The Authors' Encyclopaedia



DEAR SIR, — I take the liberty of addressing you, to call your attention to a work which I believe will interest you. I beg to assure you that I have determined to consecrate the efforts of my life to the task.

I am a believer in evolution, and I have endeavored to apply its principles to the facts that I have observed, to trace the progress of specialization and organization in every department of life, the realm of literature not excepted. I believe that more and more the making of books is to become a business and a system ; I believe that we are destined to find less and less of the individual initiative, less and less waste of energy, and more and more productiveness. I believe that there are laws of literary excellence and interest that can be studied and understood and followed just as much as any other laws. I am convinced that literary composition is, before another half-century is past, destined to be entirely reduced to system, regulated by laws as well known as those that move the planets to their infinite variety of positions. To bring about this consummation there is but one thing needed, which is knowledge.

I hereby announce, to all whom it may interest, the beginning of The Authors’ Encyclopædia; a Practical Compilation for the Use of All Literary Craftsmen; being a Digest of all Extant Material and Knowledge of the Science of Fiction; in thirty volumes, folio. I shall content myself with touching upon a few of the more important features of the work.

The first ten volumes of the Encyclopædia will be given up to the subject of plots; here the reader will be able to find information about all that any human mind has ever devised in the way of plots. There will be, first, a general disquisition upon the principles of plots, and second, a summary of all possible plots in their various classes and subclasses, genera, species, and variations. Thus, for instance, the reader desires to vary his tale by the incident of a fire; he turns to the first section of the Authors’ Encyclopædia, and looks up the word fire. He may then read of all the possible varieties of fires that have occurred in fiction; fires on shipboard, forest fires, Sienkiewicz-Nero fires, De Foe-London fires, and so on. He will read of all the possible deeds of valor by which a bold hero may rescue his lady-love from a fire; of all the possible contrivances by which a villain may be burned in a fire of his own kindling. He will find all the various effects of fire; all the complications that make fire more dreadful, as the presence of powder, or naphtha, or babies, or wild Indians in the vicinity. There will be a special section treating of vocabulary, in which he may learn all the most effective phrases; the billowing surges of flame, and the dense rolling volumes of murky smoke. Also there will be a full bibliography, referring the reader by volume and page to all existing descriptions of conflagrations since the days of the youth that fired the Ephesian dome. And with the same thoroughness will be tabulated the information about plots of every other species. There will be adventures on Greek galleys, in Egyptian Pyramids and Christian catacombs, in African jungles, and on Aztec teocallis; the submarine torpedo-boat and wireless telegraphy will be fully discussed, and the subject of dungeons and prisons will receive a special volume.

In the plot section there will appear likewise all statistics of plots; here will be settled forever the vexed question of which the public prefers, happy endings or sad endings; here too will be discussed all possible and actual openings of stories ; here will be statistics as to success of landscape openings and the “Hist, what ’s that? ” style of opening; here too the unhappy playwright may escape the servant-girl and dust-brush opening, and may learn how to put the audience in possession of the fact that the hero is twenty-one, handsome and disinherited, without having the butler tell it all to the housekeeper. Here also the practical artists will be able to ascertain just what proportion of humor and pathos is preferred ; it will be possible to put into a work exactly the right proportions of exactly the choicest ingredients, just as if one were making a Christmas pudding. Each artist will be able to have his own private receipt, thus: Two quarts of finely sifted adventure, and two cups of tears; sweeten with three cups of love-making, and flavor to taste with the spice of impropriety; bake in an oven of red-hot excitement, and crown with the savory white-icing of a happy marriage. Does not the reader’s mouth water at the thought of such a treat ?

But to continue : the second ten volumes of the Authors’ Encyclopædia will contain information on the subject of characters. The subject will be divided into two sections, characters “externally ” portrayed, and those whose interest is psychical. In the former will be presented, carefully classified, a complete list of all possible characters after the fashion of Dickens and Laura Jean Libbey ; here will be every trick and peculiarity of face, language, and thought; here will be Uriah and his humility and Cap’n Cuttle with his hook; here will be the old gentleman who whistles, and the fat boy who goes to sleep. Here too will be a volume discussing the names of the heroes and heroines of fiction, humorous, or intense and suggestive of passion as the case may require; here will be a table of the most successful names, so that the author who is about to portray a tragic infidelity may ascertain in a moment the chances of Vivian and Beatrice as against John and Mary Ann. Here too will be full information as to “labeled ” characters, — Sergeant Short and Corporal Crimp, Sir Anthony Absolute, Lydia Languish and Mrs. Malaprop, together with an extensive alliterative index. Under the subject of characters portrayed “internally ” there will appear full information about proud and haughty characters, mean and cringing characters, winsome and winning, snobbish and cold, dashing and slashing characters, with all kinds of complications of each. That this is an extensive subject the reader will of course perceive immediately.

But the most wonderful of all parts of this monumental work will be the ten remaining volumes; the subject is Local Color!

What a subject that is, and what its adequate treatment would mean, none but a practical author can know. Here will be every nation, every age, every circumstance. Here the author will find a description of the corner grocery in New York; of the lumber camp in Maine; of the ranch-house in Texas ; of the negro cabin in Virginia; here will be every circumstance, — every article about the buildings, every stitch of clothing worn by the inmates. Here likewise will be the Chinese pagoda, the Lapland snow-house, the Indian wigwam, the Paris salon ; here the Roman forum, the Saxon drinking hall, the Dutch windmill. A special volume will be devoted to castles of all ages; here the author may learn the names and uses of castellated moat, mullioned arch, and creaking drawbridge; here will be the aged seneschal, his costume and duties fully portrayed; here, in short, the castle, from its waving pennons to its subaqueous depths and its moaning captives. Another volume will be devoted to dueling; all weapons, and all rules, and all possible events will be portrayed; the author will learn how to stand on guard, when to try a flanconade and when a pasquinade ; he will know just what a tierce is, too.

Of these volumes several will be devoted to language. Here will be the most elaborate dictionary of foreign phrases ever attempted; the hero will be able to say anything at a moment’s notice in any language known. Two volumes will be devoted to dialect; and so in conjunction with the other localcolor volumes and the local-color bibliography any one will be able to tell a Gentleman of France story, an Irish pastoral, and a negro comedy in one afternoon. One can write as much Eternal Nonsen-City as desired without even visiting Italy at all. It must be added that half a volume on the dialect part will be especially given to ejaculations; there will be an “attatai ” class, a “per Baccho” and “di immortales ” class; a “parbleu” and “mon Dieu ” class; a “carramba ” and a “diavolo ” class; a “zounds,” “egad,” and “oddzooks ” class; a “b’gosh ” and “ Jehoshaphat ” class; a “fo’ de Lord” class, and a “hully gee ” class. There will be likewise all the picturesque oaths of all picturesque swearers from Falstaff and Pan Zagloba down to Bob Acres and Asa Bird Gardiner.

To leave the endless subject of language, there will be three or four hundred pages devoted to the subject of music, a feature which authors will find an especial boon. Here will be described all kinds of musical compositions for the uses of heroes and heroines; so that the author may luxuriate in dreamy and mournful melody, may lightly finger a technical exercise, or may carol a bright and cheerful lay with impunity ; there will be a list of bright and cheerful lays to carol, with appropriate remarks as to each one. Also the instrument for each composition will be carefully specified and described, so that Mr. F. Hopkinson Smith would not again need to torture one of the heroes to execute a Beethoven symphony on a ’cello, nor Professor Matthews to trouble his heroine to play the Moonlight Concerto on the piano ; neither perhaps would Tennyson have his dancers “dance in tune to the flute, violin, bassoon, ” and neither would Charles Lamb discuss the disagreeableness of the singing of “thorough-bass.”