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No. 448. NEW SERIES. SATURDAY, JULY 31, 1852. PRICE 1-1/2_d._


A book belongs in a peculiar manner to the age and nation that produce
it. It is an emanation of the thought of the time; and if it survive
to an after-time, it remains as a landmark of the progress of the
imagination or the intellect. Some books do even more than this: they
press forward to the future age, and make appeals to its maturer
genius; but in so doing they still belong to their own - they still
wear the garb which stamps them as appertaining to a particular epoch.
Of that epoch, it is true, they are, intellectually, the flower and
chief; they are the expression of its finer spirit, and serve as a
link between the two generations of the past and the future; but of
that future - so much changed in habits, and feelings, and
knowledge - they can never, even when acting as guides and teachers,
form an essential part: there is always some bond of sympathy wanting.

A single glance at our own great books will illustrate this - books
which are constantly reprinted, without which no library can be
tolerated - which are still, generation after generation, the objects
of the national worship, and are popularly supposed to afford a
universal and unfailing standard of excellence in the various
departments of literature. These books, although pored over as a task
and a study by the few, are rarely opened and never read by the many:
they are known the least by those who reverence them most. They are,
in short, idols, and their worship is not a faith, but a superstition.
This kind of belief is not shaken even by experience. When a devourer
of the novels of Scott, for instance, takes up _Tom Jones_, he, after
a vain attempt to read, may lay it down with a feeling of surprise and
dissatisfaction; but _Tom Jones_ remains still to his convictions 'an
epic in prose,' the fiction _par excellence_ of the language. As for
_Clarissa Harlowe_ and _Sir Charles Grandison_, we have not heard of
any common reader in our generation who has had the hardihood even to
open the volumes; but Richardson as well as Fielding retains his
original niche among the gods of romance; and we find Scott himself
one of the high-priests of the worship. When wandering once upon the
continent, we were thrown for several days into the company of an
English clergyman, who had provided himself, as the best possible
model in description, with a copy of Spenser; and it was curious to
observe the pertinacity with which, from time to time, he drew forth
his treasure, and the weariness with which in a few minutes he
returned it to his pocket. Yet our reverend friend, we have no doubt,
went home with his faith in Spenser unshaken, and recommends it to
this day as the most delightful of all companions for a journey.

In the present century, the French and German critics have begun to
place this reverential feeling for the 'classics' of a language upon a
more rational basis. In estimating an author, they throw themselves
back into the times in which he wrote; they determine his place among
the spirits of his own age; and ascertain the practical influence his
works have exercised over those of succeeding generations. In short,
they judge him relatively, not absolutely; and thus convert an
unreasoning superstition into a sober faith. We do not require to be
told that in every book destined to survive its author, there are here
and there gleams of nature that belong to all time; but the body of
the work is after the fashion of the age that produced it; and he who
is unacquainted with the thought of that age, will always judge amiss.
In England, we are still in the bonds of the last century, and it is
surprising what an amount of affectation mingles with criticism even
of the highest pretensions. It is no wonder, then, that common readers
should be mistaken in their book-worship. To such persons, for all
their blind reverence, Dante must in reality be a wild beast - a fine
animal, it is true, but still a wild beast - and our own Milton a
polemical pedant arguing by the light of poetry. To such readers, the
spectacle of Ugolino devouring the head of Ruggieri, and wiping his
jaws with the hair that he might tell his story, cannot fail to give a
feeling of horror and disgust, which even the glorious wings of
Dante's angels - the most sublime of all such creations - would fail to
chase away. The poetry of the Divine Comedy belongs to nature; its
superstition, intolerance, and fanaticism, to the thirteenth century.
These last have either passed away from the modern world or they exist
in new forms, and with the first alone can we have any real healthy

One of our literary idols is Shakspeare - perhaps the greatest of them
all; but although the most universal of poets, his works, taken in the
mass, belong to the age of Queen Elizabeth, not to ours. A critic has
well said, that if Shakspeare were now living, he would manifest the
same dramatic power, but under different forms; and his taste, his
knowledge, and his beliefs would all be different. This, however, is
not the opinion of the book-worshippers: it is not the poetry alone of
Shakspeare, but the work bodily, which is preeminent with them; not
that which is universal in his genius, but that likewise which is
restricted by the fetters of time and country. The commentators, in
the same way, find it their business to bring up his shortcomings to
his ideal character, not to account for their existence by the manners
and prejudices of his age, or the literary models on which his taste
was formed. It would be easy to run over, in this way, the list of
all our great authors, and to shew that book-worship, as
contradistinguished from a wise and discriminating respect, is nothing
more than a vulgar superstition.

We are the more inclined to put forth these ideas, at a time when
reprints are the order of the day - when speculators, with a singular
blindness, are ready to take hold of almost anything that comes in
their way without the expense of copyright. It would be far more
judicious to employ persons of a correct and elegant taste to separate
the local and temporary from the universal and immortal part of our
classics, and give us, in an independent form, what belongs to
ourselves and to all time. A movement was made some years ago in this
direction by Mr Craik, who printed in one of Charles Knight's
publications a summary of the _Faƫry Queen_, converting the prosaic
portions into prose, and giving only the true poetry in the rich and
musical verses of Spenser. A travelling companion like this, we
venture to assure our clerical friend, would not be pocketed so
wearily as the original work. The harmony of the divine poet would
saturate his heart and beam from his eyes; and when wandering where we
met him, among the storied ruins of the Rhine, he would have by his
side not the man Spenser, surrounded by the prejudices and rudenesses
of his age, but the spirit Spenser, discoursing to and with the
universal heart of nature. Leigh Hunt, with more originality - more of
the quality men call genius, but a less correct perception of what is
really wanted - has done the same thing for the great Italian poets;
and in his sparkling pages Dante, Ariosto, Tasso, and the rest of the
tuneful train, appear unfettered by the more unpleasing peculiarities
of their mortal time. But the criticism by which their steps are
attended, though full of grace and acuteness, is absolute, not
relative. They are judged by a standard of taste and feeling existing
in the author's mind: the _Inferno_ is a magnificent caldron of
everything base and detestable in human nature; and the _Orlando_, a
paradise of love, beauty, and delight. Dante, the sublime poet, but
inexorable bigot, meets with little tolerance from Leigh Hunt; while
Ariosto, exhaustless in his wealth, ardent and exulting - full of the
same excess of life which in youth sends the blood dancing and boiling
through the veins - has his warmest sympathy. This kind of criticism is
but a new form of the error we have pointed out; for both poets
receive his homage - the one praised in the spontaneous outpourings of
his heart, the other served with the rites of devil-worship.

When we talk of the great authors of one generation pressing forward
to claim the sympathy of the _maturer_ genius of the next, we mean
precisely what we say. We are well aware that some of the great
writers we have casually mentioned have no equals in the present
world; yet the present world is more mature in point of taste than
their own. That is the reason why they _are_ great authors now. Some
books last for a season, some for a generation, some for an age, or
two, or more; always dropping off when the time they reach outstrips
them. One of these lost treasures is sometimes reprinted; but if this
is done in the hope of a renewed popularity, the speculation is sure
to fail. Curious and studious men, it is true, are gratified by the
reproduction; but the general reader would prefer a book of his own
generation, using the former as materials, and separating its immortal
part from its perishing body.

And the general reader, be it remembered, is virtually the age. It is
for him the studious think, the imaginative invent, the tuneful sing:
beyond him there is no appeal but to the future. He is superstitious,
as we have seen, but his gods are few and traditional. He determines
to make a stand somewhere; and it is necessary for him to do so, if he
would not encumber his literary Olympus with a Hindoo-like pantheon of
millions. But how voracious is this general reader in regard to the
effusions of his own day! What will become of the myriads of books
that have passed through our own unworthy hands? How many of them will
survive to the next generation? How many will continue to float still
further down the stream of time? How many will attain the honour of
the apotheosis? And will they coexist in this exalted state with the
old objects of worship? This last is a pregnant question; for each
generation will in all probability furnish its quota of the great
books of the language, and, if so, a reform in the superstition we
have exposed is no longer a matter of mere expedience, but of
necessity. We are aware that all this will be pronounced rank heresy
by those who assume the style of critics, who usually make a
prodigious outcry when a great author is mutilated, even by expunging
a word which modern decency excludes from the vocabulary of social and
family intercourse. This word, however - supposing it to represent the
mortal and perishing part of an author's productions - belongs not to
him, but to his age; not to the intellectual man, but to the external
and fleeting manners of his day and generation. Such critics usually
take credit to themselves for a peculiarly large and liberal spirit;
but there seems to us, on the contrary, to be something mean and
restricted in views that regard the man as an individual, not as a
portion of the genius which belongs to the world. Yet, even as an
individual, the man is safe in his entirety, for there is no project
of cancelling the printed works extant in our libraries, public and
private. The true question simply is: Are great authors to be allowed
to become practically obsolete - and many of them have become so
already - while we stand upon the delicacies and ceremonies of


London has been often compared to a wilderness - a wilderness of brick,
and so in one sense it is; because you may live in London all the days
of your life if you choose - and, indeed, if you don't choose, if you
happen to be very poor - without exciting observation, or provoking any
further questioning than is comprised in a demand for accurate
guidance from one place to another, a demand which might be made upon
you in an Arabian desert, if there you chanced to meet a stranger. But
London is something else besides a wilderness - indeed it is everything
else. It is a great world, containing a thousand little worlds in its
bosom; and pop yourself down in it in any quarter you will, you are
sure to find yourself in the centre of some peculiar microcosm
distinguished from all others by features more or less characteristic.

One such little world we have lived in for a round number of years;
and as we imagine it presents a picture by no means disagreeable to
look upon, we will introduce the reader, with his permission, into its
very limited circle, and chronicle its history for one day as
faithfully as it is possible for anything to do, short of the
Daguerreotype and the tax-gatherer. Our Terrace, then - for that is our
little world - is situated in one of the northern, southern, eastern,
or western suburbs - we have reasons for not being particular - at the
distance of two miles and three-quarters from the black dome of St
Paul's. It consists of thirty genteel-looking second-rate houses,
standing upon a veritable terrace, at least three feet above the level
of the carriage-way, and having small gardens enclosed in iron
palisades in front of them. The garden gates open upon a pavement of
nine feet in width; the carriage-road is thirty feet across; and on
the opposite side is another but lower terrace, surmounted with
handsome semi-detached villas, with ample flower-gardens both in front
and rear, those in the front being planted, but rather sparingly, with
limes, birches, and a few specimens of the white-ash, which in
summertime overshadow the pavement, and shelter a passing pedestrian
when caught in a shower. At one end of Our Terrace, there is a
respectable butcher's shop, a public-house, and a shop which is
perpetually changing owners, and making desperate attempts to
establish itself as something or other, without any particular
partiality for any particular line of business. It has been by turns a
print-shop, a stationer's, a circulating library, a toy-shop, a
Berlin-wool shop, a music and musical-instrument shop, a haberdasher's
shop, a snuff and cigar shop, and one other thing which has escaped
our memory - and all within the last seven years. Each retiring
speculator has left his stock-in-trade, along with the good-will, to
his successor; and at the present moment it is a combination of shops,
where everything you don't want is to be found in a state of
dilapidation, together with a very hungry-looking proprietor, who, for
want of customers upon whom to exercise his ingenuity, pulls away all
day long upon the accordion to the tune of _We're a' noddin'_. The
other end of Our Terrace has its butcher, its public-house, its
grocer, and a small furniture-shop, doing a small trade, under the
charge of a very small boy. Let thus much suffice for the physiology
of our subject. We proceed to record its history, as it may be read by
any one of the inhabitants who chooses to spend the waking hours of a
single day in perusing it from his parlour window.

It is a fine morning in the middle of June, and the clock of the
church at the end of the road is about striking seven, when the
parlour shutters and the street doors of the terrace begin to open one
by one. By a quarter past, the servant-girls, having lighted their
fires, and put the kettle on to boil for breakfast, are ostensibly
busy in sweeping the pathways of the small front-gardens, but are
actually enjoying a simultaneous gossip together over the garden
railings - a fleeting pleasure, which must be nipped in the bud,
because master goes to town at half-past eight, and his boots are not
yet cleaned, or his breakfast prepared. Now the bedroom-bell rings,
which means hot water; and this is no sooner up, than mistress is
down, and breakfast is laid in the parlour. At a quarter before eight,
the eggs are boiled, and the bacon toasted, and the first serious
business of the day is in course of transaction. Mr Jones of No. 9, Mr
Robinson of No. 10, and Mr Brown of No. 11, are bound to be at their
several posts in the city at nine o'clock; and having swallowed a
hasty breakfast, they may be seen, before half-past eight has chimed,
walking up and down the terrace chatting together, and wondering
whether 'that Smith,' as usual, means to keep the omnibus waiting this
morning, or whether he will come forth in time. Precisely as the half
hour strikes, the tin horn of the omnibus sounds its shrill blast, and
the vehicle is seen rattling round the corner, stopping one moment at
No. 28, to take up Mr Johnson. On it comes, with a fresh blast, to
where the commercial trio are waiting for it; out rushes Smith, wiping
his mouth, and the 'bus,' swallowing up the whole four, rumbles and
trumpets on to take up Thompson, Jackson, and Richardson, who, cigars
in mouth, are waiting at a distance of forty paces off to ascend the
roof. An hour later, a second omnibus comes by on the same benevolent
errand, for the accommodation of those gentlemen, more favoured by
fortune, who are not expected to be at the post of business until the
hour of ten. As Our Terrace does not stand in a direct omnibus route,
these are all the 'buses' that will pass in the course of the day. The
gentlemen whom they convey every morning to town are regular
customers, and the vehicles diverge from their regular course in order
to pick them up at their own doors.

About half-past nine, or from that to a quarter to ten, comes the
postman with his first delivery of letters for the day. Our Terrace is
the most toilsome part of his beat, for having to serve both sides of
the way, his progress is very like that of a ship at sea sailing
against the wind. R'tat he goes on our side, then down he jumps into
the road - B'bang on the other side - tacks about again, and serves the
terrace - off again, and serves the villas, and so on till he has
fairly epistolised both sides of the way, and vanished round the
corner. The vision of his gold band and red collar is anxiously looked
for in the morning by many a fair face, which a watchful observer may
see furtively peering through the drawing-room window-curtains. After
he has departed, and the well-to-do merchants and employers who reside
in the villas opposite have had time to look over their
correspondence, come sundry neat turn-outs from the stables and
coach-houses in the rear of the villas: a light, high gig, drawn by a
frisky grey, into which leaps young Oversea the shipbroker - a
comfortable, cushioned four-wheel drawn by a pair of bay ponies, into
which old Discount climbs heavily, followed perhaps by his two
daughters, bound on a shopping-visit to the city - and a spicy-looking,
rattling trap, with a pawing horse, which has a decided objection to
standing still, for Mr Goadall, the wealthy cattle-drover. These, with
other vehicles of less note, all roll off the ground by a quarter
after ten o'clock or so; and the ladies and their servants, with some
few exceptions, are left in undisputed possession of home, while not a
footfall of man or beast is heard in the sunshiny quiet of the street.

The quiet, however, is broken before long by a peculiar and suggestive
cry. We do not hear it yet ourselves, but Stalker, our black cat and
familiar, has caught the well-known accents, and with a characteristic
crooning noise, and a stiff, perpendicular erection of tail, he sidles
towards the door, demanding, as plainly as possible, to be let out.
Yes, it is the cats-meat man. 'Ca' me-e-et - me-yet - me-e-yet!' fills
the morning air, and arouses exactly thirty responsive feline
voices - for there is a cat to every house - and points thirty aspiring
tails to the zenith. As many hungry tabbies, sables, and
tortoise-shells as can get out of doors, are trooping together with
arched backs upon the pavement, following the little pony-cart, the
cats' commissariat equipage, and each one, anxious for his daily
allowance, contributing most musically his quota to the general
concert. We do not know how it is, but the cats-meat man is the most
unerring and punctual of all those peripatetic functionaries who
undertake to cater for the consumption of the public. The baker, the
butcher, the grocer, the butterman, the fishmonger, and the coster,
occasionally forget your necessities, or omit to call for your
orders - the cats-meat man never. Other traders, too, dispense their
stock by a sliding-scale, and are sometimes out of stock altogether:
Pussy's provider, on the contrary, sticks to one price from year's end
to year's end, and never, in the memory of the oldest Grimalkin, was
known to disappoint a customer. A half-penny for a cat's breakfast has
been the regulation-price ever since the horses of the metropolis
began to submit to the boiling process for the benefit of the feline

By the time the cats have retired to growl over their allowance in
private, the daily succession of nomadic industrials begin to lift up
their voices, and to defile slowly along Our Terrace, stopping now and
then to execute a job or effect a sale when an opportunity presents
itself. Our limits will not allow us to notice them all, but we must
devote a few paragraphs to those without whom our picture would be

First comes an ingenious lass of two or three-and-twenty, with a
flaming red shawl, pink ribbons in her bonnet, and the hue of health
on a rather saucy face. She carries a large basket on her left arm,
and in her right hand she displays to general admiration a gorgeous
group of flowers, fashioned twice the size of life, from tissue-paper
of various colours. She lifts up her voice occasionally as she marches
slowly along, singing, in a clear accent: 'Flowers - ornamental papers
for the stove - flowers! paper-flowers!' She is the accredited herald
of summer - a phenomenon, this year, of very late appearance. We should
have seen her six weeks ago, if the summer had not declined to appear
at the usual season. She is the gaudy, party-coloured ephemera of
street commerce, and will disappear from view in a fortnight's time,
to be seen no more until the opening summer of '53. Her wares, which
are manufactured with much taste, and with an eye to the harmony of
colours, are in much request among the genteel housewives of the
suburbs. They are exceedingly cheap, considering the skill which must
be applied in their construction. They are all the work of her own
hands, and have occupied her time and swallowed up her capital for
some months past. She enjoys almost a monopoly in her art, and is not
to be beaten down in the price of her goods. She knows their value,
and is more independent than an artist dares to be in the presence of
a patron. Her productions are a pleasant summer substitute for the
cheerful fire of winter; and it is perhaps well for her that, before
the close of autumn, the faded hues of the flowers, and the harbour
they afford to dust, will convert them into waste paper, in spite of
all the care that may be taken to preserve them.

Paper Poll, as the servants call her, is hardly out of sight, and not
out of hearing, when a young fellow and his wife come clattering along
the pavement, appealing to all who may require their good offices in
the matter of chair-mending. The man is built up in a sort of
cage-work of chairs stuck about his head and shoulders, and his dirty
phiz is only half visible through a kind of grill of legs and
cross-bars. These are partly commissions which, having executed at
home, he is carrying to their several owners. But as everybody does
not choose to trust him away with property, he is ready to execute
orders on the spot; and to this end his wife accompanies him on his
rounds. She is loaded with a small bag of tools suspended at her
waist, and a plentiful stock of split-cane under one arm. He will
weave a new cane-seat to an old chair for 9d., and he will set down
his load and do it before your eyes in your own garden, if you prefer
that to intrusting him with it; that is, he will make the bargain, and
his wife will weave the seat under his supervision, unless there
happen to be two to be repaired, when husband and wife will work
together. We have noticed that it is a very silent operation, that of
weaving chair-bottoms; and that though the couple may be seated for an
hour and more together rapidly plying the flexible canes, they never
exchange a word with each other till the task is accomplished.
Sometimes the wife is left at a customer's door working alone, while

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Online LibraryVariousChambers's Edinburgh Journal, No. 448 → online text (page 1 of 6)