THERE is at least one person in America besides the January contributor who has long known of Owen Meredith’s literary thefts. More than twelve years ago I wrote an article called Owen Meredith as a Plagiarist, and sent it to a British quarterly review, as that public is more in need than ours of enlightenment on questions of general literature. (I may say, incidentally, that they have improved immensely in that respect within the past decade, thanks, in great measure, to Mr. Matthew Arnold and the Comédie Française.) It was not published, and perhaps never reached its destination, as I never saw it again, although it was accompanied by the due number of postage-stamps for its return ; but English people were not entirely ignorant of the charges which it contained. The authoress of A Week in a French Country-House told me that she had seen an article in one of their periodicals in which pages
from Lucile and Lavinia were printed in parallel columns, yet I saw the gentleman who bears the pseudonym of Owen Meredith dining, unabashed, at her table. On the appearance of his volume containing a poem entitled Gyges and Candaulus, there came out an article in the North British Review which spoke of the close resemblance of certain passages to some of the finest in Keats’s St. Agnes’ Eve ; verses from other English poets were cited, too, which had been adapted to his own use, with very little change. The author of the article, with an urbanity rare from Scotch reviewers to British bards, alluded to this tendency of Owen Meredith s as “ the unconscious sympathy of the mocking-bird.” I had not felt called upon to direct attention to his unceremonious borrowing from his countrymen, although a very pretty paper might be written on that, as it would containb some of the most charming fragments of modern British poetry. I had confined myself to his liberties with French and German poets, especially Alfred de Musset and Heinrich Heine. In Owen Meredith’s first volume of poems, published in 1858, and in Lucile, there was grand and petty larceny from them both, of which the two following instances will suffice. Compare Lucile, Part I. canto vi.,
To our longing, and lull us to sleep on her charms,
Tho’ the world its full sense of enjoyment insure us,
Tho’ Horace, Lucretius, and old Epicurus
Sit beside us and swear we are happy, what then ?
Whence the answer within us which cries to these men
‘Let it be ! You say well; but the world is too old
To rekindle within it the ages of gold;
A vast hope has traversed the earth, and our eyes
In despite of ourselves we must lift to the skies,’ ”
with Alfred de Musset’s Espoir en Dieu : —
De ses îles d'azur Sorte en m'ouvrant les bras;
Quand Horace, Lucrèce, et le vieil Epicure,
Assis à mes côtés, m'appelleraient heureux,
Je leur dirais à tons: ' Quoi que nous puissions faire
Je souffre, il est trop tard; le monde s’est fait vieux.
Une immense espérance a traversé la terre;
Malgré nous vers le ciel il faut lever les yeux.’ ”
For Heine, compare his poem called Ein Weib, which begins
Spitzbübin war sie, er war ein Dieb,”
with Owen Meredith’s See-Saw : —
Bat we loved each other beyond belief.”
To multiply quotations would be to make myself the bore of the Club. Those who like such researches can look further for themselves ; they will be rewarded in more ways than one. There is a very curious complicated bit of dishonesty, however, which they might not find out for themselves, as I discovered it by mere accident. A good many years ago, Owen Meredith, after a brief diplomatic sojourn in one of the Danubian principalities, published a collection of verses, which he was pleased to entitle Serbski Pesme. A critic acquainted with the language of Servia said at the time that the poet evidently knew nothing about it at all, but had simply asked the word for Servian and the word for poems in the original, and joined them together, without farther formality. The preface to Prosper Mérimée’s Chroniques de Charles IX. will throw more light on the way in which these so-called Servian poems were produced ; it is well worth reading, as a sample of Mérimée’s diamantine style, and an account of one of the most ingenious and impudent literary mystifications ever perpetrated.
The most striking incident in Owen Meredith’s prose novel, The Ring of Amasis, is taken from the German, from one of Paul Heyse’s short stories, if I remember right, Bu à tout seigneur tout honne.ur, which is a civil form of a simple English proverb. Owen Meredith deserves the credit, which he is too modest to claim, of a familiarity with modern foreign writers unusual in an Englishman, and a very graceful gift of translation.
— A more curious example of the confusion of he’s than the testimony quoted from the trial for burglary, in the Club for December, was that given in an English court, and published many years ago : “ He’d a stick, and he 'd a stick, and he licked he, and lie licked he; and if he had only licked he harder than he licked he, only he’d have killed he, and not he he.” The capitals and italics would certainly have done good service there.
— Now that we are at the worst of the “ melancholy days,” when the gardens are despoiled and deserted, the fields and woods stripped of their posies, and exotics have taken refuge in the hot-houses, I wish to offer a plea for the flowers. Between the chrysanthemums and the crocuses there is an interval of four months, a third of the year, in which we are dependent on hothouses, green-houses, and conservatories for the sweetness, grace, brightness, and solace which flowers lend to existence. People need not be told — they are only asked to remember—what we owe to these angels of earth during this bleak and barren season : how a bunch of violets, or a single rose, beside the sick-bed or on the desk scents and sets off the whole room, filling our hearts with hopes and memories, calling up the associations which are a more powerful ingredient in the charm of flowers than their loveliness or perfume. How do we pay this debt? By squandering, torturing, worst of all by vulgarizing, them. It would be as foolish to assert that flowers should not be gathered for human use and enjoyment as that sheep arid oxen should not be killed, but I protest against the wanton waste and abuse of them. It, calls for an Association for the Prevention of Cruelty to Flowers. Consider what the lives of these unhappy blossoms are at best: they are taken from their native soil and climate, from the sunshine and the dew, compelled to accept instead the furnace, the watering-pot, the glare of the glass roof; they are often stifled with tobacco-smoke, or drenched with tobacco-juice, to destroy vermin begotten by their unnatural conditions. Notwithstanding all this, the gracious creatures put forth leaves and bloom; but instead of each bud and flower being cherished and treasured, they are cut by the dozen, score, hundred, impaled, beheaded, strangled with wire, stuck on straws and sticks, to perish in the heat and gas-light of dinner-tables, ball-rooms, and opera-boxes, or in the icy wind and dust of street corners. Anybody can see the difference between a flower’s dying by these violent means and by the slow, sweet, natural death it undergoes in a vase of water, opening to its fullest, and falling in due time, as it would on its parent stem. Paul Ferroll, the æsthetic murderer, is the only advocate I know of for killing flowers by leaving them gathered without water.
Masses of flowers on a dinner-table are an anomaly; there is something almost offensive in the mingled odor of their perfume and the reek of the dishes and lights. At a ball they are not out of place and keeping for certain purposes : roses, lilies, carnations, violets, are natural adornments for a young woman, and a bunch of them in her haud, or on her breast, is an appropriate ornament, and the complement of her evening dress ; but where is the fitness, the beauty, the sentiment, the common sense, when she has six, a dozen, or twenty ? Are there twenty persons, or twelve, or even six, at the same time to send her flowers which mean more than if they were of wax or tissuepaper, or which have any more intrinsic value to her who carries them ? Are they witnesses of love, or even of admiration ? How many are sent merely to satisfy the demands of vanity ? At every Ball rival beauties carry bouquets sent to each by the same men. Many are sent by members of the lady’s family, which takes half the significance from flowers sent by the same kinsfolk on birthdays, or in sickness, or at a time of special joy or sorrow. And what is to be said of the bouquets sent as bribes to women of fashion by men who wish to obtain their good offices? And what of those sent by a man to a woman whom he admires, not to give her pleasure, but prestige, — to gratify her vanity, and reflexly his own ? There is an instance, well known, in one of our great cities, of one man’s sending a lady seven bouquets for the same ball, to console her for a social slight; she appeared to the uninitiated as a great belle, and he as the belle’s favored cavalier. And what of the bouquets stacked on the front cushion of a proscenium box, in the blast of the foot-lights, and flung, half faded, to a prim a donna, to whom they are already a drug, who perhaps is hurrying through her part to leave town by the next train ?
But I do not wish to enter upon the morals of the subject, or there would be much to say about the frightful extravagance involved in these most ephemeral displays of luxury and vanity. It is chiefly of the desecration of flowers and of their tenderest and most sacred associations that I wish to speak. All that poets have said about them becomes mere parody ; Perdita and Ophelia with their gifts and interpretations are made ridiculous. There must be a new dictionary for the language of flowers: a bunch of tea-roses in January means twenty-five dollars ; a spray of lilies of the valley twenty-five cents, etc. What can be more foolish than the fashion for flowers in midwinter and at grand routs, which in their homely prettiness belong essentially to rural scenes and the open air? The new mania for daisies in snow-time blots the English anthology from Chaucer to Burns. Nobody would sing now, —
For lilies, roses, violets, pansies, and the rest have been degraded to the level of the flowers cut out of turnips and carrots to garnish a ham. Indeed, by unnatural treatment, the sweetest blossoms have lost their fragrance: it is long since forced carnations have had any odor except that of tobacco ; the most lovely looking of the pink hothouse roses are entirely scentless, and the finest variety of white rose actually smells like a turnip.
As a matter of taste and feeling, the worst abuse of flowers is the way in which they have come to be used at funerals. One needs no further proof of the conventional and cold-blooded manner in which they are employed than the wire frames and stands of mortuary designs in the florists’ windows, intended for funerals as much as the pall or hearse-feathers. Ingenuity, having been exhausted in making the cross, crown, star, heart, anchor, and other Christian emblems commonplace, has proceeded to destroy the last semblance of sentiment by devising floral funeral decorations indicative of the departed’s vocation,—swords, ships, masonic emblems; for professors a chair! No wonder people of sensibility cry out that there shall be no flowers on their coffins, or on the coffins of those they have loved. Affection and grief have been robbed of their most congenial tributes.
Common sense and good taste have abolished many silly practices within a few years : heavy suppers at small evening parties, dancing matinées, receptions of the bride and bridegroom’s entire acquaintance after the wedding, universal visiting on New Year’s day,— these and other once-honored observances have become honored in the breach; they have been pronounced vulgar. Flowers have been made vulgar as a decoration by excess and unfitness in their use; when will they be reinstated in their true functions ?
— It is a bold criticism to say that Sara Bernhardt lacks dramatic instinct; yet that is the impression left on the mind of one of her audience who has seen her in but a few parts. The first time was years ago, before she had acquired celebrity, and she was playing Dalila, in Feuillet’s play of that name. There is a sentence which the cold-hearted temptress and tormentress utters to her unhappy victim, the young musician whose love and career she has blighted ; when, as a final, speechless reproach, he takes the handkerchief stained with his lifeblood from Ills lips and throws it at her feet, her sole reply is, “ All artists spit blood.” This is what the French call le coup dufouet, and it, is the only point in any of Feuillet’s plays at which one feels it; it needs little dramatic insight to perceive that it should be spoken in a way to make the whole audience wince under the lash. As spoken by Mademoiselle Bernhardt it produced no effect whatever; nobody in the house who did not know the play could have noticed it. Again, in Frou From where she comes home repentant and dying, and asks for her child ; he is brought, and she clutches him with a cry. After hugging him for a moment, Mademoiselle Bernhardt let him go, and he was taken up and carried off the stage ; she did not hold out her arms after him, nor follow him with her eyes, nor by any other look or sign give evidence that she remembered his existence. “ She behaved exactly,” said my companion, “ as if he had been a glass of water.” Finally, in Hernani, after the famous Jove scene when they are parting, he to go, as they believe, to death; he says, “ One first kiss,” and Doña Sol replies, throwing herself into his arms, “ Perhaps the last.” Mademoiselle Bernhardt had already thrown herself into his arms half a dozen times during the scene. These are the grounds of my assertion. In my opinion Mademoiselle Bernhardt misses the point and neutralizes the effect of the situation in each case by want of true dramatic sense and perception. I leave to those who have seen her more often and studied her more carefully the task of confirming or contradicting it.
— In the Contributors’ Club of the March Atlantic was a query as to whether Shakespeare was a racker of orthography, which was based on the comparison of a remark by Mr. Grant White, in Every-Day English, as to the pronunciation of letters in Shakespeare’s day which are silent now with some of Shakespeare’s own rhymes in Love’s Labor ’s Lost, — doubt and out,debt and Boyet, debtor and letter. These rhymes show beyond a doubt, it seems to me, that Shakespeare did not respect the practice which Holofernes advocates as to the pronunciation of b in the former words of these pairs. Are we therefore to infer that Shakespeare was ignorant of his own times, and made his pedant insist upon a pronunciation which existed only in his own fancy ? Not so, I think. The passages in question taken together show this to have been the state of the case : There was in Shakespeare’s day an old fashion of pronunciation and a new, coexisting, as old fashions and new have coexisted from time immemorial. And at a time when pronouncing dictionaries did not exist this state of things as to words was more marked and more possible than it is now. Shakespeare, neither pedant nor purist, conformed to the new fashion in this respect, as he did in most others, and ridiculed the old. That is all. In Love’s Labor ’s Lost we have side by side his practice and his ridicule. Was not this contributor to the Club one of those, and they seem to be not a few, who are quick to jump at an opportunity of showing that Mr. Grant White is inaccurate upon some trivial point, when perhaps the only occasion of their criticism is that he has not written all the little that he knows upon the subject in hand ? A man cannot at all times go into all the details of a subject. But is it therefore treating him fairly, not to say handsomely, to hold him up — and in this case Shakespeare too — with seeming proof (conclusive to them who cannot go beyond it) as ignorant or inconsistent, or as both ?
— The editor crossed his legs, and regarded me—as an able editor regards a favorite contributor who does n’t contribute too often — benignly. I was saying, —
“ For three hundred years, more or less. Miss Juliet Capulet has been leaning from that balcony of hers, and inquiring, ' What’s in a name?’ I think Miss Juliet is a young woman of no observation whatever not to have long ago discovered that there is a great deal in a name. To be sure, that which we call a rose would smell just as sweet if we were to call it a turnip, but when you come to manuscript I take issue with that young woman. If your manuscript is signed with a famous name, the business is done ; but when you put an obscure name at the bottom of the page, your document is always respectfully— when it is not disrespectfully — declined. A poem, however bad, by the great and well-known Stiggins finds instant acceptance; a poem, however good, by the unknown Stiggins ” —
“ There you are all wrong ! ” exclaimed the able editor. “ The unknown, the unworked, the untarnished Stiggins is precisely what every live editor is yearning for. There is no end to the foolish misconception touching the unfledged contributor; he is always seriously considered, and nearly always reluctantly rejected. Reluctantly, for the future existence of the magazine depends upon him, — the fresh man, the coming man . . . who comes so slowly. Every editor in the land is on the lookout for that mysterious, precious person. So great is the editor’s dread lest he should let a born genius slip through his fingers that he frequently seizes and holds on to the wrong man. A new writer, allow me to inform you, is a favored being. If he display the slightest ability, the public stands ready to laud him to the skies. The fine work of an author of long - established reputation often passes unhailed ; his excellence is so much a matter of course that the general reader scarcely pauses to recognize it. Every month one or the Other of our elder writers publishes a poem or an essay without attracting ihe faintest perceptible attention ; yet if this poem or this essay bore the name of a débutant, it would make his fortune. I tell you, the fresh man has all the chances. The sympathies of the public are all on his side. The stream of appreciation unfreezes and flows again for him. As for the appreciation which lies in wait for the veteran, he could skate upon it. Le roi est mort! Vive le roi! And up go all the hats.”
“ I admit that the world likes novelty, and that the new man, when he has managed to get himself heard, is listened to with willing ears ; sometimes he is even allowed to drown the voice of his superiors. It was not many years ago that a young Scotchman by the name of Alexander Smith overshadowed Tennyson and Browning. For nearly a twelvemonth no poet was talked about in England except the author of the flashy piece of absurdity entitled A Life-Drama. What does that prove, except that England does n’t know a true poet when she sees him ? She snubbed John Keats and crowned Smith. Alexander came. and saw, and conquered ; but it was quite by accident. The derision which overwhelmed Keats was not all accidental. It wasa part of the regular method of that class of men who ‘ resent more fiercely what they suspect to be good verses than what they know to be bad morals.’ It is awfully hard for a nameless man to get a foot-hold in literature. Will you let me tell you a little story ? ”
The able editor, who could not very well help himself, assented.
“ A few months, or years, ago, — it does n’t matter which, — a certain friend of mine took it into his head to make a curious experiment. My friend is a distinguished man of letters, whose manuscript is as good as gold at any publisher’s counter. Though a writer of books, he is an experienced magazinist, and it was in connection with the magazines that he proposed to test the value of a name. He prepared an article with all the skill he knew, had it copied by his daughter, and sent the copy to the editor of the leading literary magazine in the United States. After a delay of six weeks the manuscript was returned to my friend, who promptly dispatched it to another chief magazine. The nameless contribution was again returned to the author. No, it was not ‘ some poor little prose sketch;’ it was a little masterpiece. To cut a long and dismal story short, five American magazines refused (and in two cases very curtly) to print a paper for which any one of the five editors in question would have been glad to pay ten times its weight in gold, if he had known who wrote it. My friend enjoyed the matter immensely. lie took especial delight in a note which accompanied one of the declinations. This note was written by a sub-editor, presumably a young man, who saw so much ' promise ’ in the essay submitted to him that he proceeded to give my friend a few general hints on the subject of literary style.”
“ That manuscript never came into my hands,” said the able editor.
“ My dear fellow, you were the first man to whom it was sent.”
“ And I rejected it ? ”
“ After six weeks.”
“ Well, I ’m glad I did ! ”
“ And so am I, for it braces up my theory that there is a great deal in a name, and one does n’t like to have one’s pet theory toppling over.”
— May I have a little space in your columns to say how good were the lectures Mr. Fiske gave in Boston in December last ? They were only three in all, — the same he had given at the Royal Institution of London six months earlier, —yet they contained an amount of material that, if diluted to the customary consistence of lectures, would have been the basis of a very long course. The subject treated was one of interest to every one of us : the first expounded the town-meeting system of New England, and showed its later development throughout the country; the second explained the federal system, showing how impossible the system was to Greece and Rome, and how the same things that made it impossible in those cases wrought the ruin of both countries ; and the last lecture spoke of the future of the English race. This bald statement gives no idea of the great scope of the lectures, which were full of learning, nor yet one of the philosophic spirit in which the subject was handled. What Mr. Fiske did was to exhibit the relations of things, not to range facts in order, like beads on a string ; and the way in which he grouped together cause and effect, and reciprocally dependent incidents, was a beautiful example of the modern methods of investigation as applied to familiar studies.
I think to every one who heard them these lectures must have been what the Germans call epoch-making. It was a real privilege to sit and hear the lecturer interpret what we all knew as a congeries of facts, to follow him as he revealed the animating spirit of different generations. Lectures like these throw light where all was dark ; they do not bury us beneath a disorganized mass of new information. Students and scientific men have accumulated a great many new facts in the last half century, and along with the facts has come renewed interest in their interpretation. Moreover, Mr. Fiske, albeit he is accustomed to deal with difficult subjects, has a most lucid style and singularly clear mind, so that he carried his audience with him without effort of theirs.
There is one more thing to say. In London these lectures were listened to by the leading men of the day ; in Boston there was a scanty handful to hear them. The reason is plain : the public here is not trained to the scientific study of history. The lectures are in advance of the general thought. In London the barometer that would measure intellectual interest would be high ; here there is an area of depression. Mr. Fiske is delivering these lectures in other parts of the country, and his hearers may feel sure that they are receiving the ripest fruit of modern thought. In time this will be generally acknowledged. — Without having any sympathy with the ire roused in your contributor’s mind by the rhyming of history and mystery, I wish to call attention to a bit of Mrs. Browning’s work, at which, as it seems to me, even the most lenient of critics has some right to remonstrate. The lines referred to occur at the beginning of a little poem entitled Sleeping and Watching, and read as follows : —
Tired of all the playing;
Sleep with smile the sweeter for
That you dropped away in!
On your curls’ full roundness stand
Golden lights serenely;
One cheek pushed out by the hand
Folds the dimple inly;
Little head and little foot
Heavy laid for pleasure;
Underneath the lids, half shut,
Slants the shining azure.”
— The native New Englander with a jackknife in his pocket is a possible artist; with the same knife and a shingle in his hand the possibility is realized. But that about the knife which is of interest here is its name. How did it get its title, and what does it mean ? We can understand easily enough how its diminutive brother came to be called a penknife, and how it will continue to bear that name centuries after the pen is made of material so hard that, the knife would be useless to mend its point and give it proper flexibility. But how the jackknife came by its name is not so evident. Doubtless it dates back to the time when the two came into common use, for otherwise the name pocketknife would have distinguished either with sufficient clearness from its fellow of the belt or of the table.
A clue to the origin of this name may be found if we observe that the knife has it in common with the jackplane, the jack screw, and numerous other contrivances for doing the hardest and the coarsest kinds of work. Now the symbol and the very prototype itself of every such appliance to the ready service of mankind in doing drudgery has been and is the donkey all the world over, and the problem is reduced to this, — to find how this patient creature of all work came to receive the now opprobrious epithet, but once pet name, of jackass. It seems to have come incidentally and in a blundering way — as so many other words have come to us — through the French. In that language the word genêt is a name applied to the finer Spanish or Moorish horses, though it is said originally to have belonged rather to the rider, and to have been given him from the peculiar suit of armor which he wore. However this may have been, it is certain that genêt did mean a fine horse. The English, in borrowing the word, disregarding its gender, which is masculine, and giving attention solely to its sound, seem to have confounded it with Jeanette, and so the word was written, Anglicé, “ jenny.” At once began a process of differentiation. Jenny was feminine, and its corresponding masculine name was Jack. Such seems to have been the way in which the name arose and its application came about; but no one, unless he felt a sort of heraldic interest in the name, would care to dogmatize upon this point.
As soon as the name became familiar, by a simple law of association it was carried out into a wider field of usefulness. It was emphatically a horse-name, made to do unusual service in our vocabulary. Any contrivance for lifting heavy weights would be a jack, pure and simple. The plane that went ahead and did' the roughest and the hardest work was the jackplane, and the knife that was destined to minister both to the service and the amusement of its owner was the jackknife. On the other hand, any more delicately constructed and adjusted machine, designed to do work which had for all time been thought the fitting employment of female hands, would take the name of jenny; and so we speak familiarly of a self-operating spinning-jenny. But this invention is perhaps as often called a spinning-mule, and this circumstance lends probability to the account already given of what is in the name.
— The reviewer of Mr. Aldrich’s fiction in the November Atlantic is pleased to condemn in authors what he calls the “ vice of confidential comment. ’ Now that is the very thing that many of us would encourage in our favorites. It was said of Pope that even when he conversed with a friend he was always thinking of the printer, which of course made Mr. Pope less agreeable than he might have been. Now we, the thousands of Mr. Aldrich’s readers and friends, have prized in his story-telling his seeming forgetfulness of printer and critic, and the certain comradeship he has allowed us ; dropping into an occasional aside, sotto voce, independent of his personations, provoking our laughter in the midst of serious episode and highstilted conversation by a covert wink, a sly thrust at the personages on dignified parade. If a novelist weakens his work by every good thing that he says in his own person, what shall we say for Dickens and Thackeray ? Metaphysicians talk of “ clear cold truths.” Are we to have some day, as a perfection in authorship, a “ clear cold novelist ” ? Are you, the critics, bound to transport our idols to an isolated Ultima Thule,— Mr. Aldrich with the rest? There are famous books with “no more facial expression than an orange,” and perhaps the coming generation will demand their increase ; books “ icily regular, splendidly null,” to us who like Dickens and Thackeray and Aldrich ; books in which the authors hide behind their creations; but they are not Mr. Aldrich’s stories, and his will not belong to them until he loses his genial hospitality for his readers. Then, in the revised edition of The Bad Boy, we shall find Tom Bailey eliminated.
— Anything which helps the cause of international copyright deserves the sympathy of every fair-minded person, and I do not therefore grudge the attention given to the cheap libraries in this connection. But it seems to me that their social influence has not been sufficiently considered, for in this field they have produced changes more important, because more generally felt, than are the pecuniary losses of author and publisher. Formerly, we bought comparatively well-printed books, or, if we did not choose to buy them, we had the use of such from a public library. Now, we buy three - column nonpareil pamphlets, read them in the cars and by bad light, and read, or skim, three books where we used to read one. The eyes of the present generation of Americans are weak, and require great care. Think what those of the next generation will be! Damage to the eyes is probably the most important result of this literary phenomenon ; but it is by no means the only one.
There is nothing, for instance, so often appropriate as a gift to gentlemen as books are. You can still, of course, give picture-books, but these are rarely suitable ; and if you buy your brother or uncle a copy of Trevelyan’s Fox, or McCarthy’s Own Times, you are sure to find, to your chagrin, that he had purchased a copy at a corner news-stand a month before, and had been reading it at his office, or carrying it about in his ulster pocket. With light literature the case is still worse, though in a different way. Formerly, when your neighbors, A, B, and C, wanted a novel, they went to a lending library for it. They frequent this institution no longer. They assume that their friends buy all the good ten-cent novels as they appear, and constitute them at once keepers of free libraries and literary tasters. “ I ’ve come in for something to read ; have n’t had a new novel for a week. Do let me see your last Franklin Square.” Or, “ Mother has a headache, and has read everything there is in the house ; so I came to see what you had.” It is so much more easy and sociable to bother your friends than to patronize a public institution !
— What peculiar magic is there in the hunting for books, as there is also in “ fishing with an angle,” which lends a charm to the style of those who indulge in either pursuit whensoever they take pen in hand to set forth its merits ? The lover of books and the angler are alike in more than one respect, and in none more than in quiet and quaint geniality of the literature made for them and about them. Dibdin’s many tomes and Walton’s one appeal not seldom to the same taste. Perhaps the untiring effort with which the book-hunter runs to earth the volume he has got scent of is another form of patience with which the angler drops his line for the fine fish he has espied. The pleasant and gentle style which is common to both classes of writers is to be seen again in the latest book about books, The Enemies of Books, by Mr. William Blades, the author of the Life and Typography of William Caxton. In the successive chapters of this little volume, which is now in its second edition, and of which the nucleus appeared first in the Printer’s Register, the monthly magazine of the English typographers, Mr. Blades considers, in turn, fire, water, gas and heat, dust and neglect, ignorance, the bookworm and other vermin, bookbinders, and, finally, the collectors of portraits or title-pages or printer’s devices, who take what they like out of a book, and leave the rest to its fate. From this list we may notice the omission of borrowers, perhaps on the ground that they are the enemies of owners of hooks rather than of the books themselves ; but this distinction is over-subtle, for he who is too careless to return a volume is too careless to protect it. The borrower recks little of the fate of the volume he has borrowed so soon as he has sated his idle curiosity, and
when it chances to be destroyed by neglect the borrower is an accessory before the fact. How easily books may be injured by neglect Mr. Blades plainly shows; and with the simile of a true book-lover advises us that “ the surest way to preserve your books in health is to treat, them as you should your own children, who are sure to sicken if confined in an atmosphere which is too im pure, too hot, too cold, too damp, or too dry. It is just the same with the progeny of literature.” (Page 32.) Of all the enemies of books, perhaps the bookbinder is nowadays most dangerous, and Mr. Blades very properly animadverts upon his misdeeds. Those who appreciate the beauty of " gilt tops and uncut edges” should be thankful to Mr. Blades for his protest against the remorseless “ plow' ” which gives the bookbinder the “ shavings” he values. Mr. Blades’s own little volume is sent forth with ample margins untouched by the knife, and adorned with seven plates “ intended to show some of the various ways in which books can be illustrated,” and including “ specimens of etching, woodengraving, woodbury type, lithography, and photo-typography.” Of the artistic quality of the three etchings it is best to say nothing ; they are avowedly the work of an amateur needle. Most interesting of the illustrations is the woodbury type, showing two pages of a Caxton destroyed by bookworms. Mr. Blades’s essay is clad in the vellumpaper cover familiar to all who know the books of M. Lemerre and M. Jouast, or who have been delighted at the American attempt to rival their work in Mr. Stedman’s Poe and Mr. Aldrich’s Poems. But, alas, in the typography of the cover and of the text itself there is an efflorescence of British eccentricity which would make the French printers tear their hair and rend their garments. There is an affectation of quaintness and a tawdriness of display in the most elaborate bad taste. There are culs-de-lampe constructed of vulgar typographical devices, in the style of a ball programme printed by an ambitious joboffice in the country. But Mr. Blades has deserved well of all book-lovers, and there is no need to dwell viciously on his vagaries. The Enemies of Books is an interesting and an instructive little volume, full of pertinent disquisition and anecdote.
— Good and amiable, but stupid, people have their uses in the world: the usefulness of their goodness being of course apparent, and their stupidity, as I have come to think, being designed as a means of grace to others who are less stupid and less good. It is easy and true enough to say that their amiability has its source partly in their dullness; they are no quicker to perceive offense than to perceive anything else. But the fact remains that they are amiable, and that amiability is an admirable and useful thing; so that the quicker-witted person, vexed with their stupidity, and beginning to make inevitable proud comparison of intellects, is at the same moment checked by the reflection that if he is less dull he is also less gentle and patient than those who fret him. I say the superior mind reflects thus ; perhaps it does not, but it ought to, for the reason that it is superior. It may pursue reflection further, and recognize the fact that there are people who are both sweet-tempered and clever. These delightful persons at none too numerous, but they exist. The longer one lives in this odd, but interesting, world of ours, the more one learns, I think, to value both a capable intellect and an amiable disposition ; not, perhaps, equally, for, if we had to make choice between them, we should be wise to prefer the latter.
In different ways they both contribute to the comfort of existence, and if it is obvious how a good heart promotes peace and harmony in the various relations of life it is almost as plain how a clear head helps in the same cause. Your stupid person, for all his goodness, takes needless offense, at times, and it requires all the innocent offender’s tact, as well as patience, to make the matter plain and save the dull one’s feelings. Such a wearying expense of words it takes to explain a simple thing to these well-meaning imbeciles ; and, after all, they are convinced less by force of reason than by mere reiteration and a tardy perception of your good intention. One would rather disagree with a quickertempered and quicker-witted person. The exact force of words is something the dull man rarely comprehends, and he fancies himself to be expressing his mind and entering into yours when he is as far from it as possible ; and the necessity falls upon the acuter intellect of divining the thought of his interlocutor, as well as of making clear his own. Again, the dull - minded person’s own nature and disposition is apt to be his or her only guide to the understanding of that of others, and where that fails he is completely at a loss, and gives up the puzzle in hopeless wonderment.
Is it true that goodness and stupidity go together oftoner than stupidity and wickedness ? It may seem so ; but is not the cleverness of the wicked often apparent and superficial, rather than real ? It strikes me that the truth may frequently be this; that in certain cases, Where an end is to be attained, or a difficulty overcome, one of two equally stupid persons may choose a means not morally admissible, which the other stupid-head sees also, but will not make use of ; whence it results that the dull bad man is thought clever, because he succeeds in doing what, but for his scruples, the other might just as well have accomplished. It is not so much his talent as what may be called his immoral courage that raises the worse man’s intellectual reputation.
— It is a pity that The Head of Medusa is not a worse book or a better one ; if it were worse it might be passed by with indifference, while as it is one is conscious, in reading it, of a certain irritation. To condense my objections, in a word, the book is to me wanting in sense, its sentiment verging on sentimentality, and its pathos, consequently, considerably out of place. Although the theme of the book is not new, there are some oft-repeated tales we continue to find interesting, and the story of a good girl throwing herself away on an unworthy man, however familiar it may be, will always stir the sympathies. But for some reason, in this case they fail to be moved very profoundly, or, rather, another feeling is waked that hardens us against compassion. We become aware that an excessive demand is being made upon our sensibilities. We are asked not only to admire the generous nature of the heroine, but to believe that her misfortunes arose from her uncalculating warmth of self-devotion. It is true that but for her good qualities, her loving temper and idealizing tendency of mind, Barbara might not have fallen a victim ; but it cannot be denied that this same tendency, when loosely indulged, becomes weakness, and that to imagine the young Italian, sulkily sick of life because he was thrown out of an active part in it, an object of admiration and of pity to the extent of marrying him was not so much a display of nubility of soul as of simple girlish foolishness. That she should fall in love with a handsome, persistent young man, her first lover, is perfectly natural and intelligible, and if that were all we should be ready to pity the girl, and to respect her conduct after her fate becomes fixed. But the words “ self-sacrifice " and “renunciation ” are so constantly in the author’s mouth that we are obliged to ask what is their particular relevancy to the case in question.
If every one who marries in haste to repent at leisure becomes thereby a notable martyr spirit, of course this enthusiasm is not out of place, but I fancy the many poor women who have made un-
fortunate marriages have not found consolution in that thought. It irritates me I confess, to have great words cheapened! But the explanation of much lies in a sentence or two towards the end of the book, where another of the victims of circumstance strives to solace himself with the reflection that, if he suffers, at least he is not deluding himself with the hope of alleviation for his pain from the “ gentle anodynes ” which Christianity offers, but only from the heroic remedies of positivism. He flatters himself, apparently, that no one ever has or can suffer as a positivist can, and seems to derive great self-satisfaction from the belief. This odd selfcomplacency serves him instead of a hope in a continued personal existence, under happier conditions, after death. It does not occur to the author, it seems, that there have been women as good as Barbara who have made equally woful mistakes in life, who therefore must have endured an equal suffering, and that pains of this extreme kind are not cured nor greatly soothed by gentle anodynes. The great positivist teacher, recording the trials of Dorothea, that rare creature, the type after whom more than one feebler heroine has been fashioned, nowhere makes it a part of her mission to throw contempt upon that which for so many ages has brought comfort and aid to thousands of unhappy women. The great writer does not spare to make clear the weaknesses, as well as the noble unworldliness, of character from which people suffer. But something must be allowed, perhaps, to the unwise ardor of new-fledged disciples. It is the man or woman of genuine sentiment, not the one of no sentiment at all, who is most displeased with its counterfeit. I would not be thought, in spite of what I have said, to question that the author of The Head of Medusa does possess this genuine sentiment. The descriptions of natural scenery are full of it; they are the most charming things in a book of much literary merit, and what one remembers best after it is read.
— Has every one read Uarda, and is it too late to recommend it as a book affording more and better entertainment than most of the novels lately issued ? Historical romances are, for the most part, such dull reading that if we happen to fall in with a really good one we enjoy it the more for the agreeable surprise it offers. The Germans have not excelled as novelists, so that I came to the reading of the learned Dr. Ebers’ work doubly prepossessed against it ; but weighty as the learning may be that went to laying its foundations, there is no heaviness in the tale itself. There is no reason, of course, why the human nature that existed at Thebes thirtythree hundred and odd years ago should not be interesting to us of the latest civilization, and Dr. Ebers has the tact not to make tedious our progress through his tale by leading us over dry wastes of description, or afflicting us with stony little facts flung upon the pathway. He possesses imagination, the essential qualification for this sort of writing, and has learned a good deal of the inside of human nature in general, as well as of the manners and customs of Egyptians in their day. The author seems well assured of the truth that humanity is in essentials the same in all ages, and shows in the person of the physician
Nebsecht that the spirit of scientific inquiry was then, as ever, an unfettered and daring spirit. The experienced novel-reader will not find the plot exciting. but his interest will be gently stimulated, and kept up without flagging to the end. All the characters necessary to this sort of romance are there in abundance : the wily intriguer, the more daring villain, the sorceress, and other sub-plotters ; we have met them under different dress in Scott’s and other romance writers’ tales ; we are well acquainted with them, and know beforehand what their ultimate fate is to be. Yet with this inevitable conventionality in many of the types, there is considerable freshness and vividness of characterization. The figures of the frank and noble princess and the more gently feminine Nefert are very successfully drawn, and our learned author notes how the characteristic differences of the two women were evidenced in the aspect of their private apartments. Uarda is a less important personage in herself than as being the cause of involving the fortunes of many others. But she is a charming little creature, painted with a very delicate touch. What seems to me the highest stroke of the author’s imagination, however, is the story of Uarda’s mother, told by the girl’s father. Both in what is said and in what is left unsaid it is a piece of real art, and almost a little poem in prose.