Obrázky stránek




HOULD a man (or a woman) desire to practice the profession of a lawyer, he spends several years in a lawyer's office, reads many books on legal subjects, and passes several examinations set by legal professionals. A like procedure obtains, should he desire to become a doctor, a civil engineer, an architect or a professor. Should he desire to be an artist, he must visit Paris and study under the best masters and from the best work of those who have become the ack nowledged masters in painting and sculpture. But should he desire to become an author he simply sits down and scribbles off a manuscript; then he arises with a look of satisfaction upon his countenance and mails the penproduction to the editor of some magazine, the name of which he knows by hearsay. If any person should suggest that he should spend four or five years learning the art of composition, acquiring the power of original description and creation, and perfecting himself by a study of the best models of the great litterateurs, that person would be quickly and effectually snubbed. It has been said that poets are born and not made, and about fifty per cent. of the people in the world (the English-speaking world is referred to) have at some time in their lives, the conviction that perhaps they are born poets or litterateurs.

A lady friend of mine, who is wellborn and well-educated but without any special qualifications as an original writer, sends her poetry and her novelettes quite regularly to the editors of Canadian publications. She remarked in a recent letter that it was not her fault that Canadians did not possess an ample literature; it was

the crime of the editors who refused to publish and pay for her manuscripts.

Another young lady brought me a pretty story. In it words were misspelled, phrases misplaced and paragraphs poorly constructed, but the tale was an agreeable one. I revised it carefully and labouriously, and pointed out to her the weaknesses, to my mind, of her composition. She seemed anxious to learn to write, and I was willing to encourage her. She brought me another story which I returned as being too long for the matter contained and as being slovenly written. Finally I received a third manuscript, which apparently had never been read after having been written, as the punctuation and paragraphing were deplorable. I returned it with plenty of blue pencilling and decided that her next manuscript should be returned unopened.

There is plenty of room in literature for new writers, but they must be writers who are masters of the art; writers who have cultivated their originality and their composition until both are striking; writers who have something to say and have carefully studied the best way of saying it. As Buffon said, talent is only long practice, and the secret of success is perseverence in hard work.

[ocr errors]


As Fleubert said to Maupassant (Introduction to Pierre and St. Jean) When you pass a grocer seated in a doorway, a concierge smoking his pipe, a row of cabs, show me this grocer and this concierge, their attitude, all their physical appearance; suggest by the skill of your image all their moral nature, so that I shall not confound them with any other grocer or any other concierge; make me see, by a

* Talks on Writing English, By Arlo Bates. Crown 8vo., $1.50. Houghton, Miflin & Co., Boston and New York.

single word, wherein a cab-horse gone revision. The next best thing is for the would-be author to accustom himself to phrasing thoughts in his mind without setting them down upon paper at all..

differs from the fifty others that follow or precede him." And Maupassant adds: "Whatever may be the thing which one wishes to say, there is but one word for expressing it; only one verb to animate it; but one adjective to qualify it. It is essential to search for this verb, for this adjective, until they are discovered, and never be satisfied with anything else." This is the spirit of the true man of letters. His originality, be it little or much, must be persistently developed, and his power of expression must be just as persistently cultivated until it nearly equals that of the best writers. Robert Louis Stevenson once wrote: "All through my boyhood and youth, I was known and pointed out for a pattern of an idler; and yet I was always busy on my own private end, which was to learn to write. I kept always two books in my pocket, one to read, one to write in. As I walked, my mind was busy fitting what I saw with appropriate words; when I sat by the roadside, I would either read, or a pencil and a penny versionbook would be in my hands to note down the features of the scene or commemorate some halting stanzas. Thus I lived with words, and what I wrote was thus for no ulterior use. It was written consciously for practice." To destroy all one's earliest writings is hard indeed. Yet Arlo Bates says in his recent admirable book entitled "Talks on Writing English:"

It is necessary to compose and recompose; to write all sorts of things, to prune them, recast them, polish them; to elaborate and to simplify to weigh each word and phrase; and when all is done to destroy the result as ruthlessly as we would destroy anything else which has become rubbish by outliving its usefulness.

"It is a thousand pities that the work of writers who are learning their art is not written in ink fading over night, or which would at least vanish as soon as the manuscript had under

"Each mail carries to the office of every magazine scores of manuscripts which are nothing but the crude exercises produced in more or less intelligent struggles with the art of composition. . . Would to heaven there were some one eloquent enough to persuade the world once for all that literature is as surely a profession which must be learned as is law or medicine.

"It is a long time before the student has a right to look upon himself as a producer at all; and the more completely he can preserve the attitude of a learner, the better will be the results of his self-training."

This book from which the above quotations are taken is worthy the attention of young Canadians who are aspirants for literary fame and success and profit. After two introductory chapters the author takes up the

Principles of Structure" and deals with Unity, Mass and Coherence, then the" Principles of Quality" and treats of Clearness, Force and Elegance. After having thus worthily filled about one hundred pages of his book, he takes up Exposition, Argument, Description and Narration in turn, dealing with each in a clear, conversational manner, without the slightest attempt at pedantry. His quotations and examples are taken from modern books, and his criticisms are mainly on those writings with which the general public is at present most familiar. The book is by no means of the character of a college text-book, but the production of an editor who has seen the need for a book which any young writer may easily read and digest, and which would convey to him the knowledge and experience of one who had been over the road, and knew the dangerholes and the hills between a literary Beginning and a literary Success.



R. WILLIAM SMITH, our readers will admit, was not romantically named. Neither did his life flow in a romantic channel, albeit a pleasant one. When he had completed his nonage and legal infancy with not more impulses and fewer escapades than average young men, his father put him into a syndicate which rented a patent in universal use, and in which his chief duty was to draw his dividends monthly, if he were at home. If he were not at home, they stood over until next month, and he drew them both together. He was now spoken of as Mr. William Smith, Jr., instead of the plain "Bill Smith," by which he had been heretofore known to his intimates. In one respect Mr. Smith, Jr., was a singular young man, for he set himself to improve the common school education he had received. He read everything that came in his way, and has been heard to declare that he derived more real knowledge of life from fiction than from any other branch of belles lettres, or even of science. He attended lectures, too, carefully avoiding faddists of every stripe, as well as those pundits, who wander under the auspices of a bureau at $10.00 per night, and hash up "popular" scientific pabulum that is of no practical use to anybody. For accomplishments he acquired pretty fair Parisian French from a refugee of the commune, and the use of his mawleys (which, being interpreted, means how to box with his fists) from a retired English prize fighter.

He was a pleasant young man was Mr. Smith, Jr. The bent of his mind was towards æstheticism-you could not call it dilettantism. He was too sensible for that. He loved everything that was beautiful and har

monious and serene. And yet for several summers of his life he was addicted to Cheap Tripping in the gre garious way that has become an institution in these later days. In fact, he was a confirmed Cheap Tripper.

He went everywhere the Tripping Co. asked him. On one memorable occasion he had been personally conducted by an ex-usher (Master of the French of Stratford-atte-Bow), to Bullong and Paree, and would have been taken to Carpathians, but thought it too far. Accompanied by a friend of like tastes with his own from the middle-class club to which he belonged, he, with some hundred others had been at Land's End and in Wales and the Isle of Man and at the Lakes of Killarney and Windermere, and at Chester and York, and had even penetrated beyond the Scottish border. When the advertised limit of their tour was reached the horde of trippers rushed across country for home, desecrating fanes, writing the names of 'arry and 'arriet on monuments of antiquity, greeting mansions with howls and waking up sleeping villages with music-hall choruses-all to be repeated on next holiday. It would be wrong to say that Smith junior liked this kind of thing. He did not, yet, despite his æstheticism, his sense of humour was as much amused by the antics of the company as by the historical scenes through which he passed. In a few years his father died and he himself became Mr. Smith. After wearing black for a year, and for six months more a white hat with a crape on it for the old gentleman he fell in love and married a lady in every way suitable for him, with equally cultured mind and much similarity of tastes. Having little knowledge of the busi

ness of the syndicate and none at all as built, and which, if archæology be to its prospects, he, acting on his wife's true, was founded in the twelfth cenadvice, sold his interest and with a por- tury. On the day after their arrival tion of the purchase money bought a and while his wife was resting, Smith pretty place in Devonshire, on which he set out, as was his custom in a new built a modest villa as a pied à terre, and place, to take a stroll through the which he and his wife designed with streets. Entering a shop to purchase out the aid of an architect, and furnish- a pocket map of the town, he was ed to their own taste. On balancing fortunate to find in the bookseller a accounts they found they possessed an local antiquary of no mean intelliannual income of just $5,000, sufficient gence. From him he learned that in to live on in happy competence. a monastic collection in connection Smith was after all but a wholesome with the cathedral were some curious sound-souled Englishman of no brilliant parts, gentlemanly in his habits, but averse to being the slave of any stilted convenances, while Mrs. Smith was too sensible a woman to want to squeeze herself into high society wherein she could have found no real pleasure and where she would have been looked down upon for her comparative poverty. Therefore they lived contented in their secluded home of "Forest Retreat," as they called it, passing their time agreeably enough, only it must be admitted that underlying this placid content there was a slight the very slightest-tinge of latent Bohemianism, not pronounced but just enough to give colour to their lives. When the fit came on they, leaving their place in charge of a caretaker and his dame, would set out on their travels to interesting parts of the country, no longer as Cheap Trippers but as respectable British tourists, eschewing fasionable hotels and put ting up in some comfortable family hostelrie in any place that suited their fancy. In this way they made many pleasant friends. Although three or four years had elapsed, there were no children.

This worthy and unpretending couple were at the old and out-of-theway town of Laon in the Aisne, having made their way there by a leisurely route through Belgium. There they intended to stay for a few days to enjoy the charming scenery and to study the noble cathedral which crowns the hill on which the town is


manuscripts throwing light on the time of the Carlovingians, which were not duplicated in the otherwise excellent public library. He found the custodian of these treasures, an elderly man in a black gown, quite courteous and obliging, and soon was seated in an ill-lighted apartment making notes, until, after some time, the point of his pencil broke. Looking up, he discovered he was not alone, for a person in the conventional dress of an abbé, with a fringe of grey hair peeping from under his skull-cap, was seated near him, poring over a large antique folio which might have been one of the early fathers' commentaries. This venerable person opened a penknife, and with a polite bow handed it to his fellow-student. It happened that when Mr. Smith had completed his memoranda and rose to leave, the Abbé rose too; so that both stood together on the pavement. The Engfishman thanked his clerical acquaintance for his courtesy, and, after some further conversation, begged, if his reverence were at leisure, he would accompany him, a stranger, in a walk along the old ramparts, whence the view would, no doubt, be very fine. The Abbé explained that he too was, in a manner, a stranger, his curé being in the Landes of the Gironde. They walked along together and paced the ancient lines with the towers jutting in grey decay, the whole dominated by the fine pile of the cathedral. The Englishman talked glibly

[merged small][ocr errors][merged small]
[ocr errors]

'Perhaps." persisted the Abbé, "it is associated with remembrances so touching that Monsieur would pay an unheard-of reward to recover it if lost?"

"Not at all," was the reply; "its value is exactly twelve francs. You can buy a thousand of them at that figure in Zurich or Geneva."

Thought is free and sometimes flashes across the mind without our will, and it flashed into the speaker's mind "if our Abbé were not greyhaired and a clergyman I would have half thought he would like to snatch the watch and bolt down an alley with it." The absurd idea was dismissed with a smile. The Smiths are nothing if not hospitable. This one, therefore, turning to the priest, thanked him for his company and begged he would do him the honour of dining with him at five o'clock, if not too early, at his hotel, the Boule d'Or, where he might be sure Mrs. Smith would be pleased to welcome one of his salutary profession. The Abbé hesitated.

"Luxury in apparel," said he, "is forbidden to members of my sacred calling. My constant dress is soutane and tonsure-cap; hence I must decline."

Mr. Smith assured him his clerical garb would but confer additional honour on the board. With this the

invitation was accepted, and they parted.

At five o'clock the Abbé appeared in his clerical garb and with the subdued mien befitting his profession. His host had put on a dress coat and substituted a massive gold watch and chain for his Swiss toy. Mrs. Smith appeared in demi-toilette, plain and ladylike, with no ornament excepting a noticeable one of oriental manufacture, the bequest of an uncle who had served in India and had shaken the pagoda tree in the days when it bore fruit. This singular and somewhat barbaric adornment was a necklace formed of a five-pointed star of quite two inches in diameter, the floor being a mosaic of alternate brilliants and emeralds, with one rich ruby in the centre, the whole being attached to a coil of eight or ten very fine gold chains of a vivid orange colour. Apart from its singularity it was evidently of great value.

The Abbé said grace. His eyes did not seem to have observed the adornment of the lady, nor, indeed, to have rested on anything beyond the tablecloth. This might have been, from modesty, inasmuch as the attendance of a butler and three waiters may have given him an exaggerated impression of the social position of his entertainers. He showed himself, however, acquainted with the etiquette of the table, although his manner seemed to be under strict watch and his conversation was confined to mere necessary remarks. His host, on the other hand, was voluble on many subjects, trying to draw his guest out. Dinner passed rather heavily. After an abstemious repast, and still more sparing indulgence in wine, followed by coffee, the guest took leave and bowed himself out.

"I do not like your Abbé," said Mrs. Smith.

"No more do I," replied her husband. "His being a stranger accounts for his want of acquaintance with the place, for he told me his curé was

« PředchozíPokračovat »