The Hundred Worst Books

MAY, 1909


SOME years have passed since Sir John Lubbock offered assistance to the bewildered reader by sifting the world’s literature and selecting the Best Books. Since then many lists of the Best Books, in tens and multiples of ten, have been presented to the public. Enterprising publishers have put forth sets sold by subscription and warranted to be ornaments to any library.

I am not in a position to know whether the Best Books when organized into a battalion are more resorted to than before. I suspect that, like a company of the Ancient and Honorables, they are admired by the commonalty, and not subjected to very hard service.

But admirable as is the effort to mark the best, it is not a sufficient method of charting the vast sea of literature. The lighthouse is not placed in the middle of the channel, but on the dangerous reef. The mournful bell-buoy tells the mariner where not to go. For purposes of instruction in literature, the reefs and shoals should be properly marked. It seems strange that those who are interested in the study of literary style have not given more attention to the work of compiling lists of the Hundred Worst Books.

Here is a fascinating field for difference of opinion; and the debates can be carried on without acrimony. There is something unseemly in the controversies over the comparative merits of Shakespeare and Bernard Shaw, especially when, for chronological reasons, Bernard Shaw must have the last word. It is different when two deservedly obscure writers contend amiably for the lowest seat. No ill feeling can be provoked when each bows to the other and says, “After you.”

The question, what constitutes bad writing, has been complicated by the fact that teachers of English have so largely confined their attention to good, or at least to mediocre, writers. When therefore they have had occasion to use horrible examples, they have generally been content to point out the occasional slips which they discover in the better sort of books; unless, indeed, they are hardhearted enough to use Freshmen examination papers as clinical material.

In this way they put undue emphasis on minor faults, while not doing justice to those which are fundamental. For reproof and instruction there is nothing better than the thorough analysis of a book which has no redeeming qualities to distract from its main fault. It must be one of unimaginativeness all compact. There should be a careful anatomy of its melancholy. What is the secret of total lack of charm ? How is it that words can be made not only to conceal thought, but also to stifle all natural curiosity concerning the thought that might be concealed ? In what fields were the poppies grown from which this opiate was distilled ?

It is only in the first-hand study of consistently bad writing that we outgrow the schoolboy point of view: that bad writing consists in breaking the rules, and good writing in obeying them. At first sight, the rules of rhetoric seem as adamantine as the moral law. The commandments against barbarisms and improprieties are uttered with a stern menace. Such a natural locution as a split infinitive evokes the thunders of the law. The young writer grows timid, seeing that he is liable to give offense where none was intended. By purifying his style of all its natural qualities, he seeks through self-abnegation to follow the counsels of perfection and attain to “clearness, elegance and force.”

At last he discovers, with a sense of injustice, that the penalties are visited only on those who, in good faith, are trying, though unsuccessfully, to obey the laws. All is forgiven one who transgresses willfully and deliberately.

“ I do not care to be clear,” cries the new favorite; “ you will notice what pains I take to be obscure. As for elegance, I despise it.”

“Come to my arms, child of genius,” cries the delighted critic. “ Who cares for clearness and elegance in one who is strong enough to succeed without them ?”

The painstaking literary workman has a sense of injustice when he observes that virtue is not rewarded and that disobedience is praised. Elsewhere the good person is one who does what he is told to do and who performs the work that is expected of him. In literature, all this goes for nothing when measured against a bit of originality. Now, originality consists in not doing what is expected. When all eyes are fixed upon the target the trick is to hit something else. The thoroughly bad writer is one who in three hundred and fifty pages tells you exactly what you expected, in precisely the way you expected him to tell it. The business-like fidelity with which his plan is carried out renders it unnecessary for you to inspect the work. You feel that you can trust the author absolutely. A glance at the table of contents is sufficient ; you know that it will be carried out. You can acknowledge your indebtedness in the labor-saving formula of the polite tradesman, “ Thanking you in advance for your favor.”

It is not my purpose to furnish a list of the Worst Books. I do not think it would be within the power of any one to make a selection that would be universally accepted. The compilers of the lists of Best Books have the advantage that they are by well-known authors and have had the judgment of successive generations. One does not need to have a really comprehensive knowledge of literature to express a preference for the historic Milton over the inglorious Miltons, who might have written as well, but who unfortunately did n’t.

It is more difficult to distinguish the worst books. Like all the lower organisms, poor books multiply prodigiously, though the total number is kept down by a corresponding mortality. Here, as elsewhere, “ the destruction of the poor is their poverty.” The worst books sink speedily into the depths of oblivion. It is in these black waters that we must dredge for our specimens.

We must expect to take fisherman’s luck. It is as hard for some things to be forgotten as it is for others to be remembered. There, for example, was that sturdy Elizabethan, John Marston, who had the singular taste to dedicate his poems to Everlasting Oblivion. He says.

Let others pray
Forever their fair poems flourish may,
But as for me, hungry Oblivion
Devour me quick, accept my orison,
My earnest prayers which do importune thee
To veil both me and my rude poesy.

Instead of which, a new edition of the complete Works of Marston has been issued within a few years.

It is evident that no two lists of the Hundred Worst Books can be alike. There can be no consensus of the competent in regard to that which the competent usually shun. It is not necessary that there should be elaborate tests. All that can reasonably be expected is that a reader, remembering his least happy hours, should indicate the books which on the whole seemed preëminent in the quality of unreadableness.

It should be remembered that the habit of making collections of books on the ground of their worthlessness is not common, and the collector meets many discouragements from those who do not appreciate his point of view. I had an experience of this kind in Oxford. I had noted the absence in the English newspapers of those colored supplements which lend distinction to our Sunday newspapers, and which throw such a lurid light upon our boasted sense of humor.

I wondered as to what provision was made for the literary proletariat of Great Britain. A slight investigation at the news stands revealed the fact that the same pabulum was furnished to the public, only on a somewhat different plan. In Great Britain it is served a la carte instead of, as with us, table d’hôte. There are a host of little journals, of which Ally Sloper’s seemed the most popular, which contain the matter which is thrust upon us in the huge supplements. It occurred to me that it might be pleasant to make a selection of these papers of the Ally Sloper variety, and compare them with our more pretentious productions in the same line. An analysis of this literature, which was evidently devoured in Oxford in large quantities, might serve as the basis of an essay to be entitled “ Under the Shadow of the Bodleian,”

I had made a selection, and was about to complete the purchase, when the keeper of the news stand handed me the Hibbert Journal of Theology, saying with a firmness of conviction that overpowered my lighter desires, “ This, sir, must be what you are looking for.”

Though the systematic study of literary failures may be less attractive to some minds than the contemplation of successful efforts, there can be no question as to its usefulness. It stands in the same relation to formal rhetoric that pathology does to physiology. Certainly, a sound knowledge of the pathology of composition must be advantageous to one venturing upon so dangerous an occupation.

In compiling a list of the Hundred Worst Books one should carefully consider the necessary limitations of the inquiry. In the first place, it should be remembered that the word worst is used not in the moral, but in the strictly literary sense. The candidate for a place in the list must be bad, not as a man may be bad, but as a book may be bad. Now, the chief end of a book is to be read, and the lowest depth into which it can fall is to be unreadable. We must subordinate all other considerations to the effort to ascertain how it stands in this respect. Our judgment must be upon the degree of unreadableness. Is the book one which we should not read if we had anything better at hand, or is it of such a character that in a farm-house on a rainy afternoon it would not serve as a temporary alleviation of our disappointment at not finding a last year’s Almanac ?

In making tests, we must eliminate all prejudice. A book that awakens prejudice can have no place in the list of the Hundred Worst. A book that belongs there awakens nothing. If it makes you angry or scornful — it has done something to you. This is evidence of a certain degree of power. The test of really poor writing is that it produces no mental reactions.

Were there a popular contest, I suppose some one might propose the once well-known works of the Sweet Singer of Michigan. This would indicate that the essentials of poor literature are not understood. I have read every poem of the Sweet Singer with delighted surprise. The aberrations from ordinary usage gave a certain unforgettable quality to the work. On the other hand, I have read poems irreproachable in rhyme and rhythm, and when I had finished I not only did n’t know what it was about, — which was a small matter, — but, what was more important, I did n’t care.

In order to preserve the scientific character of the investigations, it would be necessary to rule out works by living authors, even though by so doing we exclude much interesting material.

By this exclusion we avoid the question whether literature is declining in quality, as it increases in quantity. The fact that there are vast numbers of poor books issuing from the press does not prove that there is any literary decadence. We should remember the way in which Junius in one of his letters to the Duke of Grafton denied that he had charged his Lordship with being a degenerate. “ The character of the ancestors of some men has made it possible for them to be vicious in the extreme without being degenerate.” The testimony of contemporaries in such a matter is notoriously unreliable. Read, for example, the Tears of the Muses by Edmund Spenser. Spenser would have us believe that the period in which he lived had reached the low-water mark of English genius. Each muse comes forward bathed in tears to lament the dismal heaviness of the times.

Clio reports that in her line there is “ nothing doing.” History is a lost art. She can

Finde nothing worthie to be writ, or told.

Melpomene bewails the fact that there are no longer any worthy tragedians.

But I that in true tragedies am skild,
The flowre of wit, finde nought to busie me :
Therefore I mourne, and pitifully mone,
Because that mourning matter I have none.

Gentle Thalia is in still worse plight.

O, all is gone ! and all the goodly glee,
Which wont to be the glorie of gay wits,
Is layd abed, and no where now to see;
And in her roome unseemly Sorrow sits.
And him beside sits ugly Barbarisme,
And brutish Ignorance, ycrept of late
Out of dredd darknes of the deep abysme.

One muse after another gives sad testimony. Only one person of real ability remains: —

Most peereles prince, most peereles poëtresse
The true Pandora of all heavenly graces Divine Elisa.

With the exception of the divine Elisa, all were “ borne of salvage brood.” No wonder that each muse wept immoderately.

Eftsoones such store of teares shee forth did powre,
As if shee all to water would have gone;
And all her sisters, seeing her sad stowre,
Did weep and waile and made exceeding mone ;
And all their learned instruments did breake ;
The rest untold no living tongue can speake.

In spite of these lamentations, one cannot help thinking that the sixteenth century averaged up pretty well. To be sure, men of genius were not as thick as blackberries; they seldom are.

Of course the same difficulty besets the compilers of the Best Books, when they allow contemporaries to compete. The author of a book of reminiscences of Oxford in the middle of the nineteenth century tells of a question put to the great Dr. Louth, then the head of Magdalen College and a great authority on literature. “ If the English Language were to become a dead language, who would be remembered and hold the place of a classic, as Cicero in the Latin?” Dr. Louth answered that in his opinion the name that would survive the general wreck of English literature would be that of Thomas Warton. Such judgments serve to point a wholesome moral: not to be too sure. Fame is like an absentminded hostess. She receives her distinguished guest graciously and assures him of her undying regard. When, a little while after, she meets him, she inquires, “ What name, please? ”

As my present purpose is simply to call attention to some of the most salient characteristics of poor writing, I shall confine my attention to two or three books that happen to be in my own library. I speak in this matter, not as an expert, but as an amateur. I have read a good many poor books, but I do not flatter myself that I know the worst. Nor do I feel that I have the ability ever to do so. There are books at which I can only gaze trustfully, as upon some land where no man comes or hath come since the making of the world. I have not the courage to explore these verbal wildernesses. If I were to choose a volume out of my limited collection to illustrate what a book ought not to be, it would be a modest little volume, published in the middle of the last century by the Religious Tract Society of London, and entitled Our Domestic Fowls. I have no doubt but that there are worse books than Our Domestic Fowls, but its faults are of such a typical character as to make it excellent material for a literary clinic.

The author, Mr. Martin, was capable of constructing sentences which were clear and which sometimes attained to a degree of elegance, but the effect of his work as a whole was to confound the understanding.

The reason is not far to seek. Like most poor books, Our Domestic Fowls was made to order. In the introduction we are told that the Committee of the Religious Tract Society had resolved to publish a volume each month adapted to the growing intelligence of the times. “ The series will be Original, Scriptural, Popular, Portable, and Economical; that is to say, the twelve volumes of a year will cost less than three half-pence per week.”

Such were the austere requirements of the committee. It appears that the more attractive subjects had been treated already by other authors. The Life of Julius Cæsar, Wild Flowers, The Solar System, Ancient Jerusalem, Self-Improvement, The Atmosphere, and Man in his Physical, Intellectual, Social and Moral Relations, had been developed in such a way as to “ supply valuable reading to a large number of people who could spare only time enough for the perusal of a small volume, and whose means would not allow of a more costly purchase.” The cream had been skimmed off before Mr. Martin appeared, but there was left for him one subject, Domestic Fowls, which he was required to treat in the same Original, Scriptural, Portable, and Economical fashion that characterized the rest of the series.

Here Mr. Martin made his fundamental mistake, which was in undertaking to write the book. Had he been left to choose his own subject, he might have done very well. Apparently he was a man of sound theological views, who at the same time had had some experience in poultry. Had he undertaken to write on either Systematic Theology, or ChickenRaising, he might have got on. It was in the attempt to do both at the same time, in order to fulfill the requirements of the committee, that he came to grief.

I have no doubt that the one hundred and ninety-two pages of this little book were the cause of much mental anguish to Mr. Martin. The evidence of divided aim is but too apparent. No sooner did he become interested in describing the raising of ducks than his conscience would smite him with the thought that some reader was hungering for a scriptural application, and he would suddenly remark, “Whether ducks, geese, or other waterfowl were used as food by the Ancient Hebrews does not appear from any passage in the scriptures. They do not seem to have been interdicted, and as the Hebrews must have witnessed the extensive consumption of these birds while sojourning in Egypt, especially ducks and geese, they perhaps may have adopted their use.” On the other hand, he says that it is just as likely “ that, influenced by their feelings of aversion with respect to Egyptian rites and ceremonies, the Hebrews may have regarded ducks and geese with disgust.”

The arguments on either side are alike plausible, but they serve to interrupt the train of thought of one interested in the more practical aspects of the subject.

Mr. Martin begins his work by stating that “ the only history of man in his primeval condition is that contained in the book of Genesis.” Though Adam was given dominion, not only over the fish of the sea, but also over the birds of the air, it is doubtful whether he exercised this dominion in the case of domestic poultry. The author finds much difficulty in elucidating the question of the relation of the patriarchs to poultry, coming reluctantly to the conclusion that the patriarchs did not keep hens. He takes much comfort, however, in a “ casual and little noticed expression in the First Book of Kings,” that indicates that in the days of Solomon the domestic fowl was kept in Judea.

These investigations take Mr. Martin far afield. There is an apologetic note in his treatment of the turkey and guineafowls. “ As the guinea-hen and the turkey were originally imported from Central Africa and America, we can of course find no allusion to them in Scripture, but it is somewhat strange that the pheasant should not be noticed.” He attempts to explain the omission in two sentences, which I will quote as an example of Mr. Martin’s learned and clear style. After several readings, I confess I have not been able to follow his line of thought. He says, “We think, however, that an easy explanation may be given: when the waters of the deluge were assuaging, Noah selected two birds by way of experiment, the raven and the dove. The ark was left dry on Mount Ararat, probably in Armenia; we have then a brief narration of a series of important events extending over a period of three hundred and twentyseven years, and a list of generations, till we come to the injunction laid upon Abraham to leave his country and kindred. He passed with Lot to the land of Canaan, and thence into Egypt, with flocks and herds, his property; thenceforth he and his descendants led a nomadic life in Syria and Egypt, feeding their flocks and herds, their asses and camels. Consequently, that neither this elegant bird nor any other excepting turtle-doves and young pigeons common in Syria, and used as offerings, should be alluded to in the history of the patriarchs, may be readily accounted for.”

Mr. Martin was a good Protestant. Speaking of the guinea-fowl, he says that while it was originally from Africa it was carried to America, “ where it had been introduced with human bondsmen torn from their native soil to supply the place of the miserably slaughtered population of the Western World, and condemned to labor for the conquering white man, for him whose only passion was, under the veil of popish religion, the accursed thirst for gold.” One would hardly have expected that the discussion of the guineahen would have given such a good opportunity to get a whack at the Papacy.

Mr. Martin’s condition is described in the title of one of Tennyson’s poems, “Confessions of a Second-rate Mind not at Unity with Itself.”

Here is a paragraph in which Mr. Martin struggles with different phases of his subject with his usual lack of success: —

“ Of the utility of the fowl as an article of food, and of the goodness of its eggs, little need be said, all are aware of the great numbers of the former consumed in the metropolis alone, and, with respect to the latter, thousands are annually imported from France to meet the demands of the market. In all ages the cock has been celebrated as the harbinger of the morn, the herald of the sun, whose clarion sounds before the break of day. Watch ye therefore, for ye know not when the master of the house shall come, at even or at midnight or at the cock-crowing,”

The lack of unity in this paragraph must strike the most uninstructed reader, and yet it arises from conscientious motives. The writer is always going back to the subject as prepared by the committee. It is the same fatal impulse which is said to lead the murderer to revisit the scenes of his crime. Mr. Martin cannot forget for a moment his great responsibilities. He is always afraid lest his moral should get away from him. His motto is Poultry and Theology, one and inseparable.

When he is calculating the profits arising from hens that can be induced to devote their energies to laying eggs rather than to sitting on them, he rises into the sphere of Natural Theology. “ It must have struck even the most superficial observer that the extraordinary fecundity of gallinaceous fowls is a wise and most benevolent dispensation of Providence to provide more abundant food for man.”

Having made this edifying observation, he feels that he has discharged a spiritual duty and may return to a more utilitarian treatment of the subject.

For a hundred and eighty-nine pages Mr. Martin struggles manfully with his subject. He is about to give us information as to the breeding of swans, when he suddenly determines to bring his dissertations to an end.

“ Here, then, we may close our account of the birds legitimately coming under the head of domestic poultry. A few words may be permitted on another subject.” This subject is really number 14 of the Series, “ Man in his Physical, Intellectual, and Moral Relations.” It is this subject which Mr. Martin has been hankering for all the time. He has only four pages, but he devotes it to The Fall of Man. “ Man fell from his first estate, and the human race now stands as guilty, as criminal, as condemned by the law, to break one tittle of which is to break the whole.”

Gathering together the threads of argument which he had left at loose ends in the various chapters on the gallinaceous fowls, he makes a fervent appeal to the sinner, and ends his book in gentler tone, with a few comforting reflections for the saints. “ Even now the day is brightening, Christianity can number among its sincere professors men of every clime, from the ice-bound north to the sunny isles of the southern seas, the skinclad Greenlander familiar with the waves, the hardy Russ and Slavonian, the Anglo, the Frank, the Hindoo, the Negro, the Red Rover of the American forest, and the fierce Polynesian, once an idolater and a cannibal.”

With this elegant peroration, Mr. Martin brings his book on Our Domestic Fowls to an abrupt conclusion.

This work is useful in suggesting the cause of much unfortunate writing. The author has not a free hand. It is a case of too many cooks spoiling the broth. A committee may do many things well, but. it cannot produce good literature. To draw an illustration from the field with which Mr. Alartin was familiar, we may say that in literature artificial incubation is not a success.

One may observe the effects of outside influences in the labored style of government reports, inaugural addresses, orations on important occasions, and in prize poems and essays.

The dreariness of the official productions of the poets laureate of England is a case in point, for many of these gentlemen in their private capacity have been real poets. But their style invariably took a turn for the worse when they began to write as contract laborers.

The productions of this sort are like the early attempts of the heavier-thanair flying machines. The machine was first lifted to an elevated platform. After that its flight consisted of laborious flopping that concealed, but did not overcome, the force of gravity.

Colley Cibber, who, after being made Poet Laureate, was elevated to the position of hero of “The Dunciad,” complained that there was nothing which the unmannerly wits of his day liked better than “ a lick at the laureate.” It is a sport which is still enjoyed.

Why do the favorites of royalty write so badly when they are elevated into a place of such dignity ? Boswell reports Dr. Johnson as saying of Cibber: “ His friends give out that he intended his birthday Odes should be bad; but that is not the case, sir.” This charitable view seems also the reasonable one. It is not necessary to suppose that the almost uniform badness of official poetry comes from deliberate malfeasance in office. The honest poet does his best to earn his salary, and to give his patrons their money’s worth. But something happens to him. It is impossible for him to deliver the goods.

Suppose Robert Burns, in an unfortunate moment, to have been honored with the laureateship. He receives an order to produce a short poem for the king’s birthday. “ Throw off just a simple little thing, like the lines you wrote when you were ploughing. His Majesty prefers simplicity.”

Poor Burns! He cannot make King George seem as interesting a subject as a field mouse. All the felicities of speech desert him. He can only render unto Cæsar the things that are Cæsar’s, which, truth to tell, are quite dull.

If patrons in former times were the cause of much bad writing, publishers in these days are not without their burden of guilt. The unwary writer commits himself to a literary project which is foreign to his genius. The conflict between what he wants to write, and what he is paid to write, destroys all spontaneous charm. The commercialization of literature bears its own penalty. The literature that is made to order, following the specifications of the buyer without regard to the moods of the producer, is bound to be bad. Under these circumstances the production of a skilled writer will not be so bad as the work of a novice, but at best it will only be a merchantable specimen of his own worst manner. It must necessarily be so, as it is his work with himself left out. The inability to write well unless one has something he wants to write is, as the author of Our Domestic Fowls would say, “ a wise provision.”

I have confined my attention to prose. To carry the investigation into poetry would be too painful. I have only one book of poems which I purchased because I suspected that it was bad, and in this adventure I hazarded only fifteen cents. I was attracted by the title, Poems by Jones. If the author’s initials had been given I should not have bought the book. The stark title promised something rigidly unpoetic, and the promise was fulfilled.

Jones published his poems in 1759, and with the exception of a lady who left some rose-petals between the leaves, I flatter myself that I am the only person in one hundred and fifty years who has read the book.

The principal poem is entitled “ Philosophy, a poem addressed to the ladies who attended Mr. Booth’s lectures in Dublin.” Mr. Booth, it appears, lectured on natural philosophy.

Jones describes the way in which the ladies listened to the lecture and watched the experiments in physics: —

What pleasing fervours in each Bosom rise
What deep attention and what fixed surprise.

We can almost see “ the fixed surprise ” of the eighteenth-century ladies as the experiments came out just as the lecturer said they would.

Well does the poet say, —

Thrice happy few, that wisely here attend
The voice of Science and her Cause befriend.
To you bright nymphs whose wisdom charms us most,
The pride of Nature, and Creation’s boast,
To you Philosophy enamoured flies
And triumphs in the plaudits of your eyes.

That was very flattering, and I like to think that the rose-petals were left in the book by one of the lecture-going ladies of Dublin when it was last opened in the winter of the year 1759.

In the title of another poem, Jones unconsciously lets us into the secret of the Art of Poetry as it has been practiced in all ages by the world’s poets. It is a poem entitled, “To the Reverend Dr. Mann, occasioned by the author’s asking him for a subject to write on, and his saying he could think of none.”

The poet, having no ideas of his own and being unable to borrow any from his friends, falls into a gentle melancholy. In attempting to express this melancholy sense of intellectual destitution, he is greatly surprised to find that he has written a poem of considerable length.

Standing on the same shelf with Our Domestic Fowls is another little volume of the same period — The Young Lady’s Aid to Usefulness and Happiness. It is difficult to tell what is the matter with this book. There are no obvious faults to attract the attention. There are no sentiments which could do the least harm to the delicate young lady portrayed on the frontispiece. Yet it has only been by a great effort of will that I have been able to read more than one sentence at a sitting. Dip into the book at any point, and you feel that you have read that page before.

Here is a specimen sentence, on page 122: “The particular suggestions are that the great object of education is to draw out, exercise, and develop the various faculties of our nature, that books and studies are the means of accomplishing this object, but as the strength and development of the mental powers depend upon the actual exercise of these powers rather than upon the particular studies and subjects on which the mind is exercised, it sometimes happens that those who are deprived of books and studies do by similar exercise of their minds upon the actual duties and trials of life, obtain the same or similar valuable results with others, and that consequently those young ladies who enjoy great advantages should remember that the value of their education will depend upon their own faithfulness in the right exercise of their mind, rather than upon the high character of the advantages they enjoy, while those who are deprived of these privileges may be encouraged to seek for the same valuable results in rightly meeting and rightly discharging the duties of life.”

This is what in the language of penology would be called an “ indeterminate sentence.”

The obvious criticism is that it is too long, and the attempt might be made to improve it by chopping it up into small pieces. This would be a makeshift like that of the cook who, when a piece of meat is too tough and tasteless to be served whole, has it minced.

There was a poem which I learned in my childhood in which the question is propounded:—

How big was Alexander, Pa,
The people call him Great ?
Was he like old Goliath tall,
His spear, a hundred weight ?

The answer was one that appealed to common sense: —

’T was not his stature made him great
But the greatness of his mind.

So one may say of the sentence in the Young Lady’s Aid, it is not its length that makes it tedious, but the tediousness of the author’s mind. This is apparent when we compare it with an equally extended sentence of Milton on the same subject.

Milton’s sentence sweeps everything before it. It fills every nook and cranny, and we are carried along by its uncontrolled energy. The sentence in the Young Lady’s Aid moves also, but it moves on a pivot. The same phrases reappear like the gilt chariots in a merrygo-round. To be reminded once of the trials and duties of life is salutary, but when the same trials and duties which gave solemnity to the first half of the sentence reappear in the second half, and we are again assured of the valuable results of education, the result is intellectual vertigo.

A comparison between selected passages from the Hundred Best and the Hundred Worst Books might throw light on the question how far education affects literary style. There is a field in which instruction avails. There are obvious faults that can be corrected, and there are excellences that can be attained, by training. But there is, beyond that, the field for native qualities.

There is an incommunicable grace of language which is “the glory of gay wits.” We may be taught to recognize it and to enjoy it, but we cannot be taught to imitate it. In any bit of writing it is either there or it is not there. If it is there, we are glad; if it is not there, the best teacher cannot correct the deficiency.

If the best is inimitable, so fortunately is the worst. The poorest writing must be accepted as a gift of Nature. Lord Chatham said of the members of Lord North’s cabinet, “ They have brought themselves where ordinary inability never arrives, and nothing but first-rate geniuses in incapacity can reach.” A study of the works of first-rate geniuses in literary incapacity will show that by no rearrangement of sentences or application of formal rules can they be greatly improved; for, in each case, the style is the man. The fact to be considered in regard to the worst writer is, not that he makes mistakes, but that he is a mistake.

We come back to the theory of the “ Dunciad,” where the Goddess Dulness, is described: —

Laborious, heavy, busy, bold, and blind,
She ruled in native anarchy the mind.

A learned footnote explains: " Dulness is here to be taken, not contrastedly for mere stupidity, but in the enlarged sense of the word for all slowness of apprehension, shortness of sight, or imperfect sense of things. It includes (as we see from the poet’s own words) some degree of boldness, a ruling principle, not inert, but turning topsy-turvy the understanding and inducing a confused state of mind.” No educational device has yet been invented by which sweetness and light may be extracted from this confused state of mind.