On Acerbity in Reviewing

Now and then we confess we have grown impatient at the cloying sweetness of the reviews in American journals, and in our annoyance at their monotonously encomiastic flavor have caught ourselves wishing for a dash of acid in the dish. Once, at least, we have found ourselves ready to welcome even a taste of the traditional Saturday Reviewer’s wormwood and gall. In this treatment of Mr. Kipling’s Kim, from a recent number of the Review, we have it. Here is acidity undiluted : —

“ The reading of a long story by Mr. Kipling inspires the reflection that his proper sphere is the short story, just as the reading of his short stories often provokes a desire that he would refrain from writing altogether. This book is not altogether without merits, for the author has evidently tried very hard to feel in sympathy with the spirit of the Orient. His lama inspires our sympathy, almost our affection, and his account of the tribulations which befell two Russian spies in the Hills is graphic and exhilarating. But the book is terribly spun out, and the general effect is one of intense weariness. Even the most industrious reader must nod from time to time as he plods laboriously through the pages. Nor is the hero so savory a character as Mr. Kipling evidently believes. Left an orphan in the gutters of India at a very early age, Kimball O’Hara picks up a living as a pander with all the precocity of a young Oriental, and when he begins to grow up he is easily turned into one of the shrewdest spies of the Indian government. This profession Mr. Kipling contrives to idealize by dwelling upon the courage, the adventure, and the ingenuity required. We appreciate the boy’s grateful devotion to the lama, but a less grudging admiration would have been inspired by a cleaner hero. At the end of the book we find the young man firmly established in his career as a spy, and fear takes possession of us lest the author should be so ill advised as to publish a sequel. The illustrations are original, but scarcely convincing, and we must protest against the author’s irritating habit of prefacing each chapter with a piece of his own doggerel, nearly always pointless and perplexing.”

We fear we overestimated our appetite for the savor of bitterness. If this be the acerbity we lack, we are fain to be content without it. Our own less pungent reviewing will suit our palates better.