At the Mermaid Inn

The Globe, Toronto: March 25, 1893


       The New York Critic has at last formally acknowledged Chicago's importance as a growing literary and art centre. The great commercial capital of the nearer west henceforth ceases to be noted merely for pork packing and corners in corn and is to be honored by a special department for its literary and art correspondence in the pages of the leading American critical journal. In The Critic for the 18th March the Chicago letter takes precedence of the Boston correspondence, a fact which helps to fulfil Mr. Howell's prophecy concerning the western development of literary enterprise and culture, but which must be a painful blow to the over-sensitive feeling of the effeminate representatives of the whilom American Athens. Unmindful of the sneer and scorn of many eastern critics, the capital of the interior has for many years back been coming gradually to the front as a centre of culture. Some of her leading dailies are unrivalled outside of New York for editorial power and general tone, and on their staffs are found some of America's brightest and most cultured journalists. It has long been recognized on this continent that the best critical ability is not confined to the back pages of some of the monthlies and to the few critical journals; but that these authorities are themselves often rivalled and surpassed by much of the literary ability attached to many of our ablest dailies and weeklies. Among the foremost papers on the continent are The Inter Ocean and The News. The editor of the latter journal is, I think, Mr. Eugene Field, who is not only one of the ablest editors, but also one of the most versatile and charming of our contemporary American poets. His verses for children are only equalled for pathos and delicacy of touch by those of that other now famous western poet, J. Whitcomb Riley. In Miss Harriet Monroe, the laureate of the World's fair, Chicago has another poet of whom she may well feel proud. There are passages in her "Ode" of a quality and power unusual in the work of women writers to-day on this continent. In "The Dial," edited by Mr. James Morton Paine, also a leading writer and critic of fine sensibilities and keen power, Chicago possesses perhaps the ablest critical journal, after The Critic, in America.
       These are only a few names among the many able and accomplished journalists and men and women of letters who are helping to build up the more practical and human culture of the west. There is no doubt that the influence of the World's fair has done much to forge Chicago ahead in culture as well as in material importance. But it is safe to say that the impetus given in this direction, that of higher culture, is one that is liable to be lasting and healthy. As far as we know there seems to be a fine, large spirit of development all through the west, therefore we can safely prophecy that the literary development of the near future will be one worthy of the people and the spirit that is fostering it. The Critic says of its new Chicago correspondent, "Miss Lucy Monroe, who has been enlisted in our service as a regular weekly correspondent, is an accomplished litterateuse who has made a special study of the history and practice of art. As a prose writer she reflects no less credit on the city she lives in than is reflected thereupon by her sister's achievement as a poet."

       What a superstitious value many people attach to hard work—mere sordid labor. Most people seem to think that the mass of mankind were only made to be "worked," to be kept at the mill from dawn till sunset. The idea of recreation, of any period of idleness, is shocking to them. To grant a holiday is almost to overturn the world. Truth to say it is chiefly in our northern lands that this monstrous puritanical notion of the necessity of toil holds sway. The light-hearted Greek wisely consumes one-third of the year in holidays, and the Italian is not long held to his work when the festival bell is ringing. The Florida cracker takes a whole day to drive his load of oranges eight or ten miles to the nearest shipping point, and his life in the fields is not our idea of a life of labor. But even among us the opinion is growing, and growing fast, that it is not absolutely essential that a man should have to work laboriously for six, eight, ten or even fourteen hours out of the twenty-four. Shrewd persons begin to think that production is being forced on in an extravagant and wasteful way, and that while a certain portion of the people are compelled by an irresistible force to carry out this production, a large other portion sits by in comparative idleness and enjoys the spectacle. The new idea is that every man shall work, that the work done shall be no more than necessary, and that in consequence the whole may be divided up into very moderate apportionments for each citizen. It is safe to say that the time will come, no matter how many generations from now, when every man on earth will be obliged to do his share of the world's work, but no more than his share, and that share will probably keep him employed for three or four hours a day, with frequent holidays. Then we shall develop a race of men indeed, men who shall have time to get knowledge and think—a race of philosophers and and kings.
       I am led to these extravagant reflections by the extraordinary brilliancy and beauty of the weather. The snowbanks are vanishing away with a swiftness that is rather heard than seen, and all the ruts are running with earth and water. I think that the people should rise up and demand one immediate measure of reform. It should be made law that whenever the weather rises to a certain grade of excellence (the fact might be announced by the running up of a flag on the tower of the meteorological bureau of each city) all places of business should be closed and all workers permitted to go forth. Not only this, indeed, but those who persist in working, if such there should be, should be driven out with scourges of knotted cords. What blessings would result from such a measure! How the race would benefit in beauty, health, lightness of heart, knowledge and wisdom!

       A letter from Mr. George Scharf to the London Atheneum of the 11th instant brings to light a most curious circumstance in connection with a series of portraits which he has ascertained were painted by Sir Peter Lely in 1672, but which had become scattered and misnamed in their different locations. They were all portraits of the first Lord Clifford of Cudleigh, high chancellor of England under Charles II. They were exactly alike, representing a young nobleman "seen only to the waist, wearing a crimson velvet tunic, a broad ermine cape, a square white lace band and long fair hair." In November, 1865, one of the pictures was purchased by the National Portrait Gallery and entered in the catalogues as Henry Jermyn, earl of St. Alban's. Some years afterwards Mr. Scharf, in visiting Ham house, discovered another of the portraits which was named "Lord Maynard." Another was one of the nine portraits in the official residence of the first lord of the treasury in Downing street, but this one was unnamed. At Euston hall there was another called in the catalogue "The Duke of Monmouth." Mr. Scharf discovered in a catalogue of an engraver called Harding the missing name of the portrait in Downing street, "Thomas Lord Clifford," and upon application to Lord Clifford of Cudleigh it was ascertained that in his collection of family portraits was a picture of the first Lord Clifford exactly similar to the one in Downing street. This established the identity of the portraits, but the scattered works might have been forever called by their fictitious names if it had not been for the discernment of Mr. Scharf.

       A writer in The Nineteenth Century for March on the classical poems of Tennyson says, "The lovely passage in the 'Passing of Arthur,' which describes

              'The island valley of Avilion
Where falls not rain, or hail, or any snow,
Nor ever wind blows loudly,'

was obviously suggested by the prophecy of Proteus to Menelaus in the fourth book of the Odyssey, thus translated by Abraham Moore:

Thee to the Elysian plains, earth's farthest end,
Where Rhadamanthus dwells, the gods shall send,
Where mortals easiest pass the careless hour.
No lingering winters there, nor snow, nor showers,
But ocean, ever to refresh mankind,
Breathes the shrill spirit of the western wind."

       Why should Tennyson's lines be supposed to be "obviously" suggested by this passage? It is not an idea which could have arisen quite naturally in Tennyson's own mind? Nay, is it not probable that the fancy, together with the movement of the verse, was indeed perfectly original. The man who really understands poetry can have no patience with this ridiculous genealogy-hunting for everything that a great poet writes. The blind book-worm never realizes that it is possible for two strong imaginations even at a distance of many centuries to happen upon the same image without ever having communicated with one another in the remotest way.