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Thomas B. (Thomas Brackett) Reed.

Modern eloquence; (Volume 5) online

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illegible wares, because he or she has no more to do with



HOW TO FAIL IN LITERATURE



729



the matter than the crossing-sweeper. The manuscript
will either be put away so carefully that it can never be
found again, or will be left lying about so that the house-
maid may use it for her own domestic purposes, like Betty
Barnes, the cook of Mr. Warburton, who seems to have
burned several plays of Shakespeare.

The manuscript in short will go where the old moons
g.

And all dead days drift thither,

And all disastrous things.

Not only can you secure failure thus yourself, but you
can so worry and badger your luckless victim, that he
too will be unable to write well till he has forgotten you
and your novel, and all the annoyance and anxiety you
have given him. Much may be done by asking him for
" introductions " to an editor or publisher. These gentry
don't want introductions, they want good books, and
very seldom get them. If you behave thus, the man
whom you are boring will write to his publisher :

DEAR BROWN : A wretched creature, who knows my great-aunt,
asks me to recommend his rubbish to you. I send it by to-day's post,
and I wish you joy of it.

This kind of introduction will do you excellent service
in smoothing the path to failure. You can arrive at
similar results by sending your manuscript not to the
editor of this or that magazine, but to some one who, as
you have been told by some nincompoop, is the editor,
and who is not. He may lose your book, or he may let
it lie about for months, or he may send it on at once to
the real editor with his bitter malison. The utmost pos-
sible vexation is thus inflicted on every hand, and a
prejudice is established against you which the nature of
your work is very unlikely to overcome. By all means
bore many literary strangers with correspondence; this
will give them a lively recollection of your name, and an
intense desire to do you a bad turn if opportunity arises.

If your book does, in spite of all, get itself published,
send it with your compliments to critics and ask them
for favorable reviews. It is the publisher's business to



730



ANDREW LANG



send out books to the editors of critical papers, but never
mind that. Go on telling critics that you know praise
is only given by favor, that they are all more or less
venal and corrupt and members of the Something Club,
add that you are no member of a coterie nor clique, but
that you hope an exception will be made, and that your
volume will be applauded on its merits. You will thus
have done what in you lies to secure silence from re-
viewers, and to make them request that your story may
be sent to some other critic. This, again, gives trouble,
and makes people detest you and your performance, and
contributes to the end which you have steadily in view.

I do not think it is necessary to warn young lady novel-
ists, who possess beauty, wealth, and titles, against asking
reviewers to dine, and treating them as kindly, almost,
as the Fairy Paribanou treated Prince Ahmed. They
only act thus, I fear, in Mr. William Black's novels.

Much may be done by re-writing your book on the
proof-sheets, correcting everything there which you
should have corrected in manuscript. This is an ex-
pensive process, and will greatly diminish your pecuniary
gains, or rather will add to your publisher's bill, for
the odds are that you will have to publish at your own
expense. By the way, an author can make almost a cer-
tainty of disastrous failure, by carrying to some small
obscure publisher a work which has been rejected by the
best people in the trade. Their rejections all but demon-
strate that your book is worthless. If you think you are
likely to make a good thing by employing an obscure
publisher, with little or no capital, then, as some one in
Thucydides remarks, congratulating you on your sim-
plicity, I do not envy your want of common sense. Be
very careful to enter into a perfectly preposterous agree-
ment. For example, accept "half profits," but forget
to observe that, before these are reckoned, it is distinctly
stated in your " agreement " that the publisher is to pay
himself some twenty per cent, on the price of each copy
sold before you get your share.

Here is " another way," as the cookery books have it.
In your gratitude to your first publisher, covenant with
him to let him have all the cheap editions of all your novels
for the next five years, at his own terms. If, in spite



HOW TO FAIL IN LITERATURE



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of the advice I have given you, you somehow manage to
succeed, to become wildly popular, you will still have
reserved to yourself, by this ingenious clause, a chance
of ineffable pecuniary failure. A plan generally approved
of is to sell your entire copyright in your book for a
very small sum. You want the ready money, and per-
haps you are not very hopeful. But, when your book
is in all men's hands, when you are daily reviled by the
small fry of paragraphers, when the publisher is clearing
a thousand a year by it, while you only got a hundred
down, then you will thank me, and will acknowledge that,
in spite of apparent success, you are a failure after all.

There are publishers, however, so inconsiderate that
they will not leave you even this consolation. Finding
that the book they bought cheap is really valuable, they
will insist on sharing the profits with the author, or on
making him great presents of money to which he has no
legal claim. Some persons, some authors, cannot fail
if they would, so wayward is fortune, and such a Quixotic
idea of honesty have some middlemen of literature. But,
of course, you may light on a publisher who will not give
you more than you covenanted for, and then you can
go about denouncing the whole profession as a congre-
gation of robbers and clerks of St. Nicholas.

The ways of failure are infinite, and of course are not
nearly exhausted. One good plan is never to be your-
self when you write, to put in nothing of your own tem-
perament, manner, character or to have none, which
does as well. Another favorite method is to offer the
wrong kind of article, to send to the " Cornhill " an essay
on the evolution of the Hittite syllabary (for only one
author could make that popular) ; or a sketch of cock-
fighting among the ancients to the " Monthly Record " ;
or an essay on Ayahs in India to an American magazine ;
or a biography of Washington or Lincoln to any English
magazine whatever. We have them every month in some
American periodicals, and our poor insular serials can
get on without them : " have no use for them."

It is a minor, though valuable scheme, to send poems
on Christmas to magazines about the beginning of De-
cember, because in fact, the editors have laid in their
stock of that kind of thing earlier. Always insist on



732



ANDREW LANG



seeing the editor, instead of writing to him. There is
nothing he hates so much, unless you are very young
and beautiful indeed, when, perhaps, if you wish to fail
you had better not pay him a visit at the office. Even if
you do, even if you were as fair as the Golden Helen, he
is not likely to put in your compositions if, as is probable,
they fall much below the level of his magazine.

A good way of making yourself a dead failure is to go
about accusing successful people of plagiarizing from
books or articles of yours which did not succeed, and,
perhaps, were never published at all. By encouraging
this kind of vanity and spite you may entirely destroy
any small powers you once happened to possess, you will,
besides, become a person with a grievance, and, in the
long run, will be shunned even by your fellow failures.
Again, you may plagiarize yourself, if you can ; it is not
easy, but it is a safe way to fail if you can manage it.
No successful person, perhaps, was ever, in the strict
sense, a plagiarist, though charges of plagiary are always
brought against everybody, from Virgil to Milton, from
Scott to Moliere, who attains success. When you are
accused of being a plagiarist, and shown up in double
columns, you may be pretty sure that all this counsel
has been wasted on you, and that you have failed to
fail, after all. Otherwise nobody would envy and malign
you, and garble your book, and print quotations from
it which you did not write, all in the sacred cause of
morality.

Advice on how to secure the reverse of success should
not be given to young authors alone. Their kinsfolk
and friends, also, can do much for their aid. A lady
who feels a taste for writing is very seldom allowed to
have a quiet room, a quiet study. If she retreats to her
chill and fireless bed-chamber, even there she may be
chevied by her brothers, sisters, and mother. It is no-
ticed that cousins and aunts, especially aunts, are of high
service in this regard. They never give an intelligent
woman an hour to herself.

"Is Miss Mary in?"

" Yes, ma'am, but she is very busy."

" Oh, she won't mind me, I don't mean to stay long."

Then in rushes the aunt.



HOW TO FAIL IN LITERATURE



733



" Over your books again, my dear ! You really should
not overwork yourself. Writing something?" Here
the aunt clutches the manuscript, and looks at it vaguely.

" Well, I dare say it's very clever, but I don't care for
this kind of thing myself. Where's your mother? Is
Jane better? Now, do tell me, do you get much for
writing all that? Do you send it to the printers, or
where? How interesting! And that reminds me, you
that are a novelist, have you heard how shamefully Miss
Baxter was treated by Captain Smith? No? Well you
might make something out of it."

Here follows the anecdote, at prodigious length, and
perfectly incoherent.

" Now, write that, and I shall always say I was partly
the author. You really should give me a commission,
you know. Well, good-bye, tell your mother I called.
Why, there she is, I declare. Oh, Susan, just come and
hear the delightful plot for a novel that I have been
giving Mary."

And then she begins again, only further back, this time.

It is thus that trie aunts of England may and do assist
their nieces to fail in literature. Many and many a morn-
ing do they waste, many a promising fancy have they
blighted, many a temper have they spoiled.

Sisters are rather more sympathetic : The favorite plan
of the brother is to say, " Now, Mary, read us your new
chapter."

Mary reads it, and the critic exclaims, " Well, of all the
awful rot! Now, why can't you do something like
Booties' Baby?"

Fathers never take an interest in the business at all:
they do not count. The sympathy of a mother may be
reckoned on, but not her judgment, for she is either
wildly favorable, or, mistrusting her own tendencies, is
more diffident than need be. The most that relations
can do for the end before us is to worry, interrupt, deride,
and tease the literary member of the family. They sel-
dom fail in these duties, and not even success, as a rule,
can persuade them that there is anything in it but " luck."

Perhaps reviewing is not exactly a form of literature.
But it has this merit that people who review badly, not
only fail themselves, but help others to fail, by giving



734



ANDREW LANG



a bad idea of their works. You will, of course, never
read the books you review, and you will be exhaustively
ignorant of the subjects which they treat. But you can
always find fault with the title of the story which comes
into your hands a stupid reviewer never fails to do
this. You can also copy out as much of the preface as
will fill your eighth of a column, and add, that the per-
formance is not equal to the promise. You must never
feel nor show the faintest interest in the work reviewed,
that would be fatal. Never praise heartily, that is the
sign of an intelligence not mediocre. Be vague, colorless,
and languid, this deters readers from approaching the
book. If you have glanced at it, blame it for not being
what it never professed to be ; if it is a treatise on Greek
Prosody, censure the lack of humor; if it is a volume
of gay verses, lament the author's indifference to the sor-
rows of the poor, or the wrongs of the Armenians. If it
has humor, deplore its lack of thoughtfulness ; if it is
grave, carp at its lack of gaiety.

I have known a reviewer of half a dozen novels de-
nounce half a dozen kinds of novels in the course of his
two columns; the romance of adventure, the domestic
tale, the psychological analysis, the theological story, the
detective's story, the story of " Society," he blamed
them all in general, and the books before him in par-
ticular, also the historical novel. This can easily be
done, by dint of practice, after dipping into three or four
pages of your author. Many reviewers have special
aversions, authors they detest. Whatever they are criti-
cising, novels, poems, plays, they begin by an attack
on their pet aversion, who has nothing to do with the
matter in hand. They cannot praise A, B, C, and D, with-
out first assailing E. It will generally be found that E
is a popular author. But the great virtue of a reviewer,
who would be unreadable and make others unread, is a
languid, ignorant lack of interest in all things, a habit
of regarding his work as a tedious task, to be scamped
as rapidly and stupidly as possible.

You might think that these qualities would displease
the reviewer's editor. Not at all. Look at any column
of short notices, and you will occasionally find that the
critic has anticipated my advice. There is no topic in



HOW TO FAIL IN LITERATURE



735



which the men who write about it are so little interested
as contemporary literature. Perhaps this is no matter
to marvel at. By the way, a capital plan is not to write
your review till the book has been out for two years.

This is the favorite dodge of the , that distinguished

journal.

If any one has kindly attended to this discourse, with-
out desiring to be a failure, he has only to turn the
advice outside in. He has only to be studious of the
very best literature, observant, careful, original, he has
only to be himself and not an imitator, to aim at excel-
lence, and not be content with falling a little lower than
mediocrity. He needs but bestow the same attention on
this art as others give to the other arts and other pro-
fessions. With these efforts, and with a native and natu-
ral gift, which can never be taught, never communicated,
and with his mind set not on his reward but on excellence,
on style, on matter, and even on the not wholly unim-
portant virtue of vivacity, a man will succeed, or will
deserve success. First, of course, he will have to " find "
himself, as the French say, and if he does not find an
ass, then, like Saul the son of Kish, he may discover a
kingdom. One success he can hardly miss, the happi-
ness of living, not with trash, but among good books, and
" the mighty minds of old."

In an unpublished letter of Mr. Thackeray's, written
before he was famous, and a novelist, he says how much
he likes writing on historical subjects, and how he enjoys
historical research. " The work is so gentlemanly," he
remarks. Often and often, after the daily dreadful lines,
the bread and butter winning lines on some contemporary
folly or frivolity, does a man take up some piece of work
hopelessly unremunerative, foredoomed to failure as far as
money or fame go, some dealing with the classics of the
world, Homer or Aristotle, Lucian or Moliere. It is
like a bath after a day's toil, it is tonic and clean; and
such studies, if not necessary to success, are, at least, con-
ducive to mental health and self-respect in literature.

To the enormous majority of persons who risk them-
selves in literature, not even the smallest measure of suc-
cess can fall. They had better take to some other pro-
fession as quickly as may be, they are only making a



736 ANDREW LANG

sure thing of disappointment, only crowding the narrow
gates of fortune and fame. Yet there are others to whom
success, though easily within their reach, does not seem
a thing to be grasped at.

Of two such, the pathetic story may be read, in the me-
moir of a Scotch Probationer, Mr. Thomas Davidson, who
died young, an unplaced minister of the United Presby-
terian Church in 1869. He died young, unaccepted by
the world, unheard of, uncomplaining, soon after writing
his latest song on the first gray hairs of the lady whom
he loved. And she, Miss Alison Dunlop, died also, a
year ago, leaving a little work newly published, " Anent
Old Edinburgh," in which is briefly told the story of her
life. There can hardly be a true tale more brave and
honorable, for those two were eminently qualified to shine
with a clear and modest radiance, in letters. Both had
a touch of poetry, Mr. Davidson left a few genuine poems,
both had humor, knowledge, patience, industry, and liter-
ary conscientiousness. No success came to them, they
did not even seek it, though it was easily within the
reach of their powers. Yet none can call them failures,
leaving, as they did, the fragrance of honorable and un-
complaining lives, and such brief records of these as to
delight, and console, and encourage us all. They be-
queatH to us the spectacle of a real triumph far beyond
the petty gains of money or of applause, the spectacle of
lives made happy by literature, unvexed by notoriety,
unfretted by envy.

What we call success could never have yielded them so
much, for the ways of authorship are dusty and stony,
and the stones are only too handy for throwing at the
few that, deservedly or undeservedly, make a name, and
therewith about one-tenth of the wealth which is un-
grudged to physicians, or barristers, or stock-brokers, or
dentists, or electricians. If literature and occupation
with letters were not its own reward, truly they who seem
to succeed might envy those who fail. It is not wealth
that they win, as fortunate men in other professions count
wealth ; it is not rank nor fashion that come to their call
nor come to call on them. Their success is to be let dwell
with their own fancies, or with the imaginations of others
far greater than themselves; their success is this living



HOW TO FAIL IN LITERATURE



737



in fantasy, a little remote from the hubbub and the con-
tests of the world. At the best they will be vexed by
curious eyes and idle tongues, at the best they will die
not rich in this world's goods, yet not unconsoled by the
friendships which they win among men and women whose
faces they will never see. They may well be content, and
thrice content, with their lot, yet it is not a lot which
should provoke envy, nor be coveted by ambition.

It is not an easy goal to attain, as the crowd of aspirants
dream, nor is the reward luxurious when it is attained.
A garland, usually fading and not immortal, has to be
run for, not without dust and heat.



MARY ASHTON LIVERMORE



THE BATTLE OF LIFE

[Lecture by Mrs. Mary A. Livermore, author, editor, platform ad-
vocate of reforms (born in Boston, Mass., December 19, 1820; ),

delivered first in the West in her husband's pulpit as a sermon, and
afterward arranged for the lecture platform. The circumstance of the
first delivery Mrs. Livermore thus relates : " My husband was a clergy-
man, as you know, all his life, and he and I used to talk a good deal
about subjects for sermons, and their arrangements. I had made a draft
of a sermon on the words, 'War a Good Warfare,' (I Timothy 1-18),
and we had a talk about it. A little after, he sprained his ankle early
one Sunday morning, when it was impossible for a supply to be ob-
tained, and impossible for him to get to the church, or to stand, if he
got there. The leading men of the parish urged me to take his place,
and my husband seconded their entreaties, and I consented. This was
just at the close of the Civil War, during which I had had much expe-
rience in public speaking, without any previous preparation." The ser-
mon was turned into a lecture when Mrs. Livermore began lecturing in
regular lyceum courses, in 1872, and it was changed from time to time
to adapt it to varying circumstances. It has been repeated nearly two
hundred and fifty times, in localities lying between Maine and Santa
Barbara, and the Atlantic and Pacific. For thirty years Mrs. Liver-
more lectured an average of from six to eight months of the year,
mostly in the winter season, but also during the summer, when the
Chautauqua Assemblies and Summer Schools were in session.]

LADIES AND GENTLEMEN : Our estimates of earthly life
vary according to our positions and experiences. To one
life is a " vale of tears." His nature is pitched on a
minor key, so that he becomes very sensitive to the
undertones of complaint and sorrow with which the world
is rilled. He identifies himself with the unhappy and
dissatisfied, and like the river sponge, is forever saturated

Copyright, 1897, by A. D. Worthington & Co. Published by permission.



740 MARY ASHTON LIVERMORE

with the passing streams of other people's woes. To
another life is a " pilgrimage to a better country," and he
counts off the days as they fleet by, satisfied, for each one
brings him nearer to his destination. To a third, life is
only an "inscrutable mystery," a problem that cannot
be solved, a riddle whose meaning is past finding out.
To him, the oft-propounded questions : " Who are we ?
Whence came we? Whither are we going?" have no
satisfactory answer. A fourth is overwhelmed by a sense
of the brevity of life. It is a "tale that is told"; "a
dream of the night " ; " the mist of the morning " ; " the
grass that flourisheth in the morning, and which, at night,
is cut down, and withered." Others will tell you that
" life is a great game," and that they are the skilful players
who win; that it is "a time of probation, in which we
may escape from hell, and flee to heaven " ; that it is a
brief "gala day," when we should "eat, drink, and be
merry, since to-morrow we die " ; and so on, through
the whole range of metaphor and symbolry.

But when it is declared that life is a battle, a statement
is made that appeals to every one who has reached adult
life; aye, and to a great multitude who are only a little
way across its threshold. As our experience deepens we
realize that the whole world is one vast encampment, and
that every man and woman is a soldier. We have not
voluntarily enlisted into this service with an understand-
ing of the hardness of the warfare, and an acceptance of
its terms, and conditions, but have been drafted into the
conflict and cannot escape taking part in it. We were
not even allowed to choose our place in the ranks, but
have been pushed into life, to our seeming, arbitrarily,
and cannot be discharged, until mustered out by death.
Nor is it permitted us to furnish a substitute, though we
have the wealth of a Rockefeller at command, and the
powerful and far-reaching influence of the Czar of all the
Russias. We may prove deserters, or traitors, and
straggle to the rear during the conflict, or go over to the
enemy and fight under the black flag of wrong. But the
fact remains that we are all drafted into the battle of life,
and are expected to do our duty according to the best of
our ability.

Do you ask : " Why should life be packed so full of



THE BATTLE OF LIFE



741



conflict ? Why was it not planned to be harmonious and
congenial ? " I am unable to answer that question, and
do not propose in this address to discuss the " origin of
evil," which has vexed the various schools of philosophy.
I accept the fact that the whole world has been a scene of
conflict as far back as we know anything about it. The
literature of every nation resounds with it, and the poets,
teachers, philosophers, and historians of all languages
bear uniform and universal testimony to the fact that
" the whole creation has always groaned, and travailed in
pain." Victory has alternated with defeat, and every
experience of development in the animal creation has
been purchased with a sharp emphasis of pain. For the
world has many lives poured into it which are sustained
only as " each living thing is up with bill, or beak, or
tooth, or claw, or toilsome hand, or sweating brow, to
conquer the means of a living."

We cannot look at the world as it is to-day, a scene of
vast and universal conflict, without believing it to be
organic, and the design of the Creator. We cannot study
history and see how every step of progress made by the
human race has been won by the hardest efforts, and
represents ages of conflict behind it, how every great
truth of religion, or science, every social reform, and



Online LibraryThomas B. (Thomas Brackett) ReedModern eloquence; (Volume 5) → online text (page 30 of 38)