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[-121-] CHAPTER III.
London the emporium of literature-Works of fiction-Poetry - History - Statistics - Philosophy- Works on the subject of health- Biography and Autobiography-Voyages and Travels-Public taste for light reading - Divinity - Extent to which books sell - Cheap republications of standard works- Embellished works - Supposed number and circumstances of persons who live by their literary labours -The success of works not always dependent on their merits-The precariousness of the literary profession - Privations of Authors-The expedients resorted to by Authors to attract attention.
London, as every one is aware, is the
great emporium of trade, commerce, wealth and fashion; it is still more so of
literature. Thither authors flock from all parts of the country, even from its
remotest points, to publish their works. Not only is is thought there is a want
of respect-[-122-]ability in books which issue from the provincial press, but it is
taken for granted - and in most cases justly - that they have not the same
chances of success as if emanating from the metropolis. London has, undoubtedly,
many advantages in this respect peculiar to itself. It is, for example, the only
place which has a regular communication with all other parts of the country. It
has, too, as the metropolis, a name which no other town can by possibility ever
acquire. It not only now is, but ever must continue, the great depot of literary
works; the place whence, wherever they may be written, they must emanate. In
speaking, therefore, of the literature of the metropolis, I may be considered as
speaking, in great measure, of the literature of Great Britain generally.
About twenty years ago, the literary tide set in favour of fiction. The extraordinary success of the Waverley Novels stimulated a host of writers to apply themselves to works of a similar class. If those who, after Sir Walter Scott, were the earliest in this literary field, did not acquire the [-123-] same fame, or derive the same pecuniary advantage as the Magician of the North, they were sufficiently successful to encourage them to make new efforts, and to induce others to follow their example. Hence, about ten or twelve years since, when the mania for works of fiction was at its height, it was calculated that from two to three hundred appeared in the course of a year. All of them of any note could boast a sale of from 750 to 1000: decidely good ones often reached a sale of from 1500 to 2000 copies. A striking change has since come over the spirit of this class of literature. The authors, whose works of fiction a dozen years since commanded a sale of from 1500 to 2000 copies, cannot now command a sale of 500. I could mention many instance in confirmation of this, but it would be equally invidious to authors and publishers. I may state in general terms, that on one day, about six months ago, four novels, two of them by authors of great celebrity in the high and palmy days of works of fiction, were published by different houses. and that the sale [-124-] of neither of the works exceeded 350 copies; that of three out of the four was under that number. Publishers have now come to the conclusion - a conclusion forced on them by painful experience - that the days of this class of works are past for ever. Authors may continue to write, but publishers will not publish, except in comparatively few cases, even though the copyright were offered them for nothing. If authors will write novels, they must publish them at their own risk. This, indeed, has been the case, though the public are not aware of the fact, in many instances of late years, as I shall have occasion afterwards to show at some length. The truth is that, with the exception of the works of fifteen or twenty authors, no individual ever now dreams of purchasing a novel for his own reading. The only copies bought are for the circulating libraries.
Poetry is at a still greater discount in the literary market than novels. Offer a publisher a volume of poetry, and he sickens at the very sight. He looks upon you much in the same [-125-] way as if he had detected you in the act of attempting to pick his pocket. And assuredly not without reason; for in various cases, with the last three of four years, have publishers smarted most severely by speculating in the commodity of poetry; and this, too, while the quality of the article has been admitted on all hands to be very superior. A short time since, a popular poet sold the copyright of a poem for 100l. to a publisher at the West End. It was really a beautiful composition, and was most liberally praised in reviews of from ten to twenty pages, in "Blackwood's Magazine" and other leading periodicals; and yet the sale did not much exceed 50 copies. Another poem of a humorous kind, extending to nearly three hundred pages, which was very clever, and displayed great depth and variety of erudition, was published about twenty months ago. It was to the author the labour of years; and what does the reader suppose was the extent of the sale? Just eighteen copies. To such an extent, indeed, has poetry become a drug in the market, that I do not believe the names [-126-] of Campbell, or Rogers, or Wordsworth, would insure a sale of more than a few hundred copies, of any poetical work they could at present produce.
It is the same with regard to re-publications of the works of the standard poets of a past age. Not long since, an enterprising publisher got up one of the cheapest and most beautiful editions I have ever witnessed, of the works of the most popular poet of the last century; and in order that every justice might be done the work, in bringing its claims before the public, he spent upwards of 500l. in advertising it. He expected a sale of 5,000 copies and accordingly printed that number; he never sold 500. In another case, a beautiful reprint was made of the works of the most popular poet of Scotland in the seventeenth century; the poet's name was in everybody's mouth, but his works had for many years been scarce. In these circumstances, the publisher thought a cheap and elegant edition of those works, with a carefully written memoir, and a critical notice of the poets of the [-127-] same period, would be a hit. The event proved how erroneous were his calculations. The work, in one handsome volume, made its appearance; it was cordially commended, and deservedly so, by the majority of the periodicals; but the sale never reached 30 copies.
Of late years little in the shape of history has been attempted. Where the subject has been interesting, and the execution respectable, such works have met with a fair sale. The historical works which have appeared in Dr Lardner's "Cyclopaedia" have all been successful; but that is not a fair index of the demand for historical literature, as it is impossible to distinguish between those cases in which such works have sold on their own account, and those in which they have been purchased, merely because they formed a part of a connected series of volumes on literature in general.
Statistical works on subjects of general importance are in fair demand at present. The majority of these which have of late been published by Mr. Knight, have been of this class, [-128-] and they have, for the most part, been very successful. Mr Babbage's "Economy of Manufactures", Dr Lardner's "Steam Engine", Maculloch's "Commercial Dictionary", Baine's "History of the Cotton Manufacture" &c. have severally had an extensive scale.
Philosophy is in bad repute at the present moment, among the reading public. Supposing Locke and Boyles were to arise in dozens, they would not just now succeed in getting themselves or their works into notice. Within the last few years several very able and profound works on the subject of mental philosophy have appeared, but the most successful of them have not reached a sale of 200 copies.
Works bearing on the subject of health, when drawn up in a popular form, are now very generally read. Dr James Clark's admirable "Treatise on Consumption" has attracted more attention beyond the pale of the profession, than any similar work ever published. This fact must have been observed by every one in the habit of reading the magazines and newspapers; for [-129-] almost every newspaper and literary periodical of any note, has most earnestly recommended it to the attention of the public.
Biography and autobiography are in considerable request, where the subjects are well known. and the books are well written. Barry Cornwall's "Life of Kean" and Campbell's "Life of Mrs Siddons" have each been tolerably successful. "The Life of Salt", the British Consul at Cairo, and "The Life of Thomas Picton" have been still more so. The "Life of Lord Exmouth" by Mr Osler, published two years ago, has sold to the extent of 1500 copies. Galt's "Autobiography", though the price was 28s. the two volumes, and Sir Egerton Brydges' "Autobiography", published at the same price, severally reached a sale of about 700 copies.
Books of voyages and travels, especially the latter, when the part of the world visited excites interest, and where the writer has displayed judgment and tact in the use of the materials provided for him, are read with avidity. Quin's "Voyage down the Danube" has sold to the [-130-] extent of 1200 or 1400 copies. Holman's "Voyage Round the World", though in four large volumes, has met with a sale of 600 or 700 copies. The Voyages of Captain Ross and of Captain Back to the Arctic Seas, have met with an extensive sale. The number of copies sold of the first exceeds 2000, that of the second about 1000, though both were expensive works. Mr Bentley's edition of "Lamartine's Pilgrimage to the Holy Land" has met with a large sale; so have most of the late works on the same subject. Stuart's "Three Years' Residence in America" has been very successful. It has reached a third edition, making a sale of upwords of 1500 copies. Macfarlane's "Travels in the East" has sold nearly to the same extent. Drs Reed and Mathison's "Travels in Amercia", published in 1835, sold to the extent of 1000 in seven or eight months, though an expensive work in two volumes; and Drs Cox and Hoby's "Visit to the American Baptist Churches" published in March or April last year, went through the first edition in about [-131-] three months. The sale of Mr Barrow's "Tour round Ireland" performed in the autumn of last year, has met with great success, upwards of 800 copies having been sold of it in less than six months after the time of publication.
Works of a light and sketchy kind are among those most generally read in the present day. It is the admirable wit and humour of Captain Marryat's sketches of character, more than anything else, that render his works so popular. It was the same qualities that brought Theodore Hook's late novel of "Gilbert Gurney" to a second edition in about six months, though few other novels have reached a second edition in the last twelve months. To the same cause also is "Boz" to attribute the sale of 1500 copies of his two volumes of "Sketches of Every-day Scenes and Every-day People." (*since this was written, the work has reached a still greater scale).
Divinity in most cases is an unsaleable commodity in the bibliopolic market. Sermons are [-132-] especially so. Perhaps not one theological work out of twenty or thirty, pays its expenses. The works of distinguished divines, however, still command a renumerating sale. So great is popularity of the works of the late Rev. Robert Hall, that one of the houses for the publication of religious books gave 4,000l. for the copyright, in six volumes - including the memoir of the author's life, by Dr Olinthus Gregory. The copyright of works of the late Rev. C. Simeon, of Cambridge, in twenty volumes, was also recently purchased by Holdsworth and Ball, if I mistake not, for 5,000l. The Rev. Alexander Fletcher's "Family Devotion" though the price is twenty four shilling, has had an extensive sale. Upwards of 2,000 copies were disposed of it in a very short time. Nor is its great success to be wondered at; for if anything could be more happy than the plan of the work, it is the way in which it is executed.
The current of public taste seems at present to run principally in the direction of works which have a personal relation; no matter whe-[-133-]ther to bodies of men, or to persons in their individual capacities ("Almacks" was an instance of this. It was the freedom with which it dealt with well known personages, though under fictitious names, that procured it a sale of upwards of 2000 copies. Prince Puckler's "Tour in England" a few years since, owed its success to the same cause). The caricatures and personalities with which Mrs Trollope's "America and the Americans" about, were the great secret of its success. The same may be said of her late work on "Paris and the Parisians". Anything in the shape of scandal or abuse, is sure to be read with avidity; so also are those works which, though there be nothing ill-natured or vituperative in them, make us acquainted with the habits and peculiarities of persons who fill a large space in the public eye, provided the works be cleverly written. It was Mr Willis's disclosures of that kind, that proved the passport to his "Pencillings by the Way" to a sale of 1500 copies in the space of twelve months.
The number of books published last year in London, in the various departments of science [-134-] and literature, were, as nearly as can be ascertained, fifteen hundred.
It is calculated that out of every fifteen books published, taking them on the average, not more than one pays its own expenses. "The Edinburgh Review" proved to demonstration, some years ago, that only one out of every fifty pamphlets which make their appearance, pay the expenses of paper, print, stitching, and advertising. On this subject, I shall have something more to say when I come to the chapter on "Authors and Publishers".
Only one book, on an average, out of about 200, reaches a second edition. Out of 500 books, not more than one gets to a third edition; and out of 1000 only one has the good fortune to reach a fourth edition.
There are various causes which have of late operated against the sale of books, altogether irrespective of their merits. Their very number is one of these. It is impossible the demand could ever equal the supply, unless we were a nation of philosophers, and had nothing else to [-135-] do than to read. Horace said, in his day, that. verse was the trade of every living wight. What would he say were he to revisit the world in 1837, and see the host of authors, both in verse and prose, which at present crowd the temple of Parnassus? You now meet with an author in every fifteenth or twentieth person you chance to encounter in the daily intercourse of life. Cobbett used to say, that if a string were thrown across the Strand to catch the accidental passers by, it would be found that, taking one with another, they were much abler and more intelligent men than the members of the House of Commons. Throw a string across any thoroughfare you choose in the metropolis, excepting of course such localities as St. Giles's and the Seven Dials, and you may depend on it that out of every thirty or forty persons you catch, two if not more are authors. The mere circumstance of having written a book, good, bad, or indifferent, was at one time a mark of distinction of itself. Now almost every man, who can master the most common rules of Lindley Murray, has in [-136-] some shape or other, at one time or other of his life, seen himself in print. I recollect hearing of a well-informed young man, much accustomed to literary society, who took the singular whim into his head that he would never read a line of the Waverley Novels. He adhered to his resolution, and used to be pointed out in every literary company as the gentleman who had not read the Scotch novels. The man accustomed to mix with good society, who has not in some way or other been in print, would now be deemed equally singular.
The amazing increase which has taken place of late years in what is called cheap periodical literature, has interfered with the sale of works published in the usual form, and at the usual price. In these cheap publications the public get the cream of what appears in the usual class of works, within a few days or weeks after their appearance, and consequently will not think of purchasing the original works themselves. Until some better protection be afforded to authors and publishers against these wholesale pillagers, [-137-] the sale of works in general never can become what it formerly was.
The late republications, in a cheap and elegant form, of the works of popular authors, have very materially contributed to diminish the demand for new productions, published at the usual price. Nearly 40,000 copies of the republication of the works of Sir Walter Scott have been sold. Mr. Murray, it is understood, has disposed of 30,000 copies of Moore's "Life and Works of Byron. The same enterprising publisher has got rid of nearly 8,000 of his edition of the "Works of Crabbe ;" and I believe the sale of his Boswell's "Life of Johnson, and his "Johnsoniana, in 10 volumes, has exceeded 5,000. That number of Allan Cunningham's "Life and Works of Burns, was sold by the publishers within twelve months of the completion of the edition. Mr. Valpy's edition of "Shakspeare, commanded a sale of 4,000; and his edition of "Hume and Smollett's England, was not much less successful. Messrs. Saunders and Otley's "Life and Works of Cowper has had a sale of [-138-] some thousands. Messrs. Baldwin and Cradock's edition of the works of the same poet has also had a tolerable sale, though I have not heard any statement of the extent. Of Mr. Macrone's edition of the "Life and Works of Milton, the sale has been between 1,500 and 2,000. All of these works have been sold at five shillings per volume; and in addition to the cheapness of the price, there have been, in every case, the further attractions of the best quality of paper, the most tasteful and accurate typography, beautifully executed engravings, and elegant binding. The circulation of so many volumes throughout the country within the last ten years, must of necessity have lessened, to a very great extent, the sale of those more expensive works which have been published during that period. The public taste, however, is beginning to be diverted from this class of publications, and is likely soon to be turned again into its former channel. Within the last two or three years the demand for such works has so much declined, that no publisher is likely, for some [-139-] time to come, to engage with any republication of the same kind. The expense of getting them up is so great, and the price of each volume is so cheap, that a sale of less than 3,500 copies will not render the speculation a safe one for the publisher.
A very great change has also of late come over the spirit of the reading public, with regard to highly-embellished works. Eight or ten years ago there was an immense demand for Annuals; that demand has now so much abated, that several of those which were then so popular have ceased to exist; and two or three others are understood to be published at a loss. Formerly, a sale of 10,000 copies was not deemed extraordinary; now, with the single exception of "Friendship's Offering, which sells between 6,000 and 7,000, I doubt if half that number be disposed of any of them. Nothing short of a sale of 4,500 copies will pay the expenses of getting up an Annual, provided the engravings are executed in a respectable manner. Some years ago, when the spirit of rivalry among the [-140-] proprietors of these works was at its height, I knew of one or two instances in which as much as 1401. was given for one engraving. Sums of 60l. 70l. and 80l. were then quite common.
Within the last year or two a great alteration has been made in the form of illustrated works. From the small Annual size, the proprietors have leaped to the folio and quarto form. These last sizes are undoubtedly best adapted for the boudoir or the drawing-room table, and they display the graphic embellishments to the greatest advantage; but their want of portability is a very great objection to them; they are not nearly so well suited for presents as the smaller size.
The number of individuals who live in London entirely by their literary labour, has been variously estimated. It is impossible to say with confidence what the exact number is. Among the various conjectures which have been made on the subject, that which computes the number to be about 4,000 appears to me to be the nearest approximation to the truth. Of this number, perhaps about 700 are, in one way or other, con-[-141-]nected with periodicals. Many of them, I need hardly say, have no better than chameleon's fare three days out of the seven. The joke of being poor was formerly used only in reference to poets; they have always been so remarkable for their poverty that the words poet and poverty have almost become synonymous. Now the evil of poverty is unhappily felt by the writers of prose as well as poetry, to an extent unparalleled in by-gone times. Grub Street was formerly supposed, by a sort of poetical fiction, to be the only locality of poor authors: now a dozen Grub Streets would not contain the number, even supposing they were to adopt the principle so strictly acted on among the Irish inhabitants of St. Giles's, namely, of a dozen of them vegetating in the same apartment. Now-a-days there is hardly an attic in the humbler localities of the metropolis, but at present has, or has lately had, its poor author as an inmate. I have spoken of 4,000 as being the supposed number of persons who live by their literary labour: were I to include those who have tried to live by their [-142-] literary exertions, but have been obliged to abandon "the profession, because they found they could not earn by it what was sufficient to keep soul and body together, I should have to double the number. There are scenes of destitution and misery ever and anon exhibited among literary men -aye, and literary women too,-which would make the heart sick. And it ought not to be forgotten that want comes armed to them with aggravated horrors. They are of necessity persons of more sensitive minds than the majority of other sufferers from the ills of poverty; and what adds to the pungency of their distress is the circumstance of their slighted intellectual efforts being almost invariably mixed up with their physical destitution. I myself could detail cases of wretchedness among literary men which have come under my own observation, at the bare mention of which every rightly- constituted mind would stand appalled.
Of the literary profession, above all others, it may be said that the race is not to the swift nor the battle to the strong. The most talented [-143-] authors are not always the most popular, nor their works the most productive in a pecuniary point of view. I am not sure, indeed, paradoxical as the position may appear, whether, in the majority of cases, works which have attained a great popularity and met an extensive sale, have not been surpassed in merit by many others which have fallen still-born from the press. There are various accidental circumstances which from time to time conspire to force a work of little merit into notice, and procure for it a large sale, while works of superior talent are consigned to eternal oblivion the very moment they have been ushered into being. The writer of the successful work, though possessing little or no merit, may, for instance, have very influential friends in the literary world, who may be the means of pushing it into notice; while the author of the work of great talent may have no friend to lend him a helping hand in the hour of need. In other instances, again, the subject of the former work may be one which suits the false or powerful prejudices of the public at the moment; while [-144-] that of the latter may be at direct variance with both. But it is useless to speculate on the subject: the fact is uncontroverted and it is incontrovertible. Let me state two cases in illustration. Milton's "Paradise Lost was deemed by the publishers of the day a work of so little worth, that he was only able to obtain 15l. for the copyright, and that small sum was made payable in three instalments of 5l. each. It was not until many years after it was published, that its merits were discovered or appreciated. Had Milton trusted to it, he might have perished of want; while there were doubtless some scores of per sons calling themselves literary men, of whom the next generation never heard a syllable, living at the time in ease and comfort by the produce of their literary labours. In the case of Hume, again, when he published the first volume of his "History of England, it proved so complete a failure that he says he would, but for the war at that time preventing it, have changed his name and left the country for ever in disgust. Even at the end of twelve months, only forty-five [-145-] copies of his work had sold. If any one looks into the Monthly and Critical Reviews, and other periodicals of the time, he will find that while Hume, instead of gaining anything, must have been a serious loser by his literary labours, there were others, not possessed of a thousandth part of his talents, deriving a handsome income from the exercise of their pens. It is true, indeed, that neither Milton nor Hume is to be included in the catalogue of those men of talent I have spoken of as having had their works consigned to everlasting oblivion the moment they were born; but their resurrection from the land of forgetfulness was merely the effect of chance; and it is beyond all question that the works of many others of great talent have never been awakened, and never will, from the sleep of death into which they fell on the day of their publication.
The literary profession is, of all others, the most precarious. To-day you may be tolerably successful and in passably easy circumstances. Tomorrow, you may be most unfortunate and [-146-] have to encounter all the horrors of want.
This year you may make a hit: you may write a work which will sell: next year, your effort is a decided failure: the day your work is born, is the day of its death.
It is all very well for young men to apply themselves to literary pursuits as an amusement; but he who advises any young friend to make it a profession by which he is to support himself, incurs a responsibility of no ordinary magnitude. The probabilities are in the proportion of a thousand to one that he is advising him to adopt a course which will render him miserable through life. It was the invariable practice of Sir Walter Scott to caution all young persons who submitted their maiden efforts to him, against trusting for their future support to their literary labours. I some time since saw a private letter from him to a. young man of good talents and great literary enthusiasm, in which he most earnestly warned him against trusting for his bread to his literary labours, adding, that if he did so, he might consider it as all but certain that he was leaning on a broken reed.
[-147-] Of all spectacles in the world, I know of none so affecting as that of a man of intellect struggling with all the ills of poverty, and yet applying himself incessantly to literary labour, with the feeble hope that he may in future be more successful than he has been in the times that are past. It is a fine illustration of the scriptural expression of hoping against hope. His physical frame is exhausted from sheer want of the necessaries of life: he shuts himself up in his cold and cheerless garret: his eyes are rarely refreshed by the beauties of nature: his brains are racked; his spirits are jaded; and yet there is just sufficient of the principle of hope left in his otherwise dreary bosom, to prevent his resigning himself to absolute despair. Ill-fated mortal! There he sits and cogitates, and commits this houghts to paper, unknown to and uncared for by the world. The eye of no human being smiles on him: the sympathetic and encouraging accents of no fellow creature greet his ears. He may be in the busiest and most bustling part of the metropolis, and yet be as much in the depths of solitude as if in [-148-] the midst of the vast wilderness of which the author of "The Seasons so beautifully sings.
I have often been amused at the various expedients to which men sometimes resort to bring themselves into notice, when they cannot accomplish their object by the ordinary means. The Duke of Newcastle attracts that attention in the House of Lords and the country, by his violence, which he could never secure by his eloquence. Colonel Sibthorp's mustachios do the same good service for him in the House of Commons, though his speeches would fail in doing it were he to play the orator till doomsday. Some men attract attention by the singularity of their dress; others by the eccentricity of their conduct. The man of old set fire to the temple though he knew that his own death would be the consequence, rather than that his name should remain unknown. And just now, there appear to be thousands of the lower classes in France who aim at notoriety by their attempts to take away the life of the Citizen King. I have heard of an Irishman, who finding that. no one [-149-] bestowed a look upon him while he stood in the usual position, drilled himself into the habit of inverting himself in some of the leading thoroughfares; in other words, of standing for several minutes on the crown of his head. But one of the most ingenious and yet convenient expedients of which I have lately heard for bringing oneself into notice, was that before alluded to, of a young man, otherwise well informed, who represented himself as "the man who had never read the Waverley Novels. He observed that every one making any pretensions to intelligence, made a point of displaying in company his acquaintance with the Waverley Novels, and that in consequence of the universality of this, no one brought himself into notice by exhibiting his intimacy with those celebrated productions. He therefore concluded that by affecting a total ignorance of them he was sure to excite attention. The event showed his opinion was correct. He soon found that he could not have adopted an expedient more effectual for his purpose. All eyes were upon him whenever he [-150-] mixed in respectable society. Not to have read the Waverley Novels seemed a thing so extraordinary in a literary man, that people were all anxiety to see so singular a person. His company was courted, just as if he had had something about him which distinguished him from the rest of his species. I doubt whether the Learned Pig ever excited greater curiosity. He was invited to routs and parties, not from any abstract friendship for him, but merely as a sort of raree show to the other guests.
I could mention many other ingenious expedients which I have known to be resorted to with the view of attract-[-151-]ing attention, in almost every walk of life. In no profession are such expedients more common than in authorship. Experience has mournfully taught authors without number, that no distinction is now-a-days to be acquired by a work written in the ordinary style. To attract attention, it is found that the work must be one out of the usual course. I could give innumerable instances of the schemes devised by literary men with the view of attract ing attention to themselves and their works. Some of these are ingenious; others are absolutely ludicrous. A recent author seeks to bring his book of travels into notice by the following ludicrous dedication :-" To all Petty Walkers in go-carts, as well as mighty pedestrians on their own Hind-Legs, who are able to declare themselves such, by having accomplished either a cock-stride in the one case, or a seven- league pace of Peter Schlemil in the other ;-and with hearty Wishes for the Prosperity of St. Crispin, and plenty of tough Shoe-leather, this Tour is respectfully dedicated by the Author.
With many authors an "out of the way preface is thought to be the most likely to attract attention. Here follows an amusing sample of this species of preface writing. It ushers into existence a work in two large volumes, which has appeared within the last six months
"What a delightful thing it is to feel free and unconfined !-to be able to write just what one pleases-to publish it too-and yet, at the same time to feel, that no creature existing [-152-] anywhere throughout the whole system of planets, will ever read it, or know anything about it!
" I'faith, this is delightful :-talk not to me of secrecy-the Holy League is a joke. Let me curvet and frisk now as much as I choose -no person ever reads a preface: ' Preface and botheration,' is the word; turn it over, and let's dive into the book-let's look at the story. I like this idea-yet it is not uncommon among readers. I feel as private and safe here as AEneas and Dido in the cave after the hunting party-indeed, much more so,- for I have no Dido here-no Dulcinea-to share the retirement of my preface with me. Tot de rol lol! Now for a bit of fun-what shall we do? Here we go-let's have a song -Rum ti iddity iddity!-Stay, there's no sentiment in that. Let's have another, this is your sorts !- There was an old rnan,'-no- There was an old woman,'-no-I forget just now. Never mind, we can roar, if we can't sing-'twill serve. I could go on jumping [-153-] and prancing like a frisky colt in a meadow, till I dropped down exhausted with the sweet fatigue of excessive frolicking. No earthly being has the slightest notion of my undignified and unmanlike pranks : - a preface- ah ! a most secret preface ! Oh, it is sweet to relax and sometimes make oneself a little bit of a fool! No one will know it-what shall we do next? My heart is full-huzza! yoicks !- here we go again !-hoc est vivere!
"I am almost out of breath-let me pause- let me rest-let me take the ebullitious kettle of my spirits off the fire. Just look-the bubbles soon subside when I do so. And here -with cessation comes gravity - and with gravity comes thought - and with thought comes reflection-and reflection carries a man sack to the retrospection and overhauling of his own deeds. And what then ?-Why, we perceive we have relaxed a trifle in our dignity and austerity-we have a little eased the tensity of our rank among creatures of clay,' as Byron calls us. Can't help it--let's be [-154-] merry whilst we are able-we can always cry -not always laugh: besides, there is nothing like being a little outré and eccentric, or original.' Thousands of clever and wise men have lived and died in oblivion, because they followed the herd : -let's try the opposite course. But Horace writes that Apollo sometimes loosened his bowstring, and Homer sometimes nodded-this is consoling.
"But now we are grave and reflecting; and although we feel positive that no flesh-and-blood biped in the varsel orld will at all venture to taste the nut whose shell looks in the slightest prefatorial-yet, it is possible-just possible- that some unprecedented and truly strange being may, by a species of million-to-one fraction of a chance, skim o'er the page, lightly as Camilla o'er a field of standing corn-id est, if the book happens to fall open at the place, as all young ladies' prayer-books do at The Solemnization, &c.'-but, believe us, not otherwise.
"What then ?-why nothing partic'lar.
[-155-] "We have made our tour-and furthermore, we have written our book. Know ye that the first we fully intended to do-but as to the second part of the affair, that we had no determination of doing (save our own private notes)-yet it is done. How it came about in the previous instance, it is hard to say- harder than iron ; -no matter-fifty thousand things happen in this world, for which there is no accounting : - but it is done.
"The walk was much to undertake in idea- but verily, it was far more to accomplish in deed. Well do I remember the time when I could run about as actively as the best of two-legged animals ;-but those days are no more- and I am only astonished, that although in my youth deprived of nearly half my understanding,' I have been able to complete that which my unfibbing volumes declare I have done. There is no vanity in feeling astonished at myself in this-i'faith, no-there is no cause. Did I now possess the two good and straight legs which I once wore, and which [-156-] I see appended to my corpus with the mind's eye of recollection, I should hint nothing at the feat :-but I do say, even of myself, that when I look back on my wanderings over hill and mountain, enveloped in the clouds thousands of feet high-down under ground hundreds of feet deep-over rock and precipice-through heat and cold-sunshine and rain-that it was a great deal for me to do ;-and I moreover think, that I shall never do the like again.
" My book is published.-I wrote not for fame-neither for fortune :-I will not say I have either-no matter. I am selfish enough to avow that I have written for my own amusement, and not with the studied intention of amusing others. If, however, by chance, these pages fall into the hands of those who feel amused by them-there is no harm done. If, whilst I write for my own amusement, my time be employed to my own improvement,-there is an advantage gained. If, whilst I write for my own improvement, and this my writing fall into the hands of those who may thereby be [-157-] improved - there is a double advantage gained. But this last supposition is vanity.- Stop-we are getting egotistic and prosy- this will never do-we have changed our key since we began-we have struck a flat third- and how dismal it sounds! This minore is abominable :-let us to the maggiore after the double-bar, as Euterpe used to say. Come, brilliante-scherzosamente-presto-con fuoco! This more like it-Will this do better? let us sing and rum-ti-turn for a few minutes, or else we must da capo, and repeat the first strain. And when we have thoroughly blanched our blue devils, we may as well put an end to this most secret preface, volti subito, and peep into the book.-
This will be admitted, on all hands, to be rich in the ludicorus. There are others, again, who think that the great matter is to open one's work with something striking. Here is a specimen of an attempt of this kind, from a work which has lately appeared:-
" A y-what? What are you talking about? What did you say ?-for if I heard the words, I am sure I don't understand the sense of the question.'
" There tis again! By Jupiter's pig-tail! Stay-I like not the oath. By the living Jingo! (I should say.) By the living Jingo and all the little Jingoes ;-why, what does this mean? Oh, all ye Jupiters and Junos, that ever kept house upon Mount Olympus, what is to be done with mortality, when wit and reason go a wool-gathering? Who is it can have possibly instilled into your brain such a Hudibrastical, Quixotical, knighterrantical idea? Oh, madness, madness! I' faith, all this will never do: you can-not (giving it peculiar emphasis,) you cannot be in earnest. Oh, man, (for such I had thought thee,) how art thou puerilised! Do you really [-159-] intend it - do you really mean to go? and so far-perhaps a thousand miles! Preposterous Oh, reason, whither hast thou fled? Why hast thou, (for I'm sure thou hast,) why hast thou bid adieu to thy more than twenty years' lodgment, to seek another home, I know not where? Hast thou fled, to roam among the rugged mountains? to chase the bearded goat to his Alpine den? to listen to the foaming torrent chafing o'er its rocky bed? Hast thou fled to the sunny banks of some crystal lake, to lie thee down, and hang o'er its waters like Eve, and view thyself in reflection? or dost thou, like Diana, delight in the forest? To what region hast thou gone? for like another Hamlet, thou hast passed from hence, to wanton elsewhere. And dost thou, with a curling finger, beck to thy old dwelling to follow thee?'
" Go I must-the die of my inclination and purpose is cast. To argue thus, methinks you view me not with reason's eye.'
" You speak not now with reason's tongue.'
[-160-] "'Excuse, and hear me.'
"' I' faith I will: for I long to hear the English of this thine outlandish ---'
"'Nay, not outlandish-I'm not going to sea-'
"'Sea! who the d-- said a word about sea?'
"'I thought you did-at least indirectly.'
"'Not I; either directly or indirectly,'-- straight for'ard or backward-sideways, or upwards, or downwards.'
"'Know, then, in brief, that this century is not the last century.'
"'Don't interrupt me. That is, that the features of things wear not precisely the same air and bearing today, as they did in the yesterday of the past hundred summers.'
"'True-a century works a change on the features of most of us.'
"'The times do not wag in our age as they did in the age of our fathers.'
[-161-] "'Fathers do not now, as they did then, know how to dispose of a family of overgrown idle boys.'
"'True-then are you a father with a family of overgrown idle boys?'
"'No: more like an idle boy, the son of my father.'
"'Here I am, grown up to man's estate, nourished in the kindly soil of sweet home:' and although I well know that there is no geography in the world so agreeable to study, as the geography of up and down stairs at home, and from the parlour to the drawing- room, yet I am of opinion, that when a hobbeddehoy becomes cracked, (that is, in his throat,) or as Portia would say, when he speaks with a reed voice, (buzz,) he should think of placing his breast against the boisterous and buffeting storms of more active life.'
"'A lame leg is not the thing for a soldier or a sailor-or a soldier or a sailor is not the thing with a lame leg.'
"' - or else, I swear by the trident of thirsty Neptune! I would, long ere this, have cut Hippotades' silver-thonged bag of winds, and faced the howling of the enlarged tempest, even as the adventurous Ulysses himself.'
"'It is probable you would.'
"'But if a man cannot say, the world is mine oyster, and with my sword will I open it,' he must e'en call the world his something else, and endeavour to open this something else, with that weapon which he rather chooses to wield; or, indeed, which the fates choose to place in his hands-(whether or nay, Mr. Thomas Collins) -'
"'If his microcosm should lie on the face of a sheet of paper, then let him open it with a pen, as the great Shakspeare did.'
"'Shakspeare ! Ah, or Johnson, since him.'-
"'True - or Wordsworth, one might add.'
"'And Coleridge too.'-
[-163-] "'And Sir Walter Scott.'-
"'And fifty others !'-
"'Fifty? ay, a hundred!'-
"'All, five hundred!'-
"'Ay, ten thousand!!!'-
"'Twenty thousand! ! ! "
"' Or if it should be the church, let him open his pulpit-world with wholesome doctrine- words that will teach his fellow-labourers in the vineyard love to each other, honesty, upright dealing, and, above all, the essence of virtue's sweet attribute-gratitude. That which will make a man feel his dependence and insignificance, and teach him to look beyond himself, and beyond the life in which he exists."'
Some authors hope to attract attention by short and striking chapters. Here is one of the most brief and striking which has ever come under my notice. The greatest lover of the short and sweet must be satisfied with it:-
[-164-] "CHAPTER XII.
"What a horrible thing is sea-sickness !"
This actually forms an entire chapter in a recent work, and is diffused over a whole page! Such writers must be prodigiously popular with the compositors, if with nobody else. This is what the latter call "fat" work.
The same writer presents his readers with the following, as another chapter of his work:
- "'Beg pardon, gentlemen,' said a third pedestrian, good-humouredly bursting into the room without ceremony; and who, in the true vein of walking intellectualism, likewise carried a knapsack on his back-' Beg pardon, gentlemen, 'pon honour,' said he, as he entered, and apparently believing that he intruded on two strangers.
"'Hullo!' cried the lieutenant, starting up from his chair, as he recognised an old friend: ' Why, how the d- did you come-?'
"But the other interrupted him in a whirlwind of astonishment.-
[-165-] "'Why, where the d- did you come-'
"The first held his sides and set up a sardonic roar of laughter.-
"'When the d-' (cutting him short.)
"'Which road-' (stopping him half way.)
"'How the d--' (preventing him again.)
"'How long - "
"'What the d-'
"'Where the d-'
"'Who the d-'
"'Which the d-'
"'How the d-'
"'What brought you- '
"'Did you - '
"'Have you come- '
[-166-] "'My good fellow-'
"- Pedrestres, for safety, pushed his chair aside out of the way."
Alas! had poor Sterne been alive he would have been ashamed to see himself so far outstripped by our author in the use of dashes, breaks, inverted commas, and so forth.
Let me give one more specimen of the efforts made by authors in modern times to attract attention to themselves and their works. Here is an entire chapter. It is one which every author could not write: -
"'Who are you, I wonder, that you should turn to, and abuse me in this way?'
"'You are a great rascal, and if you don't hold your tongue and learn to be civil, I'll very soon teach you.'
[-167-] "Bother, bother, bother, bother !-Clatter, clatter, clatter ! rattle, rattle, rattle
"'By jingo, Clavileno, what can all that quarrelling be about down stairs?'
"' I'faith, I know not; but words are running very high below.' -
"Bow wow wow wow wow !-rattle, rattle, rattle, rattle, rattle !-
"'Just listen to them, they will come to blows directly.'
"'Suppose we go and see what is the matter.'
"'It sounds like two bickering, peevish men, - sparring for nothing-just for the sake of disagreeing.'
"'Let us go down and ask them the cause of all, this.'
"Bother, bother, bother, bother!
"'Egad! louder and faster than ever.'
"Bow wow wow wow wow!
"'There they go again!'
"Rattle, rattle, rattle! Clatter, clatter, clatter!'
"'Why, my good fellows, what is all this for? Reason mildly on your grievances, beseech you. [-168-] Let me play the impartial umpire between you, -tell me your troubles: you are surely not quarrelling for a drop of drink? Tell me your disagreement-let me know it, will you? Let me endeavour to pacify you. Won't you answer me? Won't you give me a word? not one word? What! not turned sulky in a moment! Won't von answer? Are you dumb? Have you instantaneously lost your tongues?'
"The sullen fellows would give no further reply than will be found on the next two pages."
In illustration of the last remark, the author gives two pages of his book unsoiled by a single letter, meaning that "the sullen fellows gave no answer at all I have not ventured, for the sake of illustrating his peculiar views of writing, to follow his example. Let my reader only fancy that my next two pages are completely blank, and they will realise, in their own minds, the manner of this author. To give blank pages in this way, is an easy way of making up a book: it is a cheap mode of authorship. It is one, however, which readers in ordinary circum-[-169-]stances would not much approve of, though I am pretty confident they would not, in the case of the writer in question, even had one half of his book consisted of blank pages.
I have said I would proceed no further in my examples of the singular expedients resorted to by authors, with the view of attracting attention to their works. I may just mention, however, that not long since, an author seriously proposed to his publishers, that they should endeavour to prevail on some of the newspapers to allow an advertisement of his book to appear, in an inverted position,-as he was sure that would attract the attention of every reader in a special manner to the work. Whether the author in question adopted the hint from the American shopkeeper who, for the same reason, caused his signboard to be put up above his door, with the wrong side uppermost, is a point I have not the means of deciding.
[nb. grey numbers in brackets indicate page number, (ie. where new page begins), ed.]