Francis Whiting Halsey.

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that work already exist. One is the librarian, who
with the splendid advances made, not only in the
number of libraries, but in the intelligence and
thoroughness with which they are managed, has ac-
quired opportunities in this direction such as never
before existed. The other is the organs of literary
intelligence and criticism, which in the size of their
constituencies, and their power for good, have notably
increased in very recent years.

It is a striking fact that these opportunities have
thus far been attended, not by a restriction of un-
worthy literature, but by its increase, thus showing
what golden opportunities have been allowed to pass.
It may be true that efforts, in some instances, have
been wisely consecrated to the highest duties, but the
depressing fact remains, as Dr. van Dyke has said,


that so many who " should be the leaders of the
public have become its courtiers." In other words,
librarians and periodicals, instead of becoming guides,
have been content to take places as mere followers.
Thus they have aided in promoting the circulation
of what is merely popular, striking, or perhaps sensa-
tional. They have gone with the tide, this swelling
flood-tide of books pouring down the channels of
time's stream every year to the number of many
thousands. They have merely reflected and given
new impulses to conditions which an unguided public,
left to itself, has created.

But it is noteworthy that on the programme for
the meeting of the New York Library Association in
the autumn of 1901, a prominent topic for discussion
was " Book Selection." Librarians generally regard
this as the most perplexing problem which confronts
them — what books to select for purchase. It is
the very foundation of their work and influence, and
from it proceeds the most important results they
accomplish in directing public taste. But in these
matters they are all dependent, largely, upon opinions
which reach them from others, and notably from
critical journals, since no librarian can possibly find
the time to read any large percentage of the books
published every year. When librarians have read
the critical opinions, there still exists a large domain
in the matter of choice which reviewers do not and
cannot cover from the librarians' points of view.

Reviews of books do not always, indeed perhaps


only now and then do they, tell a librarian whether a
certain book ought to go into a particular library.
Local conditions vary widely; the appropriation
available may be large or small; the community to
which the library ministers may be a highly intelli-
gent one, or it may be the reverse.

Most librarians understand how great is the need
for some potent force which shall restrict the present
devotion of readers to books that are ephemeral.
Something, perhaps, can be done by critical journals
through not giving large publicity to such works ;
something already has been and is still done by them,
and undoubtedly more might be done. But libra-
rians are in a position to do things even greater.

Mr. William E. Foster in establishing what he
calls a " standard library " at Providence has under-
taken a work of the highest significance in this line.
Cordial and unanimous approval has been bestowed
upon it by many eminent librarians. He placed
before his readers a collection of what he called
"books of power," borrowing the phrase from De
Quincey, of which books large numbers of readers prob-
ably knew nothing more than the names, if so much
as these. It comprises the world's best literature,
ancient as well as modern, and his purpose was thus
to remind readers, who give excessive devotion to
ephemeral books, that there is something else in the
world entitled to their attention.

Meanwhile Mr. Henry L. Elmendorf of the Buf-
falo Public Library has set apart a collection brought


together on somewhat broader lines, and embracing
not only "books of power," but works of other per-
manent rank and utility in the life of man. Mr.
Elmendorf s collection aims at meeting not only the
scholar's needs, but those of the active and intellec-
tual man of the world. Still more recently Mr. John
Cotton Dana, librarian of the City Library of Spring-
field, Massachusetts, on retiring from that city to as-
sume charge of the Newark Public Library, was able
to announce that after four years spent there he had
reduced the proportion of fiction read by twenty-four
per cent.

Of late years there have been many signs, which
those who look closely could observe, that a reaction
ere long would come against the overwhelming devo-
tion of readers to popular fiction at the expense of
more serious reading. The publishers themselves
have believed that a reaction was bound to come
within a reasonable period. Mr. Dana clearly did
not wait for it, but took matters in his own hands,
and, by the exercise of some kinds of force or art of
which he seems to be a master, brought about this
very large reduction. Mr. Dana proceeded on some-
what different lines from Mr. Foster and Mr. Elmen-
dorf, but let us hope they may reach results parallel
with his.

The librarians of the country are the main hope of
society. They, in a measure, can control their out-
put — not perhaps as autocrats, but through silent
and tactful influences. It is useless for critical


journals to denounce this class of literature. The
results most commonly are to promote its circulation
by calling attention to it. At best they can become
influential only by the exercise of silence. They
may select from the enormous flood the books which
seem best and ignore the others. It is usually be-
yond their province to take up old books, since crit-
ical journals exist in the world for the purpose of
dealing with new ones. But the librarian has within
his walls the world's store of great and good books.
He likes nothing better than to see his readers take
them home, and in numberless ways he can induce
them to do so. Mr. Dana has employed the avail-
able methods with the utmost skill.

These steps in libraries should serve as the begin-
ning of a movement eventually to become general,
and whose coming the librarians' annual meetings
may accelerate, until they become a still more benefi-
cent force in the communities where they exercise
their offices. Not one of them but will acknowledge
how wearisome becomes the task of giving out to
readers trivial and commonplace literature, which
literally is here to-day and gone to-morrow ; while
books of power and permanence, books that will
endure while civilization lasts, stand neglected on
their shelves.

There is, after all, some refuge from this deluge —
an ark quite as seaworthy and capacious as the one
Noah built, would men only get on board. The
printing press and the bindery may send forth upon


the patient public their thousands of new books
every year ; but it is not necessary that our homes
and firesides shall be invaded. We still possess the
inalienable privilege of not giving hospitality to other
books than those which are worthy of esteem. We
may peremptorily decline to be imposed upon by the
enemies of our welfare and peace. Meanwhile to
the publishers' cellars and garrets, to the auction
room and the peddler's cart, unwelcome books may
be forced to go.



The supreme merit of a great book is that its value
remains with the lapse of time ; it does not go out of
fashion ; it becomes an actual addition to one's pos-
sessions and remains lifelong. The pleasure it gives
is capable of constant renewal and even increase, for
who can say when he has derived his last or his
keenest pleasure from a truly great author ?

It is a familiar discovery for men to find as they
grow in years that they grow in appreciation of the
best books. No man ever opens Shakespeare with-
out finding something new, and the same is true of
Milton and Chaucer, of Byron and Wordsworth, of
Landor and Thackeray, of Hawthorne and Fielding.
Here are stanch and lifelong friends who never
weary us, who are always hospitable and in good
temper, and who can be trusted to maintain faithfully
more than half the friendship.

The last word can never be said in praise of books.
Praise began at the very beginning of knowledge.
The rude savage praised written records when he
could not understand them ; the wise have praised
books with all the laudation speech could frame.
Perhaps it is Emerson who has composed the most



expressive words : " Consider what you have in the
smallest chosen library. A company of the wisest
and wittiest men that could be picked out of all civil-
ized countries in a thousand years have set in best
order the results of their learning and wisdom. The
men themselves were hid and inaccessible, solitary,
impatient of interruption, fenced by etiquette; but
the thought which they did not uncover to their
bosom friends is here written in transparent words to
us the strangers of another age."

The future probably could offer little hope that the
number of ephemeral books will decline. They are
more likely to increase, and the ratio will be a large
one. But it is certain that good books will live and
bad ones die. It is with books as with all art — the
art that is meant for all time. In old Athens once
stood thousands of houses, but only one Parthenon
was there. And still may our poet sing : —
Earth proudly wears the Parthenon
As the best gem upon her zone.

In Italy have been erected millions of buildings,
but the Roman Pantheon, Saint Mark's at Venice,
and Saint Peter's have survived them all. Let us
get our five thousand or our ten thousand books
every year; it will still remain true that not more
than one really great book can be produced in a hun-
dred years. We must remember how long Italy
waited before Virgil came, that " wielder of the state-
liest measure ever moulded by the lips of man";
how long she waited for Dante ; how long England


waited for Shakespeare, and still waits for another
Shakespeare ; how France waited for Moliere, and
Spain for Cervantes. Along with these divinely
gifted men came throngs of second, third, and fourth
rate writers — whole regiments of them — who had
their brief reward and then, each with his book in
hand, walked silently and forever into the unknown

These highest creations of the mind survive all
earthly changes. Material works, having served
their day, pass into hopeless ruin. States rise and
fall. The world's maps are again and again recon-
structed. The speech of men dies, and a new speech
is born again. But great writings survive all kinds
of destruction, whether of man or nature. From
state to state they are passed on, and from tongue to
tongue. Indeed, they alone keep ancient tongues
alive. Because Palestine, Greece, and Rome had
literatures, their life and thought are known to us and
have formed our own. Only in name are those
worlds dead. The worlds really dead are those of the
Euphrates and Nile valleys, — Assyria, Babylonia,
and Egypt, — dead because neither of them found a
voice, a voice that could speak their life and thought
into the minds of us — men of alien races, of another
clime, of a far-distant age.

The Claudian aqueduct, that splendid monument of
Roman genius, stretching far across the Campagna
from the Alban Mountains to the city of Rome,
whither it bore the water supply, still, with its broken


arches, here and there spans that lonely plain, a
mere curiosity for tourists, its utility gone, its archi-
tect's name forgotten. Meanwhile, schoolboys, in
new tongues, literally as Casca said, in the words
Shakespeare gave him, " In states unborn and accents
yet unknown," memorize the poems of Virgil and the
songs of Horace. The ruins of the Alhambra domi-
nate the hills of Spain above Granada; the cries
of birds are heard among its dismantled walls.
Meanwhile, its mournful tale has become familiar to
us because Irving told it. Even the story of Spain,
the story of half a score of centuries, of a thousand
eventful years, has been unknown to generations of
men and women who have kept among the treasures
of their homes the tale Cervantes told.

We may be absolutely certain that whatever is
good will not die. Wherever exists a book that adds
to our wisdom, that consoles our thought, it cannot
perish. Critics may assail it with their hundreds of
columns. Its own generation may neglect it. Fire
may burn up the entire edition, save a handful of
copies ; and yet that book will live. Nothing is so
immortal as mere words, once they have been spoken
fitly or divinely. A good book die! We shall
sooner see the forests cut away from every hill-
side, the volume of water in great rivers run dry ;
walls built of granite or travertine lying prostrate
on the ground. Critics may go right or may go
wrong. It matters not. There exists in the world
that eternal tribunal, greater far than they, its ver-


diets final and infallible, — the central heart of cul-
tured mankind.

In great books we have what is best in the men
who wrote them. Their work, in so far as human
work can ever be, was disinterested. It was done
with small hope of any adequate pecuniary reward.
It was done because of a faith, often sublime, that
it was worth doing for the world's sake. It was done
in the face of disheartening circumstances, — in pov-
erty, in sickness, and in need of bread ; and the
greater the book, the greater the discouragements
under which it often was produced. Witness Dante's
poem, composed with his soul on fire. Witness Mil-
ton's, paid for in that curious sum, a mere " tip " as
it were. Witness in our own day Hawthorne's tales,
written for $3 each; or Fitzgerald's version of old
Omar's deathless song, now read the whole world
round, but of which the unsalable first edition of
only 500 copies was offered on a bargain counter at
two cents per copy.

" Work done with small hope of any adequate pecu-
niary reward" — such was theirs. But of other re-
wards, what a store have great writers not reaped ? —
the purest, most lasting fame that men ever gain. Be-
fore the fame of great authors all other fame " pales
its ineffectual fires." The renown of great soldiers,
princes, and lawgivers — the Alexanders, Hannibals,
Caesars, Cromwells, and Marlboroughs, the golden-
crowned Charleses, Henrys, and Louises, the Solons
and Justinians, — all these go down into obscurity in


that " fierce light " which beats about the Homers,
the Dantes, the Virgils, the Shakespeares, the

The men who did battle around the mighty walls
of ancient Troy, Hector, and Achilles, fair Helen
herself, had perished utterly, had not Homer sung
his undying song. The glory in which Solomon
arrayed himself was not only inferior to that worn
by the lilies of the field, but less than the glory he
has gained through the Book of Proverbs and that
" Song of Songs which is Solomon's." David, king
of Israel, might have become a shadowy name to us
all, had not David's name been linked forever with
the Book of Psalms. Julius Caesar remains far less
familiar as the founder of the Roman Empire than
as the author of that book in which he tells us that
" all Gaul is divided into three parts." Those men
in power who made miserable the life of Dante, pur-
suing him even in his grave, so that Byron could
write, —

Ungrateful Florence! Dante sleeps afar,
Like Scipio, buried by the upbraiding sea,

have been utterly forgotten by generations who have
known by heart Dante's immortal epic of the life
hereafter. The throng of kings and kinglets, of
princes, grand dukes, and Counts Palatine, who
dominated the German states in Goethe's day,
have perished from the thoughts of thousands to
whom "Faust" has become a household word. A
world that is still held captive by "Jane Eyre" has


forgotten who was prime minister of England when
Charlotte Bronte wrote that book, or who were the
men that led the armies and the fleets of Europe to
the siege of Sebastopol. Indeed, the day may yet
come when Lincoln's administration shall remain less
familiar in men's minds than those immortal words
— not three hundred words all together — which Lin-
coln spoke on the field of Gettysburg.

Surely it will be worth while to know that, in our
day and generation, we gave our time, not to merely
popular books, but to those everlastingly good; not
to the evanescent, but to the enduring ; not to books
that perish as perish newspapers, but to those meant
for the heart and soul of man in all ages — books
that will not die; books that have immortal souls;
books that make for righteousness.



The seventieth birthday of Tolstoi, which occurred
a few years ago, marked also the completion of fifty
years of Tolstoi's activity as a writer. The event
was duly observed in New York, where a dinner,
intended to be " an appreciation by his American
admirers of the genius of the great Russian novelist
and historian," took place. Not since Stevenson
died, and a vast concourse of people gathered in a
public hall to commemorate his life, had a like tribute
been paid in this country to an author. In each case
we may be certain that the tribute was evoked quite
as much by the author's character as by his literary
genius ; in fact, had character been wanting, the
tributes would not have been paid at all.

This is a consoling discovery to make at any time,
— that men and women reserve their best honours for
character rather than for achievement. By that res-
ervation they stamp more conspicuously with ap-
proval the things that make best for righteousness
in the world. Character is indeed chief among all
forces developed in human life. In heroes of the
author class there always remains something finer
than anything they wrote. Conspicuously true of



Sir Walter Scott, it is scarcely less true of Stevenson,
and is perhaps still more true of Tolstoi. Tolstoi's
writings have carried his name far, and will carry
it to still other generations. He has made Russia
familiar to thousands for whom that land, save as a
brute force in war, remained a land unknown. They
had no interest in that vast but voiceless empire until
Tolstoi pictured in moving story the burden and
sorrows of life there, giving it a voice all men heard.
When men saw that Tolstoi was not alone a writ-
ing man, that he carried out in his own life the simple
Christian faith he preached, living as live the poor,
selling his goods to feed the poor, he rose to a hero's
place. As an author his name has literally gone
round the world. As a man the impression of his
character has been set deep in the world's central
heart — a far finer, nobler, rarer thing to make
note of.

Something of this saving power has kept alive the
history Clarendon wrote. Much more widely read
in the past than now, that book will long survive in
the thoughts of the elect of this world, the compe-
tent few, the readers who have sound literary under-
standing. Purely as historian Clarendon has not
first rank. He saw little beyond the things imme-
diately around him ; he lacked breadth of view ; his
history is partisan, and he was an advocate on a
losing side.

Clarendon has been valued for his style. Because
of that his books will survive among the studious


and learned to remote times. His style had stateli-
ness and even grandeur. The nobleman was writ
large in it. He could not set pen to paper but it
bore the impress of character and the splendour of
great station. Those portraits he drew of contem-
poraries must live with our literature. They are as
vital and distinct as any that etcher has produced.

From Tolstoi and Clarendon let us turn to an
American woman. An anecdote of Louisa M. Al-
cott's childhood, told by the wife of Nathaniel
Hawthorne, is that one morning at breakfast she
suddenly broke the silence with a laugh, as she
exclaimed, " I love everybody in dis whole world."
Her character, as disclosed in the memoir published
soon after her death, shows that Miss Alcott through
life cheerfully devoted all that she had of mind,
strength, and estate to the comfort and happiness
of other people. Her father was an idealist, without
fortune, possessed of faculties bordering on genius,
but for which the world offered no market. Upon
his daughter devolved the main share in the family
support. When she could not contribute to it by
teaching she tried sewing, or became a governess,
or went out to service.

Finding she had a talent for writing stories, she
employed that to the best of her powers, and for the
same ends. She often thought out stories while busy
with sewing. Whatever her hands found to do she
did cheerfully. If a sad, this is also an inspiring
story : few more notable have come to public know-


ledge in the lives of women in our day. Its splendour
and nobility should long survive, and many thousands
who read her books have been grateful for knowing
how cheerful, brave, and beautiful her own life was.
She might have married advantageously. She had
more than one offer and many attentions she did not
care for ; but her heart was bound up in her family.
She could not contemplate her own interests as some-
thing separate from theirs. She died Louisa Alcott,
and honoured be her name.

Before Miss Alcott's time there lived another New
England woman whose name must be recalled here.
In the summer of 1 901, on the south shore of Long
Island, near where she had been lost in the wreck of
a steamer fifty years before, a memorial was set up to
Margaret Fuller. In her own day she had been a
dominant personality in our literature, but her col-
lected writings give no adequate impression now of
the wide esteem among men of discernment which
her endowments secured.

Probably the fact that she was a pioneer among
women who earned livelihoods by writing had much
to do with Margaret Fuller's ascendency. What she
accomplished was in that day a great thing for a
woman to do. Probably there have lived since her
time at least a score of women equally accomplished
as writers. Literature is now a vocation widely fol-
lowed by women; they have achieved marked suc-
cess in it, some of them in lines parallel with her
own, others in creative fields to which she did not


aspire, and in which success for her might have been
impossible. If it be not so much what she actually
wrote as the advance step she took in intellectual
work done by women, if she has not survived as a
living personality, she is at least a historic figure,
and the world has discovered that there was some-
thing finer in Margaret Fuller than in her books.

Jane Austen's life was among the least eventful in
literary history, — her home a rural one, her father
a village rector, her sole knowledge of general and
select society derived from journeys to towns like
Winchester and Bath and occasional ones to London.
Out of this experience she learned what she knew of
the world beyond her father's door. It must long
remain interesting to study how she acquired that
knowledge of life and character which her books so
amply disclose. Produced as they were in provincial
surroundings, there is nothing provincial about them.
Her grasp and self-command, her certainty of touch,
are such as only the real masters of literary art have
shown. The reader feels as if she had known life at
its fullest expression, had travelled far, and dwelt in
a richly equipped society.

But we are apt to forget that men and women are
much the same in small communities as in large ones ;
that the springs of action and the directions conduct
takes may be observed in a rural parlour no less than
in a palatial city drawing-room, in a country house in
Hants as well as in a mansion in London. It is the
observer, not the place of observation, that counts.


" Hundreds of people can talk, to one that can
think," says Ruskin, " and thousands can think, for
one that can see." Jane Austen was the one among
thousands. Here again must Ruskin be quoted :
" The greatest thing a human soul ever does in this

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Online LibraryFrancis Whiting HalseyOur literary deluge and some of its deeper waters → online text (page 7 of 15)