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Title: Points of View
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 "Points of View" ***

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By Miss Repplier.


    BOOKS AND MEN.    16mo, gilt top, $1.25.
    POINTS OF VIEW.   16mo, gilt top, $1.25.


  HOUGHTON, MIFFLIN & CO.
  BOSTON AND NEW YORK.



  POINTS OF VIEW


  BY
  AGNES REPPLIER


  [Illustration]


  BOSTON AND NEW YORK
  HOUGHTON, MIFFLIN AND COMPANY
  The Riverside Press, Cambridge
  1891



  Copyright, 1891,
  BY AGNES REPPLIER.

  _All rights reserved._


  _The Riverside Press, Cambridge, Mass., U. S. A._
  Electrotyped and Printed by H. O. Houghton & Company.



CONTENTS.


                              PAGE
  A PLEA FOR HUMOR               1

  ENGLISH LOVE-SONGS            30

  BOOKS THAT HAVE HINDERED ME   64

  LITERARY SHIBBOLETHS          78

  FICTION IN THE PULPIT        105

  PLEASURE: A HERESY           136

  ESOTERIC ECONOMY             166

  SCANDERBEG                   189

  ENGLISH RAILWAY FICTION      209

       *       *       *       *       *

“Scanderbeg” is reprinted from “The Catholic World” by permission of
the publishers.



POINTS OF VIEW.



A PLEA FOR HUMOR.


More than half a dozen years have passed since Mr. Andrew Lang,
startled for once out of his customary light-heartedness, asked
himself, and his readers, and the ghost of Charles Dickens--all three
powerless to answer--whether the dismal seriousness of the present
day was going to last forever; or whether, when the great wave of
earnestness had rippled over our heads, we would pluck up heart to be
merry and, if needs be, foolish once again. Not that mirth and folly
are in any degree synonymous, as of old; for the merry fool, too
scarce, alas, even in the times when Jacke of Dover hunted for him in
the highways, has since then grown to be rarer than a phœnix. He has
carried his cap and bells, and jests and laughter, elsewhere, and has
left us to the mercies of the serious fool, who is by no means so
seductive a companion. If the Cocquecigruës are in possession of the
land, and if they are tenants exceedingly hard to evict, it is because
of the connivance and encouragement they receive from those to whom we
innocently turn for help: from the poets, and novelists, and men of
letters, whose plain duty it is to brighten and make glad our days.

“It is obvious,” sighs Mr. Birrell dejectedly, “that many people
appear to like a drab-colored world, hung around with dusky shreds of
philosophy;” but it is more obvious still that, whether they like it
or not, the drapings grow a trifle dingier every year, and that no
one seems to have the courage to tack up something gay. What is much
worse, even those bits of wanton color which have rested generations
of weary eyes are being rapidly obscured by sombre and intricate
scroll-work, warranted to oppress and fatigue. The great masterpieces
of humor, which have kept men young by laughter, are being tried in
the courts of an orthodox morality, and found lamentably wanting; or
else, by way of giving them another chance, they are being subjected
to the _peine forte et dure_ of modern analysis, and are revealing
hideous and melancholy meanings in the process. I have always believed
that Hudibras owes its chilly treatment at the hands of critics--with
the single and most genial exception of Sainte-Beuve--to the absolute
impossibility of twisting it into something serious. Strive as we
may, we cannot put a new construction on those vigorous old jokes,
and to be simply and barefacedly amusing is no longer considered a
sufficient _raison d’être_. It is the most significant token of our
ever-increasing “sense of moral responsibility in literature” that
we should be always trying to graft our own conscientious purposes
upon those authors who, happily for themselves, lived and died before
virtue, colliding desperately with cakes and ale, had imposed such
depressing obligations.

“Don Quixote,” says Mr. Shorthouse with unctuous gravity, “will come
in time to be recognized as one of the saddest books ever written;”
and, if the critics keep on expounding it much longer, I truly fear it
will. It may be urged that Cervantes himself was low enough to think
it exceedingly funny; but then one advantage of our new and keener
insight into literature is to prove to us how indifferently great
authors understood their own masterpieces. Shakespeare, we are told,
knew comparatively little about Hamlet, and he is to be congratulated
on his limitations. Defoe would hardly recognize Robinson Crusoe as
“a picture of civilization,” having innocently supposed it to be
quite the reverse; and he would be as amazed as we are to learn from
Mr. Frederic Harrison that his book contains “more psychology, more
political economy, and more anthropology than are to be found in many
elaborate treatises on these especial subjects,”--blighting words which
I would not even venture to quote if I thought that any boy would
chance to read them, and so have one of the pleasures of his young life
destroyed. As for Don Quixote, which its author persisted in regarding
with such misplaced levity, it has passed through many bewildering
vicissitudes. It has figured bravely as a satire on the Duke of
Lerma, on Charles V., on Philip II., on Ignatius Loyola,--Cervantes
was the most devout of Catholics,--and on the Inquisition, which,
fortunately, did not think so. In fact, there is little or nothing
which it has not meant in its time; and now, having attained that
deep spiritual inwardness which we have been recently told is lacking
in poor Goldsmith, we are requested by Mr. Shorthouse to refrain
from all brutal laughter, but, with a shadowy smile and a profound
seriousness, to attune ourselves to the proper state of receptivity.
Old-fashioned, coarse-minded people may perhaps ask, “But if we are not
to laugh at Don Quixote, at whom are we, please, to laugh?”--a question
which I, for one, would hardly dare to answer. Only, after reading
the following curious sentence, extracted from a lately published
volume of criticism, I confess to finding myself in a state of mental
perplexity, utterly alien to mirth. “How much happier,” its author
sternly reminds us, “was poor Don Quixote in his energetic career, in
his earnest redress of wrong, and in his ultimate triumph over self,
than he could have been in the gnawing reproach and spiritual stigma
which a yielding to weakness never failingly entails!” Beyond this
point it would be hard to go. Were these things really spoken of the
“ingenious gentleman” of La Mancha, or of John Howard, or George
Peabody, or perhaps Elizabeth Fry,--or is there no longer such a thing
as a recognized absurdity in the world?

Another gloomy indication of the departure of humor from our midst is
the tendency of philosophical writers to prove by analysis that, if
they are not familiar with the thing itself, they at least know of what
it should consist. Mr. Shorthouse’s depressing views about Don Quixote
are merely introduced as illustrating a very scholarly and comfortless
paper on the subtle qualities of mirth. No one could deal more
gracefully and less humorously with his topic than does Mr. Shorthouse,
and we are compelled to pause every now and then and reassure ourselves
as to the subject matter of his eloquence. Professor Everett has more
recently and more cheerfully defined for us the Philosophy of the
Comic, in a way which, if it does not add to our gayety, cannot be
accused of plunging us deliberately into gloom. He thinks, indeed,--and
small wonder,--that there is “a genuine difficulty in distinguishing
between the comic and the tragic,” and that what we need is some
formula which shall accurately interpret the precise qualities of each;
and he is disposed to illustrate his theory by dwelling on the tragic
side of Falstaff, which is, of all injuries, the grimmest and hardest
to forgive. Falstaff is now the forlorn hope of those who love to
laugh, and when he is taken away from us, as soon, alas! he will be,
and sleeps with Don Quixote in the “dull cold marble” of an orthodox
sobriety, how shall we make merry our souls? Mr. George Radford, who
enriched the first volume of “Obiter Dicta” with such a loving study of
the fat-witted old knight, tells us reassuringly that by laughter man
is distinguished from the beasts, though the cares and sorrows of life
have all but deprived him of this elevating grace, and degraded him
into a brutal solemnity. Then comes along a rare genius like Falstaff,
who restores the power of laughter, and transforms the stolid brute
once more into a man, and who accordingly has the highest claim to our
grateful and affectionate regard. That there are those who persist
in looking upon him as a selfish and worthless fellow is, from Mr.
Radford’s point of view, a sorrowful instance of human thanklessness
and perversity. But this I take to be the enamored and exaggerated
language of a too faithful partisan. Morally speaking, Falstaff has not
a leg to stand upon, and there _is_ a tragic element lurking always
amid the fun. But, seen in the broad sunlight of his transcendent
humor, this shadow is as the half-pennyworth of bread to his own noble
ocean of sack, and why should we be forever trying to force it into
prominence? When Charlotte Brontë advised her friend, Ellen Nussey,
to read none of Shakespeare’s comedies, she was not beguiled for a
moment into regarding them as serious and melancholy lessons of life;
but with uncompromising directness put them down as mere improper
plays, the amusing qualities of which were insufficient to excuse their
coarseness, and which were manifestly unfit for the “gentle Ellen’s”
eyes.

In fact, humor would at all times have been the poorest excuse to
offer to Miss Brontë for any form of moral dereliction, for it was
the one quality she lacked herself, and failed to tolerate in others.
Sam Weller was apparently as obnoxious to her as was Falstaff,
for she would not even consent to meet Dickens, when she was being
lionized in London society,--a degree of abstemiousness on her part
which it is disheartening to contemplate. It does not seem too
much to say that every shortcoming in Charlotte Brontë’s admirable
work, every limitation of her splendid genius, arose primarily from
her want of humor. Her severities of judgment--and who more severe
than she?--were due to the same melancholy cause; for humor is the
kindliest thing alive. Compare the harshness with which she handles
her hapless curates, and the comparative crudity of her treatment,
with the surpassing lightness of Miss Austen’s touch as she rounds
and completes her immortal clerical portraits. Miss Brontë tells us,
in one of her letters, that she regarded _all_ curates as “highly
uninteresting, narrow, and unattractive specimens of the coarser sex,”
just as she found _all_ the Belgian school-girls “cold, selfish,
animal, and inferior.” But to Miss Austen’s keen and friendly eye the
narrowest of clergymen was not wholly uninteresting, the most inferior
of school-girls not without some claim to our consideration; even the
coarseness of the male sex was far from vexing her maidenly serenity,
probably because she was unacquainted with the Rochester type. Mr.
Elton is certainly narrow, Mary Bennet extremely inferior; but their
authoress only laughs at them softly, with a quiet tolerance, and
a good-natured sense of amusement at their follies. It was little
wonder that Charlotte Brontë, who had at all times the courage of her
convictions, could not, and would not, read Jane Austen’s novels. “They
have not got story enough for me,” she boldly affirmed. “I don’t want
my blood curdled, but I like to have it stirred. Miss Austen strikes
me as milk-and-watery, and, to say truth, as dull.” Of course she
did! How was a woman, whose ideas of after-dinner conversation are
embodied in the amazing language of Baroness Ingram and her titled
friends, to appreciate the delicious, sleepy small talk, in “Sense
and Sensibility,” about the respective heights of the respective
grandchildren? It is to Miss Brontë’s abiding lack of humor that we
owe such stately caricatures as Blanche Ingram, and all the high-born,
ill-bred company who gather in Thornfield Hall, like a group fresh
from Madame Tussaud’s ingenious workshop, and against whose waxen
unreality Jane Eyre and Rochester, alive to their very finger-tips,
contrast like twin sparks of fire. It was her lack of humor, too, which
beguiled her into asserting that the forty “wicked, sophistical, and
immoral French novels,” which found their way down to lonely Haworth,
gave her “a thorough idea of France and Paris,”--alas, poor misjudged
France!--and which made her think Thackeray very nearly as wicked,
sophistical, and immoral as the French novels. Even her dislike for
children was probably due to the same irremediable misfortune; for the
humors of children are the only redeeming points amid their general
naughtiness, and vexing misbehavior. Mr. Swinburne, guiltless himself
of any jocose tendencies, has made the unique discovery that Charlotte
Brontë strongly resembles Cervantes, and that Paul Emanuel is a modern
counterpart of Don Quixote; and well it is for our poet that the
irascible little professor never heard him hint at such a similarity.
Surely, to use one of Mr. Swinburne’s own incomparable expressions,
the parallel is no better than a “subsimious absurdity.”

On the other hand, we are told that Miss Austen owed her lively sense
of humor to her habit of dissociating the follies of mankind from
any rigid standard of right and wrong; which means, I suppose, that
she never dreamed she had a mission. Nowadays, indeed, no writer is
without one. We cannot even read a paper upon gypsies, and not become
aware that its author is deeply imbued with a sense of his personal
responsibility for these agreeable rascals, whom he insists upon our
taking seriously,--as if we wanted to have anything to do with them on
such terms! “Since the time of Carlyle,” says Mr. Bagehot, “earnestness
has been a favorite virtue in literature;” but Carlyle, though sharing
largely in that profound melancholy which he declared to be the
basis of every English soul, and though he was unfortunate enough to
think Pickwick sad trash, had nevertheless a grim and eloquent humor
of his own. With him, at least, earnestness never degenerated into
dullness; and while dullness may be, as he unhesitatingly affirmed,
the first requisite for a great and free people, yet a too heavy
percentage of this valuable quality is fatal to the sprightly grace
of literature. “In our times,” said an old Scotchwoman, “there’s
fully mony modern principles,” and the first of these seems to be
the substitution of a serious and critical discernment for the
light-hearted sympathy of former days. Our grandfathers cried a
little and laughed a good deal over their books, without the smallest
sense of anxiety or responsibility in the matter; but we are called
on repeatedly to face problems which we would rather let alone, to
dive dismally into motives, to trace subtle connections, to analyze
uncomfortable sensations, and to exercise in all cases a discreet and
conscientious severity, when what we really want and need is half
an hour’s amusement. There is no stronger proof of the great change
that has swept over mankind than the sight of a nation which used to
chuckle over “Tom Jones” absorbing a few years ago countless editions
of “Robert Elsmere.” What is droller still is that the people who read
“Robert Elsmere” would think it wrong to enjoy “Tom Jones,” and that
the people who enjoyed “Tom Jones” would have thought it wrong to read
“Robert Elsmere;” and that the people who, wishing to be on the safe
side of virtue, think it wrong to read either, are scorned greatly as
lacking true moral discrimination.

Now he would be a brave man who would undertake to defend the utterly
indefensible literature of the past. Where it was most humorous it
was also most coarse, wanton, and cruel; but, in banishing these
objectionable qualities, we have effectually contrived to rid ourselves
of the humor as well, and with it we have lost one of the safest
instincts of our souls. Any book which serves to lower the sum of
human gayety is a moral delinquent; and instead of coddling it into
universal notice, and growing owlish in its gloom, we should put it
briskly aside in favor of brighter and pleasanter things. When Father
Faber said that there was no greater help to a religious life than a
keen sense of the ridiculous, he startled a number of pious people,
yet what a luminous and cordial message it was to help us on our way!
Mr. Birrell has recorded the extraordinary delight with which he came
across some after-dinner sally of the Rev. Henry Martyn’s; for the
very thought of that ardent and fiery spirit relaxing into pleasantries
over the nuts and wine made him appear like an actual fellow-being of
our own. It is with the same feeling intensified, as I have already
noted, that we read some of the letters of the early fathers,--those
grave and hallowed figures seen through a mist of centuries,--and find
them jesting at one another in the gayest and least sacerdotal manner
imaginable. “Who could tell a story with more wit, who could joke so
pleasantly?” sighs St. Gregory of Nazienzen of his friend St. Basil,
remembering doubtless with a heavy heart the shafts of good-humored
raillery that had brightened their lifelong intercourse. With what
kindly and loving zest does Gregory, himself the most austere of men,
mock at Basil’s asceticism,--at those “sad and hungry banquets” of
which he was invited to partake, those “ungarden-like gardens, void
of pot-herbs,” in which he was expected to dig! With what delightful
alacrity does Basil vindicate his reputation for humor by making a
most excellent joke in court, for the benefit of a brutal magistrate
who fiercely threatened to tear out his liver! “Your intention is a
benevolent one,” said the saint, who had been for years a confirmed
invalid. “Where it is now located, it has given me nothing but
trouble.” Surely, as we read such an anecdote as this, we share in the
curious sensation experienced by little Tom Tulliver, when, by dint of
Maggie’s repeated questions, he began slowly to understand that the
Romans had once been real men, who were happy enough to speak their
own language without any previous introduction to the Eton grammar. In
like manner, when we come to realize that the fathers of the primitive
Church enjoyed their quips and cranks and jests as much as do Mr.
Trollope’s jolly deans or vicars, we feel we have at last grasped the
secret of their identity, and we appreciate the force of Father Faber’s
appeal to the frank spirit of a wholesome mirth.

Perhaps one reason for the scanty tolerance that humor receives at the
hands of the disaffected is because of the rather selfish way in which
the initiated enjoy their fun; for there is always a secret irritation
about a laugh in which we cannot join. Mr. George Saintsbury is plainly
of this way of thinking, and, being blessed beyond his fellows with
a love for all that is jovial, he speaks from out of the richness of
his experience. “Those who have a sense of humor,” he says, “instead
of being quietly and humbly thankful, are perhaps a little too apt to
celebrate their joy in the face of the afflicted ones who have it not;
and the afflicted ones only follow a general law in protesting that
it is a very worthless thing, if not a complete humbug.” This spirit
of exclusiveness on the one side and of irascibility on the other
may be greatly deplored, but who is there among us, I wonder, wholly
innocent of blame? Mr. Saintsbury himself confesses to a silent chuckle
of delight when he thinks of the dimly veiled censoriousness with
which Peacock’s inimitable humor has been received by one half of the
reading world. In other words, his enjoyment of the Rev. Drs. Folliott
and Opimian is sensibly increased by the reflection that a great
many worthy people, even among his own acquaintances, are, by some
mysterious law of their being, debarred from any share in his pleasure.
Yet surely we need not be so niggardly in this matter. There is wit
enough in those two reverend gentlemen to go all around the living
earth, and leave plenty for generations now unborn. Each might say with
Juliet,--

         “The more I give to thee,
    The more I have;”

for wit is as infinite as love, and a deal more lasting in its
qualities. When Peacock describes a country gentleman’s range of ideas
as “nearly commensurate with that of the great king Nebuchadnezzar when
he was turned out to grass,” he affords us a happy illustration of the
eternal fitness of humor, for there can hardly come a time when such an
apt comparison will fail to point its meaning.

Mr. Birrell is quite as selfish in his felicity as Mr. Saintsbury, and
perfectly frank in acknowledging it. He dwells rapturously over certain
well-loved pages of “Pride and Prejudice,” and “Mansfield Park,” and
then deliberately adds, “When an admirer of Miss Austen reads these
familiar passages, the smile of satisfaction, betraying the deep inward
peace they never fail to beget, widens, like ‘a circle in the water,’
as he remembers (and he is always careful to remember) how his dearest
friend, who has been so successful in life, can no more read Miss
Austen than he can read the Moabitish Stone.” The same peculiarity is
noticeable in the more ardent lovers of Charles Lamb. They seem to want
him all to themselves, look askance upon any fellow-being who ventures
to assert a modest preference for their idol, and brighten visibly
when some ponderous critic declares the Letters to be sad stuff, and
not worth half the exasperating nonsense talked about them. Yet Lamb
flung his good things to the winds with characteristic prodigality,
little recking by whom or in what spirit they were received. How many
witticisms, I wonder, were roared into the deaf ears of old Thomas
Westwood, who heard them not, alas, but who laughed all the same, out
of pure sociability, and with a pleasant sense that something funny
had been said! And what of that ill-fated pun which Lamb, in a moment
of deplorable abstraction, let fall at a funeral, to the surprise
and consternation of the mourners? Surely a man who could joke at a
funeral never meant his pleasantries to be hoarded up for the benefit
of an initiated few, but would gladly see them the property of all
living men; ay, and of all dead men, too, were such a distribution
possible. “Damn the age! I will write for antiquity!” he exclaimed,
with not unnatural heat, when the “Gypsy’s Malison” was rejected by the
ingenious editors of the “Gem,” on the ground that it would “shock all
mothers;” and even this expression, uttered with pardonable irritation,
manifests no solicitude for a narrow and esoteric audience.

“Wit is useful for everything, but sufficient for nothing,” says
Amiel, who probably felt he needed some excuse for burying so much of
his Gallic sprightliness in Teutonic gloom; and dullness, it must be
admitted, has the distinct advantage of being useful for everybody,
and sufficient for nearly everybody as well. Nothing, we are told,
is more rational than _ennui_; and Mr. Bagehot, contemplating the
“grave files of speechless men” who have always represented the
English land, exults more openly and energetically even than Carlyle
in the saving dullness, the superb impenetrability, which stamps the
Englishman, as it stamped the Roman, with the sign-manual of patient
strength. Stupidity, he reminds us, is not folly, and moreover it
often insures a valuable consistency. “‘What I says is this here,
as I was a-saying yesterday,’ is the average Englishman’s notion of
historical eloquence and habitual discretion.” But Mr. Bagehot could
well afford to trifle thus coyly with dullness, because he knew it only
theoretically and as a dispassionate observer. His own roof-tree is
free from the blighting presence; his own pages are guiltless of the
leaden touch. It has been well said that an ordinary mortal might live
for a twelvemonth like a gentleman on Hazlitt’s ideas; but he might,
if he were clever, shine all his life long with the reflected splendor
of Mr. Bagehot’s wit, and be thought to give forth a very respectable
illumination. There is a telling quality in every stroke; a pitiless
dexterity that drives the weapon, like a fairy’s arrow, straight to
some vital point. When we read that “of all pursuits ever invented
by man for separating the faculty of argument from the capacity of
belief, the art of debating is probably the most effective,” we feel
that an unwelcome statement has been expressed with Mephistophelian
coolness; and remembering that these words were uttered before Mr.
Gladstone had attained his parliamentary preëminence, we have but
another proof of the imperishable accuracy of wit. Only say a clever
thing, and mankind will go on forever furnishing living illustrations
of its truth. It was Thurlow who originally remarked that “companies
have neither bodies to kick nor souls to lose,” and the jest fits in
so aptly with our every-day humors and experiences that I have heard
men attribute it casually to their friends, thinking, perhaps, that
it must have been born in these times of giant corporations, of city
railroads, and of trusts. What a gap between Queen Victoria and Queen
Bess, what a thorough and far-reaching change in everything that goes
to make up the life and habits of men; and yet Shakespeare’s fine
strokes of humor have become so fitted to our common speech that the
very unconsciousness with which we apply them proves how they tally
with our modern emotions and opportunities. Lesser lights burn quite
as steadily. Pope and Goldsmith reappear on the lips of people whose
knowledge of the “Essay on Man” is of the very haziest character,
and whose acquaintance with “She Stoops to Conquer” is confined
exclusively to Mr. Abbey’s graceful illustrations. Not very long ago
I heard a bright school-girl, when reproached for wet feet or some
such youthful indiscretion, excuse herself gayly on the plea that she
was “bullying Nature;” and, knowing that the child was but modestly
addicted to her books, I wondered how many of Dr. Holmes’s trenchant
sayings have become a heritage in our households, detached often from
their original kinship, and seeming like the rightful property of
every one who utters them. It is an amusing, barefaced, witless sort
of robbery, yet surely not without its compensations; for it must be a
pleasant thing to reflect in old age that the general murkiness of life
has been lit up here and there by sparks struck from one’s youthful
fire, and that these sparks, though they wander occasionally masterless
as will-o’-the-wisps, are destined never to go out.

Are destined never to go out! In its vitality lies the supreme
excellence of humor. Whatever has “wit enough to keep it sweet” defies
corruption and outlasts all time; but the wit must be of that outward
and visible order which needs no introduction or demonstration at
our hands. It is an old trick with dull novelists to describe their
characters as being exceptionally brilliant people, and to trust that
we will take their word for it, and ask no further proof. Every one
remembers how Lord Beaconsfield would tell us that a cardinal could
“sparkle with anecdote and blaze with repartee;” and how utterly
destitute of sparkle or blaze were the specimens of his eminence’s
conversation with which we were subsequently favored. Those “lively
dinners” in “Endymion” and “Lothair,” at which we were assured the
brightest minds in England loved to gather, became mere Barmecide
feasts when reported to us without a single amusing remark; such
waifs and strays of conversation as reached our ears being of the
dreariest and most fatuous description. It is not so with the real
masters of their craft. Mr. Peacock does not stop to explain to us
that Dr. Folliott is witty. The reverend gentleman opens his mouth
and acquaints us with the fact himself. There is no need for George
Eliot to expatiate on Mrs. Poyser’s humor. Five minutes of that lady’s
society is amply sufficient for the revelation. We do not even hear
Mr. Poyser and the rest of the family enlarging delightedly on the
subject, as do all of Lawyer Putney’s friends, in Mr. Howells’s story,
“Annie Kilburn;” and yet even the united testimony of Hatboro’ fails
to clear up our lingering doubts concerning Mr. Putney’s wit. The dull
people of that soporific town are really and truly and realistically
dull. There is no mistaking them. The stamp of veracity is upon every
brow. They pay morning calls, and we listen to their conversation
with a dreamy impression that we have heard it all many times before,
and that the ghosts of our own morning calls are revisiting us, not
in the glimpses of the moon, but in Mr. Howells’s decorous and quiet
pages. That curious conviction that we have formerly passed through a
precisely similar experience is strong upon us as we read, and it is
the most emphatic testimony to the novelist’s peculiar skill. But there
is none of this instantaneous acquiescence in Mr. Putney’s wit; for
although he does make one very nice little joke, it is hardly enough
to flavor all his conversation, which is for the most part rather
unwholesome than humorous. The only way to elucidate him is to suppose
that Mr. Howells, in sardonic mood, wishes to show us that if a man
be discreet enough to take to hard drinking in his youth, before his
general emptiness is ascertained, his friends invariably credit him
with a host of shining qualities which, we are given to understand,
lie balked and frustrated by his one unfortunate weakness. How many of
us know these exceptionally brilliant lawyers, doctors, politicians,
and journalists, who bear a charmed reputation, based exclusively upon
their inebriety, and who take good care not to imperil it by too long
a relapse into the mortifying self-revelations of soberness! And what
wrong has been done to the honored name of humor by these pretentious
rascals! We do not love Falstaff because he is drunk; we do not admire
Becky Sharp because she is wicked. Drunkenness and wickedness are
things easy of imitation; yet all the sack in Christendom could not
beget us another Falstaff,--though Seithenyn ap Seithyn comes very near
to the incomparable model,--and all the wickedness in the world could
not fashion us a second Becky Sharp. There are too many dull topers
and stupid sinners among mankind to admit of any uncertainty on those
points.

Bishop Burnet, in describing Lord Halifax, tells us, with thinly veiled
disapprobation, that he was “a man of fine and ready wit, full of life,
and very pleasant, but much turned to satire. His imagination was too
hard for his judgment, and a severe jest took more with him than all
arguments whatever.” Yet this was the first statesman of his age,
and one whose clear and tranquil vision penetrated so far beyond the
turbulent, troubled times he lived in, that men looked askance upon a
power they but dimly understood. The sturdy “Trimmer,” who would be
bullied neither by king nor commons, who would “speak his mind and not
be hanged as long as there was law in England,” must have turned with
infinite relief from the horrible medley of plots and counterplots,
from the ugly images of Oates and Dangerfield, from the scaffolds
of Stafford and Russell and Sidney, from the Bloody Circuit and the
massacre of Glencoe, from the false smiles of princes and the howling
arrogance of the mob, to any jest, however “severe,” which would
restore to him his cold and fastidious serenity, and keep his judgment
and his good temper unimpaired. “Ridicule is the test of truth,”
said Hazlitt, and it is a test which Halifax remorselessly applied,
and which would not be without its uses to the Trimmer of to-day, in
whom this adjusting sense is lamentably lacking. For humor distorts
nothing, and only false gods are laughed off their earthly pedestals.
What monstrous absurdities and paradoxes have resisted whole batteries
of serious arguments, and then crumbled swiftly into dust before the
ringing death-knell of a laugh! What healthy exultation, what genial
warmth, what loyal brotherhood of mirth, attends the friendly sound!
Yet in labeling our life and literature, as the Danes labeled their
Royal Theatre in Copenhagen, “Not for amusement merely,” we have pushed
one step further, and the legend too often stands, “Not for amusement
at all.” Life is no laughing matter, we are told, which is true;
and, what is still more dismal to contemplate, books are no laughing
matters, either. Only now and then some gay, defiant rebel, like Mr.
Saintsbury, flaunts the old flag, hums a bar of “Blue Bonnets over
the Border,” and ruffles the quiet waters of our souls by hinting that
this age of Apollinaris and of lectures is at fault, and that it has
produced nothing which can vie as literature with the products of the
ages of wine and song.



ENGLISH LOVE-SONGS.


In a fair and far-off country, hidden to none, though visited by few,
dwell a little band of lovely ladies, to whose youth and radiance the
poets have added the crowning gift of immortality. There they live,
with faint alluring smiles that never fade; and at their head is Helen
of Troy, white-bosomed, azure-eyed, to whom men forgave all things for
her beauty’s sake. There, too, is Lesbia, fair and false, laughing at a
broken heart, but holding close and tenderly the dead sparrow

    “That, living, never strayed from her sweet breast.”

She kisses its ruffled wings and weeps, she who had no tears to spare
when Catullus sung and sued. And there is Myrto, beloved by Theocritus,
her naked feet gleaming like pearls, a bunch of Coan rushes pressed in
her rosy fingers; and the nameless girl who held in check Anacreon’s
wandering heart with the magic of dimples, and parted lips, and thin
purple floating garments. With these are later beauties: Fiammetta
the ruddy-haired, whom death snatched from Boccaccio’s arms, and
the gentle Catarina, raising those heavy-lidded eyes that Camoens
loved and lost; Petrarch’s Laura, robed in pale green spotted with
violets, one golden curl escaping wantonly beneath her veil; the fair
blue-stocking, Leonora d’Este, pale as a rain-washed rose, her dress
in sweet disorder; and Beatrice, with the stillness of eternity in her
brooding eyes. If we listen, we hear the shrill laughter of Mignonne,
a child of fifteen summers, mocking at Ronsard’s wooing; or we catch
the gentler murmur of Highland Mary’s song. She blushes a little, the
low-born lass, and sinks her graceful head, as though abashed by the
fame her peasant lover brought her. Barefooted, yellow-haired, she
passes swiftly by; and with her, hand in hand, walks Scotland’s queen,
sad Jane Beaufort, “the fairest younge floure” that ever won the heart
of royal captive and suffered the martyrdom of love. England sends to
that far land Stella, with eyes like stars, and a veil of gossamer
hiding her delicate beauty, and Celia, and false Lucasta, and Castara,
tantalizingly discreet, in whose dimples Cupid is fain to linger
sighing, exiled, poor frozen god, from the

    “Chaste nunnery of her breasts.”

Sacharissa, too, stands near, with a shade of listlessness in her
sweet eyes, as though she wearied a little of Master Waller’s courtly
strains. A withered rose droops from her white fingers, preaching
its mute sermon, and preaching it all in vain; for rose and lady
live forever, linked to each other’s fame. And by her side, casting
her fragile loveliness in the shade, is one of different mould, a
sumptuous, smiling woman, on whom Sacharissa’s blue eyes fall with
a soft disdain. We know this indolent beauty by the brave vibration
of her tempestuous silken robe, by the ruby carcanet that clasps
her throat, the rainbow ribbon around her slender waist, the jewels
wedged knuckle-deep on every tapering finger, and even--oh, vanity of
vanities!--on one small rosy thumb. We know her by the scented beads
upon her arm, and by the sweet and subtle odors of storax and spikenard
and galbanum that breathe softly forth from her brocaded bodice, and
from her hair’s dark meshes caught in a golden net. It is she to whom
the glow-worms lent their eyes, and the elves their wings, and the
stars their shooting fires, as she wandered through the dewy woods to
meet her lover’s steps. It is Herrick’s Julia whom we see so clearly
through the mist of centuries, that cannot veil nor dim the brightness
of her presence.

To ask how many of these fair dames have gone through the formality
of living, and how many exist only by the might of a poet’s breath,
is but a thankless question. All share alike in that true being which
may not be blown out like the flame of a taper; in that true entity
which Cæsar and Hamlet hold in common, and which reveals them side by
side. Mr. Gosse, for example, assures us that Julia really walked the
earth, and even gives us some details of her mundane pilgrimage; other
critics smile, and shake their heads, and doubt. It matters not; she
lives, and she will continue to live when we who dispute the matter
lie voiceless in our graves. The essence of her personality lingers
on every page where Herrick sings of her. His verse is heavy with
her spicy perfumes, glittering with her many-colored jewels, lustrous
with the shimmer of her silken petticoats. Her very shadow, he sighs,
distills sweet odors on the air, and draws him after her, faint with
their amorous languor. How lavish she is with her charms, this woman
who neither thinks nor suffers; who prays, indeed, sometimes, with
great serenity, and dips her snowy finger in the font of blessed water,
but whose spiritual humors pale before the calm vigor of her earthly
nature! How kindly, how tranquil, how unmoved, she is; listening with
the same slow smile to her lover’s fantastic word-play, to the fervid
conceits with which he beguiles the summer idleness, and to the frank
and sudden passion with which he conjures her, “dearest of thousands,”
to close his eyes when death shall summon him, to shed some true tears
above the sod, to clasp forever the book in which he writes her name!
How gently she would have fulfilled these last sad duties had the
discriminating fates called her to his bier; how fragrant the sighs she
would have wafted in that darkened chamber; how sincere the temperate
sorrow for a remediable loss! And then, out into the glowing sunlight,
where life is sweet, and the world exults, and the warm blood tingles
in our veins, and, underneath the scattered primrose blossoms, the
frozen dead lie forgotten in their graves.

What gives to the old love-songs their peculiar felicity, their
undecaying brightness, is this constant sounding of a personal note;
this artless candor with which we are taken by the hand and led
straight into the lady’s presence, are bidden to admire her beauty and
her wit, are freely reminded of her faults and her caprices, and are
taught, with many a sigh and tear, and laughter bubbling throughout
all, what a delicious and unprofitable pastime is the love-making of a
poet.

    “I lose but what was never mine,”

sings Carew with gay philosophy, contemplating the perfidious
withdrawal of Celia’s kindness; and after worshiping hotly at her
shrine, and calling on all the winds of heaven to witness his desires,
he accepts his defeat with undimmed brow, and with melodious frankness
returns the false one her disdain:--

   “No tears, Celia, now shall win
      My resolved heart to return;
    I have searched thy soul within,
      And find naught but pride and scorn.
    I have learned thy arts, and now
    Can disdain as much as thou.”

From which heroic altitude we see him presently descending to protest
with smiling lips that love shall part with his arrows and the doves of
Venus with their pretty wings, that the sun shall fade and the stars
fall blinking from the skies, that heaven shall lose its delights and
hell its torments, that the very fish shall burn in the cool waters of
the ocean, if he forsakes or neglects his Celia’s embraces.

It was Carew, indeed, who first sounded these “courtly amorous strains”
throughout the English land; who first taught his fellow-poets that to
sing of love was not the occasional pastime, but the serious occupation
of their lives. Yet what an easy, indolent suitor he is! What lazy
raptures over Celia’s eyes and lips! What finely poised compliments,
delicate as rose leaves, and well fitted for the inconstant beauty who
listened, with faint blushes and transient interest, to the song! “He
loved wine and roses,” says Mr. Gosse, “and fair florid women, to
whom he could indite joyous or pensive poems about their comeliness,
adoring it while it lasted, regretting it when it faded. He has not
the same intimate love of detail as Herrick; we miss in his poetry
those realistic touches that give such wonderful freshness to the
verses of the younger poet; but the habit of the two men’s minds was
very similar. Both were pagans, and given up to an innocent hedonism;
neither was concerned with much beyond the eternal commonplaces of
bodily existence, the attraction of beauty, the mutability of life, the
brevity and sweetness of enjoyment.”

These things are quite enough, however, to make exceedingly good poets,
Mrs. Browning to the contrary, notwithstanding. “I never mistook
pleasure for the final cause of poetry, nor leisure for the hour of
the poet,” wrote the authoress of “Aurora Leigh,” and we quail before
the deadly earnestness of the avowal. But pleasure and leisure between
them have begotten work far more complete and artistic than anything
Mrs. Browning ever gave to an admiring world. Pleasure and leisure
are responsible for “L’Allegro” and “Il Penseroso,” for “Kubla Khan”
and “The Eve of St. Agnes,” for “Tam O’Shanter,” and “A Dream of Fair
Women,” and “The Bells.” There is so much talk about Herrick’s paganism
that it has become one of the things we credit without inquiry;
shrugging our shoulders over Corinna and her May blossoms, and passing
by that devout prayer of thanksgiving for the simple blessings of
life, for the loaf and the cup, the winter hearthstone and the summer
sun. There is such a widely diffused belief in the necessity for a
serious and urgent motive in art that we have grown to think less of
the outward construction of a poem than of the dominant impulse which
evoked it. Mrs. Browning, with all her noble idealism and her profound
sense of responsibility, was most depressingly indifferent about form,
and was quite a law to herself in the matter of rhymes. Carew, whose
avowed object was to flatter Celia and Celia’s fair rivals, proved
himself “enamored of perfection,” and wrought with infinite care
and delicacy upon his fragile little verses. If he only played at
love-making, he was serious enough as a poet; and, amid the careless
exuberance of his time, he came to be regarded, like Flaubert some
generations later, as a veritable martyr to style. He brought forth his
lyrical children, complained Sir John Suckling, with trouble and pain,
instead of with that light-hearted spontaneity which distinguished his
contemporaries, and which made their poetry so deliciously easy to
write, and so generally unprofitable to read. Suckling himself, and
Lovelace, and the host of courtly writers who toyed so gracefully and
so joyously with their art, ignored for the most part all severity
of workmanship, and made it their especial pride to compose with
gentlemanly ease. The result may be seen in a mass of half-forgotten
rubbish, and in a few incomparable songs, which are as fresh and lovely
to-day as when they first rang the praises of Lucasta, or the fair
Althea, or Chloris, the favorite daughter of wanton Aphrodite. They are
the models for all love-songs and for all time, and, in their delicate
beauty, they endure like fragile pieces of porcelain, to prove how
light a thing can bear the weight of immortality. We cannot surpass
them, we cannot steal their vivacious grace, we cannot feel ourselves
first in a field where such delicious and unapproachable things have
been already whispered.

   “Ah! frustrés par les anciens hommes,
    Nous sentons le regret jaloux,
    Qu’ils aient été ce que nous sommes,
    Qu’ils aient eu nos cœurs avant nous.”

The best love-poems of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries amply
fulfill the requirements suggested by Southey: their sentiment is
always “necessary, and voluptuous, and right.” They are no “made-dishes
at the Muses’ banquet,” but each one appears as the embodiment of a
passing emotion. In those three faultless little verses “Going to the
Wars,” a single thought is presented us,--regretful love made heroic by
the loyal farewell of the soldier suitor:--

   “Tell me not, sweet, I am unkind,
      That from the nunnery
    Of thy chaste breast and quiet mind
      To war and arms I flee.

   “True, a new mistress now I chase,
      The first foe in the field,
    And, with a stronger faith, embrace
      A sword, a horse, a shield.

   “Yet this inconstancy is such
      As you too shall adore,--
    I could not love thee, dear, so much,
      Loved I not honour more.”

In the still more beautiful lines, “To Althea from Prison,” passion,
made dignified by suffering, rewards with lavish hand the captive,
happy with his chains:--

   “If I have freedom in my love,
      And in my soul am free,
    Angels alone, that soar above,
      Enjoy such liberty.”

In both poems there is a tempered delicacy, revealing the finer grain
of that impetuous soul which wrecked itself so harshly in the stormy
waters of life. Whether we think of Lovelace as the spoiled darling
of a voluptuous court, or as dying of want in a cellar; whether we
picture him as sighing at the feet of beauty, or as fighting stoutly
for his country and his king; whether he is winning all hearts by
the resistless charms of voice and presence, or returning broken
from battle to suffer the bitterness of poverty and desertion, we
know that in his two famous lyrics we possess the real and perfect
fruit, the golden harvest, of that troubled and many-sided existence.
A still smaller gleaning comes to us from Sir Charles Sedley, who,
for two hundred years, has been preserved from oblivion by a little
wanton verse about Phillis, full of such good-natured contentment and
disbelief that we grow young and cheerful again in contemplating it.
Should any long-suffering reader desire to taste the sweets of sudden
contrast and of sharp reaction, let him turn from the strenuous,
analytic, half-caustic, and wholly discomforting love-poem of the
nineteenth century--Mr. Browning’s word-picture of “A Pretty Woman,”
for example--back to those swinging and jocund lines where Phillis,

    “Faithless as the winds or seas,”

smiles furtively upon her suitor, whose clearsightedness avails him
nothing, and who plays the game merrily to the end:--

             “She deceiving,
              I believing,
    What need lovers wish for more?”

We who read are very far from wishing for anything more. With the
Ettrick Shepherd, we are fain to remember that old tunes, and old
songs, and well-worn fancies are best fitted for so simple and so
ancient a theme:--

“A’ the world has been in love at ae time or ither o’ its life,
and kens best hoo to express its ain passion. What see you ever in
love-sangs that’s at a’ new? Never ae single word. It’s just the same
thing over again, like a vernal shower patterin’ amang the buddin’
words. But let the lines come sweetly, and saftly, and a wee wildly
too, frae the lips of Genius, and they shall delight a’ mankind, and
womankind too, without ever wearyin’ them, whether they be said or
sung. But try to be original, to keep aff a’ that ever has been said
afore, for fear o’ plagiarism, or in ambition o’ originality, and your
poem ’ill be like a bit o’ ice that you hae taken into your mouth
unawares for a lump o’ white sugar.”

Burns’s unrivaled songs come the nearest, perhaps, to realizing
this charming bit of description; and the Shepherd, anticipating
Schopenhauer’s philosophy of love, is quite as prompt as Burns to
declare its promise sweeter than its fulfillment:--

“Love is a soft, bright, balmy, tender, triumphant, and glorious lie,
in place of which nature offers us in mockery, during a’ the rest o’
our lives, the puir, paltry, pitiful, fusionless, faded, cauldrified,
and chittering substitute, Truth!”

This is not precisely the way in which we suffer ourselves nowadays
to talk about truth, but a few generations back, people still
cherished a healthy predilection for the comfortable delusions of
life. Mingling with the music of the sweet old love-songs, lurking
amid their passionate protestations, there is always a subtle sense
of insecurity, a good-humored desire to enjoy the present, and not
peer too closely into the perilous uncertainties of the future. Their
very exaggerations, the quaint and extravagant conceits which offend
our more exacting taste, are part of this general determination to be
wisely blind to the ill-bred obtrusiveness of facts. Accordingly there
is no staying the hand of an Elizabethan poet, or of his successor
under the Restoration, when either undertakes to sing his lady’s
praises. Sun, moon, and skies bend down to do her homage, and to
acknowledge their own comparative dimness.

    “Stars, indeed, fair creatures be,”

admits Wither indulgently, and pearls and rubies are not without
their merits; but when the beauty of Arete dawns upon him, all things
else seem dull and vapid by her side. Nay, his poetry, even, is born
of her complaisance, his talents are fostered by her smiles, he gains
distinction only as her favor may permit.

   “I no skill in numbers had,
    More than every shepherd’s lad,
    Till she taught me strains that were
    Pleasing to her gentle ear.
    Her fair splendour and her worth
    From obscureness drew me forth.
    And, because I had no muse,
    She herself deigned to infuse
    All the skill by which I climb
    To these praises in my rhyme.”

Donne, the most ardent of lovers and the most crabbed of poets, who
united a great devotion to his fond and faithful wife with a remarkably
poor opinion of her sex in general, pushed his adulations to the
extreme verge of absurdity. We find him writing to a lady sick of a
fever that she cannot die because all creation would perish with her,--

    “The whole world vapours in thy breath.”

After which ebullition, it is hardly a matter of surprise to know that
he considered females in the light of creatures whom it had pleased
Providence to make fools.

    “Hope not for mind in women!”

is his warning cry; at their best, a little sweetness and a little wit
form all their earthly portion. Yet the note of true passion struck by
Donne in those glowing addresses, those dejected farewells to his wife,
echoes like a cry of rapture and of pain out of the stillness of the
past. Her sorrow at the parting rends his heart; if she but sighs, she
sighs his soul away.

   “When thou weep’st, unkindly kind,
        My life’s blood doth decay.
            It cannot be
    That thou lov’st me, as thou say’st,
    If in thine my life thou waste;
        Thou art the life of me.”

Again, in that strange poem “A Valediction of Weeping,” he finds her
tears more than he can endure; and, with the fond exaggeration of a
lover, he entreats forbearance in her grief:--

                       “O more than moon,
    Draw not up seas to drown me in thy sphere;
    Weep me not dead in thine arms, but forbear
    To teach the sea what it may do too soon.
    Let not the wind example find
    To do me more harm than it purposeth;
    Since thou and I sigh one another’s breath,
    Whoe’er sighs most is cruellest, and hastes the other’s death.”

There is a lingering sweetness in these lines, for all their manifest
unwisdom, that is surpassed only by a pathetic sonnet of Drayton’s,
where the pain of parting, bravely borne at first, grows suddenly too
sharp for sufferance, and the lover’s pride breaks and melts into the
passion of a last appeal:--

   “Since there’s no helpe,--come, let us kisse and parte.
    Nay, I have done,--you get no more of me;
    And I am glad,--yea, glad with all my hearte,
    That thus so cleanly I myself can free.
    Shake hands forever!--cancel all our vows;
    And when we meet at any time againe,
    Be it not seene in either of our brows,
    That we one jot of former love retaine.

   “Now--at the last gaspe of Love’s latest breath--
    When, his pulse failing, passion speechless lies;
    When Faith is kneeling by his bed of death,
    And Innocence is closing up his eyes,
    Now! if thou would’st--when all have given him over--
    From death to life thou might’st him yet recover.”

Here, at least, we have grace of sentiment and beauty of form combined
to make a perfect whole. It seems strange indeed that Mr. Saintsbury,
who gives such generous praise to Drayton’s patriotic poems, his
legends, his epistles, even his prose prefaces, should have no single
word to spare for this most tender and musical of leave-takings.

As for the capricious humors and overwrought imagery which disfigure so
many of the early love-songs, they have received their full allotment
of censure, and have provoked the scornful mirth of critics too staid
or too sensitive to be tolerant. We hear more of them, sometimes, than
of the merits which should win them forgiveness. Lodge, dazzled by
Rosalynde’s beauty, is ill disposed to pass lightly over the catalogue
of her charms. Her lips are compared to budded roses, her teeth to
ranks of lilies; her eyes are

             “sapphires set in snow,
    Refining heaven by every wink,”

her cheeks are blushing clouds, and her neck is a stately tower where
the god of love lies captive. All things in nature contribute to her
excellence:--

   “With Orient pearl, with ruby red,
      With marble white, with sapphire blue,
    Her body every way is fed,
      Yet soft to touch, and sweet in view.”

But when this fair representative of all flowers and gems, “smiling to
herself to think of her new entertained passion,” lifts up the music of
her voice in that enchanting madrigal,--

   “Love in my bosom, like a bee,
          Doth suck his sweet;
    Now with his wings he plays with me,
          Now with his feet,”--

we know her at once for the kinswoman and precursor of another and
dearer Rosalind, who, with boyish swagger and tell-tale grace,

    “like a ripe sister,”

gathers from the trees of Arden the first fruits of Orlando’s love. It
was Lodge who pointed the way to that enchanted forest, where exiles
and rustics waste the jocund hours, where toil and care are alike
forgotten, where amorous verse-making represents the serious occupation
of life, and where the thrice fortunate Jaques can afford to dally with
melancholy for lack of any cankering sorrow at his heart.

William Habbington, who sings to us with such monotonous sweetness of
Castara’s innocent joys, surpasses Lodge alike in the charm of his
descriptions and in the extravagance of his follies. In reading him we
are sharply reminded of Klopstock’s warning, that “a man should speak
of his wife as seldom and with as much modesty as of himself;” for
Habbington, who glories in the fairness and the chastity of his spouse,
becomes unduly boastful now and then in vaunting these perfections to
the world. He, at least, being safely married to Castara, feels none of
that haunting insecurity which disturbs his fellow-poets.

   “All her vows religious be,
    And her love she vows to me,”

he says complacently, and then stops to assure us in plain prose
that she is “so unvitiated by conversation with the world that the
subtle-minded of her sex would deem it ignorance.” Even to her
husband-lover she is “thrifty of a kiss,” and in the marble coldness
and purity of her breast his glowing roses find a chilly sepulchre.
Cupid, perishing, it would seem, from a mere description of her merits,
or, as Habbington singularly expresses it,--

   “But if you, when this you hear,
    Fall down murdered through your ear,”

is, by way of compensation, decently interred in the dimpled cheek
which has so often been his lurking-place. Lilies and roses and
violets exhale their odors around him, a beauteous sheet of lawn is
drawn up over his cold little body, and all who see the “perfumed
hearse”--presumably the dimple--envy the dead god, blest in his repose.
This is as bad in its way as Lovelace’s famous lines on “Ellinda’s
Glove,” where that modest article of dress is compelled to represent
in turn a snow-white farm with five tenements, whose fair mistress
has deserted them, an ermine cabinet too small and delicate for
any occupant but its own, and a fiddle-case without its fine-tuned
instrument. Dr. Thomas Campion, who, after rhyming delightfully all
his life, was pleased to write a treatise against that “vulgar and
artificial custom,” compares his lady’s face, in one musical little
song, to a fertile garden, and her lips to ripe cherries, which none
may buy or steal because her eyes, like twin angels, have them in
keeping, and her brows, like bended bows, defend such treasures from
the crowd.

   “Those cherries fairly do enclose
        Of Orient pearl a double row,
    Which, when her lovely laughter shows,
        They look like rose-buds filled with snow;
    Yet them nor peer nor prince can buy,
    Till ‘Cherry ripe’ themselves do cry.”

This dazzling array of mixed metaphors with which the early poets love
to bewilder us, and the whimsical conceits which must have cost them
many laborious hours, have at least one redeeming merit: they are
for the most part illustrative of the lady’s graces, and not of the
writer’s lacerated heart. They tell us, seldom indeed with Herrick’s
intimate realism, but with many quaint and suspicious exaggerations,
whether the fair one was false or fond, light or dark, serious or
flippant, gentle or high-spirited; what fashion of clothes she wore,
what jewels and flowers were her adornment: and these are the things we
take pleasure in knowing. It is Mr. Gosse’s especial grievance against
Waller that he does not enlighten us on such points. “We can form,”
he complains, “but a very vague idea of Lady Dorothy Sidney from the
Sacharissa poems; she is everywhere overshadowed by the poet himself.
We are told that she can sleep when she pleases, and this inspires a
copy of verses; but later on we are told that she can do anything but
sleep when she pleases, and this leads to another copy of verses, which
leave us exactly where we were when we started.” Indeed, those who
express surprise at Sacharissa’s coldness have perhaps failed to notice
the graceful chill of her lover’s poems. “Cupid might have clapped
him on the shoulder, but we could warrant him heart-whole.” For seven
years he carried on his languid and courtly suit without once warming
to the passion point; and when Lady Dorothy at last made up her mind to
marry somebody else, he expressed his cordial acquiescence in her views
in a most charming and playful letter to her young sister, Lady Lucy
Sidney,--a letter containing just enough well-bred regret to temper its
wit and gayety. He had fulfilled his part in singing the praises of
his mistress, in preaching to her sweetly through the soft petals of
a rose, and in sighing with gentle complacency over the happy girdle
which bound her slender waist.

   “A narrow compass, and yet there
    Dwelt all that’s good, and all that’s fair;
    Give me but this ribbon bound
    Take all the rest the sun goes round.”

Here we have the prototype of that other and more familiar cincture
which clasped the Miller’s Daughter; and it must be admitted that Lord
Tennyson’s maiden, with her curls, and her jeweled ear-rings, and the
necklace rising and falling all day long upon her “balmy bosom,” is
more suggestive of a court beauty, like the fair Sacharissa, than of a
buxom village girl.

The most impersonal, however, of all the poet-lovers is Sir Philip
Sidney, who, in the hundred and eight sonnets dedicated to Stella,
has managed to tell us absolutely nothing about her. The atmosphere
of haunting individuality which gives these sonnets their half-bitter
flavor, and which made them a living power in the stormy days of
Elizabethan poetry, reveals to us, not Stella, but Astrophel; not
Penelope Devereux, but Sidney himself, bruised by regrets and resentful
of his fate. They are not by any means passionate love-songs; they are
not even sanguine enough to be persuasive; they are steeped throughout
in a pungent melancholy, too restless for resignation, too gentle
for anger, too manly for vain self-indulgence. In their delicacy and
their languor we read the story of that lingering suit which lacked the
elation of success and the heart-break of failure. Indeed, Sidney seems
never to have been a very ardent lover until the lady was taken away
from him and married to Lord Rich, when he bewailed her musically for
a couple of years, and then consoled himself with Frances Walsingham,
who must have found the sonnets to her rival pleasant reading for
her leisure hours. This is the bald history of that poetic passion
which made the names of Stella and Astrophel famous in English song,
and which stirred the disgust of Horace Walpole, whose appreciation
of such tender themes was of a painfully restricted nature. In their
thoughtful, introspective, and self-revealing character, Sidney’s
love-poems bear a closer likeness to the genius of the nineteenth than
to that of the sixteenth century. If we want to see the same spirit
at work, we have but to take up the fifty sonnets by Dante Gabriel
Rossetti, called “The House of Life,” wherein the writer’s soul is
clearly reflected, but no glimpse is vouchsafed us of the woman who
has disturbed its depth. Their vague, sweet pathos, their brooding
melancholy, their reluctant acceptance of a joyless mood, are all
familiar features in the earlier poet. Such verses as those beginning,--

   “Look in my face; my name is Might-have-been;
    I am also called No-more, Too-late, Farewell,”

are of the self-same mintage as Sidney’s golden coins, only more
modern, and perhaps more perfect in form, and a trifle more shadowy in
substance. If Sidney shows us but little of Stella, and if that little
is, judged by the light of her subsequent career, not very accurately
represented, Rossetti far surpasses him in unconscious reticence. He is
not unwilling to analyze,--few recent poets are,--but his analysis lays
bare only the tumult of his own heart, the lights and shades of his own
delicate and sensitive nature.

It was Sidney, however, who first pointed out to women, with clear
insistence, the advantage of having poets for lovers, and the promise
of immortality thus conferred on them. He entreats them to listen
kindly to those who can sing their praises to the world. “For so doing
you shall be most fair, most wise, most rich, most everything! You
shall feed upon superlatives.” Carew, adopting the same tone, and less
gallant than Wither, who refers even his own fame to Arete’s kindling
glances, tells the flaunting Celia very plainly that she owes her
dazzling prominence to him alone.

   “Know, Celia! since thou art so proud,
    ’Twas I that gave thee thy renown;
    Thou hadst in the forgotten crowd
    Of common beauties lived unknown,
    Had not my verse exhaled thy name,
    And with it impt the wings of fame.”

What wonder that, under such conditions and with such reminders, a
passion for being be-rhymed seized upon all women, from the highest to
the lowest, from the marchioness at court to the orange-girl smiling
in the theatre!--a passion which ended its fluttering existence in our
great-grandmothers’ albums. Yet nothing is clearer, when we study these
poetic suits, than their very discouraging results. The pleasure that
a woman takes in being courted publicly in verse is a very distinct
sensation from the pleasure that she expects to take when being courted
privately in prose. She is quick to revere, genius, but in her secret
soul she seldom loves it. Genius, as Hazlitt scornfully remarks, “says
such things,” and the average woman distrusts “such things,” and
wonders why the poet will not learn to talk and behave like ordinary
people. It hardly needed the crusty shrewdness of Christopher North to
point out to us the arrant ill-success with which the Muse has always
gone a-wooing. “Making love and making love-verses,” he explains,
“are two of the most different things in the world, and I doubt if
both accomplishments were ever found highly united in the same gifted
individual. Inspiration is of little avail either to gods or men in the
most interesting affairs of life, those of the earth. The pretty maid
who seems to listen kindly

    ‘Kisses the cup, and passes it to the rest,’

and next morning, perhaps, is off before breakfast in a chaise-and-four
to Gretna Green, with an aid-de-camp of Wellington, as destitute of
imagination as his master.” It is the cheerful equanimity with which
the older poets anticipated and endured some such finale as this
which gives them their precise advantage over their more exacting and
self-centred successors.

For what is the distinctive characteristic of the early love-songs, and
to what do they owe their profound and penetrating charm? It is that
quality of youth which Heine so subtly recognized in Rossini’s music,
and which, to his world-worn ears, made it sweeter than more reflective
and heavily burdened strains. Love was young when Herrick and Carew
and Suckling went a-wooing; he has grown now to man’s estate, and the
burdens of manhood have kept pace with his growing powers. It is no
longer, as at the feast of Apollo, a contest for the deftest kiss, but
a life-and-death struggle in that grim arena where passion and pain and
sorrow contend for mastery.

   “Ah! how sweet it is to love!
    Ah! how gay is young desire!”

sang Dryden, who, in truth, was neither sweet nor gay in his amorous
outpourings, but who merely echoed the familiar sentiments of his
youth. That sweetness and gayety of the past still linger, indeed, in
some half-forgotten and wholly neglected verses which we have grown
too careless or too cultivated to recall. We harden our hearts against
such delicious trifling as

   “The young May moon is beaming, love,
    The glow-worm’s lamp is gleaming, love.”

We will have none of its pleasant moral,--

    “’Tis never too late for delight, my dear,”

and we will not even listen when Mr. Saintsbury tells us with sharp
impatience that, in turning our backs so coldly upon the poet who
enraptured our grandfathers, we are losing a great deal that we can
ill afford to spare. The quality of youth is still more distinctly
discernible in some of Thomas Beddoes’s dazzling little songs, stolen
straight from the heart of the sixteenth century, and lustrous with
that golden light which set so long ago. It is not in spirit only, nor
in sentiment, that this resemblance exists; the words, the imagery,
the swaying music, the teeming fancies of the younger poet, mark him
as one strayed from another age, and wandering companionless under
alien skies. Some two hundred years before Beddoes’s birth, Drummond
of Hawthornden, he who sang so tenderly the praises of his sweet
mistress, dead on her wedding-day, wrote these quaint and pretty lines
entreating for her favor:--

   “I die, dear life, unless to me be given
    As many kisses as the Spring hath flowers,
    Or there be silver drops in Iris’ showers,
    Or stars there be in all-embracing heaven.
    And if displeased, you of the match remain,
    You shall have leave to take them back again.”

In Beddoes’s unfinished drama of “Torresmond,” we find Veronica’s
maidens singing her to sleep with just such bright conceits and soft
caressing words, and their song rings like an echo from some dim old
room where Lesbia, or Althea, or Celia lies a-dreaming:--

   “How many times do I love thee, dear?
    Tell me how many thoughts there be
          In the atmosphere
          Of a new-fall’n year,
    Whose white and sable hours appear
    The latest flake of Eternity:
    So many times do I love thee, dear.

   “How many times do I love again?
    Tell me how many beads there are
          In a silver chain
          Of evening rain,
    Unraveled from the tumbling main,
    And threading the eye of a yellow star:
    So many times do I love again.”

It is not in this fairy fashion that the truly modern poet declares his
passion; it is not thus that Wordsworth sings to us of Lucy, the most
alluring and shadowy figure in English poetry,--Lucy, richly dowered
with a few short verses of unapproachable beauty. To the lover of
Wordsworth her death is a lasting hurt. We cannot endure to think of
her as he thinks of her,--

   “Rolled round in earth’s diurnal course
    With rocks, and stones, and trees.”

We cannot endure that anything so fine and rare should slip forever
from the sunshine, and that the secret stars should look down upon
her maidenhood no more. Browning, too, who has been termed the poet
of love, who has revealed to us every changeful mood, every stifled
secret, every light and shade of human emotion,--how has he dealt with
his engrossing theme? Beneath his unsparing touch, at once burning and
subtle, the soul lies bare, and its passions rend it like hounds. All
that is noble, generous, suffering, shameful, finds in him its ablest
exponent. Those strange, fantastic sentences in which Mr. Pater has
analyzed the inscrutable sorcery of Mona Lisa, beneath whose weary
eyelids “the thoughts and experiences of the world lie shadowed,” might
also fitly portray the image of Love, as Browning has unveiled him
to our sight. He too is older than the rocks, and the secrets of the
grave and of the deep seas are in his keeping. He too expresses all
that man has come to desire in the ways of a thousand years, and his
is the beauty “into which the soul with its maladies has passed.” The
slumbering centuries lie coiled beneath his feet, their hidden meaning
is his to grasp, their huge and restless impulses have nourished him,
their best results are his inheritance. But he is not glad, for the
maladies of the soul have stilled his laughter, and the brightness of
youth has fled.



BOOKS THAT HAVE HINDERED ME.


So many grateful and impetuous spirits have recently come forward to
tell to an approving world how they have been benefited by their early
reading, and by their wisely chosen favorites in literature, that the
trustful listener begins to think, against his own rueful experience,
that all books must be pleasant and profitable companions. Those who
have honored us with confidence in this matter seem to have found their
letters, as Sir Thomas Browne found his religion, “all pure profit.”
Edward E. Hale, for instance, has been “helped” by every imaginable
writer, from Marcus Aurelius to the amiable authoress of “The Wide,
Wide World.” Moncure D. Conway acknowledges his obligations to an
infinite variety of sources. William T. Harris has been happy enough to
seize instinctively upon those works which aroused his “latent energies
to industry and self-activity;” and Edward Eggleston has gathered
intellectual sustenance from the most unexpected quarters,--the Rollo
Books, and Lindley Murray’s Reader. Only Andrew Lang and Augustus
Jessop are disposed, with an untimely levity, to confess that they have
read for amusement rather than for self-instruction, and that they have
not found it so easily attainable.

Now when a man tells us that he has been really “helped” by certain
books, we naturally conclude that the condition reached by their
assistance is, in some measure, gratifying to himself; and, by the same
token, I am disposed to argue that my own unsatisfactory development
may be the result of less discreetly selected reading,--reading for
which, in many cases, I was wholly irresponsible. I notice particularly
that several persons who have been helped acknowledge a very pleasing
debt of gratitude to their early spelling-books, to Webster’s
Elementary, and to those modest volumes which first imparted to them
the mysteries of the alphabet. It was not so with me. I learned my
letters, at the cost of infinite tribulation, out of a horrible little
book called “Reading Without Tears,” which I trust has long since
been banished from all Christian nurseries. It was a brown book, and
had on its cover a deceptive picture of two stout and unclothed Cupids
holding the volume open between them, and making an ostentatious
pretense of enjoyment. Young as I was, I grew cynical over that title
and that picture, for the torrents of tears that I shed blotted them
both daily from my sight. It might have been possible for Cupids,
who needed no wardrobes and sat comfortably on clouds, to like such
lessons, but for an ordinary little girl in frock and pinafore they
were simply heart-breaking. Had it only been my good fortune to be
born twenty years later, spelling would have been left out of my early
discipline, and I should have found congenial occupation in sticking
pins or punching mysterious bits of clay at a kindergarten. But when I
was young, the world was still sadly unenlightened in these matters;
the plain duty of every child was to learn how to read; and the more
hopelessly dull I showed myself to be, the more imperative became
the need of forcing some information into me,--information which I
received as responsively as does a Strasbourg goose its daily share
of provender. For two bitter years I had for my constant companion
that hated reader, which began with such isolated statements as “Ann
has a cat,” and ended with a dismal story about a little African boy
named Sam; Mr. Rider Haggard not having then instructed us as to what
truly remarkable titles little African boys enjoy. If, to this day, I
am disposed to underrate the advantages of education, and to think but
poorly of compulsory school-laws and the march of mind, it is because
of the unhappy nature of my own early experiences.

Having at last struggled into some acquaintanceship with print, the
next book to which I can trace a moral downfall is “Sandford and
Merton,” left on the nursery shelves by an elder brother, and read
many times, not because I especially liked it, but because I had so
little to choose from. Those were not days when a glut of juvenile
literature had produced a corresponding indifference, and a spirit of
languid hypercriticism. The few volumes we possessed, even those of
a severely didactic order, were read and re-read, until we knew them
well by heart. Now up to a certain age I was, as all healthy children
are, essentially democratic, with a decided preference for low company,
and a secret affinity for the least desirable little girls in the
neighborhood. But “Sandford and Merton” wrought a pitiable change. I do
not think I ever went so far as to dislike the Rev. Mr. Barlow after
the very cordial and hearty fashion in which Dickens disliked him,
and I know I should have been scandalized by Mr. Burnand’s cheerful
mockery; but, pondering over the matter with the stolid gravity of a
child, I reached some highly unsatisfactory conclusions. It did not
seem to me then, and it does not seem to me now, exactly fair in the
estimable clergyman to have refused the board which Mr. Merton was
anxious to pay, and then have reproached poor Tommy so coldly with
eating the bread of dependence; neither did it seem worth while for a
wealthy little boy to spend his time in doing--very inefficiently, I am
sure--the work of an under-gardener. Harry’s contempt for riches, and
his supreme satisfaction with a piece of bread for dinner, struck me as
overdrawn; Tommy’s mishaps were more numerous than need be, even if he
did have the misfortune to be a gentleman’s son; and the complacency
with which Mr. Barlow permitted him to give away a whole suit of
clothes--clothes which, according to my childish system of ethics,
belonged, not to him, but to his mother--contrasted but poorly with the
anxiety manifested by the reverend mentor over his own pitiful loaf of
bread. Altogether, “Sandford and Merton” affected me the wrong way;
and for the first time my soul revolted from the pretentious virtues
of honest poverty. It is to the malign influence of that tale that I
owe my sneaking preference for the drones and butterflies of earth. I
do not now believe that men are born equal; I do not love universal
suffrage; I mistrust all popular agitators, all intrusive legislation,
all philanthropic fads, all friends of the people and benefactors of
their race. I cannot even sympathize with the noble theory that every
man and woman should do their share of the world’s work; I would gladly
shirk my own if I could. And this lamentable, unworthy view of life
and its responsibilities is due to the subtle poison instilled into my
youthful mind by the too strenuous counter-teaching of “Sandford and
Merton.”

A third pitfall was dug for my unwary feet when, as a school-girl of
fifteen, I read, sorely against my will, Milton’s “Areopagitica.” I
believe this is a work highly esteemed by critics, and I have even
heard people in private life, who might say what they pleased without
scandal, speak quite enthusiastically of its manly spirit and sonorous
rhetoric. Perhaps they had the privilege of reading it skippingly
to themselves, and not as I did, aloud, paragraph after paragraph,
each weighted with mighty sentences, cumbrous, involved, majestic,
and, so far as my narrow comprehension went, almost unintelligible.
Never can I forget the aspect of those pages, bristling all over with
mysterious allusions to unknown people and places, and with an armed
phalanx of Greek and Roman names which were presumably familiar to my
instructed mind, but which were really dug out bodily from my Classical
Dictionary, at the cost of much time and temper. I have counted in
one paragraph, and that a moderately short one, forty-five of these
stumbling-blocks, ranging all the way from the “libertine school of
Cyrene,” about which I knew nothing, to the no less libertine songs
of Naso, about which I know nothing now. Neither was it easy to trace
the exact connection between the question at issue, “the freedom of
unlicenc’d printing,” and such far-off matters as the gods of Egypt
and the comedies of Plautus, Isaiah’s prophecies and the Carthaginian
councils. Erudition, like a bloodhound, is a charming thing when held
firmly in leash, but it is not so attractive when turned loose upon a
defenseless and unerudite public. Lady Harriet Ashburton used to say
that, when Macaulay talked, she was not only inundated with learning,
but she positively stood in the slops. In reading Milton, I waded
knee-deep, utterly out of my element, and deeply resentful of the
experience. The liberty of the press was, to my American notions, so
much a matter of course, that the only way I could account for the
continued withholding of so commonplace a privilege was by supposing
that some unwary members of Parliament read the “Areopagitica,” and
were forthwith hardened into tyranny forever. I own I felt a savage
glee in reflecting that Lords and Commons had received this oppressive
bit of literature in the same aggrieved spirit that I had myself,
and that its immediate result was to put incautious patriots in a
more ticklish position than before. If truth now seems to me a sadly
overrated virtue; if plain-speaking is sure to affront me; if the
vigorous personalities of the journalist and the amiable indecencies
of the novel-writer vex my illiberal soul, and if the superficial
precautions of a paternal government appear estimable in my eyes, to
what can I trace this alien and unprogressive attitude, if not to
the “Areopagitica,” and its adverse influence over my rebellious and
suffering girlhood?

As these youthful reminiscences are of too mournful a nature to be
profitably prolonged, I will add only two more to the list of books
which have hindered my moral and intellectual development. When I was
seventeen, I read, at the earnest solicitation of some well-meaning
friends, “The Heir of Redclyffe,” and my carefully guarded theories
of life shivered and broke before the baneful lesson it conveyed.
Brought up on a comfortable and wholesome diet of Miss Edgeworth’s
pleasant stories, I had unconsciously absorbed the genial doctrine that
virtue is its own reward, and that additional rewards are sure to be
forthcoming; that happiness awaits the good and affable little girl,
and that well-merited misfortunes dog the footsteps of her who inclines
to evil ways. I trusted implicitly to those shadowy mills where the
impartial gods grind out our just deserts; and the admirable songs
in “Patience” about Gentle Jane and Teasing Tom inadequately express
the rigidity of my views and the boundless nature of my confidence.
“The Heir of Redclyffe” destroyed, at once and forever, this cheerful
delusion, and with it a powerful stimulus to rectitude. Here are Sir
Guy Morville and poor little Amy, both of them virtuous to a degree
which would have put Miss Edgeworth’s most exemplary characters to
the blush; yet Guy, after being bullied and badgered through the
greater part of his short life, dies of the very fever which should
properly have carried off Philip; and Amy, besides being left widowed
and heart-broken, gives birth to a daughter instead of a son, and so
forfeits the inheritance of Redclyffe. On the other hand, Philip, the
most intolerable of prigs and mischief-makers, whose cruel suspicions
play havoc with the happiness of everybody in the story, and whose
obstinate folly brings about the final disaster,--Philip, who is little
better than his cousin’s murderer, succeeds to the estate, marries
that very stilted and unpleasant young person, Laura (who is after
all a world too good for him), and is left in a blaze of glory, a
wealthy, honored, and distinguished man. It is true that Miss Yonge,
whose conscience must have pricked her a little at bringing about this
unwarranted and unjustifiable conclusion, would have us believe that
he was sorry for his misbehavior, and that his regret was sufficient
to equalize the perfidious scales of justice; but even at seventeen
I was not guileless enough to credit the lasting quality of Philip’s
contrition. A very few years would suffice to reconcile him to Guy’s
death, and to convince him that his own succession was a mere survival
of the fittest, an admirable intervention on the part of Destiny to
remedy her former blunders, and exalt him to his proper station in the
world. But to me this triumph of guilt meant the downfall of my early
creed, the destruction of my most cherished convictions. Never again
might I look forward with hopeful heart to the inevitable righting of
all wrong things; never again might I trust with old-time confidence to
the final readjustment of a closing chapter. Even Emerson’s essay on
“Compensation” has failed to restore to me the full measure of all that
I lost through the “The Heir of Redclyffe.”

The last work to injure me seriously as a girl, and to root up the
good seed sown in long years of righteous education, was “Uncle Tom’s
Cabin,” which I read from cover to cover with the innocent credulity
of youth; and, when I had finished, the awful conviction forced itself
upon me that the thirteenth amendment was a ghastly error, and that the
war had been fought in vain. Slavery, which had seemed to me before
undeviatingly wicked, now shone in a new and alluring light. All
things must be judged by their results, and if the result of slavery
was to produce a race so infinitely superior to common humanity; if
it bred strong, capable, self-restrained men like George, beautiful,
courageous, tender-hearted women like Eliza, visions of innocent
loveliness like Emmeline; marvels of acute intelligence like Cassy,
children of surpassing precocity and charm like little Harry, mothers
and wives of patient, simple goodness like Aunt Chloe, and, finally,
models of all known chivalry and virtue like Uncle Tom himself,--then
slavery was the most ennobling institution in the world, and we had
committed a grievous crime in degrading a whole heroic race to our
narrower, viler level. It was but too apparent, even to my immature
mind, that the negroes whom I knew, or knew about, were very little
better than white people; that they shared in all the manifold failings
of humanity, and were not marked by any higher intelligence than
their Caucasian neighbors. Even in the matters of physical beauty and
mechanical ingenuity there had plainly been some degeneracy, some
falling off from the high standard of old slavery days. Reluctantly
I concluded that what had seemed so right had all been wrong indeed,
and that the only people who stood preeminent for virtue, intellect,
and nobility had been destroyed by our rash act, had sunk under the
enervating influence of freedom to a range of lower feeling, to baser
aspirations and content. It was the greatest shock of all, and the last.

I will pursue the subject no further. Those who read these simple
statements may not, I fear, find them as edifying or as stimulating
as the happier recollections of more favored souls; but it is barely
possible that they may see in them the unvarnished reflection of some
of their own youthful experiences.



LITERARY SHIBBOLETHS.


There is a delightful little story, very well told by Mr. James Payn,
the novelist, about an unfortunate young woman who for years concealed
in her bosom the terrible fact that she did not think “John Gilpin”
funny; and who at last, in an unguarded moment, confessed to him her
guilty secret, and was promptly comforted by the assurance that, for
his part, he had always found it dull. The weight that was lifted from
that girl’s mind made her feel for the first time that she was living
in an age which tolerates freedom of conscience, and in a land where
the Holy Office is unknown. It is only to be feared that her newly
acquired liberty inclined her to be as much of a Philistine as Mr. Payn
himself, and to believe, with him, that all orthodoxy is of necessity
hypocritical, and that when a man says he admires the “Faerie Queene,”
or “Paradise Lost,” or Rabelais, the chances are that he knows little
or nothing about them. Now, as a matter of fact, it is seldom safe to
judge others too rigidly by our own inadequate standards, or to assume
that because we prefer “In Memoriam” to “Lycidas,” our friend is merely
adopting a tone of grievous superiority when he modestly but firmly
asserts his preference for the earlier dirge. It is even possible that
although we may find “Don Quixote” dull, and “The Excursion” vapid,
another reader, no whit cleverer, we are sure, than ourselves, may
enjoy them both, with honest laughter and with keen delight. There is
doubtless as much affectation in the world of books as in the worlds of
art and fashion; but there must always be a certain proportion of men
and women who, whether by natural instinct or acquired grace, derive
pleasure from the highest ranks of literature, and who should in common
justice be permitted to say so, and to return thanks for the blessings
accorded them. “It is in our power to think as we will,” says Marcus
Aurelius, and it should be our further privilege to give unfettered
expression to our thoughts.

Nevertheless, human nature is weak and erring, and the pitfalls dug
for us by wily critics are baited with the most ensnaring devices. It
is not the great writers of the world who have the largest following
of sham admirers, but rather that handful of choice spirits who, we
are given to understand, appeal only to a small and chosen band. Few
of us find it worth our while to pretend a passionate devotion for
Shakespeare, or Milton, or Dante. On the contrary, nothing is more
common than to hear people complain that the “Inferno” is unpleasant,
and “Paradise Lost” dreadfully long, neither of which charges is easily
refutable in terms. But when we read in a high-class review that “just
as Spenser is the poet’s poet, so Peacock is the delight of critics
and of wits;” or that “George Meredith, writing as he does for an
essentially cultivated and esoteric audience, has won but a limited
recognition for his brilliant group of novels;” or that “the subtle
and far-reaching excellence of Ibsen’s dramatic work is a quality
absolutely undecipherable to the groundlings,” who can resist tendering
his allegiance on the spot? It is not in the heart of man to harden
itself against the allurements of that magic word “esoteric,” nor to
be indifferent to the distinction it conveys. Mr. Payn, indeed, in a
robust spirit of contradiction, has left it on record that he found
“Headlong Hall” and “Crotchet Castle” intolerably dull; but this I
believe to have been an unblushing falsehood, in the case of the latter
story, at least. It is hardly within the bounds of possibility that a
man blessed with so keen a sense of humor could have found the Rev. Dr.
Folliott dull; but it is quite possible that the average reader, whose
humorous perceptions are of a somewhat restricted nature, should find
Mr. Peacock enigmatic, and the oppressive brilliancy of Mr. Meredith’s
novels a heavy load to bear. There is such a thing as being intolerably
clever, and “Evan Harrington” and “The Egoist” are fruitful examples
of the fact. The mind is kept on a perpetual strain, lest some fine
play of words, some elusive witticism, should be disregarded; the sense
of continued effort paralyzes enjoyment; fatigue provokes in us an
ignoble spirit of contrariety, and we sigh perversely for that serene
atmosphere of dullness which in happier moments we affected to despise.

“A man,” says Dr. Johnson bluntly, “ought to read just as inclination
leads him, for what he reads as a task will do him little good.” In
other words, if his taste is for Mr. Rider Haggard’s ingenious tales,
it is hardly worth his while to pretend that he prefers Tolstoï. His
more enlightened brother will indeed pass him by with a shiver of
pained surprise, but he has the solid evidence of the booksellers to
prove that he is not sitting alone in his darkness. Yet nowadays the
critic diverts his heaviest scorn from the guilty author, who does not
mind it at all, to the sensitive reader, who minds it a great deal
too much; and the result is that cowardice prompts a not unnatural
deception. Few of us remember what Dr. Johnson chanced to say on
the subject, and fewer still are prepared to solace ourselves with
his advice; but when an unsparing disciplinarian like Mr. Frederic
Harrison lays down the law with a chastening hand, we are all of us
aroused to a speedy and bitter consciousness of our deficiencies. “The
incorrigible habit of reading little books ”--a habit, one might say,
analogous to that of eating common food--meets with scant tolerance
at the hands of this inexorable reformer. Better, far better, never
to read at all, and so keep the mind “open and healthy,” than be
betrayed into seeking “desultory information” from the rank and file
of literature. To be simply entertained by a book is an unpardonable
sin; to be gently instructed is very little better. In fact, Mr.
Harrison carries his severity to such a pitch that, on reaching this
humiliating but comforting sentence, “Systematic reading, in its true
sense, is hardly possible for women,” it was with a feeble gasp of
relief that I realized our ignominious exclusion from the race. I do
not see _why_ systematic reading should be hardly possible for women,
any more than I see what is to become of Mr. Harrison if we are to give
up little books, but never before did the limitations of sex appear in
so friendly a light. There is something frightful in being required
to enjoy and appreciate all masterpieces; to read with equal relish
Milton, and Dante, and Calderon, and Goethe, and Homer, and Scott, and
Voltaire, and Wordsworth, and Cervantes, and Molière, and Swift. One
is irresistibly reminded of Mrs. Blimber surveying the infant Paul
Dombey. “Like a bee,” she murmured, “about to plunge into a garden of
the choicest flowers, and sip the sweets for the first time. Virgil,
Horace, Ovid, Terence, Plautus, Cicero. What a world of honey have we
here!” And what a limited appetite and digestion awaited them! After
all, these great men did not invariably love one another, even when
they had the chance. Goethe, for instance, hated Dante, and Scott very
cordially disliked him; Voltaire had scant sympathy with “Paradise
Lost,” and Wordsworth focused his true affection upon the children of
his own pen.

It is very amusing to see the position now assigned by critics to that
arch-offender, Charles Lamb, who, himself the idlest of readers, had no
hesitation in commending the same unscrupulous methods to his friends.
We are told in one breath of his unerring literary judgment, and, in
the next, are solemnly warned against accepting that judgment as our
own. He is the most quoted, because the most quotable of writers, yet
every one who uses his name seems faintly displeased at hearing it upon
another’s lips. I have myself been reminded with some sharpness, by a
reviewer, that illustrations drawn from Lamb counted for nothing in my
argument, because his was “a unique personality,” a “pure imagination,
which even the drama of the Restoration could not pollute.” But
this seems to be assuming more than we have any right to assume. I
cannot take it upon myself to say, for example, that Mr. Bagehot’s
mind was more susceptible to pollution than Charles Lamb’s. I am not
sufficiently in the secrets of Providence to decide upon so intimate
and delicate a question. But granted that others have a clearer light
on these matters than I have, it would still appear as though the
unpolluted source were the best from which to draw one’s help and
inspiration. What really makes Lamb a doubtful guide through the mazes
of literature is the fact that there is not a single rule given us in
these sober days for the proper administration of our faculties which
he did not take a positive pleasure in transgressing. His often-quoted
heresy in regard to those volumes which “no gentleman’s library
should be without” might perhaps be spared the serious handling it
receives; but his letters abound in passages equally shameless and
perverting. “I feel as if I had read all the books I want to read,”
he writes unconcernedly; and again, “I take less pleasure in reading
than heretofore, but I like books about books.” And so, alas! do we;
though this is the most serious charge laid at our doors, and one
which has subjected us to the most humiliating reproofs. It is very
pleasant to have Mr. Ainger tell us what an admirable critic Lamb
was, and with what unerring certainty he pointed out the best lines
of Wordsworth and Southey and Coleridge. The fact remains--though to
this Mr. Ainger does not draw our attention--that he found nothing to
praise in Byron, heartily disliked Shelley, never, so far as we can
see, read Keats, condemned Faust unhesitatingly as “a disagreeable,
canting tale of seduction,” and discovered strong points of resemblance
between Southey and Milton. Under these circumstances, it is hardly
safe to elect him as a critical fetich, if we feel the need of such an
article, merely because he admired the “Ancient Mariner” and Blake’s
“Chimney Sweeper,” and did not particularly admire “We are Seven.”
Even his fine and subtle sympathy with Shakespeare is a thing to be
revered and envied, rather than analyzed and drawn into service, where
it will answer little purpose. But what is none the less sure is that
Lamb recognized by a swift and delicate intuition the literary food
that was best fitted to nourish his own intellectual growth. This was
Sir Walter Scott’s secret, and this was Lamb’s. Both knew instinctively
what was good for them, and a clear perception of our individual needs
is something vastly different from idle preference based on an ignorant
conceit. It is what we have each of us to learn, if we would hope to
thrive; and while we may be aided in the effort, yet a general command
to read and enjoy all great authors seldom affords us the precise
assistance we require.

Still less do we derive any real help from those more contentious
critics who, being wedded hard and fast to one particular author or to
one particular school of thought, refuse, with ostentatious continency,
to cast lingering looks upon any other type of loveliness. Literary
monogamy, as practiced by some of our contemporaries, makes us sigh for
the old genial days of Priest Martin, when the tyranny of opinions
had not yet grown into a binding yoke, and when it was still possible
to follow the example of Montaigne’s old woman, and light one candle
to Saint Michael and another to the Dragon. At present, the saint--or
perhaps the dragon--stands in a blaze of glory, all the more lustrous
for the dark shadow thrown on his antagonist. “Praise handed in by
disparagement,” the Greek drama whipped upon the back of Genesis,--if
I may venture to quote Charles Lamb again--this is the modern method
of procedure, a method successfully inaugurated by Macaulay, who could
find no better way of eulogizing Addison than by heaping antithetical
reproaches upon Steele. In a little volume of lectures upon Russian
literature, lectures which were sufficiently popular to bear both
printing and delivery, I find the art of persuasiveness illustrated by
this firebrand of a sentence, hurled like an anathema at the heads of
a peaceful and unoffending community: “Read Tolstoï! Read humbly, read
admiringly! Reading him in this spirit shall in itself be unto you an
education of your highest artistic nature. And when your souls have
become able to be thrilled to their very depths by the unspeakable
beauty of Tolstoï’s art, you will then learn to be ashamed of the
thought that for years you sensible folks of Boston have been capable
of allowing the Stevensons with their Hydes, and the Haggards with
their Shes, and even the clumsy Wards with their ponderous Elsmeres, to
steal away, under the flag of literature, your thoughtful moments.”

Now, apart from the delightful vagueness of perspective,--for “Robert
Elsmere” and “She” grouping themselves amicably together is a spectacle
too pleasant to be lost,--I cannot but think that there is something
oppressive about the form in which these comments are offered to
the world. It reminds one of that highly dramatic scene in Bulwer’s
“Richelieu,” where the aged cardinal hurls “the curse of Rome” at a
whole stageful of people, who shrink and cower without knowing very
distinctly at what. Why should critics, I wonder, always adopt this
stringent and defiant tone when they would beguile us to the enjoyment
of Russian fiction? Why should the reading of Tolstoï necessarily
imply a contempt for Robert Louis Stevenson? Why, when we have been
“thrilled to our very depths” by “Peace and War” or “Anna Karenina,”
should we not devote a few spare moments to the consideration of
“Markheim,” a story whose solemn intensity of purpose in no way mars
its absolute and artistic beauty? And why, above all, should we be
petulantly reprimanded, like so many stupid and obstinate children? I
cannot even think that Mr. Howells is justified in calling the English
nation “those poor islanders,” as if they were dancing naked somewhere
in the South Seas, merely because they love George Eliot and Thackeray
as well as Jane Austen. They love Jane Austen too. We all love her
right heartily, but we have no need to emulate good Queen Anne, who,
as Swift observed, had not a sufficient stock of amity for more than
one person at a time. We may not, indeed, be prepared to say with Mr.
Howells that Miss Austen is “the first and the last of the English
novelists to treat material with entire truthfulness,” having some
reasonable doubts as to the precise definition of truth. We may not
care to emphasize our affection for her by repudiating with one breath
all her great successors. We may not even consider “The Newcomes” and
“Henry Esmond” as illustrating the degeneracy of modern fiction; yet
nevertheless we may enjoy some fair half-hours in the company of Emma
Woodhouse and Mr. Elton, of Catherine Morland and Elizabeth Bennet.
Only, when we are searching for a shibboleth by which to test our
neighbor’s intellectual worth, let not Jane Austen’s be the name, lest
we be rewarded for our trouble by hearing the faint, clear ripple of
her amused laughter--that gentle, feminine, merciless laughter--echoing
softly from the dwelling-place of the immortals.

It is inevitable, moreover, that too much rigidity on the part of
teachers should be followed by a brisk spirit of insubordination on the
part of the taught. Accordingly, now and then, some belligerent freeman
rushes into print, and shakes our souls by declaring breathlessly that
he hates “Wagner, and Mr. Irving, and the Elgin Marbles, and Goethe,
and Leonardo da Vinci;” and this rank socialism in literature and art
receives a very solid and shameless support from the more light-minded
writers of the day. Mr. Birrell, for instance, fails to see why the
man who liked Montgomery’s poetry should have been driven away from
it by Macaulay’s stormy rhetoric, nor why Macaulay himself could not
have let poor Montgomery alone, nor why “some cowardly fellow” should
join in the common laugh at Tupper, when he knows very well that in his
secret soul he much prefers the “Proverbial Philosophy” to “Atalanta
in Calydon” or “Empedocles on Etna.” A recent contributor to Macmillan
assures us, with discouraging candor, that it is all vanity to educate
ourselves into admiring Turner, and that it is not worth while to try
and like the “Mahabharata” or the “Origin of Species,” if we really
enjoy “King Solomon’s Mines” or the “Licensed Victualler’s Gazette.” On
the other hand, we have Ruskin’s word for it that unless we love Turner
with our whole hearts we shall not be--artistically speaking--saved;
and hosts of strenuous critics in the field of letters are each and
every one assuring us that there is no intellectual future for the
world unless we speedily tender our allegiance wherever he says it is
due. Poet-censors, like Mr. Swinburne, whose words are bitterness and
whose charity is small, lay crooked yokes upon our galled necks. Even
the story-tellers have now turned reviewers on their own account, and
gravely tell us how many novels, besides their own, we should feel
ourselves at liberty to read.

Under these circumstances, it is hardly a matter of surprise that
people whose minds are, as Mr. Bagehot termed it, “to let” stand
hesitating between license and servitude. On the one side, we hear
men--intelligent men, too--boasting that they never read anything
but the newspapers, and seeming to take a perverted pride in their
own melancholy deprivation. On the other, we see both men and
women, and sometimes even children, practicing a curious sort of
literary asceticism, and devoting themselves conscientiously and
very conspicuously to the authors they least enjoy. These martyrs to
an advanced cultivation find their self-imposed tasks, I am happy
to think, grow harder year by year. Helen Pendennis, occasionally
reading Shakespeare, “whom she pretended to like, but didn’t,” had
comparatively an easy time of it; but her successor to-day who goes
to a lecture on Hegel or Euripides when she would prefer cards and
conversation; who sits, perplexed and doubtful, through a performance
of “A Doll’s House” when “Little Lord Fauntleroy” represents her
dramatic preference; who tries to read Matthew Arnold and Tourguéneff,
and now and then Mr. Pater, when she really enjoys Owen Meredith, and
“Bootles’ Baby,” and the Duchess, pays a heavy price for her enviable
reputation. “The true value of souls is in proportion to what they can
admire,” says Marius the Epicurean; but the true value of our friends’
distinction is in proportion to the books we behold in their hands. We
have hardly yet outgrown the critical methods of the little heroine of
“Mademoiselle Panache,” who knows that Lady Augusta is accomplished
because she has seen her music and heard of her drawings; and, as few
of us resemble the late Mr. Mark Pattison in his unwillingness to
create a good impression, we naturally make an effort to be taken at
our best. Mr. Payn once said that Macaulay had frightened thousands
into pretending they knew authors with whom they had not even a
bowing acquaintance; and though the days of his autocracy are over,
it has been succeeded by a more fastidious and stringent legislation.
We no longer feel it incumbent upon us to profess an intimacy with
Thucydides, nor to revere the “Pilgrim’s Progress.” Indeed, a recent
critic has been found brave enough to speak harsh words concerning the
Delectable Mountains and the Valley of Humiliation,--words that would
have frozen the current of Macaulay’s blood, and startled even the
tolerant Sainte-Beuve, weary as he confessed himself of the Pilgrim’s
vaunted perfections. But there is always a little assortment of
literary shibboleths, whose names we con over with careful glibness,
that we may assert our intimacy in hours of peril; nor should we, in
justice, be censured very severely for doing what is too often with us,
as with the Ephraimites, a deed of simple self-defense.

These passwords of culture, although their functions remain always the
same, vary greatly with each succeeding generation; and, as they make
room in turn for one another, they give to the true and modest lovers
of an author a chance to enjoy him in peace. Wordsworth is now, for
example, the cherished friend of a tranquil and happy band, who read
him placidly in green meadows or by their own firesides, and forbear to
trouble themselves about the obstinate blindness of the disaffected.
But there was a time when battles royal were fought over his fame,
owing principally, if not altogether, to the insulting pretensions of
his followers. It was then considered a correct and seemly thing to
vaunt his peculiar merits, as if they reflected a shadowy grandeur upon
all who praised them, very much in the spirit of the little Australian
boy who said to Mr. Froude, “Don’t you think the harbor of Sydney
does us great credit?” To which the historian’s characteristic reply
was, “It does, my dear, if you made it.” Apart from the prolonged and
pointless discussion of Wordsworth’s admirable moral qualities, “as
though he had been the candidate for a bishopric,” there was always
a delicately implied claim on the part of his worshipers that they
possessed finer perceptions than their neighbors, that they were in
some incomprehensible way open to influences which revealed nothing
to less subtle and discriminating souls. The same tone of heartfelt
superiority is noticeable among the very ardent admirers of Robert
Browning, who seem to be perpetually offering thanks to Heaven that
they are not as other men, and who evince a gentle but humiliating
contempt for their uninitiated fellow-creatures; while Ibsen’s fervent
devotees dwell on the mountain tops apart. How many people, I wonder,
who believe that they have loved Shelley all their lives, find
themselves exceedingly dazed and harassed by what Mr. Freeman calls
“the snares of Shelleyana,” a mist of confusing chatter and distorted
praise! How many unambitious readers, who would fain enjoy their
Shakespeare quietly, are pursued even to their peaceful chimney-corners
by the perfidious devices of commentators and of cranks! In the mean
while, an experienced few ally themselves, with supreme but transient
enthusiasm, to Frédéric Mistral or to Pushkin, to Omar Khayyám or to
Amiel; and an inexperienced many strive falteringly to believe that
they were acquainted with the Rubáiyát before the date of Mr. Vedder’s
illustrations, and that the diary of a half-Germanized Frenchman,
submerged in a speculative and singularly cheerless philosophy,
represents the intellectual food for which their souls are craving.

The object of criticism, it has been said, is to supply the world with
a basis, a definition which cannot be accused of lacking sufficient
liberality and breadth. Yet, after applying the principle for a good
many years, it is discouraging to note that what has really been
afforded us is less a basis than a battlefield, the din and tumult
from which strike a discordant note in our lives. That somewhat
contemptuous severity with which critics address the general public,
and which the general public very stoutly resents, is urbanity itself
when compared with the language which they feel themselves privileged
to use to one another. Señor Armando Palacio Valdés, for example, who
has been recently presented to us as a clear beacon-light to guide our
wandering steps, has no hesitation in saying that “among the vulgar,
_of course_,” he includes “the greater part of those who write literary
criticism, and who constitute the worst vulgar, since they teach what
they do not know.” But this is the kind of thing that is very easy to
say, and carries no especial weight when said. The “of course” adds,
indeed, a faint flavor of unconscious humor to the enviable complacency
of the whole, and there is always a certain satisfaction to a generous
soul in the sight of a fellow-mortal so thoroughly enjoying the
altitude to which he believes he has risen.

   “Let us sit on the thrones
      In a purple sublimity,
    And grind down men’s bones
      To a pale unanimity,”

sings Mrs. Browning in one of her less luminous moments; and Señor
Valdés and his friends respond with alacrity, “We will!” Unhappily,
however, “the greater part of those who write literary criticism,”
while perhaps no more vulgar than their neighbors, are not generous
enough nor humorous enough to appreciate the delicate irony of the
situation. They rush forward to protest with energetic ill temper,
and the air is dark with warfare. Alas for those who succeed, as
Montaigne observed, in giving to their harmless opinions a fatal air
of importance! Alas for those who tilt with irrational chivalry
at all that man holds dear! How many years have passed since
Saint-Evremond uttered his cynical protest against the unprofitable
wisdom of reformers; and to-day, when one half the world devotes
itself strenuously to the correction and improvement of the other
half, what is the result, save pretense, and contention, and a
dismal consciousness of insecurity! More and more do we sigh for
greater harmony and repose in the intellectual life; more and more
do we respect the tranquil sobriety of that wise old worldling, Lord
Chesterfield, who counsels every man to think as he pleases, or rather
as he can, but to forbear to disclose his valuable ideas when they are
of a kind to disturb the peace of society.

In reading the recently published letters of Edward Fitzgerald, we
cannot fail to be struck with the amount of unmixed pleasure he
derived from his books, merely because he approached them with such
instinctive honesty and singleness of purpose. He was perfectly frank
in his satisfaction, and he was wholly innocent of any didactic
tendency. Those subjects which he confessed he enjoyed because he
only partly understood them, “just as the old women love sermons,”
he refrained from interpreting to his friends; those “large, still
books,” like “Clarissa Harlowe,” for which he shared all Tennyson’s
enthusiasm, he forbore to urge upon less leisurely readers. And
what a world of meaning in that single line, “For human delight,
Shakespeare, Cervantes, and Scott”! For human delight! The words sound
like a caress; a whole sunny vista opens before us; idleness and
pleasure lure us gently on; a warm and mellow atmosphere surrounds
us; we are invited, not driven, to be happy. I cannot but compare
Fitzgerald reading Scott, “for human delight,” in the quiet winter
evenings, with a very charming old gentleman whom I recently saw
working conscientiously--so I thought--through Tolstoï’s “Peace and
War.” He sighed a little when he spoke to me, and held up the book
for inspection. “My daughter-in-law sent it to me,” he explained
resignedly, “and said I must be sure and read it. But,”--this with a
sudden sense of gratitude and deliverance,--“thank Heaven! one volume
was lost on the way.” Now we have Mr. Andrew Lang’s word for it that
the Englishmen of to-day, “those poor islanders,” indeed, are better
acquainted with “Anna Karenina” than with “The Fortunes of Nigel,”
and we cannot well doubt the assertion, in view of the too manifest
regret with which it is uttered. But then nobody reads “The Fortunes of
Nigel” because he has been told to read it, nor because his neighbors
are reading it, nor because he wants to say that he has read it. The
hundred and one excellent reasons for becoming acquainted with Tolstoï
or Ibsen resolve themselves into a single motive when we turn to Scott.
It is “for human delight” or nothing. And if, even to children, this
joy has grown somewhat tasteless of late years, I fear the reason lies
in their lack of healthy unconsciousness. They are taught so much they
did not use to know about the correct standing of authors, they are so
elaborately directed in their recreations as well as in their studies,
that the old simple charm of self-forgetful absorption in a book seems
well-nigh lost to them. It is not very encouraging to see a bright
little girl of ten making believe she enjoys Miss Austen’s novels, and
to hear her mother’s complacent comments thereon, when we realize how
exclusively the fine, thin perfection of Miss Austen’s work appeals
to the mature observation of men and women, and how utterly out of
harmony it must be with the crude judgment and expansive ideality of
a child. I am willing to believe that these abnormally clever little
people, who read grown-up books so conspicuously in public, love their
Shakespeares, and their Grecian histories, and their “Idylls of the
King.” I have seen literature of the delicately elusive order, like
“The Marble Faun,” and “Elsie Venner,” and “Lamia,” devoured with
a wistful eagerness that plainly revealed the awakened imagination
responding with quick delight to the sweet and subtle charm of mystery.
But I am impelled to doubt the attractiveness of Thackeray to the
youthful mind, even when I have just been assured that “Henry Esmond”
is “a lovely story;” and I am still more skeptical as to Miss Austen’s
marvelous hair-strokes conveying any meaning at all to the untrained
faculties of a child. Can it be that our boys and girls have learned
from Emerson and Carlyle not to wish to be amused? Or is genuine
amusement so rare that, like Mr. Payn’s young friend, they have grown
reconciled to a pretended sensation, and strive dutifully to make the
most of it? Alas! such pretenses are not always the facile things they
seem, and if a book is ever to become a friend to either young or old,
it must be treated with that simple integrity on which all lasting
amity is built. “Read, not to contradict and confute,” says Lord Bacon,
“nor to believe and take for granted, nor to find talk and discourse;”
and, in the delicate irony of this advice, we discern the satisfaction
of the philosopher in having deprived the mass of mankind of the only
motives which prompt them to read at all.



FICTION IN THE PULPIT.


One of the most curious and depressing things about our modern literary
criticism is the tendency it has to slide into an ethical criticism
before we know what to expect. We go to a Browning Society, for
example,--at least some of us who are stout-hearted go,--presumably to
hear about Mr. Browning’s poetry. What we do hear about are his ethics.
Insinuate a doubt as to the artistic setting of a poem, and you are
met at once by the spirited counter-statement that the poet has taught
us a particularly noble lesson in that particularly noble verse. Push
your heresy a step further by hinting that the question at issue is
not so much the nobility of the lesson taught as the degree of beauty
which has been made manifest in the teaching, and you find yourself
in much the same position as that unfortunate Epicurean who strayed
wantonly into the lecture-hall of Epictetus, and got philosophically
crushed for his presumption. The fiction of the day, a commonplace
product for the most part, which surely merits lighter treatment at our
hands, is subjected to a similar discipline; and the novelist, finding
his own importance immensely increased thereby, rises promptly to the
emergency, and, with characteristic diffidence, consents to be our
guide, philosopher, and friend. It is amusing to hear Bishop Copleston,
writing for that young and vivacious generation who knew not the
seriousness of life, remind them pointedly that “the task of pleasing
is at all times easier than that of instructing.” It is delightful to
think that there ever was a period when people preferred to be pleased
rather than instructed. It is refreshing to go back in spirit to those
halcyon days when poets sang of their ladies’ eyebrows rather than of
the inscrutable problems of fate, and when Mrs. Battle relaxed herself,
after a game of whist, over that genial and unostentatious trifle
called a novel. Fancy Mrs. Battle relaxing herself to-day over “Daniel
Deronda,” or “The Ordeal of Richard Feveril,” or “The Story of an
African Farm”!

Vernon Lee, speaking by the mouth of Marcel, that shadowy young
Frenchman who is none the less unpleasant for being so indistinct,
would have us believe that this incorrigible habit of applying
ethical standpoints to artistic questions is merely an English
idiosyncrasy, one of those “weird and exquisite moral impressions”
which can be gathered only from contact with British soil. But in
view of the deductions recently drawn from French and Russian fiction
by an ingenious American critic, we are forced to conclude that
true didacticism is an exotic of such rare and subtle excellence as
frequently to be mistaken for vice. In fact, it is not its least
advantageous peculiarity that a novelist may, on high moral grounds,
treat of a great many subjects which he would be compelled rigorously
to let alone, if he had no nobler object before him than the mere
pleasure and entertainment of his readers. There are no improper
novels any longer, because even those that strike the uninitiated
as admirably adapted to the spiritual requirements of Commodus or
Elagabalus are, in truth, far more moral than morality itself, being
set up, like the festering heads of old-time criminals, as a stern
warning in the market-place. Zola, we all know, aspires as much to be
a teacher as George Eliot. His methods are different, to be sure, but
the directing principle is the same. He can neither amuse nor please,
but he can and will instruct. “When I have once shown you,” he seems
to say, “every known detail of every known sin,--and the list, it must
be confessed, is a long one,--you will then be glad to walk purely on
your appointed path. You will remember what I have described to you,
and be cautious.” But it may fairly be doubted whether the Spartan
boys, whose anxious fathers exhibited to them the drunken Helots
sprawling swine-like in the sun, were quite as deeply shocked at the
sight as classical history would give us to understand. There are some
old-fashioned lines by an old-fashioned poet to the effect that the
ugliness of Vice is no especial detriment to her seductions, if we will
only look at her often enough to forget it. Probably those Spartan
lads, after a few educational experiments, began to think that the
Helots, in their reeking filth and bestiality, were rather interesting
studies; were experiencing new and perhaps pleasurable emotions; were
more comfortable, at all events, than they themselves, sitting stiff
and upright at the public table, with a scanty plateful of unpalatable
broth; were, in short, having a jolly good time of it,--and why not try
for once what such thorough-going drunkenness was like?

This point of view, however, is far too shallow and frivolous to find
favor with the serious apostles who are regenerating the world by the
simple process of calling old and evil things by new and beautiful
names. In the days of our great-grandfathers, a novel was simply a
novel. Ten chances to one it was not as virtuous as it should have
been, in which case the great-grandfathers laughed over it jovially,
if they chanced to be light-minded, or shook their heads impressively,
if they were disposed to be grave; perhaps even going so far as to
lock it up, having previously satisfied their own curiosity, from
their equally curious families. But it never occurred to them to
make a merit of reading “Tom Jones” or “Humphry Clinker,” any more
than it occurred to the authors of those ingenious books to pose as
illustrative moralists before the world. The men of that robust
generation were better able to bear the theory of their amusements,
and vices were quite content to flourish shamelessly under their
proper names. Cruelty then took the form of pastime,--bear-baiting,
badger-drawing, cock-fighting; questionable pleasures, doubtless, yet
gentle as the sports of cherubs when compared with the ever-increasing
agonies of vivisection, with the ceaseless and nameless experiments of
German and Italian scientists, the “Fisiologia del Dolore” of Professor
Mantegazza, all of which horrors are justified and turned into painful
duties by our new evolutionary morality. Sensuality, too, which used
to show itself coarse, smiling, unmasked, and unmistakable, is now
serious, analytic, and so burdened with a sense of its responsibilities
that it passes muster half the time as a new type of asceticism. The
moral animus with which Frenchmen write immoral books is one of the
paradoxes of our present system of ethics; and it occasionally happens
that the simple-minded reader, failing to appreciate the shadowy
elevation of their platform, fancies they are working _con amore_ amid
their unpromising and unsavory materials. So it was that Mr. Howells
startled a great many respectable people by the assurance that “Madame
Bovary” was “one impassioned cry of the austerest morality,” when they
had innocently supposed it to be something vastly different. Even
respectable critics, unemancipated English critics in particular, seem
to have been somewhat taken back by the breadth of this definition.
Perhaps they recalled Epictetus,--“Austerity should be both cleanly
and pleasing,”--and considered that “Madame Bovary” was neither.
Perhaps they thought, and with some reason, that never, since Swift’s
angry eyes were closed in death, has any writer expressed more harsh
and cruel scorn for his fellow-men than Gustave Flaubert, and that
concentrated contempt is seldom the most effective weapon for an
apostle. Perhaps they were merely conventional enough to fancy that a
novel, against which even wicked Paris protested, was hardly decorous
enough for sober London. At all events, it would appear as though a
goodly number of stragglers along the path of virtue felt themselves
insufficiently advanced for such a difficult and abstruse text-book of
ethics.

In the midst of this universal disclaimer, it never seems to occur
to anybody to ask the simple question, Why should “Madame Bovary” be
an impassioned cry of the austerest morality,--why should any novel
undertake to be an impassioned cry of morality at all? It is not the
office of a novelist to show us how to behave ourselves; it is not
the business of fiction to teach us anything. Scientific truths, new
forms of religion, the humorous eccentricities of socialism, the
countless fads of radical reformers, the proper way to live our own
lives,--these matters, which are now objects of such tender regard to
the story-teller, form no part of his rightful stock-in-trade. His
task is simply to give us pleasure, and his duty is to give it within
the not very Puritanical limits prescribed by our modern notions of
decency. If he chooses to overstep these limits, an offense against
propriety, it is exasperating to have him defended on the score of
an ethical purpose, an offense against art; for there is nothing so
hopelessly inartistic as to represent the world as worse than it
is, or to express a too vehement dissatisfaction with the men who
dwell in it. Art is never didactic, does not take kindly to facts, is
helpless to grapple with theories, and is killed outright by a sermon.
Its knowledge is not that of a schoolmaster, and is not imparted
through the severe medium of lessons. It assumes no responsibilities,
undertakes no reformation, and, as George Sand neatly points out,
proves nothing. What are we to learn, she asks, from “Paul and
Virginia”? Merely that youth, friendship, love, and the tropics are
beautiful things when St. Pierre describes them. What from “Faust?”
Only that science, human life, fantastic images, profound, graceful,
or terrible ideas, are wonderful things when Goethe makes out of them
a sublime and moving picture. This sounds like high authority for Mr.
Oscar Wilde’s latest and most amusing heresy, that Nature gains her
true distinction from being reproduced, with necessary modifications,
by Art; that too close a copy of the original is fatal to the
perfection of the younger and fairer sister; that the insignificant
and sordid types in which Nature takes such reprehensible delight are
to be, if possible, forgotten, rather than dandled into insulting
prominence; and that not all the dreary vices of the most drearily
vicious man or woman whom Zola ever drew can give that man or woman
a right to breathe in the tranquil air of fiction. As for accepting
inartistic and repellent sinners for the sake of the moral lesson
which may, or may not, be drawn from their sin, Mr. Wilde is as prompt
as De Quincey himself to repudiate any such utilitarian theory. “If
you insist on my telling you what is the moral of the Iliad,” says
De Quincey, “I must insist on your telling me what is the moral of a
rattlesnake, or the moral of Niagara. I suppose the moral is, that you
must get out of their way if you mean to moralize much longer.”

But this light-hearted flippancy on the part of the critic was only
possible, or at least was only acceptable, in those days when the
novelist had not yet awakened to his serious duties in life. Content,
for the most part, to tell a story, he barely remembered now and then,
in the beginning, may be, or at the end, that there was such a thing
as an ethical purpose in existence. Even Richardson, the father of
English didactic fiction, was but an indifferent parent, starting
out with a great many gallant promises on behalf of his offspring,
and easily forgetting all about them. Miss Burney was as cheerfully
unconscious of her own grave obligations to society as was Miss Austen;
while in those few lines with which Sir Walter Scott closes “The Heart
of Mid-Lothian”--lines addressed to the “reader,” and containing some
irrefutable but not very original remarks about the happiness of virtue
and the infelicity of vice--we see an almost pathetic avowal on the
part of the great novelist that, in the mere delight of telling his
beautiful and best loved tale, he had well-nigh lost sight of any moral
lesson it might be fitted to convey, and was trying at the last moment
to make amends for this deficiency. Imagine George Eliot forgetting,
or permitting her readers to forget, the moral lesson of “Adam Bede,”
when every fresh development of character or of narrative has for its
conscious purpose the driving home of hard and bitter truths. No need
for the authoress of “Romola” to wind up her story with that paragraph
of excellent advice to poor little Lillo, who is after all rather young
to profit by it; while we who have followed Tito from his first joyous
entrance into Florence to that last dreadful moment when, floating,
bruised, beautiful, and helpless, down the Arno, he opens his dying
eyes to meet the horror of Baldassarre’s vengeance,--we surely do not
require to be warned afresh against the unpardonable sin of making
things easy for ourselves. In the pathetic history of the marred and
broken lives of “Middlemarch,” in the darker and harsher tragedy of
“Daniel Deronda,” we see forever present upon each succeeding page
the underlying motive of the tale; we hear George Eliot listening,
as Morley says, to the sound of her own voice, and announcing as
distinctly as she announced in life that her function is that of the
æsthetic teacher, to rouse the nobler emotions which make mankind
desire the social right.

If the test of the true artist be to conceal his art, then this
transparently didactic purpose is fatal to the perfection of any work
claiming to spring from the imagination. It is impossible to preach
a sermon out of the mouth of fiction without making the fiction
subordinate to the sermon, and thus at once destroying the just
proportions of a story, and forfeiting that subtle sympathy with life,
as it is, which gives to every artistic masterpiece its admirable air
of self-sufficing and harmonious repose. “I always tremble when I see
a philosophical idea attached to a novel,” said Sainte-Beuve, who was
spared by the kindly hand of death from the sight of countless novels
attached to philosophical ideas. Charles Lamb, with that unerring
intuition which was the most wonderful thing about his indolent
luminous genius, recognized, even in the comparative sunlight of
his day, the growing shadow of a speculative, disciplinal, analytic
literature which should sadly overrate its own responsibilities and
importance. “We turn away,” he said, “from the real essences of things
to hunt after their relative shadows, moral duties; whereas, if the
truth of things were fairly represented, the relative duties might
be safely trusted to themselves, and moral philosophy lose the name
of a science.” No one understood more thoroughly than Lamb that the
purely natural point of view, as apart from the purely ethical point of
view, supplies the proper basis for all imaginative writing. “I have
lived to grow into an indecent character,” he sighed, struggling with
whimsical dejection to comprehend the new forces at work; sometimes
protesting angrily against the “Puritanical obtuseness, the stupid,
infantile goodness which is creeping among us, instead of the vigorous
passions and virtues clad in flesh and blood;” sometimes contemplating,
with humorously lowered eyelids, “the least little men who spend their
time and lose their wits in chasing nimble and retiring Truth, to the
extreme perturbation and drying up of the moistures.”

   “On court, hélas! après la vérité;
    Ah! croyez-moi, l’erreur a son mérite.”

But if modern novelists are disposed to sacrifice their art to a
conscious ethical purpose, to write fiction, as Mr. Oscar Wilde wittily
says, “as though it were a painful duty,” it can hardly be denied that
they are giving the public what the public craves; that they are on
the safe side of criticism, and have chosen their position wisely,
if not well. Should any one feel inclined to doubt this, it might be
a convincing and salutary exercise to re-read as swiftly as possible
a few of the numerous essays and reviews which followed closely on
George Eliot’s death, and which have not altogether vanished from the
literary market now. With one or two distinct and admirable exceptions,
they deal almost exclusively with the didactic aspect of her novels;
they weigh and balance every social theory, every spiritual problem,
every moral lesson, to be extracted from her pages; they take her as
seriously as she took herself, and give their keenest praise to those
precise qualities which marred the artistic perfection of her work.
I have myself counted the obnoxious word “ethics” six times repeated
in the opening paragraph of one review, and have felt too deeply
disheartened by such an outset to penetrate any further. On the other
hand, her dramatic power, her subtle insight, her masterly style, her
warm and vivid pictures of a life that has touched us so closely,
the exquisite art with which her earlier tales are constructed, and,
above and beyond all, her delicious and inimitable humor,--these
things appear to be regarded as mere minor details, useful perhaps
and pleasing, but strictly subordinate to the nobler endowments of
her spirit. That some of us endure George Eliot the teacher for the
sake of George Eliot the story-teller is a truth too painful to be
put often into words. That little Maggie Tulliver spelling out the
examples in the Latin grammar, and secretly delighted at her own
amazing cleverness, enables some of us to support the processional
virtues of Romola, and the deadly priggishness of Daniel Deronda, is a
melancholy fact which perhaps it would be wiser to ignore. Maggie, as
we are aware, has deeply shocked the sensitive nature of Mr. Swinburne
by her grossness in falling in love with Stephen, for no better reason,
apparently, than because he was the first big, and strong, and handsome
man she had ever known. That wonderful scene on the boat, with its
commonplace setting and strained intensity of emotion; the short, sad,
rapturous flight; the few misty hours of passionate dreaming which
made poor Maggie’s little share of earthly happiness, have branded
her so deeply in the sight of this hardened moralist that even her
bitter agony of renunciation and her final triumph have failed to win
her pardon. With what chastened severity and with what an animated
vocabulary he condemns the “revolting avowal” of her love, the “hideous
transformation,” the “vulgar and brutal outrage,” the “radical and
moral plague spot,” which debases her into something too vile for pity
or redemption! Verily, this is the squeamishness of the true ascetic
who has somehow mistaken his vocation, and there will be a scant
allowance of cakes and ale for any of us when it is Mr. Swinburne’s
turn to be virtuous.

As for the humor of George Eliot’s novels, that mysterious humor which
she herself was not humorous enough to appreciate, it deserves better
treatment at our hands, were it only for the sake of its valuable
adaptability, were it only because it is pliant enough to fit in all
the time with our own duller imaginings, and to afford a basis and an
illustration for our own inadequate thoughts. From what depths of her
sombre nature came those arrow-points tipped with fire, or, choicer
still, those tempered shafts of reflective ridicule, which are kindly
enough to win our unhesitating acquiescence? With what pleasure we are
reminded that “people who live at a distance are naturally less faulty
than those immediately under our own eyes, and it seems superfluous,
when we consider the geographical position of the Ethiopians, and how
very little the Greeks had to do with them, to inquire further why
Homer calls them ‘blameless’”! Surely, to express a truth humorously
is to rob that truth of all offensive qualities, and Lucian himself
would be prepared to admit that, in a case like this, it is almost
as pleasant as falsehood. But to beguile us into the grateful shades
of fiction, as Jael beguiled Sisera into the shelter of her tent,
and then, with deadly purpose, to transfix us with a truth as sharp
and cruel as the nail with which Jael slew her guest, is a dastardly
betrayal of confidence. When a novelist undertakes to sit in judgment
upon his characters, for the sake of illustrating some moral lesson
with which he has no need to concern himself, he rudely breaks the
mystic web of illusion, and destroys the charm which binds us to his
side. What is it that gives to “Henry Esmond” its supreme artistic
value, if not the fact that Thackeray sank himself out of sight; was
content for once to look at things with Esmond’s gentle eyes, to judge
of things with Esmond’s tolerant soul; and forbore to whip his actors
through the play like criminals at the cart-tail? On the other hand,
what whimsical sense of responsibility induced Bulwer to elaborate
a character like Randal Leslie, only to make of him an educational
sign-post, after the approved fashion of Miss Edgeworth’s “Early
Lessons”? Judged by a purely ethical standard, Randal no doubt merited
his failure; judged by the standard of his ability and energy, Reynard
the Fox was as little likely to fail; and though Mr. Froude tells us
that “women, with their clear moral insight, have no sympathy with
Reynard’s successful villainy,” yet I doubt whether we should really
like to see him outwitted by a fool like Bruin, or beaten by a bully
like Isegrim. He is a terrible scamp, to be sure, but the charm of the
situation is that we are not compelled to watch it from a jury-box.

Now the disadvantage of being at once a novelist and a teacher is that
you have no neutral ground from which to observe your characters, no
friendly appreciation of things or people as you find them. What the
artist accepts with delicate sympathy, though with no pretense at
justification, the moralist must either justify or condemn. The first
course is common enough, and produces a class of literature essentially
vicious because of its very limitations,--six deadly sins held up to
public execration, and the seventh presented to us tenderly as an
ill-understood and sadly calumniated virtue. The second course--that
of implied condemnation--is equally open to a Sunday-school story or
to the least decorous of French novels; both have for their avowed
object the pillorying of vice, and both put forward this claim as a
reasonable excuse for existence. But art has no pillory, no stocks,
no whipping-post, no exclusive methods for fixing our attention upon
sin. Art gives us Lady Macbeth and Iago, and gives them to us without
reproaches, without extenuation, and without any attempt to reform.
It is less painful to watch the irresistible development of their
respective crimes than to hear Thackeray lashing with keen scorn
some poor sinner stumbling through the mazes of worldly wickedness,
or to see George Eliot pursuing one of her own creations with
inextinguishable severity and contempt. There is something paralyzing
in the cold anger with which Rosamond Vincy is branded and shamed;
there is something appalling in the conscientious vindictiveness with
which Tito is hunted down, step by step, to his final retribution.
That delightful essayist, Mr. Karl Hillebrand, whose artistic nature
is about as much at home among modern theories as a strayed Faun in a
button factory, has given us a half-humorous, half-despairing picture
of some old acquaintances under the new dispensation: of Manon Lescaut
threatened with Charlotte Brontë’s birch-rod; of Squire Western opening
his startled eyes as Zola proceeds to detail for his benefit the latest
and most highly realistic study of delirium tremens; of Falstaff, whom
that losel Shakespeare treated so indulgently, listening abashed to
George Eliot’s scathing denunciations. “For really, Sir John,” he hears
her say, “you have no excuse whatever. If you were a poor devil who had
never had any but bad examples before your eyes!--but you have had all
the advantages which destiny can give to man on his way through life.
Are you not born of a good family? Have you not had at Oxford the best
education England is able to give to her children? Have you not had the
highest connections? And, nevertheless, how low you have fallen! Do you
know why? I have warned my Tito over and over again against it: because
you have always done that only which was agreeable to you, and have
shunned everything that was unpleasant.”

This sounds like sad trifling to our sober and orthodox ears, but it is
not more audacious, on the whole, than the pathetic lamentations of Mr.
Oscar Wilde over the career of Charles Reade: the most disheartening,
he protests, in all literature; “wasted in a foolish attempt to be
modern, and to draw attention to the state of our convict prisons,
and the management of private lunatic asylums. Charles Dickens was
depressing enough, in all conscience, when he tried to arouse our
sympathy for the victims of the poor-law administration; but Charles
Reade, an artist, a scholar, a man with a true sense of beauty, raging
and roaring over the abuses of modern life like a common pamphleteer
or a sensational journalist, is really a sight for the angels to
weep over.” It is just possible that whatever personal interest the
angelic hosts take in our earthly lot may be directed to philanthropy
rather than to literature; but, for the idle and inglorious mortal, the
protest holds a world of truth and meaning. Reade, as a reformer, is
melancholy company; and Dickens is inexpressibly dismal when he drags
the Chancery business into “Bleak House,” and the pauper dinner-table
into “Oliver Twist,” and that dreary caricature, the Circumlocution
Office, into “Little Dorrit.” If these things really accomplished the
good that is claimed for them, it was dearly bought by the weariness of
so many millions of readers. “A fiction contrived to support an opinion
is a vicious composition,” said Jeffrey, who was as apt in his general
criticisms as he was awkward in their particular applications, and who
lived before the era of serious and educational novels. To-day we have
the unhesitating assertion of Mr. Howells that one of Tolstoï’s highest
claims to our consideration is his steadfast teaching “that all war,
private and public, is a sin.” Mr. Ruskin, it may be remembered, holds
somewhat different views: “There is no great art possible to a nation
but that which is based on war.” Yet as every man is entitled to his
own opinion in such matters, there is no reason why we should quarrel
with either the Russian or the Englishman for their chosen principles.
But Ruskin is no greater as an essayist because he approves of war, and
Tolstoï gains nothing as a novelist because he adheres to peace. The
glory of the battlefield, its pathos and its horror, are all fitting
subjects for the artist’s pen or pencil. He may stir our blood and
rouse our fighting instincts, like Homer or Scott; or he may move us
to pity, and sorrow, and shame, by the revelation of all the shattered
hopes and bitter agonies that lie beyond. But his own greatness depends
exclusively on his treatment of the subject, and not on his point
of view. Who knows and who cares what De Neuville thinks of war? He
paints for us a handful of men roused at dawn, and rushing gallantly to
their deaths, and we feel our hearts beat high as we look at them. The
terror, the awfulness, the self-forgetting courage, the gay defiance
of battle, all are there, imprisoned mysteriously in the artistic
grouping of a few blue-coated soldiers. But Verestchagin, who aspires
to teach us the wickedness of war, is powerless to thrill us in this
manner. He is probably sincere in his opinions, and he has striven hard
to give them form and expression, but, lacking the artistic impulse,
he has for the most part striven in vain. His huge canvases, packed
with dead and dying, are less impressive, less solemn, less painful
even, from their monotonous overcrowding, than a single Zouave, whose
wounds De Neuville has no need to emphasize with vast expenditure of
vermilion, when the faintness of a mortal agony draws his weary body
to the earth. “All real power,” says Ruskin, “lies in delicacy.” To
trouble the senses is an easy task, but it is through the imagination
only that we receive any strong and lasting impressions, and no
sincerity of purpose can suffice to turn a crude didacticism into art.

It is hard to analyze the peculiar nature of the claims asserted and
upheld by the disciples of modern realism. They are not content with
the splendid position which is theirs by right,--not content with the
admirable work they have done, and the hold they have secured on the
sympathies of our earnest, rationalistic, and unimaginative age; but
they assume in some subtle and incomprehensible way that their school
is based upon man’s love and appreciation for his fellow-creatures.
If we would but look upon all men as our brothers, it is plainly
hinted, all men would be of equal interest to us, and it is our duty,
as nineteenth-century citizens, to accept and cherish this universal
relationship. To the perpetual sounding of the humanitarian note, there
are some, it is true, who answer, with Vernon Lee’s very amusing and
very wicked skeptic, that “the new-fangled bore called mankind is as
great a plague as the old-fashioned nuisance called a soul;” but there
are others who, finding themselves in full possession of a conscience,
stoutly maintain that they love their undistinguished brother none the
less because they weary of his society in literature and art. It was
Ruskin, for example, who sneered at George Eliot’s characters as the
“sweepings of a Pentonville omnibus,”--a terrible misapplication of
an inspired phrase; but Ruskin is the last man in Christendom who can
be accused of an indifference to his fellow-men. His whole life is a
sufficient refutation of the charge. Voltaire is responsible for the
statement that the world is full of people who are not worth knowing.
Yet Voltaire was forever restlessly espousing some popular cause,
forever interesting himself in the supposed welfare of these eminently
undesirable associates. What he thought, and what he was quite right in
thinking, is that we gain nothing, intellectually or spiritually, from
the mass of men and women with whom we come in contact; and that it is
wiser to fix our attention upon graceful and exalted types than to go
on forever, as Charles Lamb expressed it, “encouraging each other in
mediocrity.”

The present stand of realism, however, is but one more phase of the
intrusion of ethics upon art,--the assumption that I cannot have a
sincere regard for the welfare of my washerwoman if I do not care for
her company either in a book or out of it. Tubs have grown in favor
since the day when Wordsworth was compelled, “in deference to the
opinion of friends,” to substitute an impossible turtle-shell for
the homely vessel in which the blind Highland boy set sail on Loch
Leven. All classes and all people, I am now given to understand,
are of supreme interest to the loving student of human nature, and
it is a “narrow conservatism”--chilling phrase--that seeks to limit
the artist’s field of action. But as limiting the artist’s field of
action is practically impossible, and not often essayed, it is hard to
understand what the respective schools of fiction find to fight over,
and why this new battle of the books should be raging as fiercely
as if there were any visible cause of war. It is not an orderly and
well-appointed battle, either, confined to the ranks of critics and
reviewers, but a free skirmish, where everybody who has written a novel
rushes in and plays an active part. Conflicting opinions rattle around
our heads like hail, and the voice of the peacemaker,--Mr. Andrew
Lang,--protesting that all schools are equally good, if the scholars
are equal to their tasks, is lost in the universal clamor. The only
point on which any two sharpshooters appear to agree is in laying
the blame for the “unmanly timidity of English fiction”--a timidity
not always so apparent as it might be--on the shoulders of women,
who, it seems, will have all novels modeled to suit themselves, and
who, with the arrogance of supreme power, have reversed the political
situation, and deprived mankind of their vote. This is the opinion of
Rider Haggard, and also of Vernon Lee, who asserts that “the ethics of
fiction are framed entirely for the benefit or the detriment of women,”
and that its enforced morality--a defect which, to do her justice, she
is striving her best to eradicate--is fatal to its mission in life.

But that fiction has a mission, nobody dares to doubt; that its ethics
are of paramount importance, nobody dares to deny. It devotes itself
in all seriousness to our moral and intellectual welfare; and if,
now and then, we are reminded of Sydney Smith, who would rather Mr.
Perceval had whipped his boys and saved his country, we stifle the
sinful impulse, and turn to biography and history for recreation,
for that purely imaginative element which places no tax upon our
conscience or credulity. Yet we may at least remember that all natures
do not develop on the same lines; that all goodness is not comprised
within certain recognized virtues, or limited to certain fields of
thought. Tolstoï, a figure on a grand scale, “filled with pity for
the oppressed, the poor, and the lowly,” has manifested the sincerity
of his creed by a life of hard work and hearty renunciation. But Sir
Walter Scott, the Tory, the “feudalist,” content to take the world as
he found it, and to believe that whatever is, is right, proved himself
no less the friend and benefactor of his kind. The halo round his
head is not that of genius only, but of love,--love freely given and
abundantly returned. The anxious whisper of the London workmen to Allan
Cunningham, “Do you know, sir, if this is the street where _he_ is
lying?” the rapturous cry of the little deformed tailor who, with his
last breath, sobbed out, “The Lord bless and reward you!” and, falling
back, expired,--these are the sounds that ring through generations to
bear witness to man’s fidelity to man.

                                  “For the might
    Of the whole world’s good wishes with him goes,”

sang Wordsworth, with whom affectionate hyperbole was hardly a common
fault. It cannot be that Mr. Howells believes in his heart that
American children need to be warned against Sir Walter’s errors, and
that it is the duty of American parents to give this solemn warning.
Consider that it is only in youth that our imagination triumphs vividly
over realities,--a triumph short-lived enough, but rich in fruits for
the future. The time comes all too soon when we doubt, and question,
and make room in our puzzled minds for the opinions of many men. Ah,
leave to the child, at least, his clear, intuitive, unbiased enjoyment,
his sympathy with things that have been! He is not so easily hurt as
we suppose; he is strong in his elastic ignorance, and has no need of
a pepsin pill with every mouthful of literary food he swallows. Mental
hygiene, it is said, is apt to lead to mental valetudinarianism; but if
we are to turn our very nurseries into hot-beds of prigs, we may say
once more what was said when Chapelain published his portentous epic,
that “a new horror has been added to the accomplishment of reading.”



PLEASURE: A HERESY.


It is an interesting circumstance in the lives of those persons who are
called either heretics or reformers, according to the mental attitudes
or antecedent prejudices of their critics, that they always begin by
hinting their views with equal modesty and moderation. It is only when
rubbed sore by friction, when hard driven and half spent, that they
venture into the open, and define their positions before the world
in all their bald malignity. Now I have a certain sneaking sympathy,
not with heretics or reformers, either, but with that frame of mind
which compels a hunted and harried creature suddenly to assume the
offensive, cast prudence to the winds, nail his thesis conspicuously
to the doorpost, and snortingly await developments. He is not, while
so occupied, a winning or beautiful figure, when judged by the strict
standards of sweetness and light; but he is eminently human, and is
entitled to the forbearance of humanity.

It is now over a year since, in an article called “Fiction in the
Pulpit,” and published in the “Atlantic Monthly,” I ventured to say,
or rather I said without any consciousness of being venturesome, that
the sole business of a novel-writer was to give us pleasure; his
sole duty was to give it to us within decent and prescribed limits.
It seemed to me then that the assertion was so self-evident as to be
hardly worth the making; it was a little like saying an undisputed
thing “in such a solemn way.” I have learned since how profoundly I
was mistaken in the temper, not of writers only, but of readers as
well,--how far remote I stood from the current of ethical activity.
It is needless to state that this later knowledge has been brought to
me by the mouths of critics: sometimes by professional critics, who
said their say in print; sometimes by amateur and neighborly critics,
who expressed theirs frankly in speech. It is needless, also, to state
that, of the two, the professional critics--brothers and sisters of my
own household I count them--have been infinitely more tolerant of my
shortcomings, more lenient in their remonstrances, more persuasive
and even flattering in their lines of argument. The ordinary reviewer,
anonymous or otherwise, is not the ruthless destroyer, “ferocious,
dishonest, butcherly,” whom Mr. Howells so graphically portrays, but
rather a kindly, indifferent sort of creature, who cares so little what
you think that even his reproaches wear an air of gentle and friendly
unconcern.

In all cases, however, the verdict reached was practically the same.
The business of fiction is to elevate our moral tone; to teach us the
stern lessons of life; to quicken our conceptions of duty; to show us
the dark abysses of fallen nature; to broaden our spiritual vistas;
to destroy our old comfortable creeds; to open our half-closed eyes;
to expand our souls with the generous sentiments of humanity; to vex
us with social problems and psychological conundrums; to gird us with
chain armor for our daily battles; to do anything or everything, in
short, except simply give us pleasure. It is not forbidden us, to be
sure, to take delight, if we can, in the system of instruction; a good
child, we are told, should always love its lessons; but the really
important thing is to study and know them by heart. Verily

    “This rugged virtue makes me gasp”!

Why should the word “pleasure,” when used in connection with
literature, send a cold chill down our strenuous nineteenth-century
spines? It is a good and charming word, caressing in sound and softly
exhilarating in sense. As in a dream, it shows us swiftly rich minutes
by a winter firelight, with “The Eve of St. Agnes” held in our happy
hands; long, lazy summer afternoons spent right joyously in company
with Emma Woodhouse and Mr. Knightley; or, perhaps, hours of content,
lost in the letters of Charles Lamb, dear to us alike in all seasons
and in all moods, a heritage of delight as long as life shall last.
I do not, indeed, as I have been accused of doing, employ the word
“pleasure” as synonymous with amusement. Amusement is merely one side
of pleasure, but a very excellent side, against which, in truth, I
have no evil word to urge. The gods forbid such base and savorless
ingratitude! This is not at best a merry world. “There is a certain
grief in things as they are, in man as he has come to be;” and the
background of our lives is a steady, undeviating sadness. Who, then,
has not felt that sudden lifting of the spirits, that quick purging
of black, melancholy vapors from the brain, as wise old Burton would
express it, when some fine jest appeals irresistibly to one’s sense
of humor! There comes to the alert mind at such a moment a distinct
revelation of contentment; a conscious thought that it is well to
be alive, and to hear that nimble witticism which has so warmed and
tickled one’s fancy. “Live merrily as thou canst,” says Burton, “for by
honest mirth we cure many passions of the mind. A gay companion is as a
wagon to him that is wearied by the way.”

If amusement can help us so materially in our daily life, which is a
daily struggle as well, how much more pleasure!--pleasure which is
the rightful goal of art, just as knowledge is the rightful goal of
science. “Art,” says Winckelmann, “is the daughter of Pleasure;” and
as Demeter sought for Persephone with resistless fervor and desire,
so Pleasure seeks for Art, languishing in sunless gloom, and, having
found her, expresses through her the joy and beauty of existence,
and lives again herself in the possession of her fair child, while
the whole earth bubbles into laughter. We cannot separate these two
without exchanging sunlight for frost and the cold, dark winter nights.
Mr. E. S. Dallas, who, in those charming volumes pleadingly entitled
“The Gay Science,” has made a gallant fight for pleasure as the end
of art, and for criticism as the path by which that end is reached,
shows us very clearly and very persuasively that, in all ages and in
all nations, there has been a natural, wholesome, outspoken conviction
that art exists for pleasure, and, pleasing, instructs as well. There
is a core of truth, he grants, in the Horatian maxim that art may be
profitable as well as delightful, “since it always holds that wisdom’s
ways are ways of pleasantness, that enduring pleasure comes only out
of healthful action, and that amusement, as mere amusement, is in its
own place good if it be but innocent. There is profit in art, as there
is gain in godliness, and policy in an honest life. But we are not to
pursue art for profit, nor godliness for gain, nor honesty because it
is politic.”

This, then, is the earliest lesson that the student of art has to
learn: that it exists for pleasure, but for a pleasure that may
be profitable, and that stands in no sort of opposition to truth.
“Science,” says Mr. Dallas, “gives us truth without reference to
pleasure, but immediately and chiefly for the sake of knowledge. Art
gives us truth without reference to knowledge, but immediately and
mainly for the sake of pleasure.” The test of science, then, must
always be an increase of knowledge, of proven and demonstrable facts;
the test of art must always be an increase of pleasure, of conscious
and sentient joy. “What is good only because it pleases,” says Dr.
Johnson, “cannot be pronounced good until it has been found to please.”

The joy that is born of art is not always a simple or easily analyzed
emotion. The pleasure we take in looking at the soft, white, dimpled
Venus of the Capitol is something very different from that strange
tugging at our heart-strings when we first see the sad and scornful
beauty of the Venus of Milo, or the curious pity with which we watch
the dejected Cupid of the Vatican hanging his lovely head. But with
both the Venus of Milo and the Vatican Cupid, the sensation of pleasure
they afford is greater than the sensation of pain, or pity, or regret.
It triumphs wholly over our other emotions, and gains fullness from the
conflict of our thoughts. We feel many things, but we feel pleasure
most of all, and this is the final test; and the final victory of art.
In the same manner, the mixed emotions with which we listen to music
resolve themselves ultimately to pleasure in that music; and the mixed
emotions with which we read poetry resolve themselves ultimately to
pleasure in that poetry. If it were otherwise, we should know that the
music and the poetry had failed in their crucial trial. If we did not
feel more pleasure than pain in the tragedy of “Othello,” it would not
be a great play. That we do feel more pleasure than pain, that our
pleasure is subtly fed by our pain, proves it to be a masterpiece of
art.

There is still another point to urge. While art may instruct as well
as please, it can nevertheless be true art without instructing, but
not without pleasing. The former quality is accidental, the latter
essential, to its being. “Enjoyment,” says Schiller, “may be only
a subordinate object in life; it is the highest in art.” We cannot
say that “The Eve of St. Agnes” teaches us, directly or indirectly,
anything whatever. The trembling lovers, the withered Angela, the
revelers,

    “The carved angels, ever eager-eyed,”

the storm without, the fragrant warmth and light within, are all
equally innocent of moral emphasis. Even the Beadsman is not worked up,
as he might have been, into a didactic agent. But every beauty-laden
line is rich in pleasure, the whole poem is an inheritance of delight.
I never read it without being reminded afresh of that remonstrance
offered so gently by Keats to Shelley,--by Keats, who was content to
be a poet, to Shelley, who would also be a reformer: “You will, I am
sure, forgive me for sincerely remarking that you might curb your
magnanimity, and be more of an artist, and load every rift of your
subject with ore.” Load every rift of your subject with ore,--there
spoke the man who claimed no more for himself than that he had loved
“the principle of beauty in all things,” and to whose hushed and
listening soul the cry of Shelley’s “divine discontent” rang jarringly
in the stillness of the night. If the poetry of Keats, a handful of
scattered jewels left us by a dying boy, is, as Matthew Arnold admits,
more solid and complete than Shelley’s superb and piercing song, to
what is this due, save that Keats possessed, in addition to his poetic
gift, the tranquil artist soul; content, as Goethe was content, to love
the principle of beauty, and to be in sympathy with the great living
past which has nourished, and still nourishes, the living present. The
passion for reconstructing society, and for distributing pamphlets
as a first step in the reconstruction, had no part in his artistic
development. The errors of his fellow-mortals touched him lightly;
their superstitions did not trouble him at all; their civil rights and
inherited diseases were not matters of daily thought and analysis.
But what he had to give them he gave unstintedly, and we to-day are
rich in the fullness of his gift. “The proper and immediate object of
poetry,” says Coleridge, “is the communication of immediate pleasure;”
and are our lives so joyous that this boon may go unrecognized and
unregarded? Which is best for us in this chilly world,--that which
pleases, but does not instruct, like “The Eve of St. Agnes,” or that
which instructs, but does not please, like Dr. Ibsen’s “Ghosts”? I
do not say, which is true art? because the relative positions of the
two authors forbid comparison; but, judged by the needs of humanity,
which is the finer gift to earth? If, with Pliny, we seek an escape
from mortality in literature, which shall be our choice? If, with Dr.
Johnson, we require that a book should help us either to enjoy life or
to endure it, which shall we take for a friend?

“Everything that is any way beautiful is beautiful in itself, and
terminates in itself,” says Marcus Aurelius; and the pleasure we
derive from a possession of beauty has characteristic completeness
and vitality. This pleasure is not only, as we are so often told, a
temporary escape from pain; it is not a negation, a mere cessation of
suffering; it is not necessarily preceded by craving or followed by
satiety; it is emphatically not a matter of prospect as Shelley would
have us believe;[1] it is a matter of conscious possession. “Vivre,
c’est penser et sentir son âme;” and when a happy moment, complete and
rounded as a pearl, falls into the tossing ocean of life, it is never
wholly lost. For our days are made up of moments and our years of days,
and every swift realization of a lawful joy is a distinct and lasting
gain in our onward flight to eternity.

    [1] “Pain or pleasure, if subtly analyzed, will be found to
        consist entirely in prospect.”

It seems to me strangely cruel that this philosophy of pleasure should
be so ruthlessly at variance with the ethical criticism of our day.
If it has come down to us as a gracious gift from the most cheerful
and not the least wholesome of heathens, it has been broadened and
brightened into fresh comeliness by the spirit of Christianity, which
is, above all things, a spirit of lawful and recognized joy. Nothing
is more plain to us in the teaching of the early Church than that
asceticism is for the chosen few, and enjoyment, diffused, genial,
temperate, and pure enjoyment, is for the many. “Put on, therefore,
gladness that hath always favor with God, and is acceptable unto him,
and delight thyself in it; for every man that is glad doeth the things
that are good, and thinketh good thoughts, despising grief.”[2] Through
all the centuries, rational Christianity has still taught us bravely
to endure what we must, and gratefully to enjoy what we can. There is
a very charming and sensible letter on this point, written by the Abbé
Duval to Madame de Rémusat, who was disposed to reproach herself a
little for her own happiness, and to think that she had no right to be
so comfortable and so well content.

    [2] _Shepherd of Hermas._

“You say that you are happy,” writes this gentlest and wisest of
confessors; “why then distress yourself? Your happiness is a proof of
God’s love toward you; and if in your heart you truly love Him, can
you refuse to respond to the divine benevolence?... Engrave upon your
conscience this fundamental truth: that religion demands order above
all things; and that, since the institutions of society have been
allowed and consecrated, there is encouragement for those duties by
which they are maintained.... But especially banish from your mind the
error that our pains alone are acceptable to God. A general willingness
to bear trial is enough. Never fear but life and time will bring it.
Dispose yourself beforehand to resignation, and meanwhile thank God
incessantly for the peace which pervades your lot.”

This is something very different from Ruskin’s ethics,--from the plain
statement that we have no right to be happy while our brother suffers,
no right to put feathers in our own child’s hat, while somebody else’s
child goes featherless and ragged. But there is a certain staying
power in the older and simpler doctrine, and an admirable truth in
the gentle suggestion that we need not vex ourselves too deeply with
the notion of our ultimate freedom from trial. It was not given
to Madame de Rémusat, any more than it is given to us, to ride in
untroubled gladness over a stony world. All that she attained, all
that we can hope for, are distinct and happy moments, brief intervals
from pain, or from that rational _ennui_ which is inseparable from
the conditions of human life. But I cannot agree with the long list
of philosophers and critics, from Kant and Schopenhauer down to
Mr. Dallas, who have taught that these passing moments are negative
in their character; that they are hidden from our consciousness and
elude our scrutiny,--existing while we are content simply to enjoy
them, vanishing, if, like Psyche, we seek to understand our joy. The
trained intelligence grasps its pleasures, and recognizes them as such;
not after they have fled, and linger only, a golden haze, in memory,
but alertly, in the present, while they still lie warm in the hollow
of the heart. There is indeed a certain breathless and unconscious
delight in life itself, which is born of our ceaseless struggle to
live, a sweetness of honey snatched from the lion’s mouth. This
delight is common to all men, and is probably keenest in those who
struggle hardest. When society is reorganized on a Utopian basis, and
nobody has any further need to elbow his own way through hardships and
difficulties, there will be one joy less in the world; and, missing it,
many people will realize that all which made life worth having has been
softened and improved out of existence. They will cease to value, and
refuse to possess, that which costs them nothing to preserve.

This fundamental happiness in life, and in the enforced activity by
which it is maintained, is hidden from our consciousness. We feel
the hardships, and do not especially feel any relish in ceaselessly
combating them, though the relish is there; not keen enough for
palpable felicity, but vital enough to keep the human race alive. All
other pleasures, however, we should train ourselves to enjoy. They flow
from many sources, and are fitted to many moods. They are fed alike
by our most secret emotions and by our severest toil, by the simplest
thing in nature and by the utmost subtlety of art. A primrose by a
river’s brim often makes its appeal as vainly as does Hamlet, or the
Elgin Marbles. What we need is, not more cultivation, but a recognized
habit of enjoyment. There is, I am told, though I cannot speak from
experience, a very high degree of pleasure in successfully working out
a mathematical problem. Burton confesses frankly that his impelling
motive, in long hours of research, was primarily his own gratification.
“The delight is it I aim at, so great pleasure, such sweet content,
there is in study.” I think the most beautiful figure in recent
literature is Mr. Pater’s Marius the Epicurean, whose life, regarded
from the outside, is but a succession of imperfect results, yet who,
deserted and dying, counts over with a patient and glad heart the joys
he has been permitted to know.

“Like a child thinking over the toys it loves, one after another, that
it may fall asleep so, and the sooner forget all about them, he would
try to fix his mind, as it were impassively, on all the persons he had
loved in life,--on his love for them, dead or living, grateful for his
love or not, rather than on theirs for him,--letting their images pass
away again, or rest with him, as they would. One after another, he
suffered those faces and voices to come and go, as in some mechanical
exercise; as he might have repeated all the verses he knew by heart, or
like the telling of beads, one by one, with many a sleepy nod between
whiles.”

Here is a profound truth, delicately and reverently conveyed. That
which is given us for our joy is ours as long as life shall last; not
passing away with the moment of enjoyment, but dwelling with us, and
enriching us to the end. The memory of a past pleasure, derived from
any lawful source, is a part of the pleasure itself, a vital part,
which remains in our keeping as long as we recognize and cherish it.
Thus, the pleasure obtained from seeing the Venus of Milo or reading
“The Eve of St. Agnes” is not ended when we have left the Louvre or
closed the book. It becomes a portion of our inheritance, a portion of
the joy of living; and the statue and the poem have fulfilled their
allotted purpose in yielding us this delight. There is a curious
fashion nowadays of criticising art and poetry, and even fiction, with
scant reference to the pleasure for which they exist; yet a rational
estimate of these things is hardly possible from any other standpoint.
Mr. Ruskin, we know, has invented that pleasing novelty, ethical
art-criticism, and, by its means, as Mr. Dallas frankly admits, he
has made, not the criticism only, but the art itself, intelligible
and palatable to his English readers. It would seem as if they hardly
held themselves justified in enjoying a thing unless there was a moral
meaning back of it, a moral principle involved in their own happiness.
This meaning and this principle Mr. Ruskin has supplied, bringing to
bear upon his task all the earnestness and sincerity of his spirit,
all the wonderful charm and beauty of a winning and persuasive
eloquence. It is well-nigh impossible to withstand his appeals, they
are so irresistibly worded; and it is only when we have withdrawn from
his seductive influence, to think a little for ourselves, that we
realize how much of his criticism, as criticism, is valueless, because
it consists in analyzing motives rather than in estimating results. He
assumes that the first interest in a picture is, what did the painter
intend? the second interest is, how did he carry out his intention?
whereas the one really important and paramount consideration in art
is workmanship. We have, many of us, the artist’s soul, but few the
artist’s fingers. It is a pleasant pastime to decipher the mental
attitude of the painter; it is essential to understand the quality and
limit of his powers.

Reading Mr. Ruskin’s criticisms on Tintoret’s pictures in the Scuola
di S. Rocco--on the Annunciation particularly--is very much like
listening to a paper in a Browning Society. Perhaps the poet, perhaps
the painter, did mean all that. It is manifestly impossible to prove
they didn’t, inasmuch as death has removed them from any chance of
interrogation. But by what mysterious and exclusive insight have Mr.
Ruskin and the Browning student found it out? The interpretation is
not suggested as feasible, it is asserted as a fact; though precisely
how it has been reached we are not suffered to know. Many unkind
and severe things have been said about judicial criticism, but Mr.
Ruskin’s criticism is not judicial,--which infers an application of
governing principles; it is dogmatic, the unhesitating expression of a
personal sentiment. He shows you Giotto’s frescoes in the cloister of
Santa Maria Novella; he pleads with you very prettily and charmingly
to admire the Birth of the Virgin; he points out to you with rather
puzzling precision exactly what the painter intended to imply by every
detail of the work. This is pleasant enough; but suppose you don’t
really care about the Birth of the Virgin when you see it; suppose you
fail to follow the guiding finger that reveals to you its significance
and beauty. What happens then? Mr. Ruskin retorts in the severest
manner, and with a degree of scorn that seems hardly warranted by the
contingency: “If you can be pleased with this, you can see Florence.
But if not, by all means amuse yourself there, if you find it amusing,
as long as you like; you can never see it.”

So Florence with all its loveliness is lost to you, unless you
can sufficiently sympathize with one small fresco. It would be as
reasonable to say that all English literature is lost to you, unless
you truly enjoy “Comus;” that all music is lost to you, unless
you delight in “Parsifal.” It is the special privilege of ethical
criticism to take this exclusive and didactic form; to bid you admire
a thing, not because it is beautiful in itself, but because it has a
subtle lesson to convey,--a lesson of which, it is urbanely hinted,
you stand particularly in need. On precisely the same principle, you
are commanded to cleave to Tolstoï, not because he has written able
novels, but because those novels teach a great many things which it
is desirable you should know and believe; you are bidden to revere
George Meredith, not because he has given the world some brilliant and
captivating books, but because these books contain a tonic element
fitted for your moral reconstruction. If you do not sufficiently value
these admirable lessons, then you are told, in language every whit as
contemptuous as Mr. Ruskin’s, to amuse yourself, by all means, with
Lever, and Gaboriau, and Jules Verne; for all higher fiction is, like
the art of Florence, a sealed book to your understanding.

“Most men,” says Mr. Froude, “feel the necessity of being on some terms
with their conscience, at their own expense or at another’s;” and one
very popular method of balancing their score is by exacting from art
and literature that serious ethical purpose which they hesitate to
intrude too prominently into their daily lives, rightly opining that it
gives much less trouble in books. So prevalent is this tone in modern
thought that even a consummate critic like Mr. Bagehot is capable of
saying, in one of his supremely moral moments, that Byron’s poems
“taught nothing, and therefore are forgotten.” Et tu, Brute! Such a
sentence from such a pen makes me realize something of the bitterness
with which the dying Cæsar covered up his face from his most trusted
friend. That Lord Byron’s poems are forgotten is rather a matter of
doubt; that they are given over entirely into the hands of “a stray
schoolboy” is a hazardous assertion to make; but to say that they are
forgotten _because_ they teach nothing is to strike at the very life
and soul of poetry. It does not exist to teach, but to please; it can
cease to exist only when it ceases to give pleasure.

Perhaps what Mr. Bagehot meant to imply is that it would be a difficult
task to review Byron’s poetry after the approved modern fashion;
to assign him, as we assign more contemplative and analytic poets,
a moral _raison d’être_. Pick up a criticism of Mr. Browning, for
example, and this is the first thing we see: “What was the kernel of
Browning’s ethical teaching, and how does he apply its principles to
life, religion, art, and love?”[3] It would be as manifestly absurd
to ask this question about Byron as it would be to review Fielding
from the standpoint adapted for Tolstoï, or to discuss Sheridan from
the same field of view as Ibsen. With the earlier writers it was a
question of workmanship; with our present favorites it has become a
question of ethics. Yet when we seek for simple edification, as our
plain-spoken grandfathers understood the word, as many innocent people
understand it now, the new school seems as remote from furnishing it
as the old. Browning, Tolstoï, and Ibsen have their own methods of
dealing with sin, and richly suggestive and illustrative methods they
are. The lessons taught may be of a highly desirable kind, but I doubt
their practical efficacy in our common working lives; and I cannot
think this possible efficacy warrants their intrusion into art. Great
truths, unconsciously revealed and as unconsciously absorbed, have
been, in all ages, the soul of poetry, the subtle life of fiction.
These truths, always in harmony with the natural world and with the
vital sympathies of man, were not put forward crudely as lessons to
be learned, but primarily as pleasures to be enjoyed; and through our
“sweet content,” as Burton phrased it, we came into our heritage of
knowledge. To-day both poetry and fiction have assumed a different and
less winning attitude. They have grown sensibly didactic, are at times
almost reproachful in their tone, and, so far from striving to yield
us pleasure, to increase our “sweet content” with life, they endeavor,
with very tolerable success, to prevent our being happy after our own
limited fashion. Their principal mission is to worry us vaguely about
our souls or our neighbors’ souls, or the social order which we did not
establish, and the painful problems that we cannot solve. Our spirits,
at all times restless and troubled, respond with quick alarm to these
dismal agitations; our serenity is not proof against the strain; our
sense of humor is not keen enough to cure us with wholesome laughter;
and nineteenth-century cultivation consists in being miserable for
misery’s sake, and in saying solemnly to one another at proper
intervals, “This is the eternal progress of the ages.”

    [3] _Quarterly Review._

It was a curious and rather melancholy experience, a year ago, to
hear the comments of those patient women who devoted their afternoons
to Ibsen readings, and to turning over in their minds the new and
unprofitable situations thus suggested. The discussions that followed
were in variably ethical, never critical; they had reference always
to some moral conundrum offered by the play, never to the artistic or
dramatic excellence of the play itself. Was Nora Helmer justified,
or was she not, in abandoning her children with explicit confidence
to the care of Mary Ann? Had Dr. Wangel a right, or had he not, to
annul his own marriage tie with the primitive simplicity of the king
of Dahomey? To answer such questions as these has become our notion
of literary recreation, and there is something pathetically droll
in the earnestness with which we bend our wits to the task. Indeed,
poor little Nora’s matrimonial infelicities threatened to become as
important in their way as those of Catherine of Aragon or Josephine
Beauharnais, and we talked about them quite seriously and with a
certain awe. The unflinching manner in which Ibsen has followed Sir
Thomas Browne’s advice, “Strive not to beautify thy corruption!”
commends him, naturally, to that large class of persons who can
tolerate sin only when it is dismal; and Baudelaire, praying for a
new vice, was jocund in comparison with our Norwegian dramatist,
unwearyingly analyzing the old one. Yet what have we gained from the
rankness of these disclosures, from these horrible studies of heredity,
these hospital and madhouse sketches, these incursions of pathology
into the realms of art? What shall we ever gain by beating down the
barriers of reserve which civilized communities have thought fit to
rear, by abandoning that wholesome reticence which is the test of
self-restraint? We try so hard to be happy,--we have such need, each
of his little share of happiness; yet Ibsen, troubling the soul more
even than he troubles the senses, has chosen to employ his God-given
genius in deliberately lessening our small sum of human joy. When shall
we cease to worship at such dark altars? When shall we recognize, with
Goethe, that “all talent is wasted if the subject be unsuitable”? When
shall we understand and believe that “the gladness of a spirit is an
index of its power”?

“To live,” says Amiel, “we must conquer incessantly, we must have the
courage to be happy.” Enjoyment, then, is not our common daily portion,
to be stupidly ignored or carelessly cast away. It is something we
must seek courageously and intelligently, distinguishing the pure
sources from which it flows, and rightly persuaded that art is true
and good only when it adds to our delight. For this were our poets
and dramatists, our painters and novelists, sent to us,--to make us
lawfully happier in a hard world, to help us smilingly through the
gloom. And can it be they think this mission beneath their august
consideration, unworthy of their mighty powers? Why, to have given
pleasure to one human being is a recollection that sweetens life; and
what should be the fervor and transport of him to whom it has been
granted to give pleasure to generations, to add materially to the
stored-up gladness of the earth! “Science pales,” says Mr. Dallas, “age
after age is forgotten, and age after age has to be freshened; but the
secret thinking of humanity, embalmed in art, survives, as nothing else
in life survives.” This is our inheritance from the past,--this secret
thinking of humanity, embalmed in imperishable beauty, and enduring for
our delight. The thinking of that idle vicar, Robert Herrick, when he
sang, on a fair May morning:--

   “Come, let us go, while we are in our prime,
    And take the harmless folly of the time!
      We shall grow old apace, and die
      Before we know our liberty.”

The thinking of Theocritus, who, lying drowsily on the hillside, saw
the sacred waters welling from the cool caverns, and heard the little
owl cry in the thorn brake, and the yellow bees murmur and hum in the
soft spicy air:--

“All breathed the scent of the opulent summer, of the season of fruit.
Pears and apples were rolling at our feet; the tender branches, laden
with wild plums, were bowed to earth; and the four-year-old pitch seal
was loosened from the mouth of the wine-jars.”

Here is art attuned to the simplest forms of pleasure, yet as lasting
as the pyramids,--a whispered charm borne down the current of years to
soothe our fretted souls. But the tranquil enjoyment of what is given
us to enjoy has become a subtle reproach in these days of restless
disquiet, of morbid and conscious self-scrutiny, when we have forfeited
Our sympathy with the beliefs, the aspirations, and the “sweet content”
that linked the centuries together. We are suffering at present from a
glut of precepts, a surfeit of preceptors, and have grown sadly wise,
and very much cast down in consequence. We lack, as Amiel says, the
courage to be happy, and glorify our discontent into an intellectual
barrier, pluming ourselves on a seriousness that may not be diverted.
But if we will only consent to calm our fears, to quiet our scruples,
to humble our pride, and to take one glad look into the world of
art, we shall see it bathed in the golden sunlight of pleasure; and
we shall know very well that didacticism, whether masquerading as a
psychological drama or a socialistic forecast, as a Sunday-school story
or a deistical novel, is no guide to that enchanted land.



ESOTERIC ECONOMY.


It is one of the most delightful things about Miss Edgeworth’s immortal
tales for children that the incidents they relate have a knack of
remaining indelibly fixed in our memories, long after we have succeeded
in forgetting the more severely acquired information of our schooldays.
Why, for instance, do I vex my temper and break my finger-nails in a
vain effort to untie the knotted cord of every bundle that comes to
the house, save that I have still before me the salutary example of
that prudent little Ben, who so conscientiously and cheerfully devoted
himself to unfastening his uncle’s package? “You may keep the string
for your pains,” says Mr. Gresham, with pleasing liberality. “Thank
you, sir,” replies Ben, with more effusion than I think he feels. “What
an excellent whipcord it is!” And so, pocketing his fee, it wins for
him, as we all know, the prize at Lady Diana Sweepstake’s great archery
contest, while poor Hal forfeits his shot, and loses his hat, and gets
covered with mud and disgrace, and sprains his little cousin Patty’s
ankle, and all because he has been rash enough to cut his piece of
cord. Never was moral more sternly pointed, not even in the case of
Miss Jane Taylor’s heedless little Emily, who will not stoop to pick up
a pin, and is punished by the loss of a whole day’s pleasure, because,
owing to some unexplained intricacy of her toilet,--

              “She could not stir,
    For just a pin to finish her.”

But was whipcord such a costly article in Miss Edgeworth’s time, that
a small piece of it was worth so much trouble and pains? We have Hal’s
testimony that twice as much could have been bought for twopence;
and though Hal is but a graceless young scamp, who cannot be induced
to look upon twopence with becoming reverence, and who plainly has a
career of want and misery before him, yet his word on this matter may
be accepted as final. At the present day, the value of a bit of string
saved by patient dexterity from the scissors is so infinitesimal that
the hoarding up of match stumps, after the fashion of a certain great
banker, would really seem the quicker road to wealth. But the true gain
in these minute economies is of a strictly moral nature, and serves,
when we know we have been extravagant, to balance our account with
conscience. The least practical of us have some petty thrift dear to
our hearts, some one direction in which we love to scrimp. I have known
wealthy men who grudged themselves and their families nothing that
money could buy, yet were made perfectly miserable by the amount of gas
burned nightly in their homes. They roamed around with manifest and
pitiful uneasiness, stealthily turning down a burner here and there,
whenever they could do so unperceived, dimming the glories of their
glass and gilding, and reducing upper halls and familiar stairways into
very pitfalls for the stumbling of the unwary. The advent of lamps has
brought but scant solace to these sufferers, for their economy is, in
fact, much older than the gas itself, and flourished exceedingly in the
days of wax tapers and tallow-dips. We read in the veracious chronicles
of “Cranford” how Miss Matty Jenkyns, so thoughtlessly generous in
all other matters, had for her one pet frugality the hoarding of her
candles, and by how many intricate devices the dear old lady sought to
cherish and protect these objects of her tender solicitude.

“They (the candles) were usually brought in with tea, but we only
burned one at a time. As we lived in constant preparation for a friend
who might come in any moment (but who never did), it required some
contrivance to keep them of the same length, ready to be lighted,
and to look as if we burned two always. They took it in turns, and,
whatever we might be talking about or doing, Miss Matty’s eyes were
habitually fixed upon the candle, ready to jump up and extinguish it,
and to light the other, before they had become too uneven in length to
be restored to equality in the course of the evening.”

This little scene of innocent deception is finer, in its way, than the
famous newspaper paths on which Miss Deborah’s guests step lightly
over her new carpet to their respective chairs. We sympathize with
Miss Matty’s anxiety about her tapers because it represents one phase
of a weakness common to all mankind, and far remote, we trust, from
mere vulgar parsimony, which, seeking to stint in all things, is, by
its very nature, incapable of a nice spirit of selection. Even the
narrator of “Cranford,” that shadowy, indistinguishable Mary Smith, who
contrives so cleverly to keep her own identity in the background,--even
she consents to emerge one moment from her chosen dimness, and to
claim a share in this highly discriminating economy. String, she
acknowledges, is her foible. Like the excellent Mr. Gresham, she would
preserve it from destruction at the most liberal expenditure of other
people’s time and trouble. “My pockets,” she confesses, “get full of
little hanks of it, picked up and twisted together, ready for uses that
never come. I am seriously annoyed if any one cuts the string of a
parcel instead of patiently and faithfully undoing it fold by fold. How
people can bring themselves to use India-rubber rings, which are a sort
of deification of string, as lightly as they do, I cannot imagine. To
me an India-rubber ring is a precious treasure. I have one which is not
new; one that I picked up off the floor six years ago. I have really
tried to use it, but my heart failed me, and I could not commit the
extravagance.”

It would be a pity to spoil this vivacious description by a touch of
odious modern realism, and to hint that an India-rubber ring which had
knocked about the world for six years must have parted with much of its
youthful elasticity, and would be of comparatively little use to any
one.

Illustrious examples are not lacking to give dignity and weight to
these seemingly trivial frugalities. The great, and wise, and mean
Duke of Marlborough, he who held the fate of Europe in his hands,
and who was, without doubt, the first of English-speaking generals,
did not disdain to bend his mighty mind to the contemplation of his
candle-ends, or to the tender protection of his luggage. Who understood
so well as he how to spend a thousand pounds, and save a shilling? When
Prince Eugene came to a conference in his tent, the duke’s servant,
anxious no doubt for an ostentatious display, had the temerity to light
four wax tapers in honor of the royal guest, which, when Marlborough
perceived, he promptly extinguished, rating the unlucky attendant
with such caustic severity that the offense ran little likelihood of
being soon repeated. While the great pile of Blenheim was absorbing
countless thousands in its slow process of erection, the duke walked
every morning from the public rooms at Bath to his own lodging,
thereby saving sixpence daily, and affording a shining model to those
whose favorite economy is cab-hire. He walked to the very end, this
consistent old warrior; walked while the pangs of illness were creeping
over his disabled frame; and at last, when he could save no more
sixpences, he died, and left nearly two million pounds to be squandered
briskly by his heirs.

His wife, too, the beautiful, brilliant, high-tempered Duchess Sarah,
was every bit as thrifty as her lord. She built the triumphal arch of
Blenheim at her own expense, and wrangled mightily all the while over
the price of lime, “sevenpence half-penny per bushel, when it could
be made in the park.” She was the richest peeress in England, but her
keen blue eyes, as fiery as Marlborough’s own, were ever awake to any
attempted depredation. Her dressmaker, one Mrs. Buda, essayed, not
knowing with whom she had to deal, to hold back from her some yards of
cloth; whereupon the duchess borrowed Mrs. Buda’s diamond ring “for a
pattern,” and refused to give it up until the stuff was returned. She
understood also the admirable art of utilizing her friends, and there
is a delightful letter written by her to Lord Stair, then minister at
France, commissioning him to buy her a night-gown, or more properly a
dressing-gown, “easy and warm, with a light silk wadd in it, such as
are used to come out of bed and gird round, without any train at all,
but very full. ’Tis no matter what color, except pink or yellow--no
gold or silver in it; but some pretty striped satin or damask, lined
with a tafetty of the same color.” She also desires for her daughter,
Lady Harriet, then a child of thirteen, “a monto and petticoat to go
abroad in, no silver or gold in it, nor a stuff that is dear, but a
middling one that may be worn either in winter or in summer.” The canny
duchess prudently adds that she will wait for the things until “no
one need be troubled with the custom-house people,” a euphuism worthy
of an American conscience, and she thanks Lord Stair at the same time
for sending her “a pair of bodyes,” which were so well-fitting, and
evidently so cheap, that she will have two more pairs of “white tabby
from the same taylor.” Fancy asking a foreign minister to purchase
one’s stays, and wrappers, and little daughter’s petticoats, and to
please wait his opportunity to smuggle them in without duty!

Yet “Queen Sarah” was capable of sudden deeds of generosity that
quite take away our breath by their magnificence, and so, for the
matter of that, was another noble termagant, Queen Elizabeth, who gave
away right royally with one hand, even while she held out the other
for beggarly gratuities. We see her heaping riches into Sir Walter
Raleigh’s lap, and managing to get a great deal of it back again, when
his treasure-laden ships came slowly to port. Nay, did she not seize
on “a waistcoat of carnation colour, curiously embroidered,” which
the brave navigator, always passionately addicted to fine clothes,
had snatched from some Spanish galleon for the adornment of his own
handsome figure, and which the queen straightway proceeded to flaunt as
a stomacher before his injured eyes? If we read a list of Elizabeth’s
New Year gifts, we are both astonished and edified by their number
and variety. Here is Fulke Greville presenting his sovereign with a
night-dress; not a wrapper this time, but a genuine night-dress, “made
of cambric, wrought about the collar and sleeves with Spanish work of
roses and _letters_, and a night-coif with a forehead-cloth of the
same work.” And here is Mrs. Carre offering her majesty an embroidered
cambric sheet; and Dr. Bayly, one of the court physicians, arriving
brisk and early with a pot of green ginger under his arm; and Mrs. Amy
Shelton with six handkerchiefs all edged with gold and silver braid;
and Sir Philip Sidney with a most beautiful cambric smock, “and a suite
of ruffs of cut-work, flourished with gold and silver, and set with
spangles containing four ounces of gold.” And here, best of all, are
several gentlemen of rank, who, being unacquainted with the intricacies
of the female toilet, feel afraid to venture upon smocks, and ruffs,
and night-dresses, so solve their dilemma by plumply handing down ten
pounds apiece, a practical donation which the virgin monarch accepts
with all possible alacrity and good-will.

Elizabeth, moreover, was known to be a costly and often a sadly
unremunerative guest when it pleased her to visit her loyal people.
There is a letter written by the Earl of Bedford to Lord Burleigh that
is positively pathetic in its apprehension of the impending honor. “I
trust truly,” says the expectant host, “that your lordship will have
in remembrance to provide and help that her majesty’s tarrying be not
above two nights and a day, for so long time do I prepare.” As it was
one of the queen’s whims to give scant warning of her coming, the
unfortunate gentlemen suddenly called upon to harbor their sovereign
and her suite often found themselves at their wits’ end for food and
entertainment; and not unfrequently it happened that, after days
of ruinous expenditure, they had the satisfaction of seeing their
prospects as blighted as their larders. Lord Henry Berkely lamenting
the loss of his good red deer, twenty-seven of which were slain in one
day--in their owner’s absence, be it noted--for Elizabeth’s diversion,
was at least a happier man than the luckless young Rookwood of Euston
Hall, whom her majesty requited for his hospitality by cruel insult and
imprisonment. Even King John, who has come down to us in history as the
least profitable of royal guests, could not well do worse than this,
though his visits, being occasionally of longer duration, were just so
much harder to be borne. In the chronicles of Jocelin of Brakelond, we
read how once the king came with a large retinue to the convent of St.
Edmundsbury, and stayed there for two whole weeks, eating up the monk’s
provisions at a fearful rate, emptying the cellars of their choicest
wines, and making, no doubt, what with drunken, swearing soldiers and
insolent court parasites, sad riot and confusion within those peaceful
walls. At last, however, the weary fortnight was over, and the guests
stood marshaled to depart; but not before his gracious majesty had made
offering, as guerdon for two weeks’ entertainment, of a silk cloak
to cover St. Edmund’s shrine, which same cloak was promptly borrowed
back again by one of the royal train, and the monks beheld it no more.
In addition to this elusive legacy, which left the shrine as bare as
it found it, Jocelin records that the monarch, ere he rode forth,
presented the convent with the handsome sum of thirteen pence, in
consideration of a mass being said for his soul, which sorely needed
all the spiritual aliment the good monks could furnish it. We can
fancy Abbot Samson standing at his monastery door, and regarding those
thirteen pence very much as the Genoese consul must have regarded the
Duke of Kingston’s old spectacles, which the dowager duchess tendered
him in return for his hospitality; or as Commodore Barnet regarded the
paste emerald ring with which Lady Mary Wortley Montagu gracefully
acknowledged the valuable services of his man-of-war.

“Lady Mary’s avarice seems to have been generally credited at the time,
though we have no proofs of it,” says one of her recent biographers,
who is disposed, and rightly, to put scant faith in Walpole’s malicious
jibes. But if the story of the ring be a true one, she can hardly be
acquitted of amazing thrift, and of a still more amazing assurance. It
is said that the gallant commodore, never doubting the worth of her
token, was wont to show it with some ostentation to his friends, until
one of them, who knew the lady well, stoutly maintained that if the
stone were genuine she would never have parted with it, and a closer
inspection proved the melancholy accuracy of his suspicions. As for
much of her so-called greed, it was not without solid justification.
If she drove a hard bargain with Mr. Wortley, stipulating most
unromantically for her marriage settlement before she ran away with
him, be it remembered that upon this auspicious occasion she was
compelled to act as her own guardian; and if she had an inexplicable
fancy for wearing her old clothes, the dimity petticoat, and the gray
stockings, and the faded green brocade riding-jacket which so deeply
offended Walpole’s fastidious eyes, let us deal charitably with a fault
in which she has but few feminine successors. Those were times when
fashions had not yet learned to change with such chameleon-like speed,
and people did occasionally wear their old clothes with an unblushing
effrontery that would be well-nigh disgraceful to-day. Silks and
satins, laces and furbelows, were all of the costliest description,
and their owners were chary of discarding them, or even of lightly
exposing them to ruin. Emile Souvestre’s languid lady, who proves the
purity of her blood, somewhat after the manner of the princess and
the rose leaf, by supercilious indifference to the fate of her velvet
mantle in a snowstorm, could hardly have existed a few hundred years
ago. We have in Pepys’s diary a most amusing record of his disgust at
being over-persuaded by his wife to wear his best suit on a certain
threatening May Day, and how of course it rained, and all their
pleasure was spoiled. The guilty Eve was quite as unfortunate as her
husband, for she too had gone forth “extraordinary fine in her flowered
tabby gown,” which we are greatly relieved to learn a little later was
two years old, but smartly renovated with brand-new lacings. Only fancy
being so careful of a two-year gown as to begrudge it to the sight of
court and commoners on May Day!

The same frugal spirit extended down to the last century, and was of
infinite value to the self-respecting poor. Artisans had not yet found
it imperative to dress their wives and children in imitation finery,
and farmers were even less awake to the exigencies of fashionable
attire. We read of rural couples placidly wearing their wedding clothes
into their advanced old age, and we are lost in hopeless speculation as
to how they accommodated their spreading proportions to the coats and
gowns which presumably had fitted the comparative slimness of their
youth. With what patient ingenuity did the good dames of Miss Mitford’s
village, aided occasionally by an itinerant tailoress, turn and return
their husbands’ cast-off clothing, until, from seeming ruin, they had
evolved sound garments for their growing boys; and with what pardonable
pride did the strutting youngsters exhibit on the village streets
these baggy specimens of their mothers’ skill! Among the innumerable
anecdotes told of George III., it is said that, strolling once with
Queen Charlotte in the woods of Windsor, he met a little red-cheeked,
white-haired lad, who proved, on examination, to be the son of one of
his majesty’s beef-eaters. The gracious king, always well pleased with
children, patted the boy’s flaxen head, and bade him kneel and kiss
the queen’s hand, but this the sturdy young Briton declined flatly to
do; not, be it said, from any desire to emulate the examples of Penn
and Franklin, by illustrating on a minor scale the heroic principles
of democracy, but solely and entirely that he might not spoil his
new breeches by contact with the grass. So thrifty a monarch, says
Thackeray, should have hugged on the spot a child after his own heart;
and even if the royal favor failed to manifest itself in precisely
this fashion, I make no doubt that the beef-eater’s wife, who had
stitched those little breeches with motherly solicitude, found ample
comfort in such a judicious son.

Perhaps, indeed, he was a worthy scion of the race of Dodsons, with
whom it was an honorable tradition to preserve their best clothes, very
much as the inhabitants of Ceylon preserved their sacred Bo-trees, by
guarding them jealously from the desecrating touch of man. Who that
has ever had the happiness of reading “The Mill on the Floss” can
forget the dim seclusion of the shrouded room, where, far from the
madding crowd, reposes in dignified seclusion Mrs. Pullet’s new bonnet?
To go to see it is in itself a pilgrimage; to try it on, a solemn
ceremonial; what, then, must have been the profound emotions with which
it was actually worn! Little Maggie Tulliver, watching with breathless
interest while it is lifted reverently from the shrine, feels oppressed
with a sense of mystery, and is childishly indignant because no one
will tell her what it means. The Dodsons are all fond of fine raiment,
but not for the mere vulgar pleasure of self-adornment. Less favored
families may take a coarse delight in exhibiting their clothes, but
it remains for them to derive a higher gratification from keeping
them unseen. Even a third-best front is felt to be much too good for
a sister’s dinner party, while in the matter of frocks and trimmings
they are as adamant. “Other women, if they liked, might have their
best thread lace in every wash; but when Mrs. Glegg died, it would
be found that she had better lace laid by in the right-hand drawer
of her wardrobe in the spotted chamber, than ever Mrs. Wooll of St.
Ogg’s had bought in her life, although Mrs. Wooll wore her lace before
it was paid for.” Here, in a humble way, we have the same sentiment
that thrilled the heart of Elizabeth Petrovna, when she gazed at the
thousand and one gowns hanging up in the royal closets, and felt a true
womanly satisfaction in knowing they were there.

It is in fact a curious and edifying circumstance that the great
ones of this earth, if they must be held responsible for much of its
unwarranted luxury, have at the same time afforded us many shining
examples, not only of that general and indiscriminate parsimony which
induced old Frederic William, for instance, to feed his family on
pork and cabbage, but also of that more refined and esoteric species
of economy which it is our task to recognize and encourage. George
III. was frugal in all things, but his particular saving appears to
have been in carpets, for, summer or winter, he never permitted these
effeminate devices upon his bedroom floor. His great-grandfather,
George I., does not figure as an austere or self-denying character;
but he, too, stinted bravely in one direction,--the family wash. In
that beloved court of Hanover, which he exchanged so reluctantly for
the glories of St. James, there was evidently no lack of well-fed,
well-paid attendants. Looking down the list, we see seventy odd
postilions and stable-men, twenty cooks with six assistants,
seven “officers of the cellar,” twenty-four lackeys in livery,
sixteen trumpeters and fiddlers,--and only two washerwomen. Think
of it,--twenty-six people to cook, and only two to wash! “But one
half-pennyworth of bread to this intolerable deal of sack!” Yet the
chances are that, of all the officials in that snug, jolly, dirty
little Hanoverian court, those two washerwomen alone led comparatively
idle lives. When balanced with the arduous labors of the seven officers
of the cellar, I am convinced their position was a sinecure.

Of much the same temper as royal George was that great Earl of
Northumberland, whose expense-book, which may be consulted to-day,
gives us a delightful insight into some of the curious methods of
past housekeeping. Germany, be it confessed, has always been a trifle
backward in the matter of cleanliness, but England, until within the
last two centuries, was very nearly as conservative. Appalling stories
are told of the fine ladies and gentlemen who glittered in the courts
of the Tudors and Stuarts, and who, in their light-hearted indifference
to dirt, very nearly rivaled the prowess of the Spanish Isabella, when
she vowed away her clean linen until Ostend should fall, and gave the
honor of her name to that delicate yellow tint which her garments
assumed in the interval. The Earl of Northumberland, however, aspired
to no such uneasy asceticism. He was simply the model housekeeper of
his age. Every item of expenditure in his immense establishment was
rigorously defined, and no less rigorously overlooked. With his own
noble hands he wrote down the exact proportion of food, fuel, and
candles which each body of retainers was expected to consume; and while
the upper servants appear to have fared tolerably well, the commoner
sort enjoyed an unbroken monotony of salt meat, black bread, and beer.
But it is in the matter of tablecloths that his grace chiefly excelled,
and that he merits an honorable mention in the ranks of esoteric
parsimony. For his own needs, and for the service and pleasure of
his many guests,--and let us remember that he kept open house after
the hospitable fashion of his day,--eight of these valuable articles
were deemed amply sufficient; while in the servants’ hall one cloth a
month was the allowance. Granted, if you please, that in this rather
effeminate age we have grown unduly fastidious about such trivialities;
yet who, looking back through the long vista of years, can contemplate
without a shudder the condition of that tablecloth when its month’s
servitude was over?

It is easier, however, to jeer at the honorable efforts of mankind
than to arrange our own economies on a strictly satisfactory basis.
Beyond a rational and healthy impulse to save on others rather than on
ourselves, few of us can boast of much enlightenment in the matter,
and even our one unerring guide is, in a measure, neutralized by the
consistent determination of others to exert their own saving powers on
us. The out-and-out miser is at best a creature of little penetration.
He cheats himself sorely throughout life, and gains a sort of shabby
posthumous distinction only when he is long past enjoying it. The
true economist is, if we may believe Mrs. Oliphant, a _rara avis_,
as exceptional in his way as the true genius. She endeavors, indeed,
with much humility, to describe for us such a character in “The Curate
in Charge;” but, while laying all possible stress on Mrs. St. John’s
extraordinary proficiency, she does not for a moment venture to hint
at the secret of her power. “I don’t pretend to know how she did it,”
confesses this discriminating authoress, “any more than I can tell you
how Shakespeare wrote ‘Hamlet.’ It was quite easy to him and to her,
but if one knew how, one would be as great a poet as he was, as great
an economist as she.” This is a degree of perfection to which we may
not well aspire. Shakespeare and Mrs. St. John lie equally beyond our
humble imitation. We do not even feel ambitious of such excellence, but
cherish the more contentedly those few finely selected frugalities,
those car-fares and match-stumps, those postage stamps and half sheets
of paper, those dimly-lighted rooms and evaded custom-house duties,
which, while they may not leave us much richer at the year’s end,
have yet a distinct ethical value of their own, and, breathing an
indescribable air of conscious rectitude, serve to keep us in harmony
with ourselves.



SCANDERBEG.


Clio is the most shamelessly unreliable of the Muses. She selects her
favorites with the autocratic partiality of the Russian Catherine,
decorates them with questionable honors, enriches them with other
people’s spoils, admires them to her heart’s content, and thrusts
them serenely to the front to receive the approbation of the world.
Occasionally she wearies of one or the other, and flings him lightly
down from the pedestal he has adorned so bravely. Occasionally,
having a fine feminine sense of humor, she is pleased to play with
our credulity, and, dressing up a man of straw, she assures us
smilingly that he is real flesh and blood, and worthy of our sincerest
admiration. And all this while, her best and noblest meet with stiffly
measured praise, and her strong sons are passed indifferently by. It
is at least amusing to think of the relative positions occupied by the
true mountaineer Scanderbeg, and the mythical mountaineer William Tell.
The one sleeps unremembered with scanty, hard-won fame; the other
carries such a weight of laurels that poets, wearied with singing his
praises, have been driven in despair to sing the praises of those who
praise him, as Coleridge piped to the Duchess of Devonshire,--

    “Splendor’s fondly fostered child,”

because, in a moment of mild enthusiasm, she addressed some well-meant
but highly inefficient verses to the platform from which Tell did not
shoot the tyrant Gessler.

If the heroic struggle for a national life is at all times the most
engrossing picture the world’s history has to show us, where shall
we look for a more vivid illustration of the theme than in the long
and bitter contest between cross and crescent, between the steady,
relentless encroachment of the Turkoman power, and the vain and
dauntless courage which opposed it? The story of the early Ottomans
is one of wasteful and inexorable conquest, unrelieved by any touches
of humanity, or any impulses towards a higher civilization. To the
ferocious and impetuous pride of the barbarian they added an almost
inconceivable wariness and patience; they knew when to wait and
when to strike; they were never unduly elated by victory, and never
demoralized by defeat. That strange dream of their founder Othman which
won for him his Cilician wife, the mysterious vision of the full moon
resting in his bosom, and of the stately tree that sprang therefrom,
must have dimly hinted to the savage chief of the glory that was to
be. When in his sleep he placed Constantinople as a jewel upon his
swarthy finger, he felt the coming of shrouded things, and, believing
the prophecy would be fulfilled in his descendant, he saluted his bride
as the mother of a mighty race of kings. It was this firm conviction of
future greatness which made him seek for his son Orchan a fairer and
nobler wife than could be found in the black tents of his followers;
and, true to the instincts of his race, he despoiled an enemy to enrich
his own hearth. A Greek captain, in command of the castle of Belecoma,
was betrothed to the beautiful daughter of a neighboring Christian
chief. On their marriage night Othman surprised the wedding party as
they rode through the dark mountain passes. The short and desperate
conflict which ensued could have but one bitter ending. “The bridegroom
was slain, and his Greek bride, the Lotus-flower of Brusa, was swept
off by the Turkoman robbers to their lair, to become the spouse of
their leader’s son.”[4]

    [4] _The Early Ottomans_, by Dean Church.

Orchan was a mere boy when he received this ravished prize, the fair
booty of a barbarous strife. Fifty years later, when hair and beard
were white with age, he married again; and this time his bride was
the daughter of a Christian emperor, not stolen away from friends
and kindred, but given to him publicly with superb ceremonies, and a
ghastly mockery of rejoicing. In fifty years the Ottoman power had
grown into such fierce and sinister lustihood that Theodora, daughter
of the Emperor Cantacuzene, was assigned as a precious hostage and
seal of friendship between her father and his dreaded Turkish ally.
The church refused her blessing to this unholy sacrifice, and, amid
the pomp and majesty of imperial nuptials, there was lacking even
the outward form of Christian marriage. From that date the tide of
Turkish conquest spread with devastating rapidity. The impetuous
encroachments of Orchan, the steady and irresistible advances of
Amurath, became under Bajazet a struggle for life and death, not
with the enfeebled powers of Greece, but with a rival conqueror who
had swept from the broad Tartar steppes to subdue and lay waste the
Eastern world. Eight dynasties had already been destroyed, eight
crowned heads had been laid low, when Timour, grimly ready for a
ninth victim, encountered the hitherto invincible sultan. They met,
and Bajazet, who had seen the flower of French and German chivalry
perish at his command, who had sat at his tent-door to witness the
day-long massacre of Christian prisoners, and who had shadowed the
very walls of Constantinople,--Bajazet was crushed like a worm by the
lame, white-haired old Tartar, and, eating out his heart with dull
fury, died in shameful captivity. But his race survived, vigorous,
elastic, defiant, and renewed its strength with amazing swiftness under
Mahommed the Restorer and Amurath the Second, whose reign was one long
conflict with the Greek Emperor Manuel, with Sigismund of Hungary, and,
hardest of all to subdue, with those warlike Sclavonic tribes who,
often defeated but never conquered, maintained with superb courage the
freedom of their mountain fastnesses. It was an unknown Servian soldier
who slew Amurath the First in the very moment of his triumph; it was
the Albanian chief Scanderbeg who repulsed Amurath the Second, and
hurled him back to die, shamed and heart-broken, at Adrianople.

Pride of race, love for his native land, shame at prolonged captivity,
and fury at heaped-up wrongs,--all these conflicting passions united
themselves in the breast of this implacable warrior, and urged
him relentlessly along his appointed path. He was the outcome of
that ruthless policy by which the Turks turned the children of the
cross into defenders of the crescent, a policy pursued with almost
undeviating success since Black Halil, a century and a half before, had
urged the training of Christian boys into a school of Moslem soldiers.
What gives to the history of Scanderbeg its peculiar significance, and
its peculiar ethical and artistic value is the fact that he avenged,
not only his own injuries, but the injuries of countless children
who, for over a hundred and fifty years, had been snatched from
their homes, families, and faith to swell the ranks of an infidel
foe. Wherever the tide of Ottoman battle raged most fiercely, there,
savage, dark, invincible, stood the Janissaries, men suckled on
Christian breasts and signed with Christian baptism, now flinging away
their lives for an alien cause and an alien creed, fighting with the
irresistible courage of fanaticism against their birthright and their
kindred. Never before or since, in the history of all the nations, has
a system of proselytizing been attended with such tremendous results.
The life-blood of Christendom was drained to supply fresh triumphs for
its enemies, and the rigorous discipline of a monastic training moulded
these innocent young captives into a soldiery whose every thought and
every action was subordinate to one overpowering influence, an austere,
unquestioning obedience to the cause of Islam.

With the example of this extraordinary success always before their
eyes, it is little wonder that the Turks regarded the children of the
vanquished as so many docile instruments to be fashioned by rigid
tutelage into faithful followers of the Prophet, and the first step
towards this desired goal lay in their early adoption of the Mohammedan
faith. No pang of pity, no sentiment of honor, interfered with this
relentless purpose. When John Castriota, the hereditary lord of Croia,
yielded up his four sons as hostages to Amurath the Second, he relied
on the abundant promises made him by that sovereign, who had, on the
whole, a fair reputation for keeping his royal word. The lads were
carried to Adrianople and reared in the sultan’s palace, where one
at least of the little prisoners attracted dangerous notice by his
vivacity and grace,--inheritances, it is said, from his beautiful
mother, Voisava. The fair-haired boy, then only eight years old, became
first the plaything of the seraglio, and afterwards the jealously
guarded favorite of Amurath himself. He was carefully taught, and was
forced to conform to the ceremonial rites of the Ottomans, and to make
an open profession of his new creed, receiving on this occasion the
name of Scanderbeg, a name destined to carry with it a just retribution
in the universal terror it excited. How much of Christian belief still
lingered in the child’s soul, or how much he gained afterwards from
the Albanian soldiers who had access to him, it is impossible to
say. Young as he was, he had learned, amid the unutterable treachery
and corruption of an Eastern court, to hide his emotions under an
impenetrable mask, so that even Amurath, cruel, wily, and suspicious,
found himself baffled by this Greek boy, whose handsome face betrayed
to none the impetuous anger that consumed him. At nineteen he had
command of five thousand horsemen, and enjoyed the title of pasha, a
barren honor for one soon to be robbed of his birthright. After the
close of the Hungarian war John Castriota died, and Amurath, ignoring
his plighted faith, seized Croia in the name of the captive princes,
ruthlessly extinguished its civil and religious liberties, turned the
churches into mosques, and treated the whole country as a defeated
and dependent province. Scanderbeg’s three brothers were conveniently
removed by poison; he himself, the object of a curious affection on the
sultan’s part, was watched with jealous and exacting eyes, and for a
while it seemed as though the free-born mountain chief would add one
more to the long list of Turkish proselytes and favorites, silenced
with doubtful titles, bought with dishonorable wealth.

But it was a time of waiting, a time ominous with delay. The heir of
Croia, mute, patient, and resolved, bided with steady self-control
the hour when he could strike a single blow for faith and freedom.
It came with the breaking out of fresh Hungarian troubles: with the
defiance sent by John Hunyadi and his forces drawn up on the banks
of the Moravia. While the Ottoman armies were engaged in this most
disastrous conflict, Scanderbeg threw off his long-endured disguise,
possessed himself by an unscrupulous device of his native city, and
put all who opposed him to the sword. From that day until his death,
forty years later, the record of his life is one perpetual heroic
struggle to preserve the hard-won liberty of Epeiros, a struggle
without intermission or relief, without rest for the victor or pity
for the vanquished. His scornful indifference to pressing dangers was
in itself the best of tonics to a people naturally brave, but taught
by bitter experience to fear the inexorable Turkish yoke. Scanderbeg
feared nothing; with him, indeed, fear was swallowed up in hatred.
He understood perfectly the nature of the warfare in which he was
engaged; he knew that, with adroitness and vigilance, every dark pass
and every rocky crag became his friend and ally. He knew, too, the
slender resources of the country, and never committed the mistake of
taking more men into the field than he could manage and support. When
Amurath sent an army of forty thousand soldiers to punish Croia, and
bring back the rebel chief “alive or dead” to Adrianople, Scanderbeg
limited his own forces to seven thousand foot and eight thousand horse,
when he might, had he chosen, have trebled that number. With this
compact body of picked and hardy warriors he lay in wait for the enemy,
entrapped them by a feigned retreat into a narrow defile, and, hemming
them in on either side, filled up the valley with their slain. Over
twenty thousand Turks perished in that dreadful snare, many of them
being trampled down by their helpless and panic-stricken countrymen.
It was Scanderbeg’s first decisive victory, and a grim warning to
Amurath of the possibilities that awaited him in the future. It gave to
Croia a breathing spell, and to its victorious army the rich spoils
of an Ottoman camp, so that those who had gone forth meagrely on foot
returned well armed and bravely mounted to their rock-built citadel.

Had this sudden and bewildering success been followed up by a vigorous
aggressive warfare on the part of Servia, Hungary, and Poland, then
all in arms against their common foe; had the allied powers listened
to the mountain chiefs, or to the burning remonstrances of Cardinal
Julian, the pope’s legate, the Turks might have been driven forcibly
back from Europe, and long centuries of suffering and dishonor spared
to Christendom. But the lord of Servia, George Brankovich, yearned for
his children whom Amurath held as hostages; Ladislaw, king of Hungary
and Poland, was weary of the perpetual strife; even Hunyadi’s fiery
voice was silenced; and a treaty of peace was signed with an enemy who
might then, and then only, have been crushed. This treaty, shameful in
itself, was still more shamefully broken in the following year, when
the Christian hosts again took the field, only to be utterly routed
in the terrible battle of St. Martin’s Eve. Never was disaster more
complete: Ladislaw’s severed head, borne on a pike over the Ottoman
ranks, struck terror and despair into the hearts of his followers;
Hunyadi, after a vain, furious effort to redeem this ghastly symbol of
defeat, fled from a field red with his countrymen’s blood; the papal
legate and two Hungarian bishops perished in the thickest of the fray.
It was the beginning of the end, and four years later the cause of
Christendom received its deathblow at Kossova, when Hunyadi, beaten
finally back from Servia, was taught by the bitterness of defeat that
his name no longer sounded ominously, as of old, in the ears of his
Moslem foe. Only Scanderbeg remained unsubdued amid his mountain peaks,
and Amurath, flushed with conquest, now turned his whole attention to
the final punishment of this audacious rebel.

The scale on which the invasion of Croia was planned shows in itself
how deep-seated was the sultan’s anger, and how relentless his purpose.
One hundred and sixty thousand men were assembled in Adrianople, the
ablest generals were united in command, and Mohammed, his savage son
and successor, accompanied the expedition, filled with fierce hopes
of vengeance. Resistance seemed almost vain, but Scanderbeg, in no way
disturbed by the coming storm, prepared with characteristic coolness to
meet it at every point. He ordered all who dwelt in the open country
or in unprotected villages to destroy their harvests and to quit their
homes, so that the enemy might find no resources in the scorched and
deserted fields. The women and children, the aged and infirm, were sent
either to the sea-coast or out of the kingdom, many of them as far away
as Venice. The fortifications of Croia were repaired; the garrison
was strengthened and put under command of a brave and able governor,
and Scanderbeg himself, with only ten thousand men, took the field,
ready to waylay and harass Amurath at every step of his difficult and
dangerous march. The first severe fighting was done before the walls
of Setigrade, a strongly guarded town which made a gallant resistance,
repulsing the Turks again and again, and only yielding when a traitor,
bought by the sultan’s gold, poisoned the fountains which supplied the
city with water. From this point the invading army marched on to Croia,
covered the surrounding plains, planted their cannon--then an imposing
novelty in warfare--before its massive gates, and summoned the garrison
to surrender. A defiant refusal was returned; the Ottomans stormed
the walls, and were repulsed with such fury that over eight thousand
Janissaries perished in the combat, while Scanderbeg, poised like an
eagle on the cliffs, waited until the battle was at its height, and
then sweeping down on the unconscious foe, forced their trenches, fired
the camp, and drove all before him with terrible havoc and slaughter.
By the time Mohammed could rally his scattered forces, the Epeirots
were off and away, with little scathe or damage to themselves; and this
exasperating method of attack was the weapon with which the mountain
chief finally wore out the courage and endurance of the invaders. Every
inch of ground was familiar to him, and a snare to his enemies. Did
Mohammed, burning with rage, scale the hills in pursuit, a handful of
men held him at bay; while Scanderbeg, appearing as if by magic on the
other side of the camp, chose this propitious moment for an attack. By
day or night he gave the enemy no truce, no respite, no quarter. Two
hours out of the twenty-four he slept, and all the rest he spent in
unceasing, unwearying, unpitying warfare; until the Turks, harassed by
a danger ever present but never visible, lost heart and trembled before
the breathless energy of their foe. They were beginning also to suffer
from a scarcity of provisions, and Scanderbeg took excellent care
that this trouble should not be too speedily relieved. The supplies,
brought at an immense cost from Desia, were intercepted and carried off
triumphantly to the hills, and the unhappy Ottomans, starved in camp
and slaughtered out of it, realized with ever-increasing dismay the
unenviable nature of their position.

It must be admitted, in justice to the Epeirots, that the success
of Scanderbeg’s manœuvres rested exclusively on their absolute and
unquestioned fidelity. Swift and sure information was brought him of
every movement on the enemy’s part, and vigilant eyes kept watch over
every rocky pass that gave access to his haunts. For once Amurath’s
gold was powerless to buy a single traitor, and the systematic perfidy
by which the Turks were accustomed to steal what they could not grasp
failed for once of its prey. After a fruitless effort to undermine
the rock on which Croia was founded, the sultan sought to corrupt
first the governor and then the garrison with dazzling offers of
advancement, but all the wealth in Adrianople could not purchase one
poor Christian soldier. Baffled and heart-sick with repeated failure,
Amurath at last offered to raise the siege and depart, on payment of a
small yearly sum, a mere nominal tribute to salve his wounded pride.
Even this trifling concession was sternly refused by Scanderbeg, who
would yield nothing to his hated foe. Then for the first time the
sultan understood the relentless nature of this man whom he had petted
as a child and wronged as a boy, whom he had held a helpless hostage
in his hands, and who now defied him with unutterable aversion and
scorn. Abandoning himself to grief, fury, and despair, he tore his
white beard, and recalled his countless triumphs in the past, only to
compare them with this shameful overthrow. He who had seen the allied
powers of Christendom suing at his feet, to be humbled in his old age
by an insignificant Illyrian chieftain! The blow broke his proud heart,
and on his death-bed he conjured his son to avenge his name and honor.
Gladly Mohammed undertook the task, but the present was no time for
its fulfillment. The siege of Croia was raised, the dejected Moslem
army straggled homewards, cruelly harassed at every step by their
unwearied foe, and Scanderbeg once more entered his native city amid
the acclamations of a brave people, born again to freedom, and wild to
welcome their deliverer.

It is pleasant to think that, before being called a third time into
the field, even this indomitable fighter found a little leisure in
which to marry a wife, and to cultivate the arts of peace. Domestic
tranquillity ran but a slender chance of palling on its possessor
in those stirring days; but Scanderbeg made the most of his limited
opportunities. He carried his bride in triumph to every corner of his
little kingdom, he labored hard to restore those habits of thrift and
industry which perpetual warfare roots out of every nation, and he
wisely refrained from overtaxing the narrow resources of his people.
When his purse was empty, he looked to his enemies and not to his
friends for its replenishment; and that stout old adage, “The Turk’s
dominions are Scanderbeg’s revenues,” is a sufficient witness to his
admirable financiering. He realized fully that the legacy of hate
bequeathed by Amurath to Mohammed would bear bitter fruits in the hands
of that fierce and able monarch, and so employed every interval of
peace in strengthening himself for the struggle that was to follow.
Twice again during his lifetime was Epeiros invaded by the Ottomans;
and Scanderbeg, driven from his lair, was hunted like a deer from hill
to hill, now lying in covert, now fiercely resisting, but unconquered
always. Wily offers of friendship from the sultan were received with a
not unnatural suspicion, and courteously declined; hired assassins were
detected, and delivered up to a prompt and pitiless justice. For forty
years this Albanian soldier defended his mountain eyrie from a power
vast enough to destroy two empires, and cruel enough to make the whole
Eastern world tremble. Constantinople fell, while Croia stood unharmed.
The last news brought to Scanderbeg, as he lay dying at Lyssa, was that
the Turks had invaded the Venetian dominions. The feeble warrior raised
himself in bed, and called for his sword and armor. “Tell them,” he
gasped, “that I will be with them to-morrow,” and fell back fainting on
his pillows. On the morrow he was dead.



ENGLISH RAILWAY FICTION.


Sandwiches, oranges, and penny novelettes are the three great
requisites for English traveling,--for third-class traveling, at
least; and, of the three, the novelette is by far the most imperative,
a pleasant proof of how our intellectual needs outstrip our bodily
requirements. The clerks and artisans, shopgirls, dressmakers, and
milliners, who pour into London every morning by the early trains,
have, each and every one, a choice specimen of penny fiction with
which to beguile the short journey, and perhaps the few spare minutes
of a busy day. The workingman who slouches up and down the platform,
waiting for the moment of departure, is absorbed in some crumpled bit
of pink-covered romance. The girl who lounges opposite to us in the
carriage, and who would be a very pretty girl in any other conceivable
hat, sucks mysterious sticky lozenges, and reads a story called
“Mariage à la Mode, or Getting into Society,” which she subsequently
lends to me,--seeing, I think, the covetous looks I cast in its
direction,--and which I find gives as vivid and startling a picture of
high life as one could reasonably expect for a penny. Should I fail to
provide myself with one of these popular journals at the book-stall,
another chance is generally afforded me before the train moves off;
and I am startled out of a sleepy reverie by a small boy’s thrusting
“A Black Business” alarmingly into my face, while a second diminutive
lad on the platform holds out to me enticingly “Fettered for Life,”
“Neranya’s Revenge,” and “Ruby.” The last has on the cover an alluring
picture of a circus girl jumping through a hoop, which tempts me to
the rashness of a purchase, circus riders being my literary weakness.
I remember, myself, trying to write a story about one, when I was
fourteen, and experiencing great difficulty from a comprehensive and
all-embracing ignorance of my subject. It is but fair to the author of
“Ruby” to say that he was too practiced a workman to be disconcerted or
turned from his course by any such trivial disadvantage.

I should hardly like to confess how many coins of the realm I
dissipated before learning the melancholy truth, that the seductive
titles and cuts which form the _tours de force_ of penny fiction
bear but a feeble affinity to the tales themselves, which are like
vials of skimmed milk, labeled absinthe, but warranted to be wholly
without flavor. Mr. James Payn, who has written very amusingly about
the mysterious weekly journals which lie “thick as autumnal leaves
that strew the brooks in Vallombrosa” upon the counters of small,
dark shops, “in the company of cheap tobacco, hardbake, and, at the
proper season, valentines,” laments with frank asperity that he can
find in them neither dramatic interest, nor even impropriety. He has
searched them patiently for something wrong, and his quest has been
wholly unrewarded. Mr. Thomas Wright, in a paper published some years
ago in the “Nineteenth Century,” makes a similar complaint. The lovely
heroines of these stories are “virtuous even to insipidity,” and their
heroes are so blamably blameless as to be absolutely revolting. Yet
it has been my fate to encounter some very pretty villains in the
course of my penny readings, and at least one specimen of the sinful
gilded youth, who has “handsome blonde hair parted in the middle, a
discontented mustache, a pale face and apathetic expression.” This
scion of the aristocracy, I am grieved to say, keeps beautiful Jewesses
on board his sumptuous yacht, and otherwise misbehaves himself after
a fashion calculated to make his relatives and well-wishers more
discontented even than his mustache. He has a lovely sister, Alma, with
whom, we are assured, the Prince of Wales danced three times in one
night, “and was also heard to express his admiration of her looks and
her _esprit_ in some very emphatic superlatives, exciting a variety of
comment and criticism.” Naturally, and all the more naturally because
the fair Alma discreetly reserves her _esprit_ for royal ears and
royal commendation, and is exceedingly chary of revealing any of it
to interested readers, who are fain to know what kind of conversation
the Prince found so diverting. From the specimens presented to our
consideration, we are forced to conclude either that his Highness is
easily satisfied in the matter of _esprit_, or that he has an almost
superhuman power of detecting it when hidden from ordinary observation.

The wonderful dullness of penny fiction is not really due to the
absence of incidents, of vice, or even of dramatic situations, but to
the placidity with which these incidents or situations are presented
and received. How can we reasonably be expected to excite ourselves
over a catastrophe which makes little or no impression on the people
most deeply concerned in it? When Bonny Adair engages herself, with
guileless alacrity, to a man who has a wife already, the circumstance
is narrated with a coolness which hardly allows of a tremor. The wife
herself is not the hidden, mysterious, veiled creature with whom we
are all familiar; not an actress, or a ballet girl, or an adventuress;
but a highly respectable young lady, going into society, and drinking
tea with poor Bonny at afternoon receptions. This would seem like a
startling innovation, but as nobody else expresses any surprise at
the matter, why should we? Bonny herself, it is explained, put no
embarrassing questions to her suitor. “She was only a simple country
maid. She knew that he loved her, and that was all she cared for.”
Still, to drink tea amicably with the wife of her _prétendu_ is too
much even for a simple country maid; and when Bonny is formally
introduced to “Mrs. Alec Doyle,” she feels it time to withdraw from the
scene and become a hospital nurse, until a convenient accident in the
hunting-field removes the intrusive spouse, and reëstablishes her claim
to the husband.

The same well-bred indifference is revealed in a more sensational story
called “Elfrida’s Wooing,” where we have a villainous uncle foiled in
his base plots; a father supposed to be drowned, but turning up just at
the critical moment; a wicked lover baffled, a virtuous lover rewarded.
This sounds promising, but in reality everything is taken with such
wonderful calm that not a ripple of excitement breaks over the smooth
surface of the tale. There is even an abduction, which surely cannot be
an every-day occurrence in English clerical life,--I do not remember
anything like it in one of Trollope’s novels,--and by mistake the wrong
girl, the vicar’s daughter, is carried off by the rogues. But no matron
of feudal times could have betrayed less annoyance at the incident than
does the vicar’s wife. “Rupert,” she remarks placidly to her son, “it
is your place to go and look for your sister.” “Where shall I go?” is
the brother’s languid query. To which his mother retorts, with some
fretfulness: “How can I tell you? If I knew, I should be able to send
for her myself,”--a very simple and a very sensible way of stating the
case; but it sounds as if the pet dog, rather than the only daughter of
the family, had been spirited suddenly away.

The most striking instance, however, of that repose of mien which
stamps the caste of penny-fiction characters I found in a delightful
little romance entitled “Golden Chains,” where the heroine marries the
villain to oblige a friend, and is rewarded for her amiability by being
imprisoned in a ruined castle, situated vaguely “on a lonely hillside
looking down upon the blue Mediterranean.” Apparently, nothing can be
easier than to dispose of superfluous wives in this particular locality
of Italy, for no impertinent questions are asked; and Ernestine,
proving intractable, is left by her husband, Captain Beamish, an
English officer of a type not yet elucidated by Rudyard Kipling, to
starve quietly in her dungeon. She is prevented from fulfilling this
agreeable destiny by the accidental drowning of the captain, and the
accidental arrival of her lover,--the virtuous hero,--who is traveling
providentially in the south of Europe, and who has a taste for
exploring ruins. This gentlemanly instinct leads to the discovery of
his beloved in a comatose condition, “but beautiful still,” though “her
youthful roundness was gone forever.” Surely now, the reader thinks,
there will be a scene of transport, of fierce wrath, of mingled agony
and rapture. Nothing of the sort. Linden merely “lifts the fair head
upon his arm,” and administers a dose of brandy. Then, as Ernestine’s
eyes open, he murmurs, “‘Dearest, do you know me?’ ‘Yes,’ she faintly
answered. ‘All is well, Nessa. You have been cruelly used, but all is
well. You are safe with me. Tell me, dear one, you are glad to see me.’”

If she were not glad to see him, under the circumstances, it would
indicate an extraordinary indifference, not so much to love as to life;
and the modesty which, in such a case, could doubt a hearty welcome
seems like an exaggerated emotion. But the hero of penny fiction is
the least arrogant of mortals. He worships from afar, and expresses
his affection in language which at times is almost obsequious in its
timidity. He is never passionate, never exultant, never the least bit
foolish, and never for a single moment relapses into humanity. Yet
millions of people believe in him, love him, cherish him, and hail his
weekly reappearance with sincere and unwearied applause.

The Unknown Public, that huge body of readers who meddle not with
Ruskin, nor with Browning, nor with Herbert Spencer, who have no
acquaintance with George Eliot, and to whom even Thackeray and
Scott are as recondite as George Meredith and Walter Pater, has
been an object of interest and curiosity to its neighbor, the Known
Public, ever since Wilkie Collins formally introduced it into good
society, more than thirty years ago. This interest is mingled with
philanthropy, and is apt to be a little didactic in the expression of
its regard. Wilkie Collins, indeed, after the easy-going fashion of
his generation, was content to take the Unknown Public as he found it,
and to wonder vaguely whether the same man wrote all the stories that
were so fearfully and wonderfully alike: “a combination of fierce
melodrama and meek domestic sentiment; short dialogues and paragraphs
on the French pattern, with English moral reflections of the sort
that occur on the top lines of children’s copybooks; descriptions and
conversations for the beginning of the number, and a ‘strong situation’
dragged in by the neck and shoulders for the end.” It was in the
Answers to Correspondents, however, that the distinguished novelist
confesses he took the keenest delight,--in the punctilious reader, who
is anxious to know the correct hour at which to visit a newly married
couple; in the practical reader, who asks how to make crumpets and
liquid blacking; in the sentimental reader, who has received presents
from a gentleman to whom she is not engaged, and desires the editor’s
sanction for the deed; in the timorous reader, who is afraid of a
French invasion and of dragonflies. The scraps of editorial wisdom
doled out to these benighted beings were, in Wilkie Collins’s opinion,
well worth the journal’s modest price. He was rejoiced to know that
“a sensible and honorable man never flirts himself, and ever despises
flirts of the other sex.” He was still more pleased to be told, “When
you have a sad trick of blushing, on being introduced to a young lady,
and when you want to correct the habit, summon to your aid a serene and
manly confidence.”

Members of the Known Public who explore the wilds and deeps of penny
fiction to-day are less satisfied with what they see, less flippant
in their methods of criticism, and less disposed to permit mankind to
be amused after its own dull fashion. “Let us raise the tone of these
popular journals,” is their cry, “and we shall soon have millions
of readers taking rational delight in wholesome literature. Let us
publish good stories at a penny apiece,--in fact, it is our plain duty
to do so,--and these millions of readers will, with grateful hearts,
rise up and call us blessed.” To which Mr. Payn responds mirthfully
that the Unknown Public is every whit as sure of what it wants as
the Known Public that aspires to teach it, and perhaps even a little
surer. “The Count of Monte Cristo,” “The Wandering Jew,” “Ivanhoe,”
and “White Lies” were all offered in turn at a penny apiece, and were
in turn rejected. That it does occasionally accept better fiction, if
it can get it cheap, we have the word of Mr. Wright, who claims to
have been for years a member of this mysterious body, and to have an
inner knowledge of what it likes and dislikes. “The Woman in White,”
“Lady Audley’s Secret,” and “It is Never Too Late to Mend” are, he
asserts, familiar names with a certain stratum of the Unknown Public;
“Midshipman Easy” is an old friend, and “The Pathfinder” and “The Last
of the Mohicans” enjoy a fitful popularity. But its real favorite,
its admitted pride and delight, is Ouida. The “genteel young ladies
of the counter,” and their hard-working sisterhood of dressmakers and
milliners and lodging-house keepers, all accept Ouida as a literary
oracle. “They quite agree with herself that she is a woman of genius.
They recognize in her the embodiment of their own inexpressible
imaginings of aristocratic people and things. They believe in her
Byronic characters, and their Arabian-Nights-like wealth and power;
in her titanic and delightfully wicked guardsmen; in her erratic or
ferocious, but always gorgeous princes, her surpassingly lovely, but
more or less immoral grand dames, and her wonderful Bohemians of both
sexes. They believe, too, in her sheer ‘fine writing.’ Its jingle is
pleasant to their senses, even though they fail to catch its meaning.
Ouida’s work is essentially the acme of penny-serial style. The
novelists of the penny prints toil after her in vain, but they do toil
after her. They aim at the same gorgeousness of effect, though they
lack her powers to produce it, to impress it vividly upon readers.”

It has not been my experience to find in these weeklies--and I have
read many of them--even a dim reflection of Ouida’s meretricious
glitter. A gentle and unobtrusive dullness; a smooth fluency of
style, suggestive of the author’s having written several hundreds of
such stories before, and turning them out with no more intellectual
effort than an organ-grinder uses in turning the crank of his organ;
an air of absolute unreality about the characters, not so much from
overdrawing as from their deadly sameness; conversations of vapid
sprightliness and an atmosphere of oppressive respectability,--these
are the characteristics of penny fiction, if I may judge from the
varied specimens that have fallen into my hands. The foreign scoundrels
and secret poisoners, the sumptuous wealth and lavish bloodshed, that
thrilled the boyhood of Mr. Wright have, I greatly fear, been refined
out of existence. There is an occasional promise of this sort of thing,
but never any adequate fulfillment. I once hoped much from the opening
paragraph of a tale describing the virtuous heroine’s wicked husband in
language which seemed to me full of bright auspices for his future:--

“The speaker was a fair, well-dressed man, in appearance about
three-and-thirty. A yellow mustache increased the languid, _insouciant_
expression of his long, well-cut features, which were handsome,
but, despite their delicacy, had a singular animal resemblance in
them,--God’s image in the possession of a cool, unprincipled fiend,
which now and then peered out of the pale blue eyes, half veiled by the
yellow lashes.”

Yet, with all his advantages of physiognomy, the utmost this pale-eyed
person achieves is to hang around in his wife’s way until she shoots
him,--accidentally, of course,--and secures herself from any further
annoyance.

In a taste for aristocracy, however, and a splendid contempt for trade,
and “the city,” and the objectionable middle classes, our penny
novelist surpasses even Ouida, and approaches more nearly to that
enamored exponent of high life, Lord Beaconsfield. He will dance his
puppets, as Tony Lumpkin’s boon companion danced his bear, “only to
the very genteelest of tunes.” Mr. Edward Salmon, who has written with
amazing seriousness on “What the Working Classes Read,” and who thinks
it a pity “more energy is not exerted in bringing home to the people
the inherent attractions of Shakespeare, Scott, Marryat, Dickens,
Lytton, and George Eliot,” makes the distinct assertion that socialism
and a hatred of the fashionable world are fostered by the penny
serials, and by the pictures they draw of a luxurious and depraved
nobility. “The stories,” he says gravely, “are utterly contemptible in
literary execution. They thrive on the wicked baronet, the faithless
but handsome peeress, and find their chief supporters among shopgirls,
seamstresses, and domestic servants. It is hardly surprising that there
should exist in the impressionable minds of the masses an aversion more
or less deep to the upper classes. If one of their own order, man or
woman, appears in the pages of these unwholesome prints, it is only as
a paragon of virtue, who is probably ruined, or at least wronged, by
that incarnation of evil, the sensuous aristocrat, standing six feet,
with his dark eyes, heavy mustache, pearl-like teeth, and black hair.
Throughout the story the keynote struck is high-born scoundrelism.
Every social misdemeanor is called in to assist the progress of the
slipshod narrative. Crime and love are the essential ingredients, and
the influence exercised over the feminine reader, often unenlightened
by any close contact with the classes whom the novelist pretends to
portray, crystallizes into an irremovable dislike of the upper strata
of society.”[5]

    [5] _The Nineteenth Century._

It is hard, after reading this extract, to believe that Mr. Salmon ever
examined any of these “slipshod narratives” for himself, or he would
know that the aristocrat of penny fiction is always fair. The stalwart
young farmer, the aspiring artist, the sailor lover, may rival each
other in dark clustering curls, but the peer, as befits his rank, is
monotonously blonde.

   “The dark was dowered with beauty,
      The fair was nobly born.
    In the face of the one was hatred;
      In the face of the other, scorn.”

Mr. Hamilton Aïdé probably does not design his graceful verses as
illustrations of weekly novelettes, but he understands better than Mr.
Salmon the subtle sympathy between birth and coloring.

Neither have I discovered any socialistic tendency in these stories,
nor any disposition to exalt the lower orders at the expense of the
upper. The Clara Vere de Veres who smiled on me in the course of my
researches were all as virtuous as they were beautiful, and their noble
lovers were models of chivalry and truth. It was the scheming lawyer,
the base-born, self-made man of business, who crept as a serpent into
their patrician Eden, and was treated with the contempt and contumely
he deserved. In one instance, such an upstart, Mr. John Farlow by
name, ventures to urge upon an impoverished landholder his offers of
friendship and assistance, and this is the spirit in which his advances
are received:--

“The colonel shudders, as he gazes, half wearily, half scornfully,
at the shapeless, squat figure of the Caliban-like creature before
him. That he, Courtenay St. Leger Walterton, late in command of her
Majesty’s Lancers, should have to listen respectfully to the hectoring
of this low city rascal, while a horsepond awaits without, and a
collection of horsewhips hang ready for instant application on the
hunting-rack in the hall within! Yet it is so; he is wholly at this
man’s mercy, and the colonel, like the humblest of mankind, is obliged
to succumb to the inevitable.”

Now, since I turned the last page of “Ten Thousand a Year,” a long,
long time ago, I have hardly met with a finer instance of aristocratic
feeling than this, or a more crushing disdain for the ignoble creature
known as a solicitor. Mr. John Farlow is of course a villain, but
Courtenay St. Leger Walterton is not aware of this fact, and neither,
in the beginning of the tale, is the reader. What we do know, however,
is that, being a “low city rascal,” he naturally merits horsewhipping
at the hands of a blue-blooded country squire. He would have deserved
hanging, had the colonel been a duke, and perhaps that punishment might
have been meted triumphantly out to him, for the penny novelist, with
all his faults, still “loves his House of Peers.”

The task of providing literature for the Unknown Public is not the
easy thing it seems to critics like Mr. Wright and Mr. Salmon. The
Unknown Public has its literature already,--a literature which
enjoys an enormous circulation, and gives absolute satisfaction. One
publishing company alone, “for the people,” claims that its penny
novelettes, issued weekly, reach seven millions of readers, and these
seven millions are evidently content with what they receive. Mr.
Andrew Lang is responsible for the statement that a story about a mill
girl, which was printed in a Glasgow penny journal, so delighted the
subscribers that they demanded it should be several times repeated in
its columns. “There could not,” says Mr. Lang somewhat wistfully, “be
a more perfect and gratifying success;” and publishers of ambitious
and high-toned periodicals may well be forgiven for envying such a
master-stroke. When were they ever asked to reprint a story, however
vaunted its perfections, however popular it seemed to be? The heroine
of this magic tale is defrauded of her inheritance by villains who
possess sumptuous subterranean palaces and torture-chambers in “her
own romantic town” of Glasgow, the last place in the world where we
should reasonably expect to find them. “The one essential feature,”
Mr. Lang observes, “in a truly successful tale is that there should be
an _ingénue_, as pure as poor, who is debarred by conspiracies from
the enjoyment of a prodigious fortune.” This is a favorite device with
weekly papers at home, and the serial story, on either side of the
Atlantic, is perforce a little more stirring in its character than
that presented to us in finished form through the medium of the penny
novelette. With the first, the “strong situation” is serviceable as a
decoy to lure the reader into purchasing the following number. With
the second, no such artifice is needed or employed. The buyer has his
pennyworth already in hand; and a very good pennyworth it is, judged by
quantity alone. Wilkie Collins tells us how he tried vainly to extract
from a shopman an opinion as to which was the best journal to select,
and how the shopman persisted, very naturally, in saying that there was
no choice,--one was every bit as long as another. “Well, you see some
likes one, and some the next. Take ’em all the year around, and there
ain’t a pin, as I knows of, to choose between them. There’s just about
as much in one as there is in its neighbor. All good penn’orths. Bless
my soul! Just take ’em up and look for yourself! All good penn’orths,
choose where you like.”

Exactly as if they were shrimps or periwinkles! Very good measure, if
you chance to like the stuff! “Dorothy, a Home Journal for Ladies,”
in a rather attractive pale green cover, gives you every week a
complete story, nearly half the length of an average English novel,
and fairly well illustrated with full-page cuts. Each number contains,
in addition, Dorothy’s Letter-Box, where all reasonable questions
are answered, and Dorothy’s Drawing-Room, with items of fashionable
news,--the whereabouts of the Queen, and the interesting fact that “the
Duke and Duchess of Portland have been living quietly and giving no
parties at Langwell, the Duke being desirous of affording the Duchess
every chance of better regaining her health.” Also Hints for Practical
Dressmaking, by “Busy Bee;” Our Homes, by “Lady Bird;” an occasional
poem; and Notes on Handwriting, where you may learn that you have
“ambition, an ardent, tender, affectionate, and sensitive nature,
easily impressed, and inclined to jealousy. There is also some sense of
beauty, vivid fancy, and sequence of ideas.” Now and then a doubting
maid sends a scrap of her lover’s penmanship to be deciphered, and
receives the following gentle encouragement:--

“LOVE LIES BLEEDING.--I hardly like to say whether the writer of the
morsel you inclose would make a good husband; but I should imagine him
as thoughtful for others, romantic and loving, very orderly in his
habits, and fairly well educated; rather hot-tempered, but forgives and
forgets quickly.”

All this for a penny,--two cents of American money! No wonder “Dorothy”
reaches her millions of readers. No wonder the little green books lie
in great heaps on the counters of every railway station in England.
She is, perhaps, the most high-toned of such weekly issues; but “The
Princess,” in a bright blue cover, follows closely in her wake, with a
complete story, illustrated, and Boudoir Gossip about Prince George
of Wales, and Mrs. Mackay, and the Earl and Countess of Jersey. “Bow
Bells” and “The Wide World Novelettes” are on a distinctly lower scale:
the fiction more sensational, the cuts coarser, and the pink cover of
“Bow Bells” flaunting and vulgar. “A Magazine of Short Stories” aims at
being lively and vivacious in the style of Rhoda Broughton, and gives
a good pennyworth of tales, verses, Answers to Correspondents, and a
column of Familiar Quotations Verified that alone is worth the money.
But the final triumph of quantity over quality, of matter over mind,
is in the “Book for All,” published weekly at the price of one penny,
and containing five separate departments, for women, girls, men, boys,
and children. Each of these departments has a short illustrated story,
poetry, anecdotes, puzzles, confidential talks with the editor, advice
on every subject, and information of every description. Here you can
learn “how to preserve your beauty” and how to make “royal Battenberg”
lace, how to run a Texas ranch and how to go into mourning for your
mother, how to cure stammering and how to rid a dog of fleas. Here you
may acquire knowledge upon the most varied topics, from lung diseases
in animals to Catherine of Russia’s watch, from the aborigines of
Australia to scientific notes on the Lithuanian language. The Unknown
Public must indeed be athirst for knowledge, if it can absorb such
quantities week after week with unabated zeal; and, from the Answers to
Correspondents, we are led to suppose it is ever eager for more. One
inquiring mind is comforted by the assurance that “narrative monophone
will appear in its turn,” and an ambitious but elderly reader is gently
warned that “a person aged fifty might learn to play on the guitar, and
perhaps be able to sing; but the chances are that, in both instances,
the performance will not be likely to captivate those who are compelled
to listen to it.” On the whole, after an exhaustive study of penny
weeklies, I should say that, were I expected to provide a large family
with reading matter and encyclopædic information at the modest rate
of one dollar and four cents a year, the “Book for All” would be the
journal of my choice.

It is not in penny fiction alone, however, that the railway book-stalls
do a thriving trade. The shilling novels stand in goodly rows,
inviting you to a purchase you are sure afterwards to regret. The
average shilling novel in England differs from the average penny
novel in size only; and, judged by measurement, the sole standard
it is possible to apply, it should, to warrant its price, be about
six times the length. “Lord Elwyn’s Daughter” and “The Nun’s Curse,”
at a shilling each, bear such a strong family resemblance to their
penny cousins, “Golden Chains” and “Her Bitter Burden,” that it needs
their outward dress to distinguish them; and “Haunted” and “The
Man who Vanished” carry their finest thrills in their title. Quite
early in my search, I noticed at the Waterloo station three shilling
novels,--“Weaker than Woman,” “Lady Hutton’s Ward,” and “Diana’s
Discipline,” all advertised conspicuously as being by the author of
“Dora Thorne.” Feeling that my ignorance of Dora Thorne herself was
a matter for regret and enlightenment, I asked for her at once, to
be told she was not in stock, but I might, if I liked, have “Lady
Gwendolen’s Dream,” by the same writer. I declined “Lady Gwendolen,”
and at the next station once more demanded “Dora Thorne.” In vain! The
young man in attendance glanced over his volumes, shook his head, and
offered me “Diana’s Discipline,” and a fresh book “The Fatal Lilies,”
also by the author of “Dora Thorne.” Another stall at another station
had all five of these novels, and a sixth one in addition, “A Golden
Heart,” by the author of “Dora Thorne,” but still no “Dora.” Elsewhere
I encountered “Her Martyrdom” and “Which Loved Him Best,” both stamped
with the cabalistic words “By the Author of ‘Dora Thorne’;” and so
it continued to the end. New stories without number, all from the
same pen, and all countersigned “By the Author of ‘Dora Thorne,’” but
never “Dora.” From first to last, she remained elusive, invisible,
unattainable,--a Mrs. Harris among books, a name and nothing more.

Comedy is very popular at railway book-stalls: “My Churchwardens,” by
a Vicar, and “My Rectors,” by a Quondam Curate; a weekly pennyworth of
mild jokes called “Pick-Me-Up,” and a still cheaper and still milder
collection for a half-penny called “Funny Cuts;” an occasional shabby
copy of “Innocents Abroad,” which stands as the representative of
American humor, and that most mysterious of journals, “Ally Sloper’s
Half Holiday,” which always conveys the impression of being exceedingly
amusing if one could only understand the fun. Everybody--I mean, of
course, everybody who rides in third-class carriages--buys this paper,
and studies it soberly, industriously, almost sadly; but I have never
yet seen anybody laugh over it. Mrs. Pennell, indeed, with a most
heroic devotion to the cause of humor, and a catholic appreciation of
its highways and byways, has analyzed Ally Sloper for the benefit of
the Known Public which reads the “Contemporary Review,” and claims
that he is a modern brother of old-time jesters,--of Pierrot, and
Pulcinello, and Pantaleone; reflecting national vices and follies with
caustic but good-natured fidelity. “While the cultured of the present
generation have been busy proving their powers of imitation,” says Mrs.
Pennell, “this unconscious evolution of a popular type has established
the pretensions of the people to originality.” But, alas! it is not
given to the moderately cultivated to understand such types without a
good deal of interpretation; and merely buying and reading the paper
are of very little service. Here are the pictures, which I am told are
clever; here is the text, which is probably clever, too; but their
combined brilliancy conveys no light to my mind. Ally Sloper leading
“a local German band” at Tenby, Ally Sloper interviewing distinguished
people, may, like Mr. F.’s aunt, be “ingenious and even subtle,” but
the key to his subtlety is lacking. As for Tootsie, and The Dook
Snook, and Lord Bob, and The Hon. Billy, and all the other members of
this interesting family who play their weekly part in the recurring
comedy, they would be quite as amusing to the uninitiated reader if
they followed the example of the erudite Oxonian, and conversed in “the
Ostiak dialect of Tungusian.”

By way of contrast, I suppose, the other comic weeklies preserve a
simplicity of character which is equaled only by their placid and
soothing dullness. It is easy to understand the amount of humor
conveyed in such jests as these, both of which are deemed worthy of
half-page illustrations.

“_Aunt Kate_ (in the park). Tell me, Ethel, when any of the men look at
me.

“_Little Ethel._ It’s me they look at, aunty. You’re too old.”

“Dear friends again. _Madge_ (rather elderly). What do you think of my
new hat, Lily?

“_Lily._ It’s rather old-fashioned, dear, but it suits you.”

This is the very meekest of funning, and feminine tartness and juvenile
precocity must be at a low ebb with the Unknown Public when it can
relish such shadowy thrusts, even at increasing years, which, from
the days of the prophet to the days of Mr. Gladstone, have ever been
esteemed a fitting subject for mirth. The distance between the penny
dreadful and “Lorna Doone” is not vaster than the distance between
these hopeless jests and the fine cynicism, the arrowy humor, of Du
Maurier. Mrs. Pennell says very truely that Cimabue Brown and Mrs.
Ponsonby de Tomkyns would have no meaning whatever for the British
workman,--would probably be as great a mystery to him as The Dook Snook
and The Hon. Billy are to me. But Punch’s dear little lad who, on a
holiday afternoon, has caught only one fish, “and that was so young
it didn’t know how to hold on,” and the charitable but near-sighted
old lady who drops a penny into the hat of a meditative peer, come
within the scope of everybody’s comprehension. If more energy is to
be exerted “in bringing home to the people the inherent attractions
of Shakespeare, Scott, Marryat, Dickens, Lytton, and George Eliot,”
according to the comprehensive programme laid out by Mr. Salmon, why
not, as a first step, bring home to them the attractions of a bright,
clean, merry jest? It might enable them, perhaps, to recognize the gap
between the humor of George Eliot and the humor of Captain Marryat, and
would serve to prick their dormant critical faculties into life.

The one sad sight at an English railway book-stall is the little array
of solid writers who stand neglected, shabby, and apart, pleading
dumbly out of their dusty shame for recognition and release. I have
seen Baxter’s “Saint’s Rest” jostled contemptuously into a corner.
I have seen “The Apostolic Fathers” hanging their hoary heads with
dignified humility, and “The Popes of Rome” lingering in inglorious
bondage. I have seen our own Emerson broken-backed and spiritless;
and, harder still, “The Autocrat of the Breakfast-Table” shorn of his
gay supremacy, frayed, and worn, and exiled from his friends. I have
seen “Sartor Resartus” skulking on a dark shelf with a yellow-covered
neighbor more gaudy than respectable, and I have seen Buckle’s boasted
“Civilization” in a condition that would have disgraced a savage.
These Titans, discrowned and discredited, these captives, honorable
in their rags, stirred my heart with sympathy and compassion. I
wanted to gather them up and carry them away to respectability, and
the long-forgotten shelter of library walls. But light-weight luggage
precluded philanthropy, and, steeling my reluctant soul, I left them
to their fate. Still they stand, I know, unsought, neglected, scorned,
while thousands of “Dorothys” and “Ally Slopers” are daily sold around
them. “How had the star of this daughter of Gomer waxed, while the star
of these Cymry, his sons, had waned!” How shall genius be revered and
honored, when buried without decent rites in the bleak graveyard of a
railway book-stall?



Transcriber’s Notes


Simple typographical errors were corrected.

Punctuation, hyphenation, and spelling were made consistent when a
predominant preference was found in the original book; otherwise they
were not changed.





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