Books New and Old

A REVIEWER who has fallen into the habit of classifying his material according to some more or less fanciful method must have now and then a bad moment in realizing his delinquencies. It is too likely that in his eagerness to expound a gospel according to himself he may have got to neglecting the other part of his business, which is to tell people something about particular books. He may have failed to give his actual impression of the whole value of a book because he has been thinking about its pertinence to his theme; or he may have said nothing at all about certain new books which he has read with great pleasure, but which have not happened to fit in with any of his little plans. He can, if he is not too slow about it, do something toward making up for the latter fault, at least. Some day in the middle of his uneasiness, before “the good minute goes,” he may turn to resolutely and cull these inconveniently remembered volumes from the odd corners in which he will have shiftily tucked them ; and permit himself to remember for what uncategorical reasons he enjoyed reading them.

His enjoyment must of course have varied in degree as well as in kind. There, for example, was Marion Crawford’s Cecilia,1 which yields whatever satisfaction may be had from a book which is good enough to make one wish it better. It is the sort of book to be expected from a process of improvisation that can produce a semi - annual novel for a series of years; though Scott did that for fourteen years with results which are still considered satisfactory. The underlying theme of this novel is of interest, taking us into the realm of dreams without exposing us either to the modern “spiritual ” prurience or to the modern “ psychical ” terminology. The narrative possesses the familiar Crawfordian fluency, and there is some powerful writing in the early scenes. The theme is developed by a situation rather than by a plot, and the situation as the story proceeds is handled so tamely, even perfunctorily, that one is forced to think that the writer’s own interest in it must have flagged long before the inevitable solution is permitted to emerge. It is a pity that Mr. Crawford should not be able to reckon among his endowments the “ infinite capacity for taking pains, ” which, whatever its relation to genius, is essential to success, especially in the sustained forms of art. The book, if it had been written by some beginner, might have been called a work of promise. This would hardly be said of The Two Vanrevels,2 unless one stopped reading after the first three of its twenty chapters. Mr. Tarkington produced in Monsieur Beaucaire a singularly delicate example of an ordinary type of fiction. It was a sort of historical romance, reduced from the heroic size then in vogue to the gauge and tint of the miniature. Its success was a good success of its artificial kind. The Gentleman from Indiana was a romance reduced to modern terms, and not without glory braved the realist upon one of his favorite stamping-grounds, the middle West. The plot of The Two Vanrevels, on the other hand, is of so frankly, one had almost said so insolently, impossible a character, that in spite of the charming opening chapters it is difficult for the reader to withhold some feeling of irritation. That a young girl should live in a small town and be wooed for some time by two men without getting their names straight is improbable enough; and that five young men should stand upon the roof of a burning building and pleasantly wait for death until the heroine takes it into her head to rescue them is even preposterous. This kind of thing, however, is easily managed by readers who have a stomach for romance. It is the flimsiness, rather than the impossibility, of this story with which one has a right to be impatient. What are the conditions which can draw forth from a writer of such promise so careless an exhibition of his powers ? To answer the question would probably entail a resort to that ancient moaning of all critics about the perils of a sudden popularity.

The author has (since the Flood) been able to retort that critics are not, as a rule, subjected to that particular peril; and it must be admitted that popularity is not, in itself, an unmixed evil. It is even compatible with careful workmanship, and now and then the seal of its approbation takes some form of beauty which adds a new dignity to this despised quality of marketableness. One of the comeliest sets of books which have been recently published in America is the collected edition of Mr. F. Hopkinson Smith’s works.3 These ten volumes, many of them illustrated by the author himself, are of so elegant and substantial a make-up that they ought to satisfy even a writer who is also a painter and a builder of lighthouses. Mr. Smith’s versatility is shown by the pretty even division of this edition into novels, short stories, and sketches of travel. It is in his travel sketches that he has made his most important contribution to contemporary literature. It is a pity that this once popular sort of writing should be now almost out of vogue. The “special article ” retailing information about strange places appears to have supplanted it in public esteem much as the article founded upon reason and intended to instruct has supplanted the creative essay. That old-fashioned sketch of travel was a delicate mode of art, a record of impression and temperament rather than of stolid fact. There is hardly a literary form in which Americans have more strikingly succeeded, from the appearance of Irving’s Alhambra papers to the Castilian Days of Mr. John Hay, and the delightful books of Mr. Howells and Mr. Aldrich. Among somewhat younger writers Mr. Henry van Dyke and Mr. Hopkinson Smith are perhaps worthiest of rank in this good company.

It would be hardly too much to say that most great writers of English prose have done something notable in this vein. An interesting item, and one which will be unfamiliar to many readers, in the new pocket edition of Fielding,4 is the Journal of a Voyage to Lisbon, a travel sketch of a remarkable sort. The circumstances of this journey are as unpromising as need be, the flight for life of a man well on in years and stricken with a painful and incurable disease. Signs of his condition do appear in the particularity with which he enumerates his symptoms; but he displays an equal accuracy and enthusiasm in recording his bill of fare. He complains only of the avoidable delays and vexations which the voyage seemed fated to encounter; and on every page is written the humor, the candor, the unfeigned enjoyment and unlabored understanding of human nature which throughout his work mark Henry Fielding as one of the keenest eyes and one of the warmest hearts the world has known. Other valuable material is included in The Miscellanies which contain the Voyage to Lisbon: notably Fielding’s best plays, and some examples of his journalistic work. Mr. Saintsbury also takes satisfaction in including among the novels The History of the Life of the Late Jonathan Wild the Great. Mr. Saintsbury has a great enthusiasm for the book. “Fielding has written no greater book,” he says. “It is his Tale of a Tub . . . compact of almost pure irony. And nothing can be more certain than that pure irony is relished with a genuine and unaffected relish only by a very small number of persons. To those who do relish it, there is nothing quite so delicious. Not only does the special taste of it never pall, but, unlike other special tastes, it communicates to the whole of life a flavor, now of consolation, now of heightening. To the most poignant individual enjoyments of sense or intellect, to the most genuine admiration of beauty or sublimity, in the persons, the actions, the works of others, it contributes that reflex sense of the other side, of the drawback, of the end, which is required to save passion from fatuity and rapture from cloying. Disappointment, ill-success, sorrow in personal experience, disgust, contempt, indignation in regarding the works and the ways, public and private, of others, it consoles and sweetens with the other sense of compensation, of comprehension, of the revanche. But it is an unusual, and it may be an unhappy, temperament that can always adjust itself to the ironic view. For that view necessitates on one side a certain mystical faith; on another, a readiness to laugh at oneself, the acutest if not the wholesomest of pleasures; on yet another, an extreme tolerance ; on another still, an immense pessimism. No one who has not said to himself, when he has just indulged in an expansion of heart or pen, ‘ You idiot! ’ no one who, when he has met with a disappointment or an injustice, has not said to himself, ‘ The fools were right after all; ’ no one who does not feel that if he ever swayed an audience as speaker or actor, obtained a striking success with a book, or in other ways obtained greatness, his first reflection would be ‘ O sancta simplicitas ! ’ can thoroughly enjoy Jonathan Wild.”

All this did not intend to be quoted here, but it is so excellent an example of the pregnant discursus with which it is Mr. Saintsbury’s somewhat prodigal habit to enliven his discussion of all manner of themes, and so valuable an observation in itself, that one wishes to pass it on. One may not be sure that this character of irony is especially applicable to the Jonathan of Fielding, who indeed seems the creation of an irony somewhat obvious, certainly less restrained and subtle than that of Thackeray’s experiment in the same sort, Barry Lyndon. Whatever exception the reader may take to such idiosyncrasies of interpretation, he cannot fail to enjoy the urbanity and profit by the suggestiveness of Mr. Saintsbury’s introductory matter in the present edition, one of the most companionable and cheapest editions of Fielding ever published.

Another interesting reprint is the new collected edition of Lover.5 I do not know whether the younger generation still reads Handy Andy and Rory O’More with an added fillip of joy due to the conviction that it would be more virtuous to be reading Ivanhoe or The House of the Seven Gables. Possibly the cheap historical novel and the works of one Henty are now perused in that spirit — not so profitably, it is fair to assume. One of these guilty readers, at least, has been not a little surprised on re-reading these and other stories by Samuel Lover to learn how little reason there was for those youthful qualms. Not that the merry Irishman comes anywhere near Scott or Hawthorne or the other great masters of fiction, but beside the farcical activity for which the boy values, or once valued him, there is a deal of sound literary stuff in his work. His limitations are well stated in the excellent Introduction to the present edition by James Jeffrey Roche: “He developed no deep plots, made no subtle analyses of character, solved no social ‘ problems, ’ and, indeed, pictured life mostly as it was to be seen on the surface. His characters and their accessories hint of the stage, elemental, largely drawn, devoid, for the most part, of mingled or conflicting passions. Yet they are fixed in the reader’s mind, and each has an individuality not to be ignored or forgotten.” These novels contain, moreover, a deal of keen satire and hearty philosophy, as well as some of the best dialogue in English: — Apart from the novels, Lover, like Fielding, wrote plays, and, unlike him, produced some good songs. He was, indeed, in his own day considered no mean rival of Moore, whom he knew very well. In the volume of miscellaneous verse contained in the present edition there is much which is simply the commonplace of that feminine “keepsake” era, dripping sentiment breathed forth in bland butter-womanly metres, a product which pretty ladies have ceased to take seriously as poetry, but still find serviceable as song. There is something in music which makes one willing to be merely “Wafted back to that fairy isle Where the skies are ever blue, Where faithful ever is friendship’s smile, And hearts are ne’er untrue,” as Lover puts it on one occasion. Fortunately he does not always write for parlor music ; here is a poem to Mary, full of wooing zephyrs, murmuring streamlets, and tiny feet; and on the opposite page this jolly stave, among others: —

“ ‘ Don’t say popery, ’ cried the cook; ‘ it’s a dirty word! Say Roman Catholic when you spake of the faith.’

“ ‘ Do you think I would undhervalue the faith? ’ said Larry, casting up his eyes. ' Oh, Missis Milligan, you know little of me; d’ you think I would undhervalue what is my hope, past, present, and to come ? — what makes our hearts light when our lot is heavy ? — what makes us love our neighbors as ourselves? ’

Indeed, Misther Hogan, ’ broke in the cook, ' I never knew any one fonder of calling in on a neighbor than yourself, particularly about dinner time ’ —

“ ‘ What makes us, ’ said Larry, who would not let the cook interrupt his outpouring of pious eloquence — ‘ what makes us fierce in prosperity to our friends, and meek in adversity to our inimies ? ’

O Misther Hogan! ’ said the cook, blessing herself.

“ What puts the leg undher you when you are in throuble? why, your faith: what makes you below deceit, and above reproach, and on neither side of nothin’ ? ’ Larry slapped the table like a prime minister, and there was no opposition.”

“ But other O’Mayleys soon gather’d,
And, rattling down swiftly, the cudgels came clusthering,
With blusthering,
And oaths that McCarthy forever be smather’d !
And in mutual defacing ' God’s image,’
Both clans had a darlin’ fine scrimmage ! ”

The final couplet is a touch beyond Thomas Moore. On the whole, it is fair to suggest that, without possessing anything like Fielding’s richness and body of flavor, Lover’s work deserves to be read still for its lusty and kindly humor by a generation which is inclined to be sharp and over-particular in its taste, so far as it exercises taste at all.

The other books upon which this department has been especially wishing to comment are of a very different sort. They are not “mere literature; ” they are the product of study or observation and written for a practical end. They belong in fact to the class of book which commonly makes its little contribution to contemporary knowledge or speculation, and is forgotten. The force of such work may be transmitted, and continue to exist, but such a book can live, as a book, only when it has been written by a man who is, among other things, a creator. Such a book might, I think, be written by Robert A. Woods, who published some years ago a valuable study of the South End of Boston, which is now followed by a companionvolume upon the North and West Ends.6 As the work of six or eight different persons now at settlement work in those districts, the quality of the narrative is remarkably even, except for the four chapters written by the editor himself, which are noteworthy pieces of prose: a striking example, one would say, of the development of a vigorous and polished style by the application of a cultivated mind to a serious and absorbing practical theme. The volume is, in substance, a careful account of the make-up of the North and West Ends of Boston, the history of their topography, of their continually shifting social and racial components, and an analysis of their present conditions. The work will be particularly valuable to Bostonians, but contains much material of general interest.

Mr. Hapgood’s recent book 7 is undertaken in a somewhat different spirit. “I was led,” he says in his preface, “ to spend much time in certain poor resorts of Yiddish New York, not through motives either philanthropic or sociological, but simply by virtue of the charm I felt in men and things there. East Canal Street and the Bowery have interested me more than Broadway and Fifth Avenue.” Occasional visitors to New York who are impressed, or depressed, by the prevalence of the Hebrew type on Fifth Avenue and Broadway will be interested to learn from Mr. Hapgood that the German Jews, the prosperous class, many of whom were born in this country, and the Russian or Polish Jews of the Ghetto “hate each other like poison.” The writer’s description of the general customs of the Ghetto is sketchy, as it may well afford to be in the presence of the voluminous commentary of contemporary sociological writing. A large part of the volume, however, occupies itself with a comparatively little known element in that life, “the intellectuals,” the extreme modern Russian Jews of literary and social tendency, whose life is of the café rather than of the sweat-shop. It can hardly be said that Mr. Hapgood succeeds in investing his theme with charm. His method is a little dry; and it would have to be extraordinarily sympathetic to offset the effect of the repulsive cover and of the illustrations with which, for some inscrutable reason, the text is embarrassed.

These two books are the fruit of observation. The New Empire 8 and Anticipations 9 are the product of speculation based upon study of the past and the present. Mr. Adams attempts by a brilliant if somewhat vague method (whose vagueness is half concealed by an external definiteness and concreteness of statement) to adjust to a single economic postulate all manner of historical, geographical, and philosophical data. Mr. Adams does not fear to rush in upon ground which, it may be, is accustomed to a somewhat less confident tread. A sort of inspired assurance has always served as one of the most useful means of approaching truth, if not as the most certain means of attaining it. At the very least it is powerful in arousing interest and piquing conjecture in other minds. Whatever may be the absolute value of Mr. Adams’s conclusions (and the present writer ventures in all ignorance and humility to suggest the grain of salt),his speculations will probably succeed in prodding many lay minds into at least a momentary concern with various themes which it is ordinarily inclined to think merely dull.

Mr. Wells’s surmises take a somewhat more particular direction; they deal less with the vast interests of commerce and politics than with social and civic conditions. There are, however, few aspects of human life during the coming century concerning which he does not hazard some conjectures. His imagination is extraordinarily active in following out clues which he discovers in present conditions. Unfortunately it is hard for the reader of less daring mind to follow quite seriously Mr. Wells’s rapid progress from recognized facts to results so extreme and subversive of a civilization that has hitherto developed pretty slowly, and may be trusted, if it is going to the dogs, to take its own time for the journey. These books would, it seems, gain much in power from greater temperance of mood and method. They strike one, in the case of the second especially, as being neither quite sane nor quite fantastic; and the reader is likely to lay them down with the somewhat bewildered feeling of one who has strayed into a hall where some sort of entertainment is in progress and cannot quite make out at the end whether he has been listening to a profound lecturer on hygiene, or to a brilliant hawker of patent medicines. H. W. Boynton.

  1. Cecilia. By F. MARION CRAWFORD. New York : The Macmillan Co. 1902.
  2. The Two Vanrevels. By BOOTH TARKINGTON. New York: McClure, Phillips & Co. 1902.
  3. The Works of F. Hopkinson Smith. New York : Charles Scribner’s Sons. 1902.
  4. The Temple Fielding. Edited by GEORGE SAINTSBURY. London: J. M. Dent & Co. 1902.
  5. The Works of Samuel Lover. New Library Edition. With Introduction by JAMES JEFFREY ROCHE. Illustrated. Boston: Little, Brown & Co. 1902.
  6. The City Wilderness. Edited by BOBERT A. WOODS. Boston and New York: Houghton, Mifflin & Co. 1898.
  7. Americans in Process. Edited by ROBERT A. WOODS. Boston and New York: Houghton, Mifflin & Co. 1902.
  8. The Spirit of the Ghetto. By HUTCHINS HAPGOOD. New York: Dodd, Mead & Co. 1902.
  9. The New Empire. By BROOKS ADAMS. New York : The Macmillan Co. 1902.
  10. Anticipations. By H. G. WELLS. New York and London : Harper & Bros. 1902.