The Gentle Reader

WHAT has become of the Gentle Reader ? One does not like to think that he has passed away with the stagecoach and the weekly news-letter; and that henceforth we are to be confronted only by the stony glare of the Intelligent Reading Public. Once upon a time, that is to say a generation or two ago, he was very highly esteemed. To him books were dedicated, with long rambling prefaces and with episodes which were their own excuse for being. In the very middle of the story the writer would stop with a word of apology or explanation addressed to the Gentle Reader, or at the very least with a nod or a wink. No matter if the fate of the hero be in suspense or the plot be inextricably involved.

“ Hang the plot! ” says the author. “ I must have a chat with the Gentle Reader, and find out what he thinks about it.”

And so confidences were interchanged, and there was gossip about the Universe and suggestions in regard to the queerness of human nature, until, at last, the author would jump up with, “ Enough of this, Gentle Reader ; perhaps it’s time to go back to the story.”

The thirteenth book of Tom Jones leaves the heroine in the greatest distress. The last words are, “ Nor did this thought once suffer her to close her eyes during the whole succeeding night.” Had Fielding been addressing the Intelligent Modern Public he would have intensified the interest by giving an analysis of Sophia’s distress so that we should all share her insomnia. But not at all! While the dear girl is recovering her spirits it is such an excellent opportunity to have uninterrupted discourse with the Gentle Reader, who does n’t take these things too hard, having long since come to “ the years that bring the philosophic mind.” So the next chapter is entitled An Essay to prove that an author will write better for having some knowledge of the subject on which he treats. The discussion is altogether irrelevant ; that is what the Gentle Reader likes.

“ It is a paradoxical statement you make,” he says, trying to draw the author out. “ What are your arguments ? ”

Then the author moderates his expressions. “ To say the truth I require no more than that an author should have some little knowledge of the subject on which he treats.”

“ That sounds more reasonable,” says the Gentle Reader. “ You know how much I dislike extreme views. Let us admit, for the sake of argument, that a writer may know a little about his subject. I hope that this may not prove the opening wedge for erudition. By the way, where was it we left the sweet Sophy; and do you happen to know anything more about that scapegrace Jones ? ”

That was the way books were written and read in the good old days before the invention of the telephone and the short story. The generation that delighted in Fielding and Richardson had some staying power. A book was something to tie to. No one would say jauntily, “ I have read Sir Charles Grandison,” but only, “ I am reading.” The characters of fiction were not treated as transient guests, but as lifelong companions destined to be a solace in old age. The short story, on the other hand, is invented for people who want a literary “ quick lunch.” “ Tell me a story while I wait,” demands the eager devourer of fiction. “ Serve it hot, and be mighty quick about it! ”

In rushes the story-teller with love, marriage, jealousy, disillusion, and suicide all served up together before you can say Jack Robinson. There is no time for explanation, and the reader is in no mood to allow it. As for the suicide, it must end that way; for it is the quickest. The ending, “ They were happy ever after,” cannot be allowed, for the doting author can never resist the temptation to add another chapter, dated ten years after, to show how happy they were.

I sometimes fear that reading, in the old-fashioned sense, may become a lost art. The habit of resorting to the printed page for information is an excellent one, but it is not what I have in mind. A person wants something and knows where to get it. He goes to a book just as he goes to a department store. Knowledge is a commodity done up in a neat parcel. So that the article is well made he does n’t care either for the manufacturer or the dealer.

Now literature, properly so called, is quite different from this, and literary values inhere not in things or even in ideas, but in persons. There are some rare spirits that have imparted themselves to their words. The book then becomes a person, and reading comes to be a kind of conversation. The reader is not passive, as if he were listening to a lecture on The Ethics of the Babylonians. He is sitting by his fireside, and old friends drop in on him. He knows their habits and whims, and is glad to see them and to interchange thought. They are perfectly at their ease, and there is all the time in the world, and if he yawns now and then nobody is offended, and if he prefers to follow a thought of his own rather than theirs there is no discourtesy in leaving them. If his friends are dull this evening, it is because he would have it so ; that is why he invited them. He wants to have a good, cosy, dull time. He has had enough to stir him up during the day; now he wants to be let down. He knows a score of good old authors who have lived long in the happy poppy fields.

In all good faith he invokes the goddess of the Dunciad, —

Her ample presence fills up all the place,
A veil of fogs dilates her awful face.
Here to her Chosen all her works she shews,
Prose swelled to verse, verse loitering into prose.”

The Gentle Reader nods placidly and joins in the ascription, —

“ Great tamer of all human art!
First in my care and ever at my heart;
Dulness whose good old cause I still defend.
O ever gracious to perplex’d mankind,
Still shed a healing mist before the mind ;
And lest we err by Wit’s wild dancing light,
Secure us kindly in our native night.”

I would not call any one a gentle reader who does not now and then take up a dull book, and enjoy it in the spirit in which it was written.

Wise old Burton, in the Anatomy of Melancholy, advises the restless person to “ read some pleasant author till he be asleep.” I have found the Anatomy of Melancholy to answer this purpose ; though Dr. Johnson declares that it was the only book that took him out of bed two hours before he wished to rise. It is hard to draw the line between stimulants and narcotics.

My insistence on the test of the enjoyment of the dullness of a dull book is not arbitrary. It arises from the characteristic of the Gentle Reader. He takes a book for what it is and never for what it is not. If he does n’t like it at all he does n’t read it. If he does read it, it is because he likes its real quality. That is the way we do with our friends. They are the people of whom we say that “ we get at them.” I suppose every one of us has some friend of whom we would confess that as thinker he is inferior to Plato. But we like him no less for that. We might criticise him if we cared, — but we never care. We prefer to take him as he is. It is the flavor of his individuality that we enjoy. Appreciation of literature is the getting at an author, so that we like what he is, while all that he is not is irrelevant.

There are those who endeavor to reduce literary criticism to an exact science. To this end they would eliminate the personal element, and subject our admirations to fixed standards. In this way it is hoped that we may ultimately be able to measure the road to Parnassus by kilometers. All this is much more easily said than done. Personal likings will not stay eliminated. I admire the acuteness of the critic who reveals the unsuspected excellence of my favorite writer. It is a pleasure like that which comes when a friend is received into a learned society. We don’t know much about his learning, but we know that he is a good fellow, and we are glad to learn that he is getting on. We feel also a personal satisfaction in having our tastes vindicated and our enjoyment treated as if it were a virtue, just as Mr. Pecksniff was pleased with the reflection that while he was eating his dinner, he was at the same time obeying a law of the Universe.

But the rub comes when the judgment of the critic disagrees with ours. We discover that his laws have no penalties, and that if we get more enjoyment from breaking than from obeying, then we are just that much ahead. As for giving up an author just because the judgment of the critic is against him, who ever heard of such a thing ? The stanchest canons of criticism are exploded by a genuine burst of admiration.

That is what happens whenever a writer of original force appears. The old rules do not explain him, so we must make new rules. Like Wordsworth, he creates the taste by which he is appreciated. We first enjoy him, and then we welcome the clever persons who assure us that the enjoyment is greatly to our credit. But

“You must love him ere to you
He shall seem worthy of your love.”

I asked a little four-year-old critic, whose literary judgments I accept as final, what stories she liked best. She answered, “I like Joseph and Aladdin and The Forty Thieves and The Probable Son.”

It was a purely individual judgment. Some day she may learn that she has the opinion of many centuries behind her. When she studies rhetoric she may be able to tell why Aladdin is better than The Shaving of Shagpat, and why the story of “ The Probable Son ” delights her, while the half-hour homily on the parable makes not the slightest impression on her mind. The fact is, she knows a good story just as she knows a good apple. How the flavor got there is a scientific question which she has not considered ; but being there, trust the uncloyed palate to find it out! She does not set up as a superior person having good taste ; but she says, “ I can tell you what tastes good.”

There are a great many kinds of useful books, — books of History, Philosophy, and the rest. The Gentle Reader knows that these subjects are worthy of all respect, but he is not greatly drawn to any formal treatises. He does not enjoy a bare bit of philosophy that has been moulded into a fixed form. Yet he dearly loves a philosopher, especially if he turns out to be a sensible sort of man who does n’t put on airs.

He likes the old Greek way of philosophizing. What a delight it was for him to learn that the Academy in Athens was not a white building with green blinds set upon a bleak hilltop, but a grove where, on pleasant days, Plato could be found, ready to talk with all comers! That was something like; no board of trustees, no written examinations, no textbooks — just Plato ! You never knew what was to be the subject or where you were coming out; all you were sure of was that you would come away with a new idea. Or if you tired of the Academy, there were the Peripatetics, gentlemen who were drawn together because they imagined they could think better on their legs ; or there were the Stoics, elderly persons who liked to sit on the porch and discuss the “ cosmic weather.” No wonder the Greeks got such a reputation as philosophers ! They deserve no credit for it. Any one would like philosophy were it served up in that way.

All that has passed. Were Socrates to come back and enter a downtown office to inquire after the difference between the Good and the Beautiful, he would be confronted with one of those neatly printed cards, intended to discourage the Socratic method during business hours : “ This is our busy day. Yes, it’s warm.”

The Gentle Reader also has his business hours, and has learned to submit to their inexorable requirements; but now and then he has a few hours to himself. He declines an invitation to a progressive euchre party, on the ground of a previous engagement he had made long ago, in his college days, to meet some gentlemen of the fifth century B. C. The evening passes so pleasantly, and the world seems so much fresher in interest, that he wonders why he does n’t do that sort of thing oftener. Perhaps there are some other progressive euchre parties he could cut, and the world be none the worse.

How many people there have been who have gone through the world with their eyes open, and who have jotted down their impressions by the way ! How quickly these philosophers come to know their own. Listen to Izaak Walton in his Epistle to the Reader: “ I think it fit to tell thee these following truths, that I did not undertake to write or publish this discourse of Fish and Fishing to please myself, and that I wish it may not displease others. And yet I cannot doubt but that by it some readers may receive so much profit that if they be not very busy men, may make it not unworthy the time of their perusal. And I wish the reader to take notice that in the writing of it I have made a recreation of a recreation ; and that it might prove so to thee in the reading, and not to read dully and tediously, I have in several places mixed some innocent mirth ; of which if thou be a severe, sour-complexioned man, then I here disallow thee to be a competent judge. . . . I am the willinger to justify this innocent mirth because the whole discourse is a kind of picture of my own disposition, at least of my disposition on such days and times as I allow myself — when Nat and I go fishing together.” How cleverly he bows out the ichthyologists ! How he rebukes the sordid creature who has come simply to find out how to catch fish! That is the very spirit of Simon Magus ! “ Thou hast neither part nor lot in this matter ! ”

The Gentle Reader has no ulterior aims. All he wants to know is how Izaak Walton felt when he went fishing, and what he was thinking about.

“ A kind of picture of a man’s own disposition,” that is what I call literature. Even the most futile attempt at self-revelation evokes sympathy. I remember, as a boy, gazing at an austere volume in my grandfather’s library. It was, as far as I could ascertain, an indigestible mixture of theology and philology. But my eye was caught by the title, The Diversions of Purley. I had not the slightest idea who Purley was, but my heart went out to him at once.

“ Poor Purley ! ” I said. “ If these were your diversions what a dog’s life you must have led ! ” I could see Purley gazing vaguely through his spectacles as he said: “ Don’t pity me ! It’s true I have had my trials, — but then again what larks ! See that big book; I did it! ” Only long after did I learn that my sympathy was uncalled for, as Purley was not a person but a place.

When it comes to history, the Gentle Reader is often made very uncomfortable by the adverse criticisms upon his favorite writers. He is told that they are frequently inaccurate and one-sided. The true historian he is informed is a prodigy of impartiality, who has divested himself of all human passions, in order that he may set down in exact sequence the course of events. The Gentle Reader turns to these highly praised volumes, and finds himself adrift, without human companionship, on a bottomless sea of erudition, — writings, writings everywhere, and not a page to read ! Returning from this perilous excursion he ever after adheres to his original predilection for histories that are readable.

He is of the opinion that a history must be essentially a work of the imagination. This does not mean that it must not be true, but it means that the important truth about any former generation can only be reproduced through the imagination. The important thing is that these people were once alive. No critical study of their meagre memorials can make us enter into their joys, their griefs, and their fears. The memorials only suggest to the historic imagination what the reality must have been.

Peter Bell could recognize a fact when he saw it: —

“ A primrose on the river’s brim
A yellow primrose was to him,
And it was nothing more.”

As long as the primrose was there, he could be trusted to describe it accurately enough. But set Peter Bell the task of describing last year’s primroses. “ There are n’t any last year’s primroses on the river’s brim,” says Peter, “ so you must be content with a description of the one in my herbarium. Last year’s primroses, you will observe, are very much flattened out.” To Mr. Peter Bell, after he has spent many years in the universities, a document is a document, and it is nothing more. When he has compared a great many documents, and put them together in a mechanical way, he calls his work a history. That’s where he differs from the Gentle Reader who calls it only the crude material out of which a man of genius may possibly make a history.

To the Gentle Reader it is a profoundly interesting reflection that since this planet has been inhabited people have been fighting, and working, and loving, and hating with an intensity born of the conviction that, if they went at it hard enough, they could finish the whole business in one generation. He likes to get back into any one of these generations just “ to get the feel of it.” He does not care so much for the final summing up of the process, as to see it in the making. Any one who can give him that experience is his friend.

He is interested in the stirring times of the English Revolution, and goes to the historical expert to find what it was all about. The historical expert starts with the Magna Charta and makes a preliminary survey. Then he begins his march down the century, intrenching every position lest he be caught unawares by the critics. His intellectual forces lack mobility, so they must wait for their baggage trains. At last he comes to the time of the Stuarts, and there is much talk of the royal prerogative, and ship money, and attainders, and acts of Parliament. There are exhaustive arguments, now on the one side and now on the other, which exactly balance one another. There are references to bulky volumes, where at the foot of every page the notes run along, like little angry dogs barking at the text.

The Gentle Reader calls out: “ I have had enough of this. What I want to know is what it ’s all about, and which side, on the whole, has the right of it. Which side are you on ? Are you a Roundhead or a Cavalier ? Are your sympathies with the Whigs or the Tories ? ”

“ Sympathies! ” says the expert. “ Who ever heard of a historian allowing himself to sympathize ? I have no opinions of my own to present. My great aim is not to prejudice the mind of the student.”

“ Nonsense,” says the Gentle Reader ; “ I am not a student, nor is this a schoolroom. It’s all in confidence; speak out as one gentleman to another under a friendly roof ! What do you think about it ? No matter if you make a mistake or two, I ’ll forget most that you say, anyway. All that I care for is to get the gist of the matter. As for your fear of warping my mind, there ’s not the least danger in the world. My mind is like a tough bit of hickory ; it will fly back into its original shape the moment you let go. I have a hundred prejudices of my own, — one more won’t hurt me. I want to know what it was that set the people by the ears. Why did they cut off the head of Charles I., and why did they drive out James II. ? I can’t help thinking that there must have been something more exciting than those discussions of yours about constitutional theories. Do you know, I sometimes doubt whether most of the people who went to the wars knew that there was such a thing as the English Constitution ; the subject had n’t been written up then. I suspect that something happened that was not set down in your book ; something that made those people fighting mad.”

Then the Gentle Reader turns to his old friend Macaulay, and asks, —

“ What do you think about it ? ”

“ Think about it! ” says Macaulay. 舠 I ’ll tell you what I think about it. To begin with, that Charles I., though good enough as a family man, was a consummate liar.”

“ That’s the first light I 've had on the subject,” says the Gentle Reader. “ Charles lied, and that made the people mad ? ”

“ Precisely ! I perceive that you have the historic sense. We English can’t abide a liar; so at last when we could not trust the king’s word we chopped off his head. Mind you, I’m not defending the regicides, but between ourselves I don’t mind saying that I think it served him right. At any rate our blood was up, and there was no stopping us. I wish I had time to tell you all about Hampden, and Pym, and Cromwell, but I must go on to the glorious year 1688, and tell you how it all came about, and how we sent that despicable dotard, James, flying across the Channel, and how we brought in the good and wise King William, and how the great line of Whig statesmen began. I take for granted — as you appear to be a sensible man — that you are a Whig ? ”

“ I’m open to conviction,” says the Gentle Reader.

In a little while he is in the very thick of it. He is an Englishman of the seventeenth century. He has taken sides and means to fight it out. He knows how to vote on every important question that comes before Parliament. No Jacobite sophistry can beguile him. When William lands he throws up his hat, and after that he stands by him, thick or thin. When you tell him that he ought to be more dispassionate in his historical judgments, he answers: “ That would be all very well if we were not dealing with living issues, — but with Ireland in an uproar and the Papists ready to swarm over from France, there is a call for decision. A man must know his own mind. You may stand off and criticise William’s policy ; but the question is, What policy do you propose ? You say that I have not exhausted the subject, and that there are other points of view. Very likely. Show me another point of view, only make it as clear to me as Macaulay makes his. Let it be a real view, and not a smudge. Some other day I may look at it, but I must take one thing at a time. What I object to is the historian who takes both sides in the same paragraph. That is what I call offensive bi-partisanship.”

The Gentle Reader is interested not only in what great men actually were, but in the way they appeared to those who loved or hated them. He is of the opinion that the legend is often more significant than the colorless annals. When a legend has become universally accepted and has lived a thousand years, he feels that it should be protected in its rights of possession by some statute of limitation. It has come to have an independent life of its own. He has, therefore, no sympathy with Gibbon in his identification of St. George of England with George of Cappadocia, a dishonest army contractor who supplied the troops of the Emperor Julian with bacon. Says Gibbon: 舠 His employment was mean ; he rendered it infamous. He accumulated wealth by the basest arts of fraud and corruption ; but his malversations were so notorious that George was compelled to escape from the pursuit of his enemies. . . . This odious stranger, disguising every circumstance of time and place, assumed the mask of a martyr, a saint, and a Christian hero ; and the infamous George of Cappadocia has been transformed into the renowned St. George of England, the patron of arms, of chivalry, and of the garter.”

“ That is a serious indictment,” says the Gentle Reader. 舠 I have no plea to make for the Cappadocian ; I can readily believe that his bacon was bad. But why not let bygones be bygones ? If he managed to transform himself into a saint, and for many centuries avoid all suspicion, I believe that it was a thorough reformation. St. George of England has long been esteemed as a valiant gentleman, — and, at any rate, that affair with the dragon was greatly to his credit.”

Sometimes the Gentle Reader is disturbed by finding that different lines of tradition have been mixed, and his mind becomes the battle ground whereon old blood feuds are fought out. Thus it happens that as a child he was brought up on the tales of the Covenanters and imbibed their stern resentment against their persecutors. He learned to hate the very name of Grahame of Claverhouse who brought desolation upon so many innocent homes. On the other hand, his heart beats high when he hears the martial strains of Bonny Dundee. “ There was a man for you ! ”

“ Dundee he is mounted, he rides up the street,
The bells are rung backward, the drums they are beat.
‘ Away to the hills, to the caves, to the rocks —
Ere I own an usurper, I ’ll couch with the fox ;
And tremble, false Whigs, in the midst of your glee,
You have not seen the last of my bonnet and me! ’
He waved his proud hand, and the trumpets were blown,
The kettle-drums clashed, and the horsemen rode on,
Till on Ravelston’s cliffs and on Clermeston’s lee
Died away the wild war-notes of Bonny Dundee.”

“ When I see him wave his proud hand,” says the Gentle Reader, “ I am his clansman, and I’m ready to be off with him.”

“ I thought you were a Whig,” says the student of history.

“ I thought so too, — but what’s politics where the affections are enlisted ? Don’t you hear those wild war-notes ? ”

“ But are you aware that the Bonny Dundee is the same man whom you have just been denouncing under the name of Grahame of Claverhouse ? ”

“ Are you sure they are the same ? ” sighs the Gentle Reader. “ I cannot make them seem the same. To me there are two of them: Grahame of Claverhouse, whom I hate, and the Bonny Dundee, whom I love. If it’s all the same to you, I think I shall keep them separate and go on loving and hating as aforetime.”

You must not think that the Gentle Reader is lacking in solidity of judgment. It does not follow any more than that Izaak Walton when he kept shop in London was careless with his accounts. Take notice that in this discourse of Books and Reading I give a picture of his disposition not at all times, but only on such times as he goes a-reading.

The Gentle Reader dearly loves biography, especially a genuine bit of autobiography. He is a little provoked when David Hume begins the sketch of his own life with the remark, “ It is difficult for a man to speak long about himself without vanity, therefore I will be short.” What obtuseness that shows in a philosopher who actually wrote a treatise on human nature ! What did he know about human nature if he thought any one would read an autobiography that was without vanity ! It is the first requisite of a writer of his own life that he should be interested in his subject.

Vanity is one of the most lovable of weaknesses. In our contemporaries it sometimes irritates us, but that is only because it involves a difference of judgment. A man conscientiously resolves “ not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think.” But how highly ought he to think ? Here he is likely to come into conflict with the opinion of his neighbors. But when it is all written down in a book, and the pure juices of self-satisfaction have been allowed to mellow for a few centuries, nothing can be more delicious.

The Gentle Reader, however, draws the line at a kind of inverted vanity which induces certain morbid persons to write painful confessions of their own sins and shortcomings. He is willing to acknowledge that they are sinners, but when they claim to be the most remarkable sinners, he says, in the language of the day, “ There are others.”

When he takes up a volume entitled Life and Letters, and finds it dull, he does not bring a railing accusation against either the biographer or the biographee. They may both have been interesting persons, though the result in cold print is not exhilarating. He knows how volatile is the charm of personality, and how hard it is to preserve the best things. His friend, who is a great dinerout, says: “ Those were delightful people I met at dinner yesterday, and what a capital story the judge told ! I laugh every time I think about it.”

“ What story ? ” asks the Gentle Reader, eager for the crumbs that fall from the witty man’s table.

“ I can’t remember just what it was about, or what was the point of it; but it was a good story, and you would have thought so, too, if you had heard the judge tell it.”

“I certainly should,”replies the Gentle Reader, “ and I shall always believe, on your testimony, that the judge is one of the best story-tellers in existence.”

In like manner he believes in the interesting things that great men must have done which unfortunately were not taken down by any one at the time.

The Gentle Reader himself is not much at home in fashionable literary society. He is a shy person, and his embarrassment is increased by the consciousness that he seldom gets round to a book till after people are through talking about it. Not that he prides himself on this fact; for he is far from cherishing the foolish prejudice against new books.

“ David Copperfield was a new book once, and it was as good then as it is now.” It simply happens that there are so many good books that it is hard to keep up with the procession. Besides, he has discovered that the books that are talked about can be talked about just as well without being read ; this leaves him more time for his old favorites.

“ I have a sweet little story for you,” says the charming authoress. “ I am sure you like sweet little stories.”

“ Only one lump, if you please,” says the Gentle Reader.

In spite of his genial temperament there are some subjects on which he is intolerant. When he picks up a story that turns out to be only a Tract for the Times, he turns indignantly on the author.

“ Sirrah,” he cries, under the influence of deep feeling, relapsing into the vernacular of romance, “ you gained access to me under the plea that you were going to please me; and now that you have stolen a portion of my time, you throw off all disguise, and admit that you entered with intent to instruct, and that you do not care whether you please me or not! I’ve a mind to have you arrested for obtaining my attention under false pretenses ! How villainously we are imposed upon ! Only the other day a man came to me highly recommended as an architect. I employed him to build me a Castle in Spain, regardless of expense. When I suggested a few pleasant embellishments, the wretch refused on the ground that he never saw anything of the kind in the town he came from, — Toledo, Ohio. If he had pleaded honest poverty of invention I should have forgiven him, but he took a high and mighty tone with me, and said that it was against his principles to allow any incident that was not probable. ‘ Who said that it should be probable ? ’ I replied. ‘ It is your business to make it seem probable.’ ”

He highly disapproves of what he considers the cheese-paring economy on the part of certain novelists in the endowment of their characters. “ Their traits are so microscopic, and require such minute analysis, that I get half through the book before I know which is which. It seems as if the writers were not sure that there was enough human nature to go around. They should study the good old story of Aboukir and Abousir.

“ ‘ There were in the city of Alexandria two men, — one was a dyer, and his name was Aboukir; the other was a barber, and his name was Abousir. They were neighbors, and the dyer was a swindler, a liar, and a person of exceeding wickedness.’

“Now, there the writer and reader start fair. There are no unnecessary concealments. You know that the dyer is a villain, and you are on your guard. You are not told in the first paragraph about the barber, but you take it for granted that he is an excellent, wellmeaning man, who is destined to become enormously wealthy. And so it turns out. If our writers would only follow this straightforward method we should hear less about nervous prostration among the reading classes.” He is very severe on the whimsical notion, that never occurred to any one until this century, of saying that the heroine is not beautiful.

“ Such a remark is altogether gratuitous. When I become attached to a young lady in fiction she always appears to me to be an extraordinarily lovely creature. It’s sheer impertinence for the author to intrude, every now and then, just to call my attention to the fact that her complexion is not good, and that her features are irregular. It’s bad manners, — and besides, I don’t believe that it’s true.”

Nothing, however, so offends the Gentle Reader as the trick of elaborating a plot and then refusing to elucidate it, and leaving everything at loose ends. He feels toward this misdirected ingenuity as Miss Edgeworth’s Harry did toward the conundrum which his sister proposed.

“ This is quite different,” he said, “ from the others. The worst of it is that after laboring ever so hard at one riddle it does not in the least lead to another. The next is always on some other principle.”

“Yes, to be sure,” said Lucy. “Nobody who knows how to puzzle would give two riddles of the same kind ; that would be too easy.”

“ But then, without something to guide one,” said Harry, “ there is no getting on.”

“ Not in your regular way,” said Lucy.

“ That is the very thing I complain of,” said Harry.

“ Complain ! But my dear Harry, riddles are meant only to divert one.”

“ But they do not divert me,” said Harry ; “ they only puzzle me.”

The Gentle Reader is inclined to impute unworthy motives to the writer whose work merely puzzles him.

“ The lazy unscrupulous fellow takes a job, and then throws it up and leaves me to finish it for him. It’s a clear breach of contract! That sort of thing would never have been allowed in any well-governed community. Fancy what would have happened in the court of Shahriar, where story-telling was taken seriously.”

Sheherazade has got Sindbad on the moving island.

“ How did he get off ? ” asks the Sultan.

“ That’s for your majesty to find out,” answers Sheherazade archly. “Maybe he got off, and maybe he did n’t. That’s the problem.”

“ Off with her head ! ” says the Sultan.

When sore beset by novelists who, under the guise of fiction, attempt to saddle him with “ the weary weight of all this unintelligible world,” the Gentle Reader takes refuge with one who has never deceived him.

“ What shall it be ? ” says Sir Walter.

“As you please, Sir Walter.”

“No! As you please, Gentle Reader. If you have nothing else in mind, how would this do for a start ? —

’ Waken ! Lords and Ladies gay!
On the mountain dawns the day.’

It’s a fine morning, and it’s a gallant company ! Let’s go with them ! ”

“ Let’s ! ” cries the Gentle Reader.

Samuel McChord Crothers.