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Title: In the Dozy Hours - and other papers
Author: Repplier, Agnes
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "In the Dozy Hours - and other papers" ***

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                           By Miss Repplier.

                BOOKS AND MEN. 16mo, gilt top, $1.25.

                POINTS OF VIEW. 16mo, gilt top, $1.25.

                ESSAYS IN IDLENESS. 16mo, gilt top, $1.25.

                IN THE DOZY HOURS, AND OTHER PAPERS. 16mo, gilt top, $1.25.

                A BOOK OF FAMOUS VERSE. Selected by Agnes Repplier.
                  In Riverside Library for Young People. 16mo, 75 cents;
                 _Holiday Edition_, 16mo, fancy binding, $1.25.

                        HOUGHTON, MIFFLIN & CO.

                         BOSTON AND NEW YORK.

                           IN THE DOZY HOURS

                          _AND OTHER PAPERS_


                            AGNES REPPLIER

                       [Illustration: colophon]

                          BOSTON AND NEW YORK
                     HOUGHTON, MIFFLIN AND COMPANY
                    The Riverside Press, Cambridge

                           Copyright, 1894,
                          By AGNES REPPLIER.

                        _All rights reserved._

           _The Riverside Press, Cambridge, Mass. U. S. A._

           Electrotyped and Printed by H. O. Houghton & Co.

                           ANNIS LEE WISTER

                 [Illustration: text decoration, leaf]



IN THE DOZY HOURS                                                      1

A KITTEN                                                              16

AT THE NOVELIST’S TABLE                                               32

IN BEHALF OF PARENTS                                                  42

AUT CÆSAR, AUT NIHIL                                                  60

A NOTE ON MIRRORS                                                     76

GIFTS                                                                 85

HUMOR: ENGLISH AND AMERICAN                                           94

THE DISCOMFORTS OF LUXURY: A SPECULATION                             112

LECTURES                                                             123

REVIEWERS AND REVIEWED                                               137

PASTELS: A QUERY                                                     153

GUESTS                                                               158

SYMPATHY                                                             165

OPINIONS                                                             176

THE CHILDREN’S AGE                                                   190

A FORGOTTEN POET                                                     201

DIALOGUES                                                            211

A CURIOUS CONTENTION                                                 217

THE PASSING OF THE ESSAY                                             226



“Montaigne and Howell’s letters,” says Thackeray, “are my bedside books.
If I wake at night, I have one or other of them to prattle me to sleep
again. They talk about themselves forever, and don’t weary me. I like to
hear them tell their old stories over and over again. _I read them in
the dozy hours, and only half remember them._”

In the frank veracity of this last confession there lies a pleasant
truth which it is wholesome to hear from such excellent and undisputed
authority. Many people have told us about the advantage of remembering
what we read, and have imparted severe counsels as to ways and means.
Thackeray and Charles Lamb alone have ventured to hint at the equal
delight of forgetting, and of returning to some well-loved volume with
recollections softened into an agreeable haze. Lamb, indeed, with
characteristic impatience, sighed for the waters of Lethe that he might
have more than his due; that he might grasp a double portion of those
serene pleasures of which his was no niggardly share. “I feel as if I
had read all the books I want to read,” he wrote disconsolately to
Bernard Barton. “Oh! to forget Fielding, Steele, etc., and read ’em

This is a wistful fancy in which many of us have had our share. There
come moments of doubt and discontent when even a fresh novel fills us
with shivery apprehensions. We pick it up reluctantly, and look at it
askance, as though it were a dose of wholesome medicine. We linger sadly
for a moment on the brink; and then, warm in our hearts, comes the
memory of happier hours when we first read “Guy Mannering,” or “The
Scarlet Letter,” or “Persuasion;” when we first forgot the world in
“David Copperfield,” or raced at headlong speed, with tingling veins and
bated breath, through the marvelous “Woman in White.” Alas! why were we
so ravenous in our youth? Like the Prodigal Son, we consumed all our
fortune in a few short years, and now the husks, though very excellent
husks indeed, and highly recommended for their nourishing and
stimulating qualities by the critic doctors of the day, seem to our
jaded tastes a trifle dry and savorless. If only we could forget the
old, beloved books, and “read ’em new”! With many this is not possible,
for the impression which they make is too vivid to be obliterated, or
even softened, by time. We may re-read them, if we choose. We do re-read
them often, for the sake of lingering repeatedly over each familiar
page, but we can never “read ’em new.” The thrill of anticipation, the
joyous pursuit, the sustained interest, the final satisfaction,--all
these sensations of delight belong to our earliest acquaintance with
literature. They are part of the sunshine which gilds the halcyon days
of youth.

But other books there be,--and it is well for us that this is so,--whose
tranquil mission is to soothe our grayer years. These faithful comrades
are the “bedside” friends whom Thackeray loved, to whom he returned
night after night in the dozy hours, and in whose generous companionship
he found respite from the fretful cares of day. These are the volumes
which should stand on a sacred shelf apart, and over them a bust of
Hermes, god of good dreams and quiet slumbers, whom the wise ancients
honored soberly, as having the best of all guerdons in his keeping. As
for the company on that shelf, there is room and to spare for poets, and
novelists, and letter-writers; room for those “large, still books” so
dear to Tennyson’s soul, and for essays, and gossipy memoirs, and
gentle, old-time manuals of devotion, and ghost lore, untainted by
modern research, and for the “lying, readable histories,” which grow
every year rarer and more beloved. There is no room for self-conscious
realism picking its little steps along; nor for socialistic dramas, hot
with sin; nor ethical problems, disguised as stories; nor “heroes of
complex, psychological interest,” whatever they may mean; nor
inarticulate verse; nor angry, anarchical reformers; nor dismal records
of vice and disease parading in the covers of a novel. These things are
all admirable in their way, but they are not the books which the calm
Hermes takes under his benign protection. Dull, even, they may be, and
provocative of slumber; but the road to fair dreams lies now, as in the
days of the heroes, through the shining portals of ivory.

Montaigne and James Howell, then, were Thackeray’s bedside
favorites,--“the Perigourdin gentleman, and the priggish little clerk of
King Charles’s Council;” and with these two “dear old friends” he whiled
away many a midnight hour. The charm of both lay, perhaps, not merely in
their diverting gossip, nor in their wide acquaintance with men and
life, but in their serene and enviable uncontentiousness. Both knew how
to follow the sagacious counsel of Marcus Aurelius, and save themselves
a world of trouble by having no opinions on a great variety of subjects.
“I seldom consult others,” writes Montaigne placidly, “and am seldom
attended to; and I know no concern, either public or private, which has
been mended or bettered by my advice.” Ah! what a man was there! What a
friend to have and to hold! What a courtier, and what a country
gentleman! It is pleasant to think that this embodiment of genial
tolerance was a contemporary of John Calvin’s; that this fine scholar,
to whom a few books were as good as many, lived unfretted by the angry
turbulence of men all bent on pulling the world in their own narrow
paths. What wonder that Thackeray forgave him many sins for the sake of
his leisurely charm and wise philosophy! In fact, James Howell, the
“priggish little clerk,” was not withheld by his priggishness from
relating a host of things which are hardly fit to hear. Those were not
reticent days, and men wrote freely about matters which it is perhaps as
healthy and as agreeable to let alone. But Howell was nevertheless a
sincere Churchman as well as a sincere Royalist. He was sound
throughout; and if he lacked the genius and the philosophy of Montaigne,
he was his equal in worldly knowledge and in tolerant good temper. He
heard, enjoyed, and repeated all the gossip of foreign courts, all the
“severe jests” which passed from lip to lip. He loved the beauty of
Italy, the wit of France, the spirit of the Netherlands, and the valor
of Spain. The first handsome woman that earth ever saw, he tells us, was
made of Venice glass, as beautiful and as brittle as are her descendants
to-day. Moreover, “Eve spake Italian, when Adam was seduced;” for in
that beguiling tongue, in those soft, persuasive accents, she felt
herself to be most irresistible.

There is really, as Thackeray well knew, a great deal of pleasing
information to be gathered from the “Familiar Letters,” and no pedagogic
pride, no spirit of carping criticism, mars their delightful flavor. The
more wonderful the tale, the more serene the composure with which it is
narrated. Howell sees in Holland a church monument “where an earl and a
lady are engraven, with three hundred and sixty-five children about
them, which were all delivered at one birth.” Nay, more, he sees “the
two basins in which they were christened, and the bishop’s name who did
it, not yet two hundred years ago;” so what reasonable room is left for
doubt? He tells us the well-authenticated story of the bird with a white
breast which visited every member of the Oxenham family immediately
before death; and also the “choice history” of Captain Coucy, who, dying
in Hungary, sent his heart back to France, as a gift to his own true
love. She, however, had been forced by her father into a reluctant and
unhappy marriage; and her husband, intercepting the token, had it
cooked into a “well-relished dish,” which he persuaded his wife to eat.
When she had obeyed, he told her, in cruel sport, the ghastly nature of
the food; but she, “in a sudden exaltation of joy, and with a
far-fetch’d sigh, cried, ‘This is a precious cordial indeed,’ and so
lick’d the dish, saying, ‘It is so precious that ’tis pity to put ever
any meat upon it.’ So she went to her chamber, and in the morning she
was found stone dead.” Did ever rueful tale have such triumphant ending?

Of other letter-writers, Charles Lamb and Madame de Sévigné are perhaps
best suited for our dozy hours, because they are sure to put us into a
good and amiable frame of mind, fit for fair slumber and the ivory
gates. Moreover, the bulk of Madame de Sévigné’s correspondence is so
great that, unless we have been very faithful and constant readers, we
are likely to open into something which is new to us; and as for Lamb,
those who love him at all love him so well that it matters little which
of his letters they read, or how often they have read them before. Only
it is best to select those written in the meridian of his life. The
earlier ones are too painful, the later ones too sad. Let us take him
at his happiest, and be happy with him for an hour; for, unless we go
cheerfully to bed, the portals of horn open for us with sullen murmur,
and fretful dreams, more disquieting than even the troubled thoughts of
day, flit batlike round our melancholy pillows.

Miss Austen is likewise the best of midnight friends. There stand her
novels, few in number and shabby with much handling, and the god Hermes
smiles upon them kindly. We have known them well for years. There is no
fresh nook to be explored, no forgotten page to be revisited. But we
will take one down, and re-read for the fiftieth time the history of the
theatricals at Mansfield Park; and see Mr. Yates ranting by himself in
the dining-room, and the indefatigable lovers rehearsing amorously on
the stage, and poor Mr. Rushworth stumbling through his two-and-forty
speeches, and Fanny Price, in the chilly little schoolroom, listening
disconsolately as her cousin Edmund and Mary Crawford go through their
parts with more spirit and animation than the occasion seems to demand.
When Sir Thomas returns, most inopportunely, from Antigua, we lay down
the book with a sigh of gentle satisfaction, knowing that we shall find
all these people in the morning just where they belong, and not, after
the fashion of some modern novels, spirited overnight to the antipodes,
with a breakneck gap of months or years to be spanned by our drooping
imaginations. Sir Walter Scott tells us, with tacit approbation, of an
old lady who always had Sir Charles Grandison read to her when she felt
drowsy; because, should she fall asleep and waken up again, she would
lose nothing of the story, but would find the characters just where she
had left them, “conversing in the cedar-parlour.” It would be possible
to take a refreshing nap--did our sympathy allow us such an
alleviation--while Clarissa Harlowe is writing, on some tiny scraps of
hidden paper, letters which fill a dozen printed pages.

Lovers of George Borrow are wont to claim that he is one of the choicest
of bedside comrades. Mr. Birrell, indeed, stoutly maintains that
slumber, healthy and calm, follows the reading of his books just as it
follows a brisk walk or rattling drive. “A single chapter of Borrow is
air and exercise.” Neither need we be very wide awake when we skim over
his pages. He can be read with half-closed eyes, and we feel his stir
and animation pleasantly from without, just as we feel the motion of a
carriage when we are heavy with sleep. Peacock is too clever, and his
cleverness has too much meaning and emphasis for this lazy delight. Yet,
nevertheless, “The Misfortunes of Elphin” is an engaging book to
re-read--if one knows it well already--in moments of drowsy
satisfaction. Then will the convivial humor of “Seithenyn ap Seithyn”
awake a sympathetic echo in our hearts, shorn for the nonce of all moral
responsibility. Then will the roar of the ocean surging through the
rotten dikes make the warm chimney corner doubly grateful. Then is the
reader pleased to follow the fortunes of the uncrowned prince among a
people who, having “no pamphleteering societies to demonstrate that
reading and writing are better than meat and drink,” lived without
political science, and lost themselves contentedly “in the grossness of
beef and ale.” Peacock, moreover, in spite of his keenness and virility,
is easily forgotten. We can “read him new,” and double our enjoyment.
His characters seldom have any substantiality. We remember the talk, but
not the talkers, and so go blithely back to those scenes of glad
good-fellowship, to that admirable conservatism and that caustic wit.

Let us, then, instead of striving so strenuously to remember all we
read, be grateful that we can occasionally forget. Mr. Samuel Pepys, who
knew how to extract a fair share of pleasure out of life, frankly admits
that he delighted in seeing an old play over again, because he was wise
enough to commit none of it to memory; and Mr. Lang, who gives _his_
vote to “Pepys’s Diary” as the very prince of bedside books, the one
“which may send a man happily to sleep with a smile on his lips,”
declares it owes its fitness for this post to the ease with which it can
be forgotten. “Your deeds and misdeeds,” he writes, “your dinners and
kisses, glide from our recollections, and being read again, surprise and
amuse us afresh. Compared with you, Montaigne is dry, Boswell is too
full of matter; but one can take you up anywhere, and anywhere lay you
down, certain of being diverted by the picture of that companion with
whom you made your journey through life.... You are perpetually the most
amusing of gossips, and, of all who have gossiped about themselves, the
only one who tells the truth.”

And the poets allied with Hermes and happy slumber,--who are they? Mr.
Browning is surely not one of the kindly group. I would as lief read Mr.
George Meredith’s prose as Mr. Browning’s verse in that hour of
effortless enjoyment. But Wordsworth holds some placid moments in his
keeping, and we may wander on simple errands by his side, taking good
care never to listen to philosophy, but only looking at all he shows us,
until our hearts are surfeited with pleasure, and the golden daffodils
dance drowsily before our closing eyes. Keats belongs to dreamier moods,
when, as we read, the music of his words, the keen creative magic of his
style, lure us away from earth. We leave the darkness of night, and the
grayness of morning. We cease thinking, and are content to feel. It is
an elfin storm we hear beating against the casement; it is the foam of
fairy seas that washes on the shore.

    “Blissfully havened both from joy and pain,”

wrapped in soft, slumberous satisfaction, we are but vaguely conscious
of the enchanted air we breathe, or of our own unutterable well-being.
There is no English poem, save only “Christabel,” which can lead us like
“The Eve of St. Agnes” straight to the ivory gates, and waft us gently
from waking dreams to the mistier visions of sleep. But there are many
English poets--Herrick, and Marvell, and Gray, and Cowper, and
Tennyson--who have bedside verses for us all. Herrick, indeed, though
breathing the freshness of morning, is a delightful companion for night.
He calls us so distinctly and seductively to leave, as he did, the
grievous cares of life; to close our ears to the penetrating voice of
duty; to turn away our eyes from the black scaffold of King Charles; and
to watch, with him, the blossoms shaken in the April wind, and the
whitethorn of May time blooming on the hills, and the sheen of Julia’s
robe, as she goes by with laughter. This is not a voice to sway us at
broad noon, when we are striving painfully to do our little share of
work; but Hesperus should bring some respite even to the dutiful, and
in our dozy hours it is sweet to lay aside all labor, and keenness, and
altruism. Adonis, says the old myth, fled from the amorous arms of
Aphrodite to the cold Queen of Shadows who could promise him nothing but
repose. Worn with passion, wearied of delight, he lay at the feet of
Persephone, and bartered away youth, strength, and love for the waters
of oblivion and the coveted blessing of sleep.



    “The child is father of the man,”

why is not the kitten father of the cat? If in the little boy there
lurks the infant likeness of all that manhood will complete, why does
not the kitten betray some of the attributes common to the adult puss? A
puppy is but a dog, plus high spirits, and minus common sense. We never
hear our friends say they love puppies, but cannot bear dogs. A kitten
is a thing apart; and many people who lack the discriminating enthusiasm
for cats, who regard these beautiful beasts with aversion and mistrust,
are won over easily, and cajoled out of their prejudices by the
deceitful wiles of kittenhood.

    “The little actor cons another part,”

and is the most irresistible comedian in the world. Its wide-open eyes
gleam with wonder and mirth. It darts madly at nothing at all, and then,
as though suddenly checked in the pursuit, prances sideways on its hind
legs with ridiculous agility and zeal. It makes a vast pretense of
climbing the rounds of a chair, and swings by the curtain like an
acrobat. It scrambles up a table leg, and is seized with comic horror at
finding itself full two feet from the floor. If you hasten to its
rescue, it clutches you nervously, its little heart thumping against its
furry sides, while its soft paws expand and contract with agitation and

    “And all their harmless claws disclose,
     Like prickles of an early rose.”

Yet the instant it is back on the carpet it feigns to be suspicious of
your interference, peers at you out of “the tail o’ its ee,” and
scampers for protection under the sofa, from which asylum it presently
emerges with cautious trailing steps, as though encompassed by fearful
dangers and alarms. Its baby innocence is yet unseared. The evil
knowledge of uncanny things which is the dark inheritance of cathood has
not yet shadowed its round infant eyes. Where did witches find the
mysterious beasts that sat motionless by their fires, and watched
unblinkingly the waxen manikins dwindling in the flame? They never
reared these companions of their solitude, for no witch could have
endured to see a kitten gamboling on her hearthstone. A witch’s kitten!
That one preposterous thought proves how wide, how unfathomed, is the
gap between feline infancy and age.

So it happens that the kitten is loved and cherished and caressed as
long as it preserves the beguiling mirthfulness of youth. Richelieu, we
know, was wont to keep a family of kittens in his cabinet, that their
grace and gayety might divert him from the cares of state, and from
black moods of melancholy. Yet, with short-sighted selfishness, he
banished these little friends when but a few months old, and gave their
places to younger pets. The first faint dawn of reason, the first
indication of soberness and worldly wisdom, the first charming and
coquettish pretenses to maturity, were followed by immediate dismissal.
Richelieu desired to be amused. He had no conception of the finer joy
which springs from mutual companionship and esteem. Even humbler and
more sincere admirers, like Joanna Baillie, in whom we wish to believe
Puss found a friend and champion, appear to take it for granted that
the kitten should be the spoiled darling of the household, and the cat a
social outcast, degraded into usefulness, and expected to work for her
living. What else can be understood from such lines as these?

    “Ah! many a lightly sportive child,
     Who hath, like thee, our wits beguiled,
     To dull and sober manhood grown,
     With strange recoil our hearts disown.
     Even so, poor Kit! must thou endure,
     When thou becomest a cat demure,
     Full many a cuff and angry word,
     Chid roughly from the tempting board.
     And yet, for that thou hast, I ween,
     So oft our favored playmate been,
     Soft be the change which thou shalt prove,
     _When time hath spoiled thee of our love_;
     Still be thou deemed, by housewife fat,
     A comely, careful, mousing cat,
     Whose dish is, for the public good,
     Replenished oft with savory food.”

Here is a plain exposition of the utilitarian theory which Shakespeare
is supposed to have countenanced because Shylock speaks of the
“harmless, necessary cat.” Shylock, forsooth! As if he, of all men in
Christendom or Jewry, knew anything about cats! Small wonder that he was
outwitted by Portia and Jessica, when an adroit little animal could so
easily beguile him. But Joanna Baillie should never have been guilty of
those snug commonplaces concerning the

    “comely, careful, mousing cat,”

remembering her own valiant Tabby who won Scott’s respectful admiration
by worrying and killing a dog. It ill became the possessor of an
Amazonian cat, distinguished by Sir Walter’s regard, to speak with such
patronizing kindness of the race.

We can make no more stupid blunder than to look upon our pets from the
standpoint of utility. Puss, as a rule, is another Nimrod, eager for the
chase, and unwearyingly patient in pursuit of her prey. But she hunts
for her own pleasure, not for our convenience; and when a life of luxury
has relaxed her zeal, she often declines to hunt at all. I knew
intimately two Maryland cats, well born and of great personal
attractions. The sleek, black Tom was named Onyx, and his snow-white
companion Lilian. Both were idle, urbane, fastidious, and self-indulgent
as Lucullus. Now, into the house honored, but not served, by these
charming creatures came a rat, which secured permanent lodgings in the
kitchen, and speedily evicted the maid servants. A reign of terror
followed, and after a few days of hopeless anarchy it occurred to the
cook that the cats might be brought from their comfortable cushions
upstairs and shut in at night with their hereditary foe. This was done,
and the next morning, on opening the kitchen door, a tableau rivaling
the peaceful scenes of Eden was presented to the view. On one side of
the hearth lay Onyx, on the other, Lilian; and ten feet away, upright
upon the kitchen table, sat the rat, contemplating them both with
tranquil humor and content. It was apparent to him, as well as to the
rest of the household, that he was an object of absolute, contemptuous
indifference to those two lordly cats.

There is none of this superb unconcern in the joyous eagerness of
infancy. A kitten will dart in pursuit of everything that is small
enough to be chased with safety. Not a fly on the window-pane, not a
moth in the air, not a tiny crawling insect on the carpet, escapes its
unwelcome attentions. It begins to “take notice” as soon as its eyes
are open, and its vivacity, outstripping its dawning intelligence, leads
it into infantile perils and wrong doing. I own that when Agrippina
brought her first-born son--aged two days--and established him in my
bedroom closet, the plan struck me at the start as inconvenient. I had
prepared another nursery for the little Claudius Nero, and I endeavored
for a while to convince his mother that my arrangements were best. But
Agrippina was inflexible. The closet suited her in every respect; and,
with charming and irresistible flattery, she gave me to understand, in
the mute language I knew so well, that she wished her baby boy to be
under my immediate protection. “I bring him to you because I trust you,”
she said as plainly as looks can speak. “Downstairs they handle him all
the time, and it is not good for kittens to be handled. Here he is safe
from harm, and here he shall remain.” After a few weak remonstrances,
the futility of which I too clearly understood, her persistence carried
the day. I removed my clothing from the closet, spread a shawl upon the
floor, had the door taken from its hinges, and resigned myself, for the
first time in my life, to the daily and hourly companionship of an

I was amply rewarded. People who require the household cat to rear her
offspring in some remote attic, or dark corner of the cellar, have no
idea of all the diversion and pleasure that they lose. It is delightful
to watch the little blind, sprawling, feeble, helpless things develop
swiftly into the grace and agility of kittenhood. It is delightful to
see the mingled pride and anxiety of the mother, whose parental love
increases with every hour of care, and who exhibits her young family as
if they were infant Gracchi, the hope of all their race. During Nero’s
extreme youth, there were times, I admit, when Agrippina wearied both of
his companionship and of her own maternal duties. Once or twice she
abandoned him at night for the greater luxury of my bed, where she slept
tranquilly by my side, unmindful of the little wailing cries with which
Nero lamented her desertion. Once or twice the heat of early summer
tempted her to spend the evening on the porch roof which lay beneath my
windows, and I have passed some anxious hours awaiting her return, and
wondering what would happen if she never came back, and I were left to
bring up the baby by hand.

But as the days sped on, and Nero grew rapidly in beauty and
intelligence, Agrippina’s affection for him knew no bounds. She could
hardly bear to leave him even for a little while, and always came
hurrying back to him with a loud frightened mew, as if fearing he might
have been stolen in her absence. At night she purred over him for hours,
or made little gurgling noises expressive of ineffable content. She
resented the careless curiosity of strangers, and was a trifle
supercilious when the cook stole softly in to give vent to her fervent
admiration. But from first to last she shared with me her pride and
pleasure; and the joy in her beautiful eyes, as she raised them to mine,
was frankly confiding and sympathetic. When the infant Claudius rolled
for the first time over the ledge of the closet, and lay sprawling on
the bedroom floor, it would have been hard to say which of us was the
more elated at his prowess. A narrow pink ribbon of honor was at once
tied around the small adventurer’s neck, and he was pronounced the most
daring and agile of kittens. From that day his brief career was a series
of brilliant triumphs. He was a kitten of parts. Like one of Miss
Austen’s heroes, he had air and countenance. Less beautiful than his
mother, whom he closely resembled, he easily eclipsed her in vivacity
and the specious arts of fascination. Never were mother and son more
unlike in character and disposition, and the inevitable contrast between
kittenhood and cathood was enhanced in this case by a strong natural
dissimilarity which no length of years could have utterly effaced.

Agrippina had always been a cat of manifest reserves. She was only six
weeks old when she came to me, and had already acquired that gravity of
demeanor, that air of gentle disdain, that dignified and somewhat
supercilious composure, which won the respectful admiration of those
whom she permitted to enjoy her acquaintance. Even in moments of
self-forgetfulness and mirth her recreations resembled those of the
little Spanish Infanta, who, not being permitted to play with her
inferiors, and having no equals, diverted herself as best she could with
sedate and solitary sport. Always chary of her favors, Agrippina cared
little for the admiration of her chosen circle; and, with a single
exception, she made no friends beyond it.

Claudius Nero, on the contrary, thirsted for applause. Affable,
debonair, and democratic to the core, the caresses and commendations of
a chance visitor or of a housemaid were as valuable to him as were my
own. I never looked at him “showing off,” as children say,--jumping from
chair to chair, balancing himself on the bedpost, or scrambling
rapturously up the forbidden curtains,--without thinking of the young
Emperor who contended in the amphitheatre for the worthless plaudits of
the crowd. He was impulsive and affectionate,--so, I believe was the
Emperor for a time,--and as masterful as if born to the purple. His
mother struggled hard to maintain her rightful authority, but it was in
vain. He woke her from her sweetest naps; he darted at her tail, and
leaped down on her from sofas and tables with the grace of a diminutive
panther. Every time she attempted to punish him for these misdemeanors
he cried piteously for help, and was promptly and unwisely rescued by
some kind-hearted member of the family. After a while Agrippina took to
sitting on her tail, in order to keep it out of his reach, and I have
seen her many times carefully tucking it out of sight. She had never
been a cat of active habits or of showy accomplishments, and the daring
agility of the little Nero amazed and bewildered her. “A Spaniard,”
observes that pleasant gossip, James Howell, “walks as if he marched,
and seldom looks upon the ground, as if he contemned it. I was told of a
Spaniard who, having got a fall by a stumble, and broke his nose, rose
up, and in a disdainful manner said, ‘This comes of walking on the

Now Nero seldom walked on the earth. At least, he never, if he could
help it, walked on the floor; but traversed a room in a series of flying
leaps from chair to table, from table to lounge, from lounge to desk,
with an occasional dash at the mantelpiece, just to show what he could
do. It was curious to watch Agrippina during the performance of these
acrobatic feats. Pride, pleasure, the anxiety of a mother, and the faint
resentment of conscious inferiority struggled for mastership in her
little breast. Sometimes, when Nero’s radiant self-satisfaction grew
almost insufferable, I have seen her eyelids narrow sullenly, and have
wondered whether the Roman Empress ever looked in that way at her
brilliant and beautiful son, when maternal love was withering slowly
under the shadow of coming evil. Sometimes, when Nero had been prancing
and paddling about with absurd and irresistible glee, attracting and
compelling the attention of everybody in the room, Agrippina would jump
up on my lap, and look in my face with an expression I thought I
understood. She had never before valued my affection in all her little
petted, pampered life. She had been sufficient for herself, and had
merely tolerated me as a devoted and useful companion. But now that
another had usurped so many of her privileges, I fancied there were
moments when it pleased her to know that one subject, at least, was not
to be beguiled from allegiance; that to one friend, at least, she always
was and always would be the dearest cat in the world.

I am glad to remember that love triumphed over jealousy, and that
Agrippina’s devotion to Nero increased with every day of his short
life. The altruism of a cat seldom reaches beyond her kittens; but she
is capable of heroic unselfishness where they are concerned. I knew of a
London beast, a homeless, forlorn vagrant, who constituted herself an
out-door pensioner at the house of a friendly man of letters. This cat
had a kitten, whose youthful vivacity won the hearts of a neighboring
family. They adopted it willingly, but refused to harbor the mother, who
still came for her daily dole to her only benefactor. Whenever a bit of
fish or some other especial dainty was given her, this poor mendicant
scaled the wall, and watched her chance to share it with her kitten, her
little wealthy, greedy son, who gobbled it up as remorselessly as if he
were not living on the fat of the land.

Agrippina would have been swift to follow such an example of devotion.
At dinner time she always yielded the precedence to Nero, and it became
one of our daily tasks to compel the little lad to respect his mother’s
privileges. He scorned his saucer of milk, and from tenderest infancy
aspired to adult food, making predatory incursions upon Agrippina’s
plate, and obliging us finally to feed them in separate apartments. I
have seen him, when a very young kitten, rear himself upon his baby
legs, and with his soft and wicked little paw strike his mother in the
face until she dropped the piece of meat she had been eating, when he
tranquilly devoured it. It was to prevent the recurrence of such
scandalous scenes that two dining-rooms became a necessity in the
family. Yet he was so loving and so lovable, poor little Claudius Nero!
Why do I dwell on his faults, remembering, as I do, his winning
sweetness and affability? Day after day, in the narrow city garden, the
two cats played together, happy in each other’s society, and never a
yard apart. Night after night they retired at the same time, and slept
upon the same cushion, curled up inextricably into one soft, furry ball.
Many times I have knelt by their chair to bid them both good-night; and
always, when I did so, Agrippina would lift her charming head, purr
drowsily for a few seconds, and then nestle closer still to her
first-born, with sighs of supreme satisfaction. The zenith of her life
had been reached. Her cup of contentment was full.

It is a rude world, even for little cats, and evil chances lie in wait
for the petted creatures we strive to shield from harm. Remembering the
pangs of separation, the possibilities of unkindness or neglect, the
troubles that hide in ambush on every unturned page, I am sometimes glad
that the same cruel and selfish blow struck both mother and son, and
that they lie together, safe from hurt or hazard, sleeping tranquilly
and always, under the shadow of the friendly pines.


“Compare,” said a friend to me recently, “the relative proportion of
kissing and venison pasties in Scott’s novels and Miss Rhoda
Broughton’s,”--and I did. It was a lame comparison, owing to my limited
acquaintance with part of the given text; but I pursued my
investigations cheerfully along the line of Waverley, and was delighted
and edified by the result. Years ago, a sulky critic in Blackwood,
commenting acrimoniously on Miss Susan Warner’s very popular tales,
asserted that there was more kissing in one of these narratives than in
all the stories Sir Walter ever wrote. Probably the critic was right. As
far as I can recollect Miss Warner’s heroines,--and I knew several of
them intimately when a child,--they were always either kissing or
crying, and occasionally they did both together. Ellen Montgomery,
dissolved in tears because John has forgotten to kiss her good-night,
was as cheerless a companion as I ever found in the wide world of
story-book life.

But Scott’s young people never seem to hunger for embraces. They allow
the most splendid opportunities to slip by without a single caress. When
Quentin Durward rescues the Countess Isabella at the siege of Liége, he
does not pause to passionately kiss her cold lips; he gathers her up
with all possible speed, and makes practical plans for getting her out
of the way. When Edith Bellenden visits her imprisoned lover, no thought
of kissing enters either mind. Henry Morton is indeed so overcome by
“deep and tumultuous feeling” that he presses his visitor’s “unresisting
hands;” but even this indulgence is of brief duration. Miss Bellenden
quickly recovers her hands, and begins to discuss the situation with a
great deal of sense and good feeling. Henry Bertram does not appear to
have stolen a single kiss from that romantic and charming young woman,
Julia Mannering, in the whole course of their clandestine courtship; and
the propriety of Lord Glenvarloch’s behavior, when shut up in a cell
with pretty Margaret Ramsay, must be remembered by all. “Naething for
you to sniggle and laugh at, Steenie,” observes King James reprovingly
to the Duke of Buckingham, when that not immaculate nobleman betrays
some faint amusement at the young Scotchman’s modesty. “He might be a
Father of the Church, in comparison of you, man.”

In the matter of venison pasties, however, we have a different tale to
tell. There are probably ten of these toothsome dishes to every kiss,
twenty of them to every burst of tears. Compare Quentin Durward as a
fighter to Quentin Durward as a lover, and then, by way of understanding
how he preserved his muscle, turn back to that delightful fourth
chapter, where the French King plays the part of host at the famous inn
breakfast. So admirably is the scene described in two short pages, so
fine is the power of Scott’s genial human sympathy, that I have never
been able, since reading it, to cherish for Louis XI. the aversion which
is his rightful due. In vain I recall the familiar tales of his cruelty
and baseness. In vain I remind myself of his treacherous plans for poor
Durward’s destruction. ’Tis useless! I cannot dissociate him from that
noble meal, nor from the generous enthusiasm with which he provides
for, and encourages, the splendid appetite of youth. The inn breakfast
has but one peer, even in Scott’s mirthful pages, and to find it we must
follow the fortunes of another monarch who masquerades to better purpose
than does Maître Pierre, whose asylum is the hermitage of St. Dunstan,
and whose host is the jolly Clerk of Copmanhurst. The gradual progress
and slow development of the holy hermit’s supper, which begins
tentatively with parched pease and a can of water from St. Dunstan’s
well, and ends with a mighty pasty of stolen venison and a huge flagon
of wine, fill the reader’s heart--if he has a heart--with sound and
sympathetic enjoyment. It is one of the gastronomic delights of
literature. Every step of the way is taken with renewed pleasure, for
the humors of the situation are as unflagging as the appetites and the
thirst of the revelers. Even the quarrel which threatens to disturb the
harmony of the feast only adds to its flavor. Guest and host, disguised
king and pretended recluse, are as ready to fight as to eat; and, with
two such champions, who shall say where the palm of victory hides? Any
weapon will suit the monk, “from the scissors of Delilah, and the
tenpenny nail of Jael, to the scimitar of Goliath,” though the good
broadsword pleases him best. Any weapon will suit King Richard, and he
is a match for Friar Tuck in all. Born brothers are they, though the
throne of England waits for one, and the oaks of Sherwood Forest for the

    “But there is neither east, nor west, border, nor breed, nor birth,
     When two strong men stand face to face, though they come from
        the ends of the earth.”

In his descriptions of eating and drinking, Scott stands midway between
the snug, coarse, hearty enjoyment of Dickens, and the frank
epicureanism of Thackeray, and he easily surpasses them both. With
Dickens, the pleasure of the meal springs from the honest appetites
which meet it--appetites sharpened often by the pinching pains of
hunger. With Thackeray, it is the excellence of the entertainment itself
which merits approbation. With Scott, it is the spirit of genial
good-fellowship which turns a venison pasty into a bond of brotherhood,
and strengthens, with a runlet of canary, the human tie which binds us
man to man. Dickens tries to do this, but does not often succeed, just
because he tries. A conscious purpose is an irresistible temptation to
oratory, and we do not want to be preached to over a roast goose, nor
lectured at through the medium of pork and greens. Scott never turns a
table into a pulpit; it is his own far-reaching sympathy which touches
the secret springs that move us to kind thoughts. Quentin Durward’s
breakfast at the inn is worthy of Thackeray. Quentin Durward’s appetite
is worthy of Dickens. But Quentin Durward’s host--the cruel and
perfidious Louis--ah! no one but Scott would have dared to paint him
with such fine, unhostile art, and no one but Scott would have

In point of detail, however, Dickens defies competition. Before his vast
and accurate knowledge the puny efforts of modern realism shrink into
triviality and nothingness. What is the occasional dinner at a
third-class New York restaurant, the roast chicken and mashed potatoes
and cranberry tart, eaten with such ostentatious veracity, when compared
to that unerring observation which penetrated into every English
larder, which lifted the lid of every pipkin, and divined the contents
of every mysterious and forbidding meat pie! Dickens knew when the
Micawbers supped on lamb’s fry, and when on breaded chops; he knew the
contents of Mrs. Bardell’s little saucepan simmering by the fire; he
knew just how many pigeons lurked under the crust of John Browdie’s
pasty; he knew every ingredient--and there are nearly a dozen of
them--in the Jolly Sandboys’ stew. There was not a muffin, nor a bit of
toasted cheese, nor a slab of pease-pudding from the cook-shop, nor a
rasher of bacon, nor a slice of cucumber, nor a dish of pettitoes eaten
without his knowledge and consent. And, as it cost him no apparent
effort to remember and tell all these things, it costs us no labor to
read them. We are naturally pleased to hear that Mr. Vincent Crummles
has ordered a hot beefsteak-pudding and potatoes at nine, and we hardly
need to be reminded--even by the author--of the excellence of Mr.
Swiveller’s purl. The advantage of unconscious realism over the
premeditated article is a lack of stress on the author’s part, and a
corresponding lack of fatigue on ours.

Thackeray reaches the climax of really good cooking, and, with the art
of a great novelist, he restrains his gastronomic details, and keeps
them within proper bounds. Beyond his limits it is not wise to stray,
lest we arrive at the land of gilded puppets, where Disraeli’s dukes and
duchesses feast forever on ortolans, and pompetones of larks, and
lobster sandwiches; where young spendthrifts breakfast at five o’clock
in the afternoon on soup and claret; and where the enamored Lothair
feeds Miss Arundel “with cates as delicate as her lips, and dainty
beverages which would not outrage their purity.” The “pies and
preparations of many lands” which adorn the table of that distinguished
dinner-giver, Mr. Brancepeth, fill us with vague but lamentable doubts.
“Royalty,” we are assured, “had consecrated his banquets” and tasted of
those pies; but it is the province of royalty, as Mr. Ruskin reminds us,
to dare brave deeds which commoners may be excused from attempting. Hugo
Bohun, at the Duke’s banquet, fired with the splendid courage of his
crusading ancestry, dislodges the ortolans from their stronghold of
aspic jelly, and gives to the entertainment that air of glittering
unreality which was Disraeli’s finest prerogative, and which has been
copied with facile fidelity by Mr. Oscar Wilde. “I see it is time for
supper,” observes the æsthetic Gilbert of the dialogues. “After we have
discussed some Chambertin and a few ortolans, we will pass on to the
question of the critic, considered in the light of the interpreter.” And
when we read these lines, our lingering doubts as to whether Gilbert be
a man or a mere mouthpiece for beautiful words, “a reed cut short and
notched by the great god Pan for the production of flute-melodies at
intervals,” fade into dejected certainty. That touch about the ortolans
is so like Disraeli, that all Gilbert’s surpassing modern cleverness can
no longer convince us of his vitality. He needs but a golden plate to
fit him for the ducal dining-table, where royalty, and rose-colored
tapestry, and “splendid nonchalance” complete the dazzling illusion.
After which, we may sober ourselves with a parting glance at the
breakfast-room of Tillietudlem, and at the fare which Lady Margaret
Bellenden has prepared for Graham of Claverhouse and his troopers. “No
tea, no coffee, no variety of rolls, but solid and substantial
viands--the priestly ham, the knightly surloin, the noble baron of beef,
the princely venison pasty.” Here in truth is a vigorous and an
honorable company, and here is a banquet for men.


It is a thankless task to be a parent in these exacting days, and I
wonder now and then at the temerity which prompts man or woman to assume
such hazardous duties. Time was, indeed, when parents lifted their heads
loftily in the world; when they were held to be, in the main, useful and
responsible persons; when their authority, if unheeded, was at least
unquestioned; and when one of the ten commandments was considered to
indicate that especial reverence was their due. These simple and
primitive convictions lingered on so long that some of us can perhaps
remember when they were a part of our youthful creed, and when, in life
and in literature, the lesson commonly taught was that the province of
the parent is to direct and control, the privilege of the child is to
obey, and to be exempt from the painful sense of responsibility which
overtakes him in later years. In very old-fashioned books, this point of
view is strained to embrace some rather difficult conclusions. The
attitude of Evelina to her worthless father, of Clarissa Harlowe to her
tyrannical parents, seemed right and reasonable to the generations which
first read these novels, while we of the present day are amazed at such
unnatural submissiveness and loyalty. “It is hard,” says Clarissa’s
mother, in answer to her daughter’s despairing appeals, “if a father and
mother, and uncles and aunts, all conjoined, cannot be allowed to direct
your choice;” an argument to which the unhappy victim replies only with
her tears. How one longs to offer Mrs. Harlowe some of these little
manuals of advice which prove to us now so conclusively that even a
young child is deeply wronged by subjection. “Looked at from the highest
standpoint,” says one of our modern mentors, “we have no more right to
interfere with individual choice in our children than we have to
interfere with the choice of friends;” a statement which, applied as it
is, not to marriageable young women, but to small boys and girls,
defines matters explicitly, and does away at once and forever with all
superannuated theories of obedience.

A short perusal of these text-books of training would lead the
uninitiated to conclude that the children of to-day are a down-trodden
race, deprived of their natural rights by the ruthless despotism of
parents. It is also indicated with painful and humiliating distinctness
that adults have no rights--at least none that children are bound to
respect--and that we have hardened ourselves into selfishness by looking
at things from a grown-up, and consequently erroneous, point of view.
For example, to many of us it is an annoyance when a child wantonly
destroys our property. This is ungenerous. “With anointed eyes we might
often see in such a tendency a great power of analysis, that needs only
to be understood to secure grand results;”--which reflection should make
us prompt to welcome the somewhat disastrous results already secured. I
once knew a little boy who, having been taken on a visit to some
relatives, succeeded within half an hour in purloining the pendulums of
three old family clocks, a passion for analysis which ought to have made
him one of the first mechanics of his age, had not his genius, like that
of the political agitator, stopped short at the portals of

It is hard to attune our minds to a correct appreciation of such
incidents, when the clocks belong to us, and the child doesn’t. It is
hard to be told that our pendulums are a necessary element, which we do
wrong to begrudge, in the training of a boy’s observation. All modern
writers upon children unite in denouncing the word “don’t,” as implying
upon every occasion a censure which is often unmerited. But this protest
reminds me of the little girl who, being told by her father she must not
say “I won’t,” innocently inquired: “But, papa, what am I to say when I
mean ‘I won’t’?” In the same spirit of uncertainty I would like to know
what I am to say when I mean “don’t.” Auretta Roys Aldrich, who has
written a book on “Children--Their Models and Critics,” in which she is
rather severe upon adults, tells us a harrowing tale of a mother and a
five-year-old boy who sat near her one day on a railway train. The child
thrust his head out of the window, whereupon the mother said tersely:
“Johnnie, stop putting your head out of the window!” That was all. No
word of explanation or entreaty softened this ruthless command. Whether
Johnnie obeyed or not is unrevealed, being a matter of no importance;
but, “as they left the car,” comments the author, “they left also an
aching in my heart. I longed to clasp the mother in my arms, for she,
too, had been the victim of misunderstanding; and show her, before it
was too late, how she was missing the pure gold of life for herself and
her little boy.” Happily, before long, another mother entered, and her
child also put his head as far as he could out of that troublesome
window, which nobody seemed to have the sense to shut. Observing this,
his wise parent sat down by his side, “made some pleasant remark about
the outlook,” and then gradually and persuasively revealed to him his
danger, discussing the matter with “much candor and interest,” until he
was finally won over to her point of view, and consented of his own free
will, and as a rational human being, to draw in his little head.

I think this double experience worth repeating, because it contrasts so
pleasantly with the venerable anecdote which found its way into all the
reading books when I was a small child, and illustrated the then popular
theory of education. It was the story of a mother who sees her boy
running rapidly down a steep hill, and knows that, almost at his feet,
lies an abandoned quarry, half hidden by underbrush and weeds. Sure of
his obedience, she calls sharply, “Stop, Willie!” and the child, with a
violent effort, stays his steps at the very mouth of the pit. Had it
been necessary to convince him first that her apprehensions were well
grounded, he would have broken his neck meanwhile, and our school-books
would have had one tale less to tell.

Still more astounding to the uninitiated is another little narrative,
told with enviable gravity by Mrs. Aldrich, and designed to show how
easily and deeply we wound a child’s inborn sense of justice. “A
beautiful boy of four whose parents were unusually wise in
dealing with him”--it is seldom that a parent wins this degree of
approbation--possessed a wheelbarrow of his own, in which he carried the
letters daily to and from the post-office. One morning he was tardy in
returning, “for there was the world to be explored” on the way; and his
mother, growing anxious, or perhaps desiring her mail, followed him to
know what was the matter. She met him at the post-office door, and
seeing in the barrow an envelope directed to herself, she rashly picked
it up and opened it. Edwin promptly “raised a vehement cry of protest.”
That letter, like all the rest, had been given to him to carry, and no
one else was privileged to touch it. Swiftly and repentantly his mother
returned the unfortunate missive, but in vain. “The wound was too deep,
and he continued to cry ‘Mamma, you ought not to have done it!’ over and
over again between his sobs.” In fact he “refused to be
comforted,”--comforted!--“and so was taken home as best he could be, and
laid tenderly and lovingly in bed. After sleeping away _the sharpness of
sorrow and disappointment_, and consequent exhaustion, the matter could
be talked over; but while he was so tired, and keenly smarting under the
sense of injustice done him, every word added fuel to the flame.... _His
possessions had been taken away from him by sheer force, before which he
was helpless._ That his indignation was not appeased by putting the
letter back into his keeping, showed that he was contending for a
principle, and not for possession or any selfish interest.”

Readers of George Eliot may be pleasantly reminded of that scene in the
“Mill on the Floss” where Tom Tulliver unthinkingly withdraws a rattle
with which he has been amusing baby Moss, “whereupon she, being a baby
that knew her own mind with remarkable clearness, instantaneously
expressed her sentiments in a piercing yell, and was not to be appeased
even by the restoration of the rattle, feeling apparently that the
original wrong of having it taken away from her remained in all its
force.” But to some of us the anecdote of Edwin and his wheelbarrow is
more disheartening than droll. The revelation of such admirable motives
underlying such inexcusable behavior puzzles and alarms us. If this
four-year-old prig “contending for a principle and not for possession”
be a real boy, what has become of all the dear, naughty, fighting,
obstinate, self-willed, precious children whom we used to know; the
children who contended joyously, not for principle, but for precedence,
and to whom we could say “don’t” a dozen times a day with ample
justification. Little boys ought to be the most delightful things in the
world, with the exception of little girls. It is as easy to love them
when they are bad as to tolerate them when they are good. But what can
we do with conscientious infants to whom misbehavior is a moral
obligation, and who scream in the public streets from an exalted sense
of justice?

Mrs. Kate Douglas Wiggin, that ardent champion of Froebel, has also
given to the world a book bearing the somewhat ominous title,
“Children’s Rights,” but which is for the most part as interesting as it
is sane. Setting aside the question of kindergartens, concerning which
there are at present many conflicting opinions, it is impossible not to
agree with Mrs. Wiggin in much that she states so deftly, and maintains
so vivaciously. There is little doubt that the rights of the parent do
infringe occasionally on the rights of the child, and that, in the
absence of any standard, the child becomes a creature of circumstance.
He can be fed unwholesomely, kept up late at night, dressed like Lord
Fauntleroy, dosed with pernicious drugs, and humored into selfish
petulance at the discretion of his mother. Worse still, he can be
suffered to waste away in fever pain and die, because his parents chance
to be fanatics who reject the aid of medicines to trust exclusively in
prayer. But granting all this, fathers and mothers have still their
places in the world, and until we can fill these places with something
better, it is worth while to call attention now and then to the useful
part they play. It is perhaps a significant fact that mothers, simply
because they are mothers, succeed better, as a rule, in bringing up
their children than other women, equally loving and sensible, who are
compelled to assume their duties. That old-fashioned plea “I know what
is best for my child” may be derided as a relic of darkness; but there
is an illuminating background to its gloom. I am not even sure that
parents stand in absolute need of all the good advice they receive. I am
quite sure that many trifles are not worth the serious counsels expended
upon them. Reading or telling a story, for instance, has become as grave
a matter as choosing a laureate, and many a mother must stand aghast at
the conflicting admonitions bestowed upon her: Read fairy tales. Don’t
read fairy tales. Read about elves. Don’t read about ogres. Read of
heroic deeds. Don’t read of bloody battles. Avoid too much instruction.
Be as subtly instructive as you can. Make your stories long. Make your
stories short. Work the moral in. Leave the moral out. Try and please
the older children. Try and charm the younger ones. Study the tastes of
boys. Follow the fancies of girls. By degrees the harassed parent who
endeavors to obey these instructions will cease telling stories at all,
confident that the task, which once seemed so simple and easy, must lie
far beyond her limited intelligence.

All that Mrs. Wiggin has to say about children’s books and playthings is
both opportune and true. I wish indeed she would not speak of restoring
toys “to their place in education,” which has a dismal sound, though she
does not mean it to be taken dismally. Toys are toys to her, not traps
to erudition, and the costly inanities of our modern nurseries fill her
with well-warranted aversion. We are doing our best to stunt the
imaginations of children by overloading them with illustrated
story-books and elaborate playthings. Little John Ruskin, whose sole
earthly possessions were a cart, a ball, and two boxes of wooden bricks,
was infinitely better off than the small boy of to-day whose real engine
drags a train of real cars over a miniature elevated railway, almost as
ghastly as reality, and whose well-dressed soldiers cannot fight until
they are wound up with a key. “The law was that I should find my own
amusement,” says Ruskin; and he found it readily enough in the
untrammeled use of his observation, his intelligence, and his fancy. I
have known children to whom a dozen spools had a dozen distinct
individualities; soldiers, priests, nuns, and prisoners of war; and to
whom every chair in the nursery was a well-tried steed, familiar alike
with the race-course and the Holy Land, having its own name, and
requiring to be carefully stabled at night after the heroic exertions of
the day. The romances and dramas of infancy need no more setting than a
Chinese play, and in that limitless dreamland the transformations are as
easy as they are brilliant. But no child can successfully “make
believe,” when he is encumbered on every side by mechanical toys so
odiously complete that they leave nothing for the imagination to

In the matter of books, Mrs. Wiggin displays the same admirable
conservatism, her modern instincts being checked and held in sway by the
recollection of those few dear old volumes which little girls used to
read over and over again, until they knew them by heart. Yet I hardly
think that “naughty” is a kind word to apply to Miss Edgeworth’s
Rosamond, who is not very wise, I admit, and under no circumstances a
prig, but always docile and charming and good. And why should the “red
morocco housewife,” which Rosamond, in one of her rare moments of
discretion, chooses instead of a stone plum, be stigmatized as “hideous
but useful.” It may have been an exceedingly neat and pretty possession.
We are told nothing to the contrary, and I had a brown one stamped with
gold when I was a little girl, which, to my infant eyes represented
supreme artistic excellence. It also hurts my feelings very much to hear
Casabianca dubbed an “inspired idiot,” who lacked the sense to escape.
Unless the Roman sentries found dead at their posts in Pompeii were also
inspired idiots, there should be some kinder word for the blind heroism
which subordinates reason to obedience. And I am by no means sure that
this form of relentless nineteenth-century criticism does not do more to
vulgarize a child’s mind by destroying his simple ideals, than do the
frank old games which Mrs. Wiggin considers so boorish, and which fill
her with “unspeakable shrinking and moral disgust.” The coarseness of
“Here come two ducks a-roving,” which was once the blithest of
pastorals, and of that curious relic of antiquity, “Green Gravel,” is
not of a hurtful kind, and some of these plays have a keen attraction
for highly imaginative children. For my part, I do not believe that all
the kindergarten games in Christendom, all the gentle joy of pretending
you were a swallow and had your little baby swallows cuddled under your
wing, can compare for an instant with the lost delight of playing
“London Bridge” in the dusk of a summer evening, or in the dimly-lit
schoolroom at bedtime. There was a mysterious fascination in the words
whose meaning no one understood, and no one sought to understand:--

    “Here comes a candle to light you to bed
     And here comes a hatchet to cut off your head.”

And then the sudden grasp of four strong little arms, and a pleasing
thrill of terror at a danger which was no danger,--only a shadow and a
remembrance of some dim horror in the past, living for generations in
the unbroken traditions of play.

I have wandered unduly from the wrongs of parents to the rights of
children, an easy and agreeable step to take. But the children have many
powerful advocates, and need no help from me. The parents stand
undefended, and suffer grievous things in the way of counsel and
reproach. It must surprise some of them occasionally to be warned so
often against undue severity. It must amaze them to hear that their lazy
little boys and girls are suffering from overwork, and in danger of
mental exhaustion. It must amuse them--if they have any sense of
humor--to be told in the columns of a weekly paper “How to Reprove a
Child,” just as they are told “How to Make an Apple Pudding,” and “How
to Remove Grease Spots from Clothing.” As for the discipline of the
nursery, that has become a matter of supreme importance to all whom it
does not concern, and the suggestions offered, the methods urged, are so
varied and conflicting that the modern mother can be sure of one thing
only,--all that she does is wrong. The most popular theory appears to be
that whenever a child is naughty it is his parent’s fault, and she owes
him prompt atonement for his misbehavior. “We should be astonished, if
not appalled,” says Mrs. Aldrich, “if we could see in figures the number
of times the average child is unnecessarily censured during the first
seven years of life.” Punishment is altogether out of favor.
Its-apparent necessity arises from the ill-judged course of the father
or mother in refusing to a child control over his own actions. This
doctrine was expounded to us some years ago by Helen Hunt, who reasoned
wisely that “needless denials” were responsible for most youthful
naughtiness, and who was probably right. It would not perhaps be too
much to say that if we could have what we wanted and do what we wanted
all through life, we should, even as adults, be saved from a great deal
of fretfulness and bad behavior.

Miss Nora Smith, who is Mrs. Wiggin’s clever collaborateur, allows,
however, what she terms “natural punishment,” or “natural retribution,”
which appears to be something like the far-famed justice of the Mikado,
and is represented as being absolutely satisfactory to the child. This
is a gain over the old methods which the child, as a rule, disliked; and
it is also a gain over the long-drawn tests so urgently commended by
Helen Hunt, whose model mother shut herself up for two whole days with
her four-year-old boy, until she succeeded, by moral suasion, in
inducing him to say G. During these two days the model mother’s equally
model husband was content to eat his meals alone, and to spend his
evenings in solitude, unless he went to his club, and all her social and
domestic duties were cheerfully abandoned. Her principle was, not to
enforce obedience, but to persuade the child to overcome his own
reluctance, to conquer his own will. With this view, she pretended for
forty-eight hours that he could not pronounce the letter, and that she
was there to help him to do it. The boy, baby though he was, knew
better. He knew he was simply obstinate, and, with the delicious
clear-sightedness of children, which ought to put all sentimental
theorists to shame, he actually proposed to his parent that she should
shut him in a closet and see if that would not “make him good!” Of
course the unhallowed suggestion was not adopted; but what a tale it
tells of childish acumen, and of that humorous grasp of a situation
which is the endowment of infancy. The dear little sensible, open-eyed
creatures! See them dealing out swift justice to their erring dolls, and
you will learn their views upon the subject of retribution. I once knew
a father who defended himself for frequently thrashing an only and
idolized son--who amply merited each chastisement--by saying that Jack
would think him an idiot if he didn’t. That father was lamentably
ignorant of much that it behooves a father now to acquire. He had
probably never read a single book designed for the instruction and
humiliation of parents. He was in a state of barbaric darkness
concerning the latest theories of education. But he knew one thing
perfectly, and that one thing, says Sir Francis Doyle, is slipping fast
from the minds of men; namely, “The intention of the Almighty that there
should exist for a certain time between childhood and manhood, the
natural production known as a boy.”


There is a sentence in one of Miss Mitford’s earliest and most charming
papers, “The Cowslip Ball,” which has always delighted me by its quiet
satire and admirable good-temper. She is describing her repeated efforts
and her repeated failures to tie the fragrant clusters together.

“We went on very prosperously, _considering_, as people say of a young
lady’s drawing, or a Frenchman’s English, or a woman’s tragedy, or of
the poor little dwarf who works without fingers, or the ingenious sailor
who writes with his toes, or generally of any performance which is
accomplished by means seemingly inadequate to its production.”

Here is precisely the sentiment which Dr. Johnson embodied, more
trenchantly, in his famous criticism of female preaching. “Sir, a
woman’s preaching is like a dog walking on its hind legs. It is not done
well, but you are surprised to find it done at all.” It is a sentiment
which, in one form or another, prevailed throughout the last century,
and lapped over into the middle of our own. Miss Mitford is merely
echoing, with cheerful humor, the opinions of the very clever and
distinguished men whom it was her good fortune to know, and who were all
the more generous to her and to her sister toilers, because it did not
occur to them for a moment that women claimed, or were ever going to
claim, a serious place by their sides. There is nothing clearer, in
reading the courteous and often flattering estimate of woman’s work
which the critics of fifty years ago delighted in giving to the world,
than the under-current of amusement that such things should be going on.
Christopher North, who has only censure and contempt for the really
great poets of his day, is pleased to lavish kind words on Mrs. Hemans
and Joanna Baillie, praising them as adults occasionally praise clever
and good children. That, neither he nor his boon companions of the
“Noctes” are disposed to take the matter seriously, is sufficiently
proved by North’s gallant but controvertible statement that all female
poets are handsome. “No truly ugly woman ever yet wrote a truly
beautiful poem the length of her little finger.” The same satiric
enjoyment of the situation is apparent in Thackeray’s description of
Barnes Newcome’s lecture on “Mrs. Hemans, and the Poetry of the
Affections,” as delivered before the appreciative audience of the
Newcome Athenæum. The distinction which the lecturer draws between man’s
poetry and woman’s poetry, the high-flown civility with which he treats
the latter, the platitudes about the Christian singer appealing to the
affections, and decorating the homely threshold, and wreathing flowers
around the domestic hearth;--all these graceful and generous nothings
are the tributes laid without stint at the feet of that fragile creature
known to our great-grandfathers as the female muse.

It may as well be admitted at once that this tone of combined diversion
and patronage has changed. Men, having come in the course of years to
understand that women desire to work, and need to work, honestly and
well, have made room for them with simple sincerity, and stand ready to
compete with them for the coveted prizes of life. This is all that can
in fairness be demanded; and, if we are not equipped for the struggle,
we must expect to be beaten, until we are taught, as Napoleon taught the
Allies, how to fight. We gain nothing by doing for ourselves what man
has ceased to do for us,--setting up little standards of our own, and
rapturously applauding one another when the easy goal is reached. We
gain nothing by withdrawing ourselves from the keenest competition,
because we know we shall be outdone. We gain nothing by posing as “women
workers,” instead of simply “workers;” or by separating our productions,
good or bad, from the productions, good or bad, of men. As for exacting
any special consideration on the score of sex, that is not merely an
admission of failure in the present, but of hopelessness for the future.
If we are ever to accomplish anything admirable, it must be by a frank
admission of severe tests. There is no royal road for woman’s feet to

As we stand now, our greatest temptation to mediocrity lies in our
misleading content; and this content is fostered by our incorrigible
habit of considering ourselves a little aside from the grand march of
human events. Why should a new magazine be entitled “Woman’s Progress,”
as if the progress of woman were one thing, and the progress of man
another? If we are two friendly sexes working hand in hand, how is it
possible for either to progress alone? Why should I be asked to take
part in a very animated discussion on “What constitutes the success of
woman?” Woman succeeds just as man succeeds, through force of character.
She has no minor tests, or, if she has, they are worthless. Above all,
why should we have repeated the pitiful mistake of putting woman’s work
apart at the World’s Fair, as though its interest lay in its makers
rather than in itself. Philadelphia did this seventeen years ago, but in
seventeen years women should have better learned their own worth. Miss
Mitford’s sentence, with its italicized “considering,” might have been
written around the main gallery of the Woman’s Building, instead of that
curious jumble of female names with its extraordinary suggestion of
perspective,--Mme. de Staël and Mrs. Potter Palmer, Pocahontas and Mrs.
Julia Ward Howe. The erection of such a building was a tacit
acknowledgment of inferior standards, and therein lies our danger. All
that was good and valuable beneath its roof should have been placed
elsewhere, standing side by side with the similar work of men. All that
was unworthy of such competition should have been excluded, as beneath
our dignity, as well as beneath the dignity of the Exposition. Patchwork
quilts in fifteen thousand pieces, paper flowers, nicely stitched
aprons, and badly painted little memorandum-books do not properly
represent the attitude of the ability of women. We are not begging for
consideration and applause; we are striving to do our share of the
world’s work, and to do it as well as men.

Shall we ever succeed? It is not worth while to ask ourselves a question
which none can answer. Reasoning by analogy, we never shall. Hoping in
the splendid possibilities of an unknown future, we may. But idle
contention over what has been done already is not precisely the best
method of advance. To wrangle for months over the simple and obvious
statement that there have been no great women poets, is a lamentable
waste of energy, and leads to no lasting good. To examine with fervent
self-consciousness the exact result of every little step we take, the
precise attitude of the world toward us, while we take it, is a
retarding and unwholesome process. Why should an indefatigable
philanthropist, like Miss Frances Power Cobbe, have paused in her noble
labor to write such a fretful sentence as this?

“It is a difficult thing to keep in mind the true dignity of womanhood,
in face of the deep, underlying contempt wherewith all but the most
generous of men regard us.”

Perhaps they do, though the revelation is a startling one, and the last
thing we had ever suspected. Nevertheless, the sincere and single-minded
worker is not asking herself anxious questions anent man’s contempt, but
is preserving “the true dignity of womanhood” by going steadfastly on
her appointed road, and doing her daily work as well as in her lies.
Neither does she consider the conversion of man to a less scornful frame
of mind as the just reward of her labors. She has other and broader
interests at stake. For my own part, I have a liking for those few
writers who are admirably explicit in their contempt for women, and I
find them more interesting and more stimulating than the “generous” men
who stand forth as the champions of our sex, and are insufferably
patronizing in their championship. When Schopenhauer says distinctly
that women are merely grown-up babies, short-sighted, frivolous, and
occupying an intermediate stage between children and men; when he
protests vigorously against the absurd social laws which permit them to
share the rank and titles of their husbands, and insists that all they
require is to be well fed and clothed, I feel a sincere respect for this
honest statement of unpopular and somewhat antiquated views. Lord Byron,
it will be remembered, professed the same opinions, but his
ingenuousness is by no means so apparent. Edward Fitzgerald’s distaste
for women writers is almost winning in its gentle candor. Ruskin,
despite his passionate chivalry, reiterates with tireless persistence
his belief that woman is man’s helpmate, and no more. Theoretically, he
is persuasive and convincing. Practically, he is untouched by the
obtrusive fact that many thousands of women are never called on to be
the helpmates of any men, fathers, brothers, or husbands, but must
stand or fall alone. Upon their learning to stand depends much of the
material comfort, as well as the finer morality, of the future.

And surely, the first and most needful lesson for them to acquire is to
take themselves and their work with simplicity, to be a little less
self-conscious, and a little more sincere. In all walks of life, in all
kinds of labor, this is the beginning of excellence, and proficiency
follows in its wake. We talk so much about thoroughness of training, and
so little about singleness of purpose. We give to every girl in our
public schools the arithmetical knowledge which enables her to stand
behind a counter and cast up her accounts. That there is something else
which we do not give her is sufficiently proven by her immediate
adoption of that dismal word, “saleslady,” with its pitiful assumption
of what is not, its pitiful disregard of dignity and worth. I own I am
dispirited when I watch the more ambitious girls who attend our great
schools of manual training and industrial art. They are being taught on
generous and noble lines. The elements of beauty and appropriateness
enter into their hourly work. And yet--their tawdry finery, the nodding
flower-gardens on their hats, the gilt ornaments in their hair, the
soiled kid gloves too tight for their broad young hands, the crude
colors they combine so pitilessly in their attire, their sweeping and
bedraggled skirts, their shrill, unmodulated voices, their giggles and
ill-controlled restlessness--are these the outward and visible results
of a training avowedly refining and artistic? Are these the pupils whose
future work is to raise the standard of beauty and harmonious
development? Something is surely lacking which no technical skill can
supply. Now, as in the past, character is the base upon which all true
advancement rests secure.

Higher in the social and intellectual scale, and infinitely more serious
in their ambitions, are the girl students of our various colleges. As
their numbers increase, and their superior training becomes less and
less a matter of theory, and more and more a matter of course, these
students will combine at least a portion of their present earnestness
with the healthy commonplace rationality of college men. At present they
are laboring under the disadvantage of being the exceptions instead of
the rule. The novelty of their position dazes them a little; and, like
the realistic story-tellers and the impressionist painters, they are
perhaps more occupied with their points of view than with the things
they are viewing. This is not incompatible with a very winning
simplicity of demeanor, and the common jest which represents the college
girl as prickly with the asperities of knowledge, is a fabric of man’s
jocund and inexhaustible imagination. Mr. Barrie, it is true, tells a
very amusing story of being invited, as a mere lad, to meet some young
women students at an Edinburgh party, and of being frightened out of his
scanty self-possession when one of them asked him severely whether he
did not consider that Berkeley’s immaterialism was founded on an
ontological misconception. But even Mr. Barrie has a fertile fancy, and
perhaps the experience was not quite so bad as it sounds. There is more
reason in the complaint I have heard many times from mothers, that
college gives their daughters a distaste for social life, and a rather
ungracious disregard for its amenities and obligations. But college
does not give men a distaste for social life. On the contrary, it is the
best possible training for that bigger, broader field in which the
ceaseless contact with their fellow-creatures rounds and perfects the
many-sidedness of manhood. If college girls are disposed to overestimate
the importance of lectures, and to underestimate the importance of
balls, this is merely a transient phase of criticism, and has no lasting
significance. Lectures and balls are both very old. They have played
their parts in the history of the world for some thousands of years;
they will go on playing them to the end. Let us not exaggerate personal
preference, however contagious it may appear, into a symbol of
approaching revolution.

For our great hope is this: As university training becomes less and less
exceptional for girls, they will insensibly acquire broader and simpler
views; they will easily understand that life is too big a thing to be
judged by college codes. As the number of women doctors and women
architects increases with every year, they will take themselves, and be
taken by the world, with more simplicity and candor. They will also do
much better work when we have ceased writing papers, and making
speeches, to signify our wonder and delight that they should be able to
work at all; when we have ceased patting and praising them as so many
infant prodigies. Perhaps the time may even come when women, mixing
freely in political life, will abandon that injured and aggressive air
which distinguishes the present advocate of female suffrage. Perhaps,
oh, joyous thought! the hour may arrive when women having learned a few
elementary facts of physiology, will not deem it an imperative duty to
embody them at once in an unwholesome novel. These unrestrained
disclosures which are thrust upon us with such curious zest, are the
ominous fruits of a crude and hasty mental development; but there are
some sins which even ignorance can only partially excuse. Things seen in
the light of ampler knowledge have a different aspect, and bear a
different significance; but the “fine and delicate moderation” which
Mme. de Souza declared to be woman’s natural gift, should preserve her,
even when semi-instructed, from all gross offences against good taste.
Moreover “whatever emancipates our minds without giving us the mastery
of ourselves is destructive,” and if the intellectual freedom of woman
is to be a noble freedom it must not degenerate into the privilege of
thinking whatever she likes, and saying whatever she pleases. That
instinctive refinement which she has acquired in centuries of
self-repression is not a quality to be undervalued, or lightly thrust
aside. If she loses “the strength that lies in delicacy,” she is weaker
in her social emancipation than in her social bondage.

The word “Virago,” in the Renaissance, meant a woman of culture,
character, and charm; a “man-like maiden” who combined the finer
qualities of both sexes. The gradual debasement of a word into a term of
reproach is sometimes a species of scandal. It is wilfully perverted in
the course of years, and made to tell a different tale,--a false tale,
probably,--which generations receive as true. On the other hand, it
sometimes marks the swift degeneracy of a lofty ideal. In either case,
the shame and pity are the same. Happily, as we are past the day when
men looked askance upon women’s sincere efforts at advancement, so we
are past the day when women deemed it profitable to ape distinctly
masculine traits. We have outgrown the first rude period of abortive and
misdirected energy, but it does not follow that the millennium has been
reached. Mr. Arnold has ventured to say that the best spiritual fruit of
culture is to keep man from a self-satisfaction which is retarding and
vulgarizing, yet no one recognized more clearly than he the ungracious
nature of the task. What people really like to be told is that they are
doing all things well, and have nothing to learn from anybody. This is
the reiterated message from the gods of which the daily press delivers
itself so sapiently, and by which it maintains its popularity and power.
This is the tone of all the nice little papers about woman’s progress,
and woman’s work, and woman’s influence, and woman’s recent successes in
literature, science, and art. “I gain nothing by being with such as
myself,” sighed Charles Lamb, with noble discontent. “_We encourage one
another in mediocrity._” This is what we women are doing with such
apparent satisfaction; we are encouraging one another in mediocrity. We
are putting up easy standards of our own, in place of the best standards
of men. We are sating our vanity with small and ignoble triumphs,
instead of struggling on, defeated, routed, but unconquered still, with
hopes high set upon the dazzling mountain-tops which we may never


Heinrich Heine, who had a particularly nice and discriminating taste in
ghosts, and who studied with such delicate pleasure the darkly woven
fancies of German superstition, frankly admitted that to see his own
face by moonlight in a mirror thrilled him with indefinable horror. Most
of us who are blessed, or burdened, with imaginations have shared at
moments in this curious fear of that smooth, shining sheet of glass,
which seems to hold within itself some power mysterious and malign. By
daytime it is commonplace enough, and lends itself with facile ease to
the cheerful and homely nature of its surroundings. But at dusk, at
night, by lamplight, or under the white, insinuating moonbeams, the
mirror assumes a distinctive and uncanny character of its own. Then it
is that it reflects that which we shrink from seeing. Then it is that
our own eyes meet us with an unnatural stare and a piercing
intelligence, as if another soul were watching us from their depths
with furtive, startled inquiry. Then it is that the invisible something
in the room, from which the merciful dullness of mortality has hitherto
saved us, may at any instant take sudden shape, and be seen, not in its
own form, but reflected in the treacherous glass, which, like the
treacherous water, has the power of betraying things that the air, man’s
friendly element, refuses to reveal.

This wise mistrust of the ghostly mirror is so old and so far spread
that we meet with it in the folk lore of every land. An English
tradition warns us that the new moon, which brings us such good fortune
when we look at it in the calm evening sky, carries a message of evil to
those who see it first reflected in a looking-glass. For such unlucky
mortals the lunar virus distils slow poison and corroding care. The
child who is suffered to see his own image in a mirror before he is a
year old is marked out for trouble and many disappointments. The friends
who glance at their reflections standing side by side are doomed to
quick dissension. The Swedish girl who looks into her glass by
candlelight risks the loss of her lover. A universal superstition,
which has found its way even to our own prosaic time and country,
forbids a bride to see herself in a mirror after her toilet is
completed. If she be discreet, she turns away from that fair picture
which pleases her so well, and then draws on her glove, or has some tiny
ribbon, flower, or jewel fastened to her gown, that the sour Fates may
be appeased, and evil averted from her threshold. In Warwickshire and
other parts of rural England it was long the custom to cover all the
looking-glasses in a house of death, lest some affrighted mortal should
behold in one the pale and shrouded corpse standing by his side. There
is a ghastly story of a servant maid who, on leaving the chamber where
her dead master lay, glanced in the uncovered mirror, and saw the
sheeted figure on the bed beckoning her rigidly to its side.

Some such tale as this must have been told me in my infancy, for in no
other way can I account for the secret terror I felt for the little oval
mirror which hung by my bed at school. Every night I turned it carefully
with its face to the wall, lest by some evil chance I should arise and
look in it. Every night I was tormented with the same haunting notion
that I had _not_ remembered to turn it; and then, shivering with cold
and fright, I would creep out of bed, and, with averted head and tightly
shut eyes, feel my way to the wretched thing, and assure myself of what
I knew already, that its harmless back alone confronted me. I never
asked myself what it was I feared to see;--some face that was not mine,
some apparition born of the darkness and of my own childish terror. Nor
can I truly say that this apprehension, inconvenient though it seemed on
chilly winter nights, did not carry with it a vague, sweet pleasure of
its own. Little girls of eleven may be no better nor wiser for the
scraps of terrifying folk lore which formed part of my earliest
education, yet in one respect, at least, I triumphed by their aid. Even
the somewhat spiritless monotony of a convent school was not without its
vivifying moments for a child who carried to bed with her each night a
horde of goblin fears to keep her imagination lively.

Superstitions of a less ghostly character cluster around the mirror,
and are familiar to us all. To break one is everywhere an evil omen.
“Seven years’ trouble, but no want,” follow fast upon such a mishap in
Yorkshire, while in Scotland, the cracking of a looking-glass, like the
falling of the doomed man’s picture from the wall, is a presage of
approaching death. Such portents as these, however,--though no one who
is truly wise presumes to treat them with levity,--are powerless to
thrill us with that indefinable and subtle horror which springs from
causeless emotions. Scott, in his prologue to “Aunt Margaret’s Mirror,”
has well defined the peculiar fear which is without reason and without
cure. The old lady who makes her servant maid draw a curtain over the
glass before she enters her bedroom, “so that she” (the maid) “may have
the first shock of the apparition, if there be any to be seen,” is of
far too practical a turn to trouble herself about the rationality of her
sensations. “Like many other honest folk,” she does not like to look at
her own reflection by candlelight, because it is an eerie thing to do.
Yet the tale she tells of the Paduan doctor and his magic mirror is, on
the other hand, neither interesting nor alarming. It has all the dreary
qualities of a psychical research report which cannot even provoke us to
a disbelief.

In fact, divining-crystals, when known as such professionally, are tame,
hard-working, almost respectable institutions. In the good old days of
necromancy, magicians had no need of such mechanical appliances. Any
reflecting surface would serve their turn, and a bowl of clear water was
enough to reveal to them all that they wanted to know. It was of more
importance, says Brand, “to make choice of a young maid to discern
therein those images or visions which a person defiled cannot see.” Even
the famous mirror, through whose agency Dr. Dee and his seer, Kelly,
were said to have discovered the Gunpowder Plot, was in reality nothing
more than a black polished stone, closely resembling coal.

    “Kelly did all his feats upon
     The devil’s looking-glass, a stone.”

Yet in an old Prayer-Book of 1737 there is a woodcut representing the
king and Sir Kenelm Digby gazing into a circular mirror, in which are
reflected the Houses of Parliament, and a man entering them with a dark
lantern in his hand. Above, the eye of Providence is seen darting a ray
of light upon the mirror. Below are legs and hoofs, as of evil spirits
flying rapidly away. The truth is, so many conflicting details are
related of Dr. Dee’s useful and benevolent possession that it has lost a
little of its _vraisemblance_. We are wont to rank it confusedly with
such mystic treasures as the mirror which told the fortunate Alasnam
whether or not a maid were as chaste as she was beautiful, or the glass
which Reynard described with such minute and charming falsehoods to the
royal lioness, who would fain have gratified her curiosity by a sight of
its indiscreet revelations.

It is never through magic mirrors, nor crystal balls, nor any of the
paraphernalia now so abundantly supplied by painstaking students of
telepathy that we approach that shadowy land over which broods perpetual
fear. Let us rather turn meekly back to the fairy-taught minister of
Aberfoyle, and learn of him the humiliating truth that “every drop of
water is a Mirrour to returne the Species of Things, were our visive
Faculty sharpe enough to apprehend them.” In other words, we stand in
need, not of elaborate appliances, but of a chastened spirit. If we seek
the supernatural with the keen apprehension which is begotten of
credulity and awe, we shall never find ourselves disappointed in our
quest. The same reverend authority tells us that “in a Witch’s Eye the
Beholder cannot see his own Image reflected, as in the Eyes of other
people,” which is an interesting and, it may be, a very useful thing to

Two curious stories having relation to the ghostly character of the
mirror will best serve to illustrate my text. The first is found in
Shelley’s journal; one of the inexhaustible store supplied to the poet
by “Monk” Lewis, and is about a German lady who, dancing with her lover
at a ball, saw in a glass the reflection of her dead husband gazing at
her with stern, reproachful eyes. She is said to have died of terror.
The second tale is infinitely more picturesque. In the church of Santa
Maria Novella at Florence is the beautiful tomb of Beata Villana, the
daughter of a noble house, and married in extreme youth to one of the
family of Benintendi. Tradition says that she was very fair, and that,
being arrayed one night for a festival, she stood looking long in the
mirror, allured by her own loveliness. Suddenly her eyes were opened,
and she saw, close by her side, a demon dressed with costly raiment like
her own, and decked with shining jewels like those she wore upon her
arms and bosom. Appalled by this vision of evil, Beata Villana fled from
the vanities of the world, and sought refuge in a convent, where she
died a holy death in 1360, being then but twenty-eight years of age. Her
marble effigy rests on its carven bed in the old Florentine church, and
smiling angels draw back the curtains to show her sweet, dead beauty,
safe at last from the perilous paths of temptation. In such a legend as
this there lingers for us still the elements of mystery and of horror
which centuries of prosaic progress are powerless to alienate from that
dumb witness of our silent, secret hours, the mirror.


There is a delightful story, which we owe to Charles Lever’s splendid
mendacity, of an old English lady who sent to Garibaldi, during that
warrior’s confinement at Varignano, a portly pincushion well stocked
with British pins. Her enthusiastic countrywomen had already supplied
their idol with woolen underwear, and fur-lined slippers, and
intoxicating beverages, and other articles equally useful to an
abstemious prisoner of war in a hot climate; but pins had been
overlooked until this thoughtful votary of freedom offered her tribute
at its shine.

Absurd though the tale appears, it has its counterparts in more sober
annals, and few men of any prominence have not bewailed at times their
painful popularity. Sir Walter Scott, who was the recipient of many
gifts, had his fair share of vexatious experiences, and laughs at them
somewhat ruefully now and then in the pages of his journal. Eight large
and very badly painted landscapes, “in great gilded frames,” were given
him by one “most amiable and accomplished old lady.” She had ordered
them from an impoverished amateur whom she desired to befriend, and then
palmed them off on Sir Walter, who was too gentle and generous to
protest. A more “whimsical subject of affliction” was the presentation
of two emus by a Mr. Harmer, a settler in Botany Bay, to whom Scott had
given some useful letters of introduction. “I wish his gratitude had
either taken a different turn, or remained as quiescent as that of
others whom I have obliged more materially,” writes Sir Walter in his
journal. “I at first accepted the creatures, conceiving them, in my
ignorance, to be some sort of blue and green parrots, which, though I do
not admire their noise, might scream and yell at their pleasure, if hung
up in the hall among the armor. But your emu, it seems, stands six feet
high on his stocking soles, and is little better than a kind of
cassowary or ostrich. Hang them! They might eat up my collection of old
arms, for what I know.”

Finally, like the girl who was converted at a revival, and who gave her
blue ribbons to her sister because she knew they were taking her to
hell, Scott got himself out of the scrape by passing on the emus, as a
sort of feudal offering, to the Duke of Buccleugh, and leaving that
nobleman to solve as best he could the problem of their maintenance. The
whole story is very much like the experience of Mr. James Payn’s lawyer
friend, to whom a “grateful orphan” sent from the far East a dromedary,
with the pleasant assurance that its hump was considered extremely
delicate eating. As this highly respected member of the London bar could
not well have the dromedary butchered for the sake of its hump,--even if
he had yearned over the dish,--and as he was equally incapable of riding
the beast to his office every morning, he considered himself fortunate
when the Zoölogical Gardens opened their hospitable gates and the
orphan’s tribute disappeared therein, to be seen and heard of no more.

Charles Lamb, on the other hand, if we may trust the testimony of his
letters, appears to have derived a keen and kindly pleasure from the
more reasonable and modest presents of his friends. Perhaps, like
Steele, he looked upon it as a point of morality to be obliged to those
who endeavored to oblige him. Perhaps it was easy for one so lovable to
detect the honest affection which inspired these varied gifts. It is
certain we find him returning genial thanks, now to Hazlitt for a pig,
now to Wordsworth for a “great armful” of poetry, and now to Thomas
Allsop for some Stilton cheese,--“the delicatest, rainbow-hued, melting
piece I ever flavored.” He seems equally gratified with an engraving of
Pope sent by Mr. Procter, and with another pig,--“a dear pigmy,” he
calls it,--the gift of Mrs. Bruton. Nor is it only in these letters of
acknowledgment--wherein courtesy dispenses occasionally with the
companionship of truth--that Lamb shows himself a generous recipient of
his friends’ good will. He writes to Wordsworth, who has sent him
nothing, and expresses his frank delight in some fruit which has been
left early that morning at his door:--

“There is something inexpressibly pleasant to me in these presents, be
it fruit, or fowl, or brawn, or what not. Books are a legitimate cause
of acceptance. If presents be not the soul of friendship, they are
undoubtedly the most spiritual part of the body of that intercourse.
There is too much narrowness of thinking on this point. The punctilio of
acceptance, me-thinks, is too confined and strait-laced. I could be
content to receive money, or clothes, or a joint of meat from a friend.
Why should he not send me a dinner as well as a desert? I would taste
him in all the beasts of the field, and through all creation. Therefore
did the basket of fruit of the juvenile Talfourd not displease me.”

It is hard not to envy Talfourd when one reads these lines. It is hard
not to envy any one who had the happiness of giving fruit, or cheese, or
pigs to Charles Lamb. How gladly would we all have brought our offerings
to his door, and have gone away with bounding hearts, exulting in the
thought that our pears would deck his table, our pictures his wall, our
books his scanty shelves! “People seldom read a book which is given to
them,” observes Dr. Johnson, with his usual discouraging acumen; but
Lamb found leisure, amid heavy toil, to peruse the numerous volumes
which small poets as well as big ones thought fit to send him. He
accepted his gifts with a charming munificence which suggests those
far-off, fabulous days when presents were picturesque accessories of
life; when hosts gave to their guests the golden cups from which they
had been drinking; and sultans gave their visitors long trains of female
slaves, all beautiful, and carrying jars of jewels upon their heads; and
Merlin gave to Gwythno the famous hamper which multiplied its contents
an hundredfold, and fed the starving hosts in storm-swept Caradigion. In
those brave years, large-hearted men knew how to accept as well as how
to give, and they did both with an easy grace for which our modern
methods offer no adequate opportunity. Even in the veracious chronicles
of hagiology, the old harmonious sentiment is preserved, and puts us to
the blush. St. Martin sharing his cloak with the beggar at the gates of
Tours was hardly what we delight in calling practical; yet not one
shivering outcast only, but all mankind would have been poorer had that
mantle been withheld. King Canute taking off his golden crown, and
laying it humbly on St. Edmund’s shrine, stirs our hearts a little even
now; while Queen Victoria sending fifty pounds to a deserving charity
excites in us no stronger sentiment than esteem. It was easier, perhaps,
for a monarch to do a gracious and a princely deed when his crown and
sceptre were his own property instead of belonging to the state; and
picturesqueness, ignore it as we may, is a quality which, like
distinction, “fixes the world’s ideals.”

These noble and beautiful benefactions, however, are not the only ones
which linger pleasantly in our memories. Gifts there have been, of a
humble and domestic kind, the mere recollection of which is a continual
delight. I love to think of Jane Austen’s young sailor brother, her “own
particular little brother,” Charles, spending his first prize money in
gold chains and “topaze crosses” for his sisters. What prettier, warmer
picture can be called to mind than this handsome, gallant, light-hearted
lad--handsomer, Jane jealously insists, than all the rest of the
family--bringing back to his quiet country home these innocent trophies
of victory? Surely it was the pleasure Miss Austen felt in that “topaze”
cross, that little golden chain, which found such eloquent expression in
Fanny Price’s mingled rapture and distress when _her_ sailor brother
brought her the amber cross from Sicily, and Edmund Bertram offered her,
too late, the chain on which to hang it. It is a splendid reward that
lies in wait for boyish generosity when the sister chances to be one of
the immortals, and hands down to generations of readers the charming
record of her gratitude and love.

By the side of this thoroughly English picture should be placed, in
justice and in harmony, another which is as thoroughly German,--Rahel
Varnhagen sending to her brother money to bring him to Berlin. The
letter which accompanies this sisterly gift is one of the most touching
in literature. The brilliant, big-hearted woman is yearning for her
kinsman’s face. She has saved the trifling sum required through many
unnamed denials. She gives it as generously as if it cost her nothing.
Yet with that wise thrift which goes hand in hand with liberality, she
warns her brother that her husband knows nothing of the matter. Not that
she mistrusts his nature for a moment. He is good and kind, but he is
also a man, and has the customary shortsightedness of his sex. “He will
think,” she writes, “that I have endless resources, that I am a
millionaire, and will forget to economize in the future.”

Ah, painful frugality of the poor Fatherland! Here is nothing
picturesque, nor lavish, nor light-hearted, to tempt our jocund fancies.
Yet here, as elsewhere, the generous soul refuses to be stinted of its
joy; and the golden crown of King Canute is not more charming to
contemplate than are the few coins wrested from sordid needs, and given
with a glad munificence which makes them splendid as the ransom of a


Nations, like individuals, stand self-betrayed in their pastimes and
their jests. The ancient historians recognized this truth, and thought
it well worth their while to gossip pleasantly into the ears of
attentive and grateful generations. Cleopatra playfully outwitting
Anthony by fastening a salted fish to the boastful angler’s hook is no
less clear to us than Cleopatra sternly outwitting Cæsar with the poison
of the asp, and we honor Plutarch for confiding both these details to
the world. Their verity has nothing to do with their value or our
satisfaction. The mediæval chroniclers listened rapturously to the
clamor of battle, and found all else but war too trivial for their pens.
The modern scholar produces that pitiless array of facts known as
constitutional history; and labors under the strange delusion that acts
of Parliament, or acts of Congress, reform bills, and political
pamphlets represent his country’s life. If this sordid devotion to the
concrete suffers no abatement, the intelligent reader of the future will
be compelled to reconstruct the nineteenth century from the pages of
“Punch” and “Life,” from faded play-bills, the records of the
race-track, and the inextinguishable echo of dead laughter.

For man lives in his recreations, and is revealed to us by the
search-light of an epigram. Humor, in one form or another, is
characteristic of every nation; and reflecting the salient points of
social and national life, it illuminates those crowded corners which
history leaves obscure. The laugh that we enjoy at our own expense
betrays us to the rest of the world, and the humorists of England and
America have been long employed in pointing out with derisive fingers
their own, and not their neighbor’s shortcomings. If we are more
reckless in our satire, and more amused at our own wit, it is because we
are better tempered, and newer to the game. The delight of being a
nation, and a very big nation at that, has not yet with us lost all the
charm of novelty, and we pelt one another with ridicule after the
joyously aggressive fashion of schoolboys pelting one another with
snowballs. Already there is a vast array of seasoned and recognized
jokes which are leveled against every city in the land. The culture of
Boston, the slowness of Philadelphia, the ostentation of New York, the
arrogance and ambition of Chicago, the mutual jealousy of Minneapolis
and St. Paul,--these are themes of which the American satirist never
wearies, these are characteristics which he has striven, with some
degree of success, to make clear to the rest of mankind. Add to them our
less justifiable diversion at official corruption and mismanagement, our
glee over the blunders and rascalities of the men whom we permit to
govern us, and we have that curious combination of keenness and apathy,
of penetration and indifference which makes possible American humor.

Now Englishmen, however prone to laugh at their own foibles, do not, as
a rule, take their politics lightly. Those whom I have known were most
depressingly serious when discussing the situation with friends, and
most disagreeably violent when by chance they met an opponent. Neither
do they see anything funny in being robbed by corporations; but, with
discouraging and unhumorous tenacity, exact payment of the last farthing
of debt, fulfilment of the least clause in a charter. Our lenity in such
matters is a trait which they fail to understand, and are disinclined to
envy. One of the most amusing scenes I ever witnessed was an altercation
between an exceedingly clever Englishwoman, who for years has taken a
lively part in public measures, and a countrywoman of my own, deeply
imbued with that gentle pessimism which insures contentment, and bars
reform. The subject under discussion was the street-car service of
Philadelphia (which would have been primitive for Asia Minor), and the
Englishwoman was expressing in no measured terms her amazement at such
comprehensive and unqualified inefficiency. In vain my American friend
explained to her that this car-service was one of the most diverting
things about our Quaker city, that it represented one of those humorous
details which gave Philadelphia its distinctly local color. The
Englishwoman declined to be amused. “I do not understand you in the
least,” she said gravely. “You have a beautiful city, of which you
should be proud. You have disgraceful streets and trams, of which you
should be ashamed. Yet you ridicule your city as if you were ashamed of
that, and defend your trams as if you were proud of them. If you think
it funny to be imposed on, you will never be at a loss for a joke.”

Yet corruption in office, like hypocrisy in religion, has furnished food
for mirth ever since King Log and King Stork began their beneficent
reigns. Diogenes complained that the people of Athens liked to have the
things they should have held most dear pelted with dangerous banter.
Kant found precisely the same fault with the French, and even the
history of sober England is enlivened by its share of such satiric
laughter. “Wood was dear at Newmarket,” said a wit, when Sir Henry
Montague received there the white staff which made him Lord High
Treasurer of England, for which exalted honor he had paid King James the
First full twenty thousand pounds. The jest sounds so light-hearted, so
free from any troublesome resentment, that it might have been uttered in
America; but it is well to remember that such witticisms pointed
unerringly to the tragic downfall of the Stuarts. Indeed, the gayest
laugh occasionally rings a death-knell, and so our humorists wield a
power which could hardly be entrusted into better hands. “Punch” has the
cleanest record of any English journal. It has ever--save for those
perverse and wicked slips which cost it the friendship of stouthearted
Richard Doyle--allied itself with honor and honesty, and that sane
tolerance which is the basis of humor. “Life” has fought an even braver
fight, and has been the active champion of all that is helpless and
ill-treated, the advocate of all that is honorable and sincere. The
little children who crawl, wasted and fever-stricken, through the heated
city streets, the animals that pay with prolonged pain for the pleasures
of scientific research,--these hapless victims of our advanced
civilization find their best friend in this New York comic paper. The
girl whose youth and innocence are bartered for wealth in the open
markets of matrimony, sees no such vigorous protest against her
degradation as in its wholesome pages. It is scant praise to say that
“Life” does more to quicken charity, and to purify social corruption
than all the religious and ethical journals in the country. This is the
natural result of its reaching the proper audience. It has the same
beneficent effect that sermons would have if they were preached to the
non-church-going people who require them.

When we have learned to recognize the fact that humor does not
necessarily imply fun, we will better understand the humorist’s attitude
and labors. There is nothing, as a rule, very funny, in the weekly
issues of “Punch,” and “Puck,” and “Life.” Many of the jokes ought to be
explained in a key like that which accompanied my youthful arithmetic;
and those which need no such deciphering are often so threadbare and
feeble from hard usage, that it is scarcely decent to exact further
service from them. It has been represented to us more than once that the
English, being conservative in the matter of amusement, prefer those
jests which, like “old Grouse in the gunroom,” have grown seasoned in
long years of telling. “Slow to understand a new joke,” says Mrs.
Pennell, “they are equally slow to part with one that has been
mastered.” But there are some time-honored jests--the young
housekeeper’s pie, for example, and the tramp who is unable to digest
it--which even a conservative American, if such an anomaly exists, would
relinquish dry-eyed and smiling. It is not for such feeble waggery as
this that we value our comic journals, but for those vital touches which
illuminate and betray the tragic farce called life. “Punch’s” cartoon
depicting Bismarck as a discharged pilot, gloomily quitting the ship of
state, while overhead the young emperor swaggers and smiles derisively,
is in itself an epitome of history, a realization of those brief bitter
moments which mark the turning-point of a nation and stand for the
satire of success. “Life’s” sombre picture of the young wife bowing her
head despairingly over the piano, as though to shut out from her gaze
her foolish, besotted husband, is an unflinching delineation of the most
sordid, pitiful and commonplace of all daily tragedies. In both these
masterly sketches there is a grim humor, softened by kindliness, and
this is the key-note of their power. They are as unlike as possible in
subject and in treatment, but the undercurrent of human sympathy is the

Is it worth while, then, to be so contentious over the superficial
contrasts of English and American humor, when both spring from the same
seed, and nourish the same fruit? Why should we resent one another’s
methods, or deny one another’s success? If, as our critics proudly
claim, we Americans have a quicker perception of the ludicrous, the
English have a finer standard by which to judge its worth. If we, as a
nation, have more humor, they have better humorists, and can point
serenely to those unapproached and unapproachable writers of the
eighteenth century, whose splendid ringing laughter still clears the
murky air. It is true, I am told now and then, with commendable gravity,
that such mirth is unbecoming in a refined and critical age, and that,
if I would try a little harder to follow the somewhat elusive satire of
the modern analyst, I should enjoy a species of pleasantry too delicate
or too difficult for laughter. I hesitate to affirm coarsely in reply
that I like to laugh, because it is possible to be deeply humiliated by
the contempt of one’s fellow-creatures. It is possible also to be sadly
confused by new theories and new standards; by the people who tell me
that exaggerated types, like Mr. Micawber and Mrs. Gamp, are not
amusing, and by the critics who are so good as to reveal to me the
depths of my own delusions. “We have long ago ceased to be either
surprised, grieved, or indignant at anything the English say of us,”
writes Mr. Charles Dudley Warner. “We have recovered our balance. We
know that since ‘Gulliver’ there has been no piece of original humor
produced in England equal to Knickerbocker’s ‘New York;’ that not in
this century has any English writer equaled the wit and satire of the
‘Biglow Papers.’”

Does this mean that Mr. Warner considers Washington Irving to be the
equal of Jonathan Swift; that he places the gentle satire of the
American alongside of those trenchant and masterly pages which
constitute the landmarks of literature? “Swift,” says Dr. Johnson, with
reluctant truthfulness, “must be allowed for a time to have dictated the
political opinions of the English nation.” He is a writer whom we may be
permitted to detest, but not to undervalue. His star, red as Mars, still
flames fiercely in the horizon, while the genial lustre of Washington
Irving grows dimmer year by year. We can never hope to “recover our
balance” by confounding values, a process of self-deception which
misleads no one but ourselves.

Curiously enough, at least one Englishman may be found who cordially
agrees with Mr. Warner. The Rev. R. H. Haweis has enriched the world
with a little volume on American humorists, in which he kindly explains
a great deal which we had thought tolerably clear already, as, for
example, why Mark Twain is amusing. The authors whom Mr. Haweis has
selected to illustrate his theme are Washington Irving, Dr. Holmes, Mr.
Lowell, Artemus Ward, Mark Twain and Bret Harte; and he arranges this
somewhat motley group into a humorous round-table, where all hold equal
rank. He is not only generous, he is strictly impartial in his praise;
and manifests the same cordial enthusiasm for Boston’s “Autocrat” and
for “The Innocents Abroad.” Artemus Ward’s remark to his hesitating
audience: “Ladies and gentlemen! You cannot expect to go in without
paying your money, but you can pay your money without going in,”
delights our kindly critic beyond measure. “Was there ever a wittier
motto than this?” he asks, with such good-natured exultation that we
have a vague sense of self-reproach at not being more diverted by the

Now Mr. Haweis, guided by that dangerous instinct which drives us on to
unwarranted comparisons, does not hesitate to link the fame of
Knickerbocker’s “New York” with the fame of “Gulliver’s Travels,”
greatly to the disadvantage of the latter. “Irving,” he gravely
declares, “has all the satire of Swift, without his sour coarseness.” It
would be as reasonable to say, “Apollinaris has all the vivacity of
brandy, without its corrosive insalubrity.” The advantages of
Apollinaris are apparent at first sight. It sparkles pleasantly, it is
harmless, it is refreshing, it can be consumed in large quantities
without any particular result. Its merits are incontestible; but when
all is said, a few of us still remember Dr. Johnson--“Brandy, sir, is a
drink for heroes!” The robust virility of Swift places him forever at
the head of English-speaking satirists. Unpardonable as is his
coarseness, shameful as is his cynicism, we must still agree with
Carlyle that his humor, “cased, like Ben Jonson’s, in a most hard and
bitter rind,” is too genuine to be always unloving and malign.

The truth is that, when not confused by critics, we Americans have a
sense of proportion as well as a sense of humor, and our keen
appreciation of a jest serves materially to modify our national
magniloquence, and to lessen our national self-esteem. We are
good-tempered, too, where this humor is aroused, and so the frank
ignorance of foreigners, the audacious disparagement of our fellow
countrymen, are accepted with equal serenity. Newspapers deem it their
duty to lash themselves into patriotic rage over every affront, but
newspaper readers do not. Surely it is a generous nation that so
promptly forgave Dickens for the diverting malice of “Martin
Chuzzlewit.” I heard once a young Irishman, who was going to the World’s
Fair, ask a young Englishman, who had been, if the streets of Chicago
were paved, and the question was hailed with courteous glee by the few
Americans present. Better still, I had the pleasure of listening to a
citizen of Seattle, who was describing to a group of his townspeople
the glories of the Fair, and the magnitude of the city which had brought
it to such a triumphant conclusion. “Chicago, gentlemen,” said this
enthusiastic traveler in a burst of final eloquence, “Chicago is the
Seattle of Illinois.” The splendid audacity of this commended it as much
to one city as to the other; and when it was repeated in Chicago, it was
received with that frank delight which proves how highly we value the
blessed privilege of laughter.

Perhaps it is our keener sense of humor which prompts America to show
more honor to her humorists than England often grants. Perhaps it is
merely because we are in the habit of according to all our men of
letters a larger share of public esteem than a more critical or richly
endowed nation would think their labors merited. Perhaps our humorists
are more amusing than their English rivals. Whatever may be the cause,
it is undoubtedly true that we treat Mr. Stockton with greater deference
than England treats Mr. Anstey. We have illustrated articles about him
in our magazines, and incidents of his early infancy are gravely
narrated, as likely to interest the whole reading public. Now Mr.
Anstey might have passed his infancy in an egg, for all the English
magazines have to tell us on the subject. His books are bought, and
read, and laughed over, and laid aside, and when there is a bitter
cadence in his mirth, people are disappointed and displeased. England
has always expected her jesters to wear the cap and bells. She would
have nothing but foolish fun from Hood, sacrificing his finer instincts
and his better parts on the shrine of her own ruthless desires, and
yielding him scant return for the lifelong vassalage she exacted. It is
fitting that an English humorist should have written the most sombre,
the most heart-breaking, the most beautiful and consoling of tragic
stories. Du Maurier in “Peter Ibbetson” has taught to England the lesson
she needed to learn.

The best-loved workers of every nation are those who embody distinctly
national characteristics, whose work breathes a spirit of wholesome
national prejudice, who are children of their own soil, and cannot, even
in fancy, be associated with any other art or literature save the art or
literature of their fatherland. This was the case with honest John
Leech, whom England took to her heart and held dear because he was so
truly English, because he despised Frenchmen, and mistrusted Irishmen,
and hated Jews, and had a splendid British frankness in conveying these
various impressions to the world. What would Leech have thought of Peter
Ibbetson watching with sick heart the vessels bound for France! What a
contrast between the cultured sympathy of Du Maurier’s beautiful
drawings, and the real, narrow affection which Leech betrays even for
his Staffordshire roughs, who are British roughs, be it rememberd, and
not without their stanch and sturdy British virtues. He does not
idealize them in any way. He is content to love them as they are.
Neither does Mr. Barrie endeavor to describe Thrums as a place where any
but Thrums people could ever have found life endurable; yet he is as
loyal in his affection for that forbidding little hamlet as if it were
Florence the fair. Bret Harte uses no alluring colors with which to
paint his iniquitous mining camps, but he is the brother at heart of
every gambler and desperado in the diggings. Humanity is a mighty bond,
and nationality strengthens its fibres. We can no more imagine Bret
Harte amid Jane Austen’s placid surroundings, than we can imagine Dr.
Holmes in a mining-camp, or Henry Fielding in Boston. Just as the
Autocrat springs from Puritan ancestors, and embodies the intellectual
traditions of New England, so Tom Jones, in his riotous young manhood,
springs from that lusty Saxon stock, of whose courage, truthfulness, and
good-tempered animalism he stands the most splendid representative. “The
old order is passed and the new arises;” but Sophia Western has not yet
yielded her place in the hearts of men to the morbid and self-centred
heroines of modern fiction. Truest of all, is Charles Lamb who, more
than any other humorist, more than any other man of letters, perhaps,
belongs exclusively to his own land, and is without trace or echo of
foreign influence. France was to Lamb, not a place where the finest
prose is written, but a place where he ate frogs--“the nicest little
delicate things--rabbity-flavored. Imagine a Lilliputian rabbit.”
Germany was little or nothing, and America was less. The child of London

    “Mother of mightier, nurse of none more dear,”

rich in the splendid literature of England, and faithful lover both of
the teeming city and the ripe old books, Lamb speaks to English hearts
in a language they can understand. And we, his neighbors, whom he recked
not of, hold him just as dear; for his spleenless humor is an
inheritance of our mother tongue, one of the munificent gifts which
England shares with us, and for which no payment is possible save the
frank and generous recognition of a pleasure that is without peer.


Mr. Frederick Harrison, in a caustic little paper on the Æsthete, has
taken occasion to say some severely truthful things anent the dreary
grandeur of rich men’s houses, where each individual object is charming
in itself, and out of harmony with all the rest. “I believe,” he
observes sadly, “that the camel will have passed through the eye of the
needle before the rich man shall have found his way to enter the Kingdom
of Beauty. It is a hard thing for him to enjoy art at all. The habits of
the age convert him into a patron, and the assiduity of the dealers
deprive him of peace.”

Is it, then, the mere desire to be obliging which induces a millionaire
to surround himself with things which he does not want, which nobody
else wants, and which are perpetually in the way of comfort and
pleasure? Does he build and furnish his house to support the dealers, to
dazzle his friends, or to increase his own earthly happiness and
well-being? The serious fashion in which he goes to work admits of no
backsliding, no merciful deviations from a relentless luxury. I have
seen ghastly summer palaces, erected presumably for rest and recreation,
where the miserable visitor was conducted from a Japanese room to a
Dutch room, and thence to something Early English or Florentine; and
such a jumble of costly incongruities, of carved scrolls and blue tiles
and bronze screens and stained glass, was actually dubbed a home. A
home! The guest, surfeited with an afternoon’s possession, could escape
to simpler scenes; but the master of the house was chained to all that
tiresome splendor for five months of the year, and the sole compensation
he appeared to derive from it was the saturnine delight of pointing out
to small processions of captive friends every detail which they would
have preferred to overlook. It is a painful thing, at best, to live up
to one’s bricabrac, if one has any; but to live up to the bricabrac of
many lands and of many centuries is a strain which no wise man would
dream of inflicting upon his constitution.

Perhaps the most unlovely circumstance about the “palatial residences”
of our country is that everything in them appears to have been bought at
once. Everything is equally new, and equally innocent of any imprint of
the owner’s personality. He has not lived among his possessions long
enough to mould them to his own likeness, and very often he has not even
selected them himself. I have known whole libraries purchased in a week,
and placed _en masse_ upon their destined shelves; whole rooms furnished
at one fell swoop with all things needful, from the chandelier in the
ceiling to the Dresden figures in the cabinet. I have known people who
either mistrusted their own tastes, or who had no tastes to mistrust,
and so surrendered their houses to upholsterers and decorators, giving
them _carte blanche_ to do their best or worst. A room which has been
the unresisting prey of an upholsterer is, on the whole, the saddest
thing that money ever bought; yet its deplorable completeness calls
forth rapturous commendations from those who can understand no natural
line of demarcation between a dwelling-place and a shop. The same
curious delight in handsome things, apart from any beauty or fitness,
has resulted in our over-ornamented Pullman cars, with their cumbrous
and stuffy hangings; and in the aggressive luxury of our ocean steamers,
where paint and gilding run riot, and every scrap of wall space bears
its burden of inappropriate decoration. To those for whom a sea voyage
is but a penitential pilgrimage, the fat frescoed Cupids and pink roses
of the saloons offer no adequate compensation for their sufferings;
whitewash and hangings of sackcloth would harmonize more closely with
their sentiments. Yet these ornate embellishments pursue them now even
to the solitude of their staterooms, and the newest steamers boast of
cabins where the wretched traveler, too ill to arise from his berth, may
be solaced by Cupids of his own frisking nakedly over the wash-bowl, and
by pink roses in profusion festooning his narrow cell. If he can look at
them without loathing, he is to be envied his unequaled serenity of

It is strange that the authors who have written so much about luxury,
whether they praise it satirically, like Mandeville, or condemn it very
seriously, like Mr. Goldwin Smith, or merely inquire into its history
and traditions, like that careful scholar, M. Baudrillart, should never
have been struck with the amount of discomfort it entails. In modern as
in ancient times, the same zealous pursuit of prodigality results in the
same heavy burden of undesirable possessions. The youthful daughter of
Marie Antoinette was allowed, we are told, four pairs of shoes a week;
and M. Taine, inveighing bitterly against the extravagances of the
French court, has no word of sympathy to spare for the unfortunate
little princess, condemned by this ruthless edict always to wear new
shoes. Louis XVI. had thirty doctors of his own; but surely no one will
be found to envy him this royal superfluity. He also had a hundred and
fifty pages, who were probably a terrible nuisance; and two
chair-carriers, who were paid twenty thousand livres a year to inspect
his Majesty’s chairs, which duty they solemnly performed twice a day,
whether they were wanted or not. The Cardinal de Rohan had all his
kitchen utensils of solid silver, which must have given as much
satisfaction to his cooks as did Nero’s golden fishing-hooks to the
fish he caught with them. M. Baudrillart describes the feasts of
Elagabalus as if their only fault was their excess; but the impartial
reader, scanning each unpalatable detail, comes to a different
conclusion. Thrushes’ brains, and parrots’ heads, peas mashed with
grains of gold, beans fricasseed with morsels of amber, and rice mixed
with pearls do not tempt one’s fancy as either nourishing or appetizing
diet; while the crowning point of discomfort was reached when revolving
roofs threw down upon the guests such vast quantities of roses that they
were well-nigh smothered. Better a dish of herbs, indeed, than all this
dubious splendor. Nothing less enjoyable could have been invented in the
interests of hospitality, save only that mysterious banquet given by
Solomon the mighty, where all the beasts of the earth and all the demons
of the air were summoned by his resistless talisman to do honor to the
terrified and miserable banqueters.

“Le Superflu, chose très-nécessaire,” to quote Voltaire’s delightful
phrase, is a difficult thing to handle with propriety and grace. Where
the advantages of early training and inherited habits of indulgence are
lacking, men who endeavor to spend a great deal of money show a pitiful
incapacity for the task. They spend it, to be sure, but only in
augmenting their own and their neighbors’ discomfort; and even this they
do in a blundering, unimaginative fashion, almost painful to
contemplate. The history of Law’s Bubble, with its long train of
fabulous and fleeting fortunes, illustrates the helplessness of men to
cope with suddenly acquired wealth. The Parisian nabob who warmed up a
ragout with burning bank notes, that he might boast of how much it cost
him, was sadly stupid for a Frenchman; but he was kinder to himself,
after all, than the house-painter who, bewildered with the wealth of
Fortunatus, could think of nothing better to do with it than to hire
ninety supercilious domestics for his own misusage and oppression. Since
the days of Darius, who required thirty attendants to make his royal
bed, there probably never were people more hopelessly in one another’s
way than that little army of ninety servants awaiting orders from an
artisan. The only creature capable of reveling in such an establishment
was the author of “Coningsby” and “Lothair,” to whom long rows of
powdered footmen, “glowing in crimson liveries,” were a spectacle as
exhilarating as is a troop of Horse Guards to persons of a more martial
cast of mind. Readers of “Lothair” will remember the home-coming of that
young gentleman to Muriel Towers, where the house steward, and the chief
butler, and the head gardener, and the lord of the kitchen, and the head
forester, and the grooms of the stud and of the chambers stand in modest
welcome behind the distinguished housekeeper, “who curtsied like the old
court;” while the underlings await at a more “respectful distance” the
arrival of their youthful master, whose sterling insignificance must
have been painfully enhanced by all this solemn anticipation. “Even the
mountains fear a rich man,” says that ominous Turkish proverb which
breathes the corruption of a nation; but it would have been a
chicken-hearted molehill that trembled before such a homunculus as

The finer adaptability of women makes them a little less uncomfortable
amid such oppressive surroundings, and their tamer natures revolt from
ridiculous excess. They listen, indeed, with favor to the counsel of
Polonius, and their habit is occasionally costlier than their purses can
buy; witness that famous milliner’s bill for fifteen thousand pounds,
which was disputed in the French courts during the gilded reign of
Napoleon III. But, as a rule, the punishment of their extravagances
falls on themselves or on their husbands. They do not, as is the fashion
with men, make their belongings a burden to their friends. It is seldom
the mistress of a curio-laden house who insists with tireless
perseverance on your looking at everything she owns; though it was a
woman, and a provincial actress at that, raised by two brilliant
marriages to the pinnacle of fame and fortune, who came to Abbotsford
accompanied by a whole retinue of servants and several private
physicians, to the mingled amusement and despair of Sir Walter. And it
was a flower girl of Paris who spent her suddenly acquired wealth in the
most sumptuous entertainments ever known even to that city of costly
caprice. But for stupid and meaningless luxury we must look, after all,
to men: to Caligula, whose horse wore a collar of pearls, and drank out
of an ivory trough; to Condé, who spent three thousand crowns for
jonquils to deck his palace at Chantilly; to the Duke of Albuquerque,
who had forty silver ladders among his utterly undesirable possessions.
Even in the matter of dress and fashion, they have exceeded the folly of
women. It is against the gallants of Spain, and not against their wives,
that the good old gossip James Howell inveighs with caustic humor. The
Spaniard, it would seem, “tho’ perhaps he had never a shirt to his back,
yet must he have a toting huge swelling ruff around his neck,” for the
starching of which exquisitely uncomfortable article he paid the then
enormous sum of twenty shillings. It was found necessary to issue a
royal edict against these preposterous decorations, which grew larger
and stiffer every year, even children of tender age wearing their
miniature instruments of torture. “Poverty is a most odious calling,”
sighs Burton with melancholy candor; but it is not without some small
compensations of its own. To realize them, we might compare one of
Murillo’s dirty, smiling, half-naked beggar boys with an Infanta by
Velasquez, or with Moreelzee’s charming and unhappy little Princess,
who, in spreading ruff and stiff pearl-trimmed stomacher, gazes at us
with childish dignity from the wall of Amsterdam’s museum. Or we might
remember the pretty story of Meyerbeer’s little daughter, who, after
watching for a long time the gambols of some ragged children in the
street, turned sadly from the window, and said, with pathetic
resignation, “It is a great misfortune to have genteel parents.”


“Few of us,” says Mr. Walter Bagehot in one of his most cynical moods,
“can bear the theory of our amusements. It is essential to the pride of
man to believe that he is industrious.”

Now, is it industry or a love of sport which makes us sit in long and
solemn rows in an oppressively hot room, blinking at glaring lights,
breathing a vitiated air, wriggling on straight and narrow chairs, and
listening, as well as heat and fatigue and discomfort will permit, to a
lecture which might just as well have been read peacefully by our own
firesides? Do we do this thing for amusement, or for intellectual gain?
Outside, the winter sun is setting clearly in a blue-green sky. People
are chatting gayly in the streets. Friends are drinking cups of fragrant
tea in pleasant lamp-lit rooms. There are concerts, perhaps, or
_matinées_, where the deft comedian provokes continuous laughter. No; it
is not amusement that we seek in the lecture-hall. Too many really
amusing things may be done on a winter afternoon. Too many possible
pleasures lie in wait for every spare half-hour. We can harbor no
delusions on that score.

Is it industry, then, that packs us side by side in serried Amazonian
ranks, broken here and there by a stray and downcast man? But on the
library shelves stand thick as autumn leaves the unread books. Hidden
away in obscure corners are the ripe old authors whom we know by name
alone. The mist of an unspoken tongue veils from us the splendid
treasures of antiquity, and we comfort ourselves with glib commonplaces
about “the sympathetic study of translations.” No; it can hardly be the
keen desire of culture which makes us patient listeners to endless
lectures. Culture is not so easy of access. It is not a thing passed
lightly from hand to hand. It is the reward of an intelligent quest, of
delicate intuitions, of a broad and generous sympathy with all that is
best in the world. It has been nobly defined by Mr. Symonds as “the
raising of the intellectual faculties to their highest potency by means
of conscious training.” We cannot gain this fine mastery over ourselves
by absorbing--or forgetting--a mass of details upon disconnected
subjects,--“a thousand particulars,” says Addison, “which I would not
have my mind burdened with for a Vatican.” If we will sit down and
seriously try to reckon up our winnings in years of lecture-going, we
may yet find ourselves reluctant converts to Mr. Bagehot’s cruel
conclusions. It is the old, old search for a royal road to learning. It
is the old, old effort at a compromise which cheats us out of both
pleasure and profit. It is the old, old determination to seek some short
cut to acquirements, which, like “conversing with ingenious men,” may
save us, says Bishop Berkeley, from “the drudgery of reading and

The necessity of knowing a little about a great many things is the most
grievous burden of our day. It deprives us of leisure on the one hand,
and of scholarship on the other. At times we envy the happy Hermit of
Prague, who never saw pen or ink; at times we think somewhat wistfully
of the sedate and dignified methods of the past, when students, to use
Sir Walter Scott’s illustration, paid their tickets at the door,
instead of scrambling over the walls to distinction. It shows a good
deal of agility and self-reliance to scale the walls; and such athletic
interlopers, albeit a trifle disordered in appearance, are apt to boast
of their unaided prowess: how with “little Latin and less Greek” they
have become--not Shakespeares indeed, nor even Scotts--but prominent,
very prominent citizens indeed. The notion is gradually gaining ground
that common-school education is as good as college education; that
extension lectures and summer classes are acceptable substitutes for
continuous study and mental discipline; that reading translations of the
classics is better, because easier, than reading the classics
themselves; and that attending a “Congress” of specialists gives us, in
some mysterious fashion, a very respectable knowledge of their
specialties. It is after this manner that we enjoy, in all its varied
aspects, that energetic idleness which Mr. Bagehot recommends as a
deliberate sedative for our restless self-esteem.

Yet the sacrifice of time alone is worth some sorrowful consideration.
We laugh at the droning pedants of the old German universities who, in
the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, had well-nigh drowned the world
with words. The Tübingen chancellor, Penziger, gave, it is said, four
hundred and fifty-nine lectures on the prophet Jeremiah, and over
fifteen hundred lectures on Isaiah; while the Viennese theologian,
Hazelbach, lectured for twenty-two consecutive years on the first
chapter of Isaiah, and was cruelly cut off by death before he had
finished with his theme. But the bright side of this picture is that
only students--and theological students at that--attended these
limitless dissertations. Theology was then a battle-field, and the heavy
weapons forged for the combat were presumed to be as deadly as they were
cumbersome. During all those twenty-two years in which Herr Hazelbach
held forth so mercilessly, German maidens and German matrons formed no
part of his audience. They at least had other and better things to do.
German artisans and German tradesmen troubled themselves little about
Isaiah. German ploughmen went about their daily toil as placidly as if
Herr Hazelbach had been born a mute. The sleepy world had not then
awakened to its duty of disseminating knowledge broadcast and in small
doses, so that our education, as Dr. Johnson discontentedly observed of
the education of the Scotch, is like bread in a besieged town,--“every
man gets a little, but no man gets a full meal.”

What we lack in quantity, however, we are pleased to make up in variety.
We range freely over a mass of subjects from the religion of the
Phœnicians to the poets of Australia, and from the Song of Solomon to
the latest electrical invention. We have lectures in the morning upon
Plato and Aristotle, and in the afternoon upon Emerson and Arthur Hugh
Clough. We take a short course of German metaphysics,--which is supposed
to be easily compressed into six lectures,--and follow it up immediately
with another on French art, or the folk-lore of the North American
Indians. No topic is too vast to be handled deftly, and finished up in a
few afternoons. A fortnight for the Renaissance, a week for Greek
architecture, ten days for Chaucer, three weeks for anthropology. It is
amazing how far we can go in a winter, when we travel at this rate of
speed. “What under the sun is bringing all the women after Hegel?” asked
a puzzled librarian not very long ago. “There isn’t one of his books
left in the library, and twenty women come in a day to ask for him.” It
was explained to this custodian that a popular lecturer had been
dwelling with some enthusiasm upon Hegel, and that the sudden demand for
the philosopher was a result of his contagious eloquence. It seemed for
the nonce like a revival of pantheism; but in two weeks every volume was
back in its place, and the gray dust of neglect was settling down as of
yore upon each hoary head. The women, fickle as in the days of the
troubadours, had wandered far from German erudition, and were by that
time wrestling with the Elizabethan poets, or the constitutional history
of republics. The sun of philosophy had set.

One rather dismal result of this rapid transit is the amount of material
which each lecture is required to hold, and which each lecture-goer is
expected to remember. A few centuries of Egyptian history or of Mediæval
song are packed down by some system of mental hydraulic pressure into a
single hour’s discourse; and, when they escape, they seem vast enough to
fill our lives for a week. “When Macaulay talks,” complained Lady
Ashburton tartly, “I am not only overflowed with learning, but I stand
in the slops.” We have much the same uncomfortable sensation at an
afternoon lecture, when the tide of information, of dry, formidable,
relentless facts, rises higher and higher, and our spirits sink lower
and lower with every fresh development. “The need of limit, the
feasibility of performance,” has not yet dawned upon the new educators
who have taken the world in hand; and, as a consequence, we, the
students, have never learned to survey our own intellectual boundaries.
We assume in the first place that we have an intelligent interest in
literature, science, and history, art, architecture, and archæology;
and, in the second, that it is possible for us to learn a moderate
amount about all these things without any unreasonable exertion. This
double delusion lures us feebly on until we have listened to so much,
and remembered so little, that we are a good deal like the infant Paul
Dombey wondering in pathetic perplexity whether a verb always agreed
with an ancient Briton, or three times four was Taurus a bull.

“When all can read, and books are plentiful, lectures are unnecessary,”
says Dr. Johnson, who hated “by-roads in education,” and novel
devices--or devices which were novel a hundred and thirty years ago--for
softening and abridging hard study. He hated also to be asked the kind
of questions which we are now so fond of answering in the columns of our
journals and magazines. What should a child learn first? How should a
boy be taught? What course of study would he recommend an intelligent
youth to pursue? “Let him take a course of chemistry, or a course of
rope-dancing, or a course of anything to which he is inclined,” was the
great scholar’s petulant reply to one of these repeated inquiries; and,
though it sounds ill-natured, we have some human sympathy for the
pardonable irritation which prompted it. Dr. Johnson, I am well aware,
is not a popular authority to quote in behalf of any cause one wishes to
advance; but his heterodoxy in the matter of lectures is supported
openly by Charles Lamb, and furtively by some living men of letters,
who strive, though with no great show of temerity, to stem the
ever-increasing current of popular instruction. One eminent scholar,
being entreated to deliver a course of lectures on a somewhat abstruse
theme, replied that if people really desired information on that
subject, and if they could read, he begged to refer them to two books he
had written several years before. By perusing these volumes, which were
easy of access, they would know all that he once knew, and a great deal
more than he knew at the present time, as he had unhappily forgotten
much that was in them. It would be simpler, he deemed, and it would be
cheaper, than bringing him across the ocean to repeat the same matter in

As for Lamb, we have not only his frankly stated opinion, but--what is
much more diverting--we have also the unconscious confession of a purely
human weakness with which it is pleasant to sympathize. Like all the
rest of us, this charming and fallible genius found that heroic efforts
in the future cost less than very moderate exertions in the present. He
was warmly attached to Coleridge, and he held him in sincere veneration.
When the poet came to London in 1816, we find Lamb writing to Wordsworth
very enthusiastically, and yet with a vague undercurrent of

“Coleridge is absent but four miles, and the neighborhood of such a man
is as exciting as the presence of fifty ordinary persons. ’Tis enough to
be within the whiff and wind of his genius for us not to possess our
souls in quiet. If I lived with him, or with the author of ‘The
Excursion,’ I should in a very little time lose my own identity, and be
dragged along in the currents of other people’s thoughts, hampered in a

This is well enough by way of anticipation; but later on, when Coleridge
is a fixed star in the London skies, and is preparing to give his
lectures on Shakespeare and English poetry, Lamb’s kind heart warms to
his perpetually impecunious friend. He writes now to Payne Collier, with
little enthusiasm, but with great earnestness, bespeaking his interest
and assistance. He reminds Collier of his friendship and admiration for
Coleridge, and bids him remember that he and all his family attended
the poet’s lectures five years before. He tells him alluringly that this
is a brand-new course, with nothing metaphysical about it, and adds:
“There are particular reasons just now, and have been for the last
twenty years, why he [Coleridge] should succeed. He will do so with a
little encouragement.”

Doubtless; but it is worthy of note that the next time the subject is
mentioned is in a letter to Mrs. Wordsworth, written more than two
months later. The lectures are now in progress; very successful, we
hear; but--Lamb has been to none of them. He intends to go soon, of
course,--so do we always; but, in the mean while, he is treating
resolution with a good deal of zest, and making the best plea he can for
his defalcation. With desperate candor he writes:--

“I mean to hear some of the course, but lectures are not much to my
taste, whatever the lecturer may be. If read, they are dismal flat, and
you can’t think why you are brought together to hear a man read his
works, which you could read so much better at leisure yourself. If
delivered extempore, I am always in pain lest the gift of utterance
should suddenly fail the orator in the middle, as it did me at the
dinner given in honor of me at the London Tavern. ‘Gentlemen,’ said I,
and there I stopped; the rest my feelings were under the necessity of

We can judge pretty well from this letter just how many of those
lectures on Shakespeare Lamb was likely to hear; and all doubts are set
at rest when we find Coleridge, the following winter, endeavoring to
lure his reluctant friend to another course by the presentation of a
complimentary ticket. Even this device fails of its wonted success. Lamb
is eloquent in thanks, and lame in excuses. He has been in an “incessant
hurry.” He was unable to go on the evening he was expected because it
was the night of Kenney’s new comedy, “which has utterly failed,”--this
is mentioned as soothing to Coleridge’s wounded feelings. He has
mistaken his dates, and supposed there would be no lectures in Christmas
week. He is as eager to vindicate himself as Miss Edgeworth’s Rosamond,
and he is as sanguine as ever about the future. “I trust,” he writes,
“to hear many a course yet;” and with this splendid resolution, which
is made without a pang, he wanders brightly off to a more engaging

It is a charming little bit of comedy, and has, withal, such a
distinctly modern touch, that we might fancy it enacted in this year of
grace eighteen hundred and ninety-four by any of our weak and erring


In these days of grace when all manner of evil-doers have their
apologists; when we are bidden to admire the artistic spirit of Nero and
the warm-hearted integrity of Henry the Eighth; when a “cult for
Domitian” and a taste for Nihilists contend with each other in our
estimation; it may not be ill-timed nor unduly venturesome to offer a
few modest arguments in behalf of those Pariahs of modern literature,
the anonymous reviewers of the press. They have been harshly abused for
so many years. They have been targets for the wrath of authors, the
scorn of satirists, the biting comments of injured genius. And now, when
milder manners and gentler modes of speech are replacing the vigorous
Billingsgate of our ancestors; when theologians and politicians make war
upon one another with some show of charity and discretion, the reviewer
alone is excluded from this semblance of goodwill, the reviewer alone--a
thing apart from brotherhood--is pelted as openly as ever. The stones
that are cast at him are so big and so hard that if he still lives, and,
in a mild way, even flourishes, it must be because of his own irritating
obtusiveness, because of his unpardonable reluctance to come forward
decently and be killed.

Now, when I read the list of his misdeeds, as they are set forth
categorically by irate novelists and poets, when I hear of his
“ferocity, incompetence and dishonesty,” I am filled with heroic
indignation and with craven fear. But when I turn from these scathing
comments to a few columns of book notices, and see for myself the
amiable effort that is made in them to say something reasonably pleasant
about every volume, I begin to think that Mr. Lang is right when he
complains that the ordinary anonymous reviewer is, as the Scotch lassie
said of a modest lover, “senselessly ceevil,” good-natured and
forbearing to a fault. If he sins, it is through indifference, and not
through brutality. He is more anxious to spare himself than to attack
his author. He has that provoking charity which is based upon unconcern,
and he looks upon a book with a gentle and weary tolerance, fatal alike
to animosity and enthusiasm. To understand the annoyance provoked by
this mental attitude, we must remember that the work which is thus
carelessly handled is, in its writer’s eyes, a thing sacred and apart;
with faults perhaps,--no great book being wholly free from them,--but
illustrating some particular attitude towards life, which places it
beyond the pale of common, critical jurisprudence. Even the novelist of
to-day sincerely believes that his point of view, his conception of his
own art, and the lesson he desires to enforce are matters of vital
interest to the public; and that it is crass ignorance on the reviewer’s
part to ignore these considerations, and to class his masterpiece with
the companion stories of less self-conscious men. What is the use of
superbly discarding all models, and of thanking Heaven daily one does
not resemble Fielding and Scott, and Thackeray, if one cannot escape
after all from the standards which these great men erected?

It is urged also against newspaper critics that they read only a small
portion of the books which they pretend to criticise. This, I believe,
is true, and it accounts for the goodhumor and charity they display. If
they read the whole, we should have a band of misanthropes who would
spare neither age nor sex, and who would gain no clearer knowledge of
their subjects through this fearful sacrifice of time and temper. “To
know the vintage and quality of a wine,” says Mr. Oscar Wilde, “one need
not drink the whole cask. One tastes it, and that is quite enough.” More
than enough for the reviewer very often, but too little to satisfy the
author, who regards his work as Dick Swiveller regarded beer, as
something not to be adequately recognized in a sip. There is a secret
and wholesome conviction in the heart of every man or woman who has
written a book that it should be no easy matter for an intelligent
reader to lay down that book unfinished. There is a pardonable
impression among reviewers that half an hour in its company is
sufficient. This is as much perhaps as they can afford to give it, and
to write a brief, intelligent, appreciative notice of a partly read
volume is not altogether the easy task it seems. That it is constantly
done, proves the reviewer to be a man skilled in his petty craft; but
we are merely paving the way to disappointment if we expect subtle
analysis, or fervent eulogy, or even very discriminating criticism from
his pen. He is not a Sainte-Beuve in the first place, and he has not a
week of leisure in the second. We might console ourselves with the
reflection that if he were a great and scholarly critic instead of an
insignificant fellow-workman, our little books would never meet his eye.

Another complaint lodged periodically by discontents is that the author
gains no real light from the comments passed upon his work, which are
irritating and annoying without being in the smallest degree helpful.
This is the substance of those sad grumblings which we heard some years
ago from Mr. Lewis Morris; and this is the argument offered by Mr.
Howells, who appears to think that Canon Farrar dealt a death-blow to
reviewers in the simple statement that he never profited by their
reviews. But at whose door lay the blame? It does not follow that,
because a lesson is unlearned, it has never been taught. The Bourbons,
it is said, gained nothing from some of the sharpest admonitions ever
given by history. It is worth while to consider, in this regard, an
extract from the Journal of Sir Walter Scott in which he mentions an
anonymous letter sent him from Italy, and full of acute, acrid
criticisms on the “Life of Bonaparte.” “The tone is decidedly hostile,”
says Sir Walter calmly, “but that shall not prevent my making use of all
his corrections, where just.” It is a hard matter perhaps for smaller
men to preserve this admirable tranquillity under assault; to say with
Epictetus, “He little knew of my other shortcomings or he would not have
mentioned these alone.” Yet after all, it is an advantage to be told
plainly what we need to know and cannot see for ourselves, I am sure
that the most valuable lesson in literary perspective I ever received
came from an anonymous reviewer, who reminded me curtly that “Mr. Saltus
and Leopardi are not twins of the intellect.” When I first saw that
sentence I felt a throb of indignation that any one should believe, or
affect to believe, that I ever for a moment supposed Mr. Saltus and
Leopardi _were_ twins of the intellect. Afterwards, when in calmer mood
I re-read the essay criticised, I was forced to acknowledge that, if
such were not my conviction, I had, to say the least, been unfortunate
in my manner of putting things. I had used the two names
indiscriminately and as if I thought one man every whit as worthy of
illustrating my text as the other. Such moments ought to be salutary,
they are so eminently cheerless. A disagreeable lesson, disagreeably
imparted, is apt to be taken to heart with very beneficial results. If
it is wasted, the fault does not lie with the surly truth-teller, whose
thankless task has been performed with most ungracious efficacy.
“Truth,” says Saville, “has become such a ruining virtue, that mankind
seems to be agreed to commend and avoid it.”

As for the real and exasperating fault of much modern writing, its
flippant and irrelevant cleverness, the critic and the reviewer stand
equally guilty of the charge. Mr. Goldwin Smith observes that the
province of criticism appears to be now limited to the saying of fine
things; and there are moments when we feel that this unkind and forcible
statement is very nearly true. The fatal and irresistible impulse to
emit sparks--like the cat in the fairy story--lures a man away from his
subject, and sends him dancing over pages in a glittering fashion that
is as useless as it is pretty. It is amazing how brightly he shines, but
we see nothing by his light. “He uses his topic,” says Mr. Saintsbury,
“as a springboard or platform on and from which to display his natural
grace and agility, his urbane learning, his faculty of pleasant wit.” We
read, and laugh, and are entertained, and seldom pause to ask ourselves
exactly what it was which the writer started out to accomplish.

Now the finest characteristic of all really good criticism is its power
of self-repression. It is work within barriers, work which drives
straight to its goal, and does not permit itself the luxury of
meandering on either side of the way. In this respect at least, it is
possible for the most modest of anonymous reviewers to follow the
example of the first of critics, Sainte-Beuve, who never allowed himself
to be lured away from the subject in hand, and never sacrificed
exactness and perspicuity to effect. If we compare his essay on the
historian Gibbon with one on the same subject by Mr. Walter Bagehot, we
will better understand this admirable quality of restraint. Mr.
Bagehot’s paper is delightful from beginning to end; keen, sympathetic,
humorous, and sparkling all over with little brilliant asides about
Peel’s Act, and the South Sea Company, and grave powdered footmen, and
Louis XIV., “carefully amusing himself with dreary trifles.” Underneath
its whimsical exaggerations we recognize clearly the truthful outlines
and general fidelity of the sketch. But Sainte-Beuve indulges in none of
these witty and wandering fancies. He is keenly alive to the proper
limitations of his subject; he has but a single purpose in mind, that of
helping you to accurately understand the character and the life’s work
of the great historian whom he is reviewing; and, while his humor plays
lambently on every page, he never makes any conscious effort to be
diverting. Nothing can be more sprightly than Mr. Bagehot’s account of
Gibbon’s early conversion to the Church of Rome, and of the horror and
alarm he awoke thereby at the manor-house of Buriton, where “it would
probably have occasioned less sensation if ‘dear Edward’ had announced
his intention of becoming a monkey.” Nothing can be more dexterous than
Mr. Bagehot’s analysis of the cautious skepticism which replaced the
brief religious fervor of youth. But when we turn back to Sainte-Beuve,
we see this little sentence driven like an arrow-point straight to the
heart of the mystery. “While he (Gibbon) prided himself on being wholly
impartial and indifferent where creeds were concerned, he cherished,
without avowing it, a secret and cold spite against religious thought,
as if it were an adversary which had struck him one day when unarmed,
and had wounded him.” A secret and cold spite. Were ever five short
words more luminously and dispassionately significant?

A sense of proportion intrudes itself so seldom into the popular
criticism of to-day, that it is hardly worth while to censure the
reviewer for not comprehending differences of degree. How should he,
when the whole tone of modern sentiment is subversive of order and
distinction; when the generally accepted opinion appears to be that we
are doing everything better than it was ever done before, and have
nothing to learn from anybody? This is a pleasant opinion to entertain,
but it is apt to be a little misleading. The old gods are not so readily
dislodged, and their festal board is not a round table at which all
guests hold equal rank. If you thrust Balzac or Tolstoi by the side of
Shakespeare, the great poet, it has been well said, will, in his
infinite courtesy, move higher and make room. But you cannot bid them
change seats at your discretion. Parnassus is not the exclusive pasture
ground of the Frenchman or of the Muscovite. “Homer often nods, but, in
‘Taras Bulba,’ Gogol never nods,” I read not long ago in a review. The
inference is plain, and quite in harmony with much that we hear every
day; but how many times already has Homer been outstripped by long
forgotten competitors! It is not indeed the nameless critic of the
newspapers who gives utterance to these startling statements. They are
signed and countersigned in magazines, and occasionally republished in
fat volumes for the comfort and enlightenment of posterity. The real
curiosities of criticism have ever emanated from men bearing the symbol
of authority. It was no anonymous reviewer who called Dante a
“Methodist parson in Bedlam,” or who said that Wordsworth’s poetry would
“never do,” or who spoke of the “caricaturist, Thackeray.” It is no
anonymous reviewer now who bids us exult and be glad over the “literary
emancipation of the West,” as though that large and flourishing portion
of the United States had hitherto been held in lettered bondage.

In fact, as one’s experience in these matters increases day by day, one
is fain to acknowledge that the work of the unknown or little known
professional critic, faulty though it be, has certain modest advantages
over the similar work of _his_ critics, the poets and novelists when
they take to the business of reviewing. There are several very
successful story-writers who are just now handling criticism after a
fashion which recalls that delightful scene in “The Monks of Thelema,”
where an effort to make the village maidens vote a golden apple to the
prettiest of their number is frustrated by the unforeseen contingency of
each girl voting for herself. In the same artless spirit, the novelist
turned critic confines his good will so exclusively to his own work, or
at best to that school of fiction which his own work represents, that,
while we cannot sufficiently admire his methods, we do not feel greatly
stimulated by their results. As for the poet umpire, he is apt to bring
an uncomfortable degree of excitability to bear upon his task. It is
readily granted that Mr. Swinburne manifests at times an exquisite
critical discernment, and a broad sympathy for much that is truly good;
but when less gifted souls behold him foaming in Berserker wrath over
insignificant trifles, they are wont to ask themselves what in the world
is the matter. We can forgive him, or at least we can strive to forgive
him, for reviling Byron, snubbing George Eliot, underrating George Sand,
ignoring Jane Austen, calling poor Steele a “sentimental debauchee,” and
asserting that the only two women worthy to stand by the side of
Charlotte Brontë,” “the fiery-hearted vestal of Haworth”--though why
“vestal,” only Mr. Swinburne knows--are her sister Emily and Mrs.
Browning. But when he has been permitted to do all this and a great deal
more, why should he fall into a passion, and use the strongest of strong
language, because there are details in which everybody does not chance
to agree with him? In so wide a world there must of necessity be many
minds, and the opinions of a poet are not always beacon fires to light
us through the gloom. Even the musician has been for some time prepared
to step into the critical arena, and Mr. E. S. Dallos, in “The Gay
Science,” quotes for us a characteristic extract from Wagner, which
probably means something, though only a very subtle intellect could
venture to say what.

“If we now consider the activity of the poet more closely, we perceive
that the realization of his intention consists solely in rendering
possible the representation of the strengthened actions of his poetized
forms through an exposition of their motives to the feelings, as well as
the motives themselves. Also by an expression that in so far engrosses
his activity, as the invention and production of this expression in
truth first render the introduction of such motives and actions

After this splendid example of style and lucidity, it may be that even
the ordinary, every-day, unostentatious reviewer whom we so liberally
despise will be admitted to possess some few redeeming virtues.

And, in truth, patience is one of them. Think of the dull books which
lie piled upon his table! Think how many they are, and how long they
are, and how alike they are, and how serious they are, and how little we
ourselves would care to read them! If the reviewer sometimes misses what
is really good, or praises what is really bad, this does not mean that
he is incompetent, dishonest, or butcherly. It means that he is human,
that he is tired, perhaps a little peevish, and disposed to think the
world would be a merrier place if there were fewer authors in it. The
new novelist or budding poet who comes forward at this unpropitious
moment is not hailed with acclamations of delight; while the
conscientious worker who has spent long months in compiling the weighty
memoirs of departed mediocrity is outraged by the scant attention he
receives. Meanwhile the number of books increases with fearful speed.
Each is the embodiment of a sanguine hope, and each claims its meed of
praise. A fallible reviewer struggles with the situation as best he
can, saying pleasant things which are scantily merited, and sharp things
which are hardly deserved; but striving intelligently, and with
tolerable success to tell a self-indulgent public something about the
volumes which it is too lazy to read for itself.

    “O dreams of the tongues that commend us,
     Of crowns for the laureate pate,
     Of a public to buy and befriend us,
     Ye come through the Ivory Gate.
     But the critics that slash us and slate,
     But the people that hold us in scorn,
     But the sorrow, the scathe, and the hate,
     Through the portals of horn.”


I should like to be told by one of the accomplished critics of the day
what is--or rather what is not--a pastel? Dictionaries, with their
wonted rigidity, define the word as “a colored crayon,” ignoring its
literary significance, and affording us no clue to its elusive and
mutable characteristics. When Mr. Stewart Merrill christened his pretty
little volume of translations “Pastels in Prose,” he gave us to
understand, with the assistance of Mr. Howells’ prefatory remarks, that
the name was an apt one for those brief bits of unrhymed, unrhythmical,
yet highly poetic composition in the execution of which the French have
shown such singular felicity and grace. Some of these delicate trifles
have the concentrated completeness of a picture, and for them the name
is surely not ill-chosen. Sombre, or joyous, or faintly ironical, they
bring before our eyes with vivid distinctness every outline of the scene
they portray. “Padre Pugnaccio” and “Henriquez,” by Louis Bertrand, and
that strange lovely “Captive,” by Ephraïm Mikhaël, are as admirable in
their limitations as in their finish. They show us one thing only, and
show it with swift yet comprehensive lucidity. But if “Padre Pugnaccio”
be a pastel, then, by that same token, “Solitude” is not. It is a
moderately long and wholly allegorical story, and its merits are of a
different order. As for Maurice de Guérin’s “Centaur,” that noble
fragment has nothing in common with the fragile delicacy of the pretty
little picture poems which surround it. It is a masterpiece of breadth
and virility. Its sonorous sentences recall the keener life of the
antique world, and it stands among its unsubstantial companions like a
bust of Hermes in a group of Dresden figures, all charming, but all
dwarfed to insignificance by the side of that strong young splendor. To
call “The Centaur” a pastel is as absurd as to call “Endymion” an

However, Mr. Merrill’s translations are far from defining the limits of
the term. On the contrary, we have M. Paul Bourget’s group of stories,
“Pastels of Men,” which are not prose poems at all, nor brief pen
pictures; but tales of a rather elaborate and unclean order, full of wan
sentiment, and that cheerless vice which robs the soul without
gratifying the body. Occasionally, as in the sketch of the poor old
teacher living his meagre life from hour to hour, M. Bourget draws for
us, with melancholy skill, a single scene from the painful drama of
existence. This is perhaps a pastel, since the word must be employed;
but why should an interminable and shifting tale about a rich young
widow, who cannot make up her mind in less than a hundred pages which of
her four lovers she will marry, be called by the same generic title? If
it be equally applicable to every kind of story, short or long, simple
or involved, descriptive or analytic, then it has no real meaning at
all, and becomes a mere matter of capricious selection. “Wandering
Willie’s Tale,” and “The Cricket on the Hearth” could with propriety
have been termed pastels.

Nor does the matter stop here. In Mr. Gosse’s recent volume of essays,
he has included two admirable criticisms on Mr. Robert Louis
Stevenson’s poetry, and on Mr. Rudyard Kipling’s prose. These papers,
discriminating, sympathetic, and exhaustive, are called pastels. They do
not differ in any way from other critical studies of equal length and
merit. They abound in agreeable quotations, and show a clear and genial
appreciation of their themes. They are simply reviews of an unusually
good order, and if their title be correctly applied, then it is
serviceable for any piece of literary criticism which deals with a
single author. Macaulay’s “Madame D’Arblay,” Mr. Birrell’s “Emerson,”
Mr. Saintsbury’s “Peacock,” might all have been named pastels.

By this time the subject begins to grow perplexing. Miss Wilkins wanders
far from her true gods, and from the sources of her genuine inspiration,
to write a handful of labored sketches--pen pictures perhaps, albeit a
trifle stiff in execution--which she calls pastels. Mr. Brander Matthews
gives us, as his contribution to the puzzle, a vivid description of
Carmencita dancing in a New York studio, and calls it a pastel. If we
stray from prose to verse, we are tripped up at every step. Nebulous
little couplets, songs of saddening subtlety, weird conceits and
high-pacing rhymes are thoughtfully labeled pastels, so as to give us a
clue to their otherwise impenetrable obscurity. Sullen seas, and wan
twilights, and dim garden paths, relieved with ghostly lilies, and
white-armed women of dubious decorum, are the chief ingredients of these
poetic novelties; but here is one, picked up by chance, which reads like
a genial conundrum:--

    “The light of our cigarettes
     Went and came in the gloom;
     It was dark in the little room.

     Dark, and then in the dark,
     Sudden, a flash, a glow,
     And a hand and a ring I know.

     And then, through the dark, a flush,
     Ruddy and vague, the grace--
     A rose--of her lyric face.”

Now, if that be a pastel, and Mr. Gosse’s reviews are pastels, and M.
Bourget’s stories are pastels, and Maurice de Guérin’s “Centaur” is a
pastel, and Mr. Brander Matthews’ realistic sketches are pastels, and
Ephraïm Mikhaël’s allegories are pastels, I should like to be told, by
some one who knows, just where the limits of the term is set.


A very charming and vivacious old lady, who had spent most of her early
life in the country, once said to me that the keenest pleasure of her
childhood was the occasional arrival of her mother’s guests; the keenest
regret, their inevitable and too speedy departure. “They seldom stayed
more than a fortnight,” she observed, plaintively; “though now and then
some cousins prolonged their visits for another week. What I most
enjoyed on these occasions was the increased good temper of my own
family. Annoyances were laughed at, our noisy behavior was overlooked,
conversation took an agreeable turn, and a delightful air of
cheerfulness and good humor pervaded the entire household. It seemed to
my infant eyes that life would be a matter of flawless enjoyment if we
could only have visitors always in the house.”

A little of this frankly expressed sentiment will find an echo in many
hearts, and perhaps awaken some pangs of conscience on the way. It is
the restraint we put upon ourselves, the honest effort we make at
amiability, which renders social intercourse possible and pleasant. When
the restraint grows irksome, the amiability a burden, we pay to those we
love best on earth the dubious compliment of being perfectly natural in
their company. “What is the use of having a family if you cannot be
disagreeable in the bosom of it?” was the explicit acknowledgment I once
overheard of a service which seldom meets with such clear and candid
recognition. Hazlitt himself could have given no plainer expression to a
thought which few of us would care to trick out in all the undisguised
sincerity of language.

Guests are the delight of leisure, and the solace of ennui. It is the
steady and merciless increase of occupations, the augmented speed at
which we are always trying to live, the crowding of each day with more
work and amusement than it can profitably hold, which have cost us,
among other good things, the undisturbed enjoyment of our friends.
Friendship takes time, and we have no time to give it. We have to go to
so many teas, and lectures, and committee meetings; we have taken up so
many interesting and exacting careers; we have assumed so many duties
and responsibilities, that there is not a spare corner in our lives
which we are free to fill up as we please. Society, philanthropy, and
culture divide our waking hours. Defrauded friendship gets a few moments
now and again, and is bidden to content itself, and please not to be
troublesome any more. I once rashly asked a girl of twenty if she saw a
great deal of a young married woman whom she had just declared to be her
dearest and most cherished friend. “I never see her at all,” was the
satisfied answer, “except by chance, at a tea or a club meeting. We live
so very far apart, as you know. _It would take the heart of an afternoon
to try and make her a visit._”

Now, to understand the charm of leisurely and sympathetic intercourse,
we should read the letters of Madame de Sévigné; to appreciate the
resources of ennui, we should read the novels of Jane Austen. With
Madame de Sévigné guests were not useful as an alleviation of boredom;
they were valuable because they added to the interest, the beauty and
the zest of life. It never occurred to this charming Frenchwoman, nor
to her contemporaries, that time could be better spent than in
entertaining or being entertained by friends. Conversation was not then
small coin, to be paid our hastily like car-fare, merely in order to get
from one necessary topic to another. It was the golden mean through
which a generous regard, a graceful courtesy, or a sparkling wit lent
beauty and distinction to every hour of intercourse. A little group of
friends in a quiet countryside, with none of the robust diversions of
English rural life. It has a sleepy sound; yet such was the
pleasure-giving power of hostess and of guest that this leisurely
companionship was fraught with fine delight, and its fruits are our
inheritance to-day, lingering for us in the pages of those matchless
letters from which time can never steal the charm.

It is Miss Austen, however, who, with relentless candor, has shown us
how usefully guests may be employed as an antidote for the ennui of
intellectual vacuity. They are the chosen relief for that direful
dullness which country gentlemen “like Sir John Middleton,” experience
from lack of occupation and ideas; they are the solace of sickly,
uninteresting women who desire some one to share with them the
monotonous current of existence. The Middletons, we are assured, “lived
in a style of equal hospitality and elegance. They were scarcely ever
without some friends staying with them in the house, and they kept more
company of every kind than any other family in the neighborhood.” This
indulgence, it appears, while equally welcome to host and hostess, was
more necessary to Sir John’s happiness than to his wife’s; for she at
least possessed one other source of continual and unflagging diversion.
“Sir John was a sportsman, Lady Middleton a mother. He hunted and shot,
and she humored her children; and these were their only resources. Lady
Middleton, however, had the advantage of being able to spoil her
children all the year round, while Sir John’s independent employments
were in existence only half the time.”

Guests play an important part in Miss Austen’s novels, as they did in
Miss Austen’s life, and in the lives of all the hospitable
country-people of her time. Moreover, the visits her heroines and their
friends pay are not little trifling modern affairs of a few days or a
week. Distances counted for something when they had to be traveled in a
carriage or a post-chaise; and when people came to see their friends in
that fashion, they came to stay. Elizabeth Bennet and Maria Lucas spend
six weeks with Charlotte Collins; and Lady Catherine, it will be
remembered, does not at all approve of their returning home so quickly.
“I expected you to stay two months,” she says severely--they are not her
guests at all--“I told Mrs. Collins so, before you came. There can be no
occasion for your going so soon.” Eleanor and Marianne Dashwood begin
their visit to Mrs. Jennings the first week of January, and it is April
before we find them setting forth on their return. Anne Elliot goes to
Uppercross for two months, though the only inducement offered her is
Mary Musgrove’s prophetic remark that she does not expect to have a
day’s health all autumn; and her only pastime as a visitor appears to be
the somewhat dubious diversion of making herself generally useful. It is
a far cry from our busy age to either Miss Austen or Madame de Sévigné.
The bounteous resources of a highly cultivated leisure have never been
very clearly understood by the English-speaking race. The alleviations
of inactivity and ennui are no longer with us a rigorous necessity. Our
vices and our virtues conspire to defraud us of that charming and
sustained social intercourse which is possible only when we have the
undisturbed possession of our friends; when we are so happy as to be
sheltered under the same roof, to pursue the same occupations, to enjoy
the same pleasures, to exchange thoughts and sentiments with entire
freedom and familiarity. “I cannot afford to speak much to my friend,”
says Emerson, meaning that it is a privilege he neither values nor
desires. We cannot afford to speak much to our friends, though we may
desire it with our whole hearts, because we have been foolish enough to
persuade ourselves that we have other and better things to do.


“Sympathy,” says Mr. Robert Louis Stevenson, “is a thing to be
encouraged, apart from human considerations, because it supplies us with
materials for wisdom. It is probably more instructive to entertain a
sneaking kindness for any unpopular person than to give way to perfect
raptures of moral indignation against his abstract vices.”

These are brave words, and spoken in one of those swift flashes of
spiritual insight which at first bewilder and then console us. We have
our share of sympathy; hearty, healthy, human sympathy for all that is
strong and successful; but the force of moral indignation--either our
own or our neighbors’--has well-nigh cowed us into silence. The fashion
of the day provides a procrustean standard for every form of
distinction; and, if it does not fit, it is lopped down to the necessary
insignificance. Those stern, efficient, one-sided men of action who made
history at the expense of their finer natures; those fiery enthusiasts
who bore down all just opposition to their designs; those loyal servants
who saw no right nor wrong save in the will of their sovereigns; those
keen-eyed statesmen who served their countries with craft, and guile,
and dissimulation; those light-hearted prodigals who flung away their
lives with a smile;--are none of these to yield us either edification or
delight? “Do great deeds, and they will sing themselves,” says Emerson;
but it must be confessed the songs are often of a very dismal and
enervating character. Columbus did a great deed when he crossed the
ocean and discovered the fair, unknown land of promise; yet many of the
songs in which we sing his fame sound a good deal like pæans of
reproach. The prevailing sentiment appears to be that a person so
manifestly ignorant and improper should never have been permitted to
discover America at all.

This sickly tone is mirrored in much of the depressing literature of our
day. It finds amplest expression in such joyless books as “The Heavenly
Twins,” the heroine of which remarks with commendable self-confidence
that “The trade of governing is a coarse pursuit;” and also that “War is
the dirty work of a nation; one of the indecencies of life.” She cannot
even endure to hear it alluded to when she is near; but, like Athene,
whose father, Zeus, “by chance spake of love matters in her presence,”
she flies chastely from the very sound of such ill-doing. Now on first
reading this sensitive criticism, one is tempted to a great shout of
laughter, quite as coarse, I fear, as the pursuit of governing, and
almost as indecent as war. Ah! founders of empires, and masters of men,
where are your laurels now? “If some people in public life were
acquainted with Mrs. Wititterly’s real opinion of them,” says Mr.
Wititterly to Kate Nickleby, “they would not hold their heads perhaps
quite as high as they do.” But in moments of soberness such distorted
points of view seem rather more melancholy than diverting. Evadne is,
after all, but the feeble reflex of an over-anxious age which has lost
itself in a labyrinth of responsibilities. Shelley, whose rigidity of
mind was at times almost inconceivable, did not hesitate to deny every
attribute of greatness wherever he felt no sympathy. To him,
Constantine was a “Christian reptile,” a “stupid and wicked monster;”
while of Napoleon he writes with the invincible gravity of youth.
“Buonaparte’s talents appear to me altogether contemptible and
commonplace; incapable as he is of comparing connectedly the most
obvious propositions, or relishing any pleasure truly enrapturing.”

To the mundane and unpoetic mind it would seem that there were several
propositions, obvious or otherwise, which Napoleon was capable of
comparing quite connectedly, and that his ruthless, luminous fashion of
dealing with such made him more terrible than fate. As for pleasures, he
knew how to read and relish “Clarissa Harlowe,” for which evidence of
sound literary taste, one Englishman at least, Hazlitt, honored and
loved him greatly. If we are seeking an embodiment of unrelieved
excellence who will work up well into moral anecdotes and journalistic
platitudes, the emperor is plainly not what we require. But when we have
great men under consideration, let us at least think of their greatness.
Let us permit our little hearts to expand, and our little eyes to sweep
a broad horizon. There is nothing in the world I dislike so much as to
be reminded of Napoleon’s rudeness to Madame de Staël, or of Cæsar’s
vain attempt to hide his baldness. Cæsar was human; that is his charm;
and Madame de Staël would have sorely strained the courtesy of good King
Arthur. Had she attached herself unflinchingly to his court, it is
probable he would have ended by requesting her to go elsewhere.

On the other hand, it is never worth while to assert that genius repeals
the decalogue. We cannot believe with M. Waliszewski that because
Catherine of Russia was a great ruler she was, even in the smallest
degree, privileged to be an immoral woman, to give “free course to her
senses imperially.” The same commandment binds with equal rigor both
empress and costermonger. But it is the greatness of Catherine, and not
her immorality, which concerns us deeply. It is the greatness of
Marlborough, of Richelieu, and of Sir Robert Walpole which we do well to
consider, and not their shortcomings, though from the tone assumed too
often by critics and historians, one would imagine that duplicity,
ambition and cynicism were the only attributes these men possessed; that
they stood for their vices alone. One would imagine also that the same
sins were quite unfamiliar in humble life, and had never been practised
on a petty scale by lawyers and journalists and bank clerks. Yet vice,
as Sir Thomas Browne reminds us, may be had at all prices. “Expensive
and costly iniquities which make the noise cannot be every man’s sins;
but the soul may be foully inquinated at a very low rate, and a man may
be cheaply vicious to his own perdition.”

It is possible then to overdo moral criticism, and to cheat ourselves
out of both pleasure and profit by narrowing our sympathies, and by
applying modern or national standards to men of other ages and of
another race. Instead of realizing, with Carlyle, that eminence of any
kind is a most wholesome thing to contemplate and to revere, we are
perpetually longing for some crucial test which will divide true
heroism--as we now regard it--from those forceful qualities which the
world has hitherto been content to call heroic. I have heard people
gravely discuss the possibility of excluding from histories, from school
histories especially, the adjective “great,” wherever it is used to
imply success unaccompanied by moral excellence. Alfred the Great might
be permitted to retain his title. Like the “blameless Ethiops,” he is
safely sheltered from our too penetrating observation. But Alexander,
Frederick, Catherine, and Louis should be handed down to future ages as
the “well-known.” Alexander the Well-Known! We can all say that with
clear consciences, and without implying any sympathy or regard for a
person so manifestly irregular in his habits, and seemingly so devoid of
all altruistic emotions. It is true that Mr. Addington Symonds has
traced a resemblance between the Macedonian conqueror, and the ideal
warrior of the Grecian camp, Achilles the strong-armed and terrible.
Alexander, he maintains, is Achilles in the flesh; passionate,
uncontrolled, with an innate sense of what is great and noble; but
“dragged in the mire of the world and enthralled by the necessities of
human life.” The difference between them is but the difference between
the heroic conception of a poet and the stern limitations of reality.

Apart, however, from the fact that Mr. Symonds was not always what the
undergraduate lightly calls “up in ethics,” it is to be feared that
Achilles himself meets with scant favor in our benevolent age. “Homer
mirrors the world’s young manhood;” but we have grown old and exemplary,
and shake our heads over the lusty fierceness of the warrior, and the
facile repentance of Helen, and the wicked wiles of Circe, which do not
appear to have met with the universal reprobation they deserve. On the
contrary, there is a blithe good-temper in the poet’s treatment of the
enchantress, whose very name is so charming it disarms all wrath. Circe!
The word is sweet upon our lips; and this light-hearted embodiment of
beauty and malice is not to be judged from the bleak stand-point of
Salem witch-hunters. If we are content to take men and women, in and out
of books, with their edification disguised, we may pass a great many
agreeable hours in their society, and find ourselves unexpectedly
benefited even by those who appear least meritorious in our eyes. A
frank and generous sympathy for any much maligned and sorely slandered
character,--such, for instance, as Graham of Claverhouse; a candid
recognition of his splendid virtues and of his single vice; a clear
conception of his temperament, his ability, and his work,--these things
are of more real service in broadening our appreciations, and
interpreting our judgments, than are a score of unqualified opinions
taken ready-made from the most admirable historians in Christendom. It
is a liberal education to recognize, and to endeavor to understand any
form of eminence which the records of mankind reveal.

As for the popular criticism which fastens on a feature and calls it a
man, nothing can be easier or more delusive. Claverhouse was merciless
and densely intolerant; but he was also loyal, brave, and reverent;
temperate in his habits, cleanly in his life, and one of the first
soldiers of his day. Surely this leaves some little balance in his
favor. Marlborough may have been as false as Judas and as ambitious as
Lucifer; but he was also the greatest of English-speaking generals, and
England owes him something better than picturesque invectives. What can
we say to people who talk to us anxiously about Byron’s unkindness to
Leigh Hunt, and Dr. Johnson’s illiberal attitude towards Methodism, and
Scott’s incomprehensible friendship for John Ballantyne; who remind us
with austere dissatisfaction that Goldsmith did not pay his debts, and
that Lamb drank more than was good for him, and that Dickens dressed
loudly and wore flashy jewelry? I don’t care what Dickens wore. I would
not care if he had decorated himself with bangles, and anklets, and
earrings, and a nose-ring, provided he wrote “Pickwick” and “David
Copperfield.” If there be any living novelist who can give us such
another as Sam Weller, or Dick Swiveller, or Mr. Micawber, or Mrs. Gamp,
or Mrs. Nickleby, let him festoon himself with gauds from head to foot,
and wedge his fingers “knuckle-deep with rings,” like the lady in the
old song, and then sit down and write. The world will readily forgive
him his embellishments. It has forgiven Flaubert his dressing-gown, and
George Sand her eccentricities of attire, and Goldsmith his coat of
Tyrian bloom, and the blue silk breeches for which he probably never
paid his tailor. It has forgiven Dr. Johnson all his little sins; and
Lamb the only sin for which he craves forgiveness; and Scott--but here
we are not privileged even to offer pardon. “It ill becomes either you
or me to compare ourselves with Scott,” said Thackeray to a young writer
who excused himself for some literary laxity by saying that “Sir Walter
did the same.” “We should take off our hats whenever that great and good
man’s name is mentioned in our presence.”


It has been occasionally remarked by people who are not wholly in
sympathy with the methods and devices of our time that this is an age of
keen intellectual curiosity. We have scant leisure and scant liking for
hard study, and we no longer recognize the admirable qualities of a wise
and contented ignorance. Accordingly, there has been invented for us in
late years, a _via media_, a something which is neither light nor
darkness, a short cut to that goal which we used to be assured had no
royal road for languid feet to follow. The apparent object of the new
system is to enable us to live like gentlemen, or like gentlewomen, on
other people’s ideas; to spare us the labor and exhaustion incidental to
forming opinions of our own by giving us the free use of other people’s
opinions. There is a charming simplicity in the scheme, involving as it
does no effort of thought or mental adjustment, which cannot fail to
heartily recommend it to the general public, while the additional merit
of cheapness endears it to its thrifty upholders. We are all accustomed
to talk vaguely about “questions of burning interest,” and “the
absorbing problems of the day.” Some of us even go so far as to have a
tolerably clear notion of what these questions and problems are. It is
but natural, then, that we should take a lively pleasure, not in the
topics themselves, about which we care very little, but in the
persuasions and convictions of our neighbors, about which we have
learned to care a great deal. Discussions rage on every side of us, and
the easy, offhand, cocksure verdicts which are so frankly confided to
the world have become a recognized source of popular education and

I have sometimes thought that this feverish exchange of opinions
received a fatal impetus from that curious epidemic rife in England a
few years ago, and known as the “Lists of a Hundred Books.” Never before
had such an admirable opportunity been offered to people to put on what
are commonly called “frills,” and it must be confessed they made the
most of it. The Koran, the Analects of Confucius, Spinoza, Herodotus,
Demosthenes, Xenophon, Lewis’s History of Philosophy, the Saga of Burnt
Njal, Locke’s Conduct of the Understanding,--such, and such only, were
the works unflinchingly urged upon us by men whom we had considered,
perhaps, as human as ourselves, whom we might almost have suspected of
solacing their lighter moments with an occasional study of Rider Haggard
or Gaboriau. If readers could be made by the simple process of deluging
the world with good counsel, these arbitrary lists would have marked a
new intellectual era. As it was, they merely excited a lively but
unfruitful curiosity. “Living movements,” Cardinal Newman reminds us,
“do not come of committees.” I knew, indeed, one impetuous student who
rashly purchased the Grammar of Assent because she saw it in a list; but
there was a limit even to her ardor, for eighteen months afterwards the
leaves were still uncut. It is a striking proof of Mr. Arnold’s inspired
rationality that, while so many of his countrymen were instructing us in
this peremptory fashion, he alone, who might have spoken with authority,
declined to add his name and list to the rest. It was an amusing game,
he said, but he felt no disposition to play it.

Some variations of this once popular pastime have lingered even to our
day. Lists of the best American authors, lists of the best foreign
authors, lists of the best ten books published within a decade, have
appeared occasionally in our journals, while a list of books which
prominent people intended or hoped to read “in the near future” filled
us with respect for such heroic anticipations. Ten-volume works of the
severest character counted as trifles in these prospective studies. For
the past year, it is true, the World’s Fair has given a less scholastic
tone to newspaper discussions. We hear comparatively little about the
Analects of Confucius, and a great deal about the White City, and the
Department of Anthropology. Perhaps it is better to tell the public your
impressions of the Fair than to confide to it your favorite authors. One
revelation is as valuable as the other, but it is possible, with
caution, to talk about Chicago in terms that will give general
satisfaction. It is not possible to express literary, artistic, or
national preferences without exposing one’s self to vigorous reproaches
from people who hold different views. I was once lured by a New York
periodical into a number of harmless confidences, unlikely, it seemed to
me, to awaken either interest or indignation. The questions asked were
of the mildly searching order, like those which delighted the hearts of
children, when I was a very little girl, in our “Mental Photograph
Albums.” “Who is your favorite character in fiction?” “Who is your
favorite character in history?” “What do you consider the finest
attribute of man?” Having amiably responded to a portion of these
inquiries, I was surprised and flattered, some weeks later, at seeing
myself described in a daily paper--on the strength, too, of my own
confessions--as irrational, morbid, and cruel; excusable only on the
score of melancholy surroundings and a sickly constitution. And the
delightful part of it was that I had apparently revealed all this
myself. “Do not contend in words about things of no consequence,”
counsels St. Teresa, who carried with her to the cloister wisdom enough
to have kept all of us poor worldlings out of trouble.

The system by which opinions of little or no value are assiduously
collected and generously distributed is far too complete to be baffled
by inexperience or indifference. The enterprising editor or journalist
who puts the question is very much like Sir Charles Napier; he wants an
answer of some kind, however incapable we may be of giving it. A list of
the queries propounded to me in the last year or so recalls painfully my
own comprehensive ignorance. These are a few which I remember. What was
my opinion of college training as a preparation for literary work? What
was my opinion of Greek comedy? Was I a pessimist or an optimist, and
why? What were my favorite flowers, and did I cultivate them? What books
did I think young children ought _not_ to read? At what age and under
what impulses did I consider children first began to swear? What
especial and serious studies would I propose for married women? What did
I consider most necessary for the all-around development of the coming
young man? It appeared useless to urge in reply to these questions that
I had never been to college, never read a line of Greek, never been
married, never taken charge of children, and knew nothing whatever about
developing young men. I found that my ignorance on all these points was
assumed from the beginning, but that this fact only made my opinions
more interesting and piquant to people as ignorant as myself. Neither
did it ever occur to my correspondents that if I had known anything
about Greek comedy or college training, I should have endeavored to turn
my knowledge into money by writing articles of my own, and should never
have been so lavish as to give my information away.

That these public discussions or symposiums are, however, an occasional
comfort to their participants was proven by the alacrity with which a
number of writers came forward, some years ago, to explain to the world
why English fiction was not a finer and stronger article. Innocent and
short-sighted readers, wedded to the obvious, had foolishly supposed
that modern novels were rather forlorn because the novelists were not
able to write better ones. It therefore became the manifest duty of the
novelists to notify us clearly that they were able to write very much
better ones, but that the public would not permit them to do it. Like
Dr. Holmes, they did not venture to be as funny as they could.
“Thoughtful readers of mature age,” we were told, “are perishing for
accuracy.” This accuracy they were, one and all, prepared to furnish
without stint, but were prohibited lest “the clash of broken
commandments” should be displeasing to polite female ears. A great deal
of angry sentiment was exchanged on this occasion, and a great many
original and valuable suggestions were offered by way of relief. It was
an admirable opportunity for any one who had written a story to confide
to the world “the theory of his art,” to make self-congratulatory
remarks upon his own “standpoint,” and to deprecate the stupid propriety
of the public. When the echoes of these passionate protestations had
died into silence, we took comfort in thinking that Hawthorne had not
delayed to write “The Scarlet Letter” from a sensitive regard for his
neighbors’ opinions; and that two great nations, unvexed by “the clash
of broken commandments,” had received the book as a heritage of infinite
beauty and delight. Art needs no apologist, and our great literary
artist, using his chosen material after his chosen fashion, heedless
alike of new theories and of ancient prejudices, gave to the world a
masterpiece of fiction which the world was not too stupid to hold dear.

The pleasure of imparting opinions in print is by no means confined to
professionals, to people who are assumed to know something about a
subject because they have been more or less occupied with it for years.
On the contrary, the most lively and spirited discussions are those to
which the general public lends a willing hand. Almost any topic will
serve to arouse the argumentative zeal of the average reader, who rushes
to the fray with that joyous alacrity which is so exhilarating to the
peaceful looker-on. The disputed pronunciation or spelling of a word, if
ventilated with spirit in a literary journal, will call forth dozens of
letters, all written in the most serious and urgent manner, and all
apparently emanating from people of rigorous views and limitless
leisure. If a letter here or there--a _u_, perhaps, or an _l_--can only
be elevated to the dignity of a national issue, then the combatants don
their coats of mail, unfurl their countries’ flags, and wrangle merrily
and oft to the sounds of martial music. If, on the other hand, the
subject of contention be a somewhat obvious statement, as, for example,
that the work of women in art, science, and literature is inferior to
the work of men, it is amazing and gratifying to see the number of
disputants who promptly prepare to deny the undeniable, and lead a
forlorn hope to failure. The impassive reader who first encounters a
remark of this order is apt to ask himself if it be worth while to state
so explicitly what everybody already knows; and behold! a week has not
passed over his head before a dozen angry protestations are hurled into
print. These meet with sarcastic rejoinders. The editor of the journal,
who is naturally pleased to secure copy on such easy terms, adroitly
stirs up slumbering sentiment; and time, temper, and ink are wasted
without stint by people who are the only converts of their own
eloquence. “Embrace not the blind side of opinions,” says Sir Thomas
Browne, who, born in a contentious age, with “no genius to disputes,”
preached mellifluously of the joys of toleration, and of the discomforts
of inordinate zeal.

Not very long ago, I was asked by a sprightly little paper to please say
in its columns whether I thought new books or old books better worth the
reading. It was the kind of question which an ordinary lifetime spent in
hard study would barely enable one to answer; but I found, on examining
some back numbers of the journal, that it had been answered a great many
times already, and apparently without the smallest hesitation.
Correspondents had come forward to overturn our ancient idols, with no
sense of insecurity or misgiving. One breezy reformer from Nebraska
sturdily maintained that Mrs. Hodgson Burnett wrote much better stories
than did Jane Austen; while another intrepid person, a Virginian,
pronounced “The Vicar of Wakefield” “dull and namby-pamby,” declaring
that “one half the reading world would agree with him if they dared.”
Perhaps they would,--who knows?--but it is a privilege of that half of
the reading world to be silent on the subject. Simple preference is a
good and sufficient motive in determining one’s choice of books, but it
does not warrant a reader in conferring his impressions upon the world.
Even the involuntary humor of such disclosures cannot win them
forgiveness; for the tendency to permit the individual spirit to run
amuck through criticism is resulting in a lower standard of correctness.
“The true value of souls,” says Mr. Pater, “is in proportion to what
they can admire;” and the popular notion that everything is a matter of
opinion, and that one opinion is pretty nearly as good as another, is
immeasurably hurtful to that higher law by which we seek to rise
steadily to an appreciation of whatever is best in the world. Nor can we
acquit our modern critics of fostering this self-assertive ignorance,
when they so lightly ignore those indestructible standards by which
alone we are able to measure the difference between big and little
things. It seems a clever and a daring feat to set up models of our own;
but it is in reality much easier than toiling after the old
unapproachable models of our forefathers. The originality which
dispenses so blithely with the past is powerless to give us a correct
estimate of anything that we enjoy in the present.

It is but a short step from the offhand opinions of scientific or
literary men to the offhand opinions of the crowd. When the novelists
had finished telling us, in the newspapers and magazines, what they
thought about one another, and especially what _they_ thought about
themselves, it then became the turn of novel-readers to tell us what
they thought about fiction. This sudden invasion of the Vandals left to
the novelists but one resource, but one undisputed privilege. They could
permit us to know and they have permitted us to know just how they came
to write their books; in what moments of inspiration, under what benign
influences, they gave to the world those priceless pages.

    “Sing, God of Love, and tell me in what dearth
     Thrice-gifted Snevellicci came on earth!”

After which, unless the unsilenced public comes forward to say just how
and when and where they read the volumes, they must acknowledge
themselves routed from the field.

_La vie de parade_ has reached its utmost license when a Prime Minister
of England is asked to tell the world--after the manner of old Father
William--how he has kept so hale; when the Prince of Wales is requested
to furnish a list of readable books; when an eminent clergyman is
bidden to reveal to us why he has never been ill; when the wife of the
President of the United States is questioned as to how she cooks her
Thanksgiving dinner; when married women in private life draw aside the
domestic veil to tell us how they have brought up their daughters, and
unmarried women betray to us the secret of their social success. Add to
these sources of information the opinions of poets upon education, and
of educators upon poetry; of churchmen upon politics, and of politicians
upon the church; of journalists upon art, and of artists upon
journalism; and we must in all sincerity acknowledge that this is an
enlightened age. “The voice of the great multitude,” to quote from a
popular agitator, “rings in our startled ears;” and its eloquence is
many-sided and discursive. Albertus Magnus, it is said, once made a head
which talked. That was an exceedingly clever thing for him to do. But
the head was so delighted with its accomplishment that it talked all the
time. Whereupon, tradition holds, St. Thomas Aquinas grew impatient, and
broke it into pieces. St. Thomas was a scholar, a philosopher, and a


If adults are disposed to doubt their own decreasing significance, and
the increasing ascendency of children, they may learn a lesson in
humility from the popular literature of the day, as well as from social
and domestic life. The older novelists were so little impressed by the
ethical or artistic consequence of childhood that they gave it scant
notice in their pages. Scott, save for a few passages here and there, as
in “The Abbot” and “Peveril of the Peak,” ignores it altogether. Miss
Austen is reticent on the subject, and, when she does speak, manifests a
painful lack of enthusiasm. Mary Musgrave’s troublesome little boys and
Lady Middleton’s troublesome little girl seem to be introduced for no
other purpose than to show how tiresome and exasperating they can be.
Fanny Price’s pathetic childhood is hurried over as swiftly as possible,
and her infant emotions furnish no food for speculation or analysis.
Saddest of all, Margaret Dashwood is ignored as completely as if she
had not reached the interesting age of thirteen. “A good-humored,
well-disposed girl,” this is all the description vouchsafed her; after
which, in the absence of further information, we forget her existence
entirely, until we are reminded in the last chapter that she has
“reached an age highly suitable for dancing, and not very ineligible for
being supposed to have a lover.” In other words, she is now ready for
treatment at the novelist’s hands; only, unhappily, the story is told,
the final page has been turned, and her chances are over forever.

I well remember my disappointment, as a child, at being able to find so
little about children in the old-fashioned novels on our bookshelves.
Trollope was particularly trying, because there were illustrations which
seemed to promise what I wanted, and which were wholly illusive in their
character. Posy and her grandfather playing cat’s-cradle, Edith Grantly
sitting on old Mr. Harding’s knee, poor little Louey Trevelyan furtively
watching his unhappy parents,--I used to read all around these pictures
in the hope of learning more about the children so portrayed. But they
never said or did anything to awaken my interest, or played any but
purely passive parts in the long histories of their grown-up relatives.
I had so few books of my own that I was compelled to forage for
entertainment wherever I could find it, dipping experimentally into the
most unpromising sources, and retiring discomfited from the search.
“Vivian Grey” I began several times with enthusiasm. The exploits of the
hero at school amazed and thrilled me--as well they might; but I never
comprehensively grasped his social and political career. Little Rawdon
Crawley and that small, insufferable George Osborne, were chance
acquaintances, introduced through the medium of the illustrations; but
my real friends were the Tullivers and David Copperfield, before he went
to that stupid school of Dr. Strong’s at Canterbury, and lost all
semblance of his old childish self. It was not possible to grow deeply
attached to Oliver Twist. He was a lifeless sort of boy, despite the
author’s assurances to the contrary; and, though the most wonderful
things were always happening to him, it never seemed to me that he lived
up to his interesting surroundings. He would have done very well for a
quiet life, but was sadly unsuited to that lively atmosphere of burglary
and housebreaking. “Aladdin,” says Mr. Froude, “remained a poor
creature, for all his genii.” As for Nell, I doubt if it would ever
occur to a small innocent reader to think of her as a child at all. I
was far from critical in those early days, and much disposed to agree
with Lamb’s amiable friend that all books must necessarily be good
books. Nell was, in my eyes, a miracle of courage and capacity, a
creature to be believed in implicitly, to be revered and pitied; but she
was not a little girl. I was a little girl myself, and I knew the

It was Dickens who first gave children their prestige in fiction.
Jeffrey, we are assured, shed tears over Nell; and Bret Harte, whose own
pathos is so profoundly touching, describes for us the rude and haggard
miners following her fortunes with breathless sympathy:

    “While the whole camp with ‘Nell’ on English meadows,
        Wandered and lost their way.”

At present we are spared the heartrending childish deathbeds which
Dickens made so painfully popular, because dying in novels has rather
gone out of style. The young people live, and thrive, and wax scornful,
and fill up chapter after chapter, to the exclusion of meritorious
adults. What a contrast between the incidental, almost furtive manner in
which Henry Kingsley introduces his delightful children into
“Ravenshoe,” and the profound assurance with which Sarah Grand devotes
seventy pages to a minute description of the pranks of the Heavenly
Twins. Readers of the earlier novel used to feel they would like to know
a little--just a little more of Gus, and Flora, and Archy, and the
patient nursery cat who was quite accustomed to being held upside down,
and who went out “a-walking on the leads,” when she was needed to
accompany her young master to bed. Readers of “The Heavenly Twins” begin
by being amused, then grow aghast, and conclude by wondering why the
wretched relatives of those irrepressible children were not driven to
some such expedient as that proposed by a choleric old gentleman of my
acquaintance to the doting mother of an only son. “Put him in a
hogshead, madam, and let him breathe through the bunghole!”

Two vastly different types of infant precocity have been recently given
to the world by Mrs. Deland and Mrs. Hodgson Burnett, the only point of
resemblance between their respective authors being the conviction which
they share in common that children are problems which cannot be too
minutely studied, and that we cannot devote too much time or attention
to their scrutiny. Mrs. Deland, with less humor and a firmer touch,
draws for us in “The Story of a Child,” a sensitive, highly strung,
morbid and imaginative little girl, who seems born to give the lie to
Schopenhauer’s comfortable verdict, that “the keenest sorrows and the
keenest joys are not for women to feel.” Ellen Dale suffers as only a
self-centred nature can. She thinks about her self so much that her poor
little head is turned with fancied shortcomings and imaginary wrongs.
Most children have these sombre moods now and again. They don’t overcome
them; they forget them, which is a better and healthier thing to do. But
Ellen’s humors are analyzed with a good deal of seriousness and
sympathy. When she is not “agonized” over her tiny faults, she is
“tasting sin with the subtle epicurean delight of the artistic
temperament;” a passage which may be aptly compared with George Eliot’s
tamer description of Lucy Deane trotting by her cousin Tom’s side,
“timidly enjoying the rare treat of doing something naughty.” The
sensations are practically the same, the methods of delineating them

Mrs. Burnett, on the other hand, while indulging us unstintedly in
reminiscences of her own childhood, is disposed to paint the picture in
cheerful, not to say roseate colors. “The One I Knew the Best of All”
was evidently a very good, and clever, and pretty, and well-dressed
little girl, who played her part with amiability and decorum in all the
small vicissitudes common to infant years. No other children being
permitted to enter the narrative, except as lay figures, our attention
is never diverted from the small creature with the curls, who studies
her geography, and eats her pudding, and walks in the Square, and dances
occasionally at parties, and behaves herself invariably as a nice little
girl should. It is reassuring, after reading the youthful recollections
of Sir Richard Burton, with their irreverent and appalling candor, to
be gently consoled by Mrs. Burnett, and to know with certainty that she
really was such a delightful and charming child.

For Sir Richard, following the fashion of the day, has left us a
spirited record of _his_ early years, and they furnish scant food for
edification. There was a time when unfledged vices, like unfledged
virtues, were ignored by the biographer, and forgotten even by the more
conscientious writer, who compiled his own memoirs. Scott’s account of
his boyhood is graphic, but all too brief. Boswell, the diffuse, speeds
over Johnson’s tender youth with some not very commendatory remarks
about his “dismal inertness of disposition.” Gibbon, indeed, awakens our
expectations with this solemn and stately sentence:--

“My lot might have been that of a slave, a savage, or a peasant; nor can
I reflect without pleasure on the bounty of nature which cast my birth
in a free and civilized country, in an age of science and philosophy, in
a family of honorable rank, and decently endowed with the gifts of

After which majestic preamble, we are surprised to see how little
interest he takes in his own sickly and studious childhood, and how
disinclined he is to say complimentary things about his own precocity.
He writes without enthusiasm:--

“For myself I must be content with a very small share of the civil and
literary fruits of a public school.”

Burton, unhappily, had no share at all, and the loss of training and
discipline told heavily on him all his life. His lawless and wandering
childhood, so full of incident and so destitute of charm, is described
with uncompromising veracity in Lady Burton’s portly volumes. He was as
far removed from the virtues of Lord Fauntleroy as from the brilliant
and elaborate naughtiness of the Heavenly Twins; but he has the
advantage over all these little people in being so convincingly real. He
fought until he was beaten “as thin as a shotten herring.” He knocked
down his nurse--with the help of his brother and sister--and jumped on
her. He hid behind the curtains and jeered at his grandmother’s French.
He was not pretty, and he was not picturesque.

“A piece of yellow nankin would be bought to dress the whole family,
like three sticks of barley sugar.”

He was not amiable, and he was not polite, and he was not a safe child
on whom to try experiments of the “Harry and Lucy” order, as the
following anecdote proves:

“By way of a wholesome and moral lesson of self-command and self-denial,
our mother took us past Madame Fisterre’s (the pastry cook’s) windows,
and bade us look at all the good things; whereupon we fixed our ardent
affections on a tray of apple puffs. Then she said: ‘Now, my dears, let
us go away; it is so good for little children to restrain themselves.’
Upon this we three devilets turned flashing eyes and burning cheeks on
our moralizing mother, broke the window with our fists, clawed out the
tray of apple puffs, and bolted, leaving poor Mother a sadder and a
wiser woman, to pay the damages of her lawless brood’s proceedings.”

It is the children’s age when such a story--and many more like it--are
gleefully narrated and are gladly read. Yet if we must exchange the
old-time reticence for unreserved disclosures, if we must hear all
about an author’s infancy from his teething to his first breeches, and
from his A B C’s to his Greek and Latin, it is better to have him
presented to us with such unqualified veracity. He is not attractive
when seen in this strong light, but he is very much alive.


There has been a vast deal of moralizing on the brevity of fame ever
since that far-away day when mankind became sufficiently sophisticated
to covet posthumous distinction. Yet, in reality, it is not so
surprising that people should be forgotten as that they should be
remembered, and remembered often for the sake of one swift, brave deed
that cost no effort, or of a few lovely words thrown to the world in a
moment of unconscious inspiration, when the writer little dreamed he was
forging a chain strong enough to link him with the future. Occasionally,
too, a species of immortality is conferred upon respectable mediocrity
by the affection or the abhorrence it excites. The men whom Pope rhymed
about because he hated them, the men to whom Lamb wrote so delightfully
because he loved them, all live for us in the indestructible land of
letters. It would be a hard matter to reckon up the sum of indebtedness
which is thus innocently incurred by those who have no coin of their
own for payment.

Not long ago a writer of distinction was idling his way pleasantly
through a volume of Mrs. Browning’s poetry, when his attention was
arrested by a quotation which stood at the head of that rather nebulous
effusion, “A Rhapsody of Life’s Progress.” It was but a single line,

    “Fill all the stops of life with tuneful breath,”

and it was accredited to Cornelius Mathews, author of “Poems on Man.” A
foot-note,--people were more generous in the matter of foot-notes forty
years ago than now--gave the additional and somewhat startling
information that “Poems on Man” was “a small volume by an American poet,
as remarkable in thought and manner for a vital sinewy vigour as the
right arm of Pathfinder.” This was stout praise. “The right arm of
Pathfinder.” We all know what sinewy vigor was _there_; but of Cornelius
Mathews, it would seem, no man knew anything at all. Yet his poems had
traveled far when they lay in Mrs. Browning’s path, and of her
admiration for them she had left us this unstinted proof. Moreover the
one line,

    “Fill all the stops of life with tuneful breath”

had in it enough of character and sweetness to provoke an intelligent
curiosity. As a scholar and a man of letters, the reader felt his
interest awakened. He replaced Mrs. Browning on the book shelf, and made
up his mind with characteristic distinctness he would read the poems of
this forgotten American author.

It was not an easy resolution to keep. A confident appeal to the public
libraries of New York and Philadelphia brought to light the astonishing
fact that no copy of the “Poems on Man” was to be found within their
walls. The work had been published in several editions by Harper and
Brothers between the years 1838 and 1843; but no forlorn and dust
covered volume still lingered on their shelves. The firm, when
interrogated, knew no more about Cornelius Mathews than did the rest of
the reading world. The next step was to advertise for a second-hand
copy; but for a long while it seemed as though even second-hand copies
had disappeared from the face of the continent. The book was so
exceedingly rare that it must have been a universal favorite for the
lighting of household fires. In the end, however, persevering effort was
crowned with its inevitable success. “The works of Cornelius Mathews”
were unearthed from some dim corner of obscurity, and suffered to see
the genial light of day.

They comprise a great deal of prose and a very little verse, all bound
up together, after the thrifty fashion of our fathers, in one portly
volume, with dull crimson sides, and double columns of distressingly
fine print. The “Poems on Man” are but nineteen in number, and were
originally published in a separate pamphlet. They are arranged
systematically, and are designed to do honor to American citizenship
under its most sober and commonplace aspect. The author is in no way
discouraged by the grayness of his atmosphere, nor by the unheroic
material with which he has to deal. On the contrary, he is at home with
farmers, and mechanics, and merchants; and ill at ease with painters and
soldiers, to whom it must be confessed he preaches a little too
palpably. It is painful to consider what bad advice he gives to the
sculptor in this one vicious line,

    “Think not too much what other climes have done.”

Yet, in truth, he is neither blind to the past, nor unduly elated with
the present. He feels the splendid possibilities of a young nation with
all its life before it; and earnestly, and with dignity, he pleads for
the development of character, and for a higher system of morality. If
his verse be uneven and mechanical, and the sinewy vigor of Pathfinder
be not so apparent as might have been reasonably expected, I can still
understand how these simple and manly sentiments should have awakened
the enthusiasm of Mrs. Browning, who was herself no student of form, and
who sincerely believed that poetry was a serious pursuit designed for
the improvement of mankind.

In his narrower fashion, Mr. Cornelius Mathews shared this pious creed,
and strove, within the limits of his meagre art, to awaken in the hearts
of his countrymen a patriotism sober and sincere. He calls on the
journalist to tell the truth, on the artisan to respect the interests
of his employer, on the merchant to cherish an old-time honor and
honesty, on the politician to efface himself for the good of his

    “Accursed who on the Mount of Rulers sits,
       Nor gains some glimpses of a fairer day;
     Who knows not there, what there his soul befits,--
       Thoughts that leap up and kindle far away
     The coming time! Who rather dulls the ear
       With brawling discord and a cloud of words;
     Owning no hopeful object, far or near,
       Save what the universal self affords.”

This is not heroic verse, but it shows an heroic temper. The writer has
evidently some knowledge of things as they are, and some faith in things
as they ought to be, and these twin sources of grace save him from
bombast and from cynicism. Never in all the earnest and appealing lines
does he indulge himself or his readers in that exultant
self-glorification which is so gratifying and so inexpensive. His
patriotism is not of the shouting and hat-flourishing order, but has its
roots in an anxious and loving regard for the welfare of his fatherland.
Occasionally he strikes a poetic note, and has moments of brief but
genuine inspiration.

    “The elder forms, the antique mighty faces,”

which lend their calm and shadowy presence to the farmer’s toil, bring
with them swift glimpses of a strong pastoral world. Not a blithe world
by any means. No Pan pipes in the rushes. No shaggy herdsmen sing in
rude mirthful harmony. No sun-burnt girls laugh in the harvest-field.
Rusticity has lost its native grace, and the cares of earth sit at the
fireside of the husbandman. Yet to him belong moments of deep content,
and to his clean and arduous life are given pleasures which the artisan
has never known.

    “Better to watch the live-long day
      The clouds that come and go,
     Wearying the heaven they idle through,
      And fretting out its everlasting blue.
     Though sadness on the woods may often lie,
      And wither to a waste the meadowy land,
     Pure blows the air, and purer shines the sky,
      For nearer always to Heaven’s gate you stand.”

The most curious characteristic of Mr. Mathew’s work is the easy and
absolute fashion in which it ignores the influence, and indeed the very
existence of woman. The word “man” must here be taken in its literal
significance. It is not of the human race that the author sings, but of
one half of it alone. No troublesome flutter of petticoats disturbs his
serene meditations; no echo of passion haunts his placid verse. Even in
his opening stanzas on “The Child,” there is no allusion to any mother.
The infant appears to have come into life after the fashion of Pallas
Athene, and upon the father only depends its future weal or woe. The
teacher apparently confines his labors to little boys; the preacher has
a congregation of men; the reformer, the scholar, the citizen, the
friend, all dwell in a cool masculine world, where the seductive voice
of womankind never insinuates itself to the endangering of sober and
sensible behavior. This enforced absence of “The Eternal Feminine” is
more striking when we approach the realms of art. Does the painter
desire subjects for his brush?

    “The mountain and the sea, the setting sun,
     The storm, the face of men, and the calm moon,”

are considered amply sufficient for his needs. Does the sculptor ask for
models? They are presented him in generous abundance.

          “Crowned heroes of the early age,
    Chieftain and soldier, senator and sage;
    The tawny ancient of the warrior race,
    With dusky limb and kindling face.”

Or, should he prefer less conventional types--

    “Colossal and resigned, the gloomy gods
     Eying at large their lost abodes,
     Towering and swart, and knit in every limb;
     With brows on which the tempest lives,
     With eyes wherein the past survives,
     Gloomy, and battailous, and grim.”

With all these legitimate subjects at his command, why indeed should the
artist turn aside after that beguiling beauty which Eve saw reflected in
the clear waters of Paradise, and which she loved with unconscious
vanity or ever Adam met her amorous gaze. Only to the poet is permitted
the smallest glimpse into the feminine world. In one brief half-line,
Mr. Mathews coldly and chastely allows that “young Love” may whisper
something--we are not told what--which is best fitted for the poetic

What an old-fashioned bundle of verse it is, though written a bare half
century ago! How far removed from the delicate conceits, the
inarticulate sadness of our modern versifiers; from the rondeaux, and
ballades, and pastels, and impressions, and nocturnes, with which we
have grown bewilderingly familiar. How these titles alone would have
puzzled the sober citizen who wrote the “Poems on Man,” and who
endeavored with rigid honesty to make his meaning as clear as English
words would permit. There is no more chance to speculate over these
stanzas than there is to speculate over Hogarth’s pictures. What is
meant is told, not vividly, but with steadfast purpose, and with an
innocent hope that it may be of some service to the world. The world,
indeed, has forgotten the message, and forgotten the messenger as well.
Only in a brief foot-note of Mrs. Browning’s there lingers still the
faint echo of what once was life. For such modest merit there is no
second sunrise; and yet a quiet reader may find an hour well spent in
the staid company of these serious verses, whose best eloquence is their


Dialogues have come back into fashion and favor. Editors of magazines
look on them kindly, and readers of magazines accept them as
philosophically as they accept any other form of instruction or
entertainment which is provided in their monthly bills of fare. Perhaps
Mr. Oscar Wilde is in some measure responsible for the revival; perhaps
it may be traced more directly to the serious and stimulating author of
“Baldwin,” whose discussions are sufficiently subtle and relentless to
gratify the keenest discontent. The restless reader who embarks on
Vernon Lee’s portly volume of conversations half wishes he knew people
who could discourse in that fashion, and is half grateful that he
doesn’t. To converse for hours on “Doubts and Pessimism,” or “The Value
of the Ideal,” is no trivial test of endurance, especially when one
person does three-fourths of the talking. We hardly know which to admire
most: Baldwin, who elucidates a text--and that text, evolution--for six
pages at a breath, or Michael, who listens and “smiles.” Even the
occasional intermissions, when “Baldwin shook his head,” or “they took a
turn in silence,” or “Carlo’s voice trembled,” or “Dorothy pointed to
the moors,” do little to relieve the general tension. It is no more
possible to support conversation on this high and serious level than it
is possible to nourish it on Mr. Wilde’s brilliant and merciless
epigrams. Those sparkling dialogues in which Cyril might be Vivian, and
Vivian, Cyril; or Gilbert might be Ernest, and Ernest, Gilbert, because
all alike are Mr. Wilde, and speak with his voice alone, dazzle us only
to betray. They are admirable pieces of literary workmanship; they are
more charming and witty than any contemporaneous essays. But if we will
place by their side those few and simple pages in which Landor permits
Montaigne and Joseph Scaliger to gossip together for a brief half hour
at breakfast time, we will better understand the value of an element
which Mr. Wilde excludes--humanity, with all its priceless sympathies
and foibles.

Nevertheless, it is not Landor’s influence, by any means, which is felt
in the random dialogues of to-day. He is an author more praised than
loved, more talked about than read, and his unapproachable delicacy and
distinction are far removed from all efforts of facile imitation. Our
modern “imaginary conversations,” whether openly satiric, or gravely
instructive, are fashioned on other models. They have a faint flavor of
Lucian, a subdued and decent reflection of the “Noctes;” but they never
approach the classic incisiveness and simplicity of Landor. There is a
delightfully witty dialogue of Mr. Barrie’s called “Brought Back from
Elysium,” in which the ghosts of Scott, Fielding, Smollett, Dickens, and
Thackeray are interviewed by five living novelists, who kindly undertake
to point out to them the superiority of modern fiction. In this
admirable little satire, every stroke tells, every phantom and every
novelist speaks in character, and the author, with dexterous art, fits
his shafts of ridicule into the easy play of a possible conversation.
Nothing can be finer than the way in which Scott’s native modesty, of
which not even Elysium and the Grove of Bay-trees have robbed him,
struggles with his humorous perception of the situation. Fielding is
disposed to be angry, Thackeray severe, and Dickens infinitely amused.
But Sir Walter, dragged against his will into this unloved and alien
atmosphere, is anxious only to give every man his due. “How busy you
must have been, since my day,” he observes with wistful politeness, when
informed that the stories have all been told, and that intellectual men
and women no longer care to prance with him after a band of archers, or
follow the rude and barbarous fortunes of a tournament.

For such brief bits of satire the dialogue affords an admirable medium,
if it can be handled with ease and force. For imparting opinions upon
abstract subjects it is sure to be welcomed by coward souls who think
that information broken up into little bits is somewhat easier of
digestion. I am myself one of those weak-minded people, and the
beguiling aspect of a conversation, which generally opens with a
deceptive air of sprightliness, has lured me many times beyond my mental
depths. Nor have I ever been able to understand why Mr. Ruskin’s
publishers should have entreated him, after the appearance of “Ethics of
the Dust,” to “write no more in dialogues.” To my mind, that charming
book owes its quality of readableness to the form in which it is cast,
to the breathing-spells afforded by the innocent questions and comments
of the children.

Mr. W. W. Story deals more gently with us than any other imaginary
conversationalist. From the moment that “He and She” meet unexpectedly
on the first page of “A Poet’s Portfolio,” until they say good-night
upon the last, they talk comprehensively and agreeably upon topics in
which it is easy to feel a healthy human interest. They drop into poetry
and climb back into prose with a good deal of facility and grace. They
gossip about dogs and spoiled children; they say clever and true things
about modern criticism; they converse seriously, but not solemnly, about
life and love and literature. They do not resolutely discuss a given
subject, as do the Squire and Foster in Sir Edward Strachey’s “Talk at a
Country House;” but sway from text to text after the frivolous fashion
of flesh and blood; a fashion with which Mr. Story has made us all
familiar in his earlier volumes of conversations. He is a veteran master
of his field; yet, nevertheless, the Squire and Foster are pleasant
companions for a winter night. I like to feel how thoroughly I disagree
with both, and how I long to make a discordant element in their friendly
talk; and this is precisely the charm of dialogues as a medium for
opinions and ideas. Whether the same form can be successfully applied to
fiction is at least a matter of doubt. Laurence Alma Tadema has essayed
to use it in “An Undivined Tragedy,” and the result is hardly
encouraging. The mother tells the tale in a simple and touching manner;
and the daughter’s ejaculations and comments are of no use save to
disturb the narrative. It is hard enough to put a story into letters
where the relator suffers no ill-timed interruptions; but to embody it
in a dialogue--which is at the same time no play--is to provide a
needless element of confusion, and to derange the boundary line which
separates fiction from the drama.


What an inexhaustible fund of quarrelsomeness lies at the bottom of the
human heart! Since the beginning of the world, men have fought and
wrangled with one another; and now women seem to find their keenest
pleasure and exhilaration in fighting and wrangling with men. In
literature, in journalism, in lectures, in discussions of every kind,
they are lifting up their voices with an angry cry which sounds a little
like Madame de Sévigné’s “respectful protestation against Providence.”
They are tired, apparently, of being women, and are disposed to lay all
the blame of their limitations upon men.

There is nothing very healthful in such an attitude, nothing dignified,
nothing morally sustaining. Life is not easy to understand, but it seems
tolerably clear that two sexes were put upon the world to exist
harmoniously together, and to do, each of them, a share of the world’s
work. Their relation to one another has been a matter of vital interest
from the beginning, and no new light has dawned suddenly upon this
century or this people. The shrill contempt heaped by a few vehement
women upon men, the bitter invectives, the wholesale denunciations are
as valueless and as much to be regretted as the old familiar
Billingsgate which once expressed what Mr. Arnold termed “the current
compliments” of theology. It is not convincing to hear that “man has
shrunk to his real proportions in our estimation,” because we are still
in the dark as to what these proportions are. It is doubtless true that
he is “imperfect from the woman’s point of view,” and imperfect, let us
conclude, from his own; but whether we have attained that sure
superiority which will enable us to work out his salvation is at least a
matter for dispute. There is an ancient and unpopular virtue called
humility which might be safely recommended to a woman capable of writing
such a passage as this, which is taken from an article published
recently in the “North American Review.” “We know the weakness of man,
and will be patient with him, and help him with his lesson. It is the
woman’s place and pride and pleasure to teach the child, _and man
morally is in his infancy_. Woman holds out a strong hand to the
child-man, and insists, but with infinite tenderness and pity, upon
helping him along.”

The fine unconscious humor of this suggestion ought to put everybody in
a good temper, and clear the air with a hearty laugh. But the desire to
lead other people rather than to control one’s self, though not often so
naively stated, is by no means new in the history of morals. It must
have fallen many times under the observation of Thomas à Kempis before
he wrote this gentle word of reproof. “In judging others a man usually
toileth in vain. For the most part he is mistaken, and he easily
sinneth. But in judging and scrutinizing himself, he always laboreth
with profit.”

And, indeed, though it be true that in civilized communities a larger
proportion of women than of men live lives of cleanliness and
self-restraint, yet it should be remembered that the great leaders of
spiritual thought, the great reformers of minds and morals, have
invariably been men. All that is best in word and example, all that is
upholding, stimulating, purifying, and strenuous has been the gift of
these faltering creatures, whom we are now invited to take in hand, and
conduct with “tenderness and pity” on their paths. It might also be
worth while to remind ourselves occasionally that although we women may
be destined to do the work of the future, men have done the work of the
past, and have struggled not altogether in vain, for the physical and
intellectual welfare of the world. This is a point which is sometimes
ignored in a very masterly manner. Eliza Burt Gamble who has written a
book on “The Evolution of Woman. An Inquiry into the Dogma of her
Inferiority to Man,” is exceedingly severe on theologians, priests, and
missionaries, by whom she considers our sex has been held in subjection.
She lays great stress on certain material facts, as, for example, the
excess of male births in times of war, famine, or pestilence; and the
excess of female births in periods of peace and plenty, when better
nutrition brings about this higher and happier result. She asserts that
there are more male than female idiots, and that reversions to a lower
type are more common among men than women. She has a great deal to say
about the ancient custom of wife-capture as a token of female
superiority, and about the supremacy of woman in all primitive and
prehistoric life, a supremacy founded upon her finer organization, and
upon the altruistic principles which rule her conduct. But even in this
spirited and elaborate argument no attempt is made to put side by side
the work of woman and of man; no comparison is offered of their relative
contributions to civilization, social progress, art, science,
literature, music, or religion. Yet these are the tests by which
preëminence is judged, and to ignore them is to confess a failure. “If
you wish me to believe that you are witty, I must really trouble you to
make a joke.” If you are better than the workers of the world, show me
the fruits of your labor.

Against this reasonable demand it is urged that never in the past, or at
least never since those pleasant primitive days, of which, unhappily, no
distinct record has been preserved, have women been permitted free scope
for their abilities. They have been kept down by the tyranny of men, and
have afforded through all the centuries a living proof that the strong
and good can be ruled by the weak and bad, physical force alone having
given to man the mastery. It was reserved for our generation to
straighten this tangled web, and to assign to each sex its proper limits
and qualifications. The greatest change the world has ever seen is
taking place to-day.

“However full the air may be of other sounds,” said a recent lecturer on
this subject, “the cry that rises highest and swells the loudest comes
from the throats of women who in the last years of the nineteenth
century of the Christian era are just beginning to live. Men cannot
appreciate this as we do. From time out of mind they have used their
brains and their instincts as they chose, and they cannot understand the
ecstacy we feel as we stretch the limbs which have been cramped so long.
What does it matter if they do not? One thing is sure. New wine is not
put into old bottles. The village that has become a city does not return
to its villageship. The man does not put on the child’s garments again.
So, whether men hate us or love us, we have outgrown the cage in which
we sang. The woman of the past is dead.”

It is not highly probable that universal hate will ever supplant that
older emotion which must be held responsible for the existence and the
circumstances of human life. But “the woman of the past” is a broad
term, and admits of a good deal of variety, The chaste Susanna and
Potiphar’s wife; Cornelia and Messalina; Jeanne d’Arc and Madame de
Pompadour; Hannah More and Aphra Behn, these are divergent types, and
the singing bird in her cage does not stand very distinctly for any of
them. Humanity is a large factor, and must be taken into serious account
before we assure ourselves too confidently that the old order is passing
away. For good or for ill, women have lived their lives with some
approach to entirety during the slow progress of the ages. It can hardly
be claimed that either Cleopatra or St. Theresa was cramped by
confinement out of her broadest and amplest development.

Even if a radical change is imminent, there is no reason to be so
fiercely contentious about it. Let us remember Dr. Watts, and be
pacified. _Our_ little hands were never made to tear each other’s eyes.
It is possible surely to plead for female suffrage without saying
spiteful and sarcastic things about men, especially as it is not their
opposition, but the listless indifference of our own sex, which stands
between the eager advocate and her vote. There is still less propriety
in permitting this angry sentiment to bias our conceptions of morality,
and we pay but a poor tribute to woman in assuming that she should be
privileged to sin. The damnation of Faust and the apotheosis of Margaret
make one of the most effective of stage illusions; but it is not a safe
guide to practical rectitude, and we might do well to remember that it
is not Goethe’s final solution of the problem. In our vehement reaction
from the stringent rules of the past, we are now assuming that the seven
deadly sins grow less malignant in woman’s hands, and that she can shift
the burden of moral responsibility to the shoulders of that arch
offender, man. The shameful evidence of the courts is bandied about in
social circles, and made the subject-matter of denunciatory rhetoric on
the part of those whom self-respect should silence. It does not
strengthen one’s confidence in the future, to see the present lack of
moderation and sanity in people who are going to reform the world. When
wives and mothers meet to denounce with bitter eloquence the immorality
of men, and then ask contributions for a monument to Mary
Wollstonecraft, “who suffered social martyrdom in England a hundred
years ago, for advocating the rights of woman,” one feels a little
puzzled as to the mental attitude of these impetuous creatures. A sense
of humor would save us from many discouraging outbreaks, but humor is
not a common attribute of reformers. It is the peace-maker of the world,
and this is the day of contentions.


It is the curious custom of modern men of letters to talk to the world a
great deal about their work; to explain its conditions, to uphold its
value, to protest against adverse criticism, and to interpret the needs
and aspirations of mankind through the narrow medium of their own
resources. A good many years have passed since Mr. Arnold noticed the
growing tendency to express the very ordinary desires of very ordinary
people by such imposing phrases as “laws of human progress” and “edicts
of the national mind.” To-day, if a new story or a new play meets with
unusual approbation, it is at once attributed to some sudden mental
development of society, to some distinct change in our methods of
regarding existence. We are assured without hesitation that all stories
and all plays in the near future will be built up upon these favored

To a few of us, perhaps, such prophetic voices have but a dismal ring.
We listen to their repeated cry, “The old order passeth away,” and we
are sorry in our hearts, having loved it well for years, and feeling no
absolute confidence in its successor. Then some fine afternoon we look
abroad, and are amazed to see so much of the old order still remaining,
and apparently disinclined to pass away, even when it is told plainly to
go. How many times have we been warned that poetry is shaking off its
shackles, and that rhyme and rhythm have had their little day? Yet now,
as in the past, poets are dancing cheerfully in fetters, with a
harmonious sound which is most agreeable to our ears. How many times
have we been told that Sir Walter Scott’s novels are dead, stone dead;
that their grave has been dug, and their epitaph written? Yet new and
beautiful editions are following each other so rapidly from the press,
that the most ardent enthusiast wonders wistfully who are the happy men
with money enough to buy them. How many times have we been assured that
realistic and psychological fiction has supplanted its gay brother of
romance? Yet never was there a day when writers of romantic stories
sprang so rapidly and so easily into fame. Stevenson leads the line,
but Conan Doyle and Stanley Weyman follow close behind; while as for Mr.
Rider Haggard, he is a problem which defies any reasonable solution. The
fabulous prices paid by syndicates for his tales, the thousands of
readers who wait breathlessly from week to week for the carefully
doled-out chapters, the humiliating fact that “She” is as well known
throughout two continents as “Robert Elsmere,”--these uncontrovertible
witnesses of success would seem to indicate that what people really
hunger for is not realism, nor sober truthfulness, but the maddest and
wildest impossibilities which the human brain is capable of conceiving.

And so when I am told, among other prophetic items, that the “light
essay” is passing rapidly away, and that, in view of its approaching
death-bed, it cannot be safely recommended as “a good opening for
enterprise,” I am fain, before acquiescing gloomily in such a decree, to
take heart of grace, and look a little around me. It is discouraging,
doubtless, for the essayist to be suddenly informed that his work is _in
articulo mortis_. He feels as a carpenter might feel were he told that
chairs and doors and tables are going out of fashion, and that he had
better turn his attention to mining engineering, or a new food for
infants. Perhaps he endeavors to explain that a great many chairs were
sold in the past week, that they are not without utility, and that they
seem to him as much in favor as ever. Such feeble arguments meet with no
response. Furniture, he is assured,--on the authority of the
speaker,--is distinctly out of date. The spirit of the time calls for
something different, and the “best business talent”--delightful phrase,
and equally applicable to a window-frame or an epic--is moving in
another direction. This is what Mr. Lowell used to call the conclusive
style of judgment, “which consists simply in belonging to the other
parish;” but parish boundaries are the same convincing things now that
they were forty years ago.

Is the essay, then, in such immediate and distressing danger? Is it
unwritten, unpublished, or unread? Just ten years have passed since a
well-printed little book was offered carelessly to the great English
public. It was anonymous. It was hampered by a Latin title which
attracted the few and repelled the many. It contained seven of the very
lightest essays that ever glided into print. It grappled with no
problems, social or spiritual; it touched but one of the vital issues of
the day. It was not serious, and it was not written with any very
definite view, save to give entertainment and pleasure to its readers.
By all the laws of modern mentors, it should have been consigned to
speedy and merited oblivion. Yet what happened? I chanced to see that
book within a few months of its publication, and sent at once to London
for a copy, thinking to easily secure a first edition. I received a
fourth, and, with it, the comforting assurance that the first was
already commanding a heavy premium. In another week the American
reprints of “Obiter Dicta” lay on all the book counters of our land. The
author’s name was given to the world. A second volume of essays followed
the first; a third, the second; a fourth, the third. The last are so
exceedingly light as to be little more than brief notices and reviews.
All have sold well, and Mr. Birrell has established--surely with no
great effort--his reputation as a man of letters. Editors of magazines
are glad to print his work; readers of magazines are glad to see it;
newspapers are delighted when they have any personal gossip about the
author to tell a curious world. This is what “the best business talent”
must call success, for these are the tests by which it is accustomed to
judge. The light essay has a great deal of hardihood to flaunt and
flourish in this shameless manner, when it has been severely warned that
it is not in accord with the spirit of the age, and that its day is on
the wane.

It is curious, too, to see how new and charming editions of “Virginibus
Puerisque” meet with a ready sale. Mr. Stevenson has done better work
than in this volume of scattered papers, which are more suggestive than
satisfactory; yet there are always readers ready to exult over the
valorous “Admirals,” or dream away a glad half-hour to the seductive
music of “Pan’s Pipes.” Mr. Lang’s “Essays in Little” and “Letters to
Dead Authors” have reached thousands of people who have never read his
admirable translations from the Greek. Mr. Pater’s essays--which,
however, are not light--are far better known than his beautiful “Marius
the Epicurean.” Lamb’s “Elia” is more widely read than are his letters,
though it would seem a heart-breaking matter to choose between them.
Hazlitt’s essays are still rich mines of pleasure, as well as fine
correctives for much modern nonsense. The first series of Mr. Arnold’s
“Essays in Criticism” remains his most popular book, and the one which
has done more than all the rest to show the great half-educated public
what is meant by distinction of mind. Indeed, there never was a day when
by-roads to culture were more diligently sought for than now by people
disinclined for long travel or much toil, and the essay is the smoothest
little path which runs in that direction. It offers no instruction, save
through the medium of enjoyment, and one saunters lazily along with a
charming unconsciousness of effort. Great results are not to be gained
in this fashion, but it should sometimes be play-hour for us all.
Moreover, there are still readers keenly alive to the pleasure which
literary art can give; and the essayists, from Addison down to Mr.
Arnold and Mr. Pater, have recognized the value of form, the powerful
and persuasive eloquence of style. Consequently, an appreciation of the
essay is the natural result of reading it. Like virtue, it is its own
reward. “Culture,” says Mr. Addington Symonds, “makes a man to be
something. It does not teach him to create anything.” Most of us in this
busy world are far more interested in what we can learn to do than in
what we can hope to become; but it may be that those who content
themselves with strengthening their own faculties, and broadening their
own sympathies for all that is finest and best, are of greater service
to their tired and downcast neighbors than are the unwearied toilers who
urge us so relentlessly to the field.

A few critics of an especially judicial turn are wont to assure us now
and then that the essay ended with Emerson, or with Sainte-Beuve, or
with Addison, or with Montaigne,--a more remote date than this being
inaccessible, unless, like Eve in the old riddle, it died before it was
born. Montaigne is commonly selected as the idol of this exclusive
worship. “I don’t care for any essayist later than Montaigne.” It has a
classic sound, and the same air of intellectual discrimination as
another very popular remark: “I don’t read any modern novelist, except
George Meredith.” Hearing these verdicts, one is tempted to say, with
Marianne Dashwood, “This is admiration of a very particular kind.” To
minds of a more commonplace order, it would seem that a love for
Montaigne should lead insensibly to an appreciation of Sainte-Beuve;
that an appreciation of Sainte-Beuve awakens in turn a sympathy for Mr.
Matthew Arnold; that a sympathy for Mr. Arnold paves the way to a keen
enjoyment of Mr. Emerson or Mr. Pater. It is a linked chain, and, though
all parts are not of equal strength and beauty, all are of service to
the whole. “Let neither the peculiar quality of anything nor its value
escape thee,” counsels Marcus Aurelius; and if we seek our profit
wherever it may be found, we insensibly acquire that which is needful
for our growth. Under any circumstances, it is seldom wise to confuse
the preferences or prejudices of a portion of mankind with the
irresistible progress of the ages. Rhymes may go, but they are with us
still. Romantic fiction may be submerged, but at present it is well
above water. The essay may die, but just now it possesses a lively and
encouraging vitality. Whether we regard it as a means of culture or as a
field for the “best business talent,” we are fain to remark, in the
words of Sancho Panza, “This youth, considering his weak state, hath
left in him an amazing power of speech.”

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