IF in all the world there had never been a printed page about Christmas, where, forsooth, would Christmas be to-day? Not inscribed, for one thing, on all the calendars of Christendom as the 25th of December, nor written down, for another, in whole libraries of books, as the universal festival of affection, of thoughts and words of kindness translated into deeds of kindness.
Christmas and books are thus, in the very nature of things, inseparable, and books have come to stand, with toys for the youngest and flowers for certain older friends, as the most natural medium for the expression of Christmas feeling. Therefore it is almost impossible, in this month of the year, to talk of shop without drifting into the realm of sentiment.
It is frankly shop to say that, as Christmas approached, we found our supply of the facsimile reprint of the first edition of Dickens’sChristmas Carol so nearly exhausted that we have made a second printing of this Christmas book par excellence. The American counterpart of the English classic of Christmas is Clement C. Moore’sA Visit from St. Nicholas, this year, for the first time, included in our list of Christmas publications. There has been no attempt to reproduce the typography of the poem as it originally appeared; but Mr. Bruce Rogers has clothed the little book in a dress of type and binding that imparts a true ‘period’ flavor, and, more than that, has taken the text, which has suffered various transmutations in its many reprintings, literally from the original (1837) edition. Whether you want to put your undiluted Christmas sentiment into an English or an American form, here are the classics by which either inclination may be gratified.
Puritanism was a pretty poor friend to Christmas, yet, according to Professor Palmer, in his article on ‘The Puritan Home’ in the November Atlantic, ‘it set great store on intellectual vigor and filled its homes with books.’ That is certainly to be counted to the credit of the Puritans, and we may now indulge a little pity for them becalise there were no Christmas books to swell their libraries. In Miss Frances Lester Warner’s Atlantic pamphlet, Merry Christmas from Boston, there is a lively reminder of the Puritan temper toward Christmas, drawn from that thesaurus of Puritanism, the diary of Judge Samuel Sewell. The judge had a Church of England neighbor, one General Nicholson, who went to church on Christmas Day, a Saturday, and on the Sunday that followed ‘was this Lord’s Day Rummaging and Chittering with Wheelbarrows etc. to get aboard at Long Wharf, and Firing Guns and Setting Sail.’ We are no advocates of Rummaging and Cluttering on the Lord’s Day ourselves, but the general who kept Christmas rather appeals to us, and we believe he would have liked the pamphlet in which he is brought to light again, and especially Mr. Maurice Day’s sketch of him — is he Chittering or Rummaging, or both, at the moment on which the artist has seized?
Since Mr. Day made his characteristic drawings for Miss Warner’s Merry Christmas, by the way, ’a Committee of Awards, appointed by the American Institute of Graphic Arts, has awarded him a first prize of $1000 in a competition for cover-designs. Mr. Day’s drawings for our little pamphlet are no better than they were before this honor was bestowed upon him; but the award constitutes a sort of imprimatur, in which we cannot help taking pleasure.
It is, indeed, always an agreeable pursuit to record the honors that befall our friends. One of the most notable of these has been the recent award of the ‘George Robert White Medal of Honor’ by the Massachusetts Horticultural Society, ‘for eminent service in horticulture,’ to Mrs. Francis King, of Alma, Michigan, the author of our recently published book, The Little Garden. This is the highest horticultural honor in the United States, and has been bestowed in the past upon the baker’s dozen of men in America and Europe whose names represent the most distinguished work in the field of horticulture, Professor Charles S. Sargent, Sir Harry James Veitch, and others. It has never before been awarded to a woman. It places on Mrs. King’s writing a seal of authority which cannot often be associated with so much of charm as she imparts to her work.
One reader of The Little Garden, himself an enlightened enthusiast in gardening, writing from Manitoba, calls it ‘the most inspiring and, withal, the most practical book on gardening I have ever read’; declaring further that ‘everyone who reads it. must become an amateur landscape architect, or be immune to the force of suggestion altogether,’ and that ' The Little Garden should be in millions of ordinary homes all over America.’ An Arkansas editor, preaching the gospel of loveliness and order, which are sadly lacking in the land, exclaims, ‘I wish I could afford to distribute 10,000 copies.’ We share his wish, and are hopeful enough to believe that, through a healthy division of labor, it is quite possible to achieve the end this generous editor has in view, and to achieve it even while the book is celebrating its first Christmas; for it is a book which at least 10,000 amateur gardeners might profitably begin to study and enjoy before the January thaw.
But there are still other honors to chronicle. The Mutineers, by Mr. Charles Boardman Hawes, has been chosen for printing in ’embossed type’ by the Perkins Institution for the Blind. Those who see have discovered in Mr. Hawes’s second story, The Great Quest, another remarkable addition to the shelf of marine adventure. In quite another field, another writer on our list, Alice Van Leer Carrick, author of Collector’s Luck, has received a gratifying ‘recognition’ in her appointment as consulting editor of a new magazine, Antiques, which is intended to provide for Americans what the London Connoisseur gives to English readers. The collector who has not yet had the luck to collect Collector’s Luck, the young in heart to whom Mr. Hawes’s books are still unknown, should certainly not be overlooked at this time.
How many readers of these pages are aware of our preparedness to forward any books on our list to any address they may specify? A special card, with a yawning blank to be filled with the Christmas giver’s name, inscribed in our best handwriting, stands ready for use. It is not nearly so bad as such things can be.
Then there are the Atlantic Christmas cards and prints. It is about as hard to describe these to any purpose as it is to write intelligible directions for tying a knot — and the phrasing of instructions for the production of a clove hitch has recently been proposed as a crucial test of one’s command over the English language. We can only ask our readers who cannot examine these prints for themselves to believe that our discretion in such matters is matched by our ability to tie a clove hitch - and in that we have long been proficient.
Was it not Lowell who called the more sumptuous volumes on his shelves ‘editions of looks’? A whole essay might be written, especially at Christmas time, on the relations between luxe and looks, the intrinsic and the skin-deep, the ‘good’ and the ‘cheap.’ The skeleton is easy enough to articulate. We shall clothe it with flesh only to the extent of saying that, in our limited edition of Bliss Perry’s Life and Letters of Henry Lee Higginson, we feel that the beautiful surface and the sound core have a singleness of quality that is far from common. It would be only tantalizing to talk about the limited edition of A Magnificent Farce, for the collectors had bespoken all the copies of it long before publication. Large-paper copies of the Letters of William James, published a year ago at the same time with the regular edition, are still available. So, too, are copies of the Scholar’s Letters to a Young Lady, published only in a limited edition, which has now been almost wholly absorbed by the knowing readers who do not want to find themselves without the single existing book devoted entirely to the unique personality of Professor Child of Harvard. As for luxe and looks, there was never a shrewder discriminator between them than he.
We should be doing ourselves, and the printers and binders who have done so well by us through the recent months of tribulation, a grave injustice, if we should give the impression, through talking about ’large-paper editions, that we have any misgivings with regard to the appearance of the ’trade editions’ of our books with two suits of clothing, and of those others which have only one, and that of the homespun sort. A year ago, when the Letters of William James appeared, the New Republic, commenting upon its outward form in the ’regular’ edition, spoke of the ‘two slim volumes which are a credit to American book-making, and which would have delighted the eyes of their fastidious author.’ This impression was not produced by accident, and it is not by accident that the trade editions of Mr. Newton’s new book, A Magnificent Farce, and Professor Perry’s Life and Letters of Henry Lee Higginson, are also greeted as good examples of the book-maker’s art. Mr. Underwood’s bear story of Wild Brother,Mrs. Van Rensselaer’sMany Children,Miss Turner’sZodiac Town may fairly be mentioned as typical products of the care that has gone into the making of all our new books. We have always admired the restraint of the advertiser who simply announces that his wares are good wares. If we have yielded to the monthly temptation to ‘blow up the trumpet in the new moon.’ let us do penance, and make the bare announcement that Atlantic Books are Good Books.
All this while we may have seemed to be drifting rather far from the Christmas sentiments with which we began these rambling remarks. With the slightest consciousness of transition we drift back to them, and venture to express the hope that all Christmas stockings capacious enough to accommodate Atlantic books may be well filled with them, and that those who give and those who receive may experience in the process one of the genuine pleasures of Christmas.