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Contributors to this Volume.
VAUTHOR OF “JOHN HALIFAX, GENTLEMAN.”
AUTHOR OF "TOM BROWN'S SCHOOL-DAYS.”
LESLIE, T. E, CLIFFE. ✓ LUDLOW, J. M.
MAURICE, REV. F. D.
POLE, PROFESSOR, F.R.A.S.
MACMILLAN'S MAGAZINE, VOLUME I..
Handsomely bound in cloth, price 78. 6d.
The following are Contributors to Volume #.
ANSTED, PROFESSOR, F.R.S.
[The Editor of MACMILLAN'S MAGAZINE cannot undertake to return Manuscripts sent to him.]
THREE VICES OF CURRENT LITERATURE.
BY THE EDITOR,
NATURAL and becoming as it is to think measured by such a petty standard as modestly of the literary achievements the faculty of any one man to keep up of our own time, in comparison with with it as a reader, or even to survey it certain periods of our past literary his- as a critic? There is surely a larger tory, it may yet be asserted with some view of literature than this-according confidence that in no age has there been
to which the expression of passing so large an amount of real ability en- thought in preservable forms is one of gaged in the conduct of British literature the growing functions of the race ; so as at present. Whether our topmost men that, as the world goes on, more and are equal in stature to the giants of ever more of what is remembered, some former generations, and whether reasoned, imagined, or desired on its the passing age is depositing on the surface, must necessarily be booked or shelf of our rare national classics mas- otherwise registered for momentary terpieces of matter and of form worthy needs and uses, and for farther action, to rank with those already there, are over long arcs of time, upon the spirit questions which need not be discussed of the future. According to this view, in connexion with our statement. It is the notion of the perseverance of our enough to remember that, for the three earth on its voyage ages hereafter with hundred publications or so which an- a freight of books increased, by sucnually issued from the British press ssive additions, incalculably beyond about the middle of the seventeenth that which already seems an overweight, century, we now produce every year
loses much of its discomfort ; nay, in some five thousand publications of all this very vision of our earth as it shall sorts, and, probing this fleeting mass of be, carrying at length so huge a regiscontemporary authorship as far round tration of all that has transpired upon us and in as many directions as we can, it, have we not a kind of pledge that in order to appraise its contents, to see, the registration shall not have been in as I believe we should see, that the pro- vain, and that, whatever catastrophe digious increase of quantity has been ac- may await our orb in the farther chances companied by no deterioration of average of being, the lore it has accumulated quality. Lamentations are indeed com- shall not perish, but shall survive or mon over the increase of books in the detach itself
, a heritage beyond the world. This, it is said, is the Mudiæval shipwreck? In plainer argument; alera. Do not these lamentations proceed, though in the immense diffusion of however, on a false view of literature, as literary capability in these days, there if its due limits at any time were to be may be causes tending to lower the
highest individual efforts, is not the ciation towards our current literature, diffusion itself a gain, and is it after all that we venture to point out certain of consistent with fact that the supposed its wide-spread vices. The vices which causes are producing the alleged effect ? we select are not those which might That there is a law of vicissitude in the turn out to be the deepest and most intellectual power of a nation ; that, as radical ; they are simply those that canthere are years of good crop and
not fail to catch the eye from the extent bad crop in the vegetable world, so of surface which they cover. there are ages in a nation's life of super
1. There is the vice of the Slip-shod excellent nerve and faculty, and again or Slovenly. In popular language it ages intellectually feeble, seems may be described as the vice of bad satisfactory a generalization as any of workmanship. Its forms are various. the rough historical generalizations we The lowest is that of bad syntax, of lax yet have in stock; but that this law concatenation of clauses and sentences. of vicissitude implies diminished ca- It would be easy to point out faults of pacity in the highest individuals accord- this kind which reappear in shoals in ing as the crowd increases, does not each day's supply of printed matterappear. The present era of British from the verbs misnominatived, and the literature, counting from the year 1789, clumsy “whiches” looking back rueis as rich, as brilliant with lustrous fully for submerged antecedents, so names, as any since the Elizabethan era common in the columns of our hasty and its continuation, from 1580 to 1660; writers, up to the unnecessarily repeated nay, if we strike out from the Elizabe- “that” after a conditional clause which than firmament its majestic twin-lumi- some writers insert with an infatuated naries, Shakespeare and Bacon, our punctuality, and even the best insert firmament is the more brilliantly studded occasionally. Should the notice of a -studded with the larger stars. Nothing matter so merely mechanical seem too but a morose spirit of disregard for what trivial, there is, next, that form of the is round us, or an excess of the com- slip-shod which consists in stuffing out mendable spirit of affection for the past, sentences with certain tags and slıreds or, lastly, an utter ignorance of the actual of phraseology lying vague about society, books of the past which we do praise, as bits of undistributed type may lie prevents us from seeing that many of about a printing-room. “We are free the poets and other authors even of the to confess," "we candidly acknowgreat Elizabethan age, who retain their ledge,” “will well repay perusal,” “we places in our collections, or that, still should heartily rejoice," "did space permore decidedly, many of the celebrities mit," causes beyond our control,” “if of that later age which is spanned by we may be allowed the expression," Johnson's “Lives of the Poets,” were “ commence hostilities”—what are these but poetasters and poor creatures, com- and a hundred other such phrases but pared with relative authors of the last undistributed bits of old speech, like seventy years. Test the matter roughly the “electric fluid” and the “launched in what is called our current literature. into eternity” of the penny-a-liners, What an everlasting fuss we do make which all of us are glad to clutch, to fill about Junius and his letters! And yet a gap, or to save the trouble of comthere is no competent person but will posing equivalents from the letters ? admit that these letters will not stand a To change the figure (see, I am at it comparison, in any respect of real in myself!), what are such phrases but a tellectual merit, with many of the lead- kind of rhetorical putty with which ing articles which are written overnight cracks in the sense are stopped, and proat present by contributors to our daily longations formed where the sense has newspapers, and skimmed by us at broken short? Of this kind of slipbreakfast next morning.
shod in writing no writers are more
style chiefly by public speaking; and it thought and style ; but no one has ever is in them also that the kindred faults attended to the subject analytically withof synonyms strung together and of re- out becoming aware that the distinction dundant expletives are most commonly is not ultimate—that what is called seen. Perhaps, indeed, the choicest style resolves itself, after all, into manspecimens of continuous slip-shod in the ner of thinking ; nay, perhaps (though language are furnished by the writings to show this would take some time) into of celebrated orators. How dilute the the successive particles of the matter tincture, what bagginess of phraseology thought. If a writer is said to be fond round what slender shanks of meaning, of epithets, it is because he has a habit what absence of trained muscle, how of always thinking a quality very proseldom the nail is hit on the head! It minently along with an object; if his is not every day that a Burke presents style is said to be figurative, it is because himself, whose every sentence is charged he thinks by means of comparisons; if with an exact thought proportioned to his syntax abounds in inversions, it is it, whether he stands on the floor and because he thinks the cart before he speaks, or takes his pen in hand. And thinks the horse. And so, by extension, then, not only in the writings of men all the forms of slip-shod in expression rendered diffuse by much speaking are, in reality, forms of slip-shod in after a low standard, but in the tide of thought. If the syntax halts, it is becurrent writing besides, who shall take cause the thread of the thought has account of the daily abundance of that snapped, or become entangled. If the more startling form of slip-shod which phraseology of a writer is diffuse ; if his rhetoricians call Confusion of Metaphor? language does not lie close round his Lord Castlereagh's famous “I will not real meaning, but widens out in flat now enter upon the fundamental feature expanses, with here and there a tremor upon which this question hinges,” is as as the meaning rises to take breath ; if nothing compared with much that
passes in every sentence we recognise shreds daily under our eyes in the pages of and tags of common social verbiage—in popular books and periodicals-tissues such a case it is because the mind of the of words in which shreds from nature's writer is not doing its duty, is not confour quarters are jumbled together as in secutively active, maintains no continued heraldry; in which the writer begins hold of its object, hardly knows its own with a lion, but finds it in the next drift. In like manner, mixed or incoclause to be a waterspout; in which ice- herent metaphor arises from incoherent bergs swim in seas of lava, comets col- conception, inability to see vividly what lect taxes, pigs sing, peacocks wear is professedly looked at. All forms of silks, and teapots climb trees.
slip-shod, in short, are to be referred to Pshaw! technicalities all! the mere deficiency of precision in the conduct of minutiæ of the grammarian and the thought. Of every writer it ought to be critic of expression ! Nothing of the required at least that he pass every jot kind, good reader! Words are made and tittle of what he sets down through up of letters, sentences of words, all that his mind, to receive the guarantee of is written or spoken of sentences suc- having been really there, and that he ceeding each other or interflowing; and arrange and connect his thoughts in a at no time, from Homer's till this, has workmanlike manner. Anything short anything passed as good literature which of this is—allowance being made for cirhas not satisfied men as tolerably tight cumstances which may prevent a conand close-grained in these particulars, scientious man from always doing his
become classic and permanent best-an insult to the public. Accordwhich has not, in respect of them, ingly, in all good literature, not exstood the test of the microscope. cepting the subtlest and most exuberant We distinguish, indeed, usefully enough, poetry, one perceives a strict logic linkbetween matter and expression, between ing thought with thought. The velocity