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An example may be seen in the passage which has been a favorite illustration from the days of Longinus to our own. “God said: Let there be light! and there was light.” This is a conception of power so calm and simple that it needs only to be presented in the fewest and the plainest words, and would be confused or weakened by any suggestion of accessories. Let us amplify the expression in the redundant style of miscalled eloquent writers: “God, in the magnificent fullness of creative energy, exclaimed: Let there be light! and lo! the agitating fiat immediately went forth, and thus in one indivisible moment the whole universe was illumined.” We have here a sentence which I am certain many a writer would, in secret, prefer to the masterly plainness of Genesis. It is not a sentence which would have captivated critics. Although this sentence from Genesis is sublime in its simplicity, we are not to conclude that simple sentences are uniformly the best, or that a style composed of propositions briefly expressed would obey a wise Economy. The reader's pleasure must not be forgotten; and he cannot be pleased by a style which always leaps and never flows. A harsh, abrupt, and dislocated manner irritates and perplexes him by its sudden jerks. It is easier to write short sentences than to read them. An easy, fluent, and harmonious phrase steals unobtrusively upon the mind, and allows the thought to expand quietly like an opening flower. But the very suasiveness of harmonious writing needs to be varied lest it become a drowsy monotony; and the sharp, short sentences which are intolerable when abundant, when used sparingly act like a trumpet-call to the drooping attention.
The principal name of the period we are now come to is that of Goldsmith, than which few names stand higher or
1. From Hazlitt's Lectures on the English Poets,
fairer in the annals of modern literature. One should have his own pen to describe him as he ought to be described— amiable, various, and bland, with careless inimitable grace touching on every kind of excellence—with manners unstudied, but a gentle heart—performing miracles of skill from pure happiness of nature, and whose greatest fault was ignorance of his own worth. As a poet, he is the most flowing and elegant of our versifiers since Pope, with traits of artless nature which Pope had not, and with a peculiar felicity in his turns upon words, which he constantly repeated with delightful effect: such as
As a novelist, his Vicar of Wakefield has charmed all Europe. What reader is there in the civilized world, who is not the better for the story of the washes which the worthy Dr. Primrose demolished so deliberately with the poker—for the knowledge of the guinea which the Miss Primroses kept unchanged in their pockets—the adventure of the picture of the Vicar's family, which could not be got into the house—and that of the Flamborough family, all painted with oranges in their hands—or for the story of the case of shagreen spectacles and the cosmogony?
As a comic writer, his Tony Lumpkin draws forth new powers from Mr. Liston's face. That alone is praise enough for it. Poor Goldsmith! how happy he has made others! how unhappy he was in himself! He never had the pleasure of reading his own works! He had only the satisfaction of good-naturedly relieving the necessities of others, and the consolation of being harassed to death with his own. He is the most amusing and interesting person, in one of the most amusing and interesting books in the world, Boswell's Life of Johnson. His peach-colored coat shall always bloom in Boswell's writings, and his fame survive in his own | His genius was a mixture of originality and imitation: he could do nothing without some model before him, and he could copy nothing that he did not adorn with the graces of his own mind. Almost all the latter part of the Vicar of Wakefield, and a great deal of the former, is taken from Joseph Andrews; but the circumstances I have mentioned above are not. The finest things he has left behind him in verse are his character of a country schoolmaster, and that prophetic description of Burke in the Retaliation. His moral essays in the Citizen of the World are as agreeably chit-chat as can be conveyed in the form of didactic discourses.
POTASH & PERLMUTTER 1
A many-nationed country like America needs writers who can interpret one race to another, needs especially writers of fiction who can pierce through the crust of alien manners and speech and show the inherent humaneness. Only thus shall come a richer understanding, a quicker socialization. Hence, in his light-hearted Potash & Perlmutter stories, Montague Glass is doing a serious work. For he has seized upon a section of life as yet not articulated through art, a section on the surface sordid and crass, and has so set it forth that it swarms upon us with interest and reality. His method is photographic and phonographic; that is, we get the life just as it stirs daily in the cloak and suit section of New York, and we get it through its own language. However, Mr. Glass is an artist; he is not content
* By Montague Glass. Philadelphia: Henry Altemus Company.—Reviewed by James Oppenheim in the Bookman, August, 1910.
with mere literalness; his realism is not mere realism; but there is all through his work an undercurrent of genial warmth, of kindly humor, which rises here and there in the creation of real characters. Potash, Perlmutter, Henry D. Feldman, Sammet Brothers, and a host of others live as really as Pickwick, Becky Sharp or Falstaff. We talk of them as if they were living people. They come to us dripping with faults; they shock us by their manners and their meannesses, by their money-lust and sharp practice; but they grow on us until we accept them as relatives—that is, we see their faults merged into a universal humaneness, a humaneness that we share ourselves. In fact, Mr. Glass has interpreted a certain type of the Jew, and done it successfully. Needless to say, these stories have large limitations. The area of life covered is small. Mr. Glass has only touched a slight fringe of the race that has produced the Prophets, the founder of Christianity, and such men as Spinoza, Marx, Mendelssohn, and Heinrich Heine. His is not the 'book of the Jew; but a book about certain Jews. Nor is this narrowness made up by depth. When Shakespeare created a group of Scotchmen, as in Macbeth, he did more than make them human: he connected them up with Nature; he showed the divine spaciousness of the human soul; he gave through them a sense of the vastness, the tremendousness of life. He gave depth, as Dickens has given breadth. This may seem a curious criticism of stories that were probably primarily intended to be entertaining and farcical; but a writer who can create living characters should not be contented with so limited an area; and it is to be hoped that this book is Mr. Glass's Pickwick Papers and that he is going on to write a David Copperfield—that is, a book rich with the diversities of life, crowded with a varied people, and set on a broad stage. In the meantime we may thoroughly enjoy Potash & Perlmutter. Its humor is unique—not the humor of a wit, like Mr. Dooley—but the humor of characters who are deadly serious and do not know how funny they are. While the reader is laughing, Abe Potash and Morris Perlmutter are groaning and turning pale. Especially precious to any one acquainted with German and Yiddish idioms are the quaint foreign phrases that sprinkle the racy speech throughout.
In a few words, then, this book by Mr. Glass is a real transcription of life, it is alive with real people, it is charged with human warmth, it is full of laughable fun and farce, and it is significant in that it interprets one type of American, and in that it promises larger work. The man who wrote this book has it in him to depict life on a larger scale.