The Contributors' Club
A FRIEND of mine, journeying toward Russia, stopped for dinner, just before crossing the frontier, at an inn kept by a German. The host casually remarked that he had never been in Russia, and on the expression of some astonishment said, “I have always observed that those travelers who were going into Russia looked sad, while those who were coming out looked happy, so that I decided to stay where I was well off.” The best quality of Tourguéneff’s Terres Vièrges seems to me this: that it does not, like most of his stories, leave us sad; the final situation is cheerful, not hopeless; and the persons left on the scene are those in whom we have learned to take satisfaction, Solomin and Marianne. We think of them, also, as living a cheerful and useful life; whereas we commonly dismiss his heroes and heroines to a life of mere endurance, and, if we think of them again, it is in the hope that they will not survive very long.
The book has also the merit of more symmetrical grouping than Tourguéneff has before shown. It is not too much to say of him that he individualizes his characters more sharply and clearly than any other novelist now living; but the composition is often very fragmentary, so that he seems, as Emerson said of Goethe, to throw something at us with the remark, “ Here is a piece of human nature that I had not before sketched; take this.” But in Terres Vièrges the whole grouping is elaborate and careful; every character relieves every other, and not one could be spared.
Yet the most interesting trait in the book is, after all, this: that we have here types which are not merely Russian, but universal, and might belong to any period of social upheaval. I could match every character in the book, without much effort, by some corresponding figure brought to the surface by the Antislavery, or Fourierite, or Woman Suffrage agitation in this country. Very few European novels, I should say, make a reader in New England feel so entirely at home among the dramatis personæ.
This selection of corresponding types should not, however, be carried so far as to attribute to Tourguéneff’s characters any specific opinions which they do not clearly express. This mistake is made, I think, by the Atlantic critic of foreign literature in the July number, when he says of Marianne’s career: “ It is assuredly a stain upon the book that she even proposes that last step of socialism for supporting which Mrs. Victoria Woodhull has become notorious in this country. This repels the reader, and fills him with disgust.” May I be permitted to say, after a pretty careful reading of the French translation — which is the one reviewed — that this “stain” appears to me to be created by the imagination of the critic? I cannot find a solitary word to confirm what he has so emphatically stated. The passage in the book least remote from any such interpretation is that on page 245, where Marianne tells Neshdanoff that whenever he truly loves her she will be his (je serai à toi). But inasmuch as they have just laughingly compared themselves to newly-married people (nouveaux mariés), Marianne responding, “That depends on you ” (Cela dépend de toi), it is hard to see the excuse for putting any dishonorable construction on the young girl’s words. It is plain that the lover himself does not, for in narrating the affair to his friend (page 264) he dwells on his own reluctance to form a permanent tie: “ Comment ponrrais-je unir pour toujours sa destinée à la mienne?” And their friends evidently take the same view, for Solomin afterwards mentions the neighborhood of a priest as one of the conveniences of their lodgings, should they decide on marriage. If it be said that the phrase être à toi is oftenest used by French novelists in connection with illicit amours, the answer is that this is equally true of every other expression of affection, inasmuch as it is usually of illicit love that French novelists write. But they also use the word for the most pure and honorable affection, and even to express the ideal attachment of two lovers who are parting not to meet again, as may be seen in George Sand’s Elle et Lui. The simple fact is that the French phrase is in itself as innocent as the English “ I am thine,” and no man has the right to found any uncharitable construction on those words alone.
It is not worth while to emulate those gentlemen of the last century who fought duels about the reputation of Richardson’s Clarissa Harlowe. But Tourguéneff’s Marianne is a character too fine and too carefully delineated to be assigned, without at least some semblance of evidence, to the alliance of Mrs. Woodhull.
— I am a lover of novels. I have just finished Virgin Soil, the first of Tourguéneff’s stories I have read. From some of our critics and their reviews I had obtained the idea that this Russian storyteller possessed extraordinary powers; all I can say is that I was never more disappointed over a book in my life. Is it possible that any one can really like it? As to plot: does any one know what it is all about from beginning to end? The actors go to and fro saying to each other in deep tones, “Act!” they are mysteriously “ called; ” they gaze “ significantly.” They make nothing of sitting up all night to talk, talk, talk, and are honestly represented as being, the next morning, “ so tired they can hardly stand,” or as having “ bad headaches.” An unknown personage, who writes letters, some in pencil, some in soot and water, and some in blood (why blood?), orders them about constantly from one town to another, but, with all the reader’s efforts, he cannot discover what they are to do in these towns, except to distribute pamphlets. Everybody in the book distributes pamphlets.
Poor Neshdanoff, inveigled into this land of fog by his own imaginative temperament, wanders about, more and more overcome by perplexity with every page. Towards the last he grows desperate, tells lies right and Left, and even appears sardonically amused over his own approaching dismemberment, he being lashed as it were to two horses, who must before long inevitably take different roads. But, if one feels pity for Neshdanoff alone, what must one feel for the unfortunate fellow after he falls into the hands of the cold-hearted, bold girl who is the heroine of the tale ? I do not know that I ever met in fiction a more unpleasant young person than this Marianne. The uncle and aunt Sipiagin give the orphan a home, and a great deal is made of the aunt as a persecutor; but, with all the author’s preference for Marianne, it is difficult to see how any aunt could like such a niece. She is insolent and sullen, she cuts her hair off short, and has “ views; ” without the slightest necessity, she tells the story of poor Markeloff’s unsuccessful suit to a stranger; she informs him also that her aunt is “a living lie,” and details to him that lady’s faults in words which read like petty, spiteful jealousy. Having thus detached him from the Sipiagin, she begins a flirtation with him on her own account, of the most extraordinary nature: she visits him in his room at night, she takes charge of him, she leads him about, she declares her affection, she flings herself upon his neck. Next, she proposes that they fly together “ from this aristocratic house where all is falsehood and deceit,” and herself arranges the plans with Solomin, Neshdanoff plainly lagging behind throughout the whole, not so much from unwillingness, exactly, as from his own chronic bewilderment, poor fellow! However, Marianne succeeds in running away with him, and takes him to Solomin’s factory, where they are to reside for a time. Here they proceed to aid “the cause” and “simplify ” themselves: Marianne, by wearing a peasant’s dress, which becomes her, and washing tea dishes occasionally; and Neshdanoff, by wearing a peasant’s dress, which does not become him (unfortunate here, too!), and by the eternal pamphlets, some of which say merely, “ Make the sign of the cross and grasp the axe! ” — instructions concerning which Neslidanoff asks himself, " Must we really take an axe? But against whom? With whom? Why?” Solomin, who has a sprinkling of common sense in spite of his “ sallow” face, “short nose,” and “little green eyes,” is naturally anxious that these stray guests of his should be legally united, and hints more than once at “the priest.” But the calm Marianne is above law; she scorns it. Without the excuse of love or the glow of self-sacrifice, she will, nevertheless, if required, become Neshdanoff’s mistress from principle only ! No wonder he recoils from the cold-blooded anomaly. In the end he shoots himself, and no one is surprised. The imbecility of the conspiracy and his own position are too much for him. Marianne then marries Solomin. The author remarks that the priest who married them “ never repented what he had done;” hut the question is — did Solomin?
Mashurina appears and disappears, aimlessly; the only thing clear about her is that she has red hands. Madame Sipiagin is well drawn; but, in real life, a Neshdanoff would have succumbed to her. As for the local Russian coloring, it consists principally of the “ samovar,” and the wildly bewildering number of names possessed by each character. The double conversation on page 167, where Neshdanoff “ lies, and knows he lies,” is good. And, when all is told and over, the image of Markeloff’s silent old servant, in the long calico caftan, waiting on the steps, with “eternal sadness on his face,” seems to me after all the most impressive figure in the book, and the most Russian.
— In exalting the Latin method of acting above the English, and illustrating respectively by Fechter as Hamlet, and Mrs. Lander as Hester Prynne, your contributor for July makes many good points. To my apprehension, however, he is wrong in presenting Feehter as a typical example, and wanders farther into error when he considers him the “ true Dane of Shakespeare.”
I am acquainted with the French stage and with the Italian. I know Salvini’s contained energy and impressive economy of gesture, Rossi’s intellectual analysis, Ristori’s thorough good sense and aptitude, and Rachel’s columnar poise, her undulating motion, her serpent fascination and stroke, and the victory her thrilling voice achieved over the singsong verse of Racine. Only last season I saw an actress of the stock company at the Gymnase in Paris so simulate weeping, by means of a play of feature, and without using hand or handkerchief, that a low murmur of applause ran through the observant and delighted house. I am one with your contributor in admiration of the Latin method.
But surely the essential part of acting lies in the conception, the vision, and just comprehension of what to do rather than in the subtilest play of the faculty of how to do it; and to me Fechter’s assumption seemed deficient in this quality of vision. If it be retorted that no two critics are agreed as to the meaning of Hamlet, and that Fechter’s conception may be as good as any, while his expression of it is superior to all others, I rejoin that he did not seem to have any conception at all of the unity of the character, but used the successive situations and the marvelous language as means towards disconnected effects, whose brilliancy was enhanced by his mellow and modulated voice, his sinuous gesture, and the complete training he had acquired on the French stage.
Accordingly, I found his Hamlet good in parts, — not as a whole. He showed the Celtic sensibility of a comedian of tenderness and refinement, not imaginative, not spiritual. That he should fail to render the gust of English idioms was not surprising. He slurred with obtuse, indifferent tones the phrase, “ Thou comest in such a questionable shape;” indeed, he did not seem to be moved as one in presence of a spirit that had passed and repassed through awful changes, nor at other times was he haunted by that vision.
On the other hand, he was exquisite in the lighter colloquial passages, his action, his hand play, slight motions of the head and face, natural tones, all winning and rewarding attention. Yet even here, in talk with his school-fellows, he said, with perverse and superficial emphasis, “You cannot play upon me,” and then walked suddenly away. I recalled the manner of the elder Booth in this scene, the princely courtesy of his request, “ I do beseech you,” and the spirit of anger cooled instantly by a lofty disdain of his “ Though you can fret me, you cannot play upon me.”So when Fechter said, “ I could accuse me of such things that it were better my mother had not borne me,” beginning with that jet and cadence of tone which marks all English-speaking Frenchmen, and ending like the snap of a Chinese cracker, and dry as that, — away from the flat, false emphasis on “ not,” emptying the phrase of all true meaning, I reverted again to the elder Booth, who filled it with melancholy feeling, and implied the hopes, the pains, the love, the mystery, of motherhood.
The “ To be or not to be ” was excellent as a soliloquy, for it was said as if no one were listening; but failed curiously as this soliloquy, for it did not vibrate with the tremendous problem of eternal life. Indeed, he left out
No traveler returns,”
and went on with the fluent unconcern of a French comedian. Sometimes, as I followed him with persisting hope, he seemed to get into the atmosphere of Hamlet, but it soon drifted from him, or rather he slipped out of it with Gallic nimbleness, and seemingly unawares.
The scene with his mother, the killing of Polonius, and his manner on the reappearance of the ghost were good, and by far the best part of his performance. It may be said that his view of the character, if he had one, was too domestic, and without those amazing manifold electric currents of thought, on finest lines to farthest reaches, which are in the constitution of Hamlet.
The grave-yard scene puzzled me. Here was a chance for tenderness, and the actor did not improve it. Was the gap between the noisome skull and the live jester who “set the table on a roar” too great for his imagination to span ? Yet without just this movement of the imagination, no actor can perform Hamlet. Fechter seemed more impressed with the fact that this particular skull was Yorick’s than flooded with tender memories of his jovial playmate, whereas in Hamlet, “ that capability and godlike reason, looking before,” re-created jester and festival and the charm of them; then, “looking after,” whelmed fool, emperor, and the lady of his love in one melancholy generalization on the common lot, until the prince, still holding the skull which had at first made his gorge rise, hands it back to the gravedigger, as the elder Booth did, after pressing it to his lips in token of prevailing affection. Fechter concludes with a good bit of stage business. He drives at the king, who eludes him and runs out around a corridor. Hamlet heads him off and stabs him.
Pondering on this play, where intense and varied human interests are lifted and swayed towards the life to come by the presence and the voice of the most majestic and appalling figure ever conceived in the mind of man; remembering English players who have essayed the principal character, — especially one, the elder Booth, distinguished above them all by grasp and delicacy of genius, an actor of Saxon strength, of Northern imagination, of Latin method, — I must be pardoned for dismissing with slight notice the desultory grace, the short flight, the brief plummet, “ the ineffectual fire” of Charles Fechter.
— I find myself quite in sympathy with that contributor who, in your July number, favors the acting of Mr. Fechter and his school in preference to that of Mrs. Lander and hers. It has long seemed strange to me that, with the knowledge and appreciation of French art, especially acting, current among Americans, so much of the stiltedness and staginess of the old English school should yet remain, and even find encouragement as a criterion for beginners. It is, however, a promising sign to note that our most popular young actors win their laurels, it would seem, in about the ratio that they veer from such time-honored stiffness. And this calls to mind how, during one of Clara Morris’s last performances of Miss Multon in the Boston Theatre, and while in the last scene she was entreating to have her children brought to her, the breathless attention of the audience was for an instant diverted into laughter as the piercing shriek of some impressionable female in the house was followed by the hoarsely excited exclamation, “ Bring her her children! Why don’t you bring them on? ” I thought then that this little incident settled Miss Morris’s place as an actress far more effectively than did many a column of criticism with which she had been honored during her stay; for in this day of wonderfully and consciously critical audiences, to call forth a cry of self-forgetfulness at all is no small achievement. Perhaps, too, the spectators from whom we expect the least can sometimes measure a performer surprisingly or amusingly well. It was a trifle odd that not more than a week after, in the same house, I should have been treated to a bit of audible criticism of the latter sort. While the famous Danicheffs were having their say upon the stage, a girl with a shop-worn face, a seat or two distant from me, turned to her stout, decidedly Hibernian companion and stage-whispered, “Oh, is n’t this play perfect? Is n’t it just splendid? ” His eyes twinkled, and his lips puckered into a smile with a “ Hu-m-m, yes, may be ’t is. But d’ ye think, now, the ould dame [the countess, Miss Morant] would really have always carried the day if she kept roullin’ the lightning from her eyes at that rate, and let the mastiff in her growl that plain in the faces of them she wanted to get the upper hand of? As for the young wan [Anna, Miss Jewett], d’ ye. mind the voice of her, too? how pourful it is for wan in her grief and tinder years, and what a sound there’s in it like the ould lady’s, barrin’ the difference in all they have to spake!”
— I wish to own, in this public confessional. that the simple, provincial trust with which I accept English criticism has been unusually tasked by the dark wisdom of The London Academy in summing up its judgment of Mr. James’s American: “ The book is an odd one; for though we cannot say it is a good book, there is no doubt whatever that it is worth a score of the books which we are wont, truly enough in a sense, to call good.” Now, if I bad received this oracle from almost any native publication, I know very well how I should have found instant relief. But I am sensible that I cannot take a short cut out of the misery into which I am plunged by a London Academician. I must look again, and I must consider: there is evidently a class, scores in fact, of books which the highest English critics are wont, truly enough in a sense, to call good. So far everything is clear. These books may he called, truly enough in a sense, good, but — I feel myself going, again! — a score of them are not worth one book which cannot be called good. This is terrible. To’t, again! If a book which cannot be called good is worth a score of books which can truly he called good— No, no! That way madness lies. Let us go back, and look more carefully to our steps. First, there are critics; that is clear. Second, there are books; this also is plain. Now, then, let us he very adroit. There are English critics in the habit of truly calling books good which are not a twentieth part so good as books that cannot be called good; therefore, the American author should study to write not good books, but odd books which cannot be called good, and that are worth scores of books which truly are good, — in a sense. This seems all very well, till one comes to the last clause, — in a sense. At this I darkle again. “ In a sense ” is hard to understand. If that secret, black, and midnight clause were but laid open, all might yet be well with me; but with that closed, that shut fast with all its sweetness and light in it, like an inexorable clam! I can perceive how, on the principle that a bad book is worth scores of truly good books, the English critics have decided that Messrs. Whitman and Miller are the great American poets; or I could perceive this, if it were not for “ in a sense.” That reduces me to despair, from which my only hope is in recalling the famous puzzle, “ I met a boy, and the boy said ” something preposterously impossible. After you have threshed yourself to frenzy against this problem, your tormentor comes to your rescue with the sublimely simple solution, “ The boy lied.” May there not be a like escape from this hideous labyrinth of The London Academy? Possibly there are no bad books, however odd, which are better than good books, and the pretense of the contrary is bosh, rubbish, rot. In short, may I not believe that the boy lied?
— The Rev. Sylvester Judd, of Augusta, Maine, published, in 1845, a romance called Margaret. He complained some time later that it had been neglected. It was to the accident of coming upon a volume of outline drawings which Darley made for it that my own acquaintance with it was due. The merit of Margaret. whatever it may be, was not, however, to me the circumstance of note. It was the discovery in the eulogistic preface that there was another work, by the same author, devoted to an exposition of the dignity of manual labor. This is a subject to which I find myself attracted. I am rather on the lookout for something which disposes of it in a satisfactory manner. The scale of social dignity is made up on the basis of the greater or less freedom from the obligation to labor. The cream of our consideration is perhaps reserved for those who never by any chance have anything to do with it. We pay sufficient regard to the results of labor, but its actual drudgery is at a large discount. We gaze with respect upon the great monument after it is erected, and even upon the engineer who expended his headwork upon it, but I have yet to see effusion manifested over the brawny arms that hauled all his brick and mortar and twisted his cables. It was for this reason that I sought out, with interest the story which is styled upon its titlepage, Richard Edney and the Governor’s Family. A Rus-Urban Tale, Simple and Popular, yet Cultured and Noble, of Morals, Sentiment, and Life. Possibly overlooked in this out-of-the-way and little-bruited tale might be found a view going to the very root of the matter, and even capable of application; so that when it. was known the public might at once begin to pay labor pure and simple the respect to which it is entitled. The disappointing announcement may he made at once, that the Rev. Sylvester Judd is merely one more of the persons who dignify labor by showing you how to scramble out of it early. In chapter twenty-four his hero is proprietor of the saw-mill, and in chapter fortyseven he marries the governor’s daughter. But his mates at the mill, capable of nothing else, go on drudging for him as for the former boss. They catch nothing of the illumination of the lucky Rickard’s dignity, but on the contrary are treated as very commonplace persons. According to this good minister’s plan, you are to be of a New England family of the highest character and integrity. You are to have a high-school education, including even " a slight attempt on the Latin tongue.” You are to be profoundly influenced in youth by the family, the school, and the church. You are to go voluntarily into a saw-mill instead of going to college, on account of a love you have for manual labor. You are to be a natural orator and musician, and so handsome that young ladies fall in love with you at sight, but of such a virtue that you simply reprove them coldly for their unbecoming coquetries. You are to be so muscular, and at the same time of such an exemplary nature, that when the bully of the shop attacks you you will not be under the necessity of knocking him down, but can hold his arms to his sides in your vice-like grasp until he is overwhelmed with confusion. A facility in saving people’s lives two or three times apiece all around will be requisite, and also polished manners to enable you to dance with the governor’s daughter and converse with her upon equal terms, when, during a temporary closing of the saw-mill, not to he out of employment, you drive a hack for her family. Ah, me — the cold comfort there is in this picture of life for the grimy fellow whose wages are under a dollar a day, and whose dream is rather to keep out of the poor-house than to marry into the New England aristocracy!
The author’s acquaintance with the wickedness of the world — and one’s heart involuntarily warms a little to the honest old gentleman for it — is as amateurish as his treatment of its hardships. Without professing to speak with authority in these matters, I should say that his bar-room conversations were as pure an invention as The Culprit Fay or the Midsummer-Night’s Dream. His heavy villain would be set down by the regular “swell-mob” as a milksop in need of a thorough going over before deemed worthy of admission to fellowship. A specimen of the talk of this ideal miscreant sufficiently shows the unpractical character of the Rev. Mr. Judd’s turn of mind. Clever is a night hand on gang-saw No. 1. He has been absent a while under pretense of sickness, and upon his return, and first introduction to the story, says to Richard: “Enlargement, aggrandizement, glory, fame, are natural to the human breast; they are natural to my breast. Power, might, are honorable; and these I study to exercise. To make you believe I am sick when I am sick is nothing, — a child could do that; but if I can make you believe I am sick when I am not sick, if I can make the captain believe it, and the whole mill believe it, I do something; I exercise power; I AM ENLAUGED! ”
Thus, the opportunity to exhibit the dignity of labor, not being filled by Mr. Judd, is still open. Who will take advantage of it? If I were going to attempt something of the kind myself, I think I should try to make the most, somehow, of the argument that labor is an object in itself, since it is impossible absolutely to secure the fruits of it, and since, when the pressure of necessity is withdrawn, it is entered into with almost equal earnestness from choice. Rare, indeed, is the savings-bank, the insurance company, the coal stock, which may not force the capitalist to renew the toilsome labor of accumulation which he had considered finished. The fashionable woman may have occasion, in the cares of her household and social obligations, to envy her laundress. Polo is as hard as cattle herding. De Lancey Kane drives a coach as well as Richard Edney. It would be difficult to hire people at any price to row college boat races. I had rather be a door-keeper in the house of a grocer or hardware dealer than a dweller in the tents of the amateur rifle association. When you have made your fortune by labor, what else do you find to do but labor still? Such being the case, I would go on to adjure the man who is doing a useful thing to be satisfied with himself and confident of his dignity, no matter what he finally comes to. I would — but this is feebly attempting to preëmpt the ground which I wish left, open for the shrewd and kindly analyzer who is to tell us about the dignity of that kind of labor which has not retired upon its income and married the governor’s daughter, but is cutting saw-logs, breaking stone, clenching boiler rivets, brandishing the mop and the scrubbing brush, and singing The Song of the Shirt.
— Will this serve as a Roland for Mr. Collyer’s Oliver, who supposed that Mr. Emerson and “ that kind of people ought to he encouraged ”?
Some years ago I was so fortunate as to happen in Middlebury, Vermont, at commencement season. The instinctive hunger of the feminine soul for perpetual student, warm, cold, or minced, had been long blunted by advancing years and residence in an old university town; so it was not the momentous début of a dozen or so admirable young orators which awoke self-gratulation over my opportune arrival, although it must be confessed that the mere sight of so many young men who were neither bored nor agonizingly anxious to seem bored by life, present and to come, was inexpressibly novel and refreshing. The source of rejoicing was far beyond and above even this.
In an old university the round of memorable orators and poets is perhaps soon run, and the imported commencement lions have either become, in these last times, unthrilling specimens of their kind, or are jealously caged for platform exhibition as a decoy to the alumni dinner, where they are gingerly served as a bonne-bouche. At least the motto of our particular college has come to be — but hear a parable instead. A divinity student having nearly completed his course brought, as the powers ordain shall be done, a sermon to his favorite instructor. Modestly but feelingly he delivered it, from text to “application” and “a few reflections,” after which the critic: “Yes, very good,—very good, indeed; well planned, and on the whole admirably expressed. But, my dear young friend, I regret to say I notice a tendency to — to—enthusiasm, which should and MUST be repressed.”
Coming from such a climate, and listlessly glancing at the commencement programme of brave little Middlebury, how my heart leaped to see “Oration before the Whatsoever Society, by Ralph Waldo Emerson ” ! And what an “ oration ” it was — calm and grand and unperturbed as of old ! And as was the oration so was the orator, losing now and then his place, in the familiar old fashion, and with sweet solemnity looking for it again among his wandering script as deliberately as if he sat alone in his Concord study, and we following the search as undisturbed as he, finding it only a shade less exquisitely fascinating than the missing thought itself when at last be had gently brought us to its hiding-place.
I know of nothing on earth more restful, and I would like to say divine, than to sit in Mr. Emerson’s presence for an hour, while he thus loses and finds himself in peaceful succession. “But this is not my tale,” as Mr. Joaquin Miller often justly remarks. When Mr. Emerson’s celestial hide-and-seek was over, and the entranced audience were reluctantly going down the aisles, a venerable old trustee of the college, whose beautiful white head was its crown of glory for many years, whispered to me with a smile and half a sigh: “Times have changed! It is just twenty years ago since we had him here last to address this same literary society. When he had finished, the president, as was the custom, called upon a clergyman to conclude the service with prayer. Rev. Mr. —, of W—, in this State, stepped into the pulpit which Mr. Emerson had just vacated, and uttered a very remarkable prayer of which I can remember only one sentence exactly: ‘ We beseech thee, O Lord, to deliver us from ever hearing any more such transcendental nonsense as we have just listened to from this sacred desk! ’ ” “ And what did Mr. Emerson say?” “Nothing — oh, yes; after the benediction he asked his next neighbor the name of the officiating clergyman, and, when falteringly answered, with gentle simplicity remarked: ‘ He seems a very conscientious, plain-spoken man,’ and went on his peaceful way.”
— No doubt it is comforting to Jewish hearts to see how the social thrust lately aimed at them has been resented by the free press. But does all this, I wonder, blind any thinking Jew to the wide difference between social justice and social preference, or tend to make him feel that he is the more welcome in the home circles of Christian families, supposing he cared to enter them?
It is hardly imaginable that Judge Hilton intended to hurt himself, financially or socially, when he moved to exclude the obnoxious race from his hotel. He may have made a special study of the aversion, alienation, the indefinable something which the average Christian claims to feel in his intercourse with the Jew, although it often means no more than that he cannot penetrate the mystery of his subtle, self-poised personality. For if there is any one point upon which the commonplace Christian, especially he of British extraction, is uncommonly strong, it is in a contempt for whatever he may not happen to understand, as his governmental record the world over amply proves.
Judge Hilton, then, may have made a study of his own pet aversion without having also made due allowance for the difference, in this age of the world, between personal or theoretic dislike and wholesale injustice; if so, he overshot his mark; and must, per force, take the consequences. Possibly, too, the judge, if of a contemplative turn, may have taken notes of the effect of Daniel Deronda upon the reading public, and felt additionally secure as to the result of his action. Certainly, if the author of that wonderful book had no other object than to feel how the world’s pulse beat in regard to a famous race, it was well worth her while to have written it. Leaving the professional critics out, it is doubtful if any knot or coterie discussing it since its publication, let them find what other faults, they may, have not ended by expressing disgust or dissatisfaction with its idealization of the Jews. Strange that practically wise people are not as ready to see that had not that race been capable, in all ages, of evolving just such “ dreamy abstractions ” as Mordecai and Deronda, it could not well have stood, through time and persecution, the solitary peculiar power it has stood in the world’s history!
How often, while listening to the buzzing of certain Christian insects, have I pictured some grand old Jewish face turning its scathing irony upon them, while it questioned their claim to aught which they profess to hold sacred except through his race; and then demonstrating how utterly their non-debtor was that race except for the persecution which had fertilized so much special genius.
But although some of our ungrateful race are, at last, getting so enlightened in liberality as to recognize their superiors even among Jews, I would, none the less, caution commonplace Jews against too far presuming upon the fact. Above all would I advise any youth of Jewish blood, whose nose does not betray him, and who has set his heart upon winning a Christian maiden, to let his secret rest secure until he has first won a more than passing interest.
— Looking over my collection of autographs, which I began many years ago in very humble imitation of the splendid and well-arranged collection of Mr. Ticknor, I came upon a note from Walter Savage Landor. It is without date, and reads as follows: —
DEAR KENYON, — I have to thank you for a little book which Fisher brought me. The weather is so fine that I have not yet red it. My brother Robert has publisht three Dramas. The versification is better in all respects than any other dramatist’s, and the poetry than, any other’s, except Shakespeares, by many many degrees. I would lay a wager nevertheless that Robinson thinks Goethe, and even Wordsworth, a better poet. The Ferryman (I stake my reputation, such as it is, upon it) far surpasses every poem in the present or last century. Robert and I have had no correspondence for a quarter of a century, and the last was an angry one, but let me do him justice.
Towards the end of April I go to Paris to meet my son Walter. If you know of any reasonably cheap lodgings on the other side the Seine, but not very distant from the Gallerys, pray tell me. Yours very sincerely, W. LANDOR.
Are any of the cultivated readers of The Atlantic familiar with these dramas of Robert Landor? Have they one reader per annum amongst us?
The book was published (may I be pardoned for retaining the orthography of our dictionaries, in spite of the prejudices, protests, and example of Mr. Landor) by Saunders and Otley, London, in 1841.
The three dramas are The Earl of Brecon, Faith’s Fraud, and The Ferryman, each in five acts. The first “has for its moral patient forbearance under shame and ruin. The second, sacred obligations discharged at the expense of other sacrifices as well as life. The third, endurance and forgiveness.” The book is printed in the interests of religion and morality.
After such a eulogium on a poetical work by a critic so well qualified to enjoy and so very hard to please as Walter Savage Landor, who as a “brother offended ” advances an especial claim to be heard upon the subject, it is difficult to accept one’s own judgment on these dramas. So far as I know they have never been reviewed in any prominent periodical. Horne and De Quincey, who have written largely on the works of Walter Savage Laudor, and incidentally upon his life, make no allusion whatever to his brother.
It would be curious to see these dramas compared by some less eccentric critic, not certainly with Shakespeare’s, but with those of Henry Taylor. I can see in them little to justify the opinion pronounced on them by Landor in his note to Mr. Kenyon, and much to excuse the public for its indifference and their oblivion.
De Quincey, in his notes upon the writings of the more successful brother, says: “ Might not a man build a reputation on the basis of not being read? To be read is undoubtedly something; to be read by an odd million or so is a sort of feather in a man’s cap, but it is also a distinction that he has been read absolutely by nobody at all.” . . . But he adds that Mr. Walter Savage Landor is not entitled to such sublimity of distinction, “ for it can be proved against him that he has been read by at least a score of people, all wide-awake.”
May not the distinction have been reserved, with justice or injustice, for the other brother?
— I am very sorry to see The Nation in one of the July numbers countenance the notion that “ Welsh rabbit ” is a corruption of rare-bit. I very much doubt if this supposed derivation is more than about thirty years old. while the dish is very much older. The name is one of a great number of hits at countries and towns that arc supposed to have a very limited choice in food, and to substitute their few articles for the many of other lands. Wales was imagined to have nothing to eat but cheese (see Sir Hugh Evans) and mutton: a Welsh rabbit is “ toasted cheese,” and in parts of England mutton cooked in a special way is Welsh venison. There are a dozen such instances among ourselves. The herring appears in two favorite localities as “ Taunton turkey ” and “ Digby [N. S.] chicken.” “Albany beef” is simply sturgeon; and a “Marblehead turkey ” is a codfish. To one who has noticed these analogies, and knows, moreover, how for centuries cool Saxons have loved to poke fun at their fiery Cambrian neighbors, there is something singularly flat in the “rare-bit” idea.
It is needless to say, however, that the spelling early commended itself to restaurant keepers, whose bills of fare have always had a peculiar softness which the writers probably think is refined. Many of them invariably say cold oysters when they mean raw, the latter word being thought coarse! Charlotte de Basse is the name most in vogue with them, and is adopted by Dr. Holland in a novel; you might as well say United States of American. The very peculiar name Méringue, which is the French form of the Italian Marengo, and was given in honor of the battle, has assumed the spelling Morangue at the hands of fashionable confectioners.
Mr. Hale, in his late amusing story of G. T. T., has put into print an experience of us all at hotels where there is no printed bill of fare — the practice of female waiters running together the entire list of viands in one word. At Lake George, for instance, may be heard, “ Soupsalmonroastmuttonboiledmutton,” etc., right on without a stop. It is not perhaps generally recognized that the first instance of such a breathless bill of fare is in the Ecclesiazusæ of Aristophanes. There, a female chorister, summoning the whole city to a gorgeous banquet, announces the entire, provision in a single word of one hundred and seventy-eight letters: “Oysterscodskatesharkbrainsgibletssaucepiquante,” etc.; only the genius of the Greek language introduces connecting syllables, which modern hotels dispense with.
— I see that the papers are already beginning to talk about the Bishop’s Palace, to be built in connection with the cathedral at Garden City, endowed by Mrs. A. T. Stewart, and to brag that it is to be finer and grander than any such building in Europe. Very likely those most interested are annoyed at the foolish extravagance of language used by thoughtless journalists, and themselves carefully use correct expressions, like Episcopal Residence with apartments for the clergy. Still the hasty reader gets the impression that a building is to be erected of dignified proportions, in keeping with the elaborate cathedral, and as part of the cathedral appointment; doubtless there will be a Close and other poetical appendages, and novelists who cannot afford the trip across the Atlantic will be able, by an inexpensive journey to Hempstead, to furnish themselves with the interesting apparatus which looks so attractive in the distance of English novels.
Ecclesiastical foppery is easily laughed at, and many, no doubt, will set down all this talk about the cathedral and palace as a feeble grasping at the inheritance of the English Church. But there is an aspect of it which is not ridiculous. The cathedral idea in America comes by degrees in the growth of the Episcopal church, and is not to be, it cannot be, the mere transfer of an Anglican fashion. It stands in a different relation to the church, and, as an expression of greater energy and more complete fidelity to the purposes of church organization, is to be watched with profound interest. The cathedral as the bishop’s church will be a religious power just so far as the bishop is a power. His power springs from his service, not from his pomp and circumstance; the church becomes the centre of such service, but what has he to do with a palace? I had almost said, What has he to do with a house at all? A palace, or any house which by its splendor and state separates him from common men and gives him the appearance of rank, is in direct antagonism to the fundamental, Christian idea of a bishop. Some members of the Episcopal church are anxious to get rid of the name Protestant, since they argue that the name gives rise to historical misconception. It would be well if instead of getting rid of the name they would seek to fill the name with a meaning, and make the church a protest, not merely against some past doctrinal and practical error, but against the insidious enemies of true religion which have no organized form, but a very present influence. If the church wishes to protest against an age of luxury and self-indulgence, it will not do so by providing its bishops with kings’ houses and soft raiment. When it does, it will find that men will go into the wilderness again to hear what the man will say who dresses in skins and eats locusts and wild honey. There is no form of state or ceremony which men will not persuade themselves is becoming to religious authority, and a comparison of pope with apostle will be ingeniously made out to the sophist’s satisfaction, but no sophistry can get rid of the Master’s words: “ Whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister, and whosoever will He chief among you, let him be your servant.” I for one should like to see a bishop’s palace in America built by a bishop who could himself build one as cleverly as one of his spiritual ancestors could make tents.
— I do not know whether it is a universally received truth, but I know it has long been one to me, that genius is worth little or nothing, nay, may become even a harmful and pernicious gift, unless it be accompanied by that far more substantial yet most necessary and indispensable quality, common sense. And yet this latter is by no means so abundant as one might suppose; indeed, some one has well said that it would be more appropriate to style it uncommon sense. Without the healthy instincts — for these, in most cases, will suffice even without a great, deal of experience of the actual world — that warn us of the ridiculous. absurd, and impossible without a wholesome sense of “ the eternal fitness of things ” and a considerable portion of that good, sound, “homespun” faculty that in ordinary life goes to the successful discharge of the simplest and most common duties of our every-day existence, the profoundest sentiment, the finest fancy, and most brilliant imagination shall avail us nothing. The sentiment will degenerate into mere sentimentality, the most ideal aspirations and highest flights of fancy into empty vagaries and idle dreams; the creations of our brains under these circumstances cannot be anything but flimsy phantasms, with not a drop of real life-blood in their poor, transparent veins, and no more power of life and endurance than the flowers in the fairy tale, which, having for one night assumed the shapes of men and women in order to give a great ball, lay hopelessly wilted away to so much dry grass the next morning. I dare say I might illustrate my view with many examples, drawn for the most part, I am sorry to allow, from the ranks of female writers, but no more striking one occurs to me than that of Elizabeth Sara Sheppard, better known as the author of Charles Auchester, the one among her books which has the most claim to something like recognition. For to her that precious jewel in disguise, common sense, seems to have been almost completely denied. Young as she died, and, having been an invalid almost all of her brief life, little chance as she had of becoming acquainted with real men and women, had she possessed those healthy instincts which I have mentioned, she could not have represented such abnormal, unnatural, impossible beings as she did, — if beings they may be called who are in fact only bundles of high-strung, sensitive nerves and various abstract qualities. Her books are charged with a certain super-idealism that removes the characters, with their deep sorrows and sublime joys, as far beyond the reach of ordinary human sympathies as though they were inhabitants of the moon; surfeited with a sweet atmosphere of over-refinement that, like the stifling odors of a close, overheated hot-house, it is impossible for healthy lungs to breathe long, and that make us wish tor a breath of fresh air, one touch of real life, no matter how crude and common and realistic it may be. In a word, it is almost impossible to read them, unless we are endowed with a good deal larger capacity for “ swallowing nonsense ” than usually falls to the lot of mortals in our practical days. And yet, in spite of all, we perceive in these “ very young” efforts of a most intense and enthusiastic nature much real power and true inspiration, an exquisite sense of beauty in every shape, and a deep and delicate comprehension of the subtle mysteries of music, while the quaint style has a very piquant flavor of its own; so much unquestionable genius, indeed of a high order that, had the author lived, I cannot doubt that she might have accomplished really great work, but for the “one thing wanting.” As it is, all her high gifts are but as so much “ sweetness wasted.” Because of the one small grain of salt omitted in her composition, the slight admixture of common earth to counterbalance and weigh down the ecstatic flights of her overstrung mind, her name is almost forgotten and her books are consigned to an oblivion that is surely not wholly merited, or are read only by the few interested in such phenomena of nature, and fond of musing over “ what might have been.”
— I have followed the controversy raging or lately raging in one of the Boston daily papers as to whether cooks and house-maids are ill or well treated, and under or over paid, and I have been struck by the fact that the friends and foes alike of this class of laborers are united in stigmatizing them by an epithet which I hope most Americans take very unwillingly upon their lips, and seldom without a sense of its cruelty. I mean the word servants. Every man or woman who works for hire serves, or ought to serve, his or her employer. But all revolt from the name of servant, because it insults a proper pride and Self-respect by ascribing to them a debased and hopeless social condition. A maid of all work is no more a servant than any other hireling ; why should she be called a servant, and a day-laborer not? A shopwoman or a salesman is a hireling; why should not these be classed as servants, if cooks and nurse-maids and coachmen are so? The non-brutal nations, the French and the Italians, call their household laborers domestics, a word which describes them without wounding their just susceptibilities. We, following the brutal English and German fashion, are doing our best or worst to call ours servants. The good word help, kindly and modest, and native with us, no longer applies to our changed conditions; but it would be better to use it still than to use the word taught us by the snobbish English tourists who have laughed us out of our own phrase. From time to time there is a great clamor about the unwillingness of American girls to do housework for better wages than they can earn in mills and shops. I do not blame them. They are right to shrink from classing themselves as servants in a land where every other laborer rejects the title with rightful resentment. Sir, or madam, if you were by some disaster reduced to poverty, and your daughter were forced to take a house-maid’s place, would you speak of her as a servant?
— I have seen no notice in our periodicals of a little book which is at least entitled to be a sort of literary curiosity, until the authoress shall have given us something claiming attention on larger grounds. I refer to a thin volume having a cover oddly decorated in gilding, with a branch of grape, a lyre, a bird, a pen, and a vase holding a ruined plant. It contains some poems by Miss A. C. Thompson, the sister of Elizabeth Thompson, whose battle painting, The Roll-Call, so suddenly made her famous a few years ago. These poems, published in 1875, certainly cannot command an audience, but there is a suggested quality in them which may hereafter be embodied in riper work. They are more emotional than reflective, and show traces of a gracious intimacy with several of the poetic forms; yet only now and then can you say that they bourgeon into poetry. They contain poetic feeling as a breeze carries with it whiffs of perfume from the field flowers; and their music is not so much like present melody as it is like remembered snatches of delightful sound. But occasionally there is a definite stroke of individuality which it is pleasant to come upon, as in a sonnet called Spring on the Alban Hills: —
Grow pale or just flush with a dust of dowers.
Rome in the ages, dimmed with all her towers,
Floats in the midst, a little cloud at tether.”
The piece called A Letter from a Girl to her own Old Age is better in the novelty of its suggestion than anything else. And this Song of the Night at Daybreak is good as well as new: —
And the dawn-winds shake me.
Where shall I betake me?
Till the set of sun,
Till the day be done ?
To the boughs o’ the pine,
To tho blind man’s eyne.
Bowed upon the knees,
Sick with memories.”
But it is in the longest and concluding effort, A Study in blank verse, that I find a hint of dramatic ability which is far beyond anything else among these eighty odd pages. This is the story, given in three monologues, of a woman who had sinned and repented. Her child, a boy, has been taken from her by a friend, for his own good; after five years she is summoned by the friend and told that the son has discovered her shame and wishes to go away from the land forever: the option of an interview is left with her. She decides to see him once, unseen herself; and then she returns to her old voiceless and sunken obscurity of repentant solitude. The personality of the woman is wonderfully given; it is impossible for me to convey the pathos of the whole thing; but the writer’s concluding description of how the weary, patient creature fared back to her loneliness has a beauty that is separable from the rest. She saw
And ending of the day-time ; and she knew
The downward way in presence of the night.
She heard the fitful sheep-bells in the glen
Move like a child’s thoughts. There she felt the earth
Lonely in space. And all things suddenly
Shook with her tears. She went with shadowless feet
Moving along the shadow of the world.”
I warn everybody that this is the best passage in the book, and that there is not a little foolish pre-Raphaelism in it, as, for example, where this same poor woman
A difficult smile that hurt half of her mouth.”
The poetess may have meant to mitigate the suffering by confining it to only half of the mouth; but her doing so arouses tiresome speculations as to just which half it was that was hurt, and how the other section was located or employed at the time.
— Since the Contributors’ Club offers a welcome to plain-speaking, I beg to enter a strenuous protest against some recent attempts to make Goethe out, contrary to all received impressions, a “ good man,” and as a fair specimen of them I will quote from Mr. Bayard Taylor in the January Atlantic: “ No author has ever been so persistently misjudged in regard to his relations with women as Goethe. The world forgets that during the greater part of his life be was the object of the in tensest literary jealousy and hostility, and that the most of the stories now current had their origin therein. The scandal occasioned in Weimar by his marriage to Christiana Vulpius — another part of his life which has never yet been correctly related — is an additional source of misconception. The impression tints produced combined with a false apprehension of Goethe’s true character as a man has kept alive to this day the most unfounded slanders. Schiller’s life contains exactly the same number of love-passages, but they ceased to be remembered against him after he had married a refined and noble-natured patrician lady. Goethe offended the sentiment of the circle in which he moved less by his non-marriage than by his final marriage with the plebeian Christiane. . . . Old prejudices and slanders have a tremendous local vitality.”
There is great speciousness about this plea of Mr, Taylor’s, but it is in reality extremely flimsy. In the first place if “ the world forgets that Goethe was the object of the intensest literary jealousy,” Mr. Taylor forgets that he was equally the object of the wildest literary worship, — a man so admired and adored that, if his character could have been rescued, hundreds of devotees and defenders would have been only too glad to do it. In the second place, as regards the “ false apprehension of Goethe’s true character as a man,” I will repeat, as exactly applicable to him, what Mrs. Kemble said of Lord Byron in the same Atlantic: “I do not care to read his life, because, in spite of all Moore’s assertions, I maintain that with Byron’s own works in one’s hand his character cannot possibly be a riddle to anybody; ” and again, “ I cannot at all agree with Mr. Moore that upon the showing of his own works Byron was a ' good man. ’ If he was, no one has done him such injustice as himself.” From this, I think Mrs. Kemble might agree with a pet theory of mine, to the effect that a man cannot falsify himself in his writing. With a pen in one’s hand, what one is comes out in black and white, whether one is aware of it or no; and with Goethe’s books in evidence, his principles in regard to women are only too palpable.
As for the sentiment of the court circle at Weimar upon his marriage with Christiane Vulpius having anything to do with the sentiment of the world about it, I do not believe it. Honorable marriage has been the foundation of every self-respecting race known to history; and the universal, instinctive feeling about Goethe’s position toward and his relations with women, during all the responsible part of his life, is that these were the deepest injury to the individuals themselves, an affront to the whole sex, and an insult to that married state which the Jews for three thousand years, and Christians for eighteen centuries, have believed to have been directly instituted by the Creator, as the best possible condition for the welfare and happiness of human beings. Goethe’s offense was not in raising a girl of inferior position to his own level as his wife, but in first disgracing her for years, and marrying her at last from motives among which reparation to her and to the married state seem to have been the least; in short, only on the cynical French principle scarcely breathed in this country before our generation, that “ Womanhood has no unwritten rights that manhood is bound to respect,” can “ Goethe as a man” find any defense whatever. From all time the great poets had joined with religion in upholding constancy as the one essential virtue of love. The heart of humanity had echoed the sentiment, and, though realizing them but imperfectly, it had maintained in song and story the ideals of purity, fidelity, and self-sacrifice as above all others. It was reserved for Goethe to preach both by his life and writings the vanity of these ideals. The impulse of the passing moment is the law of most of his heroes, as it was with himself, and constancy was a conception of which he was so incapable that there is no evidence of shame on the part of his characters when they fall away from it. Such a speech as —
Rolled in one another’s arms and silent in a last embrace ”
would have been jargon to Goethe, and this unconsciousness of the absolute demand of noble love is one of the most singular lacunæ that so vast and gifted a nature ever exhibited, — paralleled only by Lord Bacon’s passionless dishonesty and treachery in friendship. The legitimate product of Goethe’s example and teaching is beheld by contemporary Germany in that intoxicating but abandoned genius, art-iconoclast, and moral monster, Richard Wagner.
“ Delicacy is the poet’s El Dorado,” said Edgar Foe, and Goethe had no delicacy. Indeed, the Germans as a nation are destitute of it. From every page of Goethe’s great romance beams the mild effulgence of a genius, splendid, yet the most soft, the most winning, the least aggressive and self-assertive that perhaps the world has ever seen. One does not know at which to he most amazed — at the marvelous intuition and observation, the universality of sympathy, the almost inspiration of the reflections, the matchless style, and the golden poetic haze which inwraps the whole; or at the gentle indifference to all the ancient, standards of decency, duty, honor, and truth, at the simple ignoring of the immemorial laws of love and wedlock, at the fatal principle that good and evil are alike admissible as educational influences.
With all his costnieal nature, Goethe never developed a real hero, and this permits no other explanation than the melancholy one that, though in the highest sense a man of genius, he did not possess the genius of manhood. Nay, he did not even conceive of it, for the essence of manhood is not to be “ passion’s slave,” but to realize manhood’s responsibilities and inflexibly fulfill them. There are such men, and they are the knife-edges of tempered steel on which vibrates the fitful pendulum of human destiny, brought back by them from all its aberrations to conscience and to God. Bad as the real world is, if it were like Goethe’s world in Wilhelm Meister, it would be a weltering mass upon which the fires of Sodom could not descend too quickly.