THE number of holiday books does not seem to us so great as usual this year, but there is something of greater variety in them, and, as illustrated books go, of novelty. That is, there are fewer single poems made the subject of elaborate and superabundant illustration, and more gift books of a general character, with fresh and distinct claims as literature.
Among the purely artistic publications we shall probably not go wrong in first naming Mr. Darley’s studies from the Scarlet Letter,1 which have been perfectly reproduced in heliotype, on a scale even more generous than his famous illustrations of Judd’s Margaret. These Scarlet Letter pictures are in the same style of outline, severe, yet telling the story, especially in much of the detail, with great force. There are twelve of them, the first being The Market Place, where Hester is descending the prison steps with the babe in her arms, before mounting the pillory. Her face, always excepting the aquiline curve of the nose, which Mr. Darley has given her here and elsewhere, is very good, the haughty absent smile being most effectively suggested; whereas in Mrs. Hallock Foote’s idea of Hester’s expression, its rapt intensity was mistakable for blankness. The grouping is natural and vivid, and the variety of attitude and emotion in the spectators is a masterly characteristic of the piece. Mr. Darley succeeds here as strikingly as we think he fails in the next picture, where a too theatrical Hester is confronted in the prison cell with a conventional Chillingworth; the babe stretched on the low bed, however, is realistic and lovely. If we except this plate, and the unsatisfactory conception of Chillingworth and Dimmesdale as the Leech and his Patient, and also the thin characterization of Hester and Pearl by the Sea-Shore, we have named the only ones in which the imagination is not strongly appealed to. Even in the forest scene, where Dimmesdale lies with his head in Hester’s lap, and her foreshortened nun’s face is bent ineffectively over him, the despair of the prone figure is deeply pathetic. In the other forest scene, where Hester, kneeling, stretches her arms coaxingly towards Pearl, who elfishly rejects her, with the demand that she shall restore the scarlet letter to her breast, the wavering hope and joy in the poor woman’s face are delicately yet distinctly intimated; and the wildness of the landscape is sympathetically expressed. But here the great defect is in Dimmesdale’s face, which has been tending to commonplaceness, and is now downright Yankee. The most that can be done with this face is done in the two plates called The Revelation of the Scarlet Letter, in the first of which it shows its lax and hopeless profile, as Dimmesdale’s drooping figure—beautifully felt and drawn — is supported up the scaffold steps on Hester’s shoulder; and in the second, where, on the scaffold, he turns his dying eyes in accusal and forgiveness upon Chillingworth. The accessory figures here are all extremely good, though by far the best thing in the picture is the figure of Pearl standing a little apart on the scaffold, and touched with dawning consciousness ; this is a great and subtle study, and a triumph of expression. In all the plates there are single figures which deserve particular praise, like that of the darkly frowning Puritan who listens while old Mistress Hibbins accuses Hester of going into the forest to meet the Black Man. There is a very admirable rendering of the scene in the governor’s house, where the magnates of church and state discuss the project of taking Hester’s child from her; and which should send the reader again to the passionate tragedy of Mrs. Hallock Foote’s rendering of nearly the same passage. On the whole, we think the two most intense pictures of the series are the one in which Pearl, with clinging, childish persistence, presses her mother to tell her the meaning of the scarlet letter ; and the other, in which Hester, stonily indifferent, passes through the group of reviling Puritan urchins, while Pearl stares round upon them in rage and defiance, and hurls back their taunts.
Messrs. Scribner and Welford this year follow their magnificent holiday works on Spain, India, and Italy with a companion book on Venice.2 But this book, whatever its rank among other holiday publications, — and it must hold a high place, —is scarcely equal to those which have gone before it. Venice, as a subject, has as much unity as Spain ; but it is extremely difficult, and the writer who wishes to be honest about it, and yet cannot quite trust himself to realism, and wholly break with the glamour that romance has cast over it, will hardly succeed in making a lively or original book. Mr. Yriarte knows his ground well, and he conceives the early Venetians admirably as the shrewd, practical, commonsense founders of an enduring prosperity and a powerful polity ; but he does not boldly or strikingly present this type, nor the types of later Venetian character. There is want of freshness and want of force in it all. The old matters which must be gone over and over in every book on Venice are in no wise treated with novelty. Mr. Yriarte is well informed ; he observes accurately and he speaks sincerely; but he is a feeble philosophizer, and he is not a graphic painter. The most valuable chapters are, as one would expect from the local contributor to L’Art, those on the art of Venice. They will remind the tourist very profitably of what he saw there, and they will faithfully report the facts about Venetian painting, sculpture, and architecture to the student; hut they are not suggestive, and they are by no means subtle or original in their criticisms. If it was, as it may have been, Mr. Yriarte’s purpose to appeal to the average intelligence in such things, he has succeeded ; everything is simple, plain, and a little as if addressed to young persons. This is also the characteristic of those chapters relating to the modern life of Venice ; they are soberly superficial and conscientiously commonplace, with what seems a conventional sensibility to the charm of the dramatic and picturesque spectacle. We are not saying, we hope, that the book is not meritorious. Our dissatisfaction is with the manner, not the matter. It is a very complete and painstaking study of Venice; and no interesting point escapes the author.
The illustrations of the architecture are apparently engraved from photographs ; they are extremely well chosen, and so are the famous pictures reproduced. Mr. Yriarte himself sketches very delightfully some scenes and types ; and the passages on costumes and manners are agreeably illustrated from painters in whom Venice is very rich, but who are little known to the general reader, like the Longhis, Pietro, and Alessandro. Among the chapters of unusual interest and value, for their illustrations as well as their text, are those on Glass Mosaics, Printing, and Lace.
Mr. Waring’s Tyrol and the Skirt of the Alps 3 is another holiday book which people can buy with the assurance that their pleasure in it will outlast the holiday season. It has not the novelty of adventure which formed the charm of his boat-voyage on the Moselle ; but the Tyrol is still a comparatively unhackneyed region, and a journey through the Pinzgau, Ziller Thal, Innsbruck, across the Brenner, into the Grödner Thal, and so to the Italian side of the Dolomites, cannot lack picturesqueness and variety. The Tyrolese travel is supplemented by a very agreeably sketched tour of the Italian Alps from Cortina d’Ampezzo to the Vaudois Valleys, including a morning glimpse of Venice. All this mountaineering seems to have been undertaken upon the just theory of Mr. Taine that the greatest amount of pleasure is to be got out of mountain scenery at the lowest altitudes. Most of Mr. Waring’s climbing is acceptably done in two-horse vehicles, or one-horse ones at the worst. He really makes but one thrilling ascent, — that of Monte Tofana, which he accomplishes with extreme personal fatigue, and such dislike of the whole tedious business that it casts afresh charm over the book. He is, as all our readers know, an observer who unites the sympathetic and practical qualities ; land and people, as well as landscape and sentiment, attract him, and make him a thoroughly companionable traveler. He is content to tell simply and plainly what he sees and hears, and he has the art of always seeing and hearing interesting things. There is no more effort to be humorous than to be poetic ; one has the impression of sincerity and frankness throughout, which for most purposes are vastly better ; and the English of the book is as manly as its spirit. The illustrations are, we believe, nearly all from photographs ; but they are rescued, in the reproduction, from the photographic commonplace, and are agreeably abundant. There are a few pictures which are not from photographs, but are the more ambitious efforts of designers who have not seen, or have not felt, the things sketched. The feeblest of these is Balcony Marketing in Venice; the best is that of the Lemon Garden at Lake Garda, which might be a bit out of Doré’s and Table’s Pyrenees.
There could be no pleasanter transition from the older to the younger holiday books than that afforded by the pretty volume of Elaine and Lora Goodale,4 which has claims upon the liking of readers of all ages. These gifted children write of the wild flowers of their home woods with an affection which expresses itself in music as fluent as birds’ singing; and though prolonged poetry about flowers is generally weariness to the spirit, from a lack of human interest in the subject, these lyrics have a sustaining charm. The charm is perhaps largely in one’s sympathy with the fresh young hearts from which they spring. It is fit that they should celebrate these summer friends of theirs, and waiting the years and experience which shall give them other themes one feels that these are the safest and sweetest promises they can utter for the future. The technique of these poet-sisters is admirably good; their reading shows here rather more than in earlier work of theirs ; but there is little ambition to say more than they have themselves thought and felt, though there is here and there an alien largeness of expression which one hopes they will by and by think better of. This is not the occasion for exacting criticism, or indeed anything but interest and kindness for the children’s charming achievement, which other children may know of with delight. We think that the verses on Indian Pipe, by Elaine Goodale, are of the finest imaginative effect of all; they convey a sense of the weird charm of that particularly unearthly flower, and they do this with an instinctive art which knows how to suggest as well as to express. The illustrations of the book seem to us worthy of very high praise; the flowers are sketched with realistic fidelity, and all their native grace is caught with a spirit whose happiness the engraver has apparently shared with the artist.
With each new Bodley book we wonder afresh at the skill with which Mr. Scudder continues to touch child-character, while he interests other children in the little people of his fancy. It is much more difficult to do both than those who do one or the other very well might suppose; but the young Bodleys are unfailingly real, and they are always set about something delightful. Not all of them are afoot, this time;5 in fact, it is only Nathan who walks to Hartford with his cousin Ned, the other children going ahead with their mother by train, so as to surprise him at his journey’s end by being at the judge’s when he arrives ; but they are all very active, nevertheless. The great sensation of the book is Martin’s marvelous brother Hen, who looms up at last from the other side of the world, choke-full of hair-breadth escapes and all manner of adventures by land and by sea. Few are the events in which Hen has had no part; few the birds and beasts he has not seen; few the queer and fascinating things he cannot do. He is quite the Hen we expected ; but at last there is not enough of him, and we suggest that the next book be The Bodleys Listening to Hen. He remains at home with the other Bodleys when Nathan starts off upon his tramp in a sort of loose, exterior, barndoor connection with the family, and we lose sight of him too soon. We are consoled, however, by an account of all that Nathan sees and hears. What he hears is much more than what he sees, for at every interesting point of his journey somebody starts up with the story of the locality. It is, fortunately, nearly always an Indian story, and the colonial annals are thus turned over to charming purpose. Throughout the book, if any curious or remarkable thing is mentioned, as a song or an adventure of any kind, Mr. Scudder satisfies the excursive instinct of children by bringing it in, and once in it has its own fitness. He does this with entire boldness, and with an imaginable wink to the older reader, who if he has any humor will enjoy the appropriation. Mr. Scudder makes his Bodleys as interesting as anything they hear ; and there is some very fresh material treated with uncommon cleverness in the sketches of those oldfashioned Hartford people, the kinfolk of the Bodleys, which we commend to all who like Now England life. The judge and his wife are characters who bring down a softened and sweetened Puritanism almost to our own time. We like all the Bodleys so well that it is with something like grief we find so exemplary a little person as Phippy saying, “ I don’t know as I would ” for “ I don’t know that I would.”
One of the very best children’s books of the season comes from Cincinnati, — the admirable little study of Insect Lives, by Miss Ballard.6 It is written with the most agreeable simplicity and good sense, which the young naturalist, a little oppressed by the weight and volume of adult scientific works, will gratefully appreciate. He will find in it excellent suggestions for observation, and a due amount of well-founded information, enlivened by a delightful enthusiasm for his pursuit. No book could be more acceptable to a boy with a taste for entomology, and the love for nature which must grow with such a taste. The volume is abundantly illustrated with well-engraved studies of insects in their different stages of transformation ; and it is to be as cordially praised for these as for the graceful, unaffected, and interesting quality of its literature.
That the late war should be fought over again in books for our children is inevitable, but we may give thanks that some of the humane lessons of the war also find a place in children’s literature. Six Little Rebels 7 has a somewhat truculent sound, but the reader will quickly discover that the rebels are so only by the accident of birth, and the story has the war only for a sketchy background, the real incident being in the fortunes of six or seven young people in Washington and at a Northern sea-side resort. There is no plot, but that is not necessary in a book for children ; there is adventure and a desultory succession of entertaining scenes, while the gentle lessons of forbearance, charity, and unselfishness are impressed rather by the story than by any direct teaching of the writer. Perhaps the assumption that the book is written by one of the company, a girl of fourteen, has something to do with this self-restraint and with the carelessness which frequently appears, as in the last sentence of the book; certainly, there is often a pretty naïveté in keeping with the assumption, and literary carelessness in a book for children is a venial sin. There is a realism about the book which betrays a ground-work of fact, and a wholesomeness of tone which allows one to commend it as above the average of books for the young.
Room For One More8 is the title of a modest book for children which will commend itself to parents who are glad to find between the covers of a child’s book a few simple scenes, truthfully presenting the limited world in which most children move. Here is a picture of family life, in which old and young really live together in proper relations ; the parents and older people exacting obedience and respect, the children learning their lessons of self-restraint and mutual help in the best of schools. The incidents are not unusual, and the children are every-day children ; the material of the book has all the appearance of being a part of the author’s memory rather than of her imagination ; but the salt which seasous these homely details is in the kind and wise lessons which are in the author’s mind, and are gently insinuated in the story. There is no obtrusive moral, but the whole book is a moral. It is pleasant to see so unaffected, unpretentious, and wholesome a book for children.
The Princess Idleways9 is called a fairy story, and there is a mild use made in it of an enchanted staff and a troublesome elf, but the rest of the fairy machinery is scarcely distinguishable from humanity. The story is a simple one of how a child, who has grown up selfish and indolent under too much indulgence, is sent to the good fairy Industry, under the alias of Motherkin, and reformed to good habits. It does not seem to have been a very severe trial, and the matter-of-fact reader will ask why the indulgent mother was not sent to the fairy reform school instead. There is no special imaginative power shown in the story, which is conventional and careless.
To the list of good domestic stories must be added Mrs. Corbin’s Belle and the Boys,10 a book of praiseworthy purpose and respectable fulfillment. Belle Cortelyou, a girl of sixteen, finds herself prematurely installed, during her mother’s absence in Europe, as the head of a household consisting of her silent father and two restive younger brothers. Her experience and that of her young charges are recorded in this book, and the reader is shown the development of the girl in matronly ways, and the gradual ascendency which she acquires over her brothers. Her patience, her ingenuity, her tact, and her general good sense are discovered, and at the end of the book the reader takes a genuine satisfaction in the result which has been reached, only indulging a further hope that the maiden who has had so much responsibility will now have a little more of that good time which one rightly feels belongs to young girls. There is a series of pictures of life in a Western town, which may relieve the anxiety of those who fear that young America is wholly given over to loudness, independence, and self-assertion. It is a pity that the good impression which the book leaves on the mind should not be created at the outset; but the author has chosen to introduce her characters by an incident which shows a needless desire on her part to be lively. The book is much better than the first chapter would lead one to suspect.
The Southern fondness for tourney and joust has been turned to good account, if we are to refer to it Mr. Sidney Lanier’s enthusiasm for Froissart. He has made out of the famous chronicles a book for boys,11 not using the work as material for new stories, but skillfully excerpting and arranging Johnes’s translation, so as to make a continuous narrative, which follows the general divisions of the original, and, so far as is expedient, the separation by chapters. The great bulk of the selections is taken from the first two books, from the first half of the first book, and in the second from the adventures of Philip Van Arteveld. From the third book a few chapters only are taken, to show Froissart’s personal adventures as a chronicler and to give a glimpse of the Gaston de Foix. From the fourth book a little more is given recounting the crusade against the Saracens. The selections include some notable passages, such as the Sea Fight between the king of England and the French before Sluys, the taking of Calais, the Battle of Poitiers, and the insurrection of Wat Tyler; we are sorry to miss the exploits of Bertrand du Guesclin and much of the details in the disturbances in Flanders, but we think the editor was judicious in giving large blocks of Froissart, rather than many isolated fragments. He has skillfully condensed his material still further by running his pen through superfluous passages, and quickening the flow of the narrative by this means and by the omission of episodes and trivial details. He has not troubled his boyish reader by notes and comments, wisely trusting the book to him for enjoyment, and concealing any school-master purpose he may have had. Our only doubt is if he has not given too much. Froissart is so very leisurely and so indifferent to any complaint of dullness that only here and there would a young reader be found to march through his entire work. May it not be that even these four hundred or more pages will leave the reader too satisfied ? We should like a boy to get up hungry from Froissart.
But in spite of these doubts, which perhaps are born of a spirit rendered depressed by a survey of the reading which is set before boys year by year, we welcome most heartily so sensible an addition to literature for the young. Especially is it a good thing that American boys should have the curtain lifted for them, and a glimpse given of a world so unlike their own in outward show, so like it in all the essentials of life. Here is scope for the imagination, and material upon which to build dreams that are less harmful than those excited visions of heroism in real life which are fed from the stories of impossible adventure that make up so much of our boys’ reading. Under the guise of these romantic scenes lie lessons, too, of chivalry and courage and manly virtue which will not be overlooked by the generous boy. There is a time in the life of every girl when she dreams, and if she can have Fouqué, her dreams will be enchantments with no unwholesome wakening; then is the time when her brother may well be set to reading Froissart and Walter Scott’s romances. The illustrations by Kappes are well designed and add much to the attractiveness of the book. There is scholarship in them and genuine sympathy with the subject.
Somewhat akin to Mr. Lanier’s book is the admirably arranged selection from Darwin’s voyages, which the children owe to some unknown hand. It has been this very judicious editor’s idea to tell stories of animals, men, localities, and nature in the language of the great naturalist, and he has found that this addresses itself as clearly and charmingly to the young as to the old. What Mr. Darwin Saw12 is a book of extracts from his Voyage round the World, and these are given with the least possible — and it is extremely little — modification or rearrangement. The accounts of wild animals fitly come first; those of wild men follow; and geography and abstracter natural history, meteorology, etc., are delightfully insinuated in their order. Some pages are added giving biographical sketches of the notable persons named in the extracts; there are good maps, and an abundance of excellent illustrations. We commend the book heartily for the wisdom of its conception, and its thorough acceptability. One could hardly choose a book for an intelligent boy which would more successfully appeal to his love of nature, or more pleasingly acquaint him with the great master in the literature of science.
Since a special literature for the young must be accepted, we welcome every book which has its origin in the great facts of history and science. It was an excellent scheme of Mr. Towle’s to interest boys in the adventures of the heroic discoverers and travelers; and, after narrating the exploits of Vasco da Gama and Pizarro, he has undertaken to give the career of Magellan,13 who began the first circumnavigation of the world, which was completed by his comrades after his own unhappy death. For the English reader, the material is to be found principally in a volume of the Hakluyt Society, edited by Lord Stanley, second baron of Alderley, which contains the accounts of Pigafetta, Gaspar Correa, and others, and chiefly from this material Mr. Towle has constructed a connected story. The work is moderately well done. Somehow we fail to be very much stirred by the narrative, and the hand of the book-maker seems more conspicuous than that of one thoroughly conversant with the subject and imbued with the spirit of adventure. The account of Magellan’s youth is adorned with a few slight sketches of Portuguese and Spanish life, and the dramatic parts are a little stagey. There was material in a skillful hand for a picturesque presentation, and a book for boys which is to supplant the melodramatic reading so popular with them cannot have too much real brilliancy. There is an indefiniteness also which seems unnecessary. The adventures among the Patagonians, for instance, are related, but the word Patagonia never occurs. The Isles of Thieves, visited by Magellan and so named by him, are known, we are told, “ by that name to this day ; ” but the young reader would have to be told by some one else that these islands were what he knew in his geography as the Ladrone Islands. The whole route of Magellan is vaguely laid down. It is a pity that a good map had not been added. There was one at hand in the Hakluyt Society volume, which would have added greatly to the interest of the young reader. Nothing is said at the outset of the division of the New World between the Spanish and Portuguese by a Papal bull, as explaining some of the complications which gathered about Magellan’s enterprise, and historic and geographic facts which might have been impressed on the mind are passed over slightly. On the whole, we think the conception of this volume better than the execution, and we are sorry that so good a chance has been so carelessly used.
- Compositions in Outline from Hawthorne’s Scarlet Letter. By F. O. C. DARLEY. Boston: Houghton, Osgood & Co. The Riverside Press, Cambridge. 1880.↩
- Venice. Its History, Art, Industries, and Modem Life. By CHARLES YRIARTE. With Numerous Illustrations. New York: Scribner and Welford. 1880.↩
- Tyrol and the Skirt of the Alps. By GEORGE E. WARING, JR. Illustrated. New York: Harper and Brothers. 1880.↩
- In Berkshire with the Wild Flowers. By ELAINE and DORA GOODALE. Illustrated by W. HAMILTON GIBSON. New York; G. P. Putnam’s Sons. 1879-80.↩
- The Bodleys Afoot. By the Author of The Bodleys on Wheels, etc. With Illustrations. Boston: Houghton, Osgood & Co. 1879.↩
- Insect Lives; or, Born in Prison. By JULIA P. BALLARD. Cincinnati: Robert Clarke & Co. 1879.↩
- Six Little Rebels. By MRS. KATE TANNATT WOODS. Boston: D. Lothrop & Co. 1879.↩
- Room, for One More. By MARY THACHER HIGGINSON. Boston: Lee and Shepard. 1879.↩
- The Princess Idleways. A Fairy Story. By MRS. W. J. HAYS. Illustrated. New York: Harper and Brothers. 1880.↩
- Belle and the Boys. By MRS. CAROLINE FAIRFIELD CORBIN. Chicago: Jansen, McClurg & Co. 1880.↩
- The Boys' Froissart. Being Sir John Froissart’s Chronicles of Adventure, Battle, and Custom in England, France, Spain, etc. Edited for boys, with an Introduction, by SIDNEY LANIER. Illustrated by ALFRED KAPPES. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons. 1879.↩
- What Mr. Darwin saw in his Voyage round the World in the Ship Beagle. New York : Harper and Brothers. 1880.↩
- Magellan : or the First Voyage round the World. By GEORGE M. TOWLE, Author of Vasco da Gama, Pizarro, etc. Boston: Lee and Shepard. 1880.↩