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the demand is for more. This is popularity in its lower sense, and, in this sense, we submit, there are some things better than popular success. In fact, there are few things that are worse.
We have spoo ken of entertainment as a legitimate end of the popular style. These volumes, however, carry the idea of pleasure a trifle too far, over into the province of the illegitimate. Clearness and practical timeliness are praiseworthy features. This over-popular style, however, insists upon making matters somewhat too patent and local for the interests of truth, and what we have called picturesqueness of method degenerates into a revolting realism. There is a dirt literature, as well as a dirt philoso. phy, as common as dirt and as cheap as dirt and as defiling as dirt-an order of literature and of philosophy of which the modern English world has had its full supply. Popular style, as we are now viewing it, is mentally superficial, æsthetically coarse and common, and ethically impure. Marked by the absence of intellect, taste and conscience, its only object is a financial one, secured by any agency and at the expense of the best interests of the reader.
In much of our modern magazine literature, as in journalism and fiction, this is the special danger besetting our vernacular style, and specially enticing to younger writers, forming their literary habits, and anxious to record visible progress. Large and immediate dividends from small capital; the consciousness of having an ever-widening circle of
readers; the satisfaction of personal pride and selfish ends; a place of prominence among the writers of the day—all this is fascinating and bewildering. Books are fast giving way to pamphlets ; solid discussion to passing comment; thought and culture to more marketable qualities, and style is simply what is loosely called—“the way of putting things” so as to secure a patronage.
The attitude of the scholar and high-minded reader to all this order of expression is manifest, at once,—that of earnest protest and rebuke, the emphatic avowal of the primacy of the mental and artistic and healthfully emotional over the merely popular, even in its best forms, and, above all, a protest that, in its lower sense and function, it can have no place whatever in the purpose of the ingenuous author. Style takes its character from the thought behind it, the object before it and the measure of culture evinced therein. The first thing in writing is to have something to say worth saying, and the next best thing is to have a worthy purpose to accomplish by its utterance. Add to these conditions, the elements of literary taste, of genuine feeling, and those popular qualities of clearness and practical vigor and freedom of procedure, in so far as legitimate, and the result is an ideal English style. If, then, it is not received and read, so much the worse for the mental ability and literary judgment of the reading public, who are thereby proved, of a truth, to be in urgent need of intellectual and æsthetic training.
Upon our institutions of learning, therefore, rests, at this moment, a special responsibility, in resisting the rapid increase of an order of style and literary work which is as superficial as it is unwholesome, and which, if allowed to gain much greater dominance among us, must permanently degrade our national spirit and authorship. Written expression is the expression of thought in forms of taste and fervor and for ennobling ends, and takes its place among all the highest types of our finite, human activity. The writer is a dispenser of truth to men in methods best suited to their understandings, tastes, and rational pleasures. Better to have written a score of pages after the high Baconian method, or after the cultured model of Whipple and Lowell, or in the laudable, popular style of Howitt and Holmes, Addison and Irving, than a score of volumes in the shallow and flippant manner of the modern school of penny-a-liners in prose and verse.
Better no literature whatever than an unmeaning and an unwholesome literature, bent on public applause at any price.
Despite occasional recessions and positive violations of literary laws, English and American Letters have never forgotten the exalted standards established by the earlier and later masters of style. Especially in the rich department of English prose, not a few authors, in England and at home, are engaged, at present, in friendly rivalry to maintain the character of the trust bequeathed to them. A partial reaction from the superficial and uncultured is even now apparent, and a more decided presence of the stable and artistic and vigorous elements of style. The healthful influence of Emerson and Irving; of Arnold and Whipple; of Stedman and Lowell, is widely potent among us, while in our Americen colleges themselves, the accepted centres of intellect and culture, there is the evident promise of a more intelligent and profound interest in all that pertains to American Letters and a laudable ambition to present, as writers, an order of expression alike intellectual, literary, impassioned and popular—a style that lies “four square” to all success in letters, and manifests therein the unity of truth in all its varied relations to the human mind.
THE POPULAR STYLE.
Under that broad beech tree I sat down, when I was last this way a fishing, and the birds in the adjoining groves seemed to have a friendly contention with an echo, whose dead voice seemed to live in a hollow tree, near to the brow of that primrose hill. There I sat viewing the silver streams glide silently towards their centre, the tempestuous sea; yet, sometimes, opposed by rugged roots and pebble stones, which broke their waves and turned them with foam.
As I left this place and entered into the next field, a second pleasure entertained me. It was a handsome milk-maid, that had not yet attained so much age and wisdom as to load her mind with any fears of many things that will never be, as too many men too often do; but she cast away all care and sung like a nightingale. Her voice was good and the ditty fitted for it. It was that smooth song which was made by Kit Marlowe, now at least fifty years ago, and the milk-maid's mother sang an answer to it, which was made by Sir Walter Raleigh, in his younger days. They were old-fashioned poetry, but choicely good; I think much better than the strong lines that are now in fashion.-Izaak Walton's "
There are but few men who are not ambitious of distinguishing themselves in the nation or country where they live,