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novel for all practical purposes at a cost to the enterprising proprietor of the penny weekly of about 51., which, if he is in an unwontedly generous mood, he may perhaps make guineas. Instances have been known of a story so manipulated having passed through a periodical of the lower class, and having afterwards blazed forth in all the glory of chromo-printed boards for sale at the railway stations (price 2s.).
There is, it must be admitted, one trifling drawback to these ingenious operations in the copyright complications which occasionally result, a very odd instance of which occurred a year or so ago. An English writer, who is not altogether unknown in the neighbourhood of Fleet Street, produced a novel in the usual way in London, which had the customary run at the circulating libraries, and at the end of the season was forgotten. Some time afterwards he was not a little surprised to discover that his story, with some changes of names and places, was appearing in weekly instalments in a well-known periodical. He naturally complained, and the sequel to his complaint was that he made the unwelcome discovery that his story had been translated into American, and re-translated from the American version into English. Legal proceedings were threatened, and the pillaged author confidently expected a considerable sum from the publisher of the periodical, but the latter was, luckily for himself, able to show that the original story owed so much to a German original that he was able to set his opponent at defiance.
The proprietors of these publications do not of course rely only upon American sources for their wares. Ancient and forgotten Annuals, Keepsakes, Books of Beauty, Friendship's Offerings, Town and Country Magazines, and similar repertories of genteel' fiction are regularly sifted for available matter. One editor indeed makes no secret of his dependence on these sources, as will be evident from the annexed advertisement which appears weekly in his paper:—
'Literary contributions to ... must be short, and very curious or very amusing, original, translated or copied. Copied scraps must be from old books, magazines, periodicals, or newspapers, published originally at least forty-two years ago. Literary contributions (if used) will be paid for as follows: Original or translations, three-halfpence per line, and extra when specially good;
Grammar of the American Language for Primary Schools,' lately published in one of the Northern cities, will be found the following remarkable rule:- You when used in addressing a single person requires a singular verb. Thus we say You was and not You were. The latter is an English vulgarism based upon a false analogy.'
Copied or cuttings from print, one penny per line. Compiled articles counted original.'
The same thing is done by the proprietors of other weekly pennyworths, who enlist the great army of amateurs in their service by offers of prizes of one or two guineas for the best story of a certain length, reserving to themselves the right of publishing all the competing compositions, even though they may not adjudge the prize to them. There are besides a great number of persons to whom the pleasure of appearing in print is a sufficient reward for a great deal of labour, and from them much 'copy' is obtained. For the rest, the verses and miscellaneous paragraphs, which fill up the odd corners of the minor prints of the day, are raked together from all conceivable sources: ancient jest books, collections of anecdotes, defunct and abortive magazines, and the boxes of odd volumes which may be seen outside secondhand bookstalls and brokers' shops, are all put under contribution.
A different origin may be ascribed to much of the 'original' work which appears in the columns of some of these prints. One proprietor, for example, has a regular manufactory of periodical fiction. Thither a little band of 'literary gentlemen' bend their steps betimes each morning, and until four or five o'clock in the afternoon they labour in the transmogrification of American novels as above described, or in the production of new and original romances of high life and the passions. Sometimes, by way of stimulating their invention, the proprietor provides them with a set of illustrations which have done duty before, and which they may write up to' as best they can. More frequently, however, they have to rely on their own unassisted genius. The principal point upon which stress is laid, is that every instalment of these romances shall contain at least one situation susceptible of pictorial treatment. It is hardly necessary to say that the gentlemen who accept engagements of this kind are not as a rule very distinguished members of the Republic of Letters, though in some few instances their antecedents are better than might be expected. One, for example, who was tolerably well known a few years ago, was a University man, a beneficed clergyman, who, having had a misunderstanding with his bishop, threw up his living and abandoned the clerical dress and habits. Another man of the same type bore an historic name, took honours at Oxford, and was expected to do great things. His abilities were of a high order, but he was idle, reckless, and, worst of all, constitutionally incapable of resisting the seductions of drink. He had a facile
pen and great stores of information, but he never succeeded in accomplishing anything beyond the veriest hack-work. His greatest achievement was a romance written for a weekly paper now defunct. The proprietor had made a journey to Paris, and whilst there had picked up for a small sum some fifty or sixty wood-blocks which had been used to illustrate a romance by Ponson du Terrail. These were handed over to the hack in question, with instructions to arrange them in any order that he pleased, and to write up to them so as to use them all. This romance, whose principal merit was that it presented not the faintest resemblance to anything that Ponson du Terrail ever wrote, achieved a considerable amount of success, but produced little in the way of either money or reputation for the unfortunate author, who died in a London hospital a year or two after the story was completed.
It must not, of course, be supposed that the Grub Street of today is populated exclusively with broken-down University men. A goodly proportion of them began life in the unambitious capacities of compositors, reporters, and hangers-on of the newspaper press. One well-known personage of this class began what in moments of confidence he delights to style his literary career,' when acting as shopman to a second-hand bookseller in a manufacturing town of the Midlands. Another distinguished person of the same type translates dubious French novels on week-days, and on Sundays actually officiates as minister of some sort of Dissenting chapel. A third was a village schoolmaster in Scotland, while of a fourth a curious anecdote was told a few years ago in a monthly magazine. 'A friend of the writer,' said the magazinist, 'has in his service a housemaid whose father writes novels for a Fleet Street publisher from 10 to 4 daily.' A still more amusing illustration of the social status of some of our popular instructors was lately related by a lady, the wife of a well-known physician. Her cook having repeatedly neglected to send up the dinner with the punctuality which is desirable in a well-ordered household, she remonstrated with some sharpness, and to her astonishment was informed that the young person in question was so much occupied with the novel she was writing that she had been unable to pay due attention to her duties in the kitchen. It would be easy to multiply instances of the same state of things, but the fullest information could probably be given by the officials of the Reading Room at the British Museum. Those who wish to see the subject treated in the most amusing light, however, may be referred to a clever novel of the 'Besant and Rice' series, which has for title With Harp and Crown,' and
in which real and well-known persons are described under feigned names.
From writers of this type it is, of course, hopeless to expect work of any high pretension, nor as a matter of fact is it to be found. But if the literary level of the weekly press be low, its morals are irreproachable. Fortunately it has been found out immorality and indecency do not pay. Not merely is Lord Campbell's Act a stringent one, stringently enforced, but the feeling of the public is distinctly against nastiness of the kind which is the surest passport to the favour of the Parisian democracy. A print such as the Vie Parisienne, the Gil Blas, or the Petit Journal pour Rire, would not live for a month in London, for the sole reason that shopkeepers and newsvendors would not exhibit it, and decent people, whether of the ouvrière or of the petite bourgeoise class, would not buy it and would not place it where their families might see it. It is easy to vent cheap sneers at the pruderie anglaise which has brought about this state of things, and for tenth-rate novelists, who would never have been heard of but for their clumsy Zolaism, to say unpleasant and ungracious things about English girls. The fact remains, and it is certainly one of which no Englishman need be ashamed, that the popular literature of to-day is singularly pure in tone, and that any violation of decency would inevitably lead to such a falling off of circulation as would practically amount to the ruin of the paper guilty of it. At the same time it must be admitted, that this very care for purity and decorum produces some rather anomalous results in itself; while the innocent ignorance of the writers on all points connected with those exalted personages, about whom they write so fluently, is sometimes laughable to an almost painful degree. One or two elementary truths might with great advantage be impressed upon the minds of those authors. It might, for example, be pointed out to them that peers of the realm do not as a rule look for their wives amongst the shop girls and milliners' apprentices of Regent Street and Bond Street; that baronets are not, as a rule, superhumanly wicked; that the chorus and 'extra ladies' of the minor theatres are not necessarily superhumanly virtuous; that ladies of birth, family, and position, are not invariably much worse from the moral point of view than their own maids; and finally, that gentlepeople, of whatever age or condition they may be, have occasionally some notion of the value of self-restraint, and are sometimes actuated by motives a little higher than those of a sordid self-interest.
If those few and simple rules were observed, and if the Vol. 171.-No. 341.
caterers for that taste for high life, which obviously prevails amongst those whom Mr. Laurence Oliphant was wont to call the lower middles,' would but condescend to write from a somewhat higher point of view than that of the servants' hall, something better might be afforded than is to be found in these romances. Take, for example, the batch of papers which represent what may very fairly be called the J. F. Smith school of fiction.' This is perhaps the oldest of all the styles of the penny weekly press. The London Journal,' in which it took its rise, made its first appearance nearly forty-nine years ago. As usual it began as 'a weekly record of literature, science, and art,' but science and art were left on one side at a very early period, and the paper became a vehicle for thrilling romances of fashionable life of the most exciting kind. The principal author was a Mr. J. F. Smith, who was, if not the founder-that title being properly due to the notorious G. W. M. Reynoldsthe great exemplar of the penny periodical romance. Mr. Smith, who died at the beginning of the month of March last, was a man of more than respectable abilities, and was content to lead a queer, disreputable Bohemian life on the salary of a Parliamentary Under-Secretary. Curiously enough, he was absolutely unknown amongst journalists, and even amongst 'literary men' of the type immortalized by the author of 'Caste.' Yet, as the writer of the single obituary notice which appeared in the daily papers remarks, he had a thousand readers where Dickens had ten, or Thackeray one. He was the people's chosen author; he won the throne of their affections, and he held it unassailed.' During the time of his greatest prosperity he lived in a secondrate Bloomsbury boarding-house, and his only public appearances were at the office of the late Mr. Johnson, the proprietor of 'The London Journal,' where he wrote his weekly instalment of 'copy,' and whence, having drawn his salary, he disappeared for a week. With few exceptions his works were thrilling romances of fashionable life, but he began his career as a writer of fiction as a devotee of the 'romantic school.' His first success was achieved in 1849, when, after Rush's murders, he wrote an exciting novel with the taking title of 'Stanfield Hall.' It is only fair to say, however, that the tale, though sufficiently sensational, was not a mere vulgar reproduction of the story of Mr. Jermy, but a work more in the style of the late G. P. R. James, with a touch of Charles Dickens's humour. 'Stanfield Hall' was followed by Minnigrey,' 'Woman and her Master,' 'Amy Lawrence,' and an endless series of tales upon the same lines, thanks to which 'The London Journal' was at one time the best property of its class in London. In the course of time Mr. Smith