Literary Stunts


THERE are certain feats of reading that may well be termed “ literary stunts.” A “stunt” is, I take it, a somewhat difficult and senseless performance undertaken through recklessness or bravado, or because some one else has undertaken it, or has not undertaken it. We have all seen children “playing stunts.” Some of us, no longer children, keep up the game, enjoying the feats more or less at the time, but, as with the children, the chief delight comes in boasting about them afterwards, — in shrieking, metaphorically : “You ain’ done this! I done it! Fraid cat! Scare cat! See me, I done it twice! An’ I ’d do it again, if you wan’ me to.” And there is apt to be the mild answer, “ Huh ! I could too, only I don’ wanto.”

I have been a good “stunter ” in my day, let me have my boast. I have done these things. Have you? Or could you an you would?

I have read Clarissa Harlowe. Unabbreviated ! Twice! I mention this among the “stunts,” because, before I began it, I thought it was going to be a difficult performance; most people think so. But it is not; it is a delightful recreation. If you take it leisurely, sensibly, not anticipating, not skipping, not looking ahead, not thinking of the end, you will, if you have appreciation of real things, thoroughly enjoy the reading from the first letter of volume I. to the last of volume VIII., or XII., or however many volumes your edition comes in. I recommend one of the early editions; they are common enough, cheap, pretty to look at, and nice to hold, — and you may find tear blots on the pages.

I have read the second part of Faust, — which, as I have not a German mind, and could not read it in the original, was a dreary task. I have read Paradise Regained, and the second part of The Pilgrim’s Progress, — legitimate “stunts,” though not so long and difficult as some.

Alas! I have “been through” Thackeray. I have read the Miscellanies, the Contributions to Punch, the Unidentified (a curious title) Contributions to the same, and, worst of all, I have waded through the maudlin Adventures of Philip. For doing this I should have crimination; it ’s an unkind thing to do if one loves Thackeray. These things should be burned along with Keats’s letters to Fanny Brawne, the Brownings’ letters, and Charles Reade’s reform tales; then no one could read them out of a mistaken sense of loyalty to their writers. Most of us have, at some time, had the idea, I suppose, that it shows loyalty to a favorite author to read “everything he ever wrote.” It is not loyal, —it is disrespectful; one should not go through all closets, even if the author, or some one else, has been unwise enough to present the keys.

I have read the whole of The Faëry Queene, — truly a delight; not a feat save in the uncommonness of the accomplishment. I have read The Song of Roland and Orlando Furioso.

I have read Isis Unveiled.

I have read the Bible from the first word of Genesis to the last of Revelation, skipping not the ceremonials nor the “begats;” the Apocrypha, the Apocryphal Gospels, and the works of Flavius Josephus.

I have read Endymion through three times, and The Revolt of Islam twice, — these latter on the border land between pleasure and a task.

Among my more modern and less interesting feats (I am speaking only of voluntary feats, as paid reader I have been through unspeakable things) was the reading of sixteen of Mr. Howells’s novels inside of two weeks; getting to the end of Miss Wilkins’s The Heart’s Highway, — undertaken because I am a sincere admirer of Miss Wilkins’s work; the continuous reading of a “humorous book, ” too recent to mention by name; and the finishing of two novels and three volumes of poems by friends.

Of late I have given up “playing stunts; ” but there is one I had always set myself, which I am sorry I have not accomplished. Perhaps I shall do it some time, though it looms more appalling as time goes on, —and that is the reading of Wordsworth’s The Excursion in its entirety. I doubt if there is a soul living who has accomplished this hopeless task. If there is, he has my admiration, — my “ stunts ” would seem to pale and wither before this feat despite the fact that the poem is not so very long; and yet to think of reading it — through!