Title: The Fly Leaf, No. 5, Vol. 1, April 1896
Editor: Walter Blackburn Harte
Release date: July 26, 2020 [eBook #62763]
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The Fly Leaf is distinctive among all the Bibelots.—Footlights, Philadelphia.
A Pamphlet Periodical of
the Century-End, for Curious
Persons and Booklovers.
Conducted by Walter Blackburn Harte.
Published Monthly by the Fly Leaf Publishing Co.,
Boston, Mass. Subscription One Dollar a Year.
Single Copies 10 Cents. April, 1896. Number
The Critics agree in saying The Fly Leaf fills a field of its own.
The Fly Leaf is distinctive among all the Bibelots.—Footlights, Philadelphia.
It is a delightfully keen little swashbuckler.—The Echo, Chicago.
The latest of the Bibelots. In my opinion it is the only one of the lot, including the “Chap-Book,” “Philistine,” etc., which knows what it is driving at. The editor of the “Chap-Book” toddles along, following or attempting to follow, the twists and turns of the public taste—at least that is what he wrote in a Note not long ago—and the editor of the “Philistine” curses and swears, and devastates the atmosphere, trying his best to kill everything. “The Fly Leaf” at once impressed me that Mr. Harte knows what he wants, and seriously intends to have it. I hope he will.—The North American, Philadelphia.
It will pay any one who wishes to keep up with the literary procession to peruse this sprightly little periodical.—The Examiner, San Francisco, Cal.
That bright little bundle of anecdote, comment, essay, poetry and fiction, “The Fly Leaf,” of Boston, comes out in particularly good style. It gives rich promise of many good things to come.—The Commercial Advertiser, New York.
Number two of Walter Blackburn Harte’s dainty monthly “The Fly Leaf,” is out, and filled with the spirit of youth and beauty in literature, and zealous with culture, taste and faith toward higher ideals, it is going about doing good.
Mr. Harte is strong, brilliant and brave as an essayist of the movement, and is making friends everywhere. The poetry and prose is all of high merit.—The Boston Globe.
The thing I like about Mr. Harte is his splendid spirit of Americanism, his optimistic belief in native literature and native writers; his hatred of all things bordering on toadyism or servile flattery of foreign gods to the exclusion of home talent. This is the key-note of The Fly Leaf, and Mr. Harte will be apt to say some trenchant, candid and always interesting things in its pages.—The Union and Advertiser, Rochester, N. Y.
These are a few criticisms of the first two numbers, selected from a great heap of enthusiastic notices. The Fly Leaf is promoting a Campaign for the Young Man in Literature. All the young men and women in America are discussing its unique and original literature, and spreading its fame.
No. 5. April, 1896. Vol. 1.
I am well aware that the true lover of books is too wise to take a one idea’d bigot of a reformer to his cosy fireside. I therefore preface my observations under this somewhat alarming caption with an assurance that I am inspired by no visionary enthusiasm to turn aside the course of human nature.
These few notes deal with certain superficial aspects of the general consciousness, as molded and modified by the social, civil and moral influences of our time. They show certain forces incident to the development of some measure of mental life in the mass. They are not made in any spirit of arrogant ascetism, or in the hope of radically mending the everyday morals of mankind by precept or persuasion. The morals of mankind are already under the care of a certain apostolic succession, that with great wisdom has substituted faith for morality as better suited to the constitution of human nature. These enlightened trustees of infallible revelation are ably reinforced by a great many reformers, and they need no support from profane literature. Indeed the professional moralists find extremely good picking in the widespread hallucination that presents morality in the fascinating form of a rabid curiosity about the doings of others. They rather resent scientific criticism, and I shall never intrench upon the workers in this field, alluring as are all impossible reforms to me, so long as there is any sort of following for common sense. But I think certain psychological forces at work in the swelter of this century-end are worthy of some sort of record; and at this moment I am thinking exclusively of American conditions and phases, which are the least likely to find an historian, and not of Max Nordau’s pictures of contemporary Europe.
There is so much pinching of the spirit done in the name of morality that it is not surprising that some who care most for the spiritual side of life view all moral propagandas with some disfavor. In these few pages I simply wish to make a plea for a little sweetness and sanity from the Epicurean standpoint. Among the grossest satyrs the ideal concerns of the intellect and imagination often find their most inspiring welcome, while among moralists and reformers of human nature they are regarded with indifference or open animosity. For this reason it is important that a well defined distinction should be made in the reader’s mind between the claims of simple sanity and the absurd dreams of perfectibility which form the insensate ambition of moralists. The aims of literature can never be those of reform.
Every generous mind is impelled at some time or other to try to wholly mend or end the perversities of human nature, but, in spite of the faith and example of the saints and martyrs, a few years’ experience shows the folly of it. The folly of a Utopian moralist and reformer is greater than the folly of the mob itself. Even the old Hebrew prophets, with all their fine fury and mystical reliance on the arm of Jehovah, and their undoubted leadership and influence, failed to lessen the potent and eternal allurement of carnal pleasure and indulgence one jot or tittle. The world has grown too old for any but mad persons to dream of combatting those evils which are inevitable in the constitution of things. But since nearly all the consolations of life are not inherent in human nature but are the painful conquests of the mind, are, in a word, artificial creations of man’s own subjective life, and not at all incident to the ordinary course of life in a wild and natural state, we must strive to maintain a distinction between the interests of the imagination and intellect, and the concerns of everyday human nature.
It is not, therefore, in any intolerant spirit that would deny the inevitableness of the carnal life that I touch upon “The Apotheosis of the Harlot.” I simply wish to show, in the broadest and most liberal temper, that even the most inevitable and legitimate passion of humanity must be kept restrained within bounds, or the whole of human life forfeits its hope and dignity and purpose. Nature can parody herself in the excess of madness. The sanity of human life, social institutions, and all intellectual activity is imperilled when the passions of the blood, and especially passions perverted, obtain an exaggerated dominance over the emotions and passions of the mind. That there is a decided drift toward this ascendancy of the Pander and the Harlot in the social and intellectual life of modern democracy, is beyond all sort of doubt, and cannot be blinked by any clear minded and untainted observer. That is, any observer who is not in fee of one of these gigantic enterprises which flourish upon the epidemic of mediocrity. There is an odd and strange obliquity of moral vision that accompanies optimism professed as a probable investment in the follies of the credulous.
Of course the triumph of the Harlot in great affairs and destinies is nothing new. She has swayed courts and kings and empires from antiquity, and there is no moral force in human society that can ever disturb this firmly established and most stable of all human institutions. Dynasties totter, empires fall into ruins, religions decline, philosophies shrivel to empty names, nations perish and their history is lost, civilization advances or decays, but the Harlot plays her fateful part in the destinies of the race. She is almost as important a factor in molding the purpose and character of humanity as the mother. Her potent and unassailable dominion of the minds of men is due to the eternal fantasy of human passion, and whatever may be the prevailing code of morals, she will hold her sway of wreck and ruin to the end of time. To rail against an institution so inherent in the constitution of human affairs is sheer folly. Indeed, it may be almost said to be flying in the face of Providence, since the only providence which we know to be effective in this world is the unfailing crookedness of human nature.
This view of Providence in human affairs makes turning on Providence a less heinous offence than the phrase suggests to some with minds in pawn; and there are always some idealists ready to oppose human nature itself, in rash dreams of the conquest of life for love and beauty and the spirit. It is not the eternal witchery and potency of the Harlot I wish to emphasize in this place, for that needs no argument, but the fact that with the progress of modern democracy this ancient institution, hitherto confined within the limits of civic life, the court and political affairs, has suddenly loomed up as the one great overshadowing fact and potency of human existence. And so in spite of my parade of common sense and sanity I may be held to be an impossible idealist in many quarters, for I am opposing my own individual tastes and those of a small minority, to the overwhelming tide of human nature. I find the reign of the Harlot irksome—especially in the distractions of literature and the theatre.
Some sort of parity has hitherto been maintained, for a period of historical development, between human nature in its unbridled enjoyment of sensation, and those concerns of the intellectual life, which have been the occupation and solace of the few, to whom the pleasures of artifice have grown more necessary than those of sense, and, in moments of clearness and calm, dearer than life itself. With the progress of modern democracy, ordinary human nature has sought factitious and unusual excitements, and plunged into a course of sophistication. It has insidiously encroached upon this realm of artificial delights of the intellect, which the aliens of the race have painfully wrested from life and nature. The Harlot astride Pegasus is the end of popular education.
The authority of religion and the force of superstition, which for centuries kept the arts and literature somewhat remote from the common ideals and passions of the mass of men, have declined, and with their eclipse the ideals of the great mass of vulgar appetites have grown with social freedom and popular education, until, at this hour, we see the greatest tyranny of history established, of which the Triumphant Harlot is the head and front and fitting symbol. It is the pitiless despotism of the millions of uplifted, cruel, greedy maws that hold the fateful pence that decide every question of life and thought in this age of enlightenment. Every clod’s dirty penny or vote counts for as much as a head full of brains. It is a sublime spectacle. It is not the fact of the prosperity of the Harlot in democracy which is at all remarkable, for of course she has not depended upon societies or governments, but upon human nature for her queenship; it is the glorification of her arts and her power, in the open prostitution of the printing press in her honor and worship, the deification of her calling and character in the popular imagination, the dedication of the theatres solely to her exploitation, and the trafficking in her person and perversities, which is the stock in trade of the picture periodicals devoted to the edification of the millions—these things are not only maddening and nauseating, but they belong distinctly and peculiarly to this end of the century. It is a form of insane sex worship which is destitute of every vestige of glamor, of poetry, of real excuse in nature. It is a grotesque parody of all the beauty and dignity of human life. It is the grim and ironical ending of the emancipation of the appetites of the millions, in the thousand and one delusions of popular education. Ancient religions included the glorification of sex. But this is the exaltation of the lowest type of humanity—the sexless Pander to that grim disease of imagination which is peculiar to our hypocrisy of ascetic morality.
In the hourly prints of the day we pick up, at every turn in the city, on hoardings, on every theatre bill board, in the shop windows—everywhere the triumphant, glorious and illustrious Harlot of the day or season, in one of her many roles, as dancer, actress, singer, society woman, erotic novelist and the rest, confronts us in her overwhelming and audacious supremacy of finery, wealth, comfort and the adulation of the community. We get her triumphs, her person, her biographies, her lovers, her scandals, her clothes and her character (these are all about the same, too) with the painstaking detail of sober history. Some of the queans, who have discovered the secret of perpetual rejuvenation, we cannot escape by any chance. These we seem doomed to get forced upon us forever. There may be great poets, great thinkers, great philosophers and teachers in our contemporary world, but there is no room for them in the tide of current history-making or in the popular interest and imagination. The glorified Harlot alone is worthy to fill the mirror of the time; she alone can warm the cockles of the heart of democracy. It is for this that the great democracy has mastered the three R’s.
Aspasia in the full noontide of the greatness of Pericles, Lais just turned into the wonder of the world in the marble of Appeles, and Phyrne made immortal by Praxiteles as Venus rising, rosy, nude and dishevelled from the sea, are wantons who will ever hold the imaginations of men enthralled. But it is certain that in the very meridian of their glory, with poets, philosophers and the greatest artists of history at their feet, their fame never filled the narrow confines of the ancient world as that of the season’s kicking strumpet of the Music-hall fills the modern world with its enlarged boundaries. The fame and name of every fresh bawd from the canaille is now cabled to the four corners of the earth. The notorious harlot of each season’s revels is the female Colossus of the modern world. She is the goddess of the world of traffic. There, aloft, above the reach of all hungry, envious paupers, she rules and overshadows two hemispheres with her legs astride.
Walter Blackburn Harte.
I wish some eminent psychologist and impartial student of ineradicable racial traits would calmly investigate the popular myth of an “American” literature.
I valiantly insist upon the existence of literature in America, but do not see much prospect for an “American” literature.
I wonder if the critics who are optimistic about an “American” literature ever stop to consider the fact that two-thirds of the people who live in this country are of different stock than ours, and different racial traditions and language. Then they are from the depth of savagery. They are illiterate and brutal, and possessed of an unconquerable phlegm that cannot tolerate such trivial, foolish things as the arts and literature. Moreover, they are utterly out of sympathy with the ideals of our race.
We often speak of Europe as the home of the arts and their uplifting influences. It is true enough, of course, but here is one of the ironies of that old cradle of misery. This is only the gloss of barbarism. How many Americans remember Europe is also the home of the illiterate and utterly incurable mob of low and bestial intelligences? How many Americans, in thinking of the low ebb of intellectual life here, ever consider that a great deal of intellectual and aesthetic interest and activity in this country, among Americans of English descent, is smothered and strangled by the popular pandering to the appetites of an unassimilated mass of low intelligences, only to be reached by coarse sensationalism and vulgar prints?
We are recommended to go to Europe for aesthetic training. We could get along much better with a sturdy stock of native observers, if we could only keep out the hordes of ignorant and degraded savages that flock here from every hell-hole in Europe, and then spread like a great itch throughout the country.
When one looks at the great blotches of ignorant and inferior races which dot the map of the United States in different industrial sections, one wonders where and when an “American” literature or “American” anything will come in. Emigration is all right when it comes from the right quarters, but the recent social history of this country shows how it is absorbing the barbaric scum of Europe.
“Dreams are true while they last, and do we not live in dreams?”
Her husband turned on his pillow and looked at her. She was asleep, and the smiles that played over her features, now and again interrupted by a look of gentle sadness, showed that she was dreaming. He was about to wake her, but he hesitated to break in upon what he knew must be a very sweet vision, and, keeping his eyes upon her face, he awaited the end.
They had been married two years. He had come suddenly into her life, taking her away from several admirers and out of a continuous round of pleasure and excitement, and after a short courtship they had wed. Parilee often said to herself: “How much better off I am,” and thought with satisfaction that instead of being a silly and superficial girl she was a wife, and at the head of a home. There had been hardly a discord in their lives since the day of their union; and Parilee believed she was quite happy.
As she lay there, her lips moved in the words, “I love you,” and her face flushed so deeply that her husband, doubting his eyes, speculated as to whether she was really asleep.
As the early light of the sun burst into the room, she started up, thinking, “What a dream for me!”
At her old home she had wandered along by the creek which ran through her father’s fields. She had been in quest of something, but what that something was she did not know; there was a longing and a longing, very deep and sad. Suddenly she had seen Tom Harding coming toward her. Taking him by the hand, she had led him to a large rock near, and they had both sat down upon it. Then, in a trembling voice she had said: “Tom, I’ve been seeking you such a long time; I love you.”
Looking at her searchingly and with tenderness, Tom had replied, oh, so softly; “You love me! I have long loved you, too”; and had taken her in his arms and kissed her.
“What were you dreaming about?” her husband asked, as she stirred and opened her eyes; “I saw you smiling in your sleep.” She did not answer, but went over her dream again and again, recalling every minute detail. Sweeter sensations never lingered after a real kiss. She revelled in memory as she looked out on the morning sky and thought of Tom’s embrace.
“Were you dreaming of me, Parilee?”
She hesitated, thinking: “I can’t tell him of my dream; it was not such a thing as a wife would want to repeat to her husband. Perhaps I ought to tell him, though. No, it will not be best; he would be displeased. I would better let him think that his surmise is correct than to make him sad or jealous. Besides, I am not responsible for what happens in my sleep. If the dream had included a thought or recognition of Harry, I should think that I was harboring improper feelings. But it was only a dream.”
“Yes, Harry, I was dreaming of our old lover days.”
When her husband started for his office he gave Parilee his accustomed farewell kiss. To him it was the same as usual, but to her it seemed slightly insipid; the dream kiss was still upon her lips.
“It is because we have been married so long; I have grown used to him,” she reasoned when left alone. “I love Harry, and always shall.” Then she sat down by the window, looked far away into space, and went over the dream again.
“I wonder where Tom is now,” she questioned in her thought. “Probably married by this time.” A disagreeable feeling went to her heart. “He loved me before I met Harry. What changes time brings.” And she mused on.
The great books teach us to smile at life.
The old proverb that there is nothing new under the sun gives much latitude to dullards and plagiarists, who are altogether destitute of the fascination of a mood or manner. Egoism is the last virtue of modern literature.
It is not so much what a man says, but what he looks, with women. It is the fantasy of wickedness that flashes from eye to eye among dumb clods that keeps poetry perennially in the world.
If the sun shone only upon the righteous, he would not need to get up so early in the morning.
I have my livelihood to earn, and consequently I am an optimist.
There is something intellectually lacking in all converts to brand new dogmas and creeds. A deep sense of wickedness is but a phase of immaturity of mind.
A woman who is not at heart a tyrant in her dreams of love is a perversion of nature.
So far as can be learned at this distance, there is only one industry in the new South which is really in a flourishing condition, and that is the unlimited production of abominable trashy “literature.”
If some half baked people would consent to go to night school instead of covering endless reams with horrible aberrations, the progress of aesthetics would be more rapid in America. Some people cannot realize that mere mellifluous meanderings in verse or plain prose are simply indications of an affection of the gray matter, akin to a cold in the head, and are of no more significance to the outside world than the week’s washing.
The instability of all industrial and business life in America is one of the horrors of existence here, and it is one of the factors that make culture impossible here. A nation on the jump runs to “smartness” but not to intellect. There is only one class in our society that enjoys stability, and that is the Police. Whether we may expect any aesthetic appreciation from this quarter remains to be seen.
“To amuse respectable people,” said Moliere, “what a strange task.” And God was good enough to allow Moliere to live and write for the Court of Louis XIV. It is a great privilege for a writer to know precisely the follies and moods of his audience. Moliere himself showed how much appreciation of wit and sanity can be cultivated in a court of folly. But how can the most assiduous student of human nature gauge the vagaries of taste in a democracy? The amusing of respectable, and other people, is the wreck of imagination and authorship in this happy land of Educational Eclipse. Here, all are what is called “educated.” But how few care for or know anything of that self education which constitutes culture?
The poor alone trust in Providence. The rich own Providence.
To Amaryllis: As you did not enclose postage for the return of your manuscript, I address you through this medium. Your verses are good enough from one point of view; but unfortunately this is a Bibelot of Literature, and these are picture-book verses. They are in the right key, though, for we have tried them on the office cat with gratifying results. The cat was seized with a fit of melancholy, and has not been out for two nights. It will be a sin if you do not send these potent poems to the editor of the Century magazine.
The woman who has plenty of red blood corpuscles, a body that is a body and not a poetic wraith of the spirit, seems to be tumbling into fiction nowadays. As the new heroine she is rudely disturbing the reign of the pink and white saints, expressly made in Paris dollhouses for the heroines of English novels, who open and close their eyes and smile in every chapter.
Educate yourself to tell little lies easily and artistically, and the big ones will take care of themselves.
The trouble with the Anglo-Saxon bourgeois is they have no picturesqueness. They have an abundance of vices, but no redeeming ones.
The majority of men are Christians and pagans, Democrats and Republicans, princes and paupers, and what not, first of all, and themselves last of all—usually only in crises.
The salvation of stupidity in this world is that the instinct of self-preservation has given it an undisputed currency among the masses of men as common-sense.
Democracy is the damnation of ideals. Old John Calvin, if he were living and working out his logic in the midst of modern life, would have laid even greater distress upon total depravity and the eternal damnation of the majority. That is the only dream which can console us for the dominion of the vulgar in this life; and, unfortunately, there is no substantial logic or evidence to support it. If instead of having lived a quiet life in Geneva, in the sixteenth century, Calvin were living to-day in the heart of New York or Chicago, he would have made his theology more terrible. The kernel of his doctrines was evidently derived from the observation of human society, and a career amid the brutality of our modern cities would have left no room in his creed for any compromises. The perseverance of the saints is not in evidence in the cut-throat scramble of modern life.
This doctrine of damnation has always condoned for me many of the intolerable narrownesses in Calvinism. If it is probable that God himself cannot contemplate an invasion of the mob without trepidation, I cannot see what argument can be made in support of democracy in our social and intellectual life here below. I envy all those who hold this doctrine of damnation without any troublesome doubts. Calvin had evidently fathomed human nature, even if he did not enjoy any special revelation of the life hereafter.
About the only woman whose novels I am curious to read at this moment is Diana of the Crossways. And her “Princess Egeria” and the rest are out of reach forever.
Now here is a nice psychological point. A very clever woman, who knows men and women as only some wonderful women can, and who yet has never written a novel, came to me the other day, as to a Father Confessor of the smaller sophistries of conscience, upon which religion affords no certain light and assurance. The point she wished to know was whether she was a new woman or simply a harmless flirt of the old school. As I could not decide this momentous matter, I concluded to ventilate it in print, suppressing the name of my friend. The situation is this: She loves her husband with all her heart, but yet she sometimes lacks the moral courage to tell some men whom she meets casually that she is a married woman.
It does not seem to add to England’s glory to appoint Uriah Heep to the job of court clown. The old jesters made better sport.
I sometimes wonder what peculiar influence in their environment makes so many literary critics attached to the editorial staff of periodicals, whose chief staple is some denominational form of religious conviction, so offensively positive and dogmatic. They are seldom troubled with any judicial hesitations. They proclaim their ipse dixits with a solemnity and excess of asseveration and finality which is hideously funny to the lay mind, that takes its own peculiar predilections and distastes, with a shade of something approximating good-natured tolerance of the possible tastes of others. I think this critical attitude of the religious Pontifex is largely due to some profound mental and moral confusion. He is so accustomed to dealing out fire and brimstone and damnation with a callous and easy conscience to all who differ with him in the domain of religious belief, and especially to those who occupy the agnostic and rational attitude toward the eternal problems of life, that he finally gets into the trick of using the thunder of Jehovah for smaller offences and occasions.
Here is a case in point. A solemn and inspired lunatic writes, in the New York “Independent,” of George Meredith, the greatest living writer in the English speaking world, in this utterly mendacious and injudicious fashion. “The most elaborately feminine man in English literary life.” “The Amazing Marriage” is then described as “a crazy structure gorgeously decorated, in which dwell nympholepts, aged satyrs, erotic wives and foredoomed maidens, all moving on to rainbow-hued destruction or jaundiced delight.”
This in a religious paper that makes a great parade of its dignity, and is always finding fault with the honest opinions of others, because they are apt to be so irreverent, looks like that simple and vulgar bid for pre-eminence in heresy, which will always catch the greedy ears of the envious and mediocre mob, that is glad to see hateful superiority spattered with mud. I suppose this view of the modern man of letters who is inflexibly true to his aims and the dignity of his calling, and who is, moreover, the master of his craft, is to be attributed to the superintellectual quality of the inspiration that directs all organs of religious opinion.
It is a little hard to understand the criticism which hails the revival of the old familiar blood and thunder fiction of our boyhood days as the renaissance of genius in fiction. All this sort of literature, whether wrapt in mediæval properties or not, is fatally melodramatic and unreal, and constitutes so much lumber and nothing else, if it should remain in the memory. But as all our picture periodicals and Sunday papers are filled with nothing but blood and thunder stuff from Stanley Weyman, Anthony Hope and the rest, it is obviously the taste of the time. I am meditating a new magazine on these popular lines. It is to be called: “The Antique Renascence; a Magazine of Pistol Shots and Rape.”
One of the metropolitan Sunday papers advertises every week in triumphant and gigantic capitals how many square miles of spruce forest were converted into paper for the Sunday edition. The number of square miles of forest that is disappearing in this way is something appalling. It seems to a few reactionary wits, unintoxicated with the spectacle of this modern progress, that sacrificing half a spruce forest to make a Sunday paper is much worse than butchering a little chain-gang of Christians to make a Roman holiday.
It is a simple death notice in the Boston Evening Events, for February 2, 1896. It reads thus:
“Miss Priscilla Prim, of 29976 Beacon street, Boston, died suddenly of a severe mental shock yesterday evening. Miss Prim was well known as the possessor of a very large fortune, a philanthropist, and a patron of the arts and all sorts of moral reforms and missions, and her decease will be mourned by all lovers of liberal culture.”
She had just finished her supper, when a niece from Chicago, who was stopping in her house, to come out this season in the “smart set,” handed her a copy of the February Fly Leaf, fresh and virgin from the press that evening. It contained some opinions which are regarded as heterodox and impossible in “The Ladies’ Own Humbug and Treasury of Misinformation.” It appeared to lack reverence for the unsupported tradition of “culture” that lingers in modern materialistic, money-grubbing Boston, in every well-regulated household, quite independently of the fact that in thousands there is no evidence of civilization in the shape of books, ancient or modern. This flippancy is undoubtedly immoral, and its heinousness may be judged by its effect in this instance.
Miss Prim was mad, indignant, furious, and fumed at the mouth with the passion of her outraged moral feelings. She sprang to her feet to write a letter of protest to the editor of the Events, when she stumbled over the only work of literature in the establishment—it was Mrs. Parloa’s Appledore Cookbook, by the way—and falling face forward upon the floor, she expired immediately of a severe bump and excess of moral emotion.
It is time the old fierce Puritanical spirit was calmed in the blood of the hereditary Bostonians; but the old generation dies glum and hard, and will refuse Heaven if the Almighty is so captious as to demand a sense of humor.
Mr. Chauncey M. Depew is reported to have said that Fame depends entirely upon being civil to interviewers. English visitors should remember this—and a few, who want to feather their nests, are beginning to appreciate the wisdom of our worldly sage. Conan Doyle and Hall Caine have taken “the tip,” and have even been quite civil and polite about American institutions and social life since gaining their own shores. This little simple art of glossing is one the British should cultivate. They are at present the most hateful people on earth. The world is getting crowded now and they should endeavor to become less obnoxious. English celebrities can extend their fame with their courtesies.
A very pathetic and significant incident occurred in one of the leading hotels of Boston the other day. It is fraught with a warning for the injudicious, that needs no additional emphasis from me. But do not turn aside and skip the paragraph because it has a moral!
A well-known Temperance lecturer and social reformer from Shebogan Falls, Arizona, who was stopping at the house, was suddenly taken violently sick, and showed unmistakable signs of suffering from delirium tremens. The gentleman had then been in the hotel for twenty-four hours and he was known to have touched no liquor. A search of his room and grip revealed no intoxicants. The doctors called in were positive about the symptoms, and yet the man’s breath contained no hint of alcohol. The stomach pump afforded no more confirmation. But he was in the throes of delirium tremens, nevertheless, and the doctors were perplexed. All sorts of elaborate theories of hereditary influences were proposed and discussed, and the man’s history and ancestry were looked up. Suddenly he recovered, and an explanation was soon forthcoming.
A well thumbed and dismantled copy of the Arena magazine was discovered under his bed.
Those who are interested in the diffusion of good literature among all classes in America, should make themselves acquainted with the publications of Thomas B. Mosher, of Portland, Me. A good book in his list to put upon the shelf, to begin with, is the beautifully bound volume of the Bibelot for 1895. In making a collection of belles-lettres, the authors and books after all, who give most pleasure, one provides a sure refuge always at hand for any sudden invasion of the blues or ennui, and there is solace here for weightier sorrows, too. For the brave idealists condemned to struggle in this alien world, who can still unpack their minds of all sordid sorrows and bitterness and carry merry and piping hearts to Arcady, are surely not lacking in a profound philosophy—and the philosophy which includes the life of the philosopher is rare indeed.
It is for this reason that the poets and fantastists are closer to our moods through the changing years than all other writers. When the historians, philosophers and social prophets and the rest find us indifferent and content to let the world slide, when great names and ideals no longer stir or move us, when experience has disenchanted us with life and humanity, and so stript history and philosophy and religion of all significance, when all our enthusiasms are gone, love is an exchange of domestic services for the sake of economy, and friendship is a long laid ghost of youth—then we can recur again and again to the authors who turn our chimney corner into that wider dominion of freedom the human spirit can never quite relinquish in its dreams. Fine spun logic and all the metaphysics of the ages cannot bring us back to faith and hope and charity then; but these few blessed spirits who found their way to Arcady occasionally, give us a spell of oblivion, if not much philosophy, and often a pinch of fortitude for our return to the doom of disenchantment.
The republic of beauty is not an important territory or marked very clearly on the current maps of Democracy. But there are still some who cherish the ancient boon of poetry and beauty, and such will appreciate a volume like “The Bibelot,” filled with the literature that blows through our foetid life like God’s wind through a hospital. It is one of the few books that cannot fail to hit the taste of any real book lover. It contains selections from William Blake, James Thomson, Francois Villon, a discourse of Walter Pater’s on Marcus Aurelius, Fragments from Sappho, Sonnets on English Dramatic Poets, the Pathos of the Rose in Poetry, extracts from Rossetti’s “Hand and Soul,” Robert Louis Stevenson’s “A Lodging for the Night: A Story of Villon,” and other masterpieces of literature. It is a priceless book for the poor student, for these selections have been culled from scarce editions and sources not generally accessible.
If our young readers will read the Bibelot, they may acquire the sense of beauty and power of discrimination, and the taste for the best in literature, old and new. They will then become callous to the tawdry domestic twaddle that has been circulated as “literature” in the respectable domestic periodicals, for the past two decades, in this country, and will learn to distinguish genuine literature from mere merchandise. Perhaps then it will be possible for sincere and earnest work to find currency in books in America, as it has not been since the popular picture periodicals took the place of books in our breakneck economy.
Anthony Hope is one of the few authors of the day honest enough to confess that he reads very little. He is too busy writing. This is one of the evils of the age. The writers outnumber the readers. Every man or woman who takes to writing is a reader lost, for writers almost invariably only read and reread their own works. But all authors are not as candid as Anthony Hope.
That volume of lectures on “The Art of Making a Newspaper,” which all “the bright young men” in American journalism have been studying, is marred with the omission of an important historical matter. This is the origin and career of Mr. Dana’s “office cat.” Charles A. Dana is the most picturesque personality in contemporary American public life. He is more definitely in the popular imagination of this generation than any man engaged in literature proper, and so every characteristic detail and whimsy of the “Sun’s” school of journalism should be recorded for the benefit of posterity. The “office cat” has played a great part in the “Sun’s” art and artifice, and its omission is a national catastrophe.
The Leading Critical Literary Journal of London, in a long review of “Meditations in Motley,” by Walter Blackburn Harte, says, among other things:
“When any book of good criticism comes it should be welcomed and made known for the benefit of the persons who care for such works. The book under notice is one of these. It is, so far as I know, the first from the author’s pen; but his writings are well known, and those who read his present book will, with some eagerness, await its successor. For it is a book in which wit and bright, if often satirical, humor are made the vehicle for no flimsy affectations, but for genuine thought. Mr. Ruskin has affirmed that the virtue of originality is not newness, but genuineness.
“In this true sense Mr. Harte’s book is original. Here is his own thought on several topics, pleasantly displayed, and no mere echo or second-hand production of the ideas of others. If Mr. Harte continues to act up to this sentiment, [a long quotation from the book under consideration] as he does in the present book, he may not achieve the triumph of twentieth editions, but he will be a power for good—as every true man of letters is, and must be in the world. If it were practicable I should be much disposed to let the author recommend himself by giving copious quotations from these essays. At his best—that is, in his most characteristic and seemingly unconscious passages—he reminds one of Montaigne; the charming inconsequence, the egotism free from arrogance.”
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Talk and write of the waste of society and the waste of health and the waste of luxury and poverty. But they never remark upon the equally disastrous and wanton
WASTE OF WIT
Which has for so long been the result of old-fogyism and timorous commercialism in periodical Literature. If Statistics could be compiled of the fine wits and humorists and writers of individual talents and power whose brains and productions are spoiled or altogether suppressed under the old regime of the Popular Literature for the weak minded they would be appalling. There is a ruthless waste of good wit in America, in behalf of good dullness.
The Fly Leaf aims to stem this tide of wasted wit. There are ever so many clever writers in America, though they are seldom heard of. These Younger Spirits are the backbone of The Fly Leaf, which will present the Best and most Individual Literature of the Day—as much as can be squeezed into a Bibelot.
It is not quantity but quality we seek to provide. The Fly Leaf interests all cultivated Independent minds, which can recognize “a good thing” at sight. It appeals to Thoughtful and Bookish People, and it will never pander to the Mob that buys its Literature by weight.
Every issue is the most amusing and Unexpected little Bundle of Surprises. It is the only Periodical in America that has Wit to waste. Others have more Cash but no Wit.
THE FLY LEAF,
269 St. Botolph Street, Boston, Mass.
Obvious typographical errors have been corrected.
Inconsistencies in hyphenation have been standardized.
Archaic or alternate spelling has been retained from the original.