페이지 이미지
PDF
ePub

possibly, nay probably, be read by an editor who will remember something of a poetical contributor whose rhymes he used to print, but who utterly disappeared and shot suddenly down the horizon upon being politely requested in the correspondents' column to furnish his name and address. This, which I suppose would have set the hair of many contributors on end with rapturous visions of checks and conversaziones,was quite sufficient to shut me up, though I was a grown man with children. The good-natured editor had heard his first and last of me, unless he recognizes me under this fresh disguise. I will help his memory, if he yet lives, in the following manner :—Supposing I wanted to get hold of him by advertisement, I should insert in the agony column of the Times or Telegraph a notice beginning—" The Ascent of the Peter Hotte. If the Editor who once, &c, &c," Further than this I decline to go,—we have all our feelings. The upshot of this is that I had always a certain amount of " encouragement" given to me —especially in matters of verse. My rhymes were almost always inserted, and promptly ; and a distinguished man of letters (never mind how I happened to get into communication with him—it cost me agonies) told me that verse was my "spere." While I write this I am thinking of Dickens's old stager, who failed to make a journey by rail, getting miserably lost at stations, and whose wife was told by the housemaid that " railways wasn't master's spears."

It is not an impossible thing to make money by writing verses, but in order to do so you must either have an independent standpoint to begin from, or you must be in such a position that you can afford to go through a long probation, before you arrive at the period when you can make poetry pay. Even then the chances are a million to one against success. My own position and feelings at the time when I began to think about writing for money are expressed in certain paragraphs from my own pen, which I will quote directly. And I should never have begun to think of writing for money at all if it had not been that I was, in a manner, driven to it by finding certain occupations, which I need not describe, telling on my health. The passage I was about to quote is as follows:—

"Any one who wishes to make a serious mark upon the literature of his country had better, if he possibly can, find some other means of getting his bread than writing. To write for immortality, and for the journals too, is about the most harassing work a man could engage in. There are, of course, cases to the contrary—cases of men who have a fine physique to back the large brain, and whose genius is consequently of the productive and popular order. Such men can kill the two birds with one stone, but woe betide the weakling who tries the same thing!

"In all cases where the brain, whether intrinsically or by association with a capricious physique, is delicate and incapable of incessant production, the problem— difficult of solution, but not always insoluble—is to find some not too uncongenial employment, which shall yield the nucleus of an income, and leave a good deal of leisure too. Not a clerk's place, if the man be of the Campbell order, but something less continuous, if even more arduous. Men of imaginative mould should choose, if they can, pursuits which leave large gaps of leisure, even if they pay for that advantage by being overworked at occasional times." I must here say, harsh as the judgment will seem to a good many people, that it is all but impossible for a person to use any form of teaching (except the most mechanical, and scarcely then) as a means of earning a livelihood, and yet maintain perfect independence and purity of conscience. Journalists, who are bent to the yoke, will scoff at this, but the fox without a tail laughs all the world over at the fox who insists on keeping his; and I maintain that what I say is true. At all events I thought so, and determined that I would, at whatever cost, find out some way of earning, at least, bread and water, so that I might leave myself without excuse if, at the end of every writing day, I could not say, "This hand has never written what this brain did not think, or this heart did not feel." Besides this difficulty, there were others in my way which forced themselves upon my attention. My natural inclination was always either to look at things "in the aibstract" and run off into metaphysics, or else to be what people called transcendental, or florid, or, still more frequently, mystical. And I uniformly observed that writing to which the people I knew—my fool-ometers in fact—would apply these terms, was certain to be rejected by editors. I also observed, and past experience has amusingly confirmed this, that editors who will look very jealously after what you say while your articles are new to them, will let you write almost what you please after a little time. Putting one thing with another, I began a determined course of preparatory study —that is to say, I minutely analyzed the sort of writing for which I found there was a market. In this way I pulled to pieces every novel and every leading article that I came across. Thus, I took so many pages of a story and chopped it all up into incident, conversation, and comment. Leading articles gave me a great trouble. I found that I could write articles that were printed when the subject excited me, or when the appeal in the discussion was to first principles. Hence, an article of mine on a revolution, or on the law of husband and wife would, I found, be welcomed; but for politics, in the ordinary sense of the word, I had not a whiff of instinct. Although I always could, and can, adapt means to ends by dint of hard thinking, yet I found myself destitute of all sagacity in dealing with the by-play of minor motives, and utterly lost—though scornfully as well as consciously lost—in handling what people call politics. I shall never forget, and my friend now beyond the grave will perhaps remember in heaven, the outcome of his asking me to attend vestry meetings—and edit a local newspaper. This was not from any contempt of common things, but from a sense that everybody would get a rise out of me which would make my attempt to fulfil editorial duties a farce. My instinct was a true instinct; and, after accepting the engagement, I gave it up, because I was satisfied that, by attempting to keep it, I should put him to more inconvenience than I could possibly do by breaking it. He perfectly understood, laughed, and remained my friend to the last. The things, then, that gave me the most trouble, considered as studies, were leading articles and essays on current politics. With regard to the latter, or indeed both, I never could get a firm footing to begin with. It was Austria wants to do this, and Prussia wants to do the other ; the Bourbons aimed at so-andso, and Spain had her reasons for standing aloof. But I was, for one th ng, unable to see that there was any ground for all this sort of thing, outside the fancy of the redacteur; and then, again, I could never personify Austria, or Spain, or Prussia, or France. My mind, or, as Lord Westbury puts it, what I was pleased to call my mind, said — " Austria? But what is Austria? It is so many roods of ground." It was intelligible to me that a man should want to marry a particular woman or to secure a particular estate, for its beauty or use; but that Schwarzenburg and Thiers and Palmerston, and A. and B., and who-not, should be playing a political "game" with earnestness enough to deserve or justify a serious leading article, was to me utterly unintelligible. This was not for want of strong English feeling and even passionate pride in "speaking the tongue that Shakespeare spake," but from my general incapacity to understand why people should be always meddling with each other When I was a little boy I remember hearing a schock-headed, wart-nosed tradesman, brandishing a ham knife, holding forth thus :— " What does a man go and be a politician for? His own aggrandisement. What makes a man go and be a clergyman? His own aggrandisement. What makes me go and keep a 'am-and-beef shop? My own aggrandisement." Well, I had been brought up in some loneliness, and chiefly in the society of those who had a consuming desire to make certain opinions prevail; the opinions being rooted in first principles, and the only means dreamt of being fair persuasion. And up to this time of my life, late as it was, I had only a very faint appreciation of the activity of the "aggrandisement" motive in the affairs of the world. Besides this obstacle to my appreciating current political, or even much of current social criticism, there was another difficulty. Leading articles seemed to me to begin from nothing and to lead to nowhere, and it was not till after most persevering study that I succeeded in cutting open the bellows and finding where the wind came from. Then, again, I carefully examined the magazines, and very carefully indeed the Notices to Correspondents. But at thirty years of age I was still so green as to write one day to the Times, pointing out an error of fact and a clear fallacy of deduction in one of its leaders, doing this in the full, undoubting expectation that they would make the necessary correction. About this time I had an introduction to Mr. Mowbray Morris, and saw him in his room at the Times' office. Nothing came of it, and I expect he thought I was a real Arcadian. I was. My letters of introduction were rather numerous, and addressed to people who could probably have helped me, if they had taken pains; nay, some of whom would probably have done so if I had "pushed" a little. But this was impossible to me ; and I was much surprised that clever men—as I had reason to suppose many of these persons to whom I had letters really were—did not seem able at a glance to feel sure that this real Arcadian had a share of honesty, application, and versatility which might make it politic, merely as a matter of business, to treat him civilly. The only person, however, who was really insolent, was a man who had written chiefly on "love" and "brotherhood." I am not writing down a cynical fib, but the simple truth. He certainly annoyed me, and I thought to myself, "One of these days I will serve you out." I have, of course, never served him out; the only effect of his rudeness has been that I have been able to speak of him with cheerful frankness. There was some fun in situations of this kind; and 1 used to enjoy the feeling that while, perhaps, some one to whom I had a letter was snubbing me, or at least treating me de haut en bus, he was behaving thus to a stranger who would be able to his dying day to describe every look of the superior being's eyes, every line of his face, every word he said, the buttons on his coat, how high the gas was, and what tune the organ-grinder was playing in the next street, while the little scene came off. After a time I was told by an old friend of a gentleman who, he thought, might help me. Him I hunted up, by a circuitous route, though I knew neither his name, his qualifications, nor his address. He is a man of genius and of good-nature, and through him I got really useful introductions. From this time there were no external difficulties in my way. But conscientious scruples, and personal habits of my own, remained to constitute real and very serious obstacles. I was not what Mr. Carlyle, describing the literary amanuensis who helped him in his Cromwell labors, termed "hardy." The manner in which the ordinary journalist knocks about was always a wonder to me. I could neither stand gas, nor tobacco, nor pottering about, nor hunting people up in the intervals of literary labor, nor what those who know me have (too) often heard me call "jaw." I mean the kind of debate which goes on at discussion societies, and among even intelligent men when public topics arise after dinner. It is half sincere ; it is wanting in the nicety of distinction which love of truth demands; it is full of push, and loudness, personal vanity, and the zest of combat: so it seems to me that no one could have much of it without loss, not only of self-respect, but also of fineness of perception and clearness of conscience. As unpleasant in another way was what we may perhaps call the clever "club" talk of literary men. Here you find men trying apparently which can say the smartest thing—to quote a mot of a living writer of admirable vers de societe, "they call their jokes 'quips,' but the work is so hard that they might just as well be called 'cranks.'" On the whole, my tastes and habits were about as unfavorable for making way in journalism as could possibly be supposed. The necessity of keeping a conscience—and obstinately keeping it under a glass case, too —was a far more serious matter. It so happened, however, that immediately on starting with my pen in a professional way, I got a character for writing good critical papers. The very first critical essay 1 ever wrote was quoted, and noticed in high quarters; and it passed round that I had a quick scent in literary matters. But the way in which this worked was very amusing. Everybody went about to flood me with reviewing work. It was quite natural; but rather wide of the mark. When a man who possesses a pretty good critical scent takes up a book that is either by goodness or badness suggestive, there are "three courses" open to him. He may characterize it in a few sentences ; but half-a-dozen lines, even if they are bright and exhaustive in their way, are not a review—are not, in fact, what is wanted of a journalist. Or he may make it a topic, and produce an article as long as a small book. This, again, however good, is not what is wanted of a journalist. The third course, to write a column or two about a book that has no particular life in it, is the arduous one. And arduous indeed it is. There was another difficulty which stood in my way as a journalist. There is a class of article for which there is always a demand. I mean the kind of article which teaches one half of the world how the other half lives. I hope literary beginners who may read these lines will take note of that. For this kind of writing I have some qualifications—quickness of eye, a tenacious memory of detail, and a lively sense of fun ; but then I could not knock about and come up to time. A day at Spitalfields would make me ill. There was a case in which, under unusually favorable conditions, 1 had to refuse a task of this kind. The kind and discerning friend who proposed it I met by exposing my own unfitness in the matter of knocking about, and I said, "Mr. So-andso is your man; he will do it better than I shall in many respects." My friend answered, "No, not in every respect; he will not put into it the feeling that you will." In spite of this encouragement, I declined the work, and for the soundest reasons. But any beginner who can do writing of this description, with plenty of detail—and without interspaces of meditation, such as would come down by main force upon my pen—may make sure of earning money by literature. The practical upshot of most of the foregoing memoranda is this :•—It so happened that I usually got into print when I desired it; that my very first article "professionally" written was printed in good company ; and that I had few difficulties outside of my own personal peculiarities. But how was this? Just thus (shade of Artemus Ward!) : I had for years made the working literature of the day a study ; knew the things that tended to exclude a man's writing from magazines and newspapers, and the special points that I had to guard against. Is there anything wrong in suggesting that not one in a thousand of the class called "literary aspirants" has ever made the working literature of the hour a systematic study?The articles, like the books, of the class called literary aspirants are usually rejected, even when they have merit, upon what may be termed points of literary form. This paragraph is good, and that is good, and this other is really fine ; but the whole thing wants licking into shape. Thus, an editor or reviewer of experience and vision can almost certainly tell amateur work at a glance. See some interesting remarks by Mr. Herman Merivale in a recent "Junius" paper in the Cornhill upon the ease with which literary work is recognized as that of a practised pen. We are sometimes told,—and thousands of " aspirants" think with bitterness,—that the distinction between the amateur and the practised writer is idle, because everybody is an amateur to begin with. But I have shown that this is not.true. In spite of long practice in the use of the pen, I made working literature a deliberate study, and others have done the same; that is, they have not relied on mere aptitude. "Look," says the writer of a formless novel, "look at 'Jane Eyre !'" Well, by all means look at "Jane Eyre,"—you can hardly look at a more instructive case. Currer Bell did not succeed as an amateur; she had been a hard student of the conditions of success, and she attended to them so far as her knowledge went, and so far as she desired to use them. Of literary ambition proper she had none, nor—if 1 may speak of myself in the same sentence— have I. But whatever one's motive, or impulse, may be in writing, he must pay some attention to matters of literary form, and he must comply with such of them as have a just and natural foundation. He is, in fact, as much bound to comply with these as he is bound not to comply with those which demand some sacrifice of truthfulness, self-respect, and clearness of conscience. Paradoxical as some may think it, the chief hindrance to honest literary success is literary vainglory to begin with. This involves splash, false fire, chaotic " out-lay" (to use a surveyor's phrase) of the work, and foolish and exaggerated ideas of the "success" within reach. There was a one-volume novel, published a year or two ago, in which a young journalist, whose suit had been rejected by a young lady's "'aughty" mother, and who is under a cloud for a time, makes money at a rate which must have set every journalist in England laughing, and then suddenly blazes out in the society of dukes and Cabinet ministers because he has written a crushing exposure in a daily paper of the probable working of "clause 5" of a certain bill. This particular book was a very innocent one, and no more vainglorious than Currer Bell's notions of the Duke of Wellington. In that specimen sheet of her handwriting given by Mrs. Gaskell in the memoir, she shows us the Duke at the War Office, putting on his hat at five minutes to four, telling the clerks that they might go, and scattering " largess" among the clerks with a liberal hand as he takes his leave for the day. Sancta simplicitas! we cry; and there is an end. But every writing man knows that "aspirants," as a class, are eaten up with vainglory. They want distinction and the run of pleasures of a "literary" life as they apprehend them. They have visions of the tenth thousand, and flaming reviews, and gorgeous society. I see with infinite amusement the ideas some people have of the sort of life I lead. They think— they almost tell me so in words—that I have always got my pocket full of orders for the theatre, that I can butto» hole anybody I please, that I go to the Queen's garden-parties, that I sit, with a halo round my head, in gilded saloons, saying, or hearing said, brilliant mots; that I drink champagne with actresses behind the scenes, and that, if they offend me, I shall at once put them in Punch or the Times. I have also been told—almost point-blank in some cases—that it was only my jealousy and desire to "keep others down," that prevented my procuring immediate admission into periodicals for articles submitted to me by A. or B., which were perhaps of the silliest and most despicable quality. I have had this said or hinted to my face, or behind my back, about articles that were utterly unprintable, at times when my own papers had been waiting months—three, six, or eight months—for insertion in places where I had what is called "interest." People who have—' who are. capable of having—notions of this kind, I would certainly do my best to keep out of literature ; not, however, from "jealousy," but because they are morally unfit for it. This opens the way for a word or two which I promised upon "cliqueism/' That literary men, like other people, form knots and groups, is a matter of course; and "what for no?" That there must be partiality and some degree of exclusiveness in these, is certain. That there are quarrels I am sure, for I hear of them, and discern their consequences. But so there are everywhere. In some hole-and-corner connections there may be jealousy and exclusiveness founded on money reasons. But, personally, I have never once come into collision with anything of the kind. As a hindrance to "aspirants," I do not believe such a thing exists. The chief deterring or exclusive influence I have ever suffered from has been that of a kindness so much in excess of my capacity to make fair returns, that I have flinched from accepting it. Literary men, as I know them, come nearer to Wieland's Cosmopolites (•' Die Abderiten ") than any other class. If anybody thinks there is too much ofwhat is called "egotism" in these notes, I disagree with him. It is a pity I have not had the moral courage to be more "egotistic" still, and I wish other people would set me the example. This is a world in which you cannot wear your heart upon your sleeve ; but it is for a base and disgusting reason, namely, that there are so many daws and other unclean birds about. It was not my intention to append my signature, but the Editor did it, and his judgment in such a matter is better than mine.

Matthew Brown.

Macmillan's Magazine.

MARIE OF VILLEFRANCHE.

CHAPTER I.

It was a cold, snowy day when I went to see Marie: the villagers had their heads tied up in brilliant-colored handkerchiefs, contrasting pleasantly with the white snow, and they shuffled quickly over their errands in their clanking sabots. There was a good deal of talk and laughter among them, but all the faces looked pinched and cold.

"Where did Marie la Veuve live?" I asked. All knew, and all were willing to show me the way, for "Marie was the vil lage favorite," as one of the gossips explained to me: "she kept a silent tongue

« 이전계속 »