A Virtuoso of the Old School

THERE are at least two methods of biographical study. By the first method a notable character is treated as the centre of the reader’s interest, and all other characters, whether great or small, become subsidiary. Study on this plan gives us the typical modern biography, an elaborate, ordered, exhaustive treatise, rich in details, garrulous over the question of ancestry, — a book more interesting than a novel, and sometimes, as in the case of Henley’s Life of Burns, more shocking than the revelations of a divorce court. It is a classic literary form, orthodox, time-honored. We are familiar with its characteristics. Though subject to infinite variations, it will never be radically changed, and it can hardly be improved upon.

The second method of biographical study takes a character of minor importance, traces his career, and notes the points of contact between his life and the lives of his great contemporaries. We are interested in this minor character partly for himself, and very much because of the people whom he has known.

To be sure, the small man is sometimes handled as if he were of major importance; his life has been written with a minuteness not justified by the quality and amount of his genius. Such application of what I call the orthodox method often spoils a good biographical sketch to make an unwieldy biography. This zeal, untempered by discretion, produces vast “ authorized ” lives of small though most worthy persons.

The second method of biographical study does not have for its object an overexaltation of modest and slender powers; it aims simply to enlarge our knowledge of a given period by viewing that period as it is expressed in the life of a man who was distinctly of his time ; who was normal, observant, unusually sane; and who had sufficient genius to be markedly differentiated from people who have mere yearning and appreciation without potency and knowledge. Biographical study after this plan is most illuminating. At the hands of a scholar equipped for the work it might even yield important results.

Take for illustration such a book as the Letters of Thomas Lovell Beddoes. There would be no great difficulty in making an idol of Beddoes. People have been found prostrating themselves before a less gifted poet than the author of Death’s Jest Book. Let us, however, take him at his own low and melancholy estimate, when he trembled at the thought of a fashionable publisher, believed he would have to print at his own expense, and “ could hardly expect to get rid of one hundred copies by sale.” Let us read the small volume of his letters with a view to finding out how it all struck a contemporary. The first letter, written in February, 1824, shows “ three poor honest admirers of Shelley’s poetry ” trying to see their way financially to print an edition of two hundred and fifty copies of Shelley’s Posthumous Poetry. Beddoes was one of the honest admirers ; Thomas Forbes Kelsall and Bryan Waller Procter were the other two. Here is a powerful side light on the history of Shelley’s poetical reputation. Nearly two years had passed since the great poet’s death, and three honest admirers were trying to launch a slender little edition of posthumous verses by the author of the Adonais. The same letter tells us that Simpkin and Marshall were selling a “ remainder ” of two hundred and fifty copies of Prometheus Unbound — Ollier’s edition, of course — “ at a reduction of seventy per cent ! ” A copy of that edition will now sell for a hundred dollars. A few pages more and we shall again see how it strikes a contemporary. Beddoes wants to know who is to be the reigning celestial attraction, now that Shelley has gone ; is it to be “ vociferous Darley ” or “ tender, full-faced L. E. L., the milk-and-watery moon of our darkness ” ? Beddoes knew poetry when he read it, and could not be deceived into thinking a thing good because the public trooped after it. One needed to know the units of that public, their standards of literary taste, in order to find out whether their rapture meant anything. In those days, L. E. L.’s poetry did not need to be sold at a discount of seventy per cent, and Darley was thought by many good judges to be “ more promising ” than Tennyson ; but to Thomas Lovell Beddoes he was “ vociferous Darley.”

In a letter written in 1825 Beddoes speaks of “ Mr. Thomas Campbell,” who has in some newspaper “ a paltry refutation of some paltry charge of plagiarism regarding his paltry poem in the paltry Edinburgh,” etc.; and in a subsequent paragraph he declares that “ we ought to look back with late repentance and remorse on our intoxicated praise, now cooling, of Lord Byron, — such a man to be so spoken of when the world possessed Goethe, Schiller, Shelley! ” Beddoes was, I believe, much too goodnatured to have printed this remark about Campbell while Campbell was alive. But if we may not say what we think in our letters among our private friends, where are we to be at liberty to speak ? The quotation shows how one level-headed critic of that time failed not to see that Campbell was paltry, and that Byron had been praised with a praise begotten of intoxication rather than of cool, sane, amiably disposed but rigorously just poetic insight. The criticism is of the more value because it was not written for publication, and because it was not the bitter sneer of a neglected poet, wounded by neglect, and jealous of the attention and the dollars bestowed upon other poets.

If the letters of Beddoes convince me of anything, they convince me of this: that he was a good fellow, pathetic in spite of himself, deeply humiliated in his literary productivity, not because the public refused to like his verses, but because he could not honestly like them himself. Such a man does not sneer at other poets for the bitter pleasure of sneering. We have a right to suspect the motives of men who publicly assail the work of successful colaborers in the same field. For example, Percy Fitzgerald should never have attacked Birkbeck Hill’s edition of Boswell; if it needed to be done, it were better done by some man who had not himself an edition of the same book on the market.

We who have survived a late grotesque literary craze cannot but read with deepest interest Beddoes’s letter, dated Zurich, 1837, in which he welcomes indications that the English dramatic genius is not, as he supposed, dead. He has read “ extracts which certainly indicate a beating of the pulse, a warming of the skin, and a sigh or two from the dramatic lady Muse, as if she were about to awake from her asphyxy of a hundred years.” The next sentence shows that the reference is to Browning, whose Strafford was being talked of. The examiner, it seems, was “ quite rapturous.”

This takes one back to those happy days when a man could read Browning’s poetry because he liked it, days before the Furnivalls and the Kingslands had begun shrilly to demand that the public bow the knee, days when a man did not feel that he was the victim of a gigantic conspiracy to make him read Browning. It is well not to speak too flippantly of any literary mania productive of as much good, on the whole, as was the Browning craze ; yet that movement is hardly in the right direction which looks toward the glorification of So-and-So’s poetry rather than the glorification of that divine thing Poetry. Browning was not an isolated fact. There are people who have read Sordello, and have never read The Earthly Paradise. This is simple lunacy.

Many suggestive points are brought out by a reading in Beddoes’s letters, provided we keep always before us the idea that these letters are the clue by which we learn something about the manners and the contemporaries. The book may be studied for itself, but it will serve its highest purpose when it becomes the key to a better understanding of the literary period in which Beddoes lived.

I have thought that a happy application of this method might be made in the case of Charles Kirkpatrick Sharpe. He was, indeed, a virtuoso of the old school, one of the last of his race. In spite of the modern note in his letters, there is yet a quality which suggests old furniture and old books, old hangings and old pictures, faded flowers and mildewed letters, an aroma of now forgotten perfumes, and the breath of ancient scandals which have become historic. He was a man predestined to be quaint and old-fashioned. His garments were venerable, and had apparently come down to him from a former generation. Nobody knew where he got them, and nobody dared to ask. This was true of him, of course, only in the later part of his life ; there must have been a time when his dress met the requirements of the arbiters of taste. The secret of good dressing largely consists in conforming with the mode without seeming to conform. Kirkpatrick Sharpe was so far from being a nonconformist that he must have been for years overpunctilious. In course of time, his devotion to cravats declined as his devotion to bricabrac increased. By neglecting one or two points in the change of fashion he fell behind, and the coming generations looked upon him as an oddity, a “ character,” as we say. The writer of a lively bit of post-mortem portraiture, which appeared in The Scotsman just after the distinguished virtuoso’s death, remarks, “ We had always the idea that Sharpe never thought he dressed differently from other people.” He did so dress. Altogether unlike other people he must have been, “ with his green umbrella, its crosier - shaped horn handle and its long brass point; with his thread stockings, and his shoes — of the kind which our fathers called pumps — tied with profuse ribbon ; with his ever faded frock coat, and his cravat of that downy bulging character which Brummel repealed. The greater part of the whole costume was exactly as he had worn it in his college days in the preceding century.” This was written in 1851.

Such a man might well have seemed an oddity to an irreverent generation which knew not the laws determining the cut of a coat in 1798. People used to speculate on the mystery of Kirkpatrick Sharpe’s clothes. It was not wonderful that he should have them, but that he should have continued to have them, decade after decade. “ It is possible that some profuse wardrobe of early days may have proved a sort of granary to him ; but we have sometimes thought that an expert tradesman, who had by accident a reserve of ancestral stock, had found him a useful duct for draining off the unsalable merchandise.”

Kirkpatrick Sharpe early acquired a reputation as a letter - writer. People who corresponded with him begged him to write oftener. This was a great compliment, for in those days it cost a man twenty-five cents to receive a letter ; the recipient was therefore not to be blamed for desiring the worth of his money. That his friends were willing to invest this sum in anything Sharpe chose to write may be inferred from what John Marriott says, namely, that he has the comfortable assurance that his blood vessels “ are all in good repair ; for had any of them been in a ticklish situation, they must have yielded to the nearly hysterical laughter to which some parts [of your letter] gave rise.”

Lady Charlotte Bury called Kirkpatrick Sharpe “ the modern Walpole.”She even ventured the statement that he surpassed Walpole in the art of letterwriting. “ To me,” says the Lady Charlotte, “ Mr. Sharpe’s style is far more agreeable ; and the knowledge that his clever and amusing letters are written without any study or correction enhances their merit in a great degree. " She was so convinced of his cleverness that she made no scruple about printing a number of his letters while he was yet alive. This led Sharpe to anathematize the lady, and almost entirely to stop writing letters save to people whom he could trust. He had greatly enjoyed the reputation for cleverness, wit, and sarcasm, and there must have been satisfaction in the knowledge that his letters were thought good enough to hand about; but thirty years later, when those letters were dragged into the glare of public print, their author was fain to characterize them as “ silly and impertinent.”

Why do gossip and scandal of a hundred years ago often have a romantic, mellow, fascinating quality, while, as everybody knows, modern gossip and scandal are unspeakably detestable, brutal, dull ? Why is it that we can read with pleasure in old diaries and letters of doings and sayings from which we would turn with disgust were they translated into nineteenth-century equivalents and printed in a newspaper? “ It must be,” as a critic suggests, “ that chroniques scandaleuses, like wine, discard through lapse of time the acridity of newness, and acquire a bouquet.”

Without question. Kirkpatrick Sharpe’s letters amused his correspondents because they were filled with a type of scandal which we do not put into letters nowadays, and because they were written with a freedom of speech which we explain, when we find it in the handwriting of our forefathers and foremothers, by saying, “ That’s the way they used to talk.” Probably some of them did talk “ that way,” and some did not. Even in letters to his mother and sisters Sharpe has allusions and anecdotes which would not be tolerated among us. This will need to be set down to the account of that indefinite something called “ the times.” Moreover, Sharpe was frequently led into making an unsavory allusion, not from the love of it, but from disgust; just as people with sensitive noses must needs call the attention of others to ill odors which might else have gone unperceived, thanks to beneficent colds and dulled nerves.

Sharpe’s correspondence fills two octavo volumes of six hundred pages each. Not a page is lacking in the element of interest. One could wish that in this mass of epistolary composition there had been more letters from Sharpe’s pen, even if it had deprived us of a letter or two from Earl This or Lady That. But the student of manners will be grateful for it as it is. Nothing here is useless. Sharpe’s life will probably never be written ; there is no reason why it should be. But suppose that it were to be written, in a three - hundred - page volume. His ardent admirers would have some difficulty in justifying the existence of those three hundred pages, but the twelve hundred pages of letters justify themselves. They are documents which throw a flood of light on the intimate life of the times. They maybe read for amusement, and they will furnish rather more of it than many a novel over which the public is dulling its brain ; but they serve their high purpose when they help us to reconstruct now obliterated social conditions. Nothing is more difficult than to fashion in our minds a picture of the past, even when that past is not far distant. Such a conception we must have; otherwise, half our reading goes for naught, and every historical event is liable to distortion. This book is rather more useful than a formal tract on conditions of life in the first quarter of this century. It abounds only in hints, but hints such as are believed to be, to the wise, sufficient. The most required is that the reader shall have his mind alert; that he shall view each fact, not as something detached, but as the symbol of a thousand other facts, with each of which it holds an indestructible relation.

Sharpe’s own history was without event. He was born at Hoddam Castle in 1781. At the age of seventeen he matriculated at Christ Church College, Oxford. In 1802 he became a Bachelor of Arts, and four years later took his Master’s degree. He contributed to The Anti-Jacobin Review, and to the third volume of Scott’s Border Minstrelsy. He had a circle of friends who admired him and begged him to write oftener, and he fenced himself in from the vulgar, whom he heartily detested. He made a few visits to London and to the homes of his intimates. He knew Shelley and “ loathed ” him, but he saw the merit of Shelley’s poetry. He was an artist. He made sketches both grave and gay. His work shows immense promise and not a little fulfillment. The same criticism holds with respect to his literary efforts. His failure in either department maybe explained on the old theory that Sharpe was too much of a gentleman to be either an artist or an author; that is to say, he who plays the violin in public, or writes books, or puts his paintings on exhibition with a view to selling them, parts with a measure of his self-respect. He exposes his mind, and to do this is shameful. The redeeming feature is that, while the artist is sacrificed, the world may perhaps be benefited. In the majority of cases, however, both the artist and the public are sacrificed. Kirkpatrick Sharpe “felt two natures warring within him,” and was equally averse to literary total abstinence and to literary debauchery.

He passed the latter part of his life in Edinburgh, where he accumulated his extraordinary collection of books, pictures, and antiquities. To the people who knew him in the forties he must have appeared like a survival from the days of the Regency dandies. He Gied in 1851, having outlived his friend Sir Walter Scott by nearly twenty years.

No record of his talk exists, but if his spoken utterances bore any relation to his written style, he was caustic, witty, daring. His letters are filled with light touches which are the salt of such composition. No matter how trivial in themselves, they are flavored with his wit in a way to keep one reading. He speaks of a cold snap at Oxford which carried off so many old people that “ there was not a grandfather or grandmother to be had for love or money.” He sets forth the sad quandary of his aunt, " driven out into the wide world with a small helpless family of chiffoniers, writing-tables, and footstools.” He mentions a certain baronet, whose circumstances are such that “ he must surely get a berth in jail if he procureth not one in parliament. " He describes a young lady at a ball, “ dressed in muslin so thin that it left no room for conjecture.”

In his youth Sharpe had a cordial Scots hatred for everything English, except English literature. His letters written home from college are filled with sarcasm at the expense of English manners. He outgrew this, and viewed with positive distress the approach of that time which would put an end to his college life. Young men of this day, with their thick - soled shoes and golf stockings, are a striking contrast to the young exquisites of Oxford in 1802. Sharpe used to look back and marvel that he ever went about Oxford, in winter, “ in silk stockings and pumps.” They were great dandies. Stapleton, one of Sharpe’s friends, performed a certain journey in comfort, with the single misfortune of having “ lost his scent bottle.” And it was the Honorable William Burrell who, having had a fit of sickness, told Sharpe that his nurse was alarmed about him when she saw how his stays had to be taken in every day.

These facts help to an understanding of the external differences. Nothing accentuates more the intellectual differences between university boys of that day and this than their attitude in that olden time toward poetry, or what they firmly believed to be such. All were poets, “ and not ashamed.” It is laughable to see how gravely they used to exchange copies of their verses, and how courageously they pretended to like one another’s bad poetry. With all their solemnity, it is difficult not to suspect them, as the old Shakespearean slang has it, of “ kindly giving one another the bob.”

Kirkpatrick Sharpe’s companions were devoted to him, but I have a suspicion that it is possible to explain a measure of their devotion on the principle of Agree with thy gifted acquaintance quickly lest he make a caricature of thee. Sharpe had a caustic pencil as well as a caustic pen. Such a drawing as that of Queen Elizabeth Dancing shows terrible sardonic force. A man might well wish to keep on the good side of an artist who, peradventure, might elect to make game of lesser personages than Queen Elizabeth.

We Americans need to remind ourselves, as we read these letters, of the custom obtaining at Oxford for noblemen to wear gold tassels on their caps. These were called tufts; whence, tufthunters. The concourse of titled youths was particularly great during one year ; and Sharpe was moved to say that “ one’s eyes required green spectacles to preserve them from the glare of the golden tufts among these peers.” He was often sarcastic over the forms of deference prescribed by the university toward young noblemen, and then he had moments of wishing he wore a tuft himself.

Two of Sharpe’s college friends were “ Topographical ” Gell and the Honorable Keppel Craven. Gell became famous through his explorations in Greece and the Troad, whence he acquired the epithet of “ topographical.” Keppel Craven wrote books of travel. Both, these gentlemen were in after years attached to Queen Caroline’s petty court, and, at her trial, were called upon to testify to the propriety of her conduct, which they honorably did.

Shelley dawned on Oxford in 1810. He was then noted chiefly for his eccentricities. Sharpe speaks ironically of him as “ a Mr. Shelley who lives upon arsenic, aquafortis, and half an hour’s sleep in the night.” Sharpe later declared that Shelley tried to make people think he lived upon arsenic. Some people would believe it. The poet had “ the natural desire to propagate a wonder.” It is easy to see how the legendary element began early to assert itself in Shelley’s history. When a myth forms concerning a man in his college days, we may be sure that man will furnish interesting problems for his biographers. In a letter written in October, 1811, Sharpe announces to his correspondent that “the ingenious Mr. Shelley hath been expelled from the university on account of his atheistical pamphlet. . . . He behaved like a hero, . . . and declared his intention of emigrating to America.” Shelley emigrated, however, no farther than Edinburgh, where Sharpe encountered him again. In a letter to Mrs. Balfour, Sharpe says : “ I impudently write this to beg that you will permit me to bring to your party Mr. Shelley — who is a son of Sir Timothy Shelley — and his friend Mr. Hutchinson. They are both very gentlemanly persons, and dance quadrilles eternally.”

One striking letter in this collection helps us to form an idea of Walter Scott as he appeared in days before he became famous ; when there was as yet neither Lady of the Lake nor Waverley, and Scott was known as an enthusiastic collector of old ballads, which ballads he was given to “ spouting ” rather more than most people cared to hear. In a letter to his mother, dated July, 1803, Sharpe writes: “ The Border Minstrel paid me a visit some time since on his way to town, and I very courteously envited him to breakfast. He is dreadfully lame, and much too poetical. He spouts without mercy, and pays compliments so high-flown that my self-conceit, tho’ a tolerable good shot, could not even wing one of them ; but he told me that he intended to present me with the new edition of his book, and I found some comfort in that.” Other sentences in the letter indicate that Sharpe did not take to the Border Minstrel. In a year and a half from that visit Scott had become famous through the publication of the Lady of the Lake. Before many years acquaintance became intimacy. Scott had a real admiration for Kirkpatrick Sharpe’s powers, and continually urged him to turn the genius and spirit which delighted his friends to the instruction and amusement of the public. This Sharpe never did, because he had the virtuoso temperament.

People who have had to do with victims of the collecting habit will know what I mean. A small boy was once heard to say that his mother was “ the greatest collector of busted junk in the state of New York.” That mother probably had the virtuoso temperament, while the boy had not. Women are not usually interested in junk. Mrs. Gereth was; but Mrs. Gereth was an exception.1 The virtuoso temperament is fussy ; it busies itself about the marks on china, the niceties of adjectives, the glorifying misprints of first editions. To be a collector means in general to have nerves. This type of mind studies how to avoid shocks, and is itself shocked about things which most people are content not to notice. The virtuoso has a horror of being useful, because to be useful comes pretty near to being vulgar. He plans works, but never carries them out. He is bored by people with a purpose ; they are so insistent, and magnify their office. He protects himself from bruises. He publishes his books anonymously, not from the wish to be unostentatious, but from sheer disgust at the thought of the world’s coarse abuse or even coarser approval.

The virtuoso temperament will not permit a man to go with the multitude, even if they are bound heavenward. When people stare after a prodigy, whether of celestial origin or the opposite, he refuses to look. Kirkpatrick Sharpe would not have read a line of Quo Vadis, nor can you imagine him standing on the curb to look at a squad of returning Rough Riders. He liked the sun, the moon, and the stars, but he disliked comets. He “ spoke disrespectfully ” of the comet of 1811, which was very popular. " Oh, this tiresome comet; ... it nightly ruins my temper, for all the people in this mansion have got nothing else of an evening to do but to look at it; so there’s talk about it, too tedious — with every ten minutes a casement cast up, with a current of cold, damp, toothachy air, and a provoking exclamation of ‘ Dear, how very clear the tail is to-night ! do come and look at it ’ which I never do by any chance.” He professed to think that a comet’s tail was “ the dullest of all possible tails.” “ I would not give one twinkle of ray parrot’s for all the comet tails in the universe ! ” Here is the virtuoso temperament to excess. It sniffs at the peacock splendors which are apparent to all the world, and says, “ My parrot has a more interesting tail.”

The virtuoso is useful in spite of himself. We may not dismiss him offhand, and thank our stars that we are not as he ; for he colors the flat, dull tones of ordinary existence. His cynicism, if that be the word, his peevishness, his acrimony, are a sharp sauce to the boiled fish. Quiescent ox-eyed good nature is terribly depressing. I would not have all the world to be cynical, but a world without cynics would be very tedious. It is our duty to discourage the cynicism of vain, dull, affected, and unsuccessful people, but rather to welcome the trait in men of ability and discrimination.

I say that the virtuoso is useful in spite of himself, not alone for the stringent quality of his temper, but because that very defect of taste which prompts him to collect queer and unusual things, to amass scraps of recondite learning, to take a morbid interest in more or less morbid facts, — this very freakishness of taste enables the virtuoso oftentimes to furnish the key to an historical or genealogical mystery. Kirkpatrick Sharpe could give Walter Scott valuable hints now and then, but, if one may emphasize the obvious, it would have been impossible for him to write a Waverley or a Guy Mannering. To his contemporaries, however, he seemed quite capable of such a performance. They looked with near-sighted eyes at the display of antiquarian knowledge and of local geographical information, and said he must certainly have done it. The Marchioness of Stafford wrote to him that she could not contrive to fish out of Walter Scott whether Sharpe was, as had been suspected, the author of Waverley and Guy Mannering. “ But this silence with which you have been reproached,” continues the marchioness, “ led me to suspect something of that kind might have been the case ; and many traits in those works encouraged me in the idea. You have, if this is the case, much reason to be satisfied with the success of both [novels], for it is only disputed which is the best, and they are read and studied by people of all kinds, and are so much in fashion that many pretend to understand the dialogue in the latter who cannot possibly comprehend a word of it.”

Scott probably enjoyed being catechised on the subject; but I cannot help thinking that Sharpe must have had a pang in realizing how absolutely out of his power was any such literary performance. Sharpe’s admirers appear to have been entirely convinced. One of his college friends, E. B. Impey, son of the famous chief justice of Bengal, writes to him in 1821 : “ I have been for these last five or six years pluming myself upon my sagacity in tracing your style in many passages of the Scots novels which are so deservedly popular, particularly the earlier ones. I don’t expect you to set me right if I am in error, and still less to divulge a secret which is so perseveringly withheld from all the rest of the world — tho’ I cannot comprehend the motive of it. But I have a right to quarrel with you for not sending me a copy of the books of which you are avowedly the author.”

Among the many letters from Sir Walter Scott in this book, one in particular recalls a thrilling chapter in Edinburgh history. Scott, in sending the narrative of Mrs. Macfarlane to Kirkpatrick Sharpe, declares it to be " quite a peaceful, quiet tale to what our doctors can quote ! I am told,” says Scott, “ no prudent maiden walks out a-nights without buttering her mouth, that the black plaister may not adhere.”

This is a half-jesting allusion to the gruesome murders by a method called “ burking,” — after William Burke, who was the most conspicuous adept at it. Burke and his associate Hare smothered their victims, and sold the bodies to Knox, the famous anatomist. Fifteen unfortunates, male and female, died by their hands. The disclosure of the horrible facts threw Edinburgh into a state of terror. People dared not leave their houses after dark. Laborers coming home from work walked in squads for protection. Sharpe testifies to the universal fear which prevailed, but adds that for all that “ the murders only made us talk nonsense the more.”

Burke was hanged. The public flocked to behold the comfortable sight, as they would have gone to a circus. One Robert Seton writes to Kirkpatrick Sharpe : “ I respectfully beg leave to mention that I will be happy to give you a share of one window, on the morning of the execution of Burke. Mr. Stevenson, bookseller, wished one window for Sir Walter Scott and yourself, but on account of the number that has applied, that will be out of my power. But I shall be happy to accommodate Sir Walter and yourself with a share of one.”

In his latter years Sharpe became a zealous and untiring guardian of the antiquities of Edinburgh. Every proposition to alter or to destroy an historic landmark of the ancient city was sure to arouse his fighting blood. He would write scathing letters in the newspapers, and pleading letters to his friends. He would threaten those influential noblemen who were at ease in Zion with the curses of endless generations of antiquaries, should this great evil be done. His influence was for the best in these matters, and he was the instrument of saving much which might else have been improved out of existence. His taste was catholic, and he was almost equally solicitous for the salvation of an old chair or the house of John Knox.

I have indicated but a few of many points which may be brought out by a reading of these volumes. They illustrate a wide range of topics, from the history of dental surgery to the history of literature ; and they illustrate their subject the better because they were not written for such purpose. I read a treatise on the art of Stuffing teeth, and am unmoved ; I read Kirkpatrick Sharpe’s letters, and am deeply sympathetic as I see his teeth dropping away one by one, — and no help for it,—till finally the poor fellow’s mouth contains but an unpicturesque dental ruin, a Stonehenge as he calls it, and he looks darkly forward, without resignation, to that time when he must either “ mump or live by suction.” This reconciles me to modern improvements, makes me understand how much physical misery has been eliminated, and even helps me placidly to endure the announcements of that class of dental operators who innocently describe themselves as painless.

He reads these letters best, I take it, who reads them in order to reconstruct that past which is always interesting simply because it no longer exists ; and because when it did exist, it was, to the human ephemera who beheld it, the Present, tremendously modern, even marvelous in their eyes.

The reader must throw his mind back into such decades of that past as interest him most. He may legitimately seize on anything that will help to fill out his conception. Let him try to apprehend what life was, minus this or the other material advantage. Let him subtract the ruling interest of to-day, and put in its place the ruling interest of yesterday. He must put Paganini for Paderewski, Duc d’Enghien for Albert Dreyfus, Burke and Hare for the Whitechapel murderer. He must substitute The Heart of Midlothian for (Heaven help us !) The Christian. He must imagine the time when a reference would be made to some fate-concealed Smith, and all the world would know it meant Mr. Smith in Evelina, whereas nowadays it would be Terence Mulvaney, or Tammas Haggart, or the Little Minister. And the reader will perchance find a clue to much worth knowing if he tries to conjure up that day when, instead of laughing, as we do, over the comic progresses of the Emperor William, people would knit the brow over the bloody progresses of Napoleon Bonaparte. By some such process as this, as far-reaching and exhaustive as his time, patience, and insight will permit, may one hope for a substantial reward from reading the letters of Charles Kirkpatrick Sharpe and his friends.

Leon H. Vincent.

  1. The Spoils of Poynton, by Henry James.