The Contributors' Club

APPRECIATION is the life-breath of all art. Without it the poet fails to sing at his best, and the actor repeats his text coldly. But applause in the wrong places is worse than none at all, since it encourages bad taste and mediocrity. I was struck with the extraordinary humor of the audience that recently witnessed the first representation

of Daniel Rochat in Boston. A Boston audience is not, as a rule, enthusiastic, but it is keenly appreciative. Though the silence may be unbroken, the actor is assured that he is receiving a rare kind of intelligent attention. A famous tragedian once told me that he would rather act in Boston than in any city in the world, though a less demonstrative audience was not to be found anywhere. Knowing this, I was rather surprised, on the opening night of Sardou’s comedy, by the frequent rounds of applause that greeted the play. Without plot or situations in the stage sense, Daniel Rochat is as thrilling as a skillful melodrama ; it is absorbingly interesting from the first scene to the last, and there are passages in it that cannot be too warmly applauded. But imagine a Boston audience skipping these places, and applauding to the skies the brutally atheistical vagaries of Daniel Rochat! One would have said, A theatre full of atheists ! Yet there was probably not a man nor a woman among the spectators who would not have been shocked by the charge. The honors of the evening were divided between the cynical and Satanic Dr. Bidache and the great orator who held that God was an exploded idea fit for children. The cleverness with which the two rôles were sustained does not explain the matter, and no other explanation offers itself. It was simply an inexplicable case of applause in the wrong places. Another instance of a like nature, though not so curious, is furnished me by a correspondent: — Stormy applause was excited in several of our large cities by Signor Campanini’s performance in the third act of La Favorita, which, however, as an impersonation, was a gross blunder. Everybody who has seen Campanini in the opera of Carmen must acknowledge the talent and power of his acting Don José, which gains terrible force in the explosion of jealousy when he is forced to leave the gypsy Carmen among the contrabandists, after his rival the toreador has found out her retreat. The darkening hue, the swollen throat, the bursting veins, every look, tone, motion, betrayed the conflict between the last emotion of filial love and piety and all the brutal passions; when the good angel momentarily triumphs, one feels that the man has been torn to pieces in the struggle, and will fall an easy prey to the demons who are still waiting to seize him. The conception was perfectly true to the character and the circumstances ; there was but one adverse criticism to be made, — it was too violent and realistic for the lyric stage. In the Favorita everything is different: the scene, instead of being a mountain pass, is a palace ; the dramatis persona: are a king, a great lady, a young officer who has been brought up in a monastery, grandees, and courtiers; there is not even jealousy,—only undeception and despair. In the libretto, which is by Scribe, the situation is risky enough, when a subject tears off the decoration, breaks the sword, and refuses the bride which have been bestowed upon him by his sovereign, in the royal presence and full court. Only the most dignified and self-restrained bearing renders the action dramatically possible. Campanini stamped, bellowed, flung Leonora about, and shook his fists in the king’s face. At his first gesture the guards should have dragged him out of sight. Yet audiences who ought to have known better clapped, shouted, rose to their feet, and had him out before the curtain two or three times. How is Campanini to know better ?

— I am not a lover of biography, but I feel sure that I should enjoy more of this literature if it were better in its kind. Without being prepared to define the ideal biography, I have arrived at some notion of what the best biography is not. In the first place, it is not too long; most Lives are too long by half, or at least one third. Biographers appear to grow too fond of their labor, and put in much of what were better left out, No incident or trait is too trivial to insert which in any real sense helps to reveal the man, but much of what goes to swell the pages of the ordinary biography is there only because the writer of it has fancied that, his subject being a great or notable person, nothing that he said or did could he without interest. Biographers are often without the sense of proportion; they seem impelled by a mistaken conscientiousness to put in everything they know, rather than to sift and resift their material until what remains is of real value, Take the life of Baroness Bunsen: a third of those fat volumes might have been done away with, and we should know her equally well. After learning that she and her husband were on terms of intimate acquaintance with distinguished persons of all sorts, and having read in Madame Bunsen’s Diary that she dined to-day with this one, and yesterday with that one, what profit is there in reading pages full of the same mere brief mention, when, as in many cases, nothing of conversation is recorded ?

Lives of literary men are perhaps least interesting, for the reason that we already have the best of them in their writings ; but there are of course exceptional cases of marked individualities, where a knowledge of the man’s private life is a most useful supplement to and commentary upon his written utterances. Lives of Shelley and Byron are numerous, but we hardly feel that we know everything about them yet. I often have a feeling, when reading memoirs, that the unfortunate subject of inquiry and discussion would decidedly object to such dissection of his private self, if lie could have a voice in the matter, and it hardly seems an excuse for taking the liberty with him that he cannot possibly prevent our doing so. It is a consolation for being an entire nonentity that tlie world will not be concerned to take possession of and pull one to pieces after one is gone, to ascertain judicially what manner of man one was. Our curiosity may be natural, but I am not sure it is quite justifiable, to know all that can be known about dead notabilities. . I suppose there will he a Life of George Eliot forthcoming, but I, for myself, am willing to forego all the information it may contain, for I am certain that she would have intensely disliked such personal scrutiny. If biographies must be written, however, they ought to be done by competent hands, for a superficial account of a man or woman is sure to be an untrue one. The friend chosen to write the life of another because of his superior opportunities for knowing his subject intimately may in reality know less of him than another man who, with slighter familiar acquaintance, has had a keener insight into the character before him.

— Why do not our preachers study oratory ? As preachers, not pastors, their business is to work a certain effect, and all helps to its production it should be a part of their education to learn. I presume I shall not be misunderstood to mean the effect of displaying self, and winning admiration for personal gifts. What the true preacher seeks to do is to inform the intellect with Christian truth; to stir the heart, and thereIry influence the will, of his hearers. Half the sermons annually preached are, so far as human insight goes, a waste of labor and breath. Two things partly account for this: one is that a majority of the men set to preach are out of their real vocation, — good pastors they may be, but fit preachers they are not ; another is that those with more aptitude for preaching do not yet understand the means to be employed to attain their object. Being of a clerical stock myself, I have become observant and critical in this matter. I am free to confess that most sermons bore me. By the way, it is a very convenient though not a seemly fashion the English have of walking coolly out of church at sermon-time, when disinclined to listen. I have seen a British yeoman leave his seat in the choir of Salisbury Cathedral, and walk deliberately out, with his spurs clanking over the marble floor in front of his bishop’s pulpit. The dullness of the average English sermon surpasses ours, and perhaps excuses these misdemeanors. It is not the length of a sermon that can overcome me, provided it be of good quality, but the incapacity of the preacher for his task often distresses and depresses the soul. How many a worthy man proceeds comfortably through his lifeless discourse, satisfied that such truths as he has to utter must of themselves carry conviction home! Sometimes the preacher has some conception of the needs of human nature, and knows that the truest truths fail to move when put before men in a dull, dry way ; perhaps he does his best to acquire a good style, and succeeds in making an ably-written discourse. But when he comes into his pulpit to give it to his people, where is the impression it should produce ? What becomes of his choice words, his considered sentences? There they lie upon the page he holds : he proceeds to read them. Why do they fail of any result ? It is for want of delivery, of the oratorical art of making mere words “ tell.” His faithful effort goes for little ; he seems to his hearers to be reading something to them, as he is, — not to be speaking to them from the heart. All this was exemplified in a sermon I heard a Sunday or two ago. The preacher’s thoughtful, earnest discourse was too essaylike in style, and full of those long sentences which give the listener’s attention excuse for wandering; but at the last he dropped his paper, and went on with an extempore addition to his sermon, as fervent as it was unpremeditated. He spoke of the truth of revelation proving itself to the individual conscience, of the inward witness for heavenly things.

“ Now, while my voice is speaking to you, you hear another Voice,” he said, in an awed undertone. For a moment the congregation seemed verily listening for the Voice, so hushed was the church. “ Suppose that now, while I were speaking.” the preacher went on in the same tone, “ before I had finished what I have to say, the time of judgment were come, the roof of this church were lifted, and the heavens opened above you: you would be the judges of your own selves, and know your places on the right hand or on the left.” It was not the words alone that startled the congregation into perfect silence, but the preacher’s voice, his look, his gesture, the sense that the things he spoke of were vivid realities. He had no notion of making an oratorical effect, but unconsciously he had wrought one. A little more of the orator’s instinct or training would have made him stop just there, without another word ; but alas, he continued for five minutes longer, and brought his hearers down from the heavens to the ordinary level before he ceased. A man with no gift for extempore speaking, and who is obliged to write out his discourse in full, may yet give it the air of a true sermo, and gain all the advantage which a talk, a speech, must always have over anything that is merely read.

— It seems to me that in his wonderful Jeanne d’Arc picture Le Page has committed a blunder. The spectator of sensibility likes to be credited with some power of imagination, and the imagination left to itself is certainly able to furnish a less definite, but more powerfully effective, picture of the vision that inspired the hero-hearted peasant girl than any pictorial representation like this of the mailed woman and the mourning shapes attendant. Nor are these necessary in order to inform us of the precise moment of her life when we see her. The face tells all. Next to the face one notices the attitude; without grace, the figure has yet that fine poise with which rustic women so often hold themselves, and the steady limbs, the fallen hand, and the one that has unconsciously grasped the tree twig are in harmony with the unbeautiful but glorified peasant countenance. Except the figure, the coloring seems to me horribly bad, the grass untrue and sickly in tone, and the foliage having that spotty distinctness which real trees never have. But that face is such a triumph of art! It is a picture one is not content to look at and admire, — one wants to own it; but I am not sure that if it were mine I should not be tempted to cut out the figure, and frame it by itself alone.

— I suppose the world of literary people may be somewhat roughly divided into clever, cultured, and intellectual persons, though of course any two, or all three, adjectives may sometimes apply to one individual. Yet how commonly the words are confounded, and the different terms, which do express real differences of mental faculty, bestowed at random, not only upon authors of note but upon any man or woman supposed to be given to books ! I often think of a little story Mrs. Gaskell tells of Charlotte Bronté when at school. The girls were talking of Dr. Johnson, and some of them spoke of him as clever. Charlotte objected to the epithet, saying, “ He has not a bit of cleveralty in him.” Her comrades, who were one and all incapable of appreciating the distinction she drew between cleverness and other kinds of mental power, unanimously pounced upon her for making use of such a self-made, un-English word as “cleveralty.” Of course Charlotte knew what the proper word was, but happening to lose it at the moment, in the eagerness of discussion she coined a very good substitute. People who do not read at all find “literary” their word of good command for all those who know a little more than they do. Persons in the habit of reading books of a good character — a commendable habit, whether or not they enter into them with a perfect intelligence— are fond of the term “intellectual,” which they generously apply to any one whose reading they know extends a little farther or goes a little deeper than theirs. I have myself been called “ clever,” “ literary,” and “ intellectual,” to my mingled amusement and annoyance ; the first adjective being specially absurd, as, in Charlotte Bronté’s words,

I have n’t a bit of cleveralty in me. It shows how easily reputations are gained, even when they have been rather avoided than sought. Atlantic readers have perhaps heard of the lady who invited a gentleman to her house to “ meet some minds,” — the only word she thought comprehensive enough to characterize her select circle of the initiated in literature. So far am I from being a “ mind ” that I confess the precise meaning of the word “ intellectual ” only lately defined itself tome, and that by the aid of another. Speaking of a young lady, not of my acquaintance, whose acquirements I knew to he rather uncommon, she having pursued linguistic studies farther than many men into the Hebrew, Sanskrit. Anglo-Saxon, etc., I inconsiderately called her intellectual. “ No, she is not intellectual,” replied my friend, who knew the young lady tolerably well. “ What is she, then ? ” “A young woman with a taste for study, brought up under the influence of an intellectual man.” “ And an intellectual person is — what? ” “ One who thinks for himself,

uses his own intellect to some purpose.” My friend’s definition reduces the number of intellectual people considerably, but no doubt he is right. That reading does not necessarily make a cultivated person is a truth not generally apparent, even to conscientious readers who suppose themselves to be going through a process of cultivation. There is comparatively small pleasure in talking of books and subjects connected with literature with an uncultured person, however he may be in the habit of reading; while in the presence of cultivated men or women almost the first word reveals that their reading has been assimilated and become a part of their mental substance, so to speak, and there is felt at once a common ground to move upon, an unspoken understanding of each other’s point of view. A circle of a dozen or two of ladies meet together for the diligent improvement of their minds, and an outsider may see that, so far as true culture is concerned, the ladies are no further advanced at the end of the year than at the beginning. They have read a number of books, gained considerable information of one sort or another, and enjoyed the occupation more or less, and yet have not exercised their own reflective powers ; they have paid exclusive attention, perhaps, to the subject matter of the volumes, and neglected, the form, the purely literary qualities, which to the man of culture are nearly as important as the substance. I suppose, however, that the literary instinct, the capacity for culture, is largely a gift of nature; it may be entirely such.

It is noticeable that while cleverness and culture, or culture and intellect, often go together, it is rare to find what we call cleverness in company with strong intellectual power.

— A curious instance of the ease with which taxation of personal property may be evaded came lately under my notice in one of the Western States. A firm of capitalists requested a lawyer to draw a legal instrument which would enable them to lend money on the security of land, and be at the same time entirely free from any liability for local taxes on the secured debt, By the plan he devised the mortgagor shifts his legal status into that of tenant for a term of years and prospective purchaser; the mortgagee shifts his into that of landlord and vendor. The money-lender receives a deed instead of a mortgage. This is of course recorded. The borrower receives a lease of the land at a yearly rent equal to the annual interest on the sum received for purchase money. Embodied in the same instrument is a contract for sale, by which the landlord agrees to convey the land to the tenant at the expiration of the lease on receipt of the same sum for which he bought it of him, and further a clause whereby the tenant agrees to pay all the taxes assessed on the property during his term. If there are any buildings on the land the usual insurance clause may be inserted. There is also the usual covenant for repairs, etc., to be made by the tenant. Immediate possession is given; indeed, the possession of the borrower is not interrupted. The gist of the transaction is exactly the same as if money were borrowed and a mortgage given in security, but by the ingenious changes in the usual legal phraseology the vexed question whether the lender can be compelled to pay taxes on the mortgage as personal property is definitely settled in the negative.

This means of evading the taxation of mortgages has been submitted to the scrutiny of the highest legal talent, and has been pronounced safe and effectual. One would suppose that the original owner of the land would be reluctant to part with the title, but experience proves that a man who is ready to sign a mortgage does not hesitate to sign a deed ; and after all, his rights in the land are as secure in one case as in the other. They depend on the repayment of a certain sum of money, whether it is denominated purchase money or principal. His lease and contract must be foreclosed before his “ equity of redemption ” is terminated. As a fact, a great deal of money has been lent on this form of landed security. The chauce of any question arising between two state governments is avoided, as well as the liability of the tenant to double taxation; for his leasehold interest is plainly an imperfect title to land on which the taxes have already been paid. The capitalist is of course protected by the tax receipts from any claim on the part of the State.

Thus, if we admit that mortgages are rightly subject to taxation, a mere change of names, without the slightest change in the essential relations between the borrower, the lender, and the security, renders them exempt. Such a reductio ad absurdum proves the soundness of the position that property ought to be taxed, not the evidences of it. Notes, bonds, mortgages, stock certificates, etc., are in the lust analysis merely documentary proof that some one else has your property, and the presumption is that the possessor has been taxed to support the legal machinery which insures him peaceable possession of it. Ihe same ingenious legal fictions might be applied to all of these forms of personal property. A note merely proves that some one has hired your money ; a certificate of stock that a stranger has possession of your part of a railroad. Why should they not pay for the law which defends them, not you, against thieves, deadheads, or rioters? At all events, two assessments should not be levied on the same subject matter. If you invoke the aid of the law, it is for the purpose of regaining possession, and then you pay the costs, and afterwards you pay the taxes on the property itself, if you are so fortunate as to obtain it. If state taxation were based on the “ essential nature of things ” ingenious legal subterfuges would be of no avail to avoid it, the demoralizing temptation to resort to them would be removed, and the burden of supporting our state establishment would be more equally distributed.

— As a contribution to the discussion on the relative position of married women in Germany and in America, I would propose to offer the testimony of an extremely intelligent German lady. After living for some years in America she expressed to me her opinion that the condition of a married woman in America was altogether better than in Germany. The Germans made excellent lovers, gemüthlich and schwärmerisch; they were excellent in society, capital at moonlight sieges of windows and serenades. But once married, the former obsequious lover became bearish and careless. This and much more corresponded closely with the delineation given by the clever Englishwoman In Fraser’s Magazine, and afterwards republished in a volume.

But it is not necessary to seek for such testimony: the Germans have themselves given in their literature all the evidence requisite. No one can be familiar with the German novels of the day without seeing indicated on every page the humiliating position accorded to women in Germany. Take Auerbach, for example, whose pictures of life and character in rural Germany are held by his fellow countrymen to be most accurate. His Barfuessele is the history of a girl of uncommon force of character and intellect: the position which she is compelled from first to last to accept relatively to her guardians, her lover and his parents, is one which no American country girl, however poor and friendless, would accept or be expected to. In city life the same state of affairs appears to exist, and will be found constantly implied in the incidents of the novels of Heyse, Detlef, Werner, Mariett, and others. Not but what there is much married happiness in Germany, but the expectations of the wife are pitched lower than with us : she is to do more work and to be more submissive. A German girl may be happy as the wife of an American, but it does not seem possible that any American girl can be happy as the wife of a German. Of the first-mentioned sort of union I have seen instances that turned out well, but have never either known or heard of an American girl who married in Germany and did not regret the act.