Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 17.djvu/69

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59
SHAM ADMIRATION IN LITERATURE.

to laugh, you know," she added, hastily and apologetically, "hundreds of times."

"I don't doubt it," I replied; "this is not such a free country as your father supposes."

"But am I right?"

"I say nothing about 'right,'" I answered, "except that everybody has a right to his own opinion. For my part, however, I think the ' Mad Dog ' better than 'John Gilpin' only because it is shorter."

Whether I was wrong or right in the matter is of no consequence even to myself; the affection and gratitude of that young creature would more than repay me for a much greater mistake, if mistake it is. She protests that I have emancipated her from slavery. She has since talked to me about all sorts of authors, from Sir Philip Sidney to Washington Irving, in a way that would make some people's blood run cold; but it has no such effect upon me—quite the reverse. Of Irving she naïvely remarks that his strokes of humor seem to her to owe much of their success to the rarity of their occurrence: the flashes of fun are spread over pages of dullness, which enhance them, just as a dark night is propitious to fireworks, or the atmosphere of the House of Commons, or a court of law, to a joke. She is often in error, no doubt, but how bright and wholesome such talk is as compared with the platitudes and commonplaces which one hears on all sides in connection with literature!

As a rule, I suppose, even people in society ("the drawing-rooms and the clubs") are not absolutely base, and yet one would really think so, to judge by the fear that is entertained by them of being natural. "I vow to Heaven," says the prince of letter-writers, "that I think the Parrots of Society are more intolerable and mischievous than its Birds of Prey. If ever I destroy myself, it will be in the bitterness of having those infernal and damnable 'good old times' extolled." One is almost tempted to say the same—when one hears their praises come from certain mouths—of the good old books. It is not every one, of course, who has an opinion of his own upon any subject, far less on that of literature, but every one can abstain from expressing an opinion that is not his own. If one has no voice, what possible compensation can there be in becoming an echo? No one, I conclude, would wish to see literature discoursed about in the same pinchbeck and affected style as are painting and music;[1] yet that is what will happen if this prolific weed of sham admiration is permitted to attain its full growth.—Nineteenth Century.

  1. The slang of art-talk has reached the "young men" in the furniture-warehouses. A friend of mine was recommended a sideboard the other day as not being a Chippendale, but "having a Chippendale feeling in it."