The Critic (New York), 1881, 1887
The Critic, September 24, 1881.
“A Book for the Holidays.”
Lucile. By "Owen Meredith;" (Lord Lytton). Cloth, $6 morocco, or tree calf, $10. Boston: James R, Osgood & Co.
THE first holiday book in the market is James R. Osgood & Co.'s edition of Owen Meredith's 'Lucile,' a poem which still has a charm for young men and young women. The feature of this edition is its illustrations. Mrs. Mary Hallock Foote, Mr. W. L. Sheppard, W. R. Snyder, T. Moran, Granville Perkins, W. D. Smillie, F. Hopkinson Smith, and other artists have been engaged in the work of illustration. We think it a pity that all the figure drawings were not left to Mrs. Foote. The contrast between her Lucile and those introduced by Messrs. Sheppard and Snyder is painful. Mrs. Foote's frontispiece shows us a highborn lady with a delicate, refined face, and graceful figure, while Mr. Sheppard's heroine (page 183) is a very commonplace young woman, dressed most admirably, and Mr. Snyder (opposite pale 298) draws a Vassar College girl awaiting her examination to higher mathematics. Of course we prefer to accept Mrs. Foote's more natural interpretation of the heroine. The publishers have put more pictures in this volume than were ever seen in a book of its size before, not even excepting 'The Beautiful Wretch.' If a feather is mentioned, it is given by the artist; if one man offers another a cigar, you find the weed on the page before you. If we had any complaint to make, it would be to reference to this excess of illustration; but that is a fault the public will readily forgive. The work is beautifully printed and handsomely bound, and will doubtless be read more generally than almost any other book prepared with an eye to the holidays.
R. Seton. “Lord Lytton.” The Critic, September 24, 1881 (1, 19), p253-254.
'LUCILE,' in its day, was a literary sensation. It was given to the world at a time when the romantic fever was at its height, and when Englishwomen were sighing for a native school of fiction which should follow the footsteps of George Sand and Octave Feuillet. At what distance 'Lucile' followed them has never been exactly determined. There appeared in a literary paper of the period a very circumstantial accusation that it was a close version, in plot, characters, and sometimes in language, of one of the earlier novels which the author of 'Consuela' had anonymously published. The charge was not pressed. It was rumored that the new poet would make a terrible slaughter of his traducers after the manner of 'English Bards and Scotch Reviewers,' and he seems to have published a denial in some obscure publication. But there the matter dropped. It had little interest for Owen Meredith's readers, who for the most part were very young. It had no great interest for his critics, who discerned in him an extraordinary facility, an almost Byronic flow of diction, and none of the marks of poetic greatness. His lines went cantering on their way unchecked. Young officers and loungers at the clubs still simpered over their worldly wisdom. Maidens still glowed with their alcoholic ardor. No purpose would have been served by awakening a controversy, and none but political antagonists, who are notoriously the meanest foes of all, would have now disinterred the old accusation.
At that time it was known to few that Owen Meredith was Robert Lytton. Tilling the soil of literature together, the father and son drove their plows in different fields. This was anything but a misfortune for the son. He had some of the humor, some of the fancy, some of the scholarship of his father; but he had none of the patience which presided at the birth of ‘The Caxtons' and ‘Rienzi.' Having patience, the elder Lytton so imbued himself with the spirit of the French stage that he became a master in comedy. Having patience, he made so thorough a study of antiquity that scholars may sniff at, but cannot condemn the romances which he constructed from the cairns and tumuli of the past. Having patience, he so disposed of his not very extraordinary gifts as to leave a considerable name in literature. Having no patience, the younger Lytton has been unable to sustain the fame which 'Lucile' brought him. As a diplomatist he occupied a great many posts and mastered a great many languages. He also acquired the highest art of which modern diplomacy is capable. He learned to cook. In Paris this was not a necessary accomplishment, for there were many good kitchens in the neighborhood of the Rue du Faubourg St. Honoré, not surpassed by the houses of the Boulevards and Palais Royal. But in Bucharest, in Constantinople, and particularly in Rome, many a ministerial heart might be won by a well-cooked partridge, and many a cabinet secret might be opened with the Tokay.
Lord Beaconsfield, who always prided himself on appreciation of youthful merit, saw much to commend in Robert Lytton, and was not wholly blind to the points of similarity in their careers. Their literary affinities were close. Both aimed at warmth of color, and overshot the mark. Both revelled in the works of the French epigrammatists. Both preferred half truths to whole truths, and verbal felicities to purity of style. Owen Meredith's 'Fables in Song' might have come from the muse, rhymed and corrected, of Benjamin Disraeli. There is the old Disraelian yearning for the infinite in the fable of ‘The Blue Hills Far Away,' the song of a traveller climbing mountains and crossing vales in quest of the ridge on the horizon. There is the old Disraelian malice in the fable of the beasts who choose a king, and having rejected the lion, the tiger, and the nobler animals, are bidden by the monkey to accept
“A creature never known to run or royster.
You bid me choose your king. I choose the oyster.”
Lord Beaconsfield gave Lord Lytton the great opportunity of his life. It was not a literary opportunity, but its effects win be traced in any later work that may come from Owen Meredith's pen. It was the Viceroyalty of India. There are poets to whom such an office would be full of attraction. Inspiration would come more easily beside the Jumna and Ganges . Themes untouched by Eurasian bards would abound in the ancient country on whose frontiers Sa'adi lived. There are many respectable servants of the Crown still guarding the remnants of their liver at Dumdum or Bankipore, who spend the intervals between collecting native revenue and drawing British pay in composing odes to Akbar and sonnets to the Taj. Lord Lytton was wont to say that he envied them. He, too, having viewed the frivolities of Western society, would find poetic consolation in the Orient. He, too, having learned the pettiness of modern governments, would extol the greatness of the Moguls. On his way to India he met the Prince of Wales, who was coming back. Here was a great opportunity to get information concerning the marvels of Ind. Here was a traveller who had viewed them all from Comorin to the Himalayas . What did he think of his voyage? “Well,” said the 'Prince, “I speared pigs in Bombay and shot tigers in Nepaul. Charley Beresford was the luckier in the matter of pigs, but as for the tigers, I killed with my own gun two more than Jung Bahadur. I recommend Jung to your notice. A very deserving fellow."
Lord Lytton began to think that he might not like India as well as he expected. When be landed at Bombay, and was immediately requested to settle the question whether the honor of forwarding his luggage to Calcutta belonged to the civil or the military service, his uneasiness was not allayed. When he arrived at the capital and found every antechamber in Government House lined with place hunters and native money-lenders he realized that there were other things in India besides caves and temples, the code of Manu and the fables of Pilpay. He was quite unfitted for the work he had undertaken. He was constitutionally lazy, and an Indian Viceroy should be ready to mount his horse at five minutes' notice and ride twenty miles to attend a meeting of the High Court or visit a native raja. He loved the company of people of wit, and such wit as mildly coruscates in India is generally of the sort which the local newspapers display in their poets' comer. He knew nothing about dustoorie, ryotwarrie tenures, or the law of evidence, and found that an Anglo-Indian who was unable to talk of these matters was debarred from conversation with his countrymen. His memory was fatally treacherous on points of precedence, and whether it was the captain's wife who went out first, or whether it was the Joint Magistrate's, he was at no time sure of remembering. Therefore he fell from grace. An awful rumor was circulated that he smoked in his drawing-room. The losses of the Afghan war swelled the clamor against him. Falling with the Tories, he left the country unwept, and a tremendous deficit in his budget ingulfed his political remains.
Lord Lytton excels in so many arts that he is superlatively good in none. He is one of the most amiable, witty, and fair-minded of Englishmen. Had he been forced to make his own way, he might have been acclaimed as Lord Beaconsfield's successor. As it is, he does little to beseem the promise of his youth. His career has been purposeless, invertebrate. He has married a charming wife, well born and well bred. She may yet remake his fortune. R. SETON
“Popular Books in a Free Library.” The Critic: A Weekly Review of Literature and the Arts (February 19, 1887), p90.
THE Seventh Annual Report of that most worthy institution, the New York Free Circulating Library, makes an encouraging revelation as to the kind of mental pabulum sought by its patrons. These patrons belong mainly to the working classes, and fully two-thirds of them are boys and young men between the ages of fifteen and twenty-five; and yet the record of the proportionate popularity of various books reveals a better literary taste than is commonly shown by the patrons of circulating libraries -- better, according to a report published a few years ago, than prevails even in Boston or Cincinnati, where the magnificence of the libraries might be expected to draw the best classes of readers. The most popular book in the New York Library is still, of course, a novel; and it is rather impressive to learn that that novel is 'Uncle Tom's Cabin,' which 'circulated' (to use the phraseology of the Report) 227 times. But next to 'Uncle Tom's Cabin' stand Shakspeare's Works, complete editions of which were drawn 209 times. Separate plays were also drawn – ‘The Merchant of Venice,' 54 times; 'Richard III,' 31; 'Romeo and Juliet,' 27; and a number of the other plays from 11 to 29 times; so that really Shakspeare heads the list as a popular author. Other items are equally interesting, such as the fact that Robert Browning's ‘Poems 'circulated' fifteen times, while that favorite of callow youth, Owen Meredith's 'Lucile,' was only taken out ten. In some cases the popularity of a book cannot be gauged in this way, for the library has only one copy of certain popular books, and as a reader can retain a book two weeks, the possibilities of its circulation are limited. The Librarian says: 'In the department of science, most of the popular books have circulated as many times as possible during the year; for instance, Cooley's "Easy Experiments," of which we have lent one copy twenty-five limes (once in every two weeks); and of another written in a narrative but scientific style, "What Mr. Darwin Saw in His Voyage Round the World in the Ship Beagle," one copy circulated fifty-seven times -- oftener than once a week.' The Librarian also says that the demand for works of history, particularly of American history, so greatly exceeds the supply that often no desirable books of the kind are left on the shelves. The society, that manages this institution is very anxious to establish, according to its original plan, a third 'station' for the distribution of books on the West Side, and it seems that the people who are anxious to do good with their money, yet are troubled by scruples regarding the harm done by misdirected benevolence, might feel that here was a chance to enjoy the luxury of giving without fear of consequences. V. R.
Last revised: 25 August 2010