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thought, that stirs the sluggish soul within us, that rouses the slumbering brain, that makes us feel that neither are we altogether dead—that possibilities of fresh life are yet left to us; and it is for the pleasure of such awakening—the joy of feeling the returning life when we thought it was extinct-that we so eamestly say " Thank you,” to the unknown renovator. It is for the sharp spur, the quick start and throb of pain that are felt as we read the word that suits our case, rebuke though it may be; it is for the generous impulse, for the freshened courage, for “the larger hope that springs up at the record of brave word and noble deed.
It is for the practical suggestion—the stray hints as to wise well-doing—that we gather up, and from which we learn how better to adjust the settings of the burden that we cannot entirely remove; and how best to apply healing to the part where pressure is the heaviest; it is for the recorded example, the life-picture that teaches us how kindly word and fitting deed brighten and relieve the gloomy mass of moral shadow around us-as broken bits of light in artist-hands chequer the otherwise too sombre background. Yes—it is " for these we raise the song of thanks and praise.” Slight benefits though they be, let no one think slightingly of them, nor deem them beneath an author's recognition.
The half-hour is but a small portion of time, it is true; the pleasurable sensation and the quickened impulse are but insignificant items considered by themselves; but multiply the halfhours by the number of readers, add up the total of given pleasures, calculate the number and the effects of the loosened impulses; and then, say if you can, that the result is naughtthat the authors' labour is in vain.
And many of these benefits reach us through the macadamised road of our serial literature. It is most certainly the year of grace for periodicals. The wide-spread, the large demand for this sort of reading is "a sign of the times,” and a source of great regret and foreboding to many people. Of course there are evils to be deprecated, especially if this is the only kind of reading pursued; but just now we prefer to remember some of the “good” things for which we are indebted to them, rather than to raise a protest against their dangers.
Now first and foremost stands this benefit : That they present to us in compact form the results of the much study of many minds.
It is of no use to say that we will not trouble ourselves with things belonging to science, or politics, or theological discussion, that they do not concern us in the least. They do; and that most intimately. The commonest lives, the inost ordinary minds are, perforce, in this age of the world, brought into contact with and crossed and re-crossed by subjects and things apparently the most alien and remote.
Science and art surround us at every step, and we would not, if we could, live without their helpful, cheering influences in our daily work. Politics may be our abhorrence; but if we wish to do any real good with our works of benevolence, we find that we must to some extent understand and act upon the principles of the political economist. We may refuse to listen to the disputes of the theologians; but we cannot hinder them from entering our homes, suspending the easy, sing-song chat of our firesides, and breaking up the unity of our family circles ; and more than this. As of old, so now,-" The Sphinx leaves the mountains and besets the highways, propounds her riddles, and rends and tears the traveller who cannot solve them." Difficulties and doubts assail the practical man of to-day quite as much as the retired speculative student. Science and philosophy not only enter into the life that now is, but lay hands (sacrilegious hands many tell us) upon our faith in the life that is to come, and thus compel us to look them boldly in the face if we would know why and what we believe.
Now, to read many books on many subjects would be, to the majority of us, simply impossible; we are therefore greatly indebted to men who, having assimilated a large mass of knowledge upon a subject, can combine, and compress, and fashion it into form and dimensions pleasant and portable-who can also gather up passing events, and condense floating opinions, and present us with the results in that most agreeable of all compendiums, " A Good Article."
The article takes but short time to read; but it is well to remember how very much of time, talent, knowledge, and honesty are required for its production.
Of course no one, whose sense is not wholly lost in his vanity, would for a moment confound this mere information as to what other men think and know, with the knowledge that results from personal study of a subject. There are but few, comparatively speaking, who can get this latter kind of knowledge. The knowledge of ordinary people on almost every topic that lies out of their daily experience will, on scrutiny, be found to be simply this, viz. --- that they have heard or read that such and such things are considered to be facts; and that this and that opinion are held by different people in reference to the said facts.
This sounds humiliating, but it will be found to be true; and we may be thankful for even this amount. It is far better than having none at all; for it is not the “ little learning that is the dangerous thing," but the much vanity that knows not how to learn even the little. A little learning well learnt helps to more, as many of us daily find; therefore, thanks to those who bring it to our very doors. There is plenty of room for us to exercise our own reasoning powers, even in receiving the information provided for us by others, if we only but care to do so.
In addition to acting as a condenser of information, the serial confers other boons upon us, one of which results from the simple fact that it is a serial, i. e., that it professes to furnish something new, and therefore unknown, at certain known periods. Thus, by the mixture of certainty and uncertainty, it produces a little pleasant excitement of wonder and expectancy which runs no danger from long continuance.
To mention this as a boon may provoke a smile from those whose lives may be fullof sources of interest, amusement, and excitement; but to those among us whose lives, whether from illness, or want of means, or unfavourable circumstances have not these many inlets of pleasure, the little bit of agreeable wonder as to what the next periodical will contain is by no means a thing to be despised. The invalid and the working man-especially in the country—are the better for having the monotony of work versus weariness, and pain versus exhaustion broken in upon by the eagerly-expected advent of the new magazine or the review!
Another useful thing that the serial does for us, is to supply topics for casual conversation after the weather topic is dried up. Who has not been thankful, when paying a call, to see some well-known friend, such as “All the Year Round," for instance, lying on the table. It is surely a good thing to substitute the discussion of a tale in the magazine for the scandal story. It is better to discuss “Our Mutual Friend” who lives in print than the one who lives next door; better for our tempers—better for our morals altogether.
The periodical leads us to its editor – that invisible but ubiquitous person,- ever felt, seldom seen, that like the root to the tree, sustains and feeds the whole. Surely, if
Thanks” for service rendered were ever due, they are to him, Think of the variety of mental qualifications required by the occupant of such a post. Not only must he possess great stores of varied knowledge ever at hand, but he must be always acquiring fresh : his mind needs to be constantly furnished with well-prepared plates on which passing events and fleeting opinions can photograph themselves, and from which he can at will reproduce the positive picture for his readers to study at their leisure. Think of the drudgery he must go through—of the MSS. hard to decipher of the mass of notes and letters—tiresome to read, laborious to answer—through which he must be ever toiling! His work is never done, for the rolling months do but roll the stone down to him again. There he must sit, day after day, in his den, according to the manner of giants, “ grinding men's bones to make him bread !” The little point of difference between him and the worthies of old is this, that he grinds his own bones in making the said bread far more than he does those of encaged victims : but this is simply a “speciality" of the present race of giants, and is doubtless owing to the indiscriminating philanthropic tendencies of the nineteenth century. The “Sorrows of Editors ” would certainly be a representative book of the age, if only the age had a Goethe to write it!
To all writers of good fiction, we beg to present our heartiest thanks-not so much for the well-laid plot, or the clever description of manners and ways-great as may be our enjoyment of these—but for the many friends and acquaintances which we make through their instrumentality. As a general rule, the people that we meet with in the circles of orthodox history seldom amuse us, and never become intimate friends. We see them in their out-of-doors dress, and rarely know what they look like by the fireside; for history does not deal with small particulars, and the historian proper is not allowed to invent or even to dramatize. In biography the same want of intimacy is felt, only more keenly still; for the men and women there and then introduced to us are so often dressed out in their “Sunday best,” that we feel constrained and on our good behaviour with them, which is embarrassing, more especially if our own Sunday coat happens not to be in good repair. But in good fiction, it is so different : there we meet with people in their every-day working clothes, and we recognize them as of our own kin—feel at home with them at once-talk, laugh, weep with them-call them to our side in our lonely and in our social hours, and often feel towards them as towards intimate personal friends.
Who does not feel pleased to rank among his personal friends -that grand old Peggotty, with his loving heart to pity, and his strong will to save-or shrewd, faithful Tiff
, with his two aprons, one before, one behind-or Mistress Sarah Mortimer, whom to know is to love and honour ? Who does not enjoy half-an-hour's chat with Mrs. Poyser, in her immaculately clean kitchen, about the stupidity of men, Poyser himself not excepted; or who is not the better for an hour spent with that prince of book-stall keepers, Sandy McKaye, in that little room of his behind the shop, full of smoke and dreariness, and whiskey and dusttalking about the "rights” of things, Scotch Calvinism included ?
And as to our more general acquaintances, what could we do without them ?—such as sweet, foolish Dolly Varden-loving little Ruth Pinch-jolly Mark Tapley, and Dandy Dimont with Pepper and Mustard ever at his heels, and Rab and all his friends—living and dead—and Jeannie Deans, and a host of others who seem a part of our own life-story, never to be separated from it. It is by this realization of individual characters —this presentation of concrete bits of humanity that stand out of the pages in which they are found, and away from the company to which they belong—that the writer of good fiction proves his true Promethean descent, ard by means of which he and the works of his creative hand live in our grateful memories long after plot and story and description are alike uncared for and forgotten.
And what of thanks can we say to the poet ?— to him who, among innumerable other benefits, does oft-times for us this one great service: that he saves us from the dreariness and the danger of self-isolation?
There is a time in each of our lives when our individuality begins imperiously to assert itself, and our self-consciousness threatens to overbalance us : a time when we are a wonder and a mystery to ourselves, and feel quite certain that we can never be understood by others. Then the poet comes to us; comprehends, soothes, sympathizes with us; interprets us more clearly to ourselves, introduces us more fully to our own inner world, and reveals to our wondering gaze the dim, shapeless ghosts of thoughts that were haunting us—formed, coloured, clothed, lifeborn, speaking-saying to us : “This is what you poor gropers were feeling after but could not touch, were looking after but could not see, were stammering at but could not utter.” The clay might have been in your hands, but the potter's skill was not yours; a master-hand has touched it, and lo! this is the result: here we stand, summoned by other powers than your's, but recognized by you as friends, and greeted with a friend's greeting, while you feel thankful, as well you may, to the human artist.
And then when the poet has thus strengthened our own individuality and deepened our self-consciousness, he shows to us that we are not, after all, so singular or so lonely as we thought we were ; that our experience is but as that of the rest of our race ; that thus and thus others have felt, and thought, and suffered, only more strongly, more deeeply, more worthily than perhaps we may ever do; and thus for the loneliness and vanities of self-contemplation, self-pity, and self-isolation, he substitutes the nobler, higher consciousness that we are but a part of a