Atlantic Shop-Talk

A TEXT can be found for any sermon. The exhortation, ‘’Whenever a new book comes out, read an old one,’ is not, on the face of it, a fruitful theme for the publisher of new books. Neither is Emerson s counsel, ' Never read a book that is not a year old.’ Yet the publisher of books which are expected to live more than a single year may well take substantial comfort in these sayings. We have usually talked in these papers, shoppily enough, about our newest publications. Hut even the authors of those most beguiling— they have even been called immoral — productions, the seed-catalogues, do not spend all their energies on the ‘annuals’; certain pages are always reserved for the ‘perennials.’
It is indeed an article of our publishing creed that nearly every annual ought to grow into a perennial—a transformation to which we believe the horticulturalist rarely aspires. It takes more than one year to be sure that an annual has really become a perennial, and the Atlantic Monthly Press has been issuing books hardly long enough to warrant many generalizations. It is, nevertheless, an encouraging fact that the Atlantic Glassies, of which the first series appeared in 1916, and Essays and Essay-Writing, published in 1917,—to name only two of our educational books, — have firmly established themselves as objects of constant demand. Mr. Newton’s first book, The Amenities of Book-Collecting, now in its third large edition, was published in 1018, and Mrs. Parker’s biographical study of her husband, An American Idyll, appeared in 1919 and is now in its eighth edit ion. Further examples might be cited, but these will serve to suggest that the march toward the perennial has: definitely begun.
We should immediately resign all pretensions to prophecy if we fell any hesitation in affirming our belief that the Letters of William James, published last November, falls into the category of the books we have been discussing. The grounds for this confidence are abundant, and need not be enumerated. It happens that we have just been looking through a packet of clippings of the English criticisms of this book. One of them was adorned with a heading, ’A Professor with a Punch,’which served no particular purpose beyond illustrating the growing resemblance between British and American journalism. Congratulations may he bestowed ‘according to taste. In other clippings we came upon two passages which really seemed to throw light upon the
enduring quality of the book. One of them defined William James as ‘perhaps the only great philosopher with an active sense of humour — the spelling of quotations must be preserved! The other made the sweeping declaration that ‘in the whole of these two volumes there is not a selfish, a cruel, a priggish, or a dull sentence.’ It is because this is the essential truth that this biography, so largely an autobiography, is precisely what it is — one of the books that are just as new and just as vital in the second, third, or tenth year of their existence as in the first.
The Letters of William James have fallen into many hands, both here and in England, where the book was published soon after its appearance in America, and it is bound, in the nature of the case, to fall into many more. Another hook of letters which we published a year ago — A Scholar’s Letters to a Young Lady: Passages from the Later Correspondence of Francis James Child — has another history, and another future. It was brought out only in a limited edition, and was not distributed to the reviewers of books. hat a recent editorial writer in the New York Times has called ‘ the sly Chaucerian humor of Professor Child and his letters was one of the qualities of the book which, like its peculiarly personal flavor, made ns feel a year ago that its appeal would be to the few, and that the many might reasonably be expected to pass it by. But, in proportion to the limited numbers of copies that were printed, the few have become the many, or, to put it differently, it is now only the really few who can hope to secure copies of the book before the edition is quite exhausted. This, we believe, is preeminently a perennial —not in sales, for there will soon be no more to sell, but in the pleasure it will yield to its fortunate possessors.
We have yet to issue a special catalogue of perennials, a list of productions not primarily related to the demands of an impending Christmas bookseason. Yet by no means out of date. Were we doing so at this time, we should place near Its head The Founding of New England, by James Truslow Adams. This book was published in May of the present year, and in the course of the summer, when the eves of the country were fixed upon Plymouth, was recognized as a valuable and permanent contribution to early New England history. The truest test of the merit of any such book is probably’ to be found in the opinions it draws forth from scholars in the field to which it relates. These do not, as a rule, appear immediately upon the publication of a new book substantial and scholarly in character. But in the case of Mr. Adams’s book they are beginning to accumulate, and it is a comforting fact that they confirm the impression the book made upon us through all the stages of its production. I’rofessor Andrews, of Yale, for example, describes it in the ' Literary Review,’ of the New York Evening Post as ‘ the best treatise on tin’ history of New Lngland in the seventeenth century that has been written at any time for the scholar and general reader alike.’ Professor A. B. Hart, of Harvard, writing in the Outlook, declares that as respects the New Plymouth colonists, no book has appeared which so clearly and sympathetically follows their origin, adventures, and success. And in the Nation Professor MacDonald, of Brown, has written, ‘No other history of New Lngland of equal compass is now any longer worth reading, and all the larger histories must Ire corrected by this one.’ Here, we cannot help whispering to ourselves, is the stuff of which perennials are made.
Everyday Adventures, by Samuel Scoville, Jr., the Philadelphian who shows the city-dweller how easily and profitably nature can be explored even by commuters, is another of those Atlantic books which, if the gods had made us poetical, we should be tempted to call ‘bright shoots of everlastingness.’ This one has been within the reach of readers for little more than a year, but it has a sort of perpetual timeliness, though it really ought to be read before the author’s next book, a collection of animal stories, is issued by the Allantic Monthly Press in the course of 1922. A second book is vastly better for having read a first!
So much of our talk this month has had to do with the books of previous seasons that the casual reader may wonder whether our new books are not worth talking about. If he is also a regular reader he will remember that in recent months we have had a great deal to say about them. It is not yet lime to report the good opinions they have won from others than ourselves, as we have just been doing in relation to other books. The James Letters appeared so late last year that it was hardly a Christmas book at all. The Founding of New England has just entered its first autumn season, and the reasons for counting other books among the Christmas possibilities of 1921 are abundant. But the new books — such as A Magnifieent Farce, The Life and Letters of Henry Lee Higginson, The Great Quest. Wild Brother, The Seven Ages of Man, Many Children, Zodiac Town, and The Little Garden—well, our advertising pages speak for our own belief in these; and in future months we shall doubtless have many reports to make upon the reception they are meeting from rentiers who have not seen them in manuscript and proof.
And since we arc not of those who subscribe lo the motto, Do your Christmas shopping early —on the morning of December 24, this seems the very best time to mention the fact that the Christmas Prints which we have published in other years are now increased in number by three uncommonly attractive additions. The first of these is a little pamphlet. Merry Christmas from Boston, written by Miss Frances Lester Warner of the Atlantic staff, author of Pilgrim Trails, and illustrated by Mr. Maurice Day, whose drawings for The Firelight Fairy Book and that veritable perennial, Christmas Eve on Beacon Hill, contributed so much to their success. This new Christmas keepsake has an authentic, if humorous, flavor of history which gives it far more than a local appeal. Of the remaining two, a reprint of ‘A Visit from St. Nicholas,’ and a Christmas message, ‘The Best Wishes of the Season,’ it is perhaps enough to say at this moment that Mr. Bruce Rogers is responsible for the physical form of the one, and Mr. Cpdike, of the Merrymount Press, for that of the other. What these names mean to those who recognize the very best products of the printing art, it would be superfluous to say.
It is only a year since a rival claimant for the authorship of ‘A Visit from St. Nicholas,’ was presented to the reading public, and the abdication of the long-acknowledged author. Clement C. Moore, was requested. We have been steadfast to Moore, as our new reprint of the American Christinas classic will testify. But lo, another Richmond in the held! A New York weekly, which shall be nameless, — we all live in glass houses, and who shall say where an error has its beginning? —announced in September: ‘The Atlantic Monthly Press will publish next month “A Visit from. St. Nicholas,” by Bliss Perry, with typographical treatment by Bruce Rogers.’
Bliss Perry ! Why, of course —the Visit from St. Nicholas for which he will he responsible this year is symbolized by a copy of his Life and Letters of Henry Lee Higginson! It does not always happen that such things are so easily explained by an obvious association of ideas.
This is the kind of thing they will address to editors: —
I sent thee late a manuscript,
Not so much honoring thee,
As giving it a hope — at last —
That it might published be.
But thou thereon didst only smile,
And sent’st it back to me;
Since when, I swear, its fate was due
Not to itself but thee!