The Contributors' Club
I AM not sure but that the work which a gifted and enterprising young friend of mine now has in hand is an infringement upon the patent of a well-known littérateur. He is writing on what he denominates Elongated Classics, and, being a gentleman of perfect rectitude, it of course goes without saying that he would abandon his task at the first authoritative intimation that he was trespassing upon what was, even constructively, another man’s preserves. He came to me a few evenings since for my opinion upon this last point. But all I felt warranted in saying to him was that I had never seen it stated that the gentleman who is now perpetrating Condensed Classics designed, in due course of time, to follow them up with Elongated Classics. I added that it was perhaps only reasonable to presume that, having once acquired a taste for blood, so to speak, the perpetrator of Condensed Classics would not quit his quarry until he had exhausted it; that the one extreme, “condensed,” would likely enough suggest the other extreme, “ elongated; ” and that having condensed and elongated there was no telling but he would put the climax upon the series with Improved Classics and — in response to an encore — Perfected Classics. At this point in my remarks my friend abruptly cut me short with the query, Would n’t I write to The Atlantic, for instance, stating just what his plan in Elongated Classics was? If I would, why, then, if any man had a prior claim to the vein he was working, that fact would appear and he, my friend, would draw off. “ Say, please,” he continued, “ that I am addressing myself to the task of putting what those who visited the late Centennial Exhibition would designate as substantial ' annexes ’ upon such of our English classics as I find are inadequate, unsatisfactory, deficient in wholesome embonpoint, as they stand. I have begun with the series commonly known as Little Classics, since their very name implies that they are classics that have not attained full growth. I have first' elongated Mr. Edward Everett Hale’s A Man without a Country. You shake your head? Throw up your hands? Complain of an attack of goose-flesh ? Pshaw! Look at Shakespeare. He very plainly indicates that in his opinion one cannot have too much of a good thing, by making Orsino in Twelfth Night exclaim,—
Give me excess of it.'
That is good enough authority for me. Holding fast to the hand of Shakespeare I propose to obey the voice that whispers to me. Write on, give us excess of classics. Swift declared that the man who makes two ears of corn grow where only one grew before is to be reckoned a public benefactor. Is this remark, think you, intended solely for the encouragement of grangers, and not as well for t hose who hoe intellectual corn ? But to dismiss this point; I think you will agree that I have managed my elongation of A Man without a Country very cleverly. Let me sketch it for you. As Mr. Hale leaves the Little Classic, ‘the country yet remains,’ but the man is dead in the ocean. I go on to show that Philip Nolan (the man) was consigned to the deep while yet he was alive and vigorous, as part of a plot of his military and naval friends for his escape. The life-preservers which were concealed about his person sustained him until the boat which had been secured to pick him up got. him aboard. He was duly landed on American shores, and without losing any time proceeded to Alaska and immediately began to grow up with the country. He was successful in business, and soon was known all over Alaska for his fervent and uncompromising patriotism. Discovering by chance that he was sole heir to the Anneke Jans estate, he brought suit, beat Trinity Church, and came into his property. Dying, he left his vast wealth to be divided into three parts, one to be devoted to completing the Washington Monument, another to the establishment of a Home for Aged and Infirm United States Patriots, and the balance to be invested and the annual interest offered as a prize for the best essay by an American citizen upon Love of Country. How does that seem to strike you ? ”
I frankly answered that I thought it was sacrilege of the first water; and that I considered him a candidate for bulldozing whose claims could not in justice be ignored.
My friend heard me with a really superior smile upon his face and replied, “ I radically differ with you in your judgment upon my conduct; and since I with my Elongated Classics and the perpetrator of Condensed Classics are in the same boat and must necessarily sink or float together, in defending my own position I defend his. Now I notice that the condenser, in the two Condensed Classics which he has already put forth, explains that his aim has been ‘ to cut out everything that a skillful novel-reader would naturally skip and everything that he might skip if he knew what were coming.’ Of course it’s just the reverse with me. My aim, as an elongator, has been to insert everything that a skillful novel-reader would naturally insert and everything that he might insert if he had the brains. The condenser also explains that he prepares his Condensed Classics for the benefit of those who are in a hurry — an unique tribute, you see, to the spirit of the age. It is ' the rapid reader, who desires only the story,’ whom he has in his eye as he goes about his task. Precisely the opposite with me. As an elongator, I look for welcome from that large class which always has more time on its hands than it knows what to do with. I elongate for ladies and gentlemen of leisure, who read slowly; in whom, as Tennyson says of Eleanor, —
Paul, you remember, said that he ‘ both knew how to be abased and how to abound.’ Now the only difference between me and the condenser is just this: he thinks certain of our English classics did not know how to be abased, that is, did not have the gift of restraint; I, on the contrary, think that others of them did not know how to abound, that is, did not have the gift of ‘ sustained effort.’ ”
Here I broke in and asked my friend these questions: “ Do you suppose when the condenser explained in the preface to Our Mutual Friend, and Ivanhoe, that his aim had been to ' cut out everything that a skillful novel-reader would naturally skip and everything that he might skip if he knew what was coming,’ it occurred to him that both Dickens and Scott were skillful novel-readers as well as consummate novel - writers ?Both knew just ‘ what was coming,’ and yet neither one ventured upon the skipping which the condenser has perpetrated. Again, do you think the condenser is happy in his definition of a skillful novelreader, as one ‘ who desires only the story’? Is not just the contrary true — that it is only the most unskillful, inexperienced, and silly readers (whose taste ought, not to be pandered to) who desire only the story? and that the reader who is indeed an expert realizes that to him who reads ‘ only the story ’ the story is never fully told? There — those are my questions. Be good enough to favor me with direct answers.”
My friend, asking for a little space to collect his thoughts, withdrew. After an hour’s absence he returned and remarked with great dignity of manner that, by advice of counsel, he must refuse to answer any and all of my questions.
“ Very good,” said I; “I am not surprised; but let me try you with a few easier queries. Do you or do you not justify those visitors to the Centennial Exhibition who condensed some of the classics in stone and canvas in Memorial Hall while the policemen were not looking? The managers, you remember, showed their view, by means of placards printed in many tongues and prominently displayed, bearing the legend, ' Do not touch with cane or umbrella.’ Were those managers reasonable or unreasonable ? And the particular visitor who condensed a Venus by breaking off one of her fingers with a blue cotton umbrella, was he or was he not entitled to have an annex of head put upon him by the sculptor ? What say you? ”
“ Well,” returned my friend, “ for my part, and I am sure I speak the opinion of the condenser, I cannot see that this condenser of Venus was blameworthy. I really cannot. He was probably influenced in what he did by a laudable desire to help those rapid visitors to Memorial Hall who correspond to those ' rapid readers ’ of classics of whom the condenser makes mention. Suppose he did break off one finger! Enough certainly remained to give the rapid visitor a correct idea of the style of Venus’s hand. The hall was so crowded with things pleasant to the eye that it was simply absurd to suppose that a rapid visitor could or would find time to devote to every one of Venus’s ten fingers. The man who eliminated one of them has a perfect defense in the explanation that he merely cut away an insignificant member which a skillful sight-seer would naturally skip, and a member which he might skip if he knew how much there was to be seen in Memorial Hall. Now when I come to elongate Borneo and Juliet ” —
At this point, in a moment of emotional insanity, I seized a paper - knife from the table at which I was sitting and plunged it into the person of the ingenious elongator. That was some eighty hours ago, and as he has not come to yet, I feel warranted in hoping for the best. In this event, I suppose it will not be necessary to solve the doubt I mentioned at the outset.
— When next I visit, as school-committee man, the Training School for Novelists, I mean to ask one of the advanced class what he regards as the chief advantage held by an author in telling his story in an autobiographic form. You would say, would you not, — I believe that is the insinuating method of examination when one wishes to state his own views rather than elicit the pupil’s, — that a novelist using this form is confined to pure history of the movements of his characters? He cannot know anything more of their motives than his readers will learn when they have read the story, and he is forbidden to say that they thought thus and thus. Whatever takes place is within the immediate knowledge of the narrator, either coming under his: observation or directly reported to him. Hence there will be a simplicity of evolution, since all the action is referred ultimately to a single person, and the reader taking his place by the side of the narrator is never required to leave it. The writer is likely to keep closer to reality, the reader becomes more identified in interest with the writer. The characterization of the first person in the story undoubtedly becomes a more subtle task, but in this solitary case the novelist has the means of bringing into service the thoughts and impressions of a character, as these affect the movement of the story. In all other cases he is restricted to actions, and to those actions which the reader can determine as well as the writer.
I noticed in reading Mr. James’s Roderick Hudson that I was constanlly conceiving Rowland Mallet as the teller of the story, so that when occasionally Rowland is praised, I felt a disagreeable sensation as if the author had praised himself. Looking more narrowly into the story I discovered that my impression arose from the fact that nothing takes place except under the direct cognizance of Mallet. Either he is present, or an incident or scene is reported to him. Whether or not Mr. James distinctly proposed to himself this problem, he has plainly written a story under the assumption of an autobiography, but not in the autobiographic form, and I do not see what he has gained by it. He certainly has lost the directness and intelligibility of the autobiography, and has not gained the freedom which that renounces. His Mallet is as colorless as if he were the teller of the story, and the reader is made in many cases to go twice over the ground because of this numbering of the story-teller among the dramatis personæ.
This is rather a curiosity of the autobiographic form, which, by the way, is not to be assumed without counting the cost. It has obvious conditions, which cannot be disregarded at the author’s convenience, or forgotten as they sometimes seem to be by one of our cleverest story-tellers. In the story, Our New Crusade, the supposed narrator intimates that he is a member of Dr. Claridge’s family; at all events an inmate of his house; but he wishes us to understand that he is personally of no account. Dr. Claridge is a man of the world, though he was a college president. Aunt Lois is not a woman of the world, but she is what is better, a child of God, self-abnegating and self-sacrificing; and I never saw or heard of the exigency that she is not fit for. What Susie is I have tried to tell. What Bernard is you will see. What I am is no matter.” In only one scene is the narrator directly recognized by any character in the book: then he engages in a short conversation, is dispatched on an errand, and so dismissed by the rest of the characters. His name even is not given; but he proves to be the most powerful and penetrating character in the whole book. While no one else pays the slightest attention to him, he is ubiquitous and observing to an almost incredible extent. The lovers, especially, carry on their tenderest conversation loud enough for him to hear them, whether they are driving in a carriage, or walking at dead of night beside a canal, or alone in a conservatory. In this last instance the story-teller takes pains to exclude every other living soul from the orchid house, where his favorite pair of lovers are to come to an understanding, and, as if to prove an alibi in his own case for the benefit of the skeptical reader, states incidentally that he was in the drawing-room all the time. Nevertheless, the tones of their voices, their gestures, their starts, their glances no less than their broken and impassioned words, cannot escape him; and yet he has another pair of lovers to look after at the same time, and is obliged to bring the four together and report their mutual congratulations, while he and Miss Clarke and Miss Gilbert are looking on with some wonder at the excited talk and its dumb show. In another instance he goes off with all the company to the supper-room, leaving two of his characters to tell their most cherished confidences to one another, while the person most deeply concerned is hidden in an easy-chair conveniently near. This young girl conies forward at the proper time and confesses to the other young girl; but where was our story-teller all the while? It is true that early in the story he mentions casually that he heard one or two trivial incidents from Susie and aunt Lois, but he cannot have the hardihood to tell us that these young ladies with their tender secrets, and these young men with their manly words, called him aside and bade him make a stenographic report. Taking out the one or two occasions when he asserts that he was present, and the one or two conversations which he explains were specially reported to him, it is fair to say that the whole story proceeds upon the assumption that the story-teller is not himself an actor, but the creator of the story. The proper relation of the narrator to the other actors is wholly disregarded.
From true autobiographic stories it would not be hard to establish the proposition that theirs is the highest form of the novelist’s art.
— An Arcadian thinker might imagine that the piano-forte was an instrument invented and made solely to further the ends of the art of music. I have no doubt that some such idea existed in the brains of the first, inventors and makers of the instrument. Piano-forte makers, indeed, still vie with one another in making more or less successful attempts at improving the instrument, and pianists are certainly not behindhand in pushing the art of playing upon it to its uttermost limits. But Music, after innocently dreaming for years that all these commendable endeavors were made in her service, has awakened to the fact that she and her servants have in some unaccountable way exchanged places; that the piano-forte has been the while cunningly binding her, hand and foot, and now asserts its own mastership in a very loud, jingling manner. Pianists who have done their utmost to fit themselves for the service of Art, perhaps even to be the high priests in her temple, and who naturally look upon the piano-forte as their servant, now find themselves in the incongruous position of mere advertising agents for the manufacturers. Before going into details, I will give two anecdotes, which I know to be true.
Some years ago a gentleman of my acquaintance was walking in the streets of Bonn on the Rhine with one of the leading London pianists. They were met at a street corner by a man who had a few minutes’ conversation with the pianist; after be had gone away, the pianist said to our friend, “ That was a member of the firm of ——, in——, in the United States. He has just renewed an offer he made me yesterday of —— dollars per month, with all my expenses paid, to give a series of concerts in America with his firm’s piano-fortes.” The second story is this. Not many years ago a well-known impresario brought a concert troupe to America, one of the members of which was a pianist of some note in England. After a month the pianist severed his connection with the troupe and returned to England. To fill his place the impresario engaged a distinguished American pianist for a certain number of concerts. The pianist expressing a decided preference for the A piano - fortes, the manager said that it was perfectly immaterial to him what instruments were used at his concerts. The next day, thinking over his engagement, the pianist remembered that, somehow or other, nothing had been said about how much he was to be paid; so he called upon the manager.
“ Yon must be the most confiding of men ! Here you have engaged me for so many concerts, and have not even asked what my terms are! ”
“ Well! I am sure I don’t see what J have to do with that.”
“ I should imagine that, as you are to pay me, it might be of some importance to you to know how much I ask.”
“ I pay you? Nothing of the sort! Mr. A pays you, as you use his pianofortes.”
“ You had better see Mr. A before we go any further; for I am sure he will not agree to that arrangement.”
“ You are joking! I have given concerts in this country for the last ever-somany years, and have never paid pianists a single cent in my life. The pianoforte makers always pay them.”
It was found, however, that Mr. A, although perfectly willing to furnish instruments, charge and carriage free, would not agree to pay anything. He knew that it was the custom of many makers to do so, but he had never done it, and never would. The manager was in a huge rage, cut down his engagement with the pianist to five nights, and on paying him, vowed that he had never been so swindled in his life.
The custom of piano-forte makers’ paying pianists to play exclusively upon their instruments has, it must be admitted, one good side. Very probably many of the great pianists who have visited this country would never have come here at all, except for the enterprise of pianoforte makers in bringing them for their own ends. In the beginning, when the public did not know, or care to impure, about the practice, the “ preference ” of a great pianist for one piano-forte over all others was a most capital advertisement for the maker. But now that every one knows perfectly well that it is a mere matter of business contract, and that pianists play upon a certain firm’s piano-fortes simply because they are hired to do so, and not because they prefer to do so, the excellence of the arrangement as an advertisement consists solely in the A, B, or C piano-forte’s standing on the platform at concerts with the maker’s name, in large gilt letters, Staring the audience out of countenance, and doing its best to put all thoughts of music to flight and impress the public with the all-important fact of its existence. The evils of the system are great. I saw the other day a letter from a noted pianist to the president of one of our musical societies, somewhat to this effect (I quote from memory): “I find myself in a very strange position. I am under contract to Mr. A to play only upon his piano-fortes. I cannot play at the X concerts in Baltimore, because they use only the B piano-fortes; I cannot play at the. Y concerts in Cincinnati, because they use only the C piano-fortes; it is the same thing with the Z or W concerts in New York and Philadelphia, where the D and E piano-fortes are used. Unless your society and Mr. F are willing to let me play on the A instrument, I do not see how I can play at your concerts either.” Here you see how a pianist can be debarred from a most important musical field all over the country, and the public deprived of the pleasure of hearing him except under very narrow conditions. The fault, no doubt, lies with the pianists themselves who enter upon such engagements. And yet the yearly income of only too many American pianists would be seriously affected for the worse if they did not make these very pernicious contracts with manufacturers.
— Of the causes that go to account for the extensive production and enjoyment of literature destitute of any claim to the dignity or title of art, no one is so potent as the absence of recognized standards of artistic excellence. Our Current literature as well as our current criticism is to a very large extent written by persons whose æsthetic consciences, however strong and tender naturally, have received no development through education, while they have been vitiated by daily contact with æsthetic evil, in the form of literary productions wherein every law of art is violated. The truth is, we need both a Bible of art, deriving its authority from the records of the entire æsthetic revelation, and a hierarchy of critics, who shall be faithful interpreters and teachers of the same. The only work that has hitherto attained authority in literature is the fragmentary treatise of Aristotle, On the Poetic Art, which is well worthy to be considered the æsthetic decalogue. Though it belongs to the old dispensation, it is still valid; and, while we are waiting for the canon of the new dispensation of pure humanity in literature, we could hardly, I think, do anything better than master it. Its influence upon the literatures of France and Germany is incalculable. To it the former owes its exquisite form and finish, the latter its earnestness and endeavor after unity. From it Lessing, the greatest of modern critics, and Sainte-Beuve,1 who may perhaps be ranked next to him, drew the principles of their art. It forms the basis of instruction in literary art in Germany, France, and Italy, and in all these countries has been made accessible by almost innumerable translations, commentaries, and academic lectures. In England and America it is almost entirely neglected. The latest English translation — reprinted with a few corrections in J. W. Donaldson’s Theatre of the Greeks — appeared in 1812, and there is no commentary worthy of the name in our language.
What are our universities and colleges doing, that they can afford to neglect this work, a series of lectures upon the doctrines of which would do more to impart correct views of literary art than any other influence that could readily be named or that they could exert ?
After Aristotle, a course in Lessing’s Hamburgische Dramaturgie would be most salutary. Why is that model of criticism, unsparing but just, so little read and imitated?
— I have been watching with interest the progress of the new decoration in Trinity Church, Boston. Mr. John La Farge, of Newport, has undertaken this novel work, seconded by Mr. Francis Lathrop, of New York, and F. D. Millet, of Boston. It was certainly very odd and very inspiring to see these gentlemen at work. The younger artists were busy drawing immense figures or patterns on coarse paper, through which the design was to be pricked and sifted in outline on the church walls or ceiling; at a later stage they might be seen clad in blue overalls, “of many colors ” from frequent daubings, and perched on some dizzy remnant of scaffolding in the lofty tower, where they were finishing the work of painting. The figures in the tower have been laid on in colors mixed with wax, a sort of encaustic; and down in the gallery a privileged few might behold the little “camping out” arrangement by which the wax was melted for this purpose. The artists have, of course, been assisted by a corps of journeymen decorators, who carried out the mechanical parts of the work. To me the most delightful element in this whole affair has been the intimate association of the artists and the workmen. The former have worked side by side with the artisans, and have accepted wages but little larger than those of these professional “ decorators; ” they took service not for commercial gain, but out of love for an ideal pursuit. They will find an enviable reward, though, in the fact that they have advanced American art in a department where it has hitherto been sordid and mechanical. Their undertaking has been, both in spirit and practice, something quite unprecedented in this country, and vividly recalls the similar labors of mediæval masters and their pupils or friends. Unfortunately, there has been one very modern and American drawback, and that was the frightful haste with which the artists were forced to work. It is strange that when a congregation builds an ambitious church, giving its architect ample time to build properly, so that the building may last for generations, they should have thought it imperative to have it decorated within a couple of months, because they were anxious to consecrate the church at Christmas. As they went in search of real artistic adornment, one would fancy they might respect it enough to wait a little. Is the occupation of the church at a set date so much more momentous than securing a beauty which would last as long as the church itself?
— I am one of your readers who have noted with interest and satisfaction the development of Mr. Edgar Fawcett’s curious felicity of expression in the many little poems of his which you have published. I was first struck by the felicity I mention in the four or five poems grouped under the title of Fancies, in a number of The Atlantic printed three or four years ago.2 One of them was called An Oriole, and in that fancy he richly likened the bird to “ some orange tulip, flaked with black,” which, —
Desired unspeakably to be a bird.”
As I remember the poems, there was in almost every verse some cunning touch of this sort, some striking luck of phrase; but I thought the lines on A Toad the most fortunate of all in the qualities I admired in the other poems. He is called a “ dull bulk,” a “ gray lump of mottled clamminess, with that preposterous leer.” The opening lines remained with me on one reading: —
Brings thee, of graceless form in sooth,
Dark stumbler at the roots of flowers,
Flaccid, inert, uncouth.”
This I think simply a masterpiece of characterization; as tar as it. goes I do not see how there can be anything better. But the poems are, as they are called, strictly fancies, and their triumphs seem the achievement of sensitive nerves rather than of intellectuation. I don’t mean to say that their range bounds Mr. Fawcett’s faculty. Shortly after they appeared, you printed a poem of his entitled Immortelles,3 in which there was the deeper stir, the creative thrill of imagination. I allow myself still, even in these hard times, the luxury of being moved by poetry I like, and I recall with emotion some of the vivid phrases in which the poet mused upon those flowers, with their
About dry, brittle hearts of deeper gold.
Lives in the wan, inanimate looks they lift
Mere immortality can ill repay
This sluggish veto of corruption’s blight,
This dull and charmless challenge to decay !
Full oft, I doubt not, each poor bloom has sighed
To have been some odorous radiance that erewhile
Divinely was a rose,although it died! ''
This, if I understand and feel such things aright, is fine and lovely poetry. It is a pity that we could not have a collection of the little pieces that Mr. Fawcett has printed with you (and others like them that he may have in his portfolio), in some pretty little volume. I do not believe we should find them monotonous, or tire of them: and I believe that their quality — peculiarly his own, and not reminding me, at least, of any other poet — would make him a fair-sized public at once. I read all his Atlantic verse with pleasure, though I am beginning to tremble for one technical grace of his, which I’m afraid is turning into a vice; I mean the redundant syllabification of his verse, as in the next to the last line quoted. It is a charm that to remain a charm must be sparingly used.
— It seemed to me that whoever wrote of Mr. Bret Harte and the dramatic critics in the Club, last month, hardly did the theatre-going public justice in what he said of the present difference between the stage and the drama. It is true that most of the plays which nowadays succeed are plays of theatrical rather than dramatic effect, and that they are very far from being good literature. But they are not all so, by any means. I have never read Mr. Charles Reade’s Dora, but I am sure its charming qualities must be literary; and I have lately been reading the plays of Mr. W. S. Gilbert, which are very good literature indeed. (I am surprised, by the way, that you have not yet criticised in The Atlantic the volume of his plays published by Scribner & Co., last year.) This gentleman wrote Pygmalion and Galatea, which was given so exquisitely at the Globe Theatre in Boston several winters ago, and he is the author of three other plays in blank verse which are now printed with the Pygmalion and Galatea. That is the best of them, to be sure, but they are all good. He has mastered the art of placing some poetic fancy in realistic contact with the verities of every-day life — not to make us laugh at the fancy, but to make us ashamed of our own mean and prosaic conditions. The Wicked World is full of charming satire of this sort. The Palace of Truth is a comedy in which the fantastic supposition of an edifice where every one is obliged to speak his mind gives rise to many amusing situations: it, is pure comedy of the lightest, sweetest, pleasantest sort, and is blank verse of the best dramatic kind. The Princess is what the author calls “a respectful parody” of Mr. Tennyson’s poem. It is from first to last delicious—the merriest and brightest fun, treating the whole conceit of the poem with airy burlesque. As for Pygmalion and Galatea, you know how beautiful that is on the stage, but I can assure you that it not only bears reading but improves by it — as a play of Shakespeare’s does. It is in fact a lovely poem, delicately pathetic in its denouement, where poor Galatea dies back into stone heartbroken, and just as delicately humorous and witty in other places. 'The allegory never lies heavy on the play, but is so interfused with it as to be the life of the piece, and the persons are not merely puppets to work out the drama, but are skillfully painted characters. This has been a popular play, and still is so. I don't think any audience found it too fine, fine as it was; and I think that our playwrights should not be more mechanical and ordinary than they can help from the mistaken opinion that if they don’t fail æsthetically the audience will. At least they need not aim to fall below Shakespeare. When they touch his level, it will be time for them to consider.
— I remember now what I wanted to say about Mr. Bret Harte, in answer to his ardent admirer in the January Club. His most fatal defect — Bret Harte’s, of course — seems to me a lack of literary conscience. It is this which accounts for the frightful inequalities in his work. Apparently he will do well only what he can do easily. There could not be a better illustration of what I say than that same poem, Concepcion de Arguelo. What artistic immorality for him to deface that pathetic, and in the main nobly told story, by such a line as —
And there are other lines quite as monstrously prosaic.
— I believe that the critics who mock at Deronda’s befriending Gwendolen in that high way, at the close of George Eliot’s novel, are invariably men. One of the chief moral differences between men and women, and a prolific source of sorrow which is not quite tragedy, is that while women are capable of friendship for both women and men, men can feel it for men only. A man can be almost anything to a woman — her supporter, her teacher, her defender, her lover, her slave, her sacrifice; but her equal and unalterable friend, he cannot and will not be, as yet.
— It appears to me an invidious distinction to apply the phrase “ American humorists ” to a certain small group of writers connected with our journals and magazines. I have come to the conclusion that all persons concerned in the manufacture of the purely intellectual portions of magazines and newspapers are humorists; and I divide them into two classes: the conscious and the unconscious. The unconscious humorist is apt to be the more amusing of the two. What comical verse and prose, —and what comical reviews of them, — not in the least intended to be comical, are served up to us every day of the month, and every month of the year! The grace that is unaware of itself is the perfect grace. To successfully simulate this unconsciousness is the triumph of art. If I were a premeditated humorist instead of a producer of comical serious things, I should waste away to a skeleton and get myself into powder as soon as possible, out of sheer envy of that newspaperman who, the other day, in describing the sudden death of a young lady while visiting some gay friends in the country, said that in the midst of the festivities “ the hand of death stepped in.” Here is perfection — unintended perfection— perfection pure and simple, with no base alloy of self-consciousness or common sense. I do not see how the professional humorist manages to make a living in this country, where almost every journal or magazine has on its working staff two or three serious penmen quite capable of unwittingly beating him on his own ground. Our comical serious writers have never had justice done them, perhaps because they are for the most part writers of criticism, and Cannot conveniently be reviewed. That some of them, in the dearth of native appreciation, have sought foreign shores is evident. Who but an unconscious American humorist could have paid Mr. Aidrich such a handsome compliment as this in the London Graphic? “ One of Mr. Aldrich’s least pretending yarns is the gem of the book! ” If that is not the inimitable touch of a fellow-countryman, I have studied our more serious and didactic writers in vain.
— I wish somebody would register scientific observations on the succession of book epidemics; I mean those distinct waves of desire for a particular class of books, which are always making themselves felt. Lately, as you know, we have been having swarms of literary, artistic, and musical biographies, recollections, etc. They have come in series, in regular rank of compilation and abridgment, or scattered like skirmishers, and anon trundling in lonely ponderosity, like heavy columbiads. The invasion was irresistible. Writers began to feel the necessity of having “reminiscences” about somebody, and the publishers were forced to print everybody’s “recollections.” Trevelyan’s Macaulay and the Life of McLeod seemed to close the campaign; but the “ anecdote-biography ” of Shelley comes like a spent shot over the field. And now we have got to take up travel. There is Mr. Schuyler’s great book on Turkistan; Rev. Henry M. Field’s tour around the world; Mr. B. R. Curtis’s ditto; a volume or two on the Servians, already out, with one on Herzegovina, by W. J. Stillman, in press; and a Library of Travel to be edited by Bayard Taylor; not to speak of the English and French visitors to the Centennial Exhibition who are beginning to relieve their minds about us. The thing is aggravated in this country by the popular notion that you can know everything by reading about a few things, that is, that “ condensed ” army-sausage editions are just as nutritious and more convenient than a diet of full-grown tomes; but besides this, I believe — if proper investigation were made — we should discover conspiracy among writers to get up an overstimulated, intoxicated demand for a particular kind of books, so that all the weak brothers can get their MSS. works of that class accepted by publishers. I suspect that there are secret conventions held, which are captured by those winters who at the moment have homogeneous volumes ready for the press.
— A new face was put upon the familiar fact that all suffering and enjoyment are relative, when I heard two sailors on the day of the great December gale talking of the harm the storm would do at sea, and of how hard it would be for the men. “ I tell you,” said one of them, “ I should hate to be outside, today; unless I was laid up, so’s’t I could n’t go on deck.” In which case, apparently, he would n’t have minded it, Some people might, think the city fireside not too snug; but for his part, give him a bunk in a foul forecastle, knocking about through that roaring, raving maniac of a tempest in an old coaster, with a good broken leg, or so, as an excuse for keeping below, and he would show you what comfort was.
— I have been waiting a great while for some one to urge my favorite argument against the study of Greek, and the writer on that topic in your last number inflicted another disappointment upon me. My position is simply this: that if classic Greek had been worth while, on the whole, the Greeks themselves would not have dropped it. Apparently they found the language of Sophocles and Plato too much for human endurance, and, after giving it a fair trial, took up a handier dialect, which serves all the purposes of life without anything like the former wear and tear, and will probably be equal to literature when the modern Greeks have any. If the rest of us bad been as wise as they, Greek would not only have been dead but buried, long ago. It is the ridiculous assumption of knowing better than the Greeks themselves, which still burdens the foreign student with the incubus which they have shaken off.
— Here in Boston people have been commenting on the cordial appreciation of Soldene, and the comparative neglect of Mine. Janauschek, during their recent. respective engagements. It seems to be as true now as when the Rejected Addresses were written, that
“ The play of limbs succeeds the play of wit.”Yet I think I could offer some explanation. That was certainly a highly interesting tour de force of Mine. Janauschek’s, which the bills called her “grand dual impersonation” of Lady Dedlock and Hortense the French maid, in Bleak House. It reminded me of Plato’s argument in the Phædo, that one and one as such do not make two, and that two things become one because they partake of unity. But, besides that, there was plenty of good and subtile art in the acting. Nevertheless, I could n’t help wondering why we all went and sat there to be so deliberately made miserable. This was really the great object of the performance. Every little anguish or terror in the play was dwelt on to a rasping extent, and brought to bear on our nerves like a file. All the theatrical machinery was exerted to squeeze out of the audience their last available drop of emotion. Now and then tin; acting would come nearly to a stand-still for a minute or so, while the players waited for us to feel as badly as possible: it was like an impromptu intermission for sobs, and you expected to hear tears falling on the floor of the auditorium. Histrionism was sacrificed to sentimentality. Now, people who are in a pathetic situation in real life don’t make a spectacle of it; and if French actors had had this play in hand they would have kept its passion and sorrow entire, without losing the dignity or the vivacity of art. I myself, who have never seen an opera bouff'e, was simple enough to be a good deal moved by Mme. Janauschek. But the sensation I have just described — that of knowing that my feelings were not only “enlisted” to excess, but fairly kidnapped and conscripted — is one which those people avoid who seek refreshment in the Soldeneities of the day.
— Is n’t it deplorable that a mind like George Eliot’s, able psychologically to “ track suggestion to her inmost lair,” should not have labored rather in the department of history than of fiction ? I believe that she might have breathed into past records a rich vitality of explanation. Her talents are peculiarly explanatory. She is a literary dissector, and uses, everybody will admit, her scalpel with a wonderful, sinewy dexterity. In history this sort of surgery might have been admirable enough; for historians, after all, only stand over dead bodies and attempt to tell us what the life has been and what the diseases were that caused death. But fiction deals with living types. Fiction creates. It should not laboriously explain; its characters should constitute their own reasons for being. If Shakespeare had written novels, he would never have devoted page after page to his own personal thoughts about Othello’s jealousy or Hamlet’s insanity. He would very probably have made these things speak for themselves, much as they speak now. George Eliot is so utterly lacking in this dramatic faculty of making her characters directly confront the reader, and she so notably possesses the faculty of astonishing and charming him by brilliant accounts of just what, in the judgment of George Eliot, these characters are, that to my thinking Middlemarch and Deronda are just as much failures in the way of novels as some imaginary history of Elizabeth or James II., wrought by the same hand, might have been an almost immortal success.
— When I have supped full upon the sneers with which it is the habit, in some quarters, to treat our national politics. I find it instructive to glance at the condition with which England is just now blessed. Lord Beaconsfield has had it in his power, by a couple of silly afterdinner speeches, seriously to complicate the position of Great Britain, for a time, on the Eastern question, and to throw the people of that kingdom into extreme tremors. It required a very powerful and well-organized expression of popular opinion to neutralize, even partially, the vagaries of this servile prime minister. His position is as monstrous and as ill-advised as that of the elder Pitt ami the opposition who in 1 730 overcame the better counsel of the then premier, Walpole, and forced England into unjustifiable and disastrous war with Spain; the difference being that Pitt had the people on his side, while Beaconsfield has them against him. What would be said if a secretary of state at Washington were to take such a course as this? It gives especial pungency to Lord Beaconsfield’s performances that he is publicly assumed by the English papers to have drunk too much at the dinners preceding his utterances.