The Contributors' Club
IT seems to me that it is time for some one to come out and face popular adulation with the unpalatable remark that Mr. Edward Payson Hammond’s Sketches of Palestine 1 is an overrated book. I make and record that remark now. I do it without passion; I am not influenced by envy or spite. I believe that the present frenzy of admiration for this work has diseased the public mind and greatly impaired the value of its verdict. I believe that the same cause has produced the same effect with the professional critics. This frenzy will not last, but will run its course and die, like all that have gone before it; and I feel sure that when that day comes the world will say, as I say now, It is an overrated book.
Understand me, I do not claim that it is greatly overrated. I do not go so far as that, — except as regards a few passages here and there. These few have certainly been greatly overrated, and I think I can show it. In truth, I can subscribe to much that the Rev. Robert Knox, D. D., says of the poem and its author, in the introduction. I can say with him that “ I have read the work with intense interest, and ” — under certain limitations — “ with profit.” I can say with him that the reading the work “ very often compels the reader to realize and confess that he is in the presence of a man of power; ” and that “ the creations of the author’s imagination indicate poetic genius of a high order. ” I admit with him that the auther “ possesses a rich and fervid imagination.” I go all these lengths cheerfully and willingly; and yet I still say, as before, the book is overrated; Edward Payson Hammond has been placed too high on the roll of the poets. Let me make a few quotations.
The opening lines of the poem have been intemperately lauded, both here and abroad: they describe the wedding of Edward Payson Hammond and the bridal journey to Niagara. The adulation of these lines, which follow, has been still more intemperate: —
There they heard their Master calling,
‘ Go and work within my vineyard,
And my presence shall go with thee.'
Quickly they obeyed the summons.
On the lovely banks of Erie,
With the godly Mr. Howland,
There they gathered in the harvest,
Working with the Holy Spirit,
Winning souls to Christ, their master.”
Mark how far an incautious partiality can carry a man! Speaking of the above passage, Mr. Hallet, the highest critical authority in England, says, “ There is nothing in Shakespeare like this.” The lines are certainly fine, but they hardly warrant such strong language. There is one defect which has escaped every one’s notice: that is, the absence of any expressed opinion as to Niagara. It seems to me that the transition from Niagara to the ministerial field is too abrupt: —
Where the Sabbath-school convention
Met for mutual instruction
In the truths of Zion’s welfare.”
These lines have received more praise than they really deserve. They are too smooth, for one thing; the rhythm should be more broken up. This could have been compassed by the substitution of “ edification ” for “ instruction ” in the third line, since the former falls trippingly from the tongue, while the latter does not.
The bridal party continue their journey, and sail for Europe from the port of New York: —
They observed their watches losing
Day by day some twenty minutes
With this fact was taught a lesson
E. embodied in some verses.”
Where is the justification for De Lisle’s assertion that the above lines are “ resplendent”? The suspicion is forced upon us that they have been improved in the French translation. One of the “ verses ” which “ E.” wrote under the inspiration of the foregoing episode contains a figure which I am willing to admit is worthy of the enthusiasm which it has called forth: —
“ Yes, we can tell them we have not
That longitude of soul
Which we once had when we set out
To reach the heavenly goal,”
There are some fine descriptive passages in the book. Perhaps the finest is one which I need not quote, since it is so familiar to everybody. I refer to the passage about the departure from Lake Zurich: —
And his wife, the happy couple
Sailed for Rigi,” —
a passage which closes with these often quoted lines: —
Quite was lifted from the landscape,
Showing them where had been sleeping
!Leven lakes of matchless beauty.”
The poet, with a multitude of tourists, witnessed the illumination of the Falls of Giessbach with Bengal lights: —
Sinners flock to see its beauty.
Then they thought of living Christians,
All whose ‘ springs ’ are in the Saviour,
And who, while they ‘ water others,'
Are themselves thus always watered ;
And of Jesu’s precious promise,
‘ He that drinketh of the water
That by me is freely givon,
He shall thirst again, no, never.'
Then it was that Edward Payson
Wrote some simple lines of poetry,
Setting forth this truth important.”
Let us quote one of the stanzas, since the lines italicized by the poet are the ones of which the great German critic, Von Selilechter, has said, “You may search Dante in vain and not find the fellow to this passage: ” —
Watered with the heavenly dew,
Brings from the divine abode
Blessings that are fresh and new
He can ever truly say,
‘ All my springs, Lord, are in thee ;
Watering others every day,
Still, my Father, water me.'”
It may be true that one cannot find a passage just like this in Dante, but I contend that he can find more than one that is just as good. I have been openly insulted, at a social gathering, for making this remark; but I nevertheless repeat it, for I believe it to be true.
Quick they flew with fleetest horses
Feet five thousand and six hundred
Was the height they soon attained to
To the left they saw Mount Sunin,
Rising feet full twice five thousand,
Clad in robes of snowy whiteness.
On the left then stood Mount Hermon,
Towering high in feet ten thousand,
Robed in snow of shining whiteness ”
Critics have mightily glorified the “ marvelous effect ” produced by the repetition of the figure describing the brilliancy of the snow. I regard this matter differently. In the first place, the figure is not new; in the second place, it does not stir the soul; and lastly, its repetition is mere bald tautology, and would argue poverty of invention in a poet who was not the spoiled pet of the universe, but had to stand upon his merits. Every enthusiast claims that the triangulation of a mountain’s altitude has never been done in poetry before. I fail to see why it should have been done this time. The flow of a poem ought not to be interrupted by statistics; these belong more properly in foot-notes.
De Ruyter asserts that the above passage is “ Miltonic.” At the Hague, where he is best known, this critic’s opinions are not considered to be unpurchasable.
“ Quick the heart of Edward Payson
Was inspired to write some verses.
Well he knew he was no poet,
Still to him it was a pleasure
To jot down these lines, tho’ simple,
Which so quickly pressed upon him
I shall venture to transcribe them
Word for word as they were written
In the carriage o'er the mountain.”
Then follow the famous verses, familiar to every school-boy, beginning,—
Just at the break of day.”
It seems to me that this poet’s frequent petting references to himself as “ E.,” and “ Edward Payson,” etc., are in bad taste. It would be better style to maintain a more dignified distance between himself and his reader. His surname is Hammond. There is no rhythmical reason why he should not say, “ Quick the heart of Mr. Hammond.” It is better than the other form, and pleasanter. But I will not dwell upon this matter.
Passing close along the sea-shore
Where ’t is said the Prophet Jonah
Once escaped from the embraces
Of that huge aquatic monster.”
The word “ embraces,” here, is not accurately descriptive.
Rev. Mr. Hammond goes on to speak of “ Great Sidon: ” —
By the Persian Shalmaneser,
B. C. seven hundred twenty.”
That is not poetry. It is nothing but the most degraded prose.
In a sheik’s house filled with insects
Far too numerous for their comfort.
But they helped to start them early
The next morning on their journey.”
Neither is that poetry. It is mere statistics. The same may be said of the following excerpts: —
But a stone’s-throw from the waters
’Side which Jesus fed five thousand.
In the hot baths of Tiberias, —
Fahrenheit one hundred forty.
While at Jacob’s well they lingered,
Reading from their Bagster Bible.
At them they threw stones most rudely ;
Yes, and one of them struck Ida.
Mrs. B. was much astonished
When she found within her pocket
Some one’s hand, to her a stranger.”
And this, about St. Peter’s at Rome: —
Till at last they were quite ready
To believe the fact that fifty
Thousand could be Stationed in it,
And that it was more expensive
Than the churches of New England,—
That it even cost more money
In its structure than the churches
Of those States all put together.”
Rev. Mr. Hammond’s poetical account of his daily wanderings among the holy places of Jerusalem has been greatly lauded. I nevertheless cannot bring myself to admire that account. I think that almost any clergyman, suffused with the same devotional spirit, could have written it. I regard it as inferior work, from the opening verses all the way through to the poem beginning with the familiar line, —
“ Now say — O Lord ! — I pray.”
Rev. Mr. Hammond’s account of the bath in the Dead Sea has fine points, unquestionably, but it does not deserve all the praise that has been lavished upon it. What I mainly object to is that so many should call it Homeric, — a misapplied term, it seems to me. Here it is; let the reader judge for himself: —
Sought to read within his Bible,
But the heavy swelling water
Quickly turned him, rolled him over,
And beneath the briny surface
Went his Bible, wet entirely.
Edward also, most unwisely,
Tried while lying on the water
First to see if he could rend from
The American Presbyterian;
Like the doctor, he rolled over, —
Filled his eyes with bitter water,—
Spoiled the paper he was rending.
When their eyes had once done aching,
Loud they laughed at their endeavor.”
The power is not uniformly sustained throughout that passage.
The foreign editions of this volume have suffered much alteration: sometimes by the subtraction of words, sometimes by additions which mar the rhythm. A notable instance of the latter is to be found in the last English issue. In our American edition we have it that the bridal party journeyed
By a path not often trodden,
Led by Jacobs, a Samaritan.”
In the English version we find the words “the original” inserted after the word “ by ” in the third line. To lug in a valueless historical fact at the expense of the musical flow of a poem seems hardly justifiable.
But enough of this book. The Rev. Edward Payson Hammond is a very celebrated revivalist preacher, not only here but in Europe. Let. him enjoy that fame; I have nothing to offer against it. But while I still echo the assertion of the Rev. Robert Knox, D. D., that “ the creations of Mr. Hammond’s imagination indicate poetic genius of a high order,” I also still aver and still maintain what I said in the beginning, namely: that his book is overrated. The charge that I said his book is worse than Helen’s Babies is untrue; I never went to that length. I close with the remark that his much-glorified “ vision ” is not poetry in any sense of the word, but is nothing but a cheap juggle, a nimble manipulation of names, a paltry trick of jingle unworthy a great master of poesy:—
Abraham, Isaac, David, Solomon,
Jotham, Ahaz, Hezekiah,
Nahum, Mich, Jeremiah.”
— Save for a certain indescribable flavor of refinement that pervades them like a rich and yet delicate perfume, what is it that really constitutes the principal attraction of Mr. James’s longer and shorter stories? They possess few, if any, of what are generally supposed to be the indispensable qualities of the novel. The characters, though not one of them is really commonplace, are none of them, either, of surpassing interest in themselves, manifest no uncommon depth of emotion, no overwhelming power of passion. There is scarcely any plot, and there are almost no events; the whole seems rather to be made up of small incidents. I think I have never, for instance, read a more motionless though by no means lifeless story than The American, one going forward so long without apparently advancing a step; where the whole tale at first appeared to consist of nothing but visits to Madame de Cintre and meetings with her brother Valentin, varied by occasional encounters with Mademoiselle Nioche and her father. Yet it is certain that Mr. James holds the rare power of handling his subject in such a manner that we follow not only with interest but with positive eagerness the actions of his most trivial and shallow personages, and the course of the most ordinary occurrences, and that there is about all his work a power that does not easily relax its hold upon us again when once we have been drawn into the charmed circle. And as we look closer we discover that this fascination as nearly as we can analyze it — for doubtless it possesses something of that element of genius, or anything approaching to genius, which is too subtle and intangible to be seized in words or even clearly grasped by thought — is due to his consummate art, the exquisite finish of his figures. He lays on the strokes of his brush — and every stroke shows the touch of a master-hand—as carefully and delicately as some of the modern French painters. Moreover, he understands how to give wonderful vividness to his persons and scenes by small but very clever realistic — rarely unbeautiful — touches. How effective, for instance, to give among innumerable examples only one such, is the mention of the apparently wholly trifling and unimportant detail in the February installment of The American, that when Newman awoke in the morning “ the sun was filling his window, and he heard outside of it the clucking of hens ; ” and with what few happy and graphic words is the whole Swiss village in all its beauty and ugliness, and the impression it made on Newman under the peculiar circumstances that took him there, brought before, us! The different physiognomies come out as clearly, yet richly, as the figures on an etching, for indeed color is so sparingly used, — though what there is of it is handled with admirable tact and to excellent effect, — and the drawing so decidedly predominates, that it is of this rather than a painting we are reminded. It is evident, from all I have said, that Mr. James achieves his results by a number of minute marks rather than a few broad, bold, sweeping lines such as those, for instance, in which Tourguéneff sketches his characters.
That Mr. James’s figures are not all wholly natural or true to life, some of them even barely possible, makes no material difference in our enjoyment of them. We still contemplate them with the unalloyed pleasure a piece of perfect workmanship is sure to give, without for the moment considering whether such beings as they ever had a real existence or not. Here, indeed, it seems to me, is the heel of Achilles, the mortal spot in Mr. James’s work: some of his characters, at least, have no real, living substance, are not blood of our blood and bone of our bone. And whatever might be said in defense of his men, his women strike me more as creations of the imagination than anything else, — nay, I am tempted to say he has not so far succeeded in drawing a female character at all. Madame Blumenthal, Madame de Mauves, and Christina Light, — has anybody ever known such women ? However many true and striking single traits may enter into their compositions, and however weak and whimsical, incomprehensible and unfathomable women may be, — and perhaps still more appear to men, — yet, taking these figures as a whole, I cannot believe that combinations of such contradictory qualities, swayed by such unaccountable impulses, and governed by such fantastic motives ever lived, moved, and had their being on this earth. Even Madame de Cintré is partially unreal; so far, at least, the springs of her actions are by no means clear to the reader, for it is somewhat difficult to see both why she accepts Newman and why she so suddenly cuts him off. Whatever his short-comings in this respect, however, Mr. James has undoubtedly struck out a new and original track for himself among the much-beaten paths of fiction, a track where as yet he stands without oven a rival.
— Every poet ought to be a ready free-hand artist. His sketch-book and pencils could then serve his turn where mere descriptive notes would entirely fail. To illustrate my meaning, let it be taken for granted that in a poem, as in a drawing, the best evidence of high art is that the creation bears the marks of a sympathetic and sincere knowledge of nature, without discovering any effort in the direction of mere copying, “ Ars est artem celare ” may then be translated, " Creation, in art, is that process by which a true genius puts together and molds into perfect shape a mass of materials gathered he cannot recollect where, and blended no one can tell how, but full of the life of the creator.” During his rambles among men and in the solitudes of nature, if the poet were able to catch with his pencil many of those flitting phases of movement, attitude, color, shape, and expression,—humorous, pathetic, grand, graceful, ironic,—just as they show themselves, and fix them with something of their suggestiveness outcropping, what a wonderful commonplace book he would soon have! Imagine Hawthorne’s Note - Books supplemented by Hawthorne’s Sketch-Books full of pencil-drawings of those sweet, half-weird light-and-shade manifestations of nature so subtly rendered in all of Hawthorne’s writings! The poet’s annotated sketchbook is what I am trying to suggest, — a sketch-book whose margins are filled with snatches of verse and bits of tentative phrasing, whilst underneath each drawing appears a cumulative description in prose of the subject’s peculiar features, together with some artistic suggestions and poetical hints. Perhaps you think Rossetti ought to be considered an example in point,—a “ practical example ” worth studying. After a little examination, however, you will see that he has fallen far short of my liberal theory in his restricted practice. Take these verses from The Stream’s Secret:
This hour beside thy far well-head, ...
Murmuring with curls all dabbled in thy flow,
And washed lips rosy red? ”
and these from the first Willowwood sonnet:—
And as I stooped, her own lips rising there
Bubbled with brimming kisses at my mouth.”
If all these, and a hundred more like them, had been found in Mr, Rossetti’s sketeh-book, the drawings themselves would have been ludicrous in the extreme. My criticism is not more realistic than Rossetti’s drawing. It may be added that art for art’s sake somewhat stiffens and almost offensively burnishes all his otherwise exquisitely beautiful poems. He has sketched from art more than from nature, — from “ the flat ” much more than from " the round.”
But to turn now to Tennyson: his sketch-book would be a delight forever. He would endeavor with pencil as with pen to express the charms of nature by art, — not the charms of art by art. The difference is a vast one. A comparison may make plain my meaning. Rossetti says, —
As one wall with the flat skies,
Where the lean black craft like flies
Seem well-nigh stagnated,
Soon to drop off dead.”
Now this is very fine as a marine sketch, but does it not suggest that it is drawn from a painting and not from nature? The ships on a sea can never suggest clinging, benumbed flies, but the ships on a canvas might. Compare Tennyson’s verses:—
That rises upward always higher,
And onward drags a laboring breast
And topples round the dreary west,
A looming bastion fringed with fire.”
A strong free-hand sketch from nature, with bold outlines and a few vivid dashes of color, is at once before you. To be sure, a hint of superfluity is discovered upon close scrutiny of the phrasing, but it is a picture, — a true, great picture. Equally true, but more labored (labor limœ) and less sincerely natural in its strokes, is this: —
“ Move eastward, happy earth, and leave
Yon orange sunset waning slow ;
From fringes of the faded eve,
0 happy planet, eastward go ;
Till over thy dark shoulder glow
Thy silver sister world, and rise
To glass herself in dewy eyes
That watch me from the glen below.”
Nevertheless you would never dream of its being a copy, or a study from the flat. The last two verses seal it a study from nature.
— Could Hawthorne have been other than a story - writer, I think he might have made a famous chemist. He had in a remarkable degree the analytical mind which loves experiment, which delights in laboratory work. He would have made a capital assayer to find out precious metals in unpromising ores. A study of Hawthorne’s Note-Books reveals this chemical side of his genius very clearly. Here he has set down page upon page of hints for stories, — some of them only half-thoughts, a word, a name; some incidents to be amplified into chapters; some written only to he rejected, others to be remodeled, still others to be wrought out into the perfect form and grace of a Twice-Told Tale. And these hints bear no little likeness to the formulas of the chemist. Here is one: “ To picture a virtuous family, the different members examples of virtuous dispositions in their way; then introduce a vicious person, and trace out the relations which arise between him and them, and the manner in which all are affected.” To turn this into the chemical dialect is by no means difficult. A group of metals, pure, lustrous, without a crack, without a blemish, is subjected to the slow, insidious action of a corrosive acid. One the subtle enemy attacks in vain; another it defaces with an ugly mark; it eats into the heart of a third; a fourth it ruins beyond all recognition. Take another example: “ To trace out the influence of a frightful and disgraceful crime in debasing and destroying a character naturally high and noble, the guilty person being alone conscious of the guilt.” Read gold and aqua regia; romance becomes chemistry, and the study is a laboratory. “ A change from a gay young girl to an old woman : the melancholy events, the effects of which have clustered around her character and gradually imbued it with their influence, till she becomes a lover of sickchambers, taking pleasure in receiving dying breaths and in laying out the dead.” Here the experiment is a long one. The method is the same, but the time and the elements have changed. We have a bright pebble on the sea-shore, brilliant with a score of dazzling colors. Wind and surge and tempest beat upon it. Peaceful days come seldom, and the waves lash it pitilessly. Slowly its bright colors fade out. It grows weather-beaten, gray, wrinkled, sombre-looking.
Amplified from hints into stories, these formulas grow into the carefully worded memoranda of experiments. Hawthorne has shown himself a theoretical chemist, an ingenious deviser of tough problems; he is now to carry his theory into practice, and to solve his problems. No chemist ever loved better to look into nature’s heart than did Hawthorne to look into the heart of humanity. No philosopher calculated more closely the delicate relations of cause and effect. The chemist combines two different gases, and watches their action and reaction. Hawthorne associates different natures, and watches the influence on each,—Miriam and Donatello, Clifford and Phœbe, little Pearl and Hester Prynne. The chemist tests with acids, with heat or cold. Hawthorne tries his characters with sin and grief. He places them in different surroundings, inspires them with loves and hatreds, makes their lives happy and sorrowful by turns, and stands by through all, anxious and attentive. He is a mental chemist with human passions and emotions for his chemicals. Study the plot of almost any of his stories, and this chemical side of his genius can scarcely escape detection.
His subject is a young New England minister, endowed with a nature exquisitely sensitive to pain and sorrow. Upon this delicate character he proposes to try the effect of that corrosive element, remorse. He burdens his Conscience with a hidden sin, and the evil begins to work upon his heart. A dozen subtle devices are brought in play to keep the acid influence ever strong and active, — Hester Prynne, patiently enduring the shame and punishment which are rightly his; little Pearl, the living emblem of his sin, frightening him by the strangeness of her look and action; Roger Chillingworth, getting closer and closer, day by day, into the secret places of his heart; the people of his church, torturing him with praises of his holy life. Hawthorne lays bare all the workings of the young man’s heart. We are looking at an experiment rather than reading a story. We wonder what this strange combination of emotions, this curious blending of human chemicals, will effect.
The Marble Faun is a similar problem . Donatello is the opposite of Arthur Dimmesdale. One is the type of intense intellectuality; he is all mind, heart, conscience; and his body is comparatively weak. The other typifies the physical in man; he is an animal, speaking and thinking; he is an Adam before the fall, his heart full of simple joy, his life empty of cares and sorrows, the trusted friend and playmate of nature. Remorse has now to act upon a stronger subject than Dimmesdale, and itself is weaker than before. The attendant circumstances, which in The Scarlet Letter tended to sharpen pain and to quicken its action, now act to soothe it. Hilda brings her purity; Kenyon, his friendly care; Miriam, her love. The Faun is changed indeed, but for the better. That supreme moment of self-denial, that release from the bondage of a purely selfish sorrow, that glimpse of something really worth while to live for, which came to Arthur Dimmesdale only in death, brought added life to Donatello. The test had put a new element into his being. Remorse had developed him. “ In the black depths, the Faun had found a soul.”
I find no little pleasure in reading Hawthorne with this idea in view. Looked at as experiments, as problems, as essays in what might be called psychological chemistry, his stories assume an added interest and fascination.
— I fear that nowadays situations in novels are getting to be anything but novel situations. In the new story, Pauline, which is running through Blackwood, the hero and heroine meet under circumstances which every novel-reader knows by heart. I quote from the first chapter: “ The tide was still in the ebb; the short cut across the rocks would be passable. . . . All went well for a time. . . . Too far gone to retreat. . . . Suddenly she became aware she was not alone. . . . Both hands clutched the rugged rock in front; he advanced, and one was unwillingly loosened and put in his own.” The reader can easily fill out the incident. Of course it ends comme il faut, and doubtless the acquaintanceship thus begun will result in marriage. But surely this rising of the tide has been done to death.
— I have no hope that the Lost R’s will be found in the company of the Wandering G’s, anywhere in New England. The letter R, not to sound which in Pennsylvania and throughout the whole West is always regarded as an affectation, is really extinct in the old Puritanic borders. One of the most cultivated persons of my acquaintance pronounces warrior wawyaw ; and in New Hampshire I heard a countryman boast that he had killed a checcadadda. On research his victim proved to he a checkered adder.
— May not a few passages from M. de Molinari’s last-summer’s letters from this country be possibly of some interest to your readers? “ The old part of Boston,” he says, “ consists of a net-work of streets in which is concentrated all the bustle of business, but the city is beginning to spread indefinitely beyond the Commons [sic], a magnificent park which separates the old part from the new. It is easy to see by a number of characteristic indications that one is in a place of firmly established wealth, where everything has acquired a degree of stability not to be found elsewhere. The railroad stations, generally so neglected in the United States, are large, convenient, and handsomely decorated; the horse-cars are neat, the streets are generally paved; one finds at every step not only churches, — that goes without saying, — but second-hand book-shops, and stores for the sale of objets d’art. Among the churches there is one, Old South, covered with huge placards, whence issue cries of indignation and vehement appeals to the patriotism of the Bostonians to save it from contemplated destruction. ... It is to be hoped that Old South — between ourselves, a tolerably ugly bit of brickwork — will escape the impious rage of the Vandals.”
“ During my stay in Boston, Mrs. Woodhull, the most notorious apostle of the emancipation of women, came there to open a series of lectures on the human body, the Temple of the Divinity, but — who would believe it?—all the halls were closed to her, ... so that Mrs. Woodhull was obliged to take her Temple of the Divinity back to New York. In this connection I would say that the religious, moral, and other eccentricities do not have in the United States the importance which one is pleased to attribute to them on the faith of certain sensational writers, such as Mr. Hepworth Dixon. They find no favor among the mass of the public, and often no tolerance. . . . There have arisen in Russia, for instance, under the most absolute of despotisms and of religious monopoly, sects more immoral and dangerous to society than those to which the political and religious liberty of the United States has given birth. There are here no nihilists, and I have looked in vain for a socialist newspaper. As to the revivals and camp-meetings, these Methodist pilgrimages resemble our own, and the Free Lovers are spotless lambs beside the frightful Skopsi. This is not the land of dreams, and if there is no lack of eccentricity, it takes care not to waste itself over Utopias which ‘ do not pay.’ Like everything else it has a practical turn. It has put itself in the service of dentists and pill-makers; it constructs prospectuses and advertisements, and makes more dollars out of them than Fourier and Saint-Simon made from the Théorie des Quatre Mouvements and the Nouveau Christianisme.”
In his wanderings M. de Molinari visited Harvard College, which he describes briefly, saying that not many months ago a certain number of French liberals had formed the plan of a free and liberal university, to be built and supported by subscription. A place for it had even been chosen, not far from Paris, but safe from its temptations, and the whole list of officers and professors had been made out, so that nothing was wanting except the money. Unfortunately Haytian and Turkish loans were preferred by those who should have subscribed, and the university was never built; it remained a dream, but this dream he says he found realized at Cambridge. Speaking of the Girls’ High School in Boston, he says that the courses of instruction are most numerous, comprising Latin, Greek, French, German, physics, chemistry, geography, trigonometry, algebra, photography, rhetoric, and ethics. “ I find no fault with that,” he goes on, “ but I must say that American ladies have very incomplete knowledge of living languages, the English alone excepted, and perhaps they would derive more profit and even more pleasure from a more thorough acquaintance with French or German, even if they had to neglect Latin and Greek. That is not their opinion, however, and I confess I found very little to say to the argument ad hominem which an amiable Philaminta brought forward in talking to me. ‘ Why are boys taught the dead languages ? Because it is acknowledged that no study is better suited to strengthen their minds. Well, would it be just to deny to women the use of this valuable means of culture and civilization? Would you not consider it disgraceful that we should be denied traveling by rail, or the use of the telegraph ? One of two things, — either Latin and Greek should be taught to the two sexes or to no one at all.’ ”
— Some one has asserted here that George Eliot is a “ literary dissector,” using the scalpel with wonderful dexterity; that history is therefore her peculiar province, “ since historians only stand over dead bodies and tell us what the life has been;” and concludes that as novels Middlcmarch and Deronda are failures, since “ this author lacks the dramatic quality of making her characters directly confront her readers.”
This is not alone an individual opinion, but a broad statement of a charge constantly brought against the greatest living novelist. Is the criticism a fair one? Does it not arise from a misconception of the novelist’s position? A dramatist simply holds the mirror up to Nature, and behind it is concealed. He can have no personality without obtruding upon the stage a figure alien to the life represented. But a novelist is, in Saxon interpretation, a story-teller, and by virtue of his office visible and welcome. You stretch your feet before your glowing fire in the dusk, and the voice which tells you the story of the day or a long-past adventure plays a finely important part. You see from the narrator’s stand-point, and supplement his truth with your own. If he lingers to tell you what fresh thought came to him from a new mingling of the lights and shades, you do not murmur. We demand that Hamlet, or Othello, or Falstaff shall speak, and not Shakespeare. But who that has ever dreamed over The Marble Faun wished to detach from it the author’s brooding delight in the tale?
That “ fiction creates and should not explain ” is a one-sided truth. If fiction creates it must be by the skillful blending in new combinations of certain elements or characteristics of human nature which it finds “ created.” Dickens said, “ I knew Uriah Heep; I would never have dared to imagine him l ” In this sense, Dorothea, in Middlemarch, is a being nobly conceived by a brain which caught and fused certain strong and pure elements. And her “creator” may explain her because the laws of her being are just what we need to know. That Lydgates are drawn to Rosamonds is a fact long observed, but we are greatly indebted to an insight that finds some of the subtle reasons.
The limitations of history are more narrow than those of fiction. George Eliot’s genius has made of Savonarola a more interesting and a nobler figure than do any of his historians; yet students will remain divided as to whether her outline of his character, seen dimly through the years, is more truthful than theirs. But the life that she studies from materials at hand, and which is reproduced in Adam Bede and Maggie Tulliver with the earnestness of conviction and the sure comprehension which is sympathy, is illuminated for us by the very psychological tendency of which her critics complain. Assuredly the readers of The Atlantic do not need to be reminded, in the language of another contributor, that “to him who reads only the story, the story is never fully told.”
— Why do not some of our characterpainters, in search of new subjects in American life, take some studies from the outer suburbs of the literary world? It is an almost untrodden field. In most of our large cities there are men and women living by their wits (and very efficient, able-bodied wits, too), who bear the same relation to the recognized accredited body of authors and journalists that the guerrillas and human jackals which follow an army do to orderly, disciplined troops, or the rank, virile weeds of the roadside to trim garden blooms. Occasionally the literary Free Lance contributes an article to a magazine or publishes a book, but it is only to give color to his other proceedings. To define these would be to give the history of each of these intellectual “ dead-beats ” and his secret of success. I venture to say there is not an editor or writer in the country who reads this that will not recall his experience of the tribe with a chuckle or a groan. Society in general does not know just now how to deal with the ordinary tramp, but what is the editor to do with this fellow, who has as many books as Reynard de Fuchs? He is of the same class as the whining beggar on the doorsteps, though of different rank: one is satisfied with money, the other draws on us for sympathy and friendship beside, and nine times out of ten he gets them. He has the same drop of vagabond blood as the tramp, keen love of adventure, antipathy to work. He (or she, for women take leading parts in this profession) is an actor, with more or less genius to put into his rôle; he takes just as much delight in cheating his audience of one as ever did Kean in seeing the pit rise at him. He gives as much time, thought, culture, and real ability to this private dramatic business as would bring him in a comfortable income in any other trade or profession. It would not be possible to describe his weapons or mode of attack. He is not dangerous if not original; he and each of his confrères has his own trap, or may be a new one every day. Sometimes one of them makes a raid into the provinces, bringing home booty galore, and leaving a stunned, horrified memory with his victims. But usually they reap their precarious harvest in the crowds of cities, being hunters whose game is man. A common device among them is letterwriting. One, a Napoleon of his tribe, not unfavorably known ten years ago among American authors, found his legitimate work yielded him a paltry income of hundreds, while begging - letters brought in thousands. They edit blackmailing sheets, they attack one church in a pamphlet which they sell among the members of another, they personate foreign noblemen, decayed clergymen, martyrs of every creed and name. There is no bigotry nor weakness (especially if it be feminine) which they cannot work to bring grist to their mill.
After all, there is something attractive to the soberest of us in these sudden ups and downs.
Now what is to be done with these Brahmin tramps? They are not wholly
bad. We can’t send them to perdition and be done with them, as we would like
to. As women, they are not always immodest; they are by no means hard, or cruel, or greedy people, but oftener kindly, generous, with a keen refinement of feeling. Neither is it for money alone that they ply their dangerous trade. I have known them throw up positions which yielded them luxurious incomes and take to the road to starve. The Catholic church provides for such unquiet souls; she knows that women, at least, who will not submit to matter-of-fact duty will perform heroic sacrifices sustained by a dress and surroundings which appeal constantly to their fancy and emotions. The disease is simply vagabondage. Had not Goldsmith just such a maggot in the brain, Leigh Hunt, Dick Steele himself ? Morality, of course, teaches that the butterfly must freeze in the winter, while the ant scowls out of her comfortable den at her. We all know the picture—and how the poor dancing-girl starves on the threshold, and the matron munches within. But which of us does not want to take the loaf out to the poor, guilty cicada?
— One prime qualification of a reformer is that he should leave room for some one else to supply the links. If he does not excite the amiable little vanity in other minds that they can show exactly how to do what he proposes only in a general way, he will be left to carry out his scheme alone. Mr. Waring, it seems to me, has that qualification. His articles in Scribner’s Monthly for April and The Atlantic for May are among the most important contributions that have been made to the discussion of American rural life; but is it not strange that he should pass over so entirely the first steps toward organizing farm-villages ? He shows as much confidence in the movableness of the farmers as Mr. Tyndall professes to have in the promise and potency of matter. But I, for one, inhabiting a solitary farm, do not see how iny little cell is going to work itself into the tissue of a community. I have no money to put into an enterprise of that sort. The snail may “ put his buck up ” on a question of migration, and carry his roof on the back after it is up; but I am snail-like only in my progress toward society and a competence. I might club together with my neighbors, who make such large blank spaces in the census by living from two to six miles apart all through the township; but a club of that sort would deliver only the same old knock - down argument, — no money. What am I to do, then? I conclude that I ’in not to do at all, but to wait for help from the cities. Dr. Maudsley, that penetrating observer of insanity, has distinctly said that the pressure of modern business, so vast and various in its competitions, is one of the chief causes of mental alienation in this century. On the other hand the statistics of some of our American asylums show that the farmer class yields a very large proportion of insane patients. The merchants are suffering from overwork on a splendid scale; we farmers suffer from the same thing on a mean, harassing scale. Both classes tend toward extremes, and the extremes meet in similar evil effects. Now it seems to me that the merchants, who are injured by an excess of moneyed interests, ought to come to the relief of our indigence. I am not joking; the subject is much too serious. I mean simply that our men of business should establish such interests in farming regions as would benefit the country and benefit themselves. You see men of great wealth in the cities constantly making an effort to transplant themselves to the country, wholly or partially; but their efforts are-with very few exceptions total failures. They go the wrong way to work. Some build or buy splendid villas which amuse them for a few years; but an astonishing number of these are sold again in a short time, partly because the amusement comes to an end, and partly because they absorb so much money. These places do not “develop the country,” owing to their being for the most part large cities, where the land is all in use for market-gardening. They develop only extravagance and disgust. Then there is another set of rich men, fewer in number, who — led by some vain or half-romantic impulse they would despise if it came up in business affairs — try to form great estates farther away from the cities. They surround their mansions with a park-like solitude, and spend uneasy hours trying to enjoy their dignity where
But for such natures the trees offer only a barren sort of homage; these men need other men for admirers. If they stick to the estate through a life-time, the sons are all the readier to split up and sell the property as soon as it comes to them. Still another class, with less money in pocket, finds solitary country life too great a change from the city, and must therefore go to some village that is one quarter town, and half dependent on another town somewhere near. The remaining quarter has a dull time of it.
Why cannot all these city people, who sooner or later want to have a home in the country, combine their interests with those who live there all the year? The very rich men, instead of annoying themselves with big villas and lonely parks, might build a small farm-village on Mr. Waring’s plan, and then sell part of the adjoining lands and lease others, leaving the village community to put up its own churches, or sharing with them in these, as is now done by the richer inhabitants of small towns. Some one will of course object that this is establishing landed gentry and a peasant-like tenantry. But is it any more alarming than the tenantry in cities, who surely are very much oppressed in the matter of rents? Moreover, this building of villages is only to give the farmers a chance to leave their old homes and get into the better ones, of which they can soon become owners. Meantime, the builder of the village will have become interested, will have formed associations with the place (if he had none before), and has a home near a cheerful little community, to which he can finally retire when he needs or wishes to. The second class of wealthy people will also find a place to centre upon, and thus shall come to pass what we have so sorely needed in the United States, — the distribution of cultured and agreeable people through the more sparsely settled regions. The agricultural society assembled in the new villages will gain a great deal by the breaking up of the old, lonely habit of life; but they would gain still more by the accession of a few people from the business centres. The people from the cities would also find attractive points, I think, in the community of yeomen. Both elements are interested, therefore, in the proposed change. It is a fair field for the employment of capital from the cities.
— J. H. T.’s rendering of Mr. Longfellow’s sonnet into Massachusee, in the last number of the Contributors’ Club, has naturally attracted a great deal of attention in New England, and particularly in that section of the country in which I chance to reside — Ponkapog, namely. In this old Indian village the study of Massachusee has long been one of the lighter relaxations of the inhabitants. At fashionable evening parties in Ponkapog the conversation is carried on almost exclusively in that tongue. As in Concord the children “ dig for the infinite” instead of making mud pies, like simpler children in loss favored localities, so in Ponkapog the very urchins in the street chatter Massachuisee over their tops and marbles. The increasing interest in this beautiful but too much neglected language warrants me in pointing out one or two imperfections in Mr. T.’s otherwise faithful translation of Eliot’s Oak. To begin with, koonepogquash, in the first line, is obviously a misprint for rackoonepogquash. Elisions are not permissible in Massachusee. The omission of the circumflex accent over the fourth a in wadtauatonqussuongâshnish, in the line below, is also probably a typographical error, but it is a singularly awkward one, since it changes both the gender and the tense of the word. However, these are blemishes which cannot have escaped even the most careless reader of The Atlantic. I pass to what seems to me a grave misconception of the original text. The sixth line,
strikes me as being a very inadequate rendering of
If, as the translator gives it, “ everyone hears his own language when thou [the tree] speake&fc,” there would be no difficulty. whatever in understanding that Talking Oak; anybody might sit down on an exposed root and have a free and easy powwow with that accomplished old son of the forest. But Mr. Longfellow distinctly states, in the first quatrain of his sonnet, that the
With sounds of unintelligible speech.”
Clearly, J. H. T. is wrong, and has dropped into some unintelligible speech on his own account.
In criticising so able a scholar I have allowed my interest in the subject to overcome my diffidence. Even Homer sometimes nods, and J. H. T. may easily be forgiven if be does not always get his Massachusee quite right.
- Sketches of Palestine. Descriptive of the Visit of the REV. EDWARD PAYSON HAMMOND, M. A., to the Holy Laud. With. Introduction by the REV ROBERT KNOX, D. D., Pastor Linen Hall Presbyterian Church, Belfast, Ireland. Boston : Henry Hoyt.↩