Robert Milne Williamson.

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heard novel readers boast of reading
night after night till the small hours of
the morning.

A long-continued spell of novel reading
makes its own peculiar mark on a man's
character. His eyes have a dreamy, far-
away look, he takes little interest in pass-
ing events, he is comparatively careless
as to the opinions of the men and women
he meets, he forgets names and faces, he
neglects social duties, and his dearest
delight is to lie in bed all Sunday reading
his novel. Such a man seldom drinks to
excess, or indeed does anything out of the


way ; he i3 looked on by his neighbours
as a quiet, harmless sort of a body.

If the excessive novel reader be a
woman, she neglects her home duties, is
careless and dowdy in her attire. She is
seen as regularly at the circulating library
as the tippler is at the public house. If
she be a married woman, pity her hus-
band ; when she should be dusting the
house or cooking his dinner she is en-
grossed with the doings of some lofty
Lord with a wicked past, who has fallen
in love with a lowly but virtuous maiden.
How can a woman cook her husband's
potatoes properly when her mind is filled
with romance 1 Inveterate novel readers
forget the stories they read, and it is as
well they do, else their brains would be a
most confused medley of plots, counter-
plots, marriages, murders, and deeds of

One often wonders what kind of a brain
a professional novel-writer must have. It
is bad enough to be always reading love
stories, but to be everlastingly writing
them must be still worse. One popular
lady author lately issued her hundredth
novel. Miss Braddon has published over
seventy novels, and hundreds of short
stories. Since Guy Boothby became
popular he has produced new novels at a
most alarming rate. Mrs Meade is a most
prolific writer. She seems to bring forth
books by some linotype brain process


Stories for girls, love tales for young
ladies, novels with a purpose, detective
tales, creepy and mysterious romances,
come pouring forth from her pen.

If, as is said, authors sympathise and
feel with the creatures of their imagina-
tion, as if they were real, what strange and
comprehensive brains these modern novel-
ists must have. How can they have any
room left for the real people they meet
every day ?

The name a novel bears has a good
deal to do with its success. I remember
a book which was very much read by
ladies, entitled "For One Man's Plea-
sure." The chief difficulty a new novel
writer has to overcome is his newness.
His work may be ever so good, but the
librarians look on him with suspicious
caution, whereas the greatest rubbish will
be accepted if it is written by an author
with a name.

A good striking original name to a
novel by an unknown writer is sure to
help its sale and popularity. Some of the
names given to novels are far from pleas-
ing. Since Grant Allen published the
novel bearing the absurd name "A
Splendid Sin," we have had quite a
number of similar titles — everyone of
them trying to give honour to the ugliest
and most repulsive thing known to
humanity. We have "A Prince of
Sinners," "A Comedy of Sin," "A Sweet


Sinner," "A Racing Sinner." How can
sin be, under any circumstances, "splen-
did," or by what possibility can indul-
gence in sin become a "comedy." In
real life it always leads to tragedy.

A recent semi-religious novel, entitled
"All Men are Liars," is very much ad-
mired by lady readers, and one called
" Love, Honour, and Obey " is greatly
read by gentlemen.

Within the last twenty years the in-
crease in the number of works of fiction
published has been quite out of propor-
tion to that of other departments of litera-
ture. Publishers who formerly issued
only religious works now include novels
in their lists, and any magazine which
hopes to have readers must provide plenty
of good-going stories side by side with its
heavier fare.

In time the public taste will become
more healthy. Readers are bound to get
weary of the overdose of fiction they now
indulge in. The great rush of new
readers, who in former generations could
not get books, is naturally to the simplest
and most easily-digested mental food, but
as time goes on a more substantial and
better-nourishing fare will be demanded
by a more experienced public.



In a recent American magazine there ap-
pears an advertisement of certain books
offered to the public at "factory prices."
Furniture, articles of wearing apparel,
and most things inanimate may be pro-
duced by machinery in any quantity and
disposed of at " factory prices," but to
think of books, in whose pages breathes
the life of ages, being knocked about as
mere articles of merchandise, seems a

We are suffering in these days of pro-
gress from an American invasion of shoe
shops. These shoes are produced by
machine specialists. One man devotes
his life to the turning out of shoe soles ;
another spends his years on uppers ; a
third is everlastingly punching holes for
the laces ; yet another specialist is ever-
more fitting the various pieces together ;
thus by sub-division of labour reducing
the expense and increasing the output.

Extend this plan to the production of

books. We would have a lady speci-


alist to write the sentimental conversa-
tions, an adept at leading up to the
critical moment when the hero confesses
his love or when the proud maiden scorn-
fully rejects the hand of the villain. A
descriptive writer would be engaged to
word-paint nature in all her moods, glow-
ing sunsets and scenes of beauty in every
land. Theological experts would produce
sermons to suit every creed. Poets would
abound in the factory who would write
verses and songs and sonnets. As in the
shoe factory there is one employed to
insert brown paper between the layers of
leather, so in our literary shop there must
needs be a small army of writers to pro-
duce the padding necessary for filling up
the desired number of pages of the

We may expect to see American book
stores opened in all our chief centres and
their windows filled with an array of
books on every subject offered to a British
public at the uniform factory price of,
say, one and elevenpence halfpenny per

Authors, publishers, and booksellers of
the old school would be extinct within
a year if the factory idea could be carried
out. If a book were merely a book and
nothing more — paper and ink, leather and
cloth — the plan might be adopted with
success. We know, however, that all the
gold of South Africa could not produce a


single book, all the machinery of America
might rotate to all eternity and fail to
manufacture a single page of a living
volume. But "with brains, sir," the
impossible becomes possible, and a book
becomes a reality, a living power, more
potent to influence the minds of countless
men and women than the power of the
most eloquent tongue.

To write an original book is a task well
nigh beyond the limit of any man's ability.
Who would dare to boast that he could
write even a sonnet — fourteen lines of
original thought ] In writing we uncon-
sciously express thoughts from other
books, from writers who have thought
these thoughts ages ago. Every builder
builds on a foundation already laid, but
the new builders should by experience
improve on the work of the old.

When one thinks on the number and
variety of books on every conceivable
subject which exist, one wonders why
anyone could dare to add a fresh volume
to the overflowing shelves. Yet there
are to-day thousands of busy brains at
work, busy pens writing books. There
are hundreds of intelligent publishers
waiting, cheque-book in hand, ready to
purchase the right to produce these
books. The units who compose the great
reading public are like little fledgelings
in a nest waiting with wide-opened
mouths for worms to be dropped in by


their parents, ever ready and hungry for
new books, for fresh tit-hits to he dropped
into their brains by the librarians and

The public dearly love novelty, a book
with a catchy name sells better than one
with a commonplace title. The cover of
a novel sells it even though the interior
be rubbish. Books which years ago have
had their day and ceased to be, have been
re-incarnated in bright attractive bind-
ings, and thus given a new lease of life.

Everyone with literary instinct desires
to write at least one book which may live
after he is with the shades of the de-
parted. A worthy book is a more lasting
monument than the costliest marble. The
pleasure of labour is ever its own sweetest
reward, the loftiest of all pleasures must
be the delight of the creator of a noble
book, or the painter of a great picture.

How many strive to gain immortality
and fail is witnessed by the thousands of
books which have been forgotten and
eventually consigned to the waste basket ;
and by the unknown number of works
which have been written but have never
found publishers.

I am often asked what books sell best.
I think most booksellers will agree with
me in saying that the Bible is the best
selling of all books, and next to the Bible
in popularity comes the English Diction-
ary. Such works as "Robinson Crusoe,"


" The Pilgrim's Progress," " Uncle Tom's
Cabin," "The Arabian Nights," "The
Pickwick Papers," "East Lynne," the
works of Shakespeare, and the popular
poets have year by year a regular and
unceasing sale.

It does not require much logic to ex-
plain why these books are so popular.
The Bible speaks to humanity's highest
longings and has a message for everyone.
A dictionary is the most directly useful
of all books, and next it in use comes a
ready reckoner. " Eobinson Crusoe " is
a classic, the king of boys' books; "The
Arabian Nights " appeals to the imagina-
tive instinct in a way unapproached by
any book of its class ; " The Pilgrim's
Progress " tells its unmistakeable meaning
to the lowliest of intellects, and yet
charms the most refined with its wonder-
ful wealth of allegory. It is an easy
thing to tell the kind of book which will
be sure of readers in the present and
every age, but the writing of such a book
is a different story.

An author must have a message for the
world, a story to tell, an experience to
give, and that message or story must
needs be expressed in the fewest of words,
in the most direct and most simple of
language, and must be so told that it will
touch an answering chord in many hearts.

The most direct way to reach the
hearts of humanity is through the child.


Books about children find many readers,
but it is not books about children as the
author would have them, but as the little
ones really are themselves. The very
words, the quaint expressions, the win-
some ways, the comical actions of real
children are ever welcome, and find
instant popularity. What a wide field
is open to a clever writer who really loves
and knows and understands the miniature
men and women around him.

How often one wishes that one could
write down exactly the unconsciously
humorous sayings of the children one
lives with. A dear little grandson of
mine began his breakfast in a great hurry
the other day without saying his cus-
tomary blessing. I told him he must
never forget to thank God, who gave him
the nice bread and butter and tea and

"Does God keep a cow?" the little
fellow asked, and before I had time to
reply, he continued, "and does He milk
the cow Himself ? "

I shall never forget the pleasure I en-
joyed the first time I tasted the joys of
being an author, and seeing my name in
print under some verses in The Hawick
Advertiser. I was just a lad of eighteen
at the time, but I fondly believed I was a
poet. Time and experience may have
rubbed off some of the gold from this
belief, but all time can never rob me of


the delightful joy of having been at one
time, in my own estimation, a gifted

It seems so easy to write about writing
a book, but when one tries in real earnest
to be an author the difficulties to be over-
come seem unsurmountable. The brain
may vibrate with living thoughts, but
when one sits down with pen and ink,
the ideas come with such a headlong rush
that they cannot be arranged, or they
may refuse to find expression at all.

Many authors write only one book by
whose worth their names may live. They
may produce many works but only one
real book. It seems as if such a one-book-
man had given to the world in his great
book the best part of himself, as if he had
in the one supreme effort gathered toge-
ther everything that his brain could give
birth to, and presented once for all the
first and last fruits of his genius as a
sacrifice at the shrine of literature.

To every ambitious would-be author I
would say wait until the desire becomes
so great that you are forced by a power
behind yourself to write. Then, under the
inspiration of genius, the divine afflatus,
writing will be a pleasure, and before you
know where you are the book you so long
to be the author of will have become a

There are few delights worthy of com-
parison with the joy of being an author.


There was first of all the pleasure of think-
ing about the book one meant to write,
maybe years before a single lino was
penned, the inner consciousness of genius,
of power. Then the years of quiet
thought, of gathered experience, the
growing belief in oneself, and as time
passed and the mind grew ripe came the
impulse to write. Even if one may fail,
one gains pleasure and increase of strength
in the effort, and may try again. The
crowning joy of authorship is a delight
that few of the many who produce books
attain to, the pleasure of "waking one
morning: and finding oneself famous."



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Online LibraryRobert Milne WilliamsonBits from an old book shop → online text (page 6 of 6)