Page:Studies of a Biographer 2.djvu/185

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173
OLIVER WENDELL HOLMES

when they are dissociated from the ghastly visions of hell-fire. Holmes gave more place to these controversies than some of his readers liked; and I need say nothing as to the merit of his own conclusions. They interest us chiefly because they give rise to that provoking book, Elsie Venner. I call it 'provoking' merely because it will not square nicely with any orthodox canons of criticism. In the first place it has an air of being didactic, or is a book with a tendency, or, in the old-fashioned phrase, is a novel with a purpose. I confess that I should have no objection to it upon that ground. I always found Sandford and Merton a delightful work in my childhood, and I partly preserve that degrading taste. I like books with a moral. Some authors, it is true, are cramped by their morals, and occasionally tripped up into flat absurdity. Still, a writer generally derives a certain unction from the delusion that he is preaching as well as story-telling; and so long as any one is working with a will, and defying the critics and all their ways, he has the root of the matter in him. Holmes, it must be remarked, did not suppose that he was proving anything in Elsie Venner; he recognised the truth of the axiom propounded in the Rose and the Ring that blank verse is not