Atlantic Monthly Vol. 6, No. 33, July, 1860
Part 5 out of 5
reading, and, if our limits admitted an extended examination, we feel
sure that the result of the analysis would be the eliciting of
unexpected merits rather than the detection of hidden defects.
* * * * *
_Say and Seal_. By the Author of "Wide, Wide World," and the Author
of "Dollars and Cents." In Two Volumes. Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott
Another story from "Elizabeth Wetherell" is a welcome addition to our
scanty stock of American, novels. Our real American novels may be
counted on our fingers, while the tales that claim the name may be
weighed by the ton. At the present time, we count Hawthorne among our
novelists, and Mrs. Stowe, and perhaps Curtis, since his "Trumps";
but as for our thousand and one unrivalled authors, "whose matchless
knowledge of the human heart and wonderful powers of delineation
place them far above Dickens or Thackeray," they are all, from
Sylvanus Cobb, Junior, down to Ned Buntline and Gilmore Simms,
beneath serious notice, and may be left to the easy verdict of the
readers of the cheap magazines and illustrated newspapers, in whose
columns they have gained a world-wide obscurity. Miss Warner's books
have always a genuine flavor of originality, and an acute, living
appreciation of Yankee character, that give them a right to rank,
unchallenged, as real and valuable novels. In their simplicity, their
freshness, their quiet humor and not less quiet fun, their frequent
narrowness and stiffness, and their deep and true religious
sentiment, they have the real essence of the New England character.
In every novel there are three principal elements,--the Hero, the
Heroine, the Villain,--all three gracefully blending, in the Plot. We
cannot especially congratulate our authors upon their Hero. In a
favorite farce, the slightly bewildered Mr. Lullaby observes
musingly, "Brown? Brown? That name sounds familiar! I must have heard
that name before! I'll swear I've heard that name before!" We have a
dim consciousness of having met "Mr. Linden" before, albeit under a
different name. A certain Mr. Humphreys, whom we remember of old,
strongly resembles him: so does one Mr. Guy Carleton. We were very
well pleased with our old friend Humphreys, (or Carleton,) and would
by no means hint at any reluctance to meet him again; but a new
novel, by its very announcement, implies a new hero,--and if we come
upon a plain family-party, when fondly hoping for an introduction to
some distinguished stranger, we may be excused for thinking ourselves
hardly treated. Is it so infallible a sign of superiority, moreover,
to speak constantly in riddles? This Sphinx-like style is eminently
characteristic of Mr. Linden. Then again, our authors have been too
ambitious. They laboriously assert Mr. Linden to be a marvel of
learning,--a man of vast and curious literary attainments: but all
that their hero does to maintain this reputation and vindicate their
opinion is to quote trite passages of poetry, which are all very
well, but which every gentleman of ordinary cultivation is expected
to know, and which no gentleman of ordinary cultivation is expected
to quote,--things that are remembered only to be avoided as utterly
threadbare. One unfortunate instance may be found at the beginning of
the second volume. Mr. Linden's acquirements are to receive peculiar
lustre from a triumph over no ordinary competitor,--over the
intelligent and well-read Doctor Harrison. Naturally, we expect
something recondite, and are by no means satisfied with the trite
"Cupid and my Campaspe played
At cards for kisses," etc.
Mr. Linden might as well have astonished the company by such a
transcendent proof of erudition as
"All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women," etc.
Or, passing "from grave to gay, from lively to severe," (for novelty
in quotations we find to be contagious,) have recounted the wildly
erratic history "of that false matron known in nursery rhyme,
Insidious Morey," or quoted
"How doth the little busy bee."
After which he might have soared into unapproachable heights of
surpassing literary erudition, by informing his awe-struck hearers
that the latter poem was written by Doctor Watts! The fact is, any
attempt to give the novelist's characters a learning which the
novelist does not possess is always hazardous.
The Heroine, Miss Faith Derrick, is a pretty, but not remarkably
original creation, who taxes our magnanimity sorely at times by her
blind admiration of her lover when he is peculiarly absurd, but whose
dumb rejection of Doctor Harrison, though a trifle theatrical, is
really charming. Faith is better than Linden: Linden is _"superbe,
magnifique"_; but Faith is "pretty good."
But the conception of the Villain is very fine. In Doctor Harrison we
hail a new development of that indispensable character. Of course,
the gentlemanly, good-humored Doctor is not to be considered a
villain in the ordinary acceptation of the word; he is only a
technical villain,--a villain of eminent respectability. It is almost
unnecessary to add, that he is immeasurably more attractive than the
real hero, Mr. Linden.
We regret to say that the conception is not carried out so well as it
deserves to be. Doctor Harrison descends to some low business, quite
unworthy of him, such as tampering with the mails. This is not only
mortifying, but entirely unnecessary; inasmuch as Doctor Harrison has
a subordinate villain to do all the low villany, in the person of
Squire Deacon, who shoots at Mr. Linden from behind a hedge (!), and
is never called to account therefor,--a strange remissness on the
part of everybody, which seems to have no recommendation except that
it leaves him free to do this very work of robbing the mails, and
which, by his failure to do it, is left utterly unexplained and
profoundly mysterious. All this is very bad. The Doctor's meanness is
utterly inconsistent; and the bare thought of a sober and uncommonly
awkward Yankee, like Squire Deacon, deliberately making _two_
separate attempts at assassination, is unspeakably ludicrous.
Moreover, we are hopelessly unable to see the need of having the
unfortunate Mr. Linden shot at all. Everything was going on very well
before, as nearly as we could see, and nothing appears to come of it,
after all,--not even the condign punishment of the incongruous and
never-to-be-sufficiently-marvelled-at assassin, who is suspected by
several people, and yet remains as unharmed as if murder on the
highway were altogether too common an occurrence in New England to
excite more than a moment's thought.
This leads us to speak of the Plot; and we are constrained to say
that a more inartistic, unfinished piece of work we cannot remember.
There is a lamentable waste of capital on Squire Deacon's
sportsmanlike propensities. Why not have something come of them? We
are not anxious to have the man hanged, or even indicted; but we did
expect a magnanimous pardon to be extended to him by Mr. Linden; and
although that gentleman was altogether too magnanimous before, we
should have acquiesced mildly. And what becomes of Mrs. Derrick?
There we are in earnest; for Mrs. Derrick is an especial favorite
with us. It seems as if our authors had become bewildered, and,
finding themselves fairly at a loss what to do with their characters,
who drift helplessly along through a great part of the second volume,
had seized desperately on the hero and heroine, determined to save
them at least, and, having borne them to a place of refuge, had
concluded to let the others look after themselves.
What redeems the novel, and gives it its peculiar and exquisite
charm, is the execution of certain detached passages. We have never
seen the drollery of a genuine Yankee to more advantage than in "Say
and Seal." An occasional specimen we venture to quote.
On Mr. Linden's first appearance at Mrs. Derrick's house, where he is
known only as the new teacher, nobody knows and nobody dares ask his
name; and recourse is accordingly had to the diplomacy of the "help."
"'Child,' said Mrs. Derrick, 'what on earth is his name?'
"'Mother, how should I know? I didn't ask him.'
"'But the thing is,' said Mrs. Derrick, 'I _did_ know; the Committee
told me all about him. And of course he thinks I know,--and I
don't,--no more than I do my great-grandmother's name, which I never
did remember yet.'
"'Mother, shall I go and ask him, or wait till after supper?'
"'Oh, you sha'n't go,' said her mother. 'Wait till after supper, and
we'll send Cindy. He won't care about his name till he gets his tea,
I'll warrant... Faith, don't you think he liked his supper?'
"'I should think he would, after having no dinner,' said Faith.
"'There's Cindy, this minute! Run and tell her to go right away, and
find out what his name is,--tell her _I_ want to know,--you can put
it in good words.'
"Cindy presently came back, and handed a card to Faith.
"'It's easy done,' said Cindy. 'I jest asked him if he'd any
objections towards tellin' his name,--and he kinder opened his eyes
at me, and said, "No." Then I said, says I, "Mis' Derrick do' know,
and she'd like ter." "Miss Derrick!" says he, and he took out his
pencil and writ that. But I'd like ter know _what_ he cleans his
pencil with,' said Cindy, in conclusion, for I'm free to confess _I_
never see brass shine so in my born days.'"
Cindy's "free confessions" are an important feature of the book.
In Chapter VI, Squire Deacon and his sister hold a brief Yankee
dialogue, of which this is a sample:--
"'Sam! what are you bothering yourself about Mr. Linden for?'
"'How long since you was made a trustee?' said the Squire, beginning
his sentence with an untranslatable sort of grunt, and ending it in
"'I've been _your_ trustee ever since you was up to anything,' said
his sister. 'Come, Sam,--don't you begin now! What's made you so
"'It a'n't the worst thing to be crusty,' said the Squire. 'Shows a
man's more'n half baked, anyhow.'
"'Well, what has he done?'
"'Sure enough!' said the Squire, 'what _has_ he done? That's just
what I can't find out.'
"'What do you want to find out for? What ails him?'
"'Suppose he hasn't done nothin'. Is that the sort o' man to teach
litteratur in Pattaquasset?'
"'Now, Sam Deacon, what do you expect to do by all this fuss you're
making?' said his sister, judicially.
"'What's the use of cross-examining a man at that rate? When I do
anything, you'll know it.'"
The characters are all invested with reality by skilfully introduced
anecdotes, or by personal traits carelessly and happily sketched. But
it is a costly expedient to give this reality, when our authors bring
in pet names, and other "love-lispings," which are sacred in privacy
and painfully ridiculous when exposed to the curious light. Many of
us readers find all this mawkish and silly, and others of us are
pained that to such scrutiny should be exposed the dearest secrets of
affection, and are not anxious to have them exposed to our own gaze.
It is too trying a confidence, too high an honor, to be otherwise
than unwelcome. With this criticism we close our notice of "Say and
Seal," in which we have been sparing neither of praise nor blame,
earnestly thanking the authors for a book that is worth finding fault
* * * * *
_How Could He Help It? or, The Heart Triumphant_. By A.S. ROE. New
York: Derby & Jackson.
A fair representative of a class of books that are always pleasant
reading, although written without taste, cultivation, or
originality,--because they are obviously dictated by a kind heart and
genuine earnestness. In this volume the numerous heroes (so similar
in every respect that one might fancy them to be only one hero
mysteriously multiplied, like Kehama) and the fair heroines (exactly
equalling the heroes in number, we are happy to assure the
tenderhearted reader) are not in the least interesting, except for
sheer goodness of heart. This unaided moral excellence, however,
fairly redeems the book, and so far softens even our critical
asperity that we venture only to suggest,--first, that the utterly
unprecedented _patois_ of Mrs. Kelly is not Irish, for which a
careful examination of the context leads us to think it was
intended,--secondly, that "if he had have done it" is equally
guiltless of being English,--thirdly, that, if our author, desiring to
describe the feelings of a lover holding his mistress's hand, was
inspired by Tennyson's phrase of "dear wonder," he failed, in our
opinion, to improve on his original, when he substituted "the fleshy
treasure in his grasp."
* * * * *
_The New Tariff-Bill_. Washington. 1860.
We do not propose to submit the English of this new literary effort
of the House of Representatives at Washington to a critical
examination, (though it strikingly reminds us of some of the poems of
Mr. Whitman, and is a very fair piece of descriptive verse in the
_b'hoy_-anergic style,) or to attempt any argument on the vexed
question of Protection. But there is a section of the proposed act
which has a direct interest not only for all scholars, but for that
large and constantly increasing class whose thirst for what may be
called voluminous knowledge prompts them to buy all those
shelf-ornamenting works without which no gentleman's library can be
considered complete. Though in the matter of book-buying the
characters of gentleman and scholar, so seldom united, are
distinguished from each other with remarkable precision,--the desire
of the former being to cover the walls of what he superstitiously
calls his "study," and that of the latter to line his head, while the
resultant wisdom is measured respectively by volume and by mass,--yet
it is equally important to both that the literary furniture of the
one and the intellectual tools of the other should be cheap.
The "Providence Journal" deserves the thanks of all students for
having called attention to the fact, that, under the proposed tariff,
the duties will be materially increased on two classes of foreign
books: the cheap ones, like "Bohn's Library,"--and the bulky, but
often indispensable ones, such as the "Encyclopaedia Britannica." The
new bill, in short, proposes to substitute for the old duty of eight
_per cent. ad valorem_ a new one of fifteen cents the pound weight.
Could we suspect a Committee of Members of Congress of a joke
appreciable by mere members of the human family, could we suppose
them in a thoughtless moment to have carried into legislation a
mildened modicum of that metaphorical language which forms the staple
of debate, we should make no remonstrance. We recognize the severe
justice of an ideal avoirdupois in literary criticism. We remember
the unconscious sarcasm of the Atlantic Telegraph, as it sank
heart-broken under the strain of conveying the answer of the Heavy Father
of our political stage to the graceful "good-morning" of Victoria.
The enthusiastic member of the Academy of Lagado, who had spent eight
years in a vain attempt to extract sunbeams from cucumbers, might
have found profitable employment in smelting the lead even from light
literature, not to speak of richer deposits. Under an act thus
dubiously worded, and in a country which makes Bancroft a collector
of the customs and Hawthorne a weigher and gauger, the works of an
Alison and a Tupper would be put beyond the reach of all but the
immensely rich. The man of moderate means would be deprived of the
exhaustless misinformation of the Scottish Baronet, who has so
completely disproved the old charge against his countrymen of
possessing an _ingenium perfervidum_, (which Dr. Johnson would have
translated by _brimstone temperament_,) and of the don't-fail-to-
spread-your-umbrella-when-it-rains-or-you'll-spoil-your-hat wisdom of
the English Commoner, who seems to have named his chief work in a
moment of abnormal inspiration, since it has become proverbial as the
severest test of human philosophy.
But we cannot suspect the Congressional Committee of a joke, still
less of a joke at the expense of those anglers in the literary
current whose tackle, however bare of bait, never fails of a sinker
at the end of every line. They have been taught to look upon books as
in no wise differing from cotton and tobacco, and rate them
accordingly by a merely material standard. It has been the dealers in
books, and not the makers of them, who have hitherto contrived to
direct public opinion in this matter. We look upon Public Opinion
with no superstitious reverence,--for Tom's way of thinking is none
the wiser because the million other Toms and Dicks and Harries agree
with him,--nevertheless, even a fetish may justly become an object of
respectful interest to one who is to be sacrificed to it.
However it may be with iron, wool, and manufactured cotton, it is
clear that a duty on books is not protective of American literature,
but simply a tax on American scholarship and refinement. The
imperfectness of our public libraries compels every student to depend
more or less upon his own private collection of books; and it is a
fact of some significance, that, with the single exception of
Hildreth, all our prominent historians, Sparks, Irving, Bancroft,
Prescott, Ticknor, Motley, and Palfrey, have been men of independent
fortune. If anything should be free of duty, it should seem to be the
material of thought.
If Congress be really desirous of doing something for the benefit of
American authors, it would come nearer the mark, if it directed its
attention to the establishment on equitable grounds of some system of
International Copyright. A well-considered enactment to this end
would, we are convinced, be quite as advantageous to the
manufacturers as to the producers of books. We believe that a
majority of the large publishing houses of the country have been
gradually convinced of the inconveniences of the present want of
system. Many of them have found it profitable to enter into an
agreement with popular English authors for the payment of copyright,
and works thus reprinted cost the buyer no more than under the
privateering policy. But without some definite establishment of legal
rights and remedies, the publisher is at the mercy of a dishonorable,
sometimes of a vindictive competition, and must run the risk of
having the market flooded within a week with a cheaper and inferior
edition, reprinted from the sheets of his own which had been
honorably paid for. We do not pretend to argue the question of
literary property, the principle of it being admitted in the fact
that we have any copyright-laws at all. Our wish is to show, that, in
the present absence of settled law, the honest publisher is subjected
to risks from the resultant evils of which the whole reading
community suffers. The publisher, to protect himself, is forced to
make his reprint as cheaply as possible, and to hurry it through the
press with the disregard of accuracy inseparable from hasty
publication,--while the reader is put in possession of a book
destructive of eyesight, crowded with blunders, and unsightly in
appearance. Maps and plates are omitted, or copied so carelessly as
to be worse than useless; and whoever needs the book for study or
reference must still buy the original edition, made more costly
because imported in single copies, and because taxed for the
protection of a state of things discreditable in every way, and not
only so, but hostile to the true interests of both publishers and
We do not claim any protection of American authorship from foreign
competition, but we cannot but think it unfair that British
authorship should be protected (as it now practically is) at the cost
of our own, and for the benefit of such publishers as are willing to
convey an English book without paying for it. The reprint of a
second-rate work by an English author has not only the advantage of a
stolen cheapness over a first-rate one on the same subject by an
American, but may even be the means of suppressing it altogether. The
intellectual position of an American is so favorable for the
treatment of European history as to overbalance in some instances the
disadvantages arising from want of access to original documents; yet
an American author whose work was yet in manuscript could not
possibly compete with an English rival, even of far inferior ability,
who had already published. If, within the last few years, a tolerably
popular history of France had been published in England, and cheaply
reprinted here, (as it surely would have been,) we doubt whether Mr.
Godwin would have undertaken his laborious and elaborate work,--or,
if he had, whether he would have readily found a bookseller bold
enough to pay an adequate price for the copyright. And it is to be
remembered that an American publisher gives this preference to an
English over an American book simply because he can get it for
nothing, by defrauding its author of the just reward of his industry
or genius. That an author loses his equitable claim to copyright for
the simple reason that by publication he has put himself in our power
is an argument fit to be used only by one who would make use of a
private letter that had accidentally come into his possession to the
damage of the writer.
The necessity of some kind of equitable arrangement was so strongly
felt by American publishers that a kind of unwritten law gradually
established itself among them. It was tacitly understood, that, when
a publisher had paid an English author for advance sheets, no rival
American edition should be published. But it already appears too
plainly that an arrangement with no guaranty but a private sense of
honor is liable to constant infringement for the gratification of
personal enmity, or in the hope of immediate profit. The rewards of
uprightness and honorable dealing are slow in coming, while those of
unscrupulous greed are immediate, even though dirty. Under existing
circumstances, free-trade and fair-play exist only in appearance: for
the extraordinary claim has been set up, that an American bookseller
has an exclusive right to all the future works of an English author
any one of whose former productions he has reprinted, whether with or
without paying for it; so that, however willing another publisher may
be to give the author a fair price for his book, or however desirous
the latter may be to conclude such a bargain, it is practically
impossible, so long as privateering is tolerated in the trade.
We have said nothing of the advantages which would accrue to our own
authors from a definite settlement of the question of international
copyright between England and America. How great these would be is
plain from the fact that the editions of American books republished
in England are already numbered by thousands. With the growth of the
English Colonies the value to an American author of an English
copyright is daily increasing. Indeed, it is a matter of
consideration for our publishers, whether Canada may not before long
retaliate upon them, and by cheaper reprints become as troublesome to
them as Belgium once was to France.
It is not creditable that America should be the last of civilized
nations to acknowledge the justice of an author's claim to a share in
the profits of a commercial value which he has absolutely created.
England is more liberal to our authors than we to hers, but it is
only under certain strictly limited contingencies that an American
can acquire copyright there. Were all our booksellers as scrupulous
as the few honorably exceptional ones among them now are, there would
be no need of legislative regulation; but, in the present condition
of things, he who undertakes to reprint an English book which he has
honestly paid for is at the mercy of whoever can get credit for poor
paper and worse printing. There is no reason why a distinction should
be made between copy-right and patent-right; but, if our legislators
refuse to admit any abstract right in the matter, they might at least
go so far as to conclude an international arrangement by which a
publisher in either country who was willing to pay for the right of
publication should be protected in its exercise. No just objection
could be made to a plan of this kind, which, if not so honest as a
general international law of copyright, would be profitable to our
publishers, and to such of our authors at least as had acquired any
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