Francis Hall.

The Century, Volume 11 online

. (page 25 of 163)
Online LibraryFrancis HallThe Century, Volume 11 → online text (page 25 of 163)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

never nods ; all is brisk life, hurry, and joyousness.
In the Russian book we get, in the midst of a long-
sweeping sleigh journey over snowy steppes, a sud-
den photograph. It is only a beautiful young Jew-
ess in rags in some squalid Polish town, but the
hand that drew her was masterly in its own way,
and the picture remains.

* A Winter in Russia. Translated by M. M. Ripley.— Con-
stantinople. Translated by R. H. Gould from the French of
ThtephOe Gamier. New York : H. Holt & Co.

Digitized by





Nad«l*B •* XmpreMions of London Social Life.** •

The leading sketches in this volume won recog-
nition upon their first appearance in the magazines,
not only for the correctness of thdr descriptions,
but because they showed the touch of a new hand
in our literature. In their present form, the reader
will, we think, be more than ever impressed by the
qualities which first attracted him.

If we should say that Mr. Nadal's book bore the
same relation to Emerson's " English Traits " that
the study of the landscape gardening of England
bears to the study of its geology, we should give,
doubtless, a false idea of Mr. Nadal's book, which,
while dealing in a discursive and very amusing man-
ner with the surface of things, does not foil also to
go occasionally to the very foundations. If in one
chapter we are treated to a most graphic and enter-
taining account of the Dancing School in Tavistock
Square, in others we find some of the most profound
observations upon English life and character which
have been made by any American.

In Hawthorne's " Our Old Home " we are aware of
a subtile (and not unnatural) assumption of spiritual
superiority — a tone which was doubtless aggravated
by the peculiar state of the author's mind— the bitter
melandioly of a high and tender nature — at the
time (during the war) when the book was in the
making. The present author does not betray a tone
like this, but certainly he does not seem to be troubled
by any painful sense of inferiority in the presence
of the mighty and the immemorial. There is no
assurance ; but, also, there is nothing that can dis-
turb the writer's critical temper. On the other hand,
whatever faults of style or treatment one might
detect, it would be easy to refer to a literary modesty
which prevents a proper self-appreciation. We some-
times feel that our author has not made the most of
his sentence ; sometimes that he has not done justice
to himself in the treatment of his subject

We speak of the new touch that is recognizable
in Mr. Nadal's writings. If we say that he re-
minds us of Charles Lamb, or of Thackeray, we
only mean that here is a writer, altogether original,
who has a charm of style, not borrowed from those
masters, but legitimately inherited. He has, too, an
esprit which will suggest the French, and is fortimate
in having escaped influences which have given to some
of our younger writers a self-conscious, microscopic
habit, of whose hinderance they must themselves be
sometimes keenly aware. And yet the self-con-
sciousness of the book is one of its charms. There
is a naivete which is not the original, genuine article;
nor is it, on the other hand, a matter of affectation.
It is this literary naivete which our author so skill-
fully makes use of. Take, for instance, this from
the chapter on ** Childhood and English Tradition : "
*« How ready is an American to greet in England
any realization of these dreams of his childhood !
With what pleased recognition does he exclaim:

*Impreauons of London Social Life, with Other Papers
suggested by an English Residence. By E. S. Nadal. Loo-
don: Macmillan & Co. New York: Scfibner, Annstrong &

' Oh, this is you ! * and < I have heard of you before*
I once went upon a visit to a friend of mine, who
was an officer in a yeomanry regiment, at that time
mustering in a town in one of the western shires of
England. The colonel, to whom I was introduced,
had been a younger son, had gone into the army,
and been to India. But he had come into his prop-
erty, and was now a country squire, with a large
family and handsome fortune. I at once recognized
the kind of man. They said he had eleven daugh-
ters. (What a fine old English sound they have ! )
During the mess dinner the regimental band plajred
from a hall adjoining. The colonel, who had put
me next him, said, < I wanted to see if the band could
play " Yankee Doodle," but I find they don't know-
it' ' How good of you ! ' I exclaimed, deprecating
the mention of such a distinction. ' Yes, yes,' he
answered, with the determined manner of one who,
though now an old rustic, perhaps, had yet, in his
youth, seen something of the world, and knew how
things should be done, < I believe in every honor
for the diplomatists.' As I sat there listenmg to his
honest talk, my mood grew strangely friendly.
' Should war's dread blast against them blow,' I fdt
that I wished to be ranged on the side of the kind
colonel and his eleven daughters."

The British swell is analyzed in these pages with
great cleverness. " When in England," the author
writes, " I saw that a swdl, so soon as he perceives
that his distinctions do not pay, relinquishes them.
It will be seen that these distinctions appeal for
admiration to persons in a certain middle conditk>n
of education. Those who appreciate such graces to
the full must be somewhat civilized, and 3ret some-
what immature. A degree of impressibiUty in the
men who look on is the condition of the exercise of
the swell's talent What sort of impression would
insouciance make upon a hungry tiger ? Nor would
it impress an educated and acute man who insists
upon submitting reverie to the test of definition and
criticism. It is to the shop-boy, and the writer for
the spring annual, that such graces appeaU"

Americans who suffer severely from the effect of
these graces when brought to bear upon themselves,
and who find a sweet solace in the critical pages of
Emerson, Hawthorne, and Lowell, will delight in
many such wittily philosophical passages as the
above ; but they will, too, find some bitter in their
cup of rejoicing, for the author does not spare Amer-
ican any more than English character. The word
bitter is, however, not lyell chosen, for we fail to
find bitterness here. The criticism throughout is
good-natured, though penetrating, and the author
purposely refrains from writing about the disagree-
able people whom he had the misfortune to meet

Perhaps the most timely word in Mr. Nadal's
book is his view of ** English and American News-
paper-Writing. " We think that newspaper men of the
more intelligent class will read this paper with inter-
est, and be glad to give its statements currency. It is
the faith of many newspapers, he says, that the people
do not like sense and information ; that they prefer
nonsense or commonplace which has the appearance
of originality. Our author thinks, on the contrary,

Digitized by




that the ** average man " is well contented with either.
** He likes sense and information, if they are not put
in such a way as to tire or shodc him. He is will-
ing enough to put up with commonplace which imi-
tates originality, for he finds nothing to object to in
the commonplaces ; but he has not sufficient confi-
<lence in his own judgment to detect the counterfeit
originality. But it is a mistake to imagine that there
is always a popular demand for any foolish fsishion
of writing which hi^pens to exist That very lack
of dxscriminatiott which marks the uneducated man
renders him quite as ready to acoq>t sense as non-
sense. But as nonsense only is given him, he accepts
nonsense. Who is he that he should set up his
<^nnion against persons who express themselves in
such fine and confident words, whose sentences are
printed in such elegant type, in papers sold at such
grand hotels, and scatter^ by the Uionsand in such
.great cities ? What is known as a popular demand
mi^t be more accurately described as a popular
acqmescenoe. It seems very formidable when we
think of the immense number of persons who form
it ; but then it is only skin-deep. Instead of a
popular state of mind being, as we are apt to think
it, a recondite and almost inscrutable matter, it is
oftener the result of an obvious and even contempti-
ble cause. Inst^ of there being a deep-seated and
diaiacteristic tas& with which public caterers must
comply, the fashion is often given the people from
above. After the fiuhion b fixed, men write in
aocordanoe with it, and explain its existence by the
fiction of a demand. "

Mr. Nadal has given us a very delightful volume,
— lull of good things that one feels like marking
with the pencil, or reading aloud, or quoting in a
^book notice; '' but we confess that these " Impres-
sions" most interest us by the promise of their
qualities. There are (biases of American life,— and
one of them at least he himself points out in the
paper on " English Sundays and London Churdies,"
— which are waiting for appropriate treatment at the
hands of a writer whose tone is so high and reverent
of truth, ijkrho has just such quick and subtile in-
right, just such exquirite poetic feeling, free from
an taint of sentimentality.

Mlaa Phelps's *'PMtlc Studies.'* •

Only those whose occupation it is to listen closely
to all the utterances and echoes of the period, in imag-
inative literature, can fully know the relief that comes
with hearing unexpectedly, amid the uproar, a single
note of genuine, spontaneous song. Such a note we
seem to distinguish in Miss Phelps's modest volume,
though the manner of uttering it is not quite so much
her own as we could wish it to be, seeing how fine
and how distinctive is the quality of her feeling. It
is not that one blames a poet for resemblances which
may be as natural as that close friends should have
kindred tastes, and members of one family develop
like features ; and, if Miss Phelps's poetic accent

* Poetk Snufies. Bjr Elizabedk Stuart PbdpB. Atithor of
''The dues Ajar," eic. Boston: Jafflet R. Osgood ft Com.

recalls, here and there, the time of Browning or
Emerson, it is no less a ground for pride that she
can write in their inoderm strain two poems like
" What the Shore says to the Sea " and *« What die
Sea says to the Shore." It is, perhaps, not doing
Miss Phelps justice to call attention first to these
hints of poetic kinship ; but rather the offering of a
crumb to very strict literary consciences. The maxim
of some readers as well as critics seems to be, '* First
ctUch your poet : '' we have shown them how to do
it in this case. But even in **• Petronilla," a poem,
the peculiar laoe-like texture of which we should be
tempted most strongly to call Point of Browning,
we find a strange, visionary effect in the description
of miracle, which seems quite new and very nota-

The most simply pleasing, and possibly therefore
the healthiest verses in the book are, we think,
those called "Did you speak?" They relate a
^ildish anecdote of the sort which women poets
have brought into literature ; and we owe humble
thanks for the simple, naive, hearty sweetness im-
parted throu^ them. Of^'The Light that never was
on Sea or Land," we must speak in a very different
tone. This is a poem which brings criticism into
the attitude of silent awe ; not so much for its art
(though that is singularly subUe) as for its pure,
far-reaching feminine holiness. Here again is a
revelation whidi only a woman could have made,
because she alone knows the depths of feeling
whence it came.

If we speak solely of literary value, we must think
Miss Phelps wise in calling her poems ''studies."
In the main, they are simply this, — not, of course,
cold, mechanical studies, but efforts in certain direc-
tions carried only to a given point Some go fiuther
than others, and several deserve a degree higher
than that assigned by the titie. But if these also are
only" studies," we look with great hope for "works "
to follow.

"An Idyl of Work."*

A DEFENSE may be found for the • strict literary
conscience which we have alluded to in speaking of
Miss Phelps. It is this. The alien notes in a poet's
singing come there in two ways, — either through a
semi-unconsdous demand of a voice strong enough
to carry them without hurt, or through adoption on
theory. In the first case, of course, the defect
excuses itself^ in a measure. In the second, though
the theory may be as unconscious as the distinctive
demand was in the first case, it proves itself theory by
the weakness of the voice, and cannot excuse itself—
can only be excused.

When a poem in blank verse, something over four
thousand lines long, is about to be written, it is
advisable to reflect long and seriously whether the
subject-matter takes the proposed form voluntarily,
and whether it has in itself the peculiar elements
and tendencies which will uphold the ponderous
shaping, and keep it buoyant and battie-proof to the
last. It seems to us that this was not < safely to be

* An Idyl of Work. By Loqr Laraoiii. BoMon : James R.
Osgood & Company.

Digitized by





predicated in the case of Miss Larcom's work, and
a thoroagh reading of it has made us wish that, with
such hig^ intentions, and«such a knowledge of the
life to be described, the poetess had cast her story in
a more elastic form. Ail along through this tale of
mill-girls' life there are gleams of that austere, pa-
thetic kind of beauty which has made the fieir more
meager peasant-life of Norway, for example, famous.
A natural error seems to have led to the adop-
tion of the (in some ways) most poetic of all forms
but the pure dramatic, in order to escape a strong
sub-current of prosiness in the scenery. But this has
only emphasized the obstacles. The verses are
broken on the mill-wheels, as it were, at every
turn ; whereas a strong, musical prose would have
put a spell on the machinery, and made the com-
monplace forcible and attractive in spite of itself.
Take this scrap of talk :

" If the were from Connecticut,
She might be— my third oomdn."

"May be— U"
** That is her natiTe State."

''Fennit me, air.
To can upon her with you."

This is dear and unrelieved prose, and is by no
means an exceptional passage. Yet we sympaUiize
entirely with Miss Larcom's brave effort to rescue,
even by a mistaken method, the recondite and valu-
able romance of obscure lives; and we must add
that, not only is her sentiment always true and dig-
nified, but often her expression is very fortunate.
These two focts, two extracts will prove :

"Woman can rise no higher than womanhood.
Whatever be her title."

This has the right luster, but in a more successful
setting it might have met readier recognition.

"One baby sister bkMSoms Uke a ixmc
Among her thorny brothers, all grown rough
With fiatrm-work,"

is like a breath of pure country air.

The plot is light and vague, but, with more dis-
tinctness and a poetic pitch more clearly sustained,
the book might have been what we may still look
to its author for, a long lever to advance American
poetry on its true path.

** Foraign Dramatlsta under American Laws.'

The recent case in the New York Superior Court,
brought by Mr. Sheridan Shook of the Union Square
Theater, to prevent Mr. Augustin Daly from pro-
ducing at the Fifth Avenue Theater the French
play " Rose Michel,** is the same in its main features
as those discussed in our article on <* Foreign Dram-
atists under American Laws." "Rose Michel" is
a manuscript play from the pen of M. Blum, a
French dramatist It has been represented in Paris,
but has not been printed there or here. A copy of
the French manuscript, and one of the English
translation, were purchased from the assignee of the
author by Mr. Shook, with the exclusive privilege
of representing the play in the United States, except-

ing New England. Mr. Shook thus acquired a com-
mon law right of property in the manuscript, jusC
the same as he would in a lot of scenery or costumes
purchased in Paris. The Court protected this right
as a common law right, and not under the copyri^t
statutes. This general principle of law was not dis-
puted by Mr. Daly, but he had also bought a copy
of the manuscript which purported to come from an
alleged assignee of the author in England. The
question, therefore, before the Court was, whether
Daly's title was good as against Shook's, and the
decision was in favor of the latter. Daly, therefore*,
himself claiming title from the author, was not in st
position to raise the question whether the poblic-
representation of the play in Paris was an abandon-
ment of the author's rights. If this issue had been
raised, it could have been argued only on the
ground that the play had been obtained through the
memory of one or more persons who had witnessed
the performance in Paris. But it is probable that
even this theory will never again meet with any
favor in our courts, which will, doubtless, hold to
the better doctrine, that the representation of a
manuscript |^y is not a publication destructive of
the author's proprietary rights.

Some of the comments on the decision in the case
of <* Rose Michel " assume that thf rights here ac-
corded to a foreign dramatist are withheld from odier
foreign authors. This, however, is not so. Any
foreign author has the right to make exclusive pub-
lic use of his work in this country, provided it be
kept in manuscript. The same protection thrown^
around the play of " Rose Michel " will be extended
to a lecture or a musical composition given from
manuscript to the public, or to an original painting-
on exhibition, notwithstanding they are foreign pro-
ductions. Mr. Charles Reade may read in public a
manuscript novel from New York to San Frandsoo,.
and his common law right of property therein will
be protected by our courts.

A Readlng-Room for the Blind.

To the Editor i^f "Scrilmtf's Monthly** : Within the-
Emits of New York city, there are now about six hundred blind.
Nearly all of the children thus afflicted are in the Institution for
the Bfind on Ninth Avenue, near Thirty-fourdi street: a few
are in the Asykm oo Blackw^'s Island. Of the men, most
have become blind since they reached manhood, and sadly
remember what it was to see.

The amount of bterature aocessiUe to the educated blind is
very small. Of this, there are two kinds: the raised letter^
which, with some sU^^t modifications, is the same in form as-
the Roman, and the point-piint, in which die alphabet is
represented by an arrangement of raised dots. The two sys-
tems are so dissimilar, that a proficiency in reading one is no
assistance whatever in the acquisition of the odier. The bound
vdumes of this print are ctunbrous and expensive, the Bible
consisting of some eight volumes, of a total weight of fifty
pounds. Deqnte the greatest care of experienced attendants,
the raised letter often becomes flattened hi finger-reading, and
wholly illegible to the blind. To the greater number of those
who are educated in it, finger-reading is a process too slow and
laborious to afford much pleasure. As a rule, the bliDd are
very poor: moreover, their relatives are in the same condition,
and can spare neither the money to buy such books, nor the
time to read them to their sightless friends, were the books pro-
vided. Very few are sdf-supporting: their life is one of enfxoed
leisure, with many a dreary waste vi time; and yet, in none of

Digitized by




dftoc ■ readnig-room for llie blind. The
wnMr bdievcs such a progect not only practicable, but compara-
nvdy incjcpenave, and dcsam to offbr come suggestions on the

A readEog-room <^ this kbd need not be a separate institu-
tioa. One of the many aide-rooms of our large Kbmies, with
the addition of a few fixtures, would be si^kient to make the
eacpcrimenL The cases should contain at least one copy of
every book printed in blind letter. 1 ables and writing mate-
rnb should be provided for those who are able to take notes in
poiBt-pfiat. The chief feature, however, should be oral reading
by sooBC mtelligeDt person empfeyed for that purpose, who
mig^t also act as fibtaiian. The reading should be of two
kinds : the daily news and literature.

The part of the newspapers which would interest die men
oouM fizat be read, and afterward diat which would interest the
womea. The hours of tibeae iraiious readiags should be wdl
knovn askd rigidly observed. The intervals be tw o ea the
ocal readiags would be the time for the consultation of the
raised4ecter books.

The seoood daas of leadings should be given in two courses
ia conaecutive bo«B1^ so that those who desired could attend
bodi wiihoot extm timl or tedious waiting. Yot oramtdc, a
two hooa' daily reading, for two weeks, ooight oompriae history
for the first hour, and poetiy for the second. This reading
shooU be strictly secular, embracing in the year's course, his-
tory, sciepce, poetry, and fiction. Perhaps the plan might
asdade those who, though noc blind, are unable to read. If a
nimbar of btara pnaons ilinwn desire lengioaa "'***"g, and
agree upon die matter to be read, no doubt a q;>ecial anange^
meat onild be made, which would be open to no objection.

Hus experiment must not be hbeled charity— a word that has
beeosne an epidie^ except when used poetically— or it will be a
fAare. It is the eataUirimtent of a means of education for a
daas of people shot out fiom our common schools, and debarred
fioa die ofdinaiy and die greatest avenue of knowledge.

Yours very truly, P. R K.

French and Oermnn Books.

Das Sprachstudium auf (Un Deutschcn Umversi-
iuiefu D. Delbriick. — These are some practical
remarks for students of philology from a Jena Pro-
fessor of Sanscrit, which ¥all be of service in telling
what languages are the most important in a modem
comparative study of tongues. Besides Sanscrit, he
considers Greek, Latin, and German indispensable
but sufficient, laying great stress upon Greek. In-
scriptions should be well studied for the variations
of language which they exhibit The grammars
which treat these languages in the best scientific
way are mentioned for the benefit of students, and
some short remarks indicate the value of the science
itself, an allusion to which might seem unnecessary,
if persons were not still to be found who, irritated
by the continual mention of Sanscrit, lose no oppor-
tunity to underrate the importance of that great
elder sister among Indo-European tongues. Of
course Professor Delbriick considers languages
from their philological point of value, and not with
reference to speech or literature.

Der Islam hn X/X. Jahrhundert, Vamb^.— A
man who has seen as much of Asia as Vamb^,
and in sudi an intimate way, is at once an authority.
It will be remembered that he traveled up and down
Asia disguised as a dervish, and thus came in con-
tact with the real people, sharing their misery and
hardships, and learning to feel himself one of them
in all their characteristic traits of fanaticism, sluggish
resignadon, and, it may be said, vice and filth.
Sinoe that time he has traveled in more conspicuous

positions in Persia and elsewhere, has become a
Professor at Budapest, and has followed the Eastern
question with the singular advantage of knowing^
both Asia and Europe thoroughly, without having^
cause to lean unduly in favor of one or the other.
Hence we read his absorbing book with good faith
in his knowledge of the subject, and that faith is not
betrayed when we meet impartiality and calmness
of reasoning on every page. Vamb^ry is not a
Humboldt ; he might be called a light weight when
compared to some men Germany can offer, but he
is a capital observer, a strict holder to the truth;
and, as fitr as these qualities go-— and they go far —
the right man in a little-explored field.

Heinrich Heine, Essay by S. Bom. — After read-
ing what Vamb^ry has to say about Asia, it is not a
litthe striking to come upon an essay on Heine, him-
self an Asiatic — ^an Oriental mind looking about in
a sea of German Philistinism. His was the roman-
tic soul, the witty, tuneful brain that Vamb^ry finds
nationsdly at home In the East, but also the will too
weak to resist temptations successfully and bear
with ugly and trivial things ; least of all, to apply the
brain persistently to one end. The essay is excel-
lent in its sympathy with a poet, and in pointing;

Online LibraryFrancis HallThe Century, Volume 11 → online text (page 25 of 163)