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Title: Men, Women, and Books
Author: Birrell, Augustine
Language: English
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ESSAYS ABOUT MEN, WOMEN, AND BOOKS


      *      *      *      *      *      *

WORKS BY THE SAME AUTHOR.


_CHEAP EDITION. In square crown 8vo., appropriately bound, 2s. 6d. net._

IN THE NAME OF THE BODLEIAN, AND OTHER ESSAYS.

‘These delightful essays possess all the characteristics which
have given their author a special place in modern literary
criticism.’--_Daily News._

‘Mr. Birrell delights us on every page when he comes before us as
essayist. “In the Name of the Bodleian” is a worthy companion to
“Obiter Dicta.”’--_Daily Telegraph._


_CHEAP and UNIFORM EDITION, price 2s. 6d. each; also ORIGINAL EDITIONS,
5s. each._


        OBITER DICTA. First Series.
       OBITER DICTA. Second Series.
     ESSAYS ABOUT MEN, WOMEN, & BOOKS.
             RES JUDICATÆ.


_SECOND EDITION. In fcap. 8vo., cloth, price 5s._

MISCELLANIES.


_LIBRARY EDITION. In 2 vols., crown 8vo., bound in cloth, 12s._

COLLECTED ESSAYS.


     Vol. I. contains: OBITER DICTA. Series I.
            OBITER DICTA. Series II.

     Vol. II. contains: MEN, WOMEN, AND BOOKS.
                 RES JUDICATÆ.


ELLIOT STOCK, 62, PATERNOSTER ROW, LONDON, E.C.

      *      *      *      *      *      *



MEN, WOMEN, AND BOOKS

by

AUGUSTINE BIRRELL

Author of ‘Obiter Dicta,’ etc.



London: Elliot Stock
62, Paternoster Row, E.C.
1910



CONTENTS

                                      PAGE
DEAN SWIFT                               1

LORD BOLINGBROKE                        16

STERNE                                  28

DR. JOHNSON                             38

RICHARD CUMBERLAND                      47

ALEXANDER KNOX AND THOMAS DE QUINCEY    58

HANNAH MORE                             70

MARIE BASHKIRTSEFF                      81

SIR JOHN VANBRUGH                       96

JOHN GAY                               109

ROGER NORTH’S AUTOBIOGRAPHY            121

BOOKS OLD AND NEW                      134

BOOK-BINDING                           147

POETS LAUREATE                         157

PARLIAMENTARY CANDIDATES               167

THE BONÂ-FIDE TRAVELLER                176

‘HOURS IN A LIBRARY’                   189

AMERICANISMS AND BRITICISMS            199

AUTHORS AND CRITICS                    210



DEAN SWIFT.


Of writing books about Dean Swift there is no end. I make no complaint,
because I find no fault; I express no wonder, for I feel none. The
subject is, and must always remain, one of strange fascination. We
have no author like the Dean of St. Patrick’s. It has been said of
Wordsworth that good-luck usually attended those who have written about
him. The same thing may be said, with at least equal truth, about
Swift. There are a great many books about him, and with few exceptions
they are all interesting.

A man who has had his tale told both by Johnson and by Scott ought
to be comprehensible. Swift has been, on the whole, lucky with his
more recent biographers. Dr. Craik’s is a judicious life, Mitford’s an
admirable sketch, Forster’s a valuable fragment; Mr. Leslie Stephen
never fails to get to close quarters with his subject. Then there
are anecdotes without end--all bubbling with vitality--letters, and
journals. And yet, when you have read all that is to be read, what are
you to say--what to think?

No fouler pen than Swift’s has soiled our literature. His language
is horrible from first to last. He is full of odious images, of base
and abominable allusions. It would be a labour of Hercules to cleanse
his pages. His love-letters are defaced by his incurable coarseness.
This habit of his is so inveterate that it seems a miracle he kept
his sermons free from his blackguard phrases. It is a question not
of morality, but of decency, whether it is becoming to sit in the
same room with the works of this divine. How the good Sir Walter ever
managed to see him through the press is amazing. In this matter Swift
is inexcusable.

Then his unfeeling temper, his domineering brutality--the tears he
drew, the discomfort he occasioned.


     ‘Swift, dining at a house, where the part of the tablecloth which
     was next him happened to have a small hole, tore it as wide as he
     could, and ate his soup through it; his reason for such behaviour
     was, as he said, to mortify the lady of the house, and to teach
     her to pay a proper attention to housewifery.’


One is glad to know he sometimes met his match. He slept one night at
an inn kept by a widow lady of very respectable family, Mrs. Seneca,
of Drogheda. In the morning he made a violent complaint of the sheets
being dirty.

‘Dirty, indeed!’ exclaimed Mrs. Seneca; ‘you are the last man, doctor,
that should complain of dirty sheets.’

And so, indeed, he was, for he had just published the ‘Lady’s
Dressing-room,’ a very dirty sheet indeed.

Honour to Mrs. Seneca, of Drogheda!

This side of the account needs no vouching; but there is another side.

In 1705 Addison made a present of his book of travels to Dr. Swift, in
the blank leaf of which he wrote the following words:


          ‘To Dr. Jonathan Swift,
        The most agreeable companion,
             The truest friend,
     And the greatest genius of his age.’


Addison was not lavish of epithets. His geese, Ambrose Philips
excepted, were geese, not swans. His testimony is not to be
shaken--and what a testimony it is!

Then there is Stella’s Swift. As for Stella herself, I have never felt
I knew enough about her to join very heartily in Thackeray’s raptures:
‘Who has not in his mind an image of Stella? Who does not love her?
Fair and tender creature! Pure and affectionate heart.... Gentle lady!
so lovely, so loving, so unhappy.... You are one of the saints of
English story.’ This may be so, but all I feel I know about Stella is,
that Swift loved her. That is certain, at all events.


     ‘If this be error, and upon we proved,
     I never writ, and no man ever loved.’


The verses to Stella are altogether lovely:


     ‘But, Stella, say what evil tongue
     Reports you are no longer young,
     That Time sits with his scythe to mow
     Where erst sat Cupid with his bow,
     That half your locks are turned to gray
     I’ll ne’er believe a word they say.
     ’Tis true, but let it not be known,
     My eyes are somewhat dimmish grown.’


And again:


     ‘Oh! then, whatever Heaven intends,
     Take pity on your pitying friends!
     Nor let your ills affect your mind
     To fancy they can be unkind.
     Me, surely me, you ought to spare
     Who gladly would your suffering share,
     Or give my scrap of life to you
     And think it far beneath your due;
     You, to whose care so oft I owe
     That I’m alive to tell you so.’


We are all strangely woven in one piece, as Shakespeare says. These
verses of Swift irresistibly remind their readers of Cowper’s lines to
Mrs. Unwin.

Swift’s prose is famous all the world over. To say anything about
it is superfluous. David Hume indeed found fault with it. Hume paid
great attention to the English language, and by the time he died had
come to write it with much facility and creditable accuracy; but
Swift is one of the masters of English prose. But how admirable
also is his poetry--easy, yet never slipshod! It lacks one quality
only--imagination. There is not a fine phrase, a magical line to be
found in it, such as may occasionally be found in--let us say--Butler.
Yet, as a whole, Swift is a far more enjoyable poet than Butler.

Swift has unhappily written some abominable verses, which ought never
to have been set up in type; but the ‘Legion Club,’ the verses on
his own death, ‘Cadenus and Vanessa,’ the ‘Rhapsody on Poetry,’ the
tremendous lines on the ‘Day of Judgment,’ and many others, all belong
to enjoyable poetry, and can never lose their freshness, their charm,
their vitality. Amongst the poets of the eighteenth century Swift sits
secure, for he can never go out of fashion.

His hatred of mankind seems genuine; there is nothing _falsetto_
about it. He is always in sober, deadly earnest when he abuses his
fellow-men. What an odd revenge we have taken! His gospel of hatred,
his testament of woe--his ‘Gulliver,’ upon which he expended the
treasures of his wit, and into which he instilled the concentrated
essence of his rage--has become a child’s book, and has been read with
wonder and delight by generations of innocents. After all, it is a
kindly place, this planet, and the best use we have for our cynics is
to let them amuse the junior portion of our population.

I only know one good-humoured anecdote of Swift; it is very slight,
but it is fair to tell it. He dined one day in the company of the Lord
Keeper, his son, and their two ladies, with Mr. Cæsar, Treasurer of
the Navy, at his house in the City. They happened to talk of Brutus,
and Swift said something in his praise, and then, as it were, suddenly
recollecting himself, said:

‘Mr. Cæsar, I beg your pardon.’

One can fancy this occasioning a pleasant ripple of laughter.

There is another story I cannot lay my hands on to verify, but it is to
this effect: Faulkner, Swift’s Dublin publisher, years after the Dean’s
death, was dining with some friends, who rallied him upon his odd way
of eating some dish--I think, asparagus. He confessed Swift had told
him it was the right way; therefore, they laughed the louder, until
Faulkner, growing a little angry, exclaimed:

‘I tell you what it is, gentlemen: if you had ever dined with the Dean,
you would have eaten your asparagus as he bade you.’

Truly a wonderful man--imperious, masterful. Yet his state is not
kingly like Johnson’s--it is tyrannical, sinister, forbidding.

Nobody has brought out more effectively than Mr. Churton Collins[A]
Swift’s almost ceaseless literary activity. To turn over Scott’s
nineteen volumes is to get some notion of it. It is not a pleasant
task, for Swift was an unclean spirit; but he fascinates and makes
the reader long to peep behind the veil, and penetrate the secret of
this horrible, yet loveable, because beloved, man. Mr. Collins is
rather short with this longing on the part of the reader. He does
not believe in any secret; he would have us believe that it is all
as plain as a pikestaff. Swift was never mad, and was never married.
Stella was a well-regulated damsel, who, though she would have liked
very much to have been Mrs. Dean, soon recognised that her friend
was not a marrying man, and was, therefore, well content for the rest
of her days to share his society with Mrs. Dingley. Vanessa was an
ill-regulated damsel, who had not the wit to see that her lover was
not a marrying man, and, in the most vulgar fashion possible, thrust
herself most inconveniently upon his notice, received a snubbing, took
to drink, and died of the spleen. As for the notion that Swift died
mad, Mr. Collins conceives himself to get rid of that by reprinting a
vague and most inconclusive letter of Dr. Bucknill’s. The mystery and
the misery of Swift’s life have not been got rid of by Mr. Collins.
He has left them where he found them--at large. He complains, perhaps
justly, that Scott never took the trouble to form any clear impression
of Swift’s character. Yet we must say that we understand Sir Walter’s
Swift better than we do Mr. Collins’. Whether the Dean married Stella
can never be known. For our part, we think he did not; but to assert
positively that no marriage took place, as Mr. Collins does, is to
carry dogmatism too far.

A good deal of fault has lately been found with Thackeray’s lecture
on Swift. We still think it both delightful and just. The rhapsody
about Stella, as I have already hinted, is not to our mind. Rhapsodies
about real women are usually out of place. Stella was no saint, but a
quick-witted, sharp-tongued hussy, whose fate it was to win the love
and pacify the soul of the greatest Englishman of his time--for to call
Swift an Irishman is sheer folly. But, apart from this not unnatural
slip, what, I wonder, is the matter with Thackeray’s lecture, regarded,
not as a storehouse of facts, or as an estimate of Swift’s writings,
but as a sketch of character? Mr. Collins says quite as harsh things
about Swift as are to be found in Thackeray’s lecture, but he does
not attempt, as Thackeray does, to throw a strong light upon this
strange and moving figure. It is a hard thing to attempt--failure in
such a case is almost inevitable; but I do not think Thackeray did
fail. An ounce of mother-wit is often worth a pound of clergy. Insight
is not always the child of study. But here, again, the matter should
be brought to the test by each reader for himself. Read Thackeray’s
lecture once again.

What can be happier or truer than his comparison of Swift with a
highwayman disappointed of his plunder?


     ‘The great prize has not come yet. The coach with the mitre and
     crosier in it, which he intends to have for his share, has
     been delayed on the way from St. James’s. The mails wait until
     nightfall, when his runners come and tell him that the coach has
     taken a different road and escaped him. So he fires his pistols
     into the air with a curse, and rides away in his own country.’


Thackeray’s criticism is severe, but is it not just? Are we to stand
by and hear our nature libelled, and our purest affections beslimed,
without a word of protest? ‘I think I would rather have had a potato
and a friendly word from Goldsmith than have been beholden to the
Dean for a guinea and a dinner.’ So would I. But no one of the Dean’s
numerous critics was more keenly alive than Thackeray to the majesty
and splendour of Swift’s genius, and to his occasional flashes of
tenderness and love. That amazing person, Lord Jeffrey, in one of his
too numerous contributions to the _Edinburgh Review_, wrote of the
poverty of Swift’s style. Lord Jeffrey was, we hope, a professional
critic, not an amateur.

FOOTNOTE:

[A] ‘Jonathan Swift,’ by J. Churton Collins: Chatto & Windus, 1893.



LORD BOLINGBROKE.


The most accomplished of all our political rascals, Lord Bolingbroke,
who once, if the author of ‘Animated Nature’ is to be believed, ran
naked through the Park, has, in his otherwise pinchbeck ‘Reflections
in Exile,’ one quaint fancy. He suggests that the exile, instead
of mourning the deprivation of the society of his friends, should
take a pencil (the passage is not before me) and make a list of his
acquaintances, and then ask himself which of the number he wants to see
at the moment. It is, no doubt, always wise to be particular. Delusion
as well as fraud loves to lurk in generalities.

As for this Bolingbroke himself, that he was a consummate scoundrel is
now universally admitted; but his mental qualifications, though great,
still excite differences of opinion. Even those who are comforted by
his style and soothed by the rise and fall of his sentences, are fain
to admit that had his classic head been severed from his shoulders a
rogue would have met with his deserts. He has been long since stripped
of all his fine pretences, and, morally speaking, runs as naked through
the pages of history as erst he did (according to Goldsmith) across
Hyde Park.

That Bolingbroke had it in him to have been a great Parliamentarian is
certain. He knew ‘the nature of that assembly,’ and that ‘they grow,
like hounds, fond of the man who shows them sport, and by whose halloo
they are used to be encouraged.’ Like the rascally lawyer in ‘Guy
Mannering,’ Mr. Gilbert Glossin, he could do a good piece of work when
so minded. But he was seldom so minded, and consequently he failed to
come up to the easy standard of his day, and thus brought it about that
by his side Sir Robert Walpole appears in the wings and aspect of an
angel.

St. John has now nothing to wear but his wit and his style; these still
find admirers amongst the judicious.

Mr. Churton Collins, who has written a delightful book about
Bolingbroke, and also about Voltaire in England, has a great notion
of Bolingbroke’s literary merits, and extols them with ardour. He is
not likely to be wrong, but, none the less, it is lawful to surround
yourself with the seven stately quartos which contain Bolingbroke’s
works and letters, and ask yourself whether Mr. Collins is right.

Of all Lord Bolingbroke’s published writings, none is better than his
celebrated Letter to Wyndham, recounting his adventures in France,
whither he betook himself hastily after Queen Anne’s death, and where
he joined the Pretender. Here he is not philosophizing, but telling a
tale, varnished it may be, but sparkling with malice, wit, and humour.
Well may Mr. Collins say, ‘Walpole never produced a more amusing sketch
than the picture of the Pretender’s Court at Paris and of the Privy
Council in the Bois de Boulogne’; but when he proceeds further and
adds, ‘Burke never produced anything nobler than the passage which
commences with the words “The ocean which environs us is an emblem of
our government,”’ I am glad to ejaculate, ‘Indeed he did!’

Here is the passage:


     ‘The ocean which environs us is an emblem of our government,
     and the pilot and the Minister are in similar circumstances. It
     seldom happens that either of them can steer a direct course, and
     they both arrive at their ports by means which frequently seem
     to carry them from it. But, as the work advances, the conduct of
     him who leads it on with real abilities clears up, the appearing
     inconsistencies are reconciled, and, when it is once consummated,
     the whole shows itself so uniform, so plain, and so natural, that
     every dabbler in politics will be apt to think he could have done
     the same. But, on the other hand, a man who proposes no such
     object, who substitutes artifice in the place of ability, who,
     instead of leading parties and governing accidents, is eternally
     agitated backwards and forwards, who begins every day something
     new and carries nothing on to perfection, may impose a while on
     the world, but, a little sooner or later, the mystery will be
     revealed, and nothing will be found to be couched under it but
     a thread of pitiful expedients, the ultimate end of which never
     extended farther than living from day to day.’


A fine passage, most undoubtedly, and an excellent homily for
Ministers. No one but a dabbler in literature will be apt to think he
could have done the same--but noble with the nobility of Burke? A noble
passage ought to do more for a reader than compel his admiration or win
his assent; it should leave him a little better than it found him, with
a warmer heart and a more elevated mind.

Mr. Collins also refers with delight to a dissertation on Eloquence,
to be found in the ‘Letter on the Spirit of Patriotism,’ and again
expresses a doubt whether it would be possible to select anything
finer from the pages of Burke.

The passage is too long to be quoted; it begins thus:

‘Eloquence has charms to lead mankind, and gives a nobler superiority
than power that every dunce may use, or fraud that every knave may
employ.’

And then follows a good deal about Demosthenes and Cicero, and other
talkers of old time.

This may or may not be a fine passage; but if we allow it to be the
former, we cannot admit that as it flows it fertilizes.

Bolingbroke and Chesterfield are two of the remarkable figures of
the first half of the last century. They are both commonly called
‘great,’ to distinguish them from other holders of the same titles.
Their accomplishments were as endless as their opportunities. They
were the most eloquent men of their time, and both possessed that
insight into things, that distinction of mind, we call genius. They
were ready writers, and have left ‘works’ behind them full of wit and
gracious expressions; but neither the one nor the other has succeeded
in lodging himself in the general memory. The ill-luck which drove
them out of politics has pursued them down the path of letters, though
the frequenters of that pleasant track are wisely indifferent to the
characters of dead authors who still give pleasure.

No shrewder men ever sat upon a throne than the first two Georges,
monarchs of this realm. The second George hated Chesterfield, and
called him ‘a tea-table scoundrel.’ The phrase sticks. There _is_
something petty about this great Lord Chesterfield. The first George,
though wholly illiterate, yet took it upon himself to despise
Bolingbroke, philosopher though he was, and dismissed an elaborate
effusion of his as ‘_bagatelles_.’ Here again the phrase sticks, and
not even the beautiful type and lordly margins of Mallet’s edition of
Lord Bolingbroke’s writings, or the stately periods of that nobleman
himself, can drive the royal verdict out of my ears. There is nothing
real about these writings save their colossal impudence, as when, for
example, in his letter on the State of Parties on the accession of
George I., he solemnly denies that there was any design during the four
last years of Queen Anne’s reign to set aside the Hanover succession,
and, in support of his denial, quotes himself as a man who, if there
had been anything of the sort, must have known of it. By the side of
this man the perfidy of Thurlow or of Wedderburn shows white as wool.

By the aid of his own wits and a cunning wife, and assisted by the
growing hatred of corruption, Bolingbroke, towards the close of his
long life, nearly succeeded in securing some measure of oblivion of
his double-dyed treachery. He managed to inflame the ‘Young England’
of the period with his picture of a ‘Patriot King,’ and if he had only
put into the fire his lucubrations about Christianity he might have
accomplished his exit from a world he had made worse for seventy-five
years with a show of decency. But he did not do so; the ‘cur Mallet’
was soon ready with his volumes, and then the memory of Bolingbroke was
exposed to the obloquy which in this country is (or was) the heritage
of the heterodox.

Horace Walpole, who hated Bolingbroke, as he was in special duty bound
to do, felt this keenly. He was glad Bolingbroke was gibbeted, but
regretted that he should swing on a wrong count in the indictment.

Writing to Sir Horace Mann, Walpole says:

‘You say you have made my Lord Cork give up my Lord Bolingbroke. It is
comical to see how he is given up here since the best of his writings,
his metaphysical divinity, has been published. While he betrayed and
abused every man who trusted him, or who had forgiven him, or to whom
he was obliged, he was a hero, a patriot, a philosopher, and the
greatest genius of the age; the moment his “Craftsmen” against Moses
and St. Paul are published we have discovered he was the worst man and
the worst writer in the world. The grand jury have presented his works,
and as long as there are any parsons he will be ranked with Tindal
and Toland--nay, I don’t know whether my father won’t become a rubric
martyr for having been persecuted by him.’

My sympathies are with Walpole, although, when he pronounces
Bolingbroke’s metaphysical divinity to be the best of his writings, I
cannot agree.

Mr. Collins’ book is a most excellent one, and if anyone reads it
because of my recommendation he will owe me thanks. Mr. Collins values
Pope not merely for his poetry, but for his philosophy also, which he
cadged from Bolingbroke. The ‘Essay on Man’ is certainly better reading
than anything Bolingbroke ever wrote--though what may be the value of
its philosophy is a question which may well stand over till after the
next General Election, or even longer.



STERNE.


No less pious a railway director than Sir Edward Watkin once prefaced
an oration to the shareholders of one of his numerous undertakings by
expressing, in broken accents, the wish that ‘He who tempers the wind
to the shorn lamb might deal gently with illustrious personages in
their present grievous affliction.’ The wish was a kind one, and is
only referred to here as an illustration of the amazing skill of the
author of the phrase quoted in so catching the tone, temper, and style
of King James’s version, that the words occur to the feeling mind as
naturally as any in Holy Writ as the best expression of a sorrowful
emotion.

The phrase itself is, indeed, an excellent example of Sterne’s genius
for pathos. No one knew better than he how to drive words home.
George Herbert, in his selection of ‘Outlandish Proverbs,’ to which
he subsequently gave the alternate title ‘Jacula Prudentum,’ has the
following: ‘To a close-shorn sheep God gives Wind by measure’; but
this proverb in that wording would never have succeeded in making the
chairman of a railway company believe he had read it somewhere in the
Bible. It is the same thought, but the words which convey it stop far
short of the heart. A close-shorn sheep will not brook comparison with
Sterne’s ‘shorn lamb’; whilst the tender, compassionate, beneficent
‘God tempers the wind’ makes the original ‘God gives wind by measure’
wear the harsh aspect of a wholly unnecessary infliction.

Sterne is our best example of the plagiarist whom none dare make
ashamed. He robbed other men’s orchards with both hands; and yet no
more original writer than he ever went to press in these isles.

He has been dogged, of course; but, as was befitting in his case,
it has been done pleasantly. Sterne’s detective was the excellent
Dr. Ferriar, of Manchester, whose ‘Illustrations of Sterne,’ first
published in 1798, were written at an earlier date for the edification
of the Manchester Literary and Philosophical Society. Those were
pleasant days, when men of reading were content to give their best
thoughts first to their friends and then--ten years afterwards--to the
public.

Dr. Ferriar’s book is worthy of its subject. The motto on the
title-page is delightfully chosen. It is taken from the opening
paragraph of Lord Shaftesbury’s ‘Miscellaneous Reflections’: ‘Peace
be with the soul of that charitable and Courteous Author who for the
common benefit of his fellow-Authors introduced the ingenious way
of MISCELLANEOUS WRITING.’ Here Dr. Ferriar stopped; but I will add
the next sentence: ‘It must be owned that since this happy method
was established the Harvest of Wit has been more plentiful and the
Labourers more in number than heretofore.’ Wisely, indeed, did Charles
Lamb declare Shaftesbury was not too genteel for him. No pleasanter
penance for random thinking can be devised than spending an afternoon
turning over Shaftesbury’s three volumes and trying to discover how
near he ever did come to saying that ‘Ridicule was the test of truth.’

Dr. Ferriar’s happy motto puts the reader in a sweet temper to start
with, for he sees at once that the author is no pedantic, soured churl,
but a good fellow who is going to make a little sport with a celebrated
wit, and show you how a genius fills his larder.

The first thing that strikes you in reading Dr. Ferriar’s book is the
marvellous skill with which Sterne has created his own atmosphere and
characters, in spite of the fact that some of the most characteristic
remarks of his characters are, in the language of the Old Bailey,
‘stolen goods.’ ‘“There is no cause but one,” replied my Uncle Toby,
“why one man’s nose is longer than another’s, but because God pleases
to have it so.” “That is Grangousier’s solution,” said my father.
“’Tis he,” continued my Uncle Toby, looking up and not regarding
my father’s interruption, “who makes us all, and frames and puts
us together in such forms and proportions and for such ends as is
agreeable to His infinite wisdom.”’

‘“Out of the fulness of the heart the mouth speaketh”; and if those are
not the words of my Uncle Toby, it is idle to believe in anything’:
and yet we read in Rabelais--as, indeed, Sterne suggests to us we
should--‘“Pourquoi,” dit Gargantua, “est-ce que frère Jean a si beau
nez?” “Parce,” répondit Grangousier, “qu’ainsi Dieu l’a voulu, lequel
nous fait en telle forme et à telle fin selon son divin arbitre, que
fait un potier ses vaisseaux.”’

To create a character and to be able to put in his mouth borrowed words
which yet shall quiver with his personality is the supreme triumph of
the greatest ‘miscellaneous writer’ who ever lived.

Dr. Ferriar’s book, after all, but establishes this: that the only
author whom Sterne really pillaged is Burton, of the ‘Anatomy of
Melancholy,’ a now well-known writer, but who in Sterne’s time, despite
Dr. Johnson’s partiality, appears to have been neglected. Sir Walter
Scott, an excellent authority on such a point, says, in his ‘Life of
Sterne,’ that Dr. Ferriar’s essay raised the ‘“Anatomy of Melancholy”
to double price in the book market.’

Sir Walter is unusually hard upon Sterne in this matter of the
‘Anatomy.’ But different men, different methods. Sir Walter had his own
way of cribbing. Sterne’s humorous conception of the character of the
elder Shandy required copious illustration from learned sources, and a
whole host of examples and whimsicalities, which it would have passed
the wit of man to invent for himself. He found these things to his
hand in Burton, and, like our first parent, ‘he scrupled not to eat.’
It is not easy to exaggerate the extent of his plunder. The well-known
chapter with its refrain, ‘The Lady Baussiere rode on,’ and the chapter
on the death of Brother Bobby, are almost, though not altogether, pure
Burton.

The general effect of it all is to raise your opinion immensely--of
Burton. As for your opinion of Sterne as a man of conduct, is it
worth while having one? It is a poor business bludgeoning men who
bore the brunt of life a long century ago, and whose sole concern now
with the world is to delight it. Laurence Sterne is not standing for
Parliament. ‘Eliza’ has been dead a dozen decades. Nobody covers his
sins under the cloak of this particular parson. Our sole business is
with ‘Tristram Shandy’ and ‘The Sentimental Journey’; and if these
books are not matters for congratulation and joy, then the pleasures
of literature are all fudge, and the whole thing a got-up job of ‘The
Trade’ and the hungry crew who go buzzing about it.

Mr. Traill concludes his pleasant ‘Life of Sterne’ in a gloomy vein,
which I cannot for the life of me understand. He says: ‘The fate of
Richardson might seem to be close behind him’ (Sterne). Even the fate
of ‘Clarissa’ is no hard one. She still numbers good intellects, and
bears her century lightly. Diderot, as Mr. Traill reminds us, praised
her outrageously--but Mr. Ruskin is not far behind; and from Diderot
to Ruskin is a good ‘drive.’ But ‘Tristram’ is a very different thing
from ‘Clarissa.’ I should have said, without hesitation, that it was
one of the most popular books in the language. Go where you will
amongst men--old and young, undergraduates at the Universities, readers
in our great cities, old fellows in the country, judges, doctors,
barristers--if they have any tincture of literature about them, they
all know their ‘Shandy’ at least as well as their ‘Pickwick.’ What more
can be expected? ‘True Shandeism,’ its author declares, ‘think what you
will against it, opens the heart and lungs.’ I will be bound to say
Sterne made more people laugh in 1893 than in any previous year; and,
what is more, he will go on doing it--‘“that is, if it please God,”
said my Uncle Toby.’



DR. JOHNSON.


Dr. Johnson’s massive shade cannot complain of this generation. We are
not all of us--or, indeed, many of us--much after his mind, but, for
all that, we worship his memory. Editions of Boswell, old or new, are
on every shelf; but more than this, there is a healthy and commendable
disposition to recognise that great, surpassingly great, as are the
merits of Boswell, still there is such a thing as a detached and
separate Johnson.

It is a good thing every now and again to get rid of Boswell. It is a
little ungrateful, but we have Johnson’s authority for the statement
that we hate our benefactors. After all, even had there been no
Boswell, there would have been a Johnson. I will always stick to it
that Hawkins’s Life is a most readable book. Dr. Birkbeck Hill stands
a good chance of being hated some day. We owed him a debt of gratitude
already. He has lately added to it by publishing at the Clarendon
Press, in two stately volumes, uniform with his great edition of the
Life, the ‘Letters of Samuel Johnson, LL.D.’

For a lazy man who loathed writing Dr. Johnson did not do badly--his
letters to Mrs. Thrale exceed three hundred. It is not known that he
ever wrote a letter to Burke. I cannot quite jump with the humour of
Dr. Hill’s comment on this fact. He observes: ‘So far as we know, he
did not write a single letter to Edward Burke--he wrote more than three
hundred to the wife of a Southwark brewer.’ What has the beer got to
do with it? and why drag in Southwark? Every man knows, without being
told, why Johnson wrote three hundred letters to Mrs. Thrale; and as
for his not writing to Burke, it is notorious that the Doctor never
could be got to write to anybody for information.

Dr. Hill’s two volumes are as delightful books as ever issued from
the press. In them Dr. Johnson is to be seen in every aspect of his
character, whilst a complete study may be made from them of the
enormous versatility of his style. It is hard to say what one admires
most--the ardour of his affection, the piety of his nature, the
friendliness of his disposition, the playfulness of his humour, or his
love of learning and of letters.

What strikes one perhaps most, if you assume a merely critical
attitude, is the glorious ease and aptitude of his quotations from
ancient and modern writings. Of pedantry there is not a trace. Nothing
is forced or dragged in. It is all, apparently, simply inevitable. You
do not exclaim as you read, ‘What a memory the fellow has!’ but merely,
‘How charming it all is!’

It is not difficult to construct from these two volumes alone the
gospel--the familiar, the noble gospel according to Dr. Johnson. It
reads somewhat as follows:


     ‘Your father begot you and your mother bore you. Honour them
     both. Husbands, be faithful to your wives. Wives, forgive your
     husbands’ unfaithfulness--once. No grown man who is dependent on
     the will, that is the whim, of another can be happy, and life
     without enjoyment is intolerable gloom. Therefore, as money means
     independence and enjoyment, get money, and having got it keep it.
     A spendthrift is a fool.

     ‘Clear your mind of cant and never debauch your understanding. The
     only liberty worth turning out into the street for, is the liberty
     to do what you like in your own house and to say what you like in
     your own inn. All work is bondage.

     ‘Never get excited about causes you do not understand, or about
     people you have never seen. Keep Corsica out of your head.

     ‘Life is a struggle with either poverty or ennui; but it is better
     to be rich than to be poor. Death is a terrible thing to face. The
     man who says he is not afraid of it lies. Yet, as murderers have
     met it bravely on the scaffold, when the time comes so perhaps may
     I. In the meantime I am horribly afraid. The future is dark. I
     should like more evidence of the immortality of the soul.

     ‘There is great solace in talk. We--you and I--are shipwrecked on
     a wave-swept rock. At any moment one or other of us, perhaps both,
     may be carried out to sea and lost. For the time being we have a
     modicum of light and warmth, of meat and drink. Let us constitute
     ourselves a club, stretch out our legs and talk. We have minds,
     memories, varied experiences, different opinions. Sir, let us
     talk, not as men who mock at fate, not with coarse speech or foul
     tongue, but with a manly mixture of the gloom that admits the
     inevitable, and the merriment that observes the incongruous. Thus
     talking we shall learn to love one another, not sentimentally but
     fundamentally.

     ‘Cultivate your mind, if you happen to have one. Care greatly for
     books and literature. Venerate poor scholars, but don’t shout
     for “Wilkes and Liberty!” The one is a whoremonger, the other a
     flatulency.

     ‘If any tyrant prevents your goings out and your comings in, fill
     your pockets with large stones and kill him as he passes. Then go
     home and think no more about it. Never theorize about Revolution.
     Finally, pay your score at your club and your final debt to Nature
     generously and without casting the account too narrowly. Don’t be
     a prig like Sir John Hawkins, or your own enemy like Bozzy, or a
     Whig like Burke, or a vile wretch like Rousseau, or pretend to be
     an atheist like Hume, but be a good fellow, and don’t insist upon
     being remembered more than a month after you are dead.’


This is but the First Lesson. To compose the Second would be a more
difficult task and must not be here attempted. These two volumes of Dr.
Hill are endless in their variety. Johnson was gloomy enough, and many
of his letters may well move you to tears, but his was ever a human
gloom. The year before his death he writes to Mrs. Thrale:

‘The black dog I hope always to resist and in time to drive, though I
am deprived of almost all those that used to help me. The neighbourhood
is impoverished. I had once Richardson and Lawrence in my reach. Mrs.
Allen is dead. My house has lost Levet, a man who took interest in
everything and therefore ready at conversation. Mrs. Williams is so
weak that she can be a companion no longer. When I rise my breakfast is
solitary--the black dog waits to share it; from breakfast to dinner he
continues barking, except that Dr. Brocklesby for a little keeps him
at a distance. Dinner with a sick woman you may venture to suppose not
much better than solitary. After dinner, what remains but to count the
clock and hope for that sleep which I can scarce expect? Night comes at
last, and some hours of restlessness and confusion bring me again to a
day of solitude. What shall exclude the black dog from an habitation
like this? If I were a little richer I would perhaps take some cheerful
female into the house.’

It is a melancholy picture, but the ‘cheerful female’ shoots a ray of
light across the gloom. Everyone should add these two volumes to his
library, and if he has not a library, let him begin making one with
them.



RICHARD CUMBERLAND.


‘He has written comedies at which we have cried and tragedies at which
we have laughed; he has composed indecent novels and religious epics;
he has pandered to the public lust for personal anecdote by writing his
own life and the private history of his acquaintances.’ Of whom is this
a portrait, and who is the limner? What are the names of the comedies
and the tragedies and the novels thus highly recommended to the curious
reader? These are questions, I flatter myself, wholly devoid of public
interest.

The quotation is from a review in the _Quarterly_, written by
Sir Walter Scott, of old Richard Cumberland’s last novel, ‘John
de Lancaster,’ published in 1809, when its author, ‘the Terence
of England,’ was well-nigh eighty years of age. The passage is a
fierce one, but Scott’s good-nature was proof against everything but
affectation. No man minded a bad novel less than the author of ‘Guy
Mannering’ and ‘The Heart of Midlothian.’ I am certain he could have
pulled Bishop Thirlwall through ‘The Wide, Wide World,’ in the middle
of which, for some unaccountable reason, that great novel-reading
prelate stuck fast. But an author had only to pooh-pooh the public
taste, to sneer at popularity, to discourse solemnly on his function as
a teacher of his age and master of his craft, to make Sir Walter show
his teeth, and his fangs were formidable; and the storm of his wrath
all the more tremendous because bursting from a clear sky.

I will quote a few words from the passage in ‘John de Lancaster’ which
made Scott so angry, and which he pronounced a doleful lamentation over
the ‘praise and pudding which Cumberland alleges have been gobbled up
by his contemporaries’:


     ‘If in the course of my literary labours I had been less studious
     to adhere to nature and simplicity, I am perfectly convinced
     I should have stood higher in estimation with the purchasers
     of copyright, and probably have been read and patronized by my
     contemporaries in the proportion of ten to one.’


It seems a harmless kind of bleat after all, but it was enough to sting
Scott to fury, and make him fall upon the old man in a manner somewhat
too savage and tartarly. Some years later, and after Cumberland was
dead, Sir Walter wrote a sketch of his life in the vein we are better
accustomed to associate with the name of Scott.

Cumberland was a voluminous author, having written two epics,
thirty-eight dramatic pieces, including a revised version of ‘Timon
of Athens’--of which Horace Walpole said, ‘he has caught the manners
and diction of the original so exactly that I think it is full as bad
a play as it was before he corrected it’--a score or two of fugitive
poetical compositions, including some verses to Dr. James, whose
powders played almost as large a part in the lives of men of that time
as Garrick himself, numerous prose publications and three novels,
‘Arundel,’ ‘Henry,’ and ‘John de Lancaster.’ Of the novels, ‘Henry’
is the one to which Sir Walter’s epitaph is least inapplicable--but
Cumberland meant no harm. Were I to be discovered on Primrose Hill, or
any other eminence, reading ‘Henry,’ I should blush no deeper than if
the book had been ‘David Grieve.’

Cumberland has, of course, no place in men’s memories by virtue of
his plays, poems, or novels. Even the catholic Chambers gives no
extracts from Cumberland in the ‘Encyclopedia.’ What keeps him for ever
alive is--first, his place in Goldsmith’s great poem, ‘Retaliation’;
secondly, his memoirs, to which Sir Walter refers so unkindly; and
thirdly, the tradition--the well-supported tradition--that he was the
original ‘Sir Fretful Plagiary.’

On this last point we have the authority of Croker, and there is none
better for anything disagreeable. Croker says he knew Cumberland well
for the last dozen years of his life, and that to his last day he
resembled ‘Sir Fretful.’

The Memoirs were first published in 1806, in a splendidly printed
quarto. The author wanted money badly, and Lackington’s house gave him
£500 for his manuscript. It is an excellent book. I do not quarrel with
Mr. Leslie Stephen’s description of it in the ‘National Dictionary
of Biography’: ‘A very loose book, dateless, inaccurate, but with
interesting accounts of men of note.’ All I mean by excellent is
excellent to read. The Memoirs touch upon many points of interest.
Cumberland was born in the Master’s Lodge, at Trinity, Cambridge, in
the Judge’s Chamber--a room hung round with portraits of ‘hanging
judges’ in their official robes,and where a great Anglican divine and
preacher told me he had once passed a sleepless night, so scared was
he by these sinful emblems of human justice. There is an admirable
account in Cumberland’s Memoirs of his maternal grandfather, the
famous Richard Bentley, and of the Vice-Master, Dr. Walker, fit to
be read along with De Quincey’s spirited essay on the same subject.
Then the scene is shifted to Dublin Castle, where Cumberland was
Ulster-Secretary when Halifax was Lord-Lieutenant, and Single-speech
Hamilton had acquired by purchase (for a brief season) the brains of
Edmund Burke. There is a wonderful sketch of Bubb Dodington and his
villa ‘La Trappe,’ on the banks of the Thames, whither one fair evening
Wedderburn brought Mrs. Haughton in a hackney-coach. You read of Dr.
Johnson and Dr. Goldsmith, of Garrick and Foote, and participate in the
bustle and malice of the play-house. Unluckily, Cumberland was sent to
Spain on a mission, and came home with a grievance. This part is dull,
but in all other respects the Memoirs are good to read.

Cumberland’s father, who became an Irish bishop, is depicted by his son
as a most pleasing character; and no doubt of his having been so would
ever have entered a head always disposed to think well of fathers had
not my copy of the Memoirs been annotated throughout in the nervous,
scholarly hand of a long-previous owner who, for some reason or
another, hated the Cumberlands, the Whig clergy, and the Irish people
with a hatred which found ample room and verge enough in the spacious
margins of the Memoirs.

I print one only of these splenetic notes:


     ‘I forget whether I have noticed this elsewhere, therefore I
     will make sure. In the novel “Arundel,” Cumberland has drawn an
     exact picture of himself as secretary to Halifax, and has made
     the father of the hero a clergyman and a keen electioneerer--the
     vilest character in fiction. The laborious exculpation of Parson
     Cumberland in these Memoirs does not wipe out the scandal of such
     a picture. In spite of all he says, we cannot help suspecting that
     Parson Cumberland and Joseph Arundel had a likeness. N.B.--In
     both novels (_i.e._, “Arundel” and “Henry”) the portrait of a
     modern clergyman is too true. But it is strange that Cumberland,
     thus hankering after the Church, should have volunteered two such
     characters as Joseph Arundel and Claypole.’


‘Whispering tongues can poison truth,’ and a persistent annotator who
writes a legible hand is not easily shaken off.

Perhaps the best story in the book is the one about which there is most
doubt. I refer to the well-known and often-quoted account of the first
night of ‘She Stoops to Conquer,’ and of the famous band of _claqueurs_
who early took their places, determined to see the play through.
Cumberland tells the story with the irresistible verve of falsehood--of
the early dinner at the ‘Shakespeare Tavern,’ ‘where Samuel Johnson
took the chair at the head of a long table, and was the life and soul
of the corps’; of the guests assembled, including Fitzherbert (who
had committed suicide at an earlier date), of the adjournment to the
theatre with Adam Drummond of amiable memory, who ‘was gifted by Nature
with the most sonorous and at the same time the most contagious laugh
that ever echoed from the human lungs. The neighing of the horse of the
son of Hystaspes was a whisper to it; the whole thunder of the theatre
could not drown it’; and on the story rolls.

It has to be given up. There was a dinner, but it is doubtful whether
Cumberland was at it; and as for the proceedings at the theatre, others
who were there have pronounced Cumberland’s story a bit of _blague_.
According to the newspapers of the day, Cumberland, instead of sitting
by Drummond’s side and telling him when to laugh in his peculiar
manner, was visibly chagrined by the success of the piece, and as
wretched as any man could well be. But Adam Drummond must have been a
reality. His laugh still echoes in one’s ears.



ALEXANDER KNOX AND THOMAS DE QUINCEY.


Amongst the many _bizarre_ things that attended the events which led
up to the Act of Union between Great Britain and Ireland, was the
circumstance that Lord Castlereagh’s private secretary during the
period should have been that Mr. Alexander Knox whose Remains in four
rather doleful volumes were once cherished by a certain school of
theologians.

Mr. Knox was a man of great piety, some learning, and of the utmost
simplicity of life and manners. He was one of the first of our moderns
to be enamoured of primitive Christian times, and to seek to avoid the
claims of Rome upon the allegiance of all Catholic-minded souls by
hooking himself on to a period prior to the full development of those
claims.

It is no doubt true that, for a long time past, Nonconformists of
different kinds have boldly asserted that they were primitive; but it
must be owned that they have never taken the least pains to ascertain
the actual facts of the case. Now, Mr. Knox took great pains to be
primitive. Whether he succeeded it is not for me to say, but at all
events he went so far on his way to success as to leave off being
modern both in his ways of thought and in his judgments of men and
books.

English Nonconformity has produced many hundreds of volumes of
biography and Remains, but there is never a primitive one amongst them.
To anyone who may wish to know what it is to be primitive, there is
but one answer: Read the Remains of Alexander Knox. Be careful to get
the right Knox. There was one Vicesimus, who is much better known than
Alexander, and at least as readable, but (and this is the whole point)
not at all primitive.

And it was this primitive, apostolic Mr. Knox who is held by some to
be the real parent of the Tractarian movement, whose correspondence is
almost entirely religious, and whose whole character stands revealed
in his Remains as that of a man without guile, and as obstinate as a
mule, who was chosen at a most critical moment of political history to
share the guilty secrets of Mr. Pitt and Lord Castlereagh. It seems
preposterous.

The one and only thing in Knox’s Remains of the least interest to
people who are not primitive, is a letter addressed to him by Lord
Castlereagh, written after the completion of the Union, and suggesting
to him the propriety of his undertaking the task of writing the history
of that event--the reason being his thorough knowledge of all the
circumstances of the case.

Such a letter bids us pause.

By this time we know well enough how the Act of Union was carried. By
bribery and corruption. Nobody has ever denied it for the last fifty
years. It has been in the school text-books for generations. But the
point is, Did Mr. Knox know? If he did, it must seem to all who have
read his Remains--and it is worth while reading them only to enjoy the
sensation--a most marvellous thing. It would not be more marvellous had
we learnt from Canon Liddon’s long-looked-for volumes that Mr. Pusey
was Mr. Disraeli’s adviser in all matters relating to the disposition
of the secret service money and the Tory election funds. If Knox did
not know anything about it, how was he kept in ignorance, how was he
sheltered from the greedy Irish peers and borough-mongers and all the
other impecunious rascals who had the vending of a nation? And what are
we to think of the foresight of Castlereagh, who secured for himself
such a secretary in order that, after all was over, Mr. Knox might sit
down and in all innocence become the historian of proceedings of which
he had been allowed to know nothing, but which sorely needed the cloak
of a holy life and conversation to cover up their sores?

It is an odd problem. For my part, I believe in Knox’s innocence.
Trying very hard to be worthy of the second century was not good
training for seeing his way through the fag-end of the eighteenth.
Apart from this, it is amazing what some men will not see. I recall but
will not quote the brisk retort of Mrs. Saddletree at her husband’s
expense, which relates to the incapacity of that learned saddler to see
what was going on under his nose. The test was a severe one, but we
have no doubt whatever that Alexander Knox could have stood it as well
as Mr. Bartoline Saddletree.

Another strange incident connected with the same event is that the
final ratification of the Act of Union in Dublin was witnessed by,
and made, as it could not fail to do, a great impression upon, the
most accomplished rhetorical writer of our time. De Quincey, then a
precocious boy of fifteen, happened by a lucky chance to be in Ireland
at the time, and as the guest of Lord Altamount, an Irish peer, he had
every opportunity both of seeing the sight and acquainting himself
with the feelings of some of the leading actors in the play, call it
tragedy, comedy, or farce, as you please.

De Quincey’s account of the scene, and his two chapters on the Irish
Rebellion, are to be found in the first volume of his ‘Autobiographic
Sketches.’

De Quincey hints that both Lord Altamount and his son, ‘who had an
Irish heart,’ would have been glad if at the very last moment the
populace had stepped in between Mr. Pitt and the Irish peers and
commoners and compelled the two Houses to perpetuate themselves.
Internally, says De Quincey, they would have laughed. But it was
written otherwise in Heaven’s Chancery, and ‘the Bill received the
Royal assent without a muttering or a whispering or the protesting echo
of a sigh.... One person only I remarked whose features were suddenly
illuminated by a smile--a sarcastic smile, as I read it--which,
however, might be all fancy. It was Lord Castlereagh.’ Can it possibly
be that this was the very moment when it occurred to his lordship’s
mind that Mr. Knox was the man to be the historian of the event thus
concluded?

The new edition of De Quincey’s writings has naturally provoked many
critics to attempt to do for him what he was fond enough of doing for
others, often to their dismay--to give some account, that is, of the
author and the man. De Quincey does not lend himself to this familiar
treatment. He eludes analysis and baffles description. His great fault
as an author is best described, in the decayed language of the equity
draughtsman, as multifariousness. His style lacks the charm of economy,
and his workmanship the dignity of concentration.

A literary spendthrift is, however, a very endurable sinner in these
stingy days. Mr. Mill speaks somewhere (I think in his ‘Political
Economy’) almost sorrowfully of De Quincey’s strange habit of
scattering fine thoughts up and down his merely miscellaneous writings.
The habit has ceased to afflict the reader. The fine maxim ‘Waste
not, want not,’ is now inscribed over the desks of our miscellaneous
writers. Such extravagance as De Quincey’s, as it is not likely to be
repeated, need not be too severely reprobated.

De Quincey’s magnificence, the apparent boundlessness of his
information, the liberties he takes, relying upon his mastery of
language, his sportiveness and freakish fancies, make him the idol of
all hobbledehoys of a literary turn. By them his sixteen volumes are
greedily devoured. Happy the country, one is tempted to exclaim, that
has such reading to offer its young men and maidens!

The discovery that De Quincey wrote something else besides the ‘Opium
Eater’ marks a red-letter day in many a young life. The papers on
‘The Twelve Cæsars’; on the ‘Essenes and Secret Societies’; on ‘Judas
Iscariot,’ ‘Cicero,’ and ‘Richard Bentley’; ‘The Spanish Nun,’ the
‘Female Infidel,’ the ‘Tartars,’ seemed the very climax of literary
well-doing, and to unite the learning of the schools with all the fancy
of the poets and the wit of the world.

As one grows older, one grows sterner--with others.


     ‘Prune thou thy words, the thoughts control
       That o’er thee swell and throng;
     They will condense within thy soul,
       And change to purpose strong.’


The lines have a literary as well as a moral value.

But though paradox may cease to charm, and a tutored intellect seem to
sober age a better guide than a lawless fancy, and a chastened style a
more comfortable thing than impassioned prose and pages of _bravura_,
still, after all, ‘the days of our youth are the days of our glory,’
and for a reader who is both young and eager the Selections Grave and
Gay of Thomas de Quincey will always be above criticism, and belong to
the realm of rapture.



HANNAH MORE.


An ingenious friend of mine, who has collected a library in which every
book is either a masterpiece of wit or a miracle of rarity, found great
fault with me the other day for adding to my motley heap the writings
of Mrs. Hannah More. In vain I pleaded I had given but eight shillings
and sixpence for the nineteen volumes, neatly bound and lettered on
the back. He was not thinking, so he protested, of my purse, but of my
taste, and he went away, spurning the gravel under his feet, irritated
that there should be such men as I.

I, however, am prepared to brazen it out. I freely admit that the
celebrated Mrs. Hannah More is one of the most detestable writers that
ever held a pen. She flounders like a huge conger-eel in an ocean of
dingy morality. She may have been a wit in her youth, though I am
not aware of any evidence of it--certainly her poem, ‘Bas Bleu,’ is
none--but for all the rest of her days, and they were many, she was
an encyclopædia of all literary vices. You may search her nineteen
volumes through without lighting upon one original thought, one happy
phrase. Her religion lacks reality. Not a single expression of genuine
piety, of heart-felt emotion, ever escapes her lips. She is never
pathetic, never terrible. Her creed is powerless either to attract the
well-disposed or make the guilty tremble. No naughty child ever read
‘The Fairchild Family’ or ‘Stories from the Church Catechism’ without
quaking and quivering like a short-haired puppy after a ducking; but,
then, Mrs. Sherwood was a woman of genius, whilst Mrs. Hannah More was
a pompous failure.

Still, she has a merit of her own, just enough to enable a middle-aged
man to chew the cud of reflection as he hastily turns her endless
pages. She is an explanatory author, helping you to understand how
sundry people who were old when you were young came to be the folk they
were, and to have the books upon their shelves they had.

Hannah More was the first, and I trust the worst, of a large
class--‘the ugliest of her daughters Hannah,’ if I may parody a poet
she affected to admire. This class may be imperfectly described as
‘the well-to-do Christian.’ It inhabited snug places in the country,
and kept an excellent, if not dainty, table. The money it saved in
a ball-room it spent upon a greenhouse. Its horses were fat, and
its coachman invariably present at family prayers. Its pet virtue
was Church twice on Sunday, and its peculiar horrors theatrical
entertainments, dancing, and threepenny points. Outside its garden
wall lived the poor who, if virtuous, were for ever curtsying to the
ground or wearing neat uniforms, except when expiring upon truckle-beds
beseeching God to bless the young ladies of The Grange or the Manor
House, as the case might be.

As a book ‘Cœlebs in Search of a Wife’ is as odious as it is
absurd--yet for the reason already assigned it may be read with a
certain curiosity--but as it would be cruelty to attempt to make good
my point by quotation, I must leave it as it is.

It is characteristic of the unreality of Hannah More that she prefers
Akenside to Cowper, despite the latter’s superior piety. Cowper’s
sincerity and pungent satire frightened her; the verbosity of Akenside
was much to her mind:

‘Sir John is a passionate lover of poetry, in which he has a
fine taste. He read it [a passage from Akenside’s “Pleasures of
Imagination”] with much spirit and feeling, especially these truly
classical lines:


     ‘“_Mind--mind_ alone; bear witness, earth and heaven,
     The living fountains in itself contains
     Of Beauteous and Sublime; here hand in hand
     Sit paramount the graces; here enthroned
     Celestial Venus, with divinest airs,
     Invites the soul to never-fading joy.”


‘“The reputation of this exquisite passage,” said he, laying down the
book, “is established by the consenting suffrage of all men of taste,
though, by the critical countenance you are beginning to put on you
look as if you had a mind to attack it.”

‘“So far from it,” said I [Cœlebs], “_that I know nothing more splendid
in the whole mass of our poetry_.”’

Miss More had an odd life before she underwent what she calls a
‘revolution in her sentiments,’ a revolution, however, which I fear
left her heart of hearts unchanged. She consorted with wits, though
always, be it fairly admitted, on terms of decorum. She wrote three
tragedies, which were not rejected as they deserved to be, but duly
appeared on the boards of London and Bath with prologues and epilogues
by Garrick and by Sheridan. She dined and supped and made merry. She
had a prodigious flirtation with Dr. Johnson, who called her a saucy
girl, albeit she was thirty-seven; and once, for there was no end to
his waggery, lamented she had not married Chatterton, ‘that posterity
might have seen a propagation of poets.’ The good doctor, however,
sickened of her flattery, and one of the rudest speeches even he ever
made was addressed to her.

After Johnson’s death Hannah met Boswell, full of his intended book
which she did her best to spoil with her oily fatuity. Said she to
Boswell, ‘I beseech your tenderness for our virtuous and most revered
departed friend; I beg you will mitigate some of his asperities,’ to
which diabolical counsel the Inimitable replied roughly, ‘He would not
cut off his claws nor make a tiger a cat to please anybody.’

The most moving incident in Hannah More’s life occurred near its close,
and when she was a lone, lorn woman--her sisters Mary, Betty, Sally,
and Patty having all predeceased her. She and they had long lived in
a nice house or ‘place’ called Barley Wood, in the neighbourhood of
Bristol, and here her sisters one after another died, leaving poor
Hannah in solitary grandeur to the tender mercies of Mrs. Susan, the
housekeeper; Miss Teddy, the lady’s-maid; Mrs. Rebecca, the housemaid;
Mrs. Jane, the cook; Miss Sally, the scullion; Mr. Timothy, the
coachman; Mr. John, the gardener; and Mr. Tom, the gardener’s man.
Eight servants and one aged pilgrim--of such was the household of
Barley Wood!

Outwardly decorum reigned. Poor Miss More fondly imagined her domestics
doted on her, and that they joyfully obeyed her laws. It was the
practice at family prayer for each of the servants to repeat a text.
Visitors were much impressed, and went away delighted. But like so many
other things on this round world, it was all hollow. These menials were
not what they seemed.

After Miss More had heard them say their texts and had gone to bed,
their day began. They gave parties to the servants and tradespeople
of the vicinity (pleasing word), and at last, in mere superfluity of
naughtiness, hired a large room a mile off and issued invitations to
a great ball. This undid them. There happened to be at Barley Wood on
the very night of the dance a vigilant visitor who had her suspicions,
and who accordingly kept watch and ward. She heard the texts, but she
did not go to bed, and from her window she saw the whole household,
under cover of night, steal off to their promiscuous friskings, leaving
behind them poor Miss Sally only, whose sad duty it was to let them in
the next morning, which she duly performed.

Friends were called in, and grave consultations held, and in the end
Miss More was told how she had been wounded in her own household. It
was sore news; she bore it well, wisely determined to quit Barley Wood
once and for ever, and live, as a decent old lady should, in a terrace
in Clifton. The wicked servants were not told of this resolve until
the actual moment of departure had arrived, when they were summoned
into the drawing-room, where they found their mistress, and a company
of friends. In feeling tones Miss Hannah More upbraided them for their
unfaithfulness. ‘You have driven me,’ said she, ‘from my own home, and
forced me to seek a refuge among strangers.’ So saying, she stepped
into her carriage and was driven away. There is surely something
Miltonic about this scene, which is, at all events, better than
anything in Akenside’s ‘Pleasures of Imagination.’

The old lady was of course much happier at No. 4, Windsor Terrace,
Clifton, than she had been at Barley Wood. She was eighty-three years
of age when she took up house there, and eighty-nine when she died,
which she did on the 1st of September, 1833. I am indebted for these
melancholy--and, I believe, veracious--particulars to that amusing book
of Joseph Cottle’s called ‘Early Recollections, chiefly relating to the
late Samuel Taylor Coleridge during his long residence in Bristol.’

I still maintain that Hannah More’s works in nineteen volumes are worth
eight shillings and sixpence.



MARIE BASHKIRTSEFF.


Miss Mathilde Blind, in the introduction to her animated and admirable
translation of the now notorious ‘Journal of Marie Bashkirtseff,’ asks
an exceedingly relevant question--namely, ‘Is it well or is it ill done
to make the world our father confessor?’ Miss Blind does not answer her
own question, but passes on her way content with the observation that,
be it well or ill done, it is supremely interesting. Translators have,
indeed, no occasion to worry about such inquiries. It is hard enough
for them to make their author speak another language than his own,
without stopping to ask whether he ought to have spoken at all. Their
business is to make their author known. As for the author himself, he,
of course, has a responsibility; but, as a rule, he is only thinking
of himself, and only anxious to excite interest in that subject. If he
succeeds in doing this, he is indifferent to everything else. And in
this he is encouraged by the world.

Burns, in his exuberant generosity, was sure that it could afford small
pleasure


               ‘Even to a deil
     To skelp and scaud poor dogs like me,
               And hear us squeal;’


but whatever may be the devil’s taste, there is nothing the reading
public like better than to hear the squeal of some self-torturing atom
of humanity. And, as the atoms have found this out, a good deal of
squealing may be confidently anticipated.

The eclipse of faith has not proved fatal by any means to the
instinct of confession. There is a noticeable desire to make humanity
or the reading public our residuary legatee, to endow it with our
experiences, to enrich it with our egotisms, to strip ourselves bare
in the market-place--if not for the edification, at all events for the
amusement, of man. All this is accomplished by autobiography. We then
become interesting, probably for the first time, as, to employ Mlle.
Bashkirtseff’s language, ‘documents of human nature.’

The metaphor carries us far. To falsify documents by addition,
or to garble them by omission, is an offence of grave character,
though of frequent occurrence. Is there, then, to be no reticence in
autobiography? Are the documents of human nature to be printed at
length?

These are questions which each autobiographer must settle for himself.
If what is published is interesting for any reason whatsoever, be it
the work of pious sincerity or diseased self-consciousness, the world
will read it, and either applaud the piety or ridicule the absurdity of
the author. If it is not interesting it will not be read.

Therefore, to consider the ethics of autobiography is to condemn
yourself to the academy. ‘Rousseau’s Confessions’ ought never to have
been written; but written they were, and read they will ever be. But
as a pastime moralizing has a rare charm. We cannot always be reading
immoral masterpieces. A time comes when inaction is pleasant, and when
it is soothing to hear mild accents murmuring ‘Thou shalt not.’ For a
moment, then, let the point remain under consideration.

The ethics of autobiography are, in my judgment, admirably summed up
by George Eliot, in a passage in ‘Theophrastus Such,’ a book which, we
were once assured, well-nigh destroyed the reputation of its author,
but which would certainly have established that of most living writers
upon a surer foundation than they at present occupy. George Eliot says:

‘In all autobiography there is, nay, ought to be, an incompleteness
which may have the effect of falsity. We are each of us bound to
reticence by the piety we owe to those who have been nearest to us,
and have had a mingled influence over our lives--by the fellow-feeling
which should restrain us from turning our volunteered and picked
confessions into an act of accusation against others who have no chance
of vindicating themselves, and, most of all, by that reverence for
the higher efforts of our common nature which commands us to bury
its lowest faculties, its invincible remnants of the brute, its most
agonizing struggle with temptation, in unbroken silence.’

All this is surely sound morality and good manners, but it is not the
morality or the manners of Mlle. Marie Bashkirtseff, who was always
ready to barter everything for something she called Fame.

‘If I don’t win fame,’ says she over and over again, ‘I will kill
myself.’

Miss Blind is, no doubt, correct in her assertion that, as a painter,
Mlle. Bashkirtseff’s strong point was expression. Certainly, she had a
great gift that way with her pen. Amidst a mass of greedy utterances,
esurient longings, commonplace ejaculations, and unlovely revelations,
passages occur in this journal which bid us hold. For all her
boastings, her sincerity is not always obvious, but it speaks plainly
through each one of the following words:


     ‘What is there in us, that, in spite of plausible arguments--in
     spite of the consciousness that all leads to _nothing_--we should
     still grumble? I know that, like everyone else, I am going on
     towards death and nothingness. I weigh the circumstances of life,
     and, whatever they may be, they appear to me miserably vain, and,
     for all that, I cannot resign myself. Then, it must be a force; it
     must be a _something_--not merely “a passage,” a certain period
     of time, which matters little whether it is spent in a palace or
     in a cellar; there is, then, something stronger, truer, than our
     foolish phrases about it all. It is life, in short; not merely a
     passage--an unprofitable misery--but life, all that we hold most
     dear, all that we call ours, in short.

     ‘People say it is nothing, because we do not possess eternity.
     Ah! the fools. Life is ourselves, it is ours, it is all that we
     possess; how, then, is it possible to say that it is _nothing_? If
     this is _nothing_, show me _something_.’


To deride life is indeed foolish. Prosperous people are apt to do so,
whether their prosperity be of this world or anticipated in the next.
The rich man bids the poor man lead an abstemious life in his youth,
and scorn delights, in order that he may have the wherewithal to spend
a dull old age; but the poor man replies:

‘Your arrangements have left me nothing but my youth. I will enjoy
that, and _you_ shall support me in a dull old age.’

To deride life, I repeat, is foolish; but to pity yourself for
having to die is to carry egotism rather too far. This is what Mlle.
Bashkirtseff does.

‘I am touched myself when I think of my end. No, it seems impossible!
Nice, fifteen years, the three Graces, Rome, the follies of Naples,
painting, ambition, unheard-of hopes--to end in a coffin, without
having had anything, not even love.’

Impossible, indeed! There is not much use for that word in the human
comedy.

Never, surely, before was there a lady so penetrated with her own
personality as the writer of these journals. Her arms and legs,
hips and shoulders, hopes and fears, pictures and future glory, are
all alike scanned, admired, stroked, and pondered over. She reduces
everything to one vast common denominator--herself. She gives two
francs to a starving family.

‘It was a sight to see the joy, the surprise of these poor creatures.
I hid myself behind the trees. Heaven has never treated me so well;
heaven has never had any of these beneficent fancies.’

Heaven had, at all events, never heard the like of this before. Here
is a human creature brought up in what is called the lap of luxury,
wearing purple and fine linen, and fur cloaks worth 2,000 francs,
eating and drinking to repletion, and indulging herself in every fancy;
she divides a handful of coppers amongst five starving persons, and
then retires behind a tree, and calls God to witness that no such
kindness had ever been extended to her.

When Mlle. Elsnitz, her long-suffering companion--‘young, only
nineteen, unfortunate, in a strange house without a friend’--at last,
after suffering many things, leaves the service, it is recorded:

‘I could not speak for fear of crying, and I affected a careless look,
but I hope she may have seen.’

Seen what? Why, that the carelessness was unreal. A quite sufficient
reparation for months of insolence, in the opinion of Miss Marie.

It is said that Mlle. Bashkirtseff had a great faculty of enjoyment.
If so, except in the case of books, she hardly makes it felt. Reading
evidently gave her great pleasure; but, though there is a good deal of
rapture about Nature in her journals, it is of an uneasy character.


     ‘The silence that is in the starry sky,
     The sleep that is amongst the lonely hills,’


do not pass into the souls of those whose ambition it is to be greeted
with loud cheers by the whole wide world.

Whoever is deeply interested in himself always invents a God whom he
can apostrophize on suitable occasions. The existence of this deity
feeds his creator’s vanity. When the world turns a deaf ear to his
broken cries he besieges heaven. The Almighty, so he flatters himself,
cannot escape him. When there is no one else to have recourse to, when
all other means fail, there still remains--God. When your father, and
your mother, and your aunt, and your companion, and your maid, are all
wearied to death by your exhaustless vanity, you have still another
string to your bow. Sometimes, indeed, the strings may get entangled.

‘Just now, I spoke harshly to my aunt, but I could not help it. She
came in just when I was weeping with my hands over my face, and was
summoning God to attend to me a little.’

A book like this makes one wonder what power, human or divine, can
exorcise such a demon of vanity as that which possessed the soul of
this most unhappy girl. Carlyle strove with great energy in ‘Sartor
Resartus’ to compose a spell which should cleave this devil in three.
For a time it worked well and did some mischief, but now the magician’s
wand seems broken. Religion, indeed, can still show her conquests, and,
when we are considering a question like this, seems a fresher thing
than it does when we are reading ‘Lux Mundi.’

‘Do you want,’ wrote General Gordon in his journal, ‘to be loved,
respected, and trusted? Then ignore the likes and dislikes of man in
regard to your actions; leave their love for God’s, taking Him only.
You will find that as you do so men will like you; they may despise
some things in you, but they will lean on you, and trust you, and
He will give you the spirit of comforting them. But try to please
men and ignore God, and you will fail miserably and get nothing but
disappointment.’

All those who have not yet read these journals, and prefer doing so in
English, should get Miss Blind’s volumes. There they will find this
‘human document’ most vigorously translated into their native tongue.
It, perhaps, sounds better in French.

One remembers George Eliot’s tale of the lady who tried to repeat in
English the pathetic story of a French mendicant--‘J’ai vu le sang
de mon père’--but failed to excite sympathy, owing to the hopeless
realism of Saxon speech. But though better in French, the journal is
interesting in English. Whether, like the dreadful Dean, you regard man
as an odious race of vermin, or agree with an erecter spirit that he is
a being of infinite capacity, you will find food for your philosophy,
and texts for your sermons, in the ‘Journal of Marie Bashkirtseff.’



SIR JOHN VANBRUGH.


Jeremy Collier begins his famous and witty, though dreadfully overdone,
‘Short View of the Immorality and Profaneness of the English Stage’
with the following spirited words:

‘The business of Plays is to recommend Virtue and discountenance Vice;
to show the Uncertainty of Human Greatness, the sudden turns of Fate,
and the unhappy conclusions of Violence and Injustice; ’tis to expose
the singularities of Pride and Fancy, to make Folly and Falsehood
contemptible, and to bring everything that is ill under Infamy and
Neglect.’

He then adds: ‘This design has been oddly pursued by the English
Stage;’ and so he launches his case.

Sir John Vanbrugh, who fared very badly at the doctor’s hands,
replied--and, on the whole, with great spirit and considerable
success--in a pamphlet entitled ‘A Short Vindication of “The Relapse”
and “The Provok’d Wife” from Immorality and Profaneness.’ In this reply
he strikes out this bold apophthegm:

‘The business of Comedy is to show people what they should do, by
representing them upon the stage, doing what they should not.’

He continues with much good sense:


     ‘Nor is there any necessity a philosopher should stand by, like
     an interpreter at a puppet-show, to explain the moral to the
     audience. The mystery is seldom so deep but the pit and boxes
     can dive into it, and ’tis their example out of the playhouse
     that chiefly influences the galleries. The stage is a glass for
     the world to view itself in; people ought, therefore, to see
     themselves as they are; if it makes their faces too fair, they
     won’t know they are dirty, and, by consequence, will neglect to
     wash them. If, therefore, I have showed “Constant” upon the stage
     what generally the thing called a fine gentleman is off it, I
     think I have done what I should do. I have laid open his vices
     as well as his virtues; ’tis the business of the audience to
     observe where his flaws lessen his value, and, by considering the
     deformity of his blemishes, become sensible how much a finer thing
     he would be without them.’


It is impossible to improve upon these instructions; they are
admirable. The only pity is that, as, naturally enough, Sir John wrote
his plays first, and defended them afterwards, he had not bestowed
a thought upon the subject until the angry parson gave him check.
Vanbrugh, like most dramatists of his calibre, wrote to please the
town, without any thought of doing good or harm. The two things he
wanted were money and a reputation for wit. To lecture and scold him as
if he had degraded some high and holy office was ridiculous. Collier
had an excellent case, for there can be no doubt that the dramatists
he squinted at were worse than they had any need to be. But it is
impossible to read Collier’s two small books without a good many pishes
and pshaws! He was a clericalist of an aggressive type. You cannot
withhold your sympathy from Vanbrugh’s remark:

‘The reader may here be pleased to take notice what this gentleman
would construe profaneness if he were once in the saddle with a good
pair of spurs upon his heels.’

Now that Evangelicalism has gone out of fashion, we no longer hear
denunciations of stage-plays. High Church parsons crowd the Lyceum, and
lead the laughter in less dignified if more amusing resorts. But, for
all that, there is a case to be made against the cheerful playhouse,
but not by me.

As for Sir John Vanbrugh, his two well-known plays, ‘The Relapse’
and ‘The Provok’d Wife,’ are most excellent reading, Jeremy Collier
notwithstanding. They must be read with the easy tolerance, the amused
benignity, the scornful philosophy of a Christian of the Dr. Johnson
type. You must not probe your laughter deep; you must forget for awhile
your probationary state, and remember that, after all, the thing is
but a play. Sir John has a great deal of wit of that genuine kind which
is free from modishness. He reads freshly. He also has ideas. In ‘The
Provok’d Wife,’ which was acted for the first time in the early part
of 1697, there appears the Philosophy of Clothes (thus forestalling
Swift), and also an early conception of Carlyle’s stupendous image of a
naked House of Lords. This occurs in a conversation between Heartfree
and Constant, which concludes thus:


     _Heartfree._ Then for her outside--I consider it merely as an
     outside--she has a thin, tiffany covering over just such stuff as
     you and I are made on. As for her motion, her mien, her air, and
     all those tricks, I know they affect you mightily. If you should
     see your mistress at a coronation, dragging her peacock’s train,
     with all her state and insolence, about her, ’twould strike you
     with all the awful thoughts that heaven itself could pretend
     to from you; whereas, I turn the whole matter into a jest, and
     suppose her strutting in the selfsame stately manner, with nothing
     on but her stays and her under, scanty-quilted petticoat.

     _Constant._ Hold thy profane tongue! for I’ll hear no more.


‘The Relapse’ must, I think, be pronounced Vanbrugh’s best comedy. Lord
Foppington is a humorous conception, and the whole dialogue is animated
and to the point. One sees where Sheridan got his style. There are more
brains, if less sparkle, in Vanbrugh’s repartees than in Sheridan’s.


     _Berenthia._ I have had so much discourse with her, that I
     believe, were she once cured of her fondness to her husband, the
     fortress of her virtue would not be so impregnable as she fancies.

     _Worthy._ What! she runs, I’ll warrant you, into that common
     mistake of fond wives, who conclude themselves virtuous because
     they can refuse a man they don’t like when they have got one they
     do.

     _Berenthia._ True; and, therefore, I think ’tis a presumptuous
     thing in a woman to assume the name of virtuous till she has
     heartily hated her husband and been soundly in love with somebody
     else.


A handsome edition of Vanbrugh’s Plays has recently appeared, edited
by Mr. W. C. Ward (Lawrence and Bullen), who has prepared an excellent
Life of his author.

Vanbrugh was, as all the world knows, the architect of Blenheim
Palace, as he also was of Castle Howard. He became Comptroller of Works
in the reign of Queen Anne, and was appointed by King George Surveyor
of the Works at Greenwich Hospital, in the neighbourhood of which he
had property of his own. His name is still familiar in the ears of the
respectable inhabitants of Blackheath. But what is mysterious is how
and where he acquired such skill as he possessed in his profession. His
father, Giles Vanbrugh, had nineteen children, of whom thirteen appear
to have lived for some length of time, and of John’s education nothing
precise is known. When nineteen he went into France, where he remained
some years.

During this period, observes Mr. Ward, ‘it may be presumed he laid the
foundation of that skill in architecture he afterwards so eminently
displayed; at least, there is no subsequent period of his life to
which we can, with equal probability, ascribe his studies in that art.’

Later on, Mr. Ward says:


     ‘The year 1702 presents our author in a new character. Of his
     architectural studies we know absolutely nothing, unless we may
     accept Swift’s account, who pretends that Vanbrugh acquired the
     rudiments of the art by watching children building houses of cards
     or clay. But this was probably ironical. However he came by his
     skill, in 1702 he stepped into sudden fame as the architect of
     Castle Howard.’


It is indeed extraordinary that a man should have undertaken such big
jobs as Castle Howard and Blenheim without leaving any trace whatever
of the means by which he became credited with the power to execute
them. Mr. Pecksniff got an occasional pupil and premium, but, so far
as I know, he never designed so much as a parish pump. Blenheim is
exposed to a good deal of criticism, but nobody can afford to despise
either it or Castle Howard, and it seems certain that the original
plans and elevations of both structures were prepared by the author of
‘The Relapse’ and ‘The Provok’d Wife’ himself. Of course, there may
have been a ghost, but if there had been, the Duchess of Marlborough,
who was soon at loggerheads with her architect, would probably have
dragged it into the light of day.

The wits made great fun of their distinguished colleague’s feats
in brick and mortar. It was not usually permissible for a literary
gentleman to be anything else, unless, indeed, a divine like Dr. Swift,
whose satirical verses on the small house Vanbrugh built for himself
in Whitehall are well known. They led to a coolness, and no one need
wonder. After the architect’s death the divine apologized and expressed
regret.

The well-known epigram--


     ‘Under this stone, reader, survey
     Dead Sir John Vanbrugh’s house of clay
     Lie heavy on him, Earth, for he
     Laid many heavy loads on thee’--


is the composition of another doctor of divinity--Dr. Abel Evans--and
was probably prompted by envy.

Amongst other things, Vanbrugh was a Herald, and in that capacity
visited Hanover in 1706, and helped to invest the Electoral Prince,
afterwards George II., with the Order of the Garter. Vanbrugh’s
personality is not clearly revealed to us anywhere, but he appears
to have been a pleasant companion and witty talker. He married late
in life, and of three children only one survived, to be killed at
Fontenoy. He himself died in 1726, in his sixty-third year, of a
quinsy. His widow survived him half a century, thus affording another
proof, if proof be needed, that no man is indispensable.



JOHN GAY.


The first half of the eighteenth century was in England the poet’s
playground. These rhyming gentry had then a status, a claim upon
private munificence and the public purse which has long since been
hopelessly barred. A measure of wit, a tincture of taste, and a
perseverance in demand would in those days secure for the puling Muse
slices of solid pudding whilst in the flesh, and (frequently) sepulture
in the Abbey when all was over.

What silk-mercer’s apprentice in these hard times, finding a place
behind Messrs. Marshall and Snelgrove’s counter not jumping with his
genius, dare hope by the easy expedient of publishing a pamphlet on
‘The Present State of Wit’ to become domestic steward to a semi-royal
Duchess, and the friend of Mr. Lewis Morris and Mr. Lecky, who are,
I suppose, our nineteenth-century equivalents for Alexander Pope
and Jonathan Swift? Yet such was the happy fate of Gay, who, after
an idle life of undeserved good-fortune and much unmanly repining,
died of an inflammation, in spite of the skilled care of Arbuthnot
and the unwearying solicitude of the Duchess of Queensberry, and was
interred like a peer of the realm in Westminster Abbey, having for his
pall-bearers the Earl of Chesterfield, Viscount Cornbury, the Hon. Mr.
Berkeley, General Dormer, Mr. Gore, and Mr. Pope. Such a recognition of
the author of ‘Fables’ and ‘The Beggars’ Opera’ must make Mr. Besant’s
mouth water. Nor did Gay, despite heavy losses in the South Sea
Company, die a pauper; he left £6,000 behind him, which, as he was wise
enough to die intestate, was divided equally between his two surviving
sisters.

Gay’s good luck has never forsaken him. He enjoys, if, indeed, the
word be not the hollowest of mockeries, an eternity of fame. It is
true he is not read much, but he is always read a little. He has been
dead more than a century and a half, so it seems likely that a hundred
and fifty years hence he will be read as much as he is now, and, like
a cork, will be observed bobbing on the surface of men’s memories.
Better men and better poets than he have been, and will be, entirely
submerged; but he was happy in his hour, happy even in his name (which
lent itself to rhyme), happy in his nature; and so (such at least is
our prognostication) new editions of Gay’s slender remains will at long
intervals continue to appear and to attract a moment’s attention, even
as Mr. Underhill’s admirable edition of the poems has lately done;
new anthologies will contain his name, the biographical dictionaries
will never quite forget him, his tomb in the Abbey will be stared at
by impressionable youngsters, Pope’s striking epitaph will invite the
fault-finding of the critical, and his own jesting couplet incur the
censure of the moralist, until the day dawns when men cease to forget
themselves in trifles. As soon as they do this, Gay will be forgotten
once and for ever.

Gay’s one real achievement was ‘The Beggars’ Opera,’ which sprang
from a sprout of Swift’s great brain. A ‘Newgate pastoral might make
an odd, pretty sort of thing,’ so the Dean once remarked to Gay;
and as Mr. Underhill, in his admirable Life of our poet, reminds
us, Swift repeated the suggestion in a letter to Pope: ‘What think
you of a Newgate pastoral among the whores and thieves there?’ But
Swift’s ‘Beggars’ Opera’ would not have hit the public taste between
wind and water as did Gay’s. It would have been much too tremendous
a thing--its sincerity would have damned it past redemption. Even in
Gay’s light hands the thing was risky--a speculation in the public
fancy which could not but be dangerous. Gay knew this well enough,
hence his quotation from Martial (afterwards adopted by the Tennysons
as the motto for ‘Poems by Two Brothers’), _Nos hæc novimus esse
nihil_. Congreve, resting on his laurels, declared it would either take
greatly, or be damned confoundedly. It took, and, indeed, we cannot
wonder. There was a foretaste of Gilbert about it quite enough to make
its fortune in any century. Furthermore, it drove out of England, so
writes an early editor, ‘for that season, the Italian opera, which had
carried all before it for several years.’ It was a triumph for the
home-bred article, and therefore dear to the souls of all true patriots.

The piece, though as wholly without sincerity as a pastoral by Ambrose
Philips, a thing merely of the footlights, entirely shorn of a single
one of the rays which glorify lawlessness in Burns’s ‘Jolly Beggars,’
yet manages through the medium of the songs to convey a pleasing though
absurd sentimentality; and there is, perhaps, noticeable throughout a
slight--a very slight--flavour of what is cantingly but conveniently
called ‘the Revolution,’ which imparts a slender interest.

‘The Beggars’ Opera’ startled the propriety of that strange
institution, the Church of England--a seminary of true religion which
had left the task of protesting against the foulness of Dryden and
Wycherley and the unscrupulous wit of Congreve and Vanbrugh to the
hands of non-jurors like Collier and Law, but which, speaking, we
suppose, in the interests of property, raised a warning voice when a
comic opera made fun, not of marriage vows, but of highway robbery.
Dr. Herring, afterwards Archbishop of Canterbury, plucked up courage
to preach against ‘The Beggars’ Opera’ before the Court, but the Head
of the Church paid no attention to the divine, and, with the Queen and
all the princesses, attended the twenty-first representation. The piece
brought good luck all round. ‘Everybody,’ so Mr. Underhill assures us,
‘connected with the theatre (Lincoln’s Inn Fields), from the principal
performer down to the box-keepers, got a benefit,’ and Miss Lavinia
Fenton, who played Polly Peachum, lived to become Duchess of Bolton;
whilst Hogarth painted no less than three pictures of the celebrated
scene, ‘How happy could I be with either--were t’other dear charmer
away.’

Dr. Johnson, in his ‘Life of Gay,’ deals scornfully with the absurd
notion that robbers were multiplied by the popularity of ‘The Beggars’
Opera.’ ‘It is not likely to do good,’ says the Doctor, ‘nor can it be
conceived, without more speculation than life requires or admits, to be
productive of much evil.’ The Church of England might as well have held
its tongue.

Gay, flushed with success, was not long in producing a sequel called
‘Polly,’ which, however, as it was supposed to offend, not against
morality, which it undoubtedly did, but against Sir Robert Walpole,
was prohibited. ‘Polly’ was printed, and, being prohibited, had a
great sale. It is an exceedingly nasty piece, not unworthy of one of
the three authors who between them produced that stupidest of farces,
‘Three Hours after Marriage.’

Gay’s third opera, ‘Achilles,’ was produced at Covent Garden after his
death. One does not need to be a classical purist to be offended at the
sight of ‘Achilles’ upon a stage, singing doggerel verses to the tune
of ‘Butter’d Pease,’ or at hearing Ajax exclaim:


     ‘Honour called me to the task,
     No matter for explaining,
     ’Tis a fresh affront to ask
     A man of honour’s meaning.’


This vulgar and idiotic stuff ran twenty nights.

Gay’s best-known poetical pieces are his ‘Fables,’ and his undoubtedly
interesting, though intrinsically dull ‘Trivia; or, The Art of Walking
the Streets of London,’ though for our own part we would as lief read
his ‘Shepherds’ Week’ as anything else Gay has ever written.

The ‘Fables’ are light and lively, and might safely be recommended
to all who are fond of an easy quotation. To lay them down is never
difficult, and if, after having done so, Swift’s ‘Confession of the
Beasts’ is taken up, how vast the difference! There are, we know, those
in whose nature there is too much of the milk of human kindness to
enable them to enjoy Swift when he shows his teeth; but however this
may be, we confess, if we are to read at all, we must prefer Swift’s
‘Beasts’ Confession’ to all the sixty-five fables of Gay put together.


     ‘The Swine with contrite heart allow’d
     His shape and beauty made him proud
     In diet was perhaps too nice,
     But gluttony was ne’er his vice;
     In every turn of life content
     And meekly took what fortune sent.
     Inquire through all the parish round,
     A better neighbour ne’er was found.
     His vigilance might some displease;
     ’Tis true he hated sloth like pease.

     ‘The Chaplain vows he cannot fawn,
     Though it would raise him to the lawn.
     He passed his hours among his books,
     You find it in his meagre looks.
     He might if he were worldly wise
     Preferment get and spare his eyes;
     But owns he has a stubborn spirit
     That made him trust alone to merit;
     Would rise by merit to promotion.
     Alas! a mere chimeric notion.’


Gay was found pleasing by his friends, and had, we must believe, a kind
heart. Swift, who was a nice observer in such matters, in his famous
poem on his own death, assigns Gay a week in which to grieve:


     ‘Poor Pope would grieve a month, and Gay
     A week, and Arbuthnot a day;
     St. John himself will scarce forbear
     To bite his pen and drop a tear;
     The rest will give a shrug and cry,
     “I’m sorry, but we all must die.”’


It is a matter of notoriety that Gay was very fat and fond of eating. He
is, as we have already said, buried in Westminster Abbey, over against
Chaucer. When all the rubbish is carted away from the Abbey to make
room for the great men and women of the twentieth century, Gay will
probably be accounted just good enough to remain where he is. He always
was a lucky fellow, though he had not the grace to think so.



ROGER NORTH’S AUTOBIOGRAPHY.


The Cambridge wit who some vast amount of years ago sang of Bohn’s
publications, ‘so useful to the student of Latin and Greek,’ hit with
unerring precision the main characteristic of those very numerous
volumes. Utility was the badge of all that tribe, save, indeed, of
those woeful ‘Extra Volumes’ which are as much out of place amongst
their grave brethren as John Knox at a ballet. There was something
in the binding of Messrs. Bohn’s books which was austere, and even
forbidding; their excellence, their authority, could not be denied by
even a youthful desperado, but reading them always wore the stern
aspect of duty. The binding had undoubtedly a good deal to do with
this. It has now been discarded by Messrs. George Bell and Sons, the
present proprietors, in favour of brighter colours. The difference thus
effected is enormous. The old binding is kept in stock because, so we
are told, ‘it is endeared to many book-lovers by association.’ The
piety of Messrs. Bell has misled them. No book-lover, we feel certain,
ever held one of Messrs. Bohn’s publications in his hands except to
read it.

A valuable addition has lately been made to the ‘Standard Library’ by
the publication--in three bright and cheerful volumes--of Roger North’s
well-known ‘Lives of the Norths,’ and also--and this practically for
the first time--of Roger North’s Autobiography, a book unknown to
Macaulay, and which he would have read with fierce interest, bludgeon
in hand, having no love for the family.

Dr. Jessopp, who edits the volumes with his accustomed skill, mentions
in the Preface how the manuscript of the Autobiography belonged to
the late Mr. Crossley, of Manchester, and was sold after the death of
that bibliophile, in 1883, and four years later printed for private
circulation. It now comes before the general public. It is not long,
and deserves attention. The style is gritty and the story far from
exciting, but the book is interesting, particularly for lawyers, a
deserving class of readers for whose special entertainment small care
is usually taken.

Roger North was born at Tostock, in Suffolk, in 1653--the youngest of
his brothers. Never was man more of a younger brother than he. This
book of his might be called ‘The Autobiography of a Younger Brother.’
The elder brother was, of course, Francis, afterwards Lord Guilford, a
well-hated man, both in his own day and after it, but who at all events
looked well after Roger, who was some sixteen years his junior.

In 1669 Roger North was admitted a student of the Middle Temple,
Francis being then a Bencher of that learned society. Roger had
chambers on the west side of Middle Temple Lane, and £10 wherewith to
furnish them and buy a gown, and other necessaries. He says it was not
enough, but that he managed to make it serve. His excellent mother,
though she had some ten children and a difficult husband, produced £30,
with which he bought law books. His father allowed him £40 a year, and
he had his big brother at hand to help him out of debt now and again.

He was, we feel as we read, a little uneasy under his brother’s eye.
The elder North had a disagreeable fashion of putting ‘little contempts
upon his brother,’ and a way of raising his own character by depressing
Roger’s, which was hard to bear. But Roger North bore it bravely; he
meant sticking to his brother, and stick he did. In five years he saw
Francis become King’s Counsel, Solicitor, and Attorney-General. ‘If he
should die, writes Roger, ‘I am lost.’ But Francis did not die, which
was as well, for he was much better suited for this world than the next.

Roger North was no great student of the law. He was fond of
mathematics, optics, mechanics, architecture, music, and of sailing a
small yacht--given him by Mr. Windham, of Felbrigge--on the Thames; and
he gives in his Autobiography interesting accounts of these pastimes.
He was very anxious indeed to get on and make money, but he relied more
upon his brother than upon either his own brains or his own industry.

In 1674 Francis North became Chief Justice of the Common Pleas,
succeeding Sir John Vaughan, the friend of Selden; and Roger at once
got himself called to the Bar, and thenceforward, so far as possible,
whenever Francis was on the Bench, there was Roger pleading before him.
Indeed, it went much further than this. ‘I kept so closely to him that
I can safely say I saw him abed every night without intermission for
divers years together, which enables me to contradict the malicious
report a relation raised of him, that he kept a mistress as the mode
of that time was.’ The morals of a Chief Justice two centuries after
his death having no personal concern for this generation, I feel
free to confess that I am rather sorry for Francis with Roger ever
by his side in this unpleasantly pertinacious fashion. The younger
North, so he tells us, always drove down to Westminster with the Chief
Justice, and he frankly admits that his chief _appui_ was his brother’s
character, fame, and interest. Not being a Serjeant, Roger could not
actually practise in the Common Pleas, but on various circuits, at
the Guildhall, at the Treasury, and wherever else he could lawfully
go before the Chief Justice, there Roger went and got a business
together. He also made money, sometimes as much as £9 a day, from
court-keeping--that is, attending manor courts. This was a device of
his elder brother’s, who used to practise it before he was called to
the Bar. It savours of pettifogging. However, it seems in Roger’s case
to have led to his obtaining the patent office of Temporal Steward to
the See of Canterbury, to which he had the courage to stick after the
deprivation of Archbishop Sancroft. This dogged devotion to the Church
redeems North’s life from a commonplacedness which would otherwise be
hopeless. The Archbishop left his faithful steward £20 for a ring, but
North preferred, like a wise man, to buy books, which he had bound in
the Archbishop’s manner.

In 1682 Roger North ‘took silk,’ as the phrase now goes, and became one
of the Attorney-General’s devils, in which capacity his name is to be
found in the reports of the trial of Lord William Russell. What he says
about that trial in the Autobiography is just what might be expected
from an Attorney-General’s devil--that is, that never before was a
State trial conducted with such candour and fairness. He admits that
this is not the judgment of the world; but then, says he, ‘the world
never did nor will understand its true good, or reward, encourage, or
endure its true patriots and friends.’

At the end of 1683 Francis North came home one night with no less
remarkable a companion in his coach than the Great Seal. Roger
instantly transposed himself to the Court of Chancery, where he began
coining money. ‘My whole study,’ he says, ‘is causes and motions.’ He
found it hard work, but he buckled to, and boasts--like so many of
his brethren, alive as well as dead--that he, at all events, always
read his briefs. In the first year his fees amounted to £4,000, in
the second to nearly as much, but in the third there was a falling
off, owing to a smaller quantity of business in the Court. A new Lord
Keeper was always the occasion of the rehearing of old causes. The
defeated litigants wished to try their luck before the new man.

North was at first astonished with the size of the fees he was offered;
he even refused them, thinking them bribes: ‘but my fellow-practisers’
conversation soon cured me of that nicety.’ And yet the biggest fee he
ever got was twenty guineas. Ten guineas was the usual fee on a ‘huge’
brief, and five ‘in the better sort of causes.’ In ordinary cases Roger
North would take two or three guineas, and one guinea for motions and
defences.

In the Long Vacations Roger still stuck to his brother, who, no doubt,
found him useful. Thus when the Mayor, Aldermen, and Council of Banbury
came over to Wroxton to pay their respects to the Lord Keeper, they
were handed over to the charge of Roger, who walked them all over
the house to show the rooms, and then made them drunk at dinner ‘and
dismissed them to their lodgings in ditches homeward bound.’ But the
effort was too much for him, and no sooner were they gone than he had
to lie down, all on fire, upon the ground, from which he rose very sick
and scarce recovered in some days. As a rule he was a most temperate
man, and hated the custom and extravagance of drinking. He had not
enough understanding to obfuscate it by drink.

All went well with the brothers until the death of Charles II. Then the
horizon grew troubled--but still Roger was being talked of as a Baron
of the Exchequer, when the Lord Keeper died on September 5, 1685. With
him ended the public life of his younger brother. Roger North was only
thirty-two. He was a King’s Counsel, and in considerable practice, but
he had not the will--perhaps he had not the force--to stand alone. At
the Revolution he became a non-juror, and retired into the country. His
Autobiography also ceases with his brother’s death.

He had much private family business to transact, and in 1690 he bought
the Rougham estate in Norfolk, where he carried on building and
planting on a considerable scale. He married and had children, bought
books, restored the parish church, and finally died on March 1, 1734,
in his eighty-first year.

Dr. Jessopp tells us very little is left of Roger North--his house has
been pulled down, his trees pulled up, and his books dispersed. But his
Lives of his three brothers, and now his own Autobiography, will keep
his memory green. There is something about him one rather likes, though
were we asked what it is, we should have no answer ready.



BOOKS OLD AND NEW.


Now that our century has entered upon its last decade, and draws near
the hour which will despatch it to join its too frequently and most
unjustly despised predecessor, it is pleasing to note how well it
has learnt to play the old man’s part. One has only to compare the
_Edinburgh Review_ of, say, October, 1807, with its last number, to
appreciate the change that has come over us. Cocksureness, once the
badge of the tribe of critics, is banished to the schoolroom. The
hearty hatreds of our early days would ill befit a death-bed. A keen
critic has observed what a noisy place England used to be. Everybody
cried out loud in the market-place, in the Senate-house, in the Law
Courts, in the Reviews and Magazines. In the year 1845 the _Times_
newspaper incurred the heavy and doubtless the just censure of the
Oxford Union for its unprincipled tone as shown in its ‘violent
attempts to foment agitation as well by inflammatory articles as by
the artifices of correspondents.’ How different it now is! We all move
about as it were in list slippers. Our watchword is ‘Hush!’ Dickens
tells us how, at Hone’s funeral, Cruikshank, being annoyed at some of
the observations of the officiating minister, whispered in Dickens’
ear as they both moved to kneel at prayer, ‘If this wasn’t a funeral I
would punch his head.’ It was a commendable restraint. We are now, all
of us, exercising it.

A gloomy view is being generally taken of our literary future in the
next century. Poetry, it is pretty generally agreed, has died with
Lord Tennyson. Who, it is said, can take any pride or pleasure in the
nineties, whose memory can carry him back to the sixties? What days
those were that gave us brand-new from the press ‘Philip’ and ‘The Four
Georges,’ ‘The Mill on the Floss’ and ‘Silas Marner,’ ‘Evan Harrington’
and ‘Rhoda Fleming,’ ‘Maud,’ ‘The Idylls of the King,’ and ‘Dramatis
Personæ,’ Mr. Arnold’s New Poems, the ‘Apologia pro Vitâ Suâ,’ and
‘Verses on Various Occasions,’ four volumes of ‘Frederick the Great,’
and ‘The Origin of Species’! One wonders in the retrospect how human
stupidity was proof against such an onslaught of wit, such a shower of
golden fancies. Why did not Folly’s fortress fall? We know it did not,
for it is standing yet. Nor has any particular halo gathered round the
sixties--which, indeed, were no better than the fifties or the forties.

From what source, so ask ‘the frosty pows,’ are you who call yourselves
‘jolly candidates’ for 1900, going to get your supplies? Where are
your markets? Who will crowd the theatre on your opening nights? What
well-graced actors will then cross your stage? Your boys and girls
will be well provided for, one can see that. Story-books and handbooks
will jostle for supremacy; but your men and women, all a-hungered, how
are you going to feed them and keep their tempers sweet? It is not a
question of side dishes, but of joints. Sermons and sonnets, and even
‘clergy-poets,’ may be counted upon, but they will only affront the
appetites they can never satisfy. What will be wanted are Sam Wellers,
Captain Costigans, and Jane Eyres--poetry that lives, controversy that
bites, speeches that stir the imagination.

Thus far the aged century. To argue with it would be absurd; to silence
it cruel, and perhaps impossible. Greedy Time will soon do that.

But suppose it should turn out to be the fact that we are about
to enter upon a period of well-cultivated mediocrity. What then?
Centuries cannot be expected to go on repeating the symptoms of their
predecessors. We have had no Burns. We cannot, therefore, expect to end
with the beginnings of a Wordsworth and a Coleridge; there may likely
be a lull. The lull may also be a relief. Of all odd crazes, the craze
to be for ever reading new books is one of the oddest.

Hazlitt may be found grappling with this subject, and, as usual,
‘punishing’ it severely in his own inimitable style. ‘I hate,’ says
he, in the second volume of ‘The Plain Speaker’--in the essay entitled
‘On Reading Old Books’--‘to read new books;’ and he continues, a page
further on, ‘Contemporary writers may generally be divided into two
classes--one’s friends or one’s foes. Of the first we are compelled
to think too well, and of the last we are disposed to think too ill,
to receive much genuine pleasure from the perusal, or to judge fairly
of the merit of either. One candidate for literary fame who happens
to be of our acquaintance writes finely and like a man of genius, but
unfortunately has a foolish face, which spoils a delicate passage;
another inspires us with the highest respect for his personal talents
and character, but does not come up to our expectations in print. All
these contradictions and petty details interrupt the calm current of
our reflections.’

Hazlitt was no doubt a good hater. We are now of milder mood. It ought
not to be difficult for any of us, if we but struggle a little, to keep
a man’s nose out of his novel. But, for all that, it is certain that
true literary sway is borne but by the dead. Living authors may stir
and stimulate us, provoke our energies, and excite our sympathy, but it
is the dead who rule us from their urns.

Authority has no place in matters concerning books and reading, else it
would be well were some proportion fixed between the claims of living
and dead authors.

There is no sillier affectation than that of old-worldism. To rave
about Sir Thomas Browne and know nothing of William Cobbett is
foolish. To turn your back upon your own time is simply to provoke
living wags, with rudimentary but effective humour, to chalk
opprobrious epithets upon your person. But, on the other hand, to
depend upon your contemporaries for literary sustenance, to be reduced
to scan the lists of ‘Forthcoming Works’ with a hungry eye, to complain
of a dearth of new poems, and new novels, and new sermons, is worse
than affectation--it is stupidity.

There was a time when old books were hard to procure and difficult
to house. With the exception of a few of the greatest, it required
as much courage to explore the domains of our old authors as it
did to visit Wast Water or Loch Maree before the era of roads and
railways. The first step was to turn the folios into octavos, and to
publish complete editions; the second was to cheapen the price of
issue. The first cheap booksellers were, it is sometimes alleged,
men of questionable character in their trade. Yet their names should
be cherished. They made many young lives happy, and fostered better
taste than either or both the Universities. Hogg, Cooke, Millar,
Donaldson, Bell, even Tegg, the ‘extraneous Tegg’ of Carlyle’s famous
Parliamentary petition, did good work in their day. Somehow or another
the family libraries of the more respectable booksellers hung fire.
They did not find their way about. Perhaps their authors were selected
with too much care.


     ‘He wales a portion with judicious care.’


The pious Cottar did well, but the world is larger than the family;
besides which it is not always ‘Saturday Night.’ Cooke had no
scruples. He published ‘Tom Jones’ in fortnightly, and (I think)
sixpenny parts, embellished with cuts, and after the same appetising
fashion proceeded right through the ‘British Novelists.’ He did the
same with the ‘British Poets.’ It was a noble enterprise. You never see
on a stall one of Cooke’s books but it is soiled by honest usage; its
odour speaks of the thousand thumbs that have turned over its pages
with delight. Cooke made an immense fortune, and deserved to do so.
He believed both in genius and his country. He gave the people cheap
books, and they bought them gladly. He died at an advanced age in 1810.
Perhaps when he came to do so he was glad he had published a series of
‘Sacred Classics,’ as well as ‘Tom Jones.’

We are now living in an age of handsome reprints. It is possible to
publish a good-sized book on good paper and sell it at a profit for
fourpence halfpenny. But of course to do this, as the profit is too
small to bear division, you must get the Authors out of the way. Our
admirable copyright laws and their own sedentary habits do this on
the whole satisfactorily and in due course. Consequently dead authors
are amazingly cheap. Not merely Shakespeare and Milton, Bunyan and
Burns, but Scott and Macaulay, Thackeray and Dickens. Living authors
are deadly dear. You may buy twenty books by dead men at the price of
one work by a living man. The odds are fearful. For my part, I hope
a _modus vivendi_ may be established between the publishers of the
dead and those of the living; but when you examine the contents of the
‘Camelot Classics,’ the ‘Carisbrooke Library,’ the ‘Chandos Classics,’
the ‘Canterbury Poets,’ the ‘Mermaid Series of the Old Dramatists,’
and remember, or try to remember, the publishing lists of Messrs.
Routledge, Mr. Black, Messrs Warne, and Messrs. Cassell, it is easy
for the reader to snap his fingers at Fate. It cannot touch him--he
can dine for many a day. Even were our ‘lyrical cry’ to be stifled for
half a century, what with Mr. Bullen’s ‘Elizabethan Lyrics,’ and ‘More
Elizabethan Lyrics,’ and ‘Lyrics from the Dramatists,’ and ‘Lyrics from
the Romances,’ and Mr. Palgrave’s ‘Golden Treasury,’ ‘a man,’ as Mr.
Markham observes in ‘David Copperfield,’ ‘might get on very well here,’
even though that man were, as Markham asserted himself to be, ‘hungry
all day long.’ A British poet does not cease to be a poet because he
is dead, nor is he, for that matter, any the better a poet for being
alive.

As for a scarcity of living poets proving national decadence, it would
be hard to make out that case. Who sang Chatham’s victories by sea and
land?



BOOK-BINDING.


There is a familiar anecdote of the ingenious author of ‘The Seasons,’
‘Rule, Britannia,’ and other excellent pieces, that when he sent a
well-bound copy of his poems to his father, who had always regarded
him, not altogether unjustly, as a ‘feckless loon,’ that canny Scot
handled the volume with unfeigned delight, and believing that his son
had bound it, cried out admiringly, ‘Who would have thought our Jamie
could have done the like of this?’ This particular copy has not been
preserved, and it is therefore impossible for us to determine how far
its bibliopegic merits justified the rapture of the elder Thomson,
whose standard is not likely to have been a high one. Indeed, despite
his rusticity, he was probably a better judge of poetry than of binding.

This noble craft has revived in our midst. Twenty years ago, in
ordinary circles, the book-binder was a miscreant who, by the aid of a
sharp knife, a hideous assortment of calf-skins and of marbled papers,
bound your books for you by slaughtering their margins, stripping their
sides, and returning them upon your hands cropped and in prison garb,
and so lettered as to tell no man what they were. And the worst of it
was we received them with complacency, gave them harbourage upon our
shelves, and only grumbled that the price was so high as four shillings
a volume. Those days are over. Yet it is well to be occasionally
reminded of the rock from whence we were hewn, and the pit out of which
we were digged. I have now lying before me a first edition of the
essays of Elia which, being in boards, I allowed to be treated by a
provincial called Shimmin, in the sixties. I remember its coming home,
and how I thought it was all right. Infancy was no excuse for such
ignorance.

The second-hand booksellers, a race of men for whom I have the
greatest respect, are to blame in this matter. They did not play the
part they might have been expected to do. They gave no prominence in
their catalogues, which are the true text-books of literature, to
specimens of book-binding, nor did they instil into the minds of their
young customers the rudiments of taste. Worse than this, some of the
second-hand booksellers in the country were themselves binders, and,
for the most part, infamous ones.

One did, indeed, sometimes hear of Roger Payne and of the Harleian
style, but dimly, and as a thing of no moment, nor were our eyes ever
regaled in booksellers’ catalogues with facsimiles of the exquisite
bindings of the French and English masters. Nor was it until we
went further afield, and became acquainted with the booksellers of
Paris, that this new world swam into our ken. It was a great day
when a stray copy of a ‘Bulletin Mensuel’ of Damascene Morgand, the
famous bookseller in the Passage des Panoramas, fell into the hands
of a mere country book-buyer. Then he knew how brutally he had been
deceived--then he looked with loathing on his truncated tomes and their
abominable devices. The first really bound book I ever saw was a copy
of the works of Pierre de Ronsard bearing the devices of Marguerite de
Valois. The price was so far beyond my resources that I left the shop
without a touch of envy, but the scales had fallen from my eyes, and I
walked down the Passage des Panoramas as one who had awakened from a
dream.

Nowadays it is quite different. The Arts and Crafts Exhibition did
much, and the second-hand booksellers, in quite ordinary places, are
beginning to give in their catalogues reproductions of noble specimens.
Nothing else is required. To see is enough. There was recently, as
most people know, a wonderful exhibition of bindings to be seen at
the Burlington Fine Art Club, but what is not so generally known is
that the Club has published a magnificent catalogue of the contents of
that Exhibition, with no less than 114 plates reproducing with the
greatest possible skill and delicacy some of the finest specimens. Mr.
Gordon Duff, who is credited with a profounder knowledge of pigskins
than any living man, has contributed a short preface to the volume,
whilst Miss Prideaux, herself a binder of great merit, has written a
general introduction, in which she traces the history of the craft, and
duly records the names of the most famous binders of Europe. A more
fascinating picture-book cannot be imagined, for to the charm of colour
and design is added all the feeling which only a book can impart. Such
a book as this marks an epoch, and ought to be the beginning of a time
when even sale-catalogues shall take pains to be splendid.

When the library of the Baron de Lacarelle came to be dispersed at
his death a few years ago, the auctioneer’s catalogue, as issued by
Charles Porquet, of the Quai Voltaire, made a volume which, wherever it
goes, imparts dignity to human endeavour, and consecrates a virtuoso’s
whim. It was but a small library--only 540 books--and to call it well
selected would be to abuse a term one has learnt to connect with Major
Ponto’s library in ‘The Book of Snobs.’ ‘My library’s small,’ says
Ponto, with the most amazing impudence, ‘but well selected, my boy,
well selected. I have been reading the History of England all the
morning.’ He could not have done this in the Baron’s library.

As you turn the pages of this glorified catalogue, his treasures seem
to lie before you--you can almost stroke them. A devoted friend, _de la
Société des Bibliophiles français_, contributes an ecstatic sketch of
the Baron’s character, and tells us of him how he employed in his hunt
after a book infinite artifice, and called to his aid all the resources
of learned strategy--‘poussant ses approches et manœuvrant, autour de
la place, avec la prudence et le génie d’un tacticien consommé, si
bien que le malheureux libraire, enlacé, fasciné, hypnotisé par ce
grand charmeur, finissait presque toujours par capituler et se rendre.’
This great man only believed in one modern binder: Trautz. The others
did not exist for him. ‘Cherchez-vous à le convertir? Il restait
incorruptible et répétait invariablement, avec cet esprit charmant,
mais un peu railleur, dont il avait le privilège, que s’il était jamais
damné, son enfer serait de remuer une reliure de Capé ou de Lortic!’

It is all very splendid and costly and grand, yet still from time to
time,


     ‘From the soul’s subterranean depth upborne,’


there comes the thought of Charles Lamb amidst ‘the ragged veterans’ he
loved so well, and then in an instant a reaction sets in, and we almost
hate this sumptuous Baron.

Thomson’s “Seasons,” again, looks best (I maintain it) a little torn
and dog’s-eared. How beautiful to a genuine lover of reading are the
sullied leaves and worn-out appearance, nay, the very odour (beyond
Russia), if we would not forget kind feelings in fastidiousness, of an
old “circulating library” “Tom Jones” or the “Vicar of Wakefield”!’
Thus far, Elia.

Let us admit that the highest and noblest joys are those which are in
widest commonalty spread, and that accordingly the clay pipe of the
artisan is more truly emotional than the most marvellous meerschaum to
be seen in the shop-windows of Vienna--still, the collector has his
joys and his uses, his triumphant moments, his hours of depression,
and, if only he publishes a catalogue, may be pronounced in small type
a benefactor of the human race.



POETS LAUREATE.


About forty years ago two ingenious gentlemen, Mr. Austin, of Exeter
College, and Mr. Ralph, a member of the Bar, published a book
containing short sketches of the lives of Poets Laureate of this
realm, beginning with Ben Jonson and ending with Wordsworth, and also
an essay on the Title and Office. It has sometimes been rudely said
that Laureates came into fashion when fools and jesters went out, but
the perusal of Messrs. Austin and Ralph’s introductory essay, to say
nothing of the most cursory examination of the table of contents of
their volume, is enough to disprove the truth of this saying.

A Laureate was originally a purely University title, bestowed upon
those Masters of Arts who had exhibited skill in the manufacture of
Latin verses, and had nothing to do with the civil authority or royal
favour. Thus, the famous Skelton (1460-1529) was laureated at Oxford,
and afterwards obtained permission to wear his laurel at Cambridge; but
though tutor to King Henry VIII., and, according to Miss Strickland,
the original corrupter of that monarch, he was never a Poet Laureate in
the modern sense of the word; that is, he was never appointed to hold
the place and quality of Poet Laureate to his Majesty. I regret this,
for he was a man of original genius. Campbell, writing in 1819, admits
his ‘vehemence and vivacity,’ but pronounces his humour ‘vulgar and
flippant,’ and his style a texture of slang phrases; but Mr. Churton
Collins, in 1880, declares that Skelton reminds him more of Rabelais
than any author in our language, and pronounces him one of the most
versatile and essentially original of all our poets. We hold with Mr.
Collins.

Skelton was popularly known as a Poet Laureate, and in the earliest
edition of his poems, which bears no date, but is about 1520, he is
described on the title-page as ‘Mayster Skelton, Poet Laureate,’ as he
also is in the first collected edition of 1568, ‘Pithy pleasaunt and
profitable works of Maister Skelton, Poete Laureate.’ This title was
the University title, and not a royal one.

Spenser is sometimes reckoned amongst the Poets Laureate; but, as a
matter of fact, he had no right to the title at all, nor did he or
his publishers ever assume it. He is, of course, one of the poetical
glories of Cambridge, but he was never laureated there, nor did Queen
Elizabeth ever appoint him her poet, though she granted him £50 a year.

The first Laureate, in the modern sense of the word, is undoubtedly
Ben Jonson, to whom Charles I. made out a patent conferring upon this
famous man £100 a year and ‘a terse of Canary Spanish wine,’ which
latter benefit the miserable Pye commuted for £27. From Jonson to
Tennyson there is no breach of continuity, for Sir William Davenant,
who was appointed in 1638, survived till the Restoration, dying in
1668. The list is a curious one, and is just worth printing: Jonson,
Davenant, Dryden, Shadwell, Nahum Tate, Rowe, the Rev. Laurence Eusden,
Colley Cibber, William Whitehead, the Rev. Thomas Warton, Henry James
Pye, Robert Southey, William Wordsworth, Lord Tennyson.

One must be charitable in these matters. Here are fourteen names
and four great ones--Jonson, Dryden, Wordsworth and Tennyson; two
distinguished ones--Nicholas Rowe and Robert Southey; two clever
names--Shadwell and Colley Cibber; two respectable names--Tate
and Warton; one interesting name--Davenant; and three unutterable
names--Eusden, Whitehead and Pye. After all, it is not so very bad.
The office was offered to Gray, and he refused it. Pope, as a Roman
Catholic, was out of the question. It would have suited Thomson well
enough, and have tickled Goldsmith’s fancy mightily. Collins died too
young.

But Eusden, Whitehead and Pye, how did they manage it? and what in the
name of wonder did they write? Eusden was of Irish extraction, but
was born the son of an English clergyman, and was like most poets a
Cambridge man. He owed his appointment in 1718 to the Duke of Newcastle
of the period, whose favour he had won by a poem addressed to him on
the occasion of his marriage with the Lady Henrietta Godolphin. But he
had also qualified for the office by verses sacred to the memory of
George I., and in praise of George II.


     ‘Hail, mighty monarch! whom desert alone
     Would, without birthright, raise up to the throne,
     Thy virtues shine peculiarly nice,
     Ungloomed with a confinity to vice.’


To do Grub Street justice, it was very angry with this appointment,
and Hesiod Cooke wrote a poem called ‘The Battle of the Poets,’ in
which the new Laureate was severely but truthfully handled in verse not
conspicuously better than his own:


     ‘Eusden, a laurelled bard by fortune rais’d,
     By very few been read--by fewer prais’d.’


Eusden is the author of ‘Verses Spoken at the Public Commencement in
Cambridge,’ published in quarto, which are said to be indecent. Our
authors refer to them as follows:

‘Those prurient lines which we dare not quote, but which the curious
may see in the library of the British Museum, were specially composed
and repeated for the edification and amusement of some of the noblest
and fairest of our great-great-grandmothers.’ Eusden took to drinking
and translating Tasso, and died at his living, for he was a parson, of
Coningsby in Lincolnshire.

Of William Whitehead you may read in Campbell’s ‘Specimens of the
British Poets.’ He was the son of a baker, was school-tutor to
Lord Lymington, and having been treated at Oxford in the shabby
way that seat of learning has ever treated poets--from Shirley to
Calverley--proceeded to Cambridge, that true nest of singing-birds,
where he obtained a Fellowship and the post of domestic tutor to the
eldest son of the Earl of Jersey. He was always fond of the theatre,
and his first effort was a little farce which was never published,
but which tempted him to compose heavy tragedies which were. Of
these tragedies it would be absurd to speak; they never enjoyed
any popularity, either on the stage or in the closet. He owed his
appointment--which he did not obtain till Gray had refused it--entirely
to his noble friends.

Campbell had the courage to reprint a longish poem of Whitehead’s
called ‘Variety: a Tale for Married People.’ It really is not very,
very, bad, but it will never be reprinted again; and so I refer ‘the
curious’ to Mr. Campbell’s seventh volume.

As for Pye, he was a scholar and a gentleman, a barrister, a member of
Parliament, and a police magistrate. On his father’s death he inherited
a large estate, which he actually sold to pay his parent’s debts,
though he was under no obligation to do so, as in those days a man’s
real estate was not liable to pay the debts he might chance to leave
undischarged at his death. To pay a dead man’s debts out of his land
was to rob his heir. Pye was not famous as a Parliamentary orator, but
he was not altogether silent, like Gibbon; for we read that in 1788
he told the House that his constituents had suffered from a scanty
hay-harvest. He was appointed Laureate in 1790, and he died in 1813.
He was always made fun of as a poet, and, unfortunately for him, there
was another poet in the House at the same time, called Charles Small
Pybus; hence the jest, ‘Pye et Parvus Pybus,’ which was in everyone’s
mouth. He was a voluminous author and diligent translator, but I do not
recollect ever seeing a single book of his in a shop, or on a stall, or
in a catalogue. As a Poet Great Pye is dead--as dead as Parvus Pybus,
M.P., but let us all try hard to remember that he paid his father’s
debts out of his own pocket.


     ‘Only the actions of the just,
     Smell _sweet_ and blossom in their dust.’



PARLIAMENTARY CANDIDATES.


The best time to study at leisure the habits and manners of the
candidate for Parliament is shortly before an anticipated dissolution.
Even as once in a series of years the astronomer furbishes up his
telescope and observes the transit of a planet across the surface of
the sun, so, as a General Election approaches, and when, consequently,
candidates are numerous, the curious observer of human nature in all
its wayward manifestations hastens to some place where experience has
taught him candidates will be found gathered together.

No spot is so favourable for an investigation of this kind as the
scene of a contested by-election which takes place when a General
Election is at no great distance. The investigation cannot with
safety be postponed until a General Election. Then all is hurry and
confusion. There is a fight in every constituency. No man can help his
neighbour. Everybody is on his own war-path. There is, therefore, no
concentration of candidates. They are scattered up and down the land
and so flurried that it is almost impossible to observe their humours.
To appreciate a candidate properly takes time--a great deal of time.
But at a by-election shortly before a General Election candidates are
to be found in shoals--genuine candidates who have all gone through
the proud process of selection, who enjoy a status peculiarly their
own, who have a part to play, and play it with spirit. They hurry to
the contest from afar. With what readiness do they proffer their
services! Like sea-birds, they come screaming and flapping their
wings, and settle down at the same hotel, which for days resounds with
their cheerful cries. This is quite the best place to observe them. In
the smoking-room at night, after their oratorical labours are over,
they are very great, very proud, very happy. Their talk is of their
constituencies, as they are pleased to designate the districts which
have chosen them. They retail the anecdotes with which they are wont
to convulse their audiences. The stories are familiar, but not as they
tell them.

What a contrast do these bright, hopeful creatures present to their
taciturn, cynical companions!--sombre figures, who sit sucking at their
pipes, the actual members of Parliament, who, far from flying joyfully
to the field of battle, as the candidate has just done, have been
driven there, grunting and grumbling, by the angry crack of the party
Whips.

As you listen to the frank, exuberant speech of the candidate,
recounting the points he has made during the day, the conviction he
has brought home to the waverer, the dilemmas he has thrust upon his
opponents, the poor show made by somebody who thought to embarrass
him by an interruption, and compare it with the gloomy asides of the
member, who, however brave a figure he may have made upon the platform
an hour or two before, seems now painfully alive to the inherent
weakness of his cause, doubtful of victory anywhere, certain of defeat
where he is, it is almost impossible to believe that once upon a time
the member was himself a candidate.

Confidence is the badge of the tribe of candidates. How it is born,
where it is bred, on what it feeds save vanity, we cannot tell. Figures
cannot shake it. It is too majestical to be affected by ridicule. From
scorn and brutal jest it turns contemptuously away. When a collision
occurs between the boundless confidence of the candidate and the
bottomless world-wearied scepticism of the member, it is interesting
to note how wholly ineffectual is the latter to disturb, even for a
moment, the beautifully poised equilibrium of the former.

‘I always forget the name of the place you are trying for,’ I
lately overheard a member, during an election contest, observe at
breakfast-time to a candidate.

‘The Slowcombe Division of Mudfordshire,’ replied the candidate.

‘Oh!’ said the member, with a groan, as he savagely chipped at his
egg; ‘I thought they had given you something better than that.’

‘I wish for nothing better,’ said the candidate; ‘I’m safe enough.’

And so saying, he rose from the table, and, taking his hat, went off on
to the Parade, where he was soon joined by another candidate, and the
pair whiled away a couple of hours in delightful converse.

The politics of candidates are fierce things. In this respect the
British commodity differs materially from the American. Mr. Lowell
introduces the American candidate as saying:


     ‘Ez to my princerples, I glory
       In hevin’ nothin’ o’ the sort.
     I ain’t a Whig, I ain’t a Tory--
       I’m just a Canderdate, in short.’


Our candidates--good, excellent fellows that they are--are not a bit
like Mr. Lowell’s. They have as many principles as a fish has bones;
their vision is clear. The following expressions are constantly on
their lips:

‘I can see no difficulty about it--I have explained it all to my people
over and over again, and no more can they. I and my constituency
are entirely at one in the matter. I must say our leaders are very
disappointing My people are getting a little dissatisfied, though, of
course, I tell them they must not expect everything at once, and I
think they see that’--and so on for an hour or two.

There is nothing a candidate hates more than a practical difficulty; he
feels discomfited by it. It destroys the harmony of his periods, the
sweep of his generalizations. All such things he dismisses as detail,
‘which need not now detain us, gentlemen.’

Herein, perhaps, consists the true happiness of the candidate. He is
the embodied Hope of his party. He will grapple with facts--when he
becomes one. In the meantime he floats about, cheered wherever he goes.
It is an intoxicating life.

Sometimes when candidates and members meet together--not to aid their
common cause at a by-election, but for the purpose of discussing the
prospects of their party--the situation gets a little accentuated.
Candidates have a habit of glaring around them, which is distinctly
unpleasant; whilst some members sniff the air, as if that were a
recognised method of indicating the presence of candidates. Altogether,
the less candidates and members see of one another, the better. They
are antipathetic; they harm one another.

The self-satisfaction and hopefulness of the candidate, his noisy
torrent of talk ere he is dashed below, his untiring enunciation of
platitudes and fallacies, his abuse of opponents, the weight of whose
arm he has never felt--all these things, harmless as they are, far from
displeasing in themselves, deepen the gloom of the sitting member, into
whose soul the iron of St. Stephen’s has entered, relax the tension of
his mind, unnerve his vigour, corrode his faith; whilst, on the other
hand, his demeanour and utterances, his brutal recognition of failure
on his own side, and of merit in his opponent’s, are puzzling to the
candidate.

The leaders of parties will do well if they keep members and candidates
apart. The latter should always herd together.

To do candidates justice, they are far more amusing, and much better
worth studying, than members.



THE BONÂ-FIDE TRAVELLER.


This thirsty gentleman is threatened with extinction. His Sabbatical
pint is in danger. He has been reported against by a Royal Commission.
Threatened men, I know, live long, and it is not for me to raise
false alarms, but though the end of the _bonâ-fide_ traveller may be
not yet, his glory has departed. His more than Sabbath-day journeys
in search of the liquor that he loves, extended though they are
by statute over three dreary, dusty miles of turnpike, have been
ridiculed, and, worse than that, his _bonâ-fide_ character--hitherto
his proud passport to intoxication--has been roughly condemned as
pleonastic. A pretty pleonasm, truly, which has broached many a barrel.
The Commissioners say, ‘We think it would be advisable to eliminate
the words _bonâ-fide_. No sensible person could suppose that the
Legislature in using the word “traveller” meant to include persons who
make a pretence only of being such, and are not travellers really and
in fact.’ At present there are two classes of Sunday travellers: there
is the real traveller and there is the _bonâ-fide_ traveller. It is the
latter whose existence is menaced. The sooner he dies the better, for,
in plain English, he is a drunken dog.

The Report of the Royal Commission as to the operation of the Welsh
Sunday Closing Act of 1881 has been published, and, as the phrase
runs, will repay perusal. It is full of humanity and details about
our neighbours, their habits and customs. However true it may have
been, or still may be, that one half of the world does not know how
the other half lives, it is a libel upon the curiosity of mankind to
attribute this ignorance to indifference. No facts are more popular,
than those which relate to people’s lives. Could it be discovered how
many people prefer tea without sugar, the return would be printed in
every newspaper of Great Britain, and be made the text of tens of
thousands of leading articles. We are all alike in this respect, though
some of us are ashamed to own it. We are by no means sure that the man
answered badly who, when asked which of George Eliot’s characters was
lodged most firmly in human memories, replied boldly, Mrs. Linnet.
Everybody remembers Mrs. Linnet, and grins broadly at the very mention
of her name. ‘On taking up the biography of a celebrated preacher,
she immediately turned to the end to see what disease he died of; and
if his legs swelled as her own occasionally did, she felt a stronger
interest in ascertaining any earlier facts in the history of the
dropsical divine; whether he had ever fallen off a stage-coach, whether
he had married more than one wife, and, in general, any adventures
or repartees recorded of him prior to the epoch of his conversion.
Then she glanced over the letters and diary, and wherever there was a
predominance of Zion, the River of Life, and notes of exclamation, she
turned over to the next page; but any passage in which she saw such
promising nouns as “small-pox,” “pony,” or “boots and shoes,” at once
arrested her.’ How inimitable it is! And yet Mr. Oscar Browning prefers
‘Daniel Deronda.’ It is a comforting reflection that whether you write
well or whether you write ill, you have always an audience.

But Mrs. Linnet’s deep-rooted popularity proves how fond we all are of
escaping from abstractions and predictions, and seizing hold of the
things about which we really feel ourselves entitled to an opinion.
Mrs. Linnet would have read a great part of the Report to which I
have referred with much interest. It is full of most promising nouns.
Mrs. Linnet’s opinion as to a _bonâ-fide_ traveller would be quite as
valuable as Lord Balfour of Burleigh’s.

But who is a _bonâ-fide_ traveller? He is a person who seeks drink
on Sunday during hours when by law public-houses are closed. He has
therefore to make out a special case for being supplied with drink.
The fact that he is thirsty counts for nothing. Everybody is thirsty
on Sunday. His special case is that he is not a resident, but a
traveller, and wants refreshment to enable him to go on travelling. But
here the law steps in, ‘big-wigged, voluminous-jawed,’ and adds this
qualification--that nobody shall be considered a _bonâ-fide_ traveller
who is not three miles away from his last bed. An attorney’s clerk of
three months’ standing could have foretold what has happened, namely,
that everybody who is three miles from home becomes at once and _ipso
facto_ a _bonâ fide_ traveller. You rap with your knuckles at the door
of the shut inn; it is partially opened, and the cautious publican or
his spouse inquires of you where you come from; you name a city of the
plain four miles off, and the next moment finds you comfortably seated
in the bar-parlour. Falsely to represent yourself as a _bonâ-fide_
traveller is a misdemeanor, but assuming you are three miles away
from home, how can such a representation be made falsely? We are all
pilgrims in this world. If my sole motive for walking three miles on
Sunday is to get a pint of beer at the Griffin, doubtless I am not a
_bonâ-fide_ traveler, but if my motive be to get both the walk and the
beer, who dare asperse my good faith? Should I have taken the walk but
for the beer, or should I have taken the beer but for the walk? are
questions far too nice to be made the subject of summary process.

The Commissioners cannot be accused of shirking this difficult
question. They brace up their minds to it, and deliver themselves
as follows. There is, say they, in language of almost Scriptural
simplicity, first the traveler who makes a journey either by railway
or otherwise, on business or for some other necessary cause. His case,
in the opinion of the Commissioners, is a simple one. He is entitled to
drink by the way. But next, proceed the Commissioners in language of
less merit, ‘there is the individual who leaves his place of residence
in the morning, or it may be later in the day, intending to be absent
for some hours, inclusive perhaps, but not necessarily, of his mid-day
meal, his object being primarily change of air and scene, exercise,
relaxation of some kind, a visit to friends, or some reasonable cause
other than merely to qualify for entrance into a licensed house.’
This is the mixed-motive case already hinted at. Then, thirdly, there
is the bold bad man ‘who goes from his home to a point not less than
three miles distant, either on foot or by wheeled vehicle by road or
rail, primarily if not solely to procure the drink which the Act denies
him within three miles of where he lodged the previous night.’ This
gentleman is the genuine _bonâ-fide_ traveler known to all policemen
and magistrates, and it is he who is threatened with extinction. But
how is he to be differentiated from the individual who leaves his place
of residence in the morning and goes to a place, not in search of
drink, but where, for all that, drink is? For example, it appears from
this Report that near Swansea is a place of resort called the Mumbles.
A great many people go there every Sunday, and a considerable number
return home drunk at night; but, say the Commissioners, and we entirely
believe them, ‘it is impossible for us to say what proportion of them
go for change and exercise and what proportion for the sake of drink.’
But if it be impossible, how is the distinction between the individual
who leaves his place of residence in the morning, and the bold bad man,
to be maintained?

There are those who would abolish the exemption in favour of travellers
altogether. Let him who travels on Sunday take his liquor with him in
a flask. There are others who would allow his glass to the traveller
who is not on pleasure bent, but would refuse it to everybody else. A
third party hold that a man who takes exercise for his health is as
much entitled to refreshment as the traveller who goes on business. No
one has been found bold enough to say a word for the man who travels in
order that he may drink.

The Commissioners, after the wont of such men, steer a middle course.
They agree with the Rev. Dr. Parry, Moderator of the General Assembly
of the Calvinistic Methodists of Wales, who declared that he would not
exclude from reasonable refreshment ‘a man who goes from his place
of residence on Sunday to see the country’! I confess I should like
to have both Dr. Parry’s and a Welsh collier’s opinion as to what is
reasonable refreshment. Then, again, ‘to see the country’ is a vague
phrase.

The Commissioners suggest a new clause, to run as follows:

‘No person shall be deemed to be within the exception relating to
travellers unless he proves that he was actually engaged in travelling
for some purpose other than that of obtaining intoxicating liquor,
and that he has not remained on the licensed premises longer than was
reasonably required for the transaction of his necessary business or
for the purpose of necessary rest, refreshment, or shelter from the
weather.’

This is nothing but a repeal of the three-mile limit. How is a
wayfaring man to prove that he is travelling for some purpose other
than that of obtaining intoxicating liquor? He can only assert the
fact, and unless he is a notorious drunkard, both the publican and
the magistrate are bound to believe him. Were the suggestion of the
Commissioners to be carried out, it probably would be found that our
old friend the _bonâ-fide_ traveller could get his liquor and curtail
his walk.

I should like Mrs. Linnet’s opinion; but failing hers, can only express
my own, which is that Sunday drinking is so bad a thing that if it
can be stopped it ought to be so, even though it were to follow as a
consequence that no traveller could get drink from Saturday night till
Monday morning except at the place where he spent the night.



‘HOURS IN A LIBRARY.’


In the face of the proverb about the pavement of the way to hell, I
am prepared to maintain that good intentions are better than bad, and
that evil is the wretch who is not full of good intentions and holy
plans at the beginning of each New Year. Time, like a fruitful plain,
then lies stretched before you; the eye rests on tuneful groves, cool
meadow-lands, and sedgy streams, whither you propose to wander, and
where you promise yourself many happy, well-spent hours. I speak in
metaphors, of course--pale-faced Londoner that I am--my meadows and
streams are not marked upon the map: they are (coming at once to the
point, for this is a generation which is only teased by allegory) the
old books I mean to read over again during the good year of grace
1894. Yonder stately grove is Gibbon; that thicket, Hobbes; where the
light glitters on the green surface (it is black mud below) is Sterne;
healthful but penetrating winds stir Bishop Butler’s pages and make
your naked soul shiver, as you become more and more convinced, the
longer you read, that ‘someone has blundered,’ though whether it is you
or your Maker remains, like everything else, unsolved. Each one of us
must make out his own list. It were cruelty to prolong mine, though it
is but begun.

As a grace before meat, or, if the simile be preferred, as the
_Zakuska_ or _Vorschmack_ before dinner, let me urge upon all to read
the three volumes, lately reissued and very considerably enlarged,
called ‘Hours in a Library,’ by Mr. Leslie Stephen.

Mr. Stephen is a bracing writer. His criticisms are no sickly fruit
of fond compliance with his authors. By no means are they this, but
hence their charm. There is much pestilent trash now being talked about
‘Ministry of Books,’ and the ‘Sublimity of Art,’ and I know not what
other fine phrases. It almost amounts to a religious service conducted
before an altar of first editions. Mr. Stephen takes no part in such
silly rites. He remains outside with a pail of cold water.


     ‘It sometimes strikes readers of books that literature is, on
     the whole, a snare and a delusion. Writers, of course, do not
     generally share that impression; and on the contrary have said
     a great many fine things about the charm of conversing with the
     choice minds of all ages, with the _innuendo_, to use the legal
     phrase, that they themselves modestly demand some place amongst
     the aforesaid choice minds. But at times we are disposed to retort
     upon our teachers. “Are you not,” we observe, “exceedingly given
     to humbug?”’


Mr. Stephen has indeed, by way of preface to his own three volumes,
collected a goodly number of these very fine things, but then he has,
with grim humour, dubbed them ‘Opinions of Authors,’ thus reducing them
to the familiar level of ‘Nothing like leather!’

But of course, though Mr. Leslie Stephen, like the wise man he is,
occasionally hits his idol over the costard with a club just to
preserve his own independence, he is and frankly owns himself to be a
bookish man from the crown of his head to the sole of his foot. He even
confesses he loves the country best in books; but then it must be in
real country-books and not in descriptive poetry, which, says he with
Johnsonian calmness, is for the most part ‘intolerably dull.’

There is no better living representative of the great clan of sensible
men and women who delight in reading for the pleasure it gives them
than Mr. Stephen. If he is only pleased, it is quite shocking what he
will put up with, and even loudly commend.


     ‘We are indeed told dogmatically that a novelist should never
     indulge in little asides to a reader. Why not?... I like to read
     about Tom Jones or Colonel Newcome; but I am also very glad when
     Fielding or Thackeray puts his puppets aside for the moment and
     talks to me in his own person. A child, it is true, dislikes to
     have the illusion broken, and is angry if you try to persuade him
     that Giant Despair was not a real personage like his favourite
     Blunderbore. But the attempt to produce such illusions is really
     unworthy of work intended for full-grown readers.’


Puppets indeed! It is evil and wicked treason against our Sovereign
Lady, the Art we serve, to talk of puppets. The characters of our
living Novelists live and move and have an independent being all their
very own. They are clothed in flesh and blood. They talk and jostle one
another. Where, we breathlessly inquire, do they do all or any of these
fine things? Is it in the printed page? Alas! no. It is only in the
minds of their Authors, whither we cannot follow them even if we would.

Mr. Stephen has great enthusiasm, which ought to reconcile us to his
discriminating judgment and occasional easterly blast. Nobody loves a
good book better than he. Whether his subject be Nathaniel Hawthorne
or Daniel De Foe, it is handled cunningly, as by a man who knows. But
his highest praise is his unbought verdict. He is his own man. He is
dominated by no prevailing taste or fashion. Even his affection does
not bias him. He yields to none in his admiration for the ‘good Sir
Walter,’ yet he writes:

‘It is a question perhaps whether the firmer parts of Scott’s
reputation will be sufficiently coherent to resist after the removal of
the rubbish.’

‘Rubbish.’ It is a harsh word, and might well make Dean Stanley
and a bygone generation of worshippers and believers in the plenary
inspiration of Scott stir uneasily in their graves. It grates upon my
own ear. But if it is a true word, what then? Why even then it does
not matter very much, for when Time, that old ravager, has done his
very worst, there will be enough left of Sir Walter to carry down his
name and fame to the remotest age. He cannot be ejected from his native
land. Loch Katrine and Loch Leven are not exposed to criticism, and
they will pull Sir Walter through.

Mr. Stephen has another recommendation. Every now and again he goes
hopelessly wrong. This is most endearing. Must I give instances? If I
must I will, but without further note or comment. He is wrong in his
depreciation of ‘Wuthering Heights,’ and wrong, amazingly wrong, in
his unaccountable partiality for ‘Henrietta Temple.’

The author of ‘Hours in a Library’ belongs, it is hardly necessary
to say, to the class of writers who use their steam for the purpose
of going straight ahead. He is always greatly concerned with his
subject. If he is out fox-hunting, he comes home with the brush, and
not with a spray of blackberries; but if, on the other hand, he goes
out blackberrying, he will return deeply dyed the true tint, and not
dragging behind him a languishing coil of seaweed. Metaphors will, I
know, ultimately be my ruin, but in the meantime I hope I make myself
reasonably plain. In this honest characteristic Mr. Leslie Stephen
resembles his distinguished brother, Sir James Stephen, who, in his
admirable ‘Horæ Sabbaticæ’ (Macmillan, 3 vols.), may be discovered at
any time tearing authors into little bits and stripping them of their
fringe, and then presenting to you, in a few masterly pages, the marrow
of their arguments and the pith of their position.

Much genuine merriment is, however, almost always to be extracted from
writers of this kind. Mr. Leslie Stephen’s humour, none the worse for
belonging to the sardonic species, is seldom absent from a page. It
would be both pleasant and easy to collect a number of his epigrams,
witty sayings, and humorous terms--but it is better to leave then where
they are. The judicious will find them for themselves for many a long
day to come. The sensible and truthful writers are the longest livers.



AMERICANISMS AND BRITICISMS.


Messrs. Harper Bros., of New York, have lately printed and published,
and Mr. Brander Matthews has written, the prettiest possible little
book, called ‘Americanisms and Briticisms, with other Essays on other
Isms.’ To slip it into your pocket when first you see it is an almost
irresistible impulse, and yet--would you believe it?--this pretty
little book is in reality a bomb, intended to go off and damage British
authors by preventing them from being so much as quoted in the States.
Mr. Brander Matthews, however, is so obviously a good-natured man, and
his little fit of the spleen is so evidently of a passing character,
that it is really not otherwise than agreeable to handle his bombshell
gently and to inquire how it could possibly come about that the
children of one family should ever be invited to fall out and strive
and fight over their little books and papers.

It is easy to accede something to Mr. Matthews. Englishmen are often
provoking, and not infrequently insolent. The airs they give themselves
are ridiculous, but nobody really minds them in these moods; and, _per
contra_, Americans are not easily laughed out of a good conceit of
themselves, and have been known to be as disagreeable as they could.

To try to make ‘an international affair’ over the ‘u’ in honour and
the second ‘l’ in traveller is surely a task beneath the dignity
of anyone who does not live by penning paragraphs for the evening
papers, yet this is very much what Mr. Matthews attempts to do in this
pleasingly-bound little volume. It is rank McKinleyism from one end
to the other. ‘Every nation,’ says he, ‘ought to be able to supply
its own second-rate books, and to borrow from abroad only the best
the foreigner has to offer it.’ What invidious distinctions! Who is
to prepare the classification? I don’t understand this Tariff at all.
If anything of the kind were true, which it is not, I should have
said it was just the other way, and that a nation, if it really were
one, would best foster its traditions and maintain its vitality by
consuming its own first-rate books--its Shakespeares and Bacons, its
Taylors and Miltons, its Drydens and Gibbons, its Wordsworths and
Tennysons--whilst it might very well be glad to vary the scene a little
by borrowing from abroad less vitalizing but none the less agreeable
wares.

But the whole notion is preposterous. In Fish and Potatoes a ring is
possible, but hardly in Ideas. What is the good of being educated and
laboriously acquiring foreign tongues and lingoes--getting to know,
for instance, what a ‘freight’ train is and what a bobolink--if I
am to be prevented by a diseased patriotism from reading whatever I
choose in any language I can? Mr. Matthews’ wrath, or his seeming
wrath--for it is impossible to suppose that he is really angry--grows
redder as he proceeds. ‘It cannot,’ he exclaims, ‘be said too often or
too emphatically that the British are foreigners, and their ideals in
life, in literature, in politics, in taste, in art’ (why not add ‘in
victuals and drink?’) ‘are not our ideals.’

What rant this is! Mr. Matthews, however frequently and loudly he
repeats himself, cannot unchain the canons of taste and compel them to
be domiciled exclusively in America; nor can he hope to persuade the
more intelligent of his countrymen to sail to the devil in an ark of
their own sole construction. Artists all the world over are subject
to the same laws. Nations, however big, are not the arbiters of good
taste, though they may be excellent exemplars of bad. As for Mr.
Matthews’ determination to call Britons foreigners, that is his matter,
but feelings of this kind, to do any harm, must be both reciprocal and
general. The majority of reasonable Englishmen and Americans will,
except when angry, feel it as hard to call one another foreigners, as
John Bright once declared he would find it hard to shout ‘bastard’
after the issue of a marriage between a man and his deceased wife’s
sister.

There is a portrait of Mr. Matthews at the beginning of this book or
bomb of his, and he does not look in the least like a foreigner. I
am sorry to disappoint him, but truth will out. The fact is that Mr.
Matthews has no mind for reciprocity; he advises Cousin Sam to have
nothing to do with John Bull’s second-rate performances, but he feels
a very pardonable pride in the fact that John Bull more and more reads
his cousin’s short stories and other things of the kind.

He gives a countrywoman of his, Miss Agnes Repplier, quite a
scolding for quoting in a little book of hers no less than fifteen
British authors of very varying degrees of merit. Why, in the name
of common-sense, should she not if they serve her turn? Was a
more ludicrous passage than the following ever penned? It follows
immediately after the enumeration of the fifteen authors just referred
to:


     ‘But there is nothing from Lowell, than whom a more quotable
     writer never lived. In like manner, we find Miss Repplier
     discussing the novels and characters of Miss Austen and of Scott,
     of Dickens, of Thackeray, and of George Eliot, but never once
     referring to the novels or characters of Hawthorne. Just how it
     was possible for any clever American woman to write nine essays
     in criticism, rich in references and quotations, without once
     happening on Lowell or on Hawthorne, is to me inexplicable.’


O Patriotism! what follies are committed in thy name!

The fact is, it is a weak point in certain American writers of
‘the patriotic school’ to be for ever dragging in and puffing the
native article, just because it is native and for no other reason
whatever; as if it mattered an atom whether an author whom, whilst
you are discussing literature, you find it convenient to quote was
born in Boston, Lincoln, or Boston, Massachusetts. One wearies of it
indescribably. It is always Professor This or Colonel That. If you want
to quote, quote and let your reader judge your samples; but do not
worry him into rudeness by clawing and scraping.

Here we all are, Heaven knows how many million of us, speaking, writing
and spelling the English language more or less ungrammatically in a
world as full as it can hold of sorrows and cares, and fustian and
folly. Literature is a solace and a charm. I will not stop for a
moment in my headlong course to compare it with tobacco; though if it
ever came to the vote, mine would be cast for letters. Men and women
have been born in America, as in Great Britain and Ireland, who have
written books, poems, and songs which have lightened sorrow, eased
pain, made childhood fascinating, middle-age endurable, and old age
comfortable. They will go on being born and doing this in both places.
What reader cares a snap of his finger where the man was cradled who
makes him for awhile forget himself. Nationality indeed! It is not a
question of Puffendorf or Grotius or Wheaton, even in the American
edition with Mr. Dana’s notes, but of enjoyment, of happiness, out of
which we do not intend to be fleeced. Let us throw all our books into
hotch-pot. Who cares about spelling? Milton spelt ‘dog’ with two g’s.
The American Milton, when he comes, may spell it with three, while all
the world wonders, if he is so minded.

But we are already in hotch-pot. Cooper and Irving, Longfellow, Bryant
and Poe, Hawthorne, Lowell, and Whitman, and living writers by the
score from the other side of the sea, are indistinguishably mixed with
our own books and authors. The boundaries are hopelessly confused, and
it is far too late for Mr. Brander Matthews to come upon the scene with
chalk and tape, and try to mark us off into rival camps.

There is some girding and gibing, of course. Authors and critics
cannot help nagging at one another. Some affect the grand air, ‘assume
the god,’ and attempt to distinguish, as Mr. Matthews himself does
in this little book of his, ‘between the authors who are not to be
taken seriously, between the man of letters who is somebody and the
scribbler who is merely, in the French phrase, _quelconque_, nobody in
particular.’ Others, again, though leading quiet, decent lives, pass
themselves off in literature as swaggering Bohemians, cut-and-thrust
men. When these meet there must be blows--pen-and-ink blows, as
bloodless as a French duel. All the time the stream of events flows
gigantically along. But to the end of all things Man will require to
be interested, to be taken out of himself, to be amused; and that
interest, that zest, that amusement, he will find where he can--at home
or abroad, with alien friends or alien enemies: what cares he?



AUTHORS AND CRITICS.


At the gracious Christmas season of the year we are reminded by
nearly every post of our duty towards our neighbours, meaning thereby
not merely those who live within what Wordsworth, with greater
familiarity than precision, has defined as ‘an easy walk,’ but,
with few exceptions, mainly of a party character, all mankind. The
once wide boundaries of an Englishman’s sphere of hatred are sorely
circumscribed. We are now expected not only to love all peoples, which
in theory is easy enough, particularly if we are no great travellers,
but to read their publications in translations unverified by
affidavit, which in practice is very hard. Yet if we do not do it, we
are Chauvinists, which has a horrid sound.

Much is now expected of a man. Even in his leisure hours, when his feet
are on the hob, he must be zealous in some cause, say Realism; serious,
as he reflects upon the interests of literature and the position of
authors; and, above all and hardest of all, he must be sympathetic.
Irony he should eschew, and levity, but disquisitions on duty are never
out of place.

This disposition of mind, however praiseworthy, makes the aspect of
things heavy, and yet this is the very moment selected by certain
novelists, playwrights, and irresponsible persons of that kind, to whom
we have been long accustomed to look for relaxation, to begin prating,
not of their duty to please us, but of our duty to appreciate them.
It appears that we owe a duty to our contemporaries who write, which
is not merely passive, that is, to abstain from slandering them, but
active, namely, to read and admire them.

The authors who grumble and explain the merits of their own things are
not the denizens of Grub Street, or those poor neglected souls to one
of whom Mr. Alfred Austin lately addressed these consolatory words:


     ‘Friend, be not fretful if the voice of fame,
       Along the narrow way of hurrying men,
       Where unto echo echo shouts again,
     Be all day long not noisy with your name.’


No; it is the shouted authors who are most discontented; the men who
have best availed themselves of all the resources of civilization, who
belong to syndicates, employ agents, have a price-current, and know
what it is to be paid half a dozen times over for the same thing. Even
the prospect of American copyright and taxing all the intelligence
of a reading Republic--even this does not satisfy them. They want to
be classics in their own lifetime, and to be spoken and written of as
if they were already embalmed in the memory of a grateful nation. To
speak or write lightly of departed genius is offensive, but people
who have the luck to be alive must not expect to be taken quite so
seriously. But they do. Everything is taken seriously in these grim
days, even short stories. There is said to be a demand for short
stories, begotten, amongst many other things, by that reckless parent,
the Spirit of the Age. There is no such demand. The one and only
demand poor wearied humanity has ever made, or will ever make, of the
story-teller, be he as long-winded as Richardson or as breathless
as Kipling, is to be made self-forgetful for a season. Interest me
somehow, anyhow; make me mindless of the room I am sitting in, of the
people about me; soothe me, excite me, tickle me, make me better,
make me worse; do what you like with me, only make it possible for me
to keep reading on, and a joy to do so. This is our demand. There is
nothing unreasonable in it. It is matter of experience. Authors have
done all this for us, and are doing it to-day. It is their trade, and a
glorious one.

But the only thing that concerns the reader is the book he holds in
his hand. He cannot derive inspiration from any other quarter. To the
author the characters may be living, he may have lived amongst them for
months; they may be inexpressibly dear to him, and his fine eyes may
fill with tears as he thinks of Jane or Sarah, but this avails naught
to the reader. Our authors are too apt to forget this, and to tell us
what they think of their own figments, and how they came to write their
books. The imitation of Carlyle cannot be generally recommended, but in
one respect, at all events, his example should be followed. Though he
made fuss enough whilst he was writing a book, as soon as he had done
with it he never mentioned it again.

This sudden display of nervousness on the part of authors is perhaps
partly due to their unreasonable confusion of the Reviewers with the
Readers. The great mass of criticism is, delivered _vivâ voce_, and
never appears in print at all. This spoken criticism is of far greater
importance than printed criticism. It is repeated again and again, in
all sorts of places, on hundreds of occasions, and cannot fail to make
dints in people’s minds, whereas the current printed criticism of the
week runs lightly off the surface. ‘Press notices,’ as they are called,
have no longer ‘boodle’ in them, if I may use a word the genius of Mr.
Stevenson has already consecrated for all delightful use. The pen may,
in peaceful times, be mightier than the sword, but in this matter of
criticism of our contemporaries the tongue is mightier than the pen.
Authors should remember this.

The volume of unprinted criticism is immense, and its force amazing.
Lunching last year at a chophouse, I was startled to hear a really
important oath emerge from the lips of a clerkly-looking man who
sat opposite me, and before whom the hurried waiter had placed a
chump-chop. ‘Take the thing away,’ cried the man with the oath
aforesaid, ‘and bring me a loin chop.’ Then, observing the surprise I
could not conceal that an occurrence so trifling should have evoked an
expression so forcible, the man muttered half to himself and half to
me: ‘There is nothing I hate so much in the wide world as a chump-chop,
unless indeed it be’ (speaking slowly and thoughtfully) ‘the poetry of
Mr. ----,’ and here the fellow, unabashed, named right out the name of
a living poet who, in the horrid phrase of the second-hand booksellers,
is ‘much esteemed’ by himself, and some others. After this explosion
of feeling the conversation between us became frankly literary, but I
contrived to learn in the course of it that this chump-chop-hater was a
clerk in an insurance office, and had never printed a line in his life.
He was, as sufficiently appears, a whimsical fellow, full of strange
oaths and stranger prejudice, but for criticism of contemporary
authors--keen, searching, detached, genuine--it would be impossible
to find his equal in the Press. The man is living yet--he was lately
seen in Cheapside, elbowing his way through the crowd with a masterful
air, and so long as he lives he criticises, and what is more, permeates
his circle--for he must live somewhere--with his opinions. These are
your gods, O Authors! It is these voices which swell the real chorus
of praise or blame. These judges are untainted by hatreds, strangers
to jealousy; your vanity, your egotism, your necktie, your anecdotes,
do not prevent _them_ from enjoying your books or revelling in your
humour, be it new or old, for they do not know you by sight; but
neither will the praise of the _Athenæum_, or of any newspaper, or the
conventional respect of other authors save your productions, your poem,
your novel, your drama, your collected trifles, from the shafts of
their ridicule or the dust of their indifference.

But do we owe any duty to contemporary authors? Clearly we are at
liberty to talk about them and their ‘work’ as much as ever we
choose--at dinner-tables, in libraries and smoking-rooms, in railway
carriages (if we like shouting and do not mind being inaudible), in
boats, at balls, in Courts of Justice, and other places, _ejusdem
generis_, at Congresses (before, during, and after the speeches),
and, indeed, everywhere and at all times, if we are so disposed and
can find anybody to listen, or even to seem to listen, to us. Of this
liberty we can never be deprived even by a veto of authors _ad hoc_,
and, as already stated, the free exercise of it is a far more important
constituent in the manufacture of literary opinion than printed notices
of books.

But though we are just as much entitled to express in conversation our
delight in, or abhorrence of, a contemporary author as we are to bless
or curse the weather, it cannot be said to be our duty to do so. No
adult stands in a fiduciary relationship to another adult in the matter
of his reading. If we like a book very much, it is only natural to say
so; but if we do not like it, we may say so or hold our tongues as we
choose.

Suppose one dreamt (gentle reader, remember this is nothing but a
dream) that there was one woebegone creature alive at this moment in
this Britain of ours who cordially disliked, and shrank from, the
poetry of Sir Edwin Arnold, Mr. Lewis Morris, and Mr. Alfred Austin,
who could not away with ‘Robert Elsmere,’ ‘The Wages of Sin,’ or
‘Donovan,’ who abhorred the writings of Mrs. Lynn Linton, Archdeacon
Farrar, and Mr. Shorthouse, who hated ‘Amiel’s Journal,’ ‘Marie
Bashkirtseff,’ and ‘Little Lord Fauntleroy,’ who found it easy, and
even helpful, to live for six months at a time without reading a new
novel by Mr. Hall Caine or Mr. Black, who failed to respond to the
careful and often-repeated raptures of those wise critics who assured
him that the author of ‘Amos Barton’ and ‘Middlemarch’ cowers and
crouches by the side of Mr. Hardy and Mr. Meredith; who, when he wants
to laugh very heartily indeed, does not take down the works of---- But
my list is long enough for a dream--could you honestly advise that
man to run amuck in print against all these powerful and delightful
writers? What good could come of it? The good people who like a writer
will not like him or her any the less because you don’t. Reading is
a democratic pursuit, else why are children taught it--very badly,
no doubt--out of the rates? Sensible men and foolish men alike resent
being dictated to about their contemporaries. They are willing to learn
about the dead, but they crave leave to lay their own hands upon the
living.

‘Who set you up as a judge over us?’ they cry testily, when they are
told by a perfect stranger that they ought not to like what they do
like, and ought to like what they go to sleep over.

Schopenhauer, a man who hated much, in his ‘Parerga,’ fervently desires
a literary journal which ‘should be a dam against the unconscionable
scribbling of the age, the everlasting deluge of bad and useless books.’

He proceeds (I am quoting from Mr. Saunders’ translation):

‘If there were such a paper as I mean, every bad writer, every
brainless compiler, every plagiarist from others’ books, every hollow
and incapable place-hunter, every sham philosopher, every vain and
languishing poetaster, would shudder at the prospect of the pillory
in which his bad work would inevitably have to stand soon after
publication.’

It is an animated passage, and reeks of the shambles. How awkward for
poor so-and-so! one murmurs whilst reading. But even were the thing
possible, I demur to the ferocity. There is no need to be so angry.
A dishonest and lazy plumber does more harm in a week than all the
poetasters of the Christian era. But the thing is not possible, as the
robust sense of Schopenhauer made plain to him. He goes on:

‘The ideal journal could, to be sure, be written only by people who
joined incorruptible honesty with rare knowledge and still rarer power
of judgment, so that, perhaps, there could, at the very most, be one,
_and even hardly one_, in the whole country; but there it would stand,
like a just Areopagus, every member of which would have to be elected
by all the others.’

Who, I wonder, would elect the first member of this just Ruin? He
would, I suppose, be nominated by the subscribers of the necessary
capital, and would then proceed to gather round him, were his terms
better than his quarters, the gang we all know so well, incorruptible
as Robespierre, not quite so learned as Selden, and with powers of
judgment which can only be described as varying.

It is of course obvious that no journal, be its contributors who they
may, can exercise criminal jurisdiction over bad or stupid authors.
The hue and cry has before now been raised at the heels of a popular
author, but always to the great enrichment of the rascal. The reading
community owes no allegiance, and pays no obedience, to the critical
journals, who, if they really want to injure an author, and deprive him
of his little meed of contemporary praise and profit, should leave him
severely alone. To refer to him is to advertise him.

The principles of taste, the art of criticism, are not acquired amidst
the hurly-burly of living authors and the hasty judgments thereupon
of hasty critics, but by the study, careful and reverential, of the
immortal dead. In this study the critics are of immense use to us.
Dryden, Addison, Gray, Coleridge, Lamb, Hazlitt, Bagehot, Swinburne,
reveal to us their highest critical powers not whilst vivisecting a
contemporary, but when expounding the anatomy of departed greatness.

Teach me rightly to admire Milton and Keats, and I will find my own
criticism of living poets. Help me to enjoy, however feebly, Homer and
Dante, and I will promise not to lose my head over Pollok’s ‘Course of
Time,’ or Mr. Bailey’s ‘Festus.’ Fire my enthusiasm for Henry Vaughan
and George Herbert, and I shall be able to distinguish between the
muses of Miss Frances Ridley Havergal and of Miss Christina Rossetti.
Train me to become a citizen of the true Republic of Letters, and I
shall not be found on my knees before false gods, or trooping with the
vulgar to crown with laurel brazen brows.

In conclusion, one may say that though authors cannot be expected to
love their critics, they might do well to remember that it is not the
critics who print, but the reading community whose judgments determine
an author’s place amongst contemporary writers. It may be annoying to
be sneered at by an anonymous critic in the _Saturday Review_, but it
is quite as bad to be sneered at by a stranger in a railway carriage.
The printed sneer may be read by more people than overheard the spoken
sneer; but printed sneers are not easily transferred from writer to
reader in their original malice. One may enjoy a sneer without sneering.

Authors may also advantageously remember that we live in hurried
times, and enjoy scanty leisure for reading, and that of necessity
the greater fraction of that leisure belongs to the dead. Merely a
nodding acquaintance with Shakespeare is not maintained without a
considerable expenditure of time. The volumes with which every man of
ordinary literary taste would wish to be familiar can only be numbered
by thousands. We must therefore be allowed time, and there is always
plenty. Every good poem, novel, play, at once joins and becomes part
and parcel of the permanent stock of English literature, and some time
or another will be read and criticised. It is quite safe. Every author
of spirit repudiates with lofty scorn the notion that he writes in
obedience to any mandate from the public. It is the wretched, degraded
politician whose talk is of mandates; authors know nothing of mandates,
they have missions. But if so, they must be content to bide their time.
If a town does turn out to meet a missionary, it is usually not with
loud applause, but with large stones.

As for the critics, the majority of them no doubt only do what they
are told. It is a thousand pities the habit of reviewing so many new
books in the literary papers has become general. It is a trade thing.
Were a literary paper to have no advertising columns, do you suppose
it would review half the new books it does? Certainly not. It gets
the books, and it gets the advertisements, and then it does the best
it can for itself and its readers by distributing the former amongst
its contributors with the request that they will make as lively ‘copy’
as they can out of the materials thus provided them. The reviews are
written and printed; then begins the wail of the author: My reviewer,
says he, has not done me justice; his object appears to have been,
not to show me off, but himself. There is no sober exposition of _my_
plan, _my_ purpose, _my_ book, but only a parade of the reviewer’s
own reading and a crackling of his thorns under my pot. The author’s
complaint is usually just, but he should remember that in nine cases
out of ten his book calls for no review, and certainly would receive
none on its merits. The review is not written for those who have read
or intend to read the book, but for a crowd of people who do not mean
to read it, but who want to be amused or interested by a so-called
review of it, which must therefore be an independent, substantive
literary production.

What a mercy it would be if the critical journals felt themselves
free to choose their own subjects, new and old, and recognised that
it was their duty to help to form the taste of their readers, and not
merely to pick their provender for them or to promote the prosperity of
publishers, which, as a matter of fact, they can no longer do.

The critics who criticise in print, were they left to themselves,
would be found praising enthusiastically all they found praiseworthy
in contemporary effort. Even now, when their tempers must be sorely
tried by the dreary wilderness in which they are compelled to sojourn,
it is marvellous how quick they are to snuff the fresh, blowing airs
of genuine talent. It is slander to say that present-day critics are
grudging of praise. They are far too free with it. Had they less
hack-work, they might by chance become a little more fastidious; but
even if this were so, it would only increase their joy, delight, and
satisfaction in making the discovery that somebody or another--some
Stevenson, some Barrie, some Kipling--had actually written something
which was not only in form but in fact a new book.

Fiery souls there would no doubt always be who would insist, on
occasions, in rushing out to strike the shield of some many-editioned
living author, and defy him to mortal combat. An occasional fray of
the kind is always an agreeable incident, but a wise editor would do
his best to control the noble rage of his contributors, bidding them
remember the words of John Keats: ‘The sure way, Bailey, is first to
know a man’s faults, and then be passive.’

The time and space liberated by giving up the so-called criticism of
bad and insignificant books could be devoted to the real criticism
of the few living and the many dead classics; and, for one does
occasionally get a little weary of the grand style, with arguments
and discussions about smaller folk. If basting there must be, let it
be the basting of the brainless compilers, the plagiarists, the sham
philosophers, and the languishing poetasters of the past. Dead donkeys
are far more amusing than living ones, and make much better texts for
fierce critics than men with wives and families dependent upon them.
The vagaries of great authors have often done harm in their generation;
the follies of small ones, including the supreme and most visible of
all their follies, that of thinking themselves great, have never harmed
a human creature.


_Elliot Stock, Paternoster Row, London._





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