The Dial/Volume 15/Number 170/Briefs on New Books
Briefs on New Books.
Mr. Leslie Stephen as an apologist.Mr. Leslie Stephen is a superbly vigorous and trenchant writer. He belongs with Mr. John Morley to that younger school of English radicals who have discarded the rhetorical bravery of the poets and orators of the Revolution, have outgrown the narrowness and harshness of the original Benthamite, have supplemented will by evolution and added culture and the historic sense to Herbert Spencer. Their only fault is that they are at all times sweetly reasonable and on all topics hopelessly and irremediably right. Mr. Stephen has but one weakness—a fondness for parson-baiting, an itching for theological polemic, a desire to do over again the work of Voltaire. He knows better. He has read his Matthew Arnold and his Renan, and is aware that for this gross work "Voltaire suffit." But at times the unregenerate blood grows hot within him, he "bites his thumb," he "remembers his everlasting blow," and sallies forth to confound the orthodox with "An Agnostic's Apology, and Other Essays" (Putnam). "Why," he passionately exclaims, "when no honest man will deny in private that every ultimate problem is wrapped in the profoundest mystery, do honest men proclaim in pulpits that unhesitating certainty is the duty of the most foolish and ignorant"? Why, perhaps because, as Emerson says, "All the Muses and love and religion hate these developments and will find a way to punish the chemist who publishes in the parlor the secrets of the laboratory." And if this is so, what is the use of proving by irrefragable logic that the "scepticism of believers" is really more paralyzing to progress than "scepticism about the shifting phantasmagoria of theology." What profits it to combat "the Higher Pantheism" by a demonstration that the dreams of theologians are not more than half true while they last, and that if we will live in dreams we lose our firm grasp of realities? Of what avail solemnly to analyze and refute Cardinal Newman's "Theory of Belief"? Do any thinkers take seriously this "theory of belief," or its author, except as a "stylist" and a "grand old man"? And, when all is said, will Mr. Stephen's seventy pages of close reasoning convince anybody who is not already satisfied with Arnold's quiet affirmation that "Cardinal Newman has accepted a solution which is, frankly speaking, impossible"? The delicate irony of Mr. Stephen's essay on "The Religion of All Sensible Men" will delight the literary epicure. But will it induce one "sensible man" to come out if his interest bids him keep the peace? Does it really bring us any nearer the solution of the painful questions of conscience started in Mr. Morley's "Compromise"? The discussion of the entire problem of persecution in the essay on "Poisonous Opinions" is an admirable philosophic supplement to Mill's essay on "Liberty." But will it make it possible for the Professor of Psychology to deliver his whole thought in any chair in the United States or England? But we are wrong. Superstition and intolerance are always striving for the mastery of the world, and must be combated in many ways. The slow gentle solvents of Renan's irony, of Arnold's freely-playing consciousness, and of Mr. Paters's tolerant interest in all errors that assume picturesque forms, will not suffice. There will always be enough neutrals, lovers of peace and advocates of compromise and accomodation. And so, lest the conflict prove too unequal, the philosophic onlooker, accepting with a grimace the service of the vitriol of Voltaire and the bludgeon of Ingersoll, will gladly welcome the finely-tempered, keen, trenchant blade of Mr. Stephen.
Some delightful burlesques on the plays of Ibsen. The humorous talent of Mr. Guthrie (F. Anstey) has never been better displayed than in "Mr. Punch's Pocket Ibsen" (Macmillan), described as "a collection of some of the master's best-known dramas, condensed, revised, and slightly rearranged for the benefit of the earnest student." Herr Ibsen's later works are good game for the parodist, and Mr. Guthrie has made the most of his opportunities. One would have to be a very crabbed and uncompromising Ibsenite not to smile at these delightful burlesques, which touch with inimitable skill the weak spots of the works which they parody, and give humorous exaggeration to the points that most clearly lend themselves to satirical treatment. "Rosmersholm," "A Doll Home," "Hedda Gabler," and "The Wild Duck" are thus presented in revised forms, while in "Pill-doctor Herdal" we have "rather a reverent attempt to tread in the footprints of the Norwegian dramatist, than a version of any actually existing masterpiece." The author confesses that "his imitation is painfully lacking in the magnificently impenetrable obscurity of the original, that the vein of allegorical symbolism is thinner throughout than it should be, and that the characters are not nearly as mad as persons invariably are in real life," but even with these drawbacks, "Pill-doctor Herdal" offers no lack of mirthful entertainment. We must find space for one illustrative extract. It should be premised that, after the death of Bygmester Solness, his widow has married Dr. Herdal. Into their household enters Hilde Wangel (who turns out to be no other than Nora of "A Doll Home," emancipated at last), just as previously she had come into Solness's life. The scene we quote is between Herdal and his wife:
"Dr. Herdal (drinks a glass of punch).—You're right enough there. If I had not been called in to prescribe for Dr. Ryval, who used to have the leading practice here, I should never have stepped so wonderfully into his shoes as I did. (Changes to a tone of quiet chuckling merriment.) Let me tell you a funny story, Aline; it sounds a ludicrous thing—but all my good fortune here was based upon a simple little pill. For if Dr. Ryval had never taken it —
"Mrs. Herdal (anxiously).—Then you do think it was the pill that caused him to—?
"Dr. Herdal.—On the contrary; I am perfectly sure the pill had nothing whatever to do with it—the inquest made it quite clear that it was really the liniment. But don't you see, Aline, what tortures me night and day is the thought that it might unconsciously have been the pill which — . Never to be free from that! To have such a thought gnawing and burning always — always, like a moral mustard poultice ! (He takes more punch.)
"Mrs. Herdal.—Yes ; I suppose there is a poultice of that sort burning on every breast — and we must never take it off either — it is our simple duty to keep it on. I, too, Haustus, am haunted by a fancy that if this Miss Wangel were to ring at our bell now —"
At this juncture, Miss Wangel does ring at the bell, but what follows must be left to imagination, or found out by our readers for themselves.
Statistics of crime
in the United States. The endeavor of Mr. Henry M. Boies in "Prisoners and Paupers" (Putnam ) is to state and emphasize the alarming increase in the United States of our criminal and dependent classes. The ordinary reader will be led by his pages to conclude that our nation is fast going to ruin. Statistics of crime and poverty are given, which, on their face, show that vice is growing with tremendous rapidity and that destitution will soon become general. The author discusses the problems of intemperance, immigration, our urban population, the negro race, and jails and poor-houses, in a way to multiply our fears rather than to enlighten us respecting causes and remedies. These are indeed great problems, worthy serious attention and in need of wise action. But while Mr. Boies is a gentleman of earnestness and experience, it is clear that he has no such skill in handling statistics as Mr. Carroll D. Wright, and no such scientific ability in studying social phenomena as Dr. Amos G. Warner. In some cases, he does not seem to understand the figures which he uses, while in other cases he indulges in careless statements. He shows that since 1850, criminals have increased three times as fast as our population. This is indeed what appears upon the face of returns. But it is evident that we are not three times as wicked a people as forty years ago ! When we look at the statistics more carefully, we see that the comparison is vitiated by several factors : (1) The criminal acts of the negro race are excluded from the census of 1850, but included in that of 1890, — a fact of great importance. ( 2 ) The census of 1890 was more thorough than that of 1850 along this line ; it not only reports the facts more accurately but it reports new classes of facts. So that conclusions based upon a literal comparison must be manifestly erroneous. (3) New laws and police regulations lead to arrests and convictions where acts would have been considered innocent forty years ago. Cruelty to animals and children caused few arrests then ; violations of sanitary regulations were unknown ; offences against public order, such as drunkenness and the selling of liquor ; all these and many other acts, like the purchase of lottery tickets, though innumerable, did not enter into our criminal records as at present. That our list of criminals has grown in this direction is evidence, not of our increasing depravity, but of our moral progress. We have more patients in hospitals than the Esquimo, but it does not follow that we are physically a more feeble people. Mr. Boies does not make any such discriminations, he only alludes to the fact respecting the negro race. These defects vitiate all his discussions of these problems, which are indeed great and serious problems. His incapacity in this line is farther shown by his use of a statement from Professor Ely to support his claim that there are three million paupers in the United States (p. 205), and by his astonishing assertion that there are 17,058 county jails in our country (p. 193).
in history. Mr. Morfill, among Englishmen, seems to have a monopoly of product on Slavonic subjects, in the field of history as well as of literature. He now gives to the "Story of the Nations" series a "Poland" (Putnam). No writer of English would seem better qualified for such a work, yet Mr. Morfill has hardly added to what one may get from an encyclopaedia on this subject. His book is sketchy, and one ends it by wishing for a guide through the maze of aimless energy which it portrays. What one needs is an explanation of Poland's failure in history, which Mr. Morfill does not give in his pages devoted to that purpose. An unpatriotic nobility, an intolerant clergy, a lacking middle class, and a degraded peasantry, were characteristics of all feudal states. That Poland did not change all this was not due solely to the fifth cause suggested the want of rulers of talent and energy, although a Louis Eleventh, a Henry Eighth, or a Ferdinand the Catholic, would have been a great blessing to Poland. But all these men had their opportunity only be- cause the principle of hereditary succession was al- ready established in their dominions. The curse and the ruin of Poland was an elective monarchy, which, as in the case of the Holy Roman Empire, made a feudal condition of anarchy possible long after the age of feudalism was gone by. The failure of success of this volume is not due to a lack of knowledge, but to a lack of historical insight on the part of a man whose forte is linguistic.
A readable and
photographers. Many a guide for the amateur photographer has appeared of recent years, written either in the interest of the general public, or in that of some firm engaged in the manufacture of photographic materials. It has been left for Miss Alice French (Octave Thanet) to produce a book upon the subject which serves its readers not only as guide, but also as philosopher and friend. Every beginner in this intricate art knows how deep is at times the need of philosophy, and how consoling may be the ministry of friendship. Miss French has pursued photography through trials to triumphs (as some of the pictures in her book clearly show), but she has not acquired the air of superiority that makes the successful amateur so cordially detested by all less suecessful aspirants. A record of failure is often more helpful than a record of triumphant achievement, and Miss French, in her record, gives abundant evidence that she too is human, and no exception to the maxim, humanum errare est. In vivacious and unconventional language, she tells the reader of her early tribulations, of the pitfalls upon which stumbled her unwary feet, and of the methods and formulæ in which she finally found salvation. Miss French's book is good, first, to read, and second, to keep at hand for practical guidance in all the stages of photographic work. It is entitled "An Adventure in Photography " (Scribner).
American artists.In a series of essays and sketches reprinted under the collective title, “Picture and Text” (Harper), Mr. Henry James chats appreciatively of the admirable group of artists — Messrs. Abbey, Parsons, Millet, Boughton, Reinhart, Sargent, etc. — best known to many of us through the medium of “Harper's Magazine.” The excellence, in point of illustration, of American magazines is justly a matter of national pride — one of the shining exceptions to which we refer the carping foreigner; and it is well to learn something of leading personality and methods of the illustrators. Touching the illustration of books and magazines in general, the author observes that it “may be said to have been born in our time, so far as variety and abundance are the signs of it; or born, at any rate, the comprehensive, ingenious, sympathetic spirit in which we conceive and practise it. If the centuries are ever arraigned at some bar of justice to answer in regard to what they have given, of good or of bad, to humanity, our interesting age (which certainly is not open to the charge of having stood with its hands in its pockets) might perhaps do worse than put forth the plea of having contributed a fresh interest in ‘black and white.’” The little book, which contains several illustrations, is a companion volume in the “Black and White Series” to Mr. Curtis's “From the Easy Chair,” Mr. Warner's “As We Were Saying,” etc. Of Mr. James's quality as an essayist we need not speak. Even those who do not care for him must admit his painstaking fidelity to his models; and, at the worst, he may serve to sharpen the reader's appetite for a bit of downright Anglo-Saxon.
Idylls of the King.Mr. Harold Littledale's “Essays on Lord Tennyson's Idylls of the King” (Macmillan) are based upon lectures written for students in India. It was certainly worth while to offer the book in its present form to English and American students. Like other books prepared for the use of Indian undergraduates, this volume explains many things that any good dictionary could explain, but on the other hand it interprets many phases of the Idylls that no reference-book alludes to. There are chapters on the sources of the Arthurian story, on its growth from Malory to Tennyson, and on personages and localities spoken of in the modern epic. Then follow studies of each Idyll, and annotations on particular words and obscure points. The work is by no means exhaustive, but the material is carefully selected and well arranged. There is a constant comparison of Tennyson with Malory and the Mabinogion, and many interesting points of departure are suggested to the reader. The interpretation of the allegorical bearing of the Idylls is sensible and appreciative, and the treatment of the rise of the legend, although brief, is in the main accurate. Rather strangely, however, Mr. Littledale takes no account of such an authoritative work as Professor Rhy's “Arthurian Legend.” The work can readily be used as a handbook in a Tennyson class.
from New York
to Cape Town.“Under Cotton Canvas” (Cupples) is a lively account, with much incidental “yarn-spinning,” of a sailing- voyage from New York to Cape Town, thence, over two hundred degrees of longitude, across the Indian and Pacific Oceans, to the coast of Chili, and from Chili to the Falkland Islands. The author, Captain J. H. Potter, of the ship “Onward,” observes in his Preface: “While Cooper, Marryatt, and others, have let the world know all about sailing before the day of steam, I know of no writer having yet come to the front to give anywhere near the correct idea of how it is with us, the ‘wind-jammers,’ since the introduction into our profession of that powerful element. This work was accordingly begun with the sole view of contributing towards the supply of that deficiency.” A “wind-jammer,” it may be said parenthetically, is a sailing-vessel, as contradistinguished from a steamer. The story is told, as it should be told, for the most part, in an offhand, breezy, sailor-like fashion, with plenty of incident, humorous as well as stirring. But oddly enough there is a tendency here and there to “work in,” at all hazards, a tempting literary allusion or citation — which results once or twice, where the connection is remote, in the Captain's getting his syntactical sails “all a-back and shaking,” and narrowly escaping shipwreck.
A good summary
of the French
Revolution.Mallet's “The French Revolution” (Scribner), written by a lecturer on the staff of the Oxford University Extension for the “University Extension Manuals” series, may be thoroughly commended. It is the best summary of the Revolution yet published, and is a large improvement on the sketch by O'Connor Morris, also published by Messrs. Scribner. The author has availed himself of all the recent literature of his subject down to Mr. Morse Stephens, and has not only summarized but has unified these contributions. His first two chapters clearly introduce the Revolution through its social causes, and he is very successful in showing why the Constitutional party failed, why the Jacobin party followed, and why the latter also failed. He ends his narrative rightly with the thunder of Bonaparte's guns from the portals of St. Roch against the insurgent Sections. His estimate of La Fayette is a compromise between the conventional one and the iconoclastic portrayal of Morse Stephens, and is probably nearest the truth. One may here trace briefly yet clearly the rapid sequence of causes and effects which Stephens alone of the more detailed historians has been able to keep above the surface of the multitudinous events narrated. As a text-book guide to the subject it must be highly praised.