Part 5 out of 5
Henry Leigh," and under that head a list of his works, more complete,
perhaps, than he himself could easily have drawn up.
In glancing along the leaves of a collection like this, one's heart is
touched with something of the same vague pathos that dims the eye in a
graveyard. What a necrology of notability! How many a controversialist
who made a great stir in his day, how many a once rising genius, how
many a withering satirist, lies here shrunk all away to the tombstone
immortality of a name and date! Think of the aspirations, the dreams,
the hopes, the toil, the confidence (of himself and wife) in an
impartial and generous posterity;--and then read "Smith J.(ohn?)
1713-1784(?). The Vision of Immortality, an Epic Poem in Twelve Books,
1740, 4to. _See Lowndes._" The time of his own death less certain than
that of his poem, which we may fix pretty safely in 1740,--and the only
posterity that took any interest in him the indefatigable Lowndes! Well,
even a bibliographic indemnity for contemporary neglect, to have so
much as your title-page read after it is a century old, and to enjoy a
posthumous public of one, is better than nothing.
A volume like Mr. Allibone's--so largely a hospital for incurable
forgottenhoods--is better than any course of philosophy to the young
author. Let him reckon how many of the ten thousand or so names here
recorded he has ever heard of before, let him make this myriad the
denominator of a fraction to which the dozen perennial fames shall
be the numerator, and he will find that his dividend of a chance at
escaping speedy extinction is not worth making himself unhappy about.
Should some statistician make such a book the basis for constructing the
tables of a fame-insurance company, the rates at which alone policies
could be safely issued would put them beyond the reach of all except
those who did not need them. After all, perhaps, the next best thing to
being famous or infamous is to be utterly forgotten; for that, at least,
is to accomplish a decisive result by living. To hang on the perilous
edge of immortality by the nails, liable at any moment to drop into the
waters of Oblivion, is at best a questionable beatitude.
But if a dictionary of this kind give rise to some melancholy
reflections, it is not without suggestions of a more soothing character.
We are reminded by it of the tender-heartedness of Chaucer, who, in the
"House of Fame," after speaking of Orpheus and Arion, (Mr. Tyrwhitt
calls him Orion,) and Cheiron and Glasgerion, has a kind word for the
lesser minstrels that play on pipes made of straw,--
"Such as have the little herd-groomes
That keepen beastes in the broomes."
This is the true Valhalla of Mediocrity, the _libra d'oro_ of the
_onymi-anonymi_, of the never-named authors who exist only in
name,--Parson Adams would be here, had he found a printer for his
sermons, Mr. Primrose for his tracts on Monogamy,--and not merely
such _nominum umbroe_ of the past, but that still stranger class of
ancient-moderns, preterite-presents, dead (and something more) as
authors, but still to be met with in the flesh as solid men and
brethren,--privileged, alas, to outstay cockcrow when they drop in of an
evening to give you their views on the aims and tendencies of periodical
literature. Will it be nothing, if we should be untimely snatched
away from our present sphere of usefulness, to those shadowy [Greek:
pleiones] who lived too soon to enjoy their monthly dip in the
ATLANTIC,--will it be nothing, we say, that our orphaned Papyrorcetes,
junior, will be able to read the name of his lamented parent on the
nine-hundredth page of Allibone,--occupying, at least, an entire line,
and therefore (as we gather from a hasty calculation) sure forever of
1/360,000th of the attention of whoever reads the book through? This
is a handy and inexpensive substitute for the _imagines_ of the Roman
nobles; for those were inconvenient to pack on a change of lodgings,
liable to melt in warm weather,--even the elder Brutus himself might
soften in August,--and not readily salable, unless to a _novus homo_ who
wished to buy a set of ancestors ready-made, as some of our enthusiastic
genealogists are said to order a family-tree from the heraldic
nursery-man skilled to graft a slip of Scroggins on a stock of De Vere
or Montmorenci. Contemporary glory is comparatively dear; it is sold by
the column,--for columns have got over their Horatian antipathies; but
the bibliographer will thank you for the name of any man that has ever
printed a book, nay, his gratitude will glow in exact proportion to the
obscurity of the author, and one may thus confer perpetuity at
least (which is a kind of Tithonus-immortality) upon some respected
progenitor, or assure it to himself, with little trouble and at the cost
of a postage-stamp.
The benignity of Providence is nowhere more strongly marked than in its
compensations; and what can be more beautiful than the arrangement by
which the same harmless disinterestedness of matter and style that once
made an author the favorite of trunk-makers and grocers should, by
thus leading to the quiet absorption of his works, make them sure of
commemoration by Brunet or Lowndes and of commanding famine-prices under
the hammer? Fame, like electricity, is thus positive and negative; and
if a writer must be Somebody to make himself of permanent interest to
the world at large, he must not less be Nobody--like Junius--to have his
namelessness embalmed by Mons. Guerard. Take comfort, therefore, all ye
who either make paper invaluable or worthless by the addition of your
autograph! for your dice (as the Abbe Galiani said of Nature's) are
always loaded, and you may make your book the heir of Memory in two
ways,--by contriving to get the fire of genius into it, or to get it
into the fire by the hands of the hangman. Milton's "Areopagitica" is an
example of one method, and the "Philostratus" of Blount (who pillaged
the "Areopagitica") of the other. And yet, again, how perverse is human
nature! how more perverse is literary taste! There is a large class
of men madly desirous to read cuneiform and runic inscriptions simply
because of their unreadableness, adding to our compulsory stock of
knowledge about the royal Smiths and Joneses of to-day much conjectural
and conflicting information concerning their royal prototypes of an
antiquity unknown, and, as we fondly hoped, unknowable. Were there only
a compensatory arrangement for this also in another class who should be
driven by a like irresistible instinct to unreadable books, the heart
of the political economist would be gladdened at seeing the substantial
rewards of authorship so much more equally distributed by means of a
demand adapted to the always abundant supply.
We should like Mr. Allibone's book better, if it were more exclusively a
dictionary of names, facts, editions, and dates, and allowed less
space (or none at all) to opinions. The contemporaneous judgments of
individual critics upon writers of original power are commonly of little
value, and are absolutely worthless when an author's fame has struck its
roots down into the kindly soil of national or European appreciation,
when his work has won that "perfect witness of all-judging Jove" which
cannot be begged or bought. When the criticism is anonymous, (as are
many of those cited by Mr. Allibone,) it has not even the reflected
interest, as a measure of the critic himself, which we find sometimes
in the incapacity of a strong nature to appreciate a great one, as in
Johnson's opinion of Milton, for instance,--or of a delicate mind to
comprehend an imaginative one, as in Addison's of Bunyan. In the article
"Carlyle," for example, (by the way, John A. Carlyle is omitted,) we
should have been better content, if Mr. Allibone (instead of letting us
know what "Blackwood's Magazine" thinks of a writer who, whatever his
faults of style, has probably influenced the thought of his generation
more than any other man) had given us the date of the first publication
of "Cromwell's Letters and Speeches," and had mentioned that the
original collection of the "Miscellanies" was made in America. (This
last we have since found alluded to under "De Quincey.") Sometimes the
editor himself intrudes remarks which are quite out of keeping with the
character of such a work. We will give an instance which caught our
eye in turning over the leaves. After giving the title of "The Rare
Trauailes" of Job Hortop, Mr. Allibone adds, "We trust that in the
home-relation of his 'Rare Trauails among wilde and sauage people' the
_raconteur_ did not yield to the temptation of 'pulling the long bow,'
for the purpose of increasing the amazement of his wondering auditors."
Now if Mr. Allibone knew nothing about Hortop, he should have said
nothing. If the edition of 1591 was inaccessible to him, he could have
found out what kind of a story-teller our ancient mariner was in the
third volume of Hakluyt. We resent this slur upon Job the more because
he happens to be a favorite of ours, and saw no more wonders than
travellers of that day had the happy gift of seeing. We remember he got
sight of a very fine merman in the neighborhood of the Bermudas; but
then stout Sir John Hawkins was as lucky.
The two criticisms we have made touch, one of them the plan of the work,
and the other its manner. We have one more to make, which, perhaps,
should properly have come under the former of these two heads;--it
is that Mr. Allibone allows a disproportionate space to the smaller
celebrities of the day in comparison with those of the past. In such
an undertaking, the amount of interest which the general public may be
supposed to take in comparatively local notabilities should, it seems to
us, be measured on a scale whose degrees are generations.
Mr. Allibone's good-nature has misled him in some cases to the allowance
of manifest disproportions. Twice as much room, for instance, is allowed
to Mr. Dallas as to Emerson. Mr. Dallas has been Vice-President of the
United States; Emerson is one of the few masters of the English tongue,
and both by teaching and practical example has done more to make the
life of the scholar beautiful, and the career of the man of letters a
reproof to all low aims and an inspiration to all high ones, than any
other man in America.
What we have said has been predicated upon the general impression left
on our minds after dipping into the book here and there almost at
random. But on opening it again, we find so much that is interesting,
even in those articles which are most expansive and gossiping, that we
are almost inclined to draw our pen through what we have written in the
way of objection, and merely express our gratitude to Mr. Allibone for
what he has done. We have been led to speak of what we consider the
defects, or rather the redundancies, of the "Dictionary," because we
believe, that, if less bulky, it would be more certain of the
wide distribution it so highly deserves. It is a shrewd saying of
Vauvenargues, that it is "_un grand signe de mediocrite de louer
toujours moderement_," and we have no desire to expose the "Atlantic" to
a charge so fatal by showing ourselves cold to the uncommon merits of
Mr. Allibone's achievement. The book is rather entitled to be called an
Encyclopaedia than a Dictionary. As the work of a single man, it is one
of the wonders of literary industry. The amount of labor implied in it
is enormous, and its general accuracy, considering the immense number
and variety of particulars, remarkable. A kindly and impartial spirit
makes itself felt everywhere,--by no means an easy or inconsiderable
merit. We have already had occasion several times to test its practical
value by use, and can recommend it from actual experiment. Every man
who ever owned an English book, or ever means to own one, will find
something here to his purpose.
That a volume so comprehensive in its scope and so multitudinous in its
details should be wholly without errors and omissions is impossible; and
we trust that any of our readers who detect such will discharge a part
of the obligation they are under to Mr. Allibone by communicating them
to him for the benefit of a second edition.
1. _Truebner's Bibliographical Guide to American Literature._ London:
TRUEBNER & CO. 1859. pp. cxlix., 554. 8vo.
2. _Index to the Catalogue of a Portion of the Public Library of the
City of Boston._ 1858. pp. 204.
Next to knowledge itself, perhaps the best thing is to know where to
find it. To make an index that shall combine completeness, succinctness,
and clearness,--how much intelligence this demands is proved by the
number of failures. Mr. Truebner's volume contains, 1st, some valuable
bibliographical prolegomena by the editor himself; 2d, an historical
sketch of American literature, which is not very well done by Mr. Moran,
and would have been admirably done by Mr. Duyckinck; 3d, a full and very
interesting account of American libraries by Mr. Edwards; and 4th, a
classed list of books written and published in the United States during
the last forty years, arranged in thirty-one appropriate departments,
with a supplementary thirty-second of _Addenda_. In some instances,--as
in giving tables of the proceedings of learned societies,--the period
embraced is nearly a century. A general alphabetical index completes
the volume. The several heads are, Bibliography, Collections, Theology,
Jurisprudence, Medicine and Surgery, Natural History (in five
subdivisions), Chemistry and Pharmacy, Natural Philosophy, Mathematics
and Astronomy, Philosophy, Education (in three subdivisions), Modern
Languages, Philology, American Antiquities, Indians and Languages,
History (in three subdivisions), Geography, Useful Arts, Military
Science, Naval Science, Rural and Domestic Economy, Politics, Commerce,
Belles Lettres, Fine Arts, Music, Freemasonry, Mormonism, Spiritualism,
Guide Books, Maps and Atlases, Periodicals. This list is enough to show
the great value of the "Guide" to students and collectors. The volume
will serve to give both Americans and Europeans a juster notion of the
range and tendency, as well as amount, of literary activity in the
United States. As the work of a cultivated and intelligent foreigner, it
has all the more claim to our acknowledgment, and also to our indulgence
where we discover omissions or inaccuracies.
The second volume whose title stands at the head of our article would
demand no special notice from us, were it not for the admirable manner
in which it is executed and the judgment evinced in the selection of the
books which it catalogues. The Boston Library may well be congratulated
on having at its head a gentleman so experienced and competent as
Professor Jewett. He has hitherto distinguished himself in a department
of literature in which little notoriety is to be won, his labors
in which, however, are appreciated by the few whose quiet suffrage
outvalues the noisy applause of the moment. His little work on the
"Construction of Library Catalogues" is a truly valuable contribution to
letters, rendering, as it does, the work of classification more easy,
and increasing the chances of our getting good general directories to
the books already in our libraries, without which the number of volumes
we gather is only an increase of incumbrance. It is a great detriment to
sound and exhaustive scholarship, that the books for students to read
should be left to chance; and we owe a great deal more than we are apt
to acknowledge to men who, like Mr. Jewett, enable us to find out the
books that will really help us. Dr. Johnson, to be sure, commends the
habit of "browsing" in libraries; and this will do very well for those
whose memory clinches, like the tentacula of zooephytes, around every
particle of nourishment that comes within its reach. But the habit tends
rather to make ready talkers than thorough scholars; and he who is left
to his chances in a collection of books grasps like a child in the
"grab-bag" at a fair, and gets, in nine cases out of ten, precisely what
he does not want.
We think that a great mistake is made in the multiplying of libraries
in the same neighborhood, unless for some specialty, such as Natural
History or the like. It is sad to think of the money thus wasted in
duplicates and triplicates. Rivalry in such cases is detrimental rather
than advantageous to the interests of scholarship. Instead of one good
library, we get three poor ones; and so, instead of twenty men of real
learning, we are vexed with a score of sciolists, who are so through
no fault of their own. We hope that the movement now on foot, to give
something like adequacy to the University Library at Cambridge, will
receive the aid it deserves, not only from graduates of the College, but
from all persons interested in the literary advancement of the country.
So there be one really good library in the United States, it matters
little where it is, for students will find it,--and they should at least
be spared the necessity of going abroad in order to master any branch of
A great library is of incalculable benefit to any community. It saves
infinite waste of time to the thinker by enabling him to know what has
already been thought. It is of greater advantage (and that advantage is
of a higher kind) than any seminary of learning, for it supplies the
climate and atmosphere, without which good seed is sown in vain. It is
not merely that books are the "precious life-blood of master-spirits,"
and to be prized for what they contain, but they are still more useful
for what they prevent. The more a man knows, the less will he be apt to
think he knows, the less rash will he be in conclusion, and the less
hasty in utterance. It is of great consequence to the minds of most
men how they _begin_ to think, and many an intellect has been lamed
irretrievably for steady and lofty flight by toppling out into the
helpless void of opinion with wings yet callow. The gross and carnal
hallucinations of what is called "Spiritualism"--the weakest-kneed of
all whimsies that have come upon the parish from the days of the augurs
down to our own--would be disenchanted at once in a neighborhood
familiar with Del Rio, Wierus, Bodin, Scot, Glanvil, Webster, Casaubon,
and the Mathers. Good books are the enemies of delusion, the most
effectual extinguishers of self-conceit. Impersonal, dispassionate,
self-possessed, they reason without temper, and remain forever of the
same mind without obstinacy. The man who has the freedom of a great
library lengthens his own life without the weariness of living; he may
include all past generations in his experience without risk of senility;
not yet fifty, he may have; made himself the contemporary of "the
world's gray fathers"; and with no advantages of birth or person, he may
have been admitted to the selectest society of all times and lands.
We live in the hope of seeing, if not a great library somewhere on this
continent, at least the foundations of such a one, laid broad enough and
deep enough to change hope into a not too remote certainty. Hitherto
America has erected but one statue in commemoration of a scholar, and we
cannot help wishing that the money that has been wasted in setting up
in effigy one or two departed celebrities we could mention had been
appropriated to a means of culture which, perhaps more than any other,
would be likely to give us men worthy of bronze or marble, but above the
necessity of them for memory.
* * * * *
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