THE CONTRIBUTORS’ CLUB.
HAS any pessimist considered modesty a defunct virtue ? Let him observe a novice in literary work with his first acceptance. He is overwhelmed with surprise, and haunted with dread that the fickle editor will change his mind, and never allow his hopes to reach their consummation. During the conceptive period, indeed, he was undisturbed by doubts as to the quality of his work. Every sentence, in his opinion, was straight to the point, every adjective did its duty. Yet, whatever method he chose, be sure in the actual labor the would-be contributor was sorely handicapped.
Then follows the author’s nightmare. Story or poem or essay, the thing is done ; but as it comes to its final reading, a cold sweat breaks out on the brow just now so complacent. That very best passage, — the production’s crowning ornament, — where has he read that before ? Surely it is his own, —why, he thought it out phrase by phrase, corrected it, and rewrote it, till it was built into its present form ; and yet, where has he read that passage ? He is modestly willing to acknowledge that he is no genius; that all he knows or thinks is only a composite photograph of what he has learned from more brilliant men. But he would like to be sure that his photograph is composite ; if he has taken those phrases verbatim et literatim from some one else, he would prefer to embellish them with quotation marks.
All these crests of the Hill Difficulty being surmounted, he proceeds to the disillusionizing process of copying his chefd’œuvre. If after the ministration of cold-blooded typewriter or of fountain pen — that thing of moods, like an April day with tears of ink instead of raindrops — his work still retain its hold upon his good opinion, there’s probably merit in it. Oftener its charm is gone, and he is minded to destroy it. But, after all, it is his own offspring, and the sentiment of the times is against infanticide, so he prepares it for its start in the world. Then where to send it ! If the obdurate editor would bestow half the time and pains upon the selection of manuscripts that the anxious author spends in choosing his periodical, said editor would n’t miss so many obviously good things.
Authors there be who might lightly speak of the “ acceptance of a first contribution,” but many more whose unhappy experience would compel them to transpose the words, and say the " first acceptance of a contribution.” The phrase matters little. In either case it refers to the inauguration of the most delightful experience known to man. “ The check will follow upon publication.” Whatsoever thou doest, O callow youth who aspirest to pursue Fame along the road that beginneth at the open door of some hospitable magazine, see that thou make wise choice of thy starting place. Shun diligently those publications which send the check with the acceptance, for by them art thou defrauded. What man is there who would spend his money but once, when, by taking thought, he might spend it many times ? And if, saving the once, it be spent in imagination only, what then ?
After the long-expected arrival, the man dons his threadbare coat, and sallies forth to cash his check and proceed to his realizations. When he returns he carries a parcel, and his wife — if he have one — knows what it contains while it is yet sealed. From the first, no mention has been made of books ; but that is undoubtedly a parcel of books. Such a very simple matter ! There are other desirable things, but certainly nothing which he and his family could need so much as new books.
Sometimes the parcel contains an édition de luxe, that rarus hospes on the shelf of a struggling writer ; but more often convenient and durable volumes which can be read where reading is most enjoyable, in bed. There is a popular superstition to the effect that a man who habitually reads in bed “ sleeps with his book beneath his pillow.” That is a mistake. It would be bad for the book, and would probably induce dreams which might be pleasant, but equally well might not. Mrs. Browning has apparently disclaimed this practice in her own case, saying, “ Invalid or not, I should have a romance in a drawer, if not behind a pillow.” But she seems not to have discovered her novel’s proper resting place, which is not “ in a drawer,” but on the floor beneath the bed, where the tired hand most readily bestows it when Morpheus, unkind, insists on no further trifling. Unless, indeed, the reader be forced to sleep in one of those modern abominations yclept “ folding beds.” Such unfortunate victim of cramped quarters might purchase a “ combination bed and bookcase,” and sleep with his books on the shelf above his couch. Thus did the Clerk of Oxenford. Can it be that he too slept in a bookcase bed ?
Twenty bookes, clad in blak or reed
Of Aristotle and his philosophie,
Than robes riche or fithele or gay sautrie.”