« PreviousContinue »
is provided with a sufficiently sensational story worked out with as much elaboration as he is likely to require, and illustrated with from one to half-a-dozen pictures in woodcut or some of the more recent processes, not greatly inferior to the illustrations which accompany more costly periodicals.
In actual amount of letterpress about as much matter is given as is usually found in one of the small one-volume stories prepared by publishers of a different type for the circulating libraries. Thus each number of the · Bow Bells' series already mentioned consists of sixteen large quarto pages, printed in double columns with three illustrations. Allowing for what compositors call “fat,' and for the space occupied by the woodcuts, the story thus contains about 25,000 words, equal to about 100 pages of the ordinary three-volume novel. The other series contain some a little more matter, and some a little less. Thus, · The Ladies' Own Novelette,' which is not quite so utterly futile in substance as some of its competitors, announces on its cover that it gives • Two COMPLETE NOVELS' for its penny, and carries out its promise by issuing 32 pages of a size somewhat smaller than those of Bow Bells, and containing about 40,000 words or 150
pages of regulation novel size. The quantity and quality are very much alike in all the series, but the shape is sometimes altered, and various inducements are held out to subscribers. The lottery for prizes of more or less value is a favourite one, and prize competitions for successful answers to charades and arithmetical puzzles are hardly less popular. One widely circulated print of this kind advertises its willingness to sell paper dress patterns, with full instructions, at half price to subscribers who like to send a coupon' cut from the cover and certain stamps, while several open their columns to correspondents,' answering in this way questions on every conceivable subject, from the etiquette of courtship to the manufacture of cowslip wine, and from the art of corn-cutting to the authenticity of the Canticles.
There is, from one point of view happily, no lack of effort to stem the current of mingled wickedness and folly which threatens to turn cheap literature into a curse.
The twin great Societies are doing admirable work; but the Religious Tract Society is doubtless greatly hampered by its name. There are probably thousands of the class whom it is most desirable to reach who refuse to read the stories of the · Leisure Hour,' on the ground that they don't care for tracts.' Nor, considering the feebleness and ineptitude of not a few of the earlier publications of the Society, can this feeling be a source of any real surprise. If, however, the same paper appears without the
imprimatur of the Society, the class for which it is intended will buy and read it so long as it is conducted on its present lines. The wisdom of this course is proved by the popularity of the Society's two papers for children— The Boy's Own Paper' and • The Girl's Own Paper'—which in the last ten years have proved themselves quite the best things of their kind. It would be pleasant to speak as highly of the series of penny novelettes issued by the Society, apparently in emulation of the exceedingly secular publications with which we have hitherto dealt. Unfortunately these stories, though well printed and got up, are written to a great extent on the lines of an oldfashioned tract, with a somewhat obtrusive moral, and are consequently hardly likely to be bought in large numbers by the class whom it is most sought to reach. Of course kindhearted people will buy them extensively to give away; but that is a very different thing from such a circulation as the “wholly worldly' press enjoys.
The series of stories issued by the Society for the Promotion of Christian Knowledge, under the title of the 'Penny Library of Fiction,' is certainly not open to this objection. Some people may, indeed, be inclined to say that they err occasionally in the opposite direction, and differ too little from the sensational stories which their startling covers appear to emulate. The objection is, however, overstrained. The stories are good from the literary point of view; most of them, if not all, are eminently amusing and interesting; the tone is thoroughly healthy and masculine, and though religion is never paraded its influence is felt. Like the impluvium in the hall of a Roman house, it purifies and tempers the surrounding atmosphere in silence and almost unseen.
It is even more satisfactory to be able to add that the stories stand on their own merits. Whether they are profitable to the Society as a commercial speculation we have no means of knowing; but judging from the wide circulation which our independent inquiries assure us that they enjoy, it is probable that they are. In any case there is every reason to believe, that they really reach the class for which they are designed, and that they have in many cases served to create a taste for reading of a higher character than semi-vicious and wholly frivolous romances. It is useless to complain, as some do, that these publications are deficient in the very quality for which the societies are supposed to exist. The days of the tract are gone by, and the classes amongst which they were once distributed—not perhaps altogether without benefit-have asserted and are asserting themselves more strongly every day. The British working
man, in short, will neither buy tracts nor read them. For the first time, perhaps, a good many people saw him in his true colours during the late strikes—suspicious, haughty, jealous, irritable, and resenting above all things the very appearance of patronage and condescension. If we wish to improve the literary food which he will accept, we can do so only by offering him better things than have yet been presented at a similar price. No good will be done by an attempt at censorship, whether by Act of Parliament or by Act of County Council. Abortive prosecutions are above all things to be deprecated. If books come within the lines of Lord Campbell's Act, the law should of course be enforced; but ill-advised prosecutions like that of the Decameron' some months ago, and prurient gossip like the Music Hall debates in Lord Rosebery's Parliament, do a thousand times more harm than good.
If we wish, therefore, to get rid of the worse and weaker forms of penny fiction, we must begin in the school-room-not necessarily by yielding to the popular cry for technical education for boys and cookery classes for girls at the public expense —but by encouraging the growth of something resembling culture. The Catechism has gone, of course; it is a 'sectarian formula, and, as such, hateful to the sectarians' of Secularism and Dissent. The Bible has followed the Catechism, though
so critical an observer and educationist as Matthew Arnold pleaded for it as the only relic of culture left to the working classes. The result is that we are in the position of the man in the Gospels. We have cast out the unclean spirit of ignorance from the working-class mind, and have left it empty, swept and neatly garnished with the three Rs. Let us beware lest the unclean spirit returns with seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and turn the class we have made our masters into the agents for the overthrow of society.
How the void thus created is to be filled up is the problem of to-day. It is impossible, as we have said, to fall back upon religious teaching in the Board Schools; to do so would raise a storm which no Ministry cares to provoke. While the settlement of this question is pending, however, there are happily some signs of light in the distance—a healthy and natural light, and not the artificial glimmer created by philanthropic societies and individual benevolence. Publishers are beginning to awaken to the fact that the spread of education and the increased facilities of communication have created a vast new public to which it is worth while to appeal. The Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge and kindred institutions, the Messrs. Chambers, and to a certain extent Messrs. Cassell in a more recent period,
had, as it were, to create their public. To-day the audience is gathered; the demand exists, it awaits only supply. The extent of the sale of the trash, upon which we have spent so much space, proves the existence of a public who may be reached by a little courage and enterprise, and from whom a large profit may be drawn. Many publishers are happily proving that they are beginning to meet the growing demand. Messrs. Cassell have led the way with a "National Library,' which it is no hyperbole to say is a marvel of good editing, mechanical excellence, and cheapness. Other publishers are following with cheap • libraries' of the masterpieces of English literature, and more modern books, such as Lady Brassey's fascinating journals of travel, and Captain Burnaby's • Ride to Khiva,' while a great number of really good and wholesome works of fiction have recently appeared at the nominal price of 6d.-really 44d. or 5d. per copy. The greatest triumph is perhaps the sixpenny edition of Westward Ho!'- Charles Kingsley's healthy and vigorous Elizabethan story. The first impression of this reprint_100,000—is, it is gratifying to learn, already sold, and the demand does not appear to be completely supplied even yet. Whether the other numbers of the same series will be equally popular is perhaps open to question. “Hypatia' and · Hereward the Wake' demand a considerable amount of knowledge in the reader, while . Yeast' and “Alton Locke' deal with social problems which have materially changed their aspect in the thirty years that have passed since the books were first published. The experiment is, however, a spirited and courageous one, and will command the good wishes of all who desire to see sound literature made popular. It only remains for some publisher of courage, enterprise, and wit, to follow where the Christian Knowledge Society has led, by giving similarly good literature to the new generation in the time-honoured penny number form, to make the romances of the highway and the prison things of the past. Exorbitant profits cannot be expected from such speculations, but a fairly remunerative return may reasonably be looked for-a return which, if proper judgment and skill be applied to the selection of the books for production, to the illustrations, and to the system of distribution, would be at least as satisfactory as that yielded by the shabby, vulgar, and vicious prints which originate within the Hundreds of Drury.
ART. VII.—Walpole. By John Morley. London, 1890. THE object of the present article is not so much to justify
George II., as to trace the steps by which Sir Robert Walpole made himself and his policy so unpopular with the British people as to endanger seriously the political system inaugurated at the accession of the House of Hanover, and to bring us to the verge of a reaction in favour of personal government which in the reign of George III. was for a time actually restored. But the one argument necessarily involves the other, and we were not sorry for the opportunity afforded by Mr. Morley's book, of saying a few words in behalf of a great party to whom full justice has never yet been done. Underneath all the inflated rhetoric and false sentiment which disfigure both the speeches and essays of the Opposition during the last sixteen years of Walpole's administration, there is a substratum of truth and
sense: and even the most extravagant assertions contained in them are seldom without a real meaning. We have endeavoured to set Walpole's case in as fair a light as possible, but it is necessary for the main purpose of this article to bring out the whole strength of the case, which men like Wyndham and Barnard, men of eminent ability and integrity, believed they had against him.
A · Life of Sir Robert Walpole,' by Mr. John Morley, would probably have been deeply interesting had the author never sat in Parliament; but written by one who to the literary ability of Mr. Morley unites the experience of a Cabinet Minister, it promised to be doubly valuable. Nor have we, on the whole, been disappointed. It is useless to demand from these short biographies more than they can hold. Mr. Morley has given us a concise epitome of Walpole's long career as Prime Minister and Party leader, bringing before us the political life of a bygone era with a distinctness only possible to one who has trod the stage himself. And with this we ought surely to be satisfied. We do not agree with him in every particular; but from his general estimate of Walpole, moral, intellectual, and political, we see no reason to dissent. We propose to take in order the principal offences with which Sir Robert Walpole has been charged, dividing them into two classes, distinguishing what may be called his 'system' in general with the means by which it was supported, from the particular measures which were assailed on independent grounds; and finally to review the scheme which was under consideration for overthrowing his power when it seemed that all ordinary means had failed.