It is the deuce’s own pity for a man to be
born to too much seriousness. Do you know--and as I love my country, I
mean it in honest respect--that I sometimes think that the gentleness
and melancholy of Athos somehow suggests a bit of distrust. One is
almost terrified at times lest he may begin the Hamlet controversies.
You feel that if he committed a murder by mistake you are not absolutely
sure he wouldn’t take a turn with Remorse. Not so Bussy; he would throw
the mistake in with good will and not create worry about it. Hang it
all, if the necessary business of murder is to halt upon the shuffling
accident of mistake, we may as well sell out the hero business and rent
the shop. It would be down to the level of Hamlet in no time. Unless, of
course, the hero took the view of it that Nero adopted. It is improbable
that Nero inherited the gift of natural remorse; but he cultivated one
and seemed to do well with it. He used to reflect upon his mother and
his wife, both of whom he had affectionately murdered, and justified
himself by declaring that a great artist, who was also the Roman
Emperor, would be lacking in breadth of emotional experience and
retrospective wisdom, unless he knew the melancholy of a two-pronged
family remorse. And from Nero’s standpoint it was one of the best
thoughts that he ever formulated into language.

To return to Bussy and D’Artagnan. In courage they were Hector and
Achilles. You remember the champagne picnic before the bastion St.
Gervais at the siege of St. Rochelle? What light-hearted gayety amid the
flying missiles of the arquebusiers! Yet, do not forget that--ignoring
the lacquey--there were four of them, and that his Eminence, the
Cardinal Duke, had said the four of them were equal to a thousand men!
If you have enough knowledge of human nature to understand the fine
game of baseball, and have at any time scraped acquaintance with the
interesting mathematical doctrine of progressive permutations, you will
see, when four men equal to a thousand are under the eyes of each other,
and of the garrison in the fort, that the whole arsenal of logarithms
would give out before you could compute the permutative possibilities
of the courage that would be refracted, reflected, compounded and
concentrated by all there, each giving courage to and receiving courage
from each and all the others. It makes my head ache to think of it. I
feel as if I could be brave myself.

Certainly they were that day. To the bitter end of finishing the meal;
and they confessed the added courage by gamboling like boys amid awful
thunders of the arquebuses, which made a rumble in their time like their
successors, the omnibuses, still make to this day on the granite streets
of cities populated by deaf folks.

There never was more of a gay, lilting, impudent courage than those four
mousquetaires displayed with such splendid coolness and spirit.

But compare it with the fight which Bussy made, single-handed, against
the assassins hired by Monsereau and authorized by that effeminate
fop, the Due D’Anjou. Of course you remember it. Let me pay you the
affectionate compliment of presuming that you have read “La Dame de
Monsereau,” often translated under the English title, “Chicot, the
Jester,” that almost incomparable novel of historical romance, by M.
Dumas. If, through some accident or even through lack of culture, you
have failed to do so, pray do not admit it. Conceal your blemish
and remedy the matter at once. At least, seem to deserve respect and
confidence, and appear to be a worthy novel-reader if actually you are
not. There is a novel that, I assure you on my honor, is as good as
the “Three Guardsmen;” but--oh!--so--much--shorter; the pity of it,
too!--oh, the pity of it! On the second reading--now, let us speak with
frank conservatism--on the second reading of it, I give you my word, man
to man, I dreaded to turn every page, because it brought the end nearer.
If it had been granted to me to have one wish fulfilled that fine winter
night, I should have said with humility: “Beneficent Power, string it
out by nine more volumes, presto me here a fresh box of cigars, and the
account of your kindness, and my gratitude is closed.”

       *       *       *       *       *

If the publisher of this series did not have such absurd sensitiveness
about the value of space and such pitifully small ideas about the
nobility of novels, I should like to write at least twenty pages about
“Chicot.” There are books that none of us ever put down in our lists of
great books, and yet which we think more of and delight more in than all
the great guns. Not one of the friends I’ve loved so long and well has
been President of the United States, but I wouldn’t give one of them for
all the Presidents. Just across the hall at this minute I can hear the
frightful din of war--shells whistling and moaning, bullets s-e-o-uing,
the shrieks of the dying and wounded--Merciful Heaven! the “Don Juan
of Asturia” has just blown up in Manila Bay with an awful roar--again!
Again, as I’m a living man, just as she has blown up every day, and
several times every day, since May 1, 1898. There are two warriors over
in the play-room, drenched with imaginary gore, immersed in the tender
grace of bestowing chastening death and destruction upon the Spanish
foe. Don’t I know that they rank somewhat below Admiral Dewey as heroes?
But do you suppose that their father would swap them for Admiral Dewey
and all the rainbow glories that fine old Yankee sea-dog ever will
enjoy--long may he live to enjoy them all!--do you think so? Of course
not! You know perfectly well that his--wife--wouldn’t--let--him!

I would not wound the susceptibilities of any reader; but speaking for
myself--“Chicot” being beloved of my heart--if there was a mean
man, living in a mean street, who had the last volume of “Chicot” in
existence, I would pour out my library’s last heart’s blood to get
it. He could have all of Scott but “Ivanhoe,” all of Dickens but
“Copperfield,” all of Hugo but “Les Miserables,” cords of Fielding,
Marryat, Richardson, Reynolds, Eliot, Smollet, a whole ton of German
translations--by George! he could leave me a poor old despoiled,
destitute and ruined book-owner in things that folks buy in costly
bindings for the sake of vanity and the deception of those who also
deceive them in turn.

Brother, “Chicot” is a book you lend only to your dearest friend, and
then remind him next day that he hasn’t sent it back.

       *       *       *       *       *

Now, as to Bussy’s great fight. He had gone to the house of Madame Diana
de Monsereau. I am not au fait upon French social customs, but let us
presume his being there was entirely proper, because that excellent lady
was glad to see him. He was set upon by her husband, M. de Monsereau,
with fifteen hired assassins. Outside, the Due D’Anjou and some others
of assassins were in hiding to make sure that Monsereau killed Bussy,
and that somebody killed Monsereau! There’s a “situation” for you,
double-edged treachery against--love and innocence, let us say. Bussy
is in the house with Madame. His friend, St. Luc, is with him; also
his lacquey and body-physician, the faithful Rely. Bang! the doors are
broken in, and the assassins penetrate up the stairway. The brave Bussy
confides Diana to St. Luc and Rely, and, hastily throwing up a barricade
of tables and chairs near the door of the apartment, draws his sword.
Then, ye friends of sudden death and valorous exercise, began a surfeit
of joy. Monsereau and his assassins numbered sixteen. In less than three
moderate paragraphs Bessy’s sword, playing like avenging lightning,
had struck fatality to seven. Even then, with every wrist going, he
reflected, with sublime calculation: “I can kill five more, because I
can fight with all my vigor ten minutes longer!” After that? Bessy could
see no further--there spoke fate!--you feel he is to die. Once more the
leaping steel point, the shrill death cry, the miraculous parry. The
villain, Monsereau, draws his pistol. Bessy, who is fighting half
a dozen swordsmen, can even see the cowardly purpose; he watches;
he--dodges--the--bullets!--by watching the aim--

  “Ye sons of France, behold the glory!”

He thrusts, parries and swings the sword as a falchion. Suddenly a
pistol ball snaps the blade off six inches from the hilt.
Bessy picks up the blade and in an instant
splices--it--to--the--hilt--with--his--handkerchief! Oh, good sword
of the good swordsman! it drinks the blood of three more before
it--bends--and--loosens--under--the--strain! Bessy is shot in the thigh;
Monsereau is upon him; the good Rely, lying almost lifeless from a
bullet wound received at the outset, thrusts a rapier to Bessy’s grasp
with a last effort. Bessy springs upon Monsereau with the great bound
of a panther and

You can feel faint for joy at that passage for a good dozen readings, if
you are appreciative. Poor Bessy, faint from wounds and blood-letting,
retreats valiantly to a closet window step by step and drops out,
leaving Monsereau spitted, like a black spider, dead on the floor.
Here hope and expectation are drawn out in your breast like chewing
gum stretched to the last shred of tenuation. At this point I firmly
believed that Bessy would escape. I feel sorry for the reader who does
not. You just naturally argue that the faithful Rely will surely reach
him and rub him with the balsam. That balsam of Dumas! The same that
D’Artagnan’s mother gave him when he rode away on the yellow horse,
and which cured so many heroes hurt to the last gasp. That miraculous
balsam, which would make doctors and surgeons sing small today if they
had not suppressed it from the materia medica. May be they can silence
their consciences by the reflection that they suppressed it to enhance
the value and necessity of their own personal services. But let them
look at the death rate and shudder. I had confidence in Rely and the
balsam, but he could not get there in time. Then, it was forgone that
Bessy must die. Like Mercutio, he was too brilliant to live. Depend upon
it, these wizards of story tellers know when the knell of fate rings
much sooner than we halting readers do.

Bessy drops from the closet window upon an iron fence that surrounded
the park and was impaled upon the dreadful pickets! Even then for
another moment you can cherish a hope that he may escape after all.
Suspended there and growing weaker, he hears footsteps approaching. Is
it a rescuing friend? He calls out--and a dagger stroke from the hand of
D’Anjou, his Judas master, finds his heart. That’s the way Bessy died.
No man is proof against the dagger stroke of treachery. Bessy was
powerful and the due jealous.

Diana has been carried off safely by the trustworthy St. Luc. She must
have died of grief if she had not been kept alive to be the instrument
of retributive justice. (In the sequel you will find that this Queen of
Hearts descended upon the ignoble due at the proper time like a thousand
of brick and took the last trick of justice.)

       *       *       *       *       *

The extraordinary description of Bussy’s fight is beyond everything. You
gallop along as if in a whirlwind, and it is only in cooler moments that
you discover he killed about twelve rascals with his own good arm. It
seems impossible; the scientific, careful readers have been known to
declare it impossible and sneer at it with laughter. I trust every
novel reader respects scientific folks as he should; but science is not
everything. Our scientific friends have contended that the whale did not
engulf Jonah; that the sun did not pause over the vale of Askelon; that
Baron Munchausen’s horse did not hang to the steeple by his bridle;
that the beanstalk could not have supported a stout lad like Jack; that
General Monk was not sent to Holland in a cage; that Remus and Romulus
had not a devoted lady wolf for a step-mother; in fact, that loads of
things, of which the most undeniable proof exists in plain print all
over the world, never were done or never happened. Bessy was killed,
Rely was killed later, Diana died in performing her destiny, St. Luc was
killed. Nobody left to make affidavits, except M. Dumas; in his lifetime
nobody questioned it; he is now dead and unable to depose; whereupon the
scientists sniff scornfully and deny. I hope I shall always continue to
respect science in its true offices, but, brethren, are there not times

Heroes! D’Artagnan or Bessy? Choose, good friends, freely; as freely let
me have my Bessy.



Notwithstanding the subject, there are almost no heroines in novels.
There are impossibly good women, absurdly patient and brave women, but
few heroines as the convention of worldly thinking demands heroines.
There is an endless train of what Thackeray so aptly described as “pale,
pious, and pulmonary ladies” who snivel and snuffle and sigh and
linger irresolutely under many trials which a little common sense would
dissolve; but they are pathological heroines. “Little Nell,” “Little
Eva,” and their married sisters are unquestionable in morals, purpose
and faith; but oh! how--they--do--try--the--nerves! How brave and noble
was Jennie Deans, but how thick-headed was the dear lass!

These women who are merely good, and enforce it by turning on the faucet
of tears, or by old-fashioned obstinacy, or stupidity of purpose, can
scarcely be called heroines by the canons of understood definition.
On the other hand, the conventions do not permit us to describe as a
heroine any lady who has what is nowadays technically called “a past.”
 The very best men in the world find splendid heroism and virtue in Tess
l’Durbeyfield. There is nowhere an honest, strong, good man, full of
weakness, though he may be, scarred so much, however with fault, who
does not read St. John vii., 3-11, with sympathy, reverence and Amen!
The infallible critics can prove to a hair that this passage is an
interpolation. An interpolation in that sense means something inserted
to deceive or defraud; a forgery. How can you defraud or deceive anybody
by the interpolation of pure gold with pure gold? How can that be a
forgery which hurts nobody, but gives to everybody more value in the
thing uttered? If John vii., 3-11, is an interpolation let us hope
Heaven has long ago blessed the interpolator. Does anybody--even the
infallible critic--contend that Jesus would not have so said and done
if the woman had been brought to Him? Was that not the very flower and
savor and soul of His teaching? Would He have said or done otherwise?
If the Ten Commandments were lost utterly from among men there would yet
remain these four greater:

“Do unto others as ye would they should do unto you.”

“Suffer little children to come unto me.”

“Go and sin no more.”

“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

My lords and ladies, men and women, the Ten Commandments, by the side of
these sighs of gentleness, are the Police Court and the Criminal Code,
which are intended to pay cruelty off in punishment. These Four are
the tears with which sympathy soothes the wounds of suffering. Blessed
interpolator of St. John!

There are three marvelous novels in the Bible--not Novels in the sense
of fiction, but in the sense of vivid, living narratives of human
emotions and of events. A million Novels rest on those nine verses in
John, and the nine verses are better than the million books. The story
of David and Uriah’s wife is in a similar catalogue as regards quality
and usefulness; the story of Esther is a pearl of great beauty.

       *       *       *       *       *

But to return to heroines, let us make a volte face. There is an old
story of the lady who wrote rather irritably to Thackeray, asking,
curtly, why all the good women he created were fools and the bright
women all bad. “The same complaint,” he answered, “has been made,
Madame, of God and Shakespeare, and as neither has given explanation I
can not presume to attempt one.” It was curt and severe, and, of course,
Thackeray did not write it as it would appear, even though he may have
said as much jestingly to some intimate who understood the epigram;
but was not the question rather impudently intrusive? Thackeray, you
remember, was the “seared cynic” who created Caroline Gann, the gentle,
beautiful, glorious “Little Sister,” the staunch, pure-hearted woman
whose character not even the perfect scoundrelism of Dr. George Brand
Firmin could tarnish or disturb. If there are heroines, surely she has
her place high amid the noble group!

There are plenty of intelligent persons sacramentally wedded to mere
conventions of good and bad. You could never persuade them that Rebecca
Sharp--that most perfect daughter of Thackeray’s mind--was a heroine.
But of course she was. In that world wherein she was cast to live she
was indubitably, incomparably, the very best of all the inhabitants
to whom you are intimately introduced. Capt. Dobbin? Oh, no, I am not
forgetting good Old Dob. Of all the social door mats that ever I
wiped my feet upon Old Dob is certainly the cleanest, most patient,
serviceable and unrevolutionary. But, just a door mat, with the virtues
and attractions of that useful article of furniture--the sublime,
immortal prig of all the ages, or you can take the head of any
novel-reader under thirty for a football. You may have known many women,
from Bernadettes of Massavielle to Borgias of scant neighborhoods, but
you know you never knew one who would marry Old Dob, except as that
emotional dishrag, Amelia, married him--as the Last Chance on the
stretching high-road of uncertain years. No girl ever willingly marries
door mats. She just wipes her feet on them and passes on into the
drawing room looking for the Prince. It seems to me one of the
triumphant proofs of Becky as a heroine that she did not marry Captain
Dobbin. She might have done it any day by crooking her little finger at
him--but she didn’t.

Madame Becky, that smart daughter of an alcoholic gentleman artist
and of his lady of the French ballet, inherited the perfect non-moral
morality of the artist blood that sang mercurially through her veins.
How could she, therefore, how could she, being non-moral, be immoral? It
is clear nonsense. But she did possess the instinctive artist
morality of unerring taste for selection in choice. Examine the facts
meticulously--meticulously--and observe how carefully she selected that
best in all that worst she moved among.

In the will I shall some day leave behind me there will be devised, in
primogenitural trust forever, the priceless treasure of conviction that
Becky was innocent of Lord Steyne. I leave it to any gentleman who has
had the great opportunity to look in familiarly upon the outer and upper
fringes of the world of unclassed and predatory women and the noble
lords that abound thereamong. Let him read over again that famous scene
where Becky writes her scorn upon Steyne’s forehead in the noble blood
of that aristocratic wolf. Then let him give his decision, as an honest
juryman upon his oath, whether he is convinced that the most noble
Marquis was raging because he was losing a woman, or from the discovery
that he was one of two dupes facing each other, and that he was the fool
who had paid for both and had had “no run for his money!” Marquises of
Steyne do not resent sentimental losses--they can be hurt only in their

You may begin with the Misses Pinkerton (in whose select school Becky
absorbed the intricate hypocrisies and saturated snobbery of the highest
English society) and follow her through all the little and big turmoils
of her life, meeting on the way of it all the elaborated differentials
of the country-gentleman and lady tribe of Crawley, the line officers
and bemedalled generals of the army (except honest O’Dowd and his lady),
the most noble Marquis and his shadowy and resigned Marchioness, the
R--y--l P--rs--n--ge himself--even down to the tuft-hunters Punter and
Loder--and if Becky is not superior to every man and woman of them in
every personal trait and grace that calls for admiration--then, why, by
George! do you take such an interest, such an undying interest, in her?
You invariably take the greatest interest in the best character in a
story--unless it’s too good and gets “sweety” and “sticky” and so sours
on your philosophical stomach. You can’t possibly take any interest in
Dobbin--you just naturally, emphatically, and in the most unreflecting
way in the world, say “Oh, d--n Dobbin!” and go right ahead after
somebody else. I don’t say Becky was all that a perfect Sunday School
teacher should have been, but in the group in which she was born to move
she smells cleaner than the whole raft of them--to me.

       *       *       *       *       *

Thackeray was, next to Shakespeare, the writer most wonderfully combined
of instinct and reason that English literature of grace has produced. He
has been compared with the Frenchman, Balzac. Since I have no desire to
provoke squabbles about favorite authors, let us merely definitely agree
that such a comparison is absurd and pass on. Because you must have
noticed that Balzac was often feeble in his reason and couldn’t make it
keep step with his instinct, while in Thackeray they both step together
like the Siamese twins. It is a very striking fact, indeed, that during
all Becky’s intense early experiences with the great world, Thackeray
does not make her guilty. All the circumstances of that world were
guilty and she is placed amidst the circumstances; but that is all.

“The ladies in the drawing room,” said one lady to Thackeray, when
“Vanity Fair” in monthly parts publishing had just reached the
catastrophe of Rawdon, Rebecca, old Steyne and the bracelet--“The
ladies have been discussing Becky Sharpe and they all agree that she was
guilty. May I ask if we guessed rightly?”

“I am sure I don’t know,” replied the “seared cynic,” mischievously. “I
am only a man and I haven’t been able to make up my mind on that point.
But if the ladies agree I fear it may be true--you must understand your
sex much better than we men!”

That is proof that she was not guilty with Steyne. But straightway then,
Thackeray starts out to make her guilty with others. It is so much the
more proof of her previous innocence that, incomparable artist as he
was in showing human character, he recognized that he could convince
the reader of her guilt only by disintegrating her, whipping himself
meanwhile into a ceaseless rage of vulgar abuse of her, a thing of which
Thackeray was seldom guilty. But it was not really Becky that
became guilty--it was the woman that English society and Thackeray
remorselessly made of her. I wouldn’t be a lawyer for a wagon load of
diamonds, but if I had had to be a lawyer I should have preferred to
be a solicitor at the London bar in 1817 to write the brief for the
respondent in the celebrated divorce case of Crawley vs. Crawley.
Against the back-ground of the world she lived in Becky could have been
painted as meekly white and beautiful as that lovely old picture of St.
Cecilia at the Choir Organ.

Perhaps Becky was not strictly a heroine; but she was a honey.

       *       *       *       *       *

Men can not “create” heroines in the sense of shadowing forth what
they conceive to be the glory, beauty, courage and splendor of womanly
character. It is the indescribable sum of womanhood corresponding to the
unutterable name of God. The true man’s love of woman is a spirit sense
attending upon the actual senses of seeing, hearing, feeling, tasting
and smelling. The woman he loves enters into every one of these senses
and thus is impounded five-fold upon that union of all of them, which,
together with the miracle of mind, composes what we call the human soul
as a divine essence. She is attached to every religion, yet enters with
authority into none. She is first at its birth, the last to stay
weeping at its death. In every great novel a heroine, unnamed, unspoken,
undescribed, hovers throughout like an essence. The heroism of woman
is her privacy. There is to me no more wonderful, philosophical,
psychological and delicate triumph of literary art in existence than the
few chapters in “Quo Vadis” in which that great introspective genius,
Sienkiewicz, sets forth the growth of the spell of love with which Lygia
has encompassed Vinicius, and the singular development and progress of
the emotion through which Vinicius is finally immersed in human love of
Lygia and in the Christian reverence of her spiritual purity at the same
time. It is the miracle of soul in sex.

Every clean-hearted youth that has had the happiness to marry a good
woman--and, thank Heaven, clean youths and good women are thick as
leaves in Vallambrosa in this sturdy old world of ours--every such youth
has had his day of holy conversion, his touch of the wand conferring
upon him the miracle of love, and he has been a better and wiser man
for it. Not sense love, not the instinctive, restless love of matter for
matter, but the love that descends like the dove amid radiance.

       *       *       *       *       *

We’ve all seen that bridal couple; she is as pretty as peaches; he is as
proud of her as if she were a splendid race horse; he glories in knowing
she is lovely and accepts the admiration offered to her as a tribute to
his own judgment, his own taste and even his merit, which obtained her.
There is a certain amount of silliness in her which he soon detects,
a touch of helplessness, and unsophistication in knowledge of worldly
things that he yet feels is mysteriously guarded against intrusion
upon and which makes companionship with her sometimes irksome. He feels
superior and uncompensated; from the superb isolation of his greater
knowledge, courage and independence, he grants to her a certain tender
pity and protection; he admits her faith and purity and--er--but--you
see, he is sorry she is not quite the well poised and noble creature he
is! Mr. Youngwed is at this time passing through the mental digestive
process of feeling his oats. He is all right, though, if he is half as
good as he thinks he is. He has not been touched by the live wire of
experience--yet; that’s all.

Well, in the course of human events, there comes a time when he is
frightened to death, then greatly relieved and for a few weeks becomes
as proud as if he had actually provided the last census of the United
States with most of the material contained in it. A few months later,
when the feeble whines and howls have found increased vigor of utterance
and more frequency of expression; when they don’t know whether Master
Jack or Miss Jill has merely a howling spell or is threatened with fatal
convulsions; when they don’t know whether they want a dog-muzzle or a
doctor; when Mr. Youngwed has lost his sleep and his temper, together,
and has displayed himself with spectacular effect as a brute, selfish,
irritable, helpless, resourceless and conquered--then--then, my dear
madame, you have doubtless observed him decrease in self-estimated size
like a balloon into which a pin has been introduced, until he looks, in
fact, like Master Frog reduced in bulk from the bull-size, to which he
aspired, to his original degree.

At that time Mrs. Youngwed is very busy with little Jack or Jill, as the
case may be. Her husband’s conduct she probably regards with resignation
as the first heavy burden of the cross she is expected to bear. She
does not reproach him, it is useless; she has perhaps suspected that
his assumed superiority would not stand the real strain. But, he is the
father of the dear baby and, for that precious darling’s sake, she will
be patient. I wonder if she feels that way? She has every right to, and,
for one, I say that I’ll be hanged if I find any fault with her if she
does. That is the way she must keep human, and so balance the little
open accounts that married folks ought to run between themselves for
the purpose of keeping cobwebs and mildew off, or rather of maintaining
their lives as a running stream instead of a stagnant pond. A little
good talking back now and then is good for wives and married men.
Don’t be afraid, Mrs. Youngwed; and when the very worst has come, why
cry--at--him! One tear weighs more and will hit him harder than an ax.
In the lachrymal ducts with which heaven has blessed you, you are more
surely protected against the fires of your honest indignation than you
are by the fire department against a blaze in the house. And be
patient, also; remember, dear sister, that, though you can cry, he has
a gift--that--enables--him--to--swear! You and other wedded wives very
properly object to swearing, but you will doubtless admit that there
is compensation in that when he does swear in his usual good form

This natural outburst of resentment has not lasted three minutes. Mr.
Y. has returned to his couch, sulky and ashamed. He pretends to sleep
ostentatiously; he--does--not! He is thinking with remarkable intensity
and has an eye open. He sees the slender figure in the dim light,
hanging over the crib, he hears the crooning, he begins to suspect that
there is an alloy in his godlikeness. He looks to earth, listens to the
thin, wailing cries, wonders, regrets, wearies, sleeps. At that moment
Mrs. Y. should fall on her knees and rejoice. She would if she could
leave young Jack or Jill; but she can’t--she--never--can. That’s
what sent Mr. Y. to sleep. It is just as well perhaps that Mrs. Y. is

A miracle is happening to Mr. Y. In an hour or two, let us say, there
is a new vocal alarm from the crib. Almost with the first suspicion
of fretfulness or pain the mother has heard it. Heaven’s mysterious
telepathy of instinct has operated. Between angels, babies and mothers
the distance is no longer than your arm can reach. They understand, feel
and hear each other, and are linked in one chain. So, that, when Mr.
Y. has struggled laboriously awake and wonders
if--that--child--is--going--to--howl--all----. Well, he goes no further.
In the dim light he sees again the slender figure hanging over the crib,
he hears the crooning and the retreating sobs. It is just as he saw
and heard before he fell asleep. No complaints, no reproaches, no
irritation. Oh, what a brute he feels! He battles with his reason and
his bewilderment. Had he fallen asleep and left her to bear that strain;
or has she gone anew to the rescue, while he slept without thought? Up
out of his heart the tenderness wells; down into his mind the revelation
comes. The miracle works. He looks and listens. In the figure hanging
there so patiently and tenderly he sees for the first time the wonderful
vision of the sweetheart wife, not lost, but enveloped in the mystery of
motherhood; he hears in the crooning voice a tone he never before knew.
Mother and child are united in mysterious converse. Where did that girl
whom he thought so unsophisticated of the world learn that marvel of
acquaintance with that babe, so far removed from his ability to reach?
It must be that while he knew the world, she understood the secret of
heaven. She is so patient. What a brute he is to grow impatient, when
she endures day and night in rapt patience and the joy of content! She
can enter a world from which he is barred. And, that is his wife!
That was his sweetheart, and is now--ah, what is she? He feels somehow
abashed; he knows that if he were ten times better than he is he might
still feel unworthy to touch the latchet of her shoes; he feels that
reverence and awe have enveloped her, and that the first happy love and
longing are springing afresh in his heart. It is his wife and his
child; apart from him unless he can note and understand that miracle
of nature’s secret. Can he? Well, he will try--oh, what a brute! And he
watches the bending figure, he hears the blending of soft crooning and
retreating sobs--and, listening, he is lost in the wonder and falls
under the spell asleep.

Mrs. Y., you are happy henceforth, if you will disregard certain small
matters, such as whether chairs or hat-racks are for hats, or whether
the marble mantelpiece or the floor is intended for polishing boot

       *       *       *       *       *

Of course, such an incident as has been suggested is but one of
thousands of golden moments when to the husband comes the sudden
dazzling recognition of the mergence of that half-sweetheart,
half-mistress, he has admired and a little tired of, into the
reverential glory and loveliness of wifehood, motherhood, companionhood,
through all life and on through the eternity of inheritance they shall
leave to Jacks and Jills and their little sisters and brothers. In
that lies the priceless secret of Christianity and its influence.
The unspeakably immoral Greeks reared a temple to Pity; the grossest
mythologies of Babylon, Greece, Rome and Carthage could not change
human nature. There have been always persons whose temperament made
them sympathize with grief and pity the suffering; who, caring none
for wealth, had no desire to steal; who purchased a little pleasure for
vanity in the thanks received for kindness given. But Christianity saw
the jewel underneath the passing emotion and gave it value by
cleansing and cutting it. In lust-love is the instinctive secret of the
preservation of the race; but the race is not worth preserving that it
may be preserved only for lust. Upon that animal foundation is to be
built the radiant home of confident, enduring and exchanging love
in which all the senses, tastes, hopes, aspirations and delights of
friendship, companionship and human society shall find hospitality
and comfort. When it has been achieved it is beautiful, a twin to the
delicate rose that lies in its own delicious fragrance, happy on the
pure bosom of a lovely girl--the rose that is finest and most exquisite
because it has sprung from the horrid heat of the compost; but who shall
think of the one in the presence of the pure beauty of the other?

Nature and art are entirely unlike each other, though the one simulates
the other. The art of beauty in writing, said Balzac, is to be able
to construct a palace upon the point of a needle; the art of beauty
in living and loving is to build all the beauty of social life and
aspiration upon the sordid yet solid and persisting instincts of
savagery that lie deep at the bottom of our gross natures.

       *       *       *       *       *

Now, it is in this tender sacred atmosphere, such as Mr. and Mrs.
Youngwed always pass through, that the man worthy of a woman’s
confidence finds the radiant ideal of his heroine. He may with propriety
speak of these transfigured personalities to his intimates or write of
them with kindly pleasantry and suggestion as, perhaps, this will be
considered. But, there is a monitor within that restrains him from
analyzing and describing and dragging into the glare of publicity the
sacred details that give to life all its secret happiness, faith and
delight. To do so would be ten times worse offense against the ethics
of unwritten and unspoken things than describing with pitiless precision
the death beds of children, as Little Nell, Paul Dombey, Dora, Little
Eva, and, thank heaven! only a few others.

How can anybody bear to read such pages without feeling that he is
an intruder where angels should veil their faces as they await the

“It is not permitted to do evil,” says the philosopher, “that good may

There are some things that should remain unspoken and undescribed. Have
you never listened to some great brute of a sincere preacher of the
gospel, as he warned his congregation against the terrible dangers
attending the omission of purely theological rites upon infants? Have
you thought of the mothers of those children, listening, whose little
ones were sick or delicate, and who felt each word of that hard, ominous
warning as an agonizing terror? And haven’t you wanted to kick the
minister out of the pulpit, through the reredos and into the middle
of next week? How can anybody harrow up such tender feelings? How can
anybody like to believe that a little child will be held to account?
Many of us do so believe, perhaps, whether or no; but is it not cruel
to shake the rod of terror over us in public? “Suffer little children
to come unto Me,” said the Master; He did not instruct us to drive them
with fear and terror and trembling. Whenever I have heard such sermons I
have wanted to get up and stalk out of the church with ostentatiousness
of contempt, as if to say to the preacher that his conduct
did--not--meet--with--my--approval. But I didn’t; the philosopher has
his cowardice not less than the preacher.

But there is something meretricious and cheap in the use of material
and subjects that lie warm against the very secret heart of nature. The
mystery of love and the sanctity of death are to be used by writers and
artists only in their ennobling aspect of results. A certain class of
French writers have sickened the world by invading the sacredness of
passion and giving prostitution the semblance of self-abnegated love; a
certain class of English and American writers have purchased popularity
by the meretricious parade of the scenes of death-beds. Both are
violations of the ethics of art as they are of nature. True love as
true sorrow shrinks from exhibition and should be permitted to enjoy
the sacredness of privacy. The famous women of the world, Herodias,
Semiramis, Aspasia, Thais, Cleopatra, Sapho, Messalina, Marie de
Medici, Catherine of Russia, Elizabeth of England--all of them have been
immoral. Publicity to women is like handling to peaches--the bloom comes
off, whether or not any other harm occurs. In literature, the great
feminine figures, George Sand, Madame de Sevigne, Madame de Stael,
George Eliot--all were banned and at least one--the first--was out of
the pale. Creative thought has in it the germ of masculinity. Genius in
a woman, as we usually describe genius, means masculinity, which, of all
things, to real men is abhorrent in woman. True genius in woman is the
antithesis of the qualities that make genius in man; so is her heroism,
her beauty, her virtue, her destiny and her duty.

Let this be said--even though it be only a jest--one of those smart
attempts at epigram, which, ladies, a man has no more power to resist
than a baby to resist the desire to improve his thumb by sucking
it--that: whenever you find a woman who looks real--that is, who
produces upon a real man the impression of being endowed with
the splendid gifts for united and patient companionship in
marriage--whenever you find her advocating equal suffrage, equal rights,
equal independence with men in all things, you may properly run away.
Equality means so much, dear sisters. No man can be your equal; you can
not be his, without laying down the very jewels of the womanliness
that men love. Be thankful you have not this strength and daring;
he possesses those in order that he many stand between you and more
powerful brutes. Now, let us try for a smart epigram: But no! hang the
epigram, let it go. This, however, may be said: That, whenever you find
a woman wanting all rights with man; wanting his morals to be judged
by hers, or willing to throw hers in with his, or itching to enter his
employments and labors and willing that he shall--of course--nurse the
children and patch the small trousers and dresses, depend upon it that
some weak and timid man has been neglecting the old manly, savage duty
of applying quiet home murder as society approves now and then.

*** End of this LibraryBlog Digital Book "The Delicious Vice" ***

Copyright 2023 LibraryBlog. All rights reserved.