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Nebraska State Journal


September 23, 1894
page 13

UTTERLY IRRELEVANT.

One of the most touching phases of human generosity and unselfishness is the habit of marking the books of the city library. It is sweet to know that there are so many people who think so constantly of others that they carefully draw a line about every paragraph which strikes them as good. But the unbridled generosity of the human heart frequently leads to error. The fact is nobody has a right to mark a book that other people are going to read. It is enough to prejudice one against a book forever to open it and find "Splendid!" "How true!" pencilled all along the margins in a delicate female hand. Then it is rather courageous to appoint one's-self a sort of running commentary on Browning or Tennyson and pronounce verdict upon their work. It takes considerable assurance to write "This is a gem" over Sordello or "a dainty little poem" over Maude . It is quite a study in psychology as well as literature to read the remarks written upon the margins of books of city library. One of the most refreshing commentaries is written in the front of one of George Meredith's novels, "I don't understand this book at all; it don't say whether he married her or not.—H. G." H. G.'s comment is the most sensible one this writer has yet seen. If people must mark books, if they can't sleep well without it, they should mark only their own and hide those in their most secret chamber. It is too great a burden for anyone to assume to direct the taste of the great public.

          

Tenth street is the Lincoln Bowery and it is there that most of the "strange things" of the town are done and said. It is lined with the usual array of saloons, cheap restaurants, fruit stands and second-hand stores, indicative of Bowery taste. It is haunted by a mild species of Bowery tough and a still milder species of Bowery dude. It is of one of the latter that this paragraph treats. He may be seen almost any day at one of the cheap restaurants. He is very young in all senses of the word. He is tall and blonde and wears his hair curled. He comes down to breakfast about 10 o'clock, attired in patent leather house slippers, checked trousers, a shirt with flowers embroidered on the front, a light blue tie, a watchchain disappearing in each of his trousers pockets, a light felt dressing gown hanging open, and a tall silk hat thrust on the back of his head. In this strange garb he comes down the street to the restaurant. He hangs up his hat and cane, settles the cluster of diamonds in his scarf and yawns wearily as he throws himself into a chair and taps for the waiter. He asks for the bill of fare and the wine list and sits stroking his smoothly shaven chin as he reads it over with an air of general ennui. At last he lays down the list and whipping out a white silk handkerchief scented with Eau de Espagne he orders a cup of coffee and five cents, worth of toast.

          

There is not a particle of doubt that little Annie Kenwick is a very clever specialty performer, and if she lives she will be much cleverer. Seeing her on the stage you would be at a loss to say whether she was a young girl or an old girl. Her movements were light as a child's, but her management of her eyes would do credit to a woman. Her eyes are really remarkable for their brilliancy and magnetism. Off the stage she was found to be a very quiet, modest little girl of fourteen in short gingham dresses, with a fondness for pug dogs and chewing gum. She was a little bit bashful and it was rather hard to get her to talk, but after she once started there was no trouble.

Those laughing brown eyes have dark circles under them in the daytime and are red and bloodshot. She kept rubbing one of them and I asked her if she had hurt it.

"O, no, my eyes are weak; they hurt me a good deal all the time. I think it's the hot grease paint and the lights that does it. This one is very weak because one night when mamma was sick I had to make myself up and I dropped some hot cosmetics in my eye. I could scarcely see that night."

"Your eyes are remarkably good from the front; rather the best thing you have."

"Well, you see there is very few folks that understands that make-up of the eyes. Anybody that has a full eye is all right if they know how to make up and use the grease paint hot enough and then soften it. Of course it sometimes hurts awful and it spoils our eyes when you're close up to us, I but then close up ain't our business."

"Can you make yourself up?"

"O, yes, I do sometimes, but don't like to. I like to have mamma do it for me. It's always hard to go back to making up after I've had a long rest. I hate it."

"You rested this summer?"

"Yes, we rested three months in our home in St. Louis."

"Have you ever travelled alone?"

"O, no!" she replied in a shocked tone, "my mamma always travels with me. Why," she added, in a tone of lofty conviction, "my mamma don't hardly think it's proper for a girl to travel alone when she is eighteen. My mamma is that stout lady over there. She always comes to rehearsals and everything."

I saw that I had shocked her ideas of propriety terribly and changed the subject. "Where did you learn stage dancing?"

"My mamma taught me. She was in the business. Yes, it's hard work, but I like it. I like to see plays better than anything else in the world; good plays, I mean, not specialties. There, that's my cue to rehearse; good-by. Come pug," and she took up the pug, who certainly had "full eyes," and was consequently "all right." I checked any Van Bibber outbursts, for a child brought up on the stage is never happy anywhere else. Still, there are some things connected with specialty work that it seems too bad for a child like that to know.

          

The song service at the First Congregational church conducted by Mrs. P. V. M. Raymond is a thing to hear and not tire of. It is full of feeling and devotion, and moves along with the perfect fitness which characterizes all of Mrs. Raymond's work. There is no doubt that the musical people of Lincoln owe a great deal to Mrs. Raymond. She has the power of quietly and surely bringing things to pass. Apparently without much effort or worry she can carry out the most ambitious undertakings with perfect success. Mrs. Raymond undoubtedly has some of the feu sacre, or whatever it is, that separates good work from mediocre work and gives it a flavor and individuality of its own.

          

The saddest news that has come to the theatrical world for some time comes from Paris, announcimg the serious illness of Emma Calve . Calve has been troubled for several years by cancer and in the last month the surgeons have operated on it repeatedly without success.

          

Mrs. Kendal is back again and the young reporters are beginning to tremble in their sleep, and the dry goods clerks are going out of town and the stage photographers are taking down their signs. Of course we all love and reverence Mrs. Kendal and acknowledge her as the great domestic actress and model of propriety, but it is too bad that she has such a beastly temper with it all. Mrs. Kendal certainly ought to be good—she is cold enough. One likes to see her act, but enjoys it better with an overcoat on. But really she need not feel so very superior to other poor mountebanks of the stage.

I have a sneaking idea that there are plenty of women on the stage who are just as good as Mrs. Kendal, only they don't go around talking about it because they take it as a matter of course, and there are several who, if they haven't quite so white an escutcheon, certainly have better tempers and warmer hearts.

          

Marion Manola's friends no longer try to conceal the fact that she is hopelessly insane. Miss Manola, although one of the brightest comic opera stars, has had a hard struggle for fame. She has always been crippled by poverty and to a certain extent by ill-health. Last season was particularly trying on all professional people and Miss Manola and her husband, Jack Mason , suffered heavily. Early in the summer one of their creditors had Miss Manola arrested and her costumes taken for debt. Miss Manola was ill at the time of the trial and went from her bed to the court room. She was acquitted, but a few weeks later a mortgage of $500 was foreclosed on the furniture of their cottage at Winthrop. Jack Mason is a clever, good-hearted fellow who is devoted to his wife, but he has no head for finance and thus has thrown all the burden of worry on her. From the constant excitement and nervous strain of their profession actresses are peculiarly unfit to apply themselves to money matters, and yet no other women have so much of it to do. The strain of the court room and the hopeless horror of debt were too much for the little woman who has helped the world to smile so long. Her malady developed where her talent had, on the stage itself. She began by forgetting her lines and looking hopelessly at Jack. In a little while she forgot the "Mikado" altogether. The last act of this sad little comedy life is extremely pathetic. She has forgotten all the success and the applause, she remembers only the biting of poverty and the horror of debt. She continually hears her creditors pounding at the door and hiding her head on her husband's shoulder cries: "Don't let them in, Jack, don't let them in; I can't see them. Don't let them take the little pink dress I wore that, my first, night."

          

I never see the Sabbath come now without thinking of one man who used to enjoy it so. I never knew anyone who entered so completely into genial warmth and deep content of Sunday as did Major Hastings . It was always a day of gladness to him. I have heard him tell how when he was marshal he would ride hundreds of miles to get home to spend Sunday with his wife. The major never grew old; his enthusiasm kept him young. He enjoyed life to the last, as long as there was sand in the glass. He never lost his youthful ardor and zeal for his religion any more than he ever outgrew the living tenderness and sentiment of his first and only love. To him all the high and sacred things which in this day we are beginning to doubt as dreams were alive and real and all-powerful. He lived by them and died by them.

          

Lillian Russell's latest advertising scheme is allowing her name to be used as an indorsement of obesity pills and having "greatly reduced in weight" printed on her London bills. It will be pleasing news to all Miss Russell's admirers to hear that she is growing slender, but she need not be quite so public about it. Marie Tempest's last story of how really ill and broken down Miss Russell is, and how she could scarcely drag herself upstairs when she came to see her, is almost enough to make an indignant public pardon Miss Russell for her matrimonial caprices. Lillian Russell well, radiant, triumphant, on the crest of popularity with three cast-off husbands is one thing, but Lillian Russell rich, friendless, in a strange country and with no husband at all is quite another. If she has taxed the public patience too far, it is she who will be the greatest sufferer. The world ought not to be too bitter on her vanity, for the entire American public has spent its time assiduously cultivating that vanity for about five years. To be as beautiful as Lillian Russell is enough to make a fool of any woman.

          

If there is one superfluous calling in this world it is that of the book agent. When the first division of labor was made the book agent's job should have been cancelled out. The world could get around its orbit and gospel be spread from land to land without him. What need has a civilized community with good book stores for a wandering vendor of volumes? If the book agent ever handled anything new it would be another thing, but Thackeray and George Eliot have surely done penance for the sins committed in the body and ought be let alone, and in just the tail-end of the Nineteenth century it so interesting to be shown a prospectus of "Mr. William Shakespeare, an English poet of note."

          

"The Superfluous Woman" is a better book than "The Heavenly Twins," but it has no real excuse for existing at all. The heroine is a superfluous character in literature. There is in all the dreary waste of paper no one strong situation, no one flash of truth that gives the book a right to be. In a work of art intrinsic beauty is the raison d'etre. Any piece of art is its own excuse for being. Art, like wisdom, is born full-armed without the will or consent of man. Hecannot say it yea or nay. Madam Grand's book is a sermon, not a work of art. A sermon, like too many other sermons, based upon partial untruths and constantly sheltering itself in exaggerations. The conditions in English society cannot be as Madame Grand depicts them: dissipation and dissolution cannot entirely prevail. She makes half the English nobility either idiots or villians. That cannot be true, for the English court is noted for its stalwart men and beautiful women. Her earls and lords are perfect Hannos of mental and physical disease. This sounds strange for a nobility famous for its fondness of hunting and unequalled in battle. But even were her premises true, Madame Grand would not be justified in making a book to reveal the shameful nakedness of her country. No man, or woman, is ever justified in making a book to preach a sermon. It is a degradation of art. Browning says that the glory and the good of art is that it can teach indirectly, that it need never preach. Every great work of art should teach, but never preach. It should not sit in the high place in the temple and lay upon men's shoulders burdens that it would not lift with its finger it should go down into the fields and the streets and toil and love and suffer with men and teach them the sweetness of its endurance and the greatness of its affection, like that greatest of teachers whom the Pharisees despised. An artist should have no moral purpose in mind other than just his art. His mission is not to clean the Augean stables; he had better join the Salvation army if he wants to do that. His mission is to make bowers of delight so beautiful, perspectives so wide and boundless that men will grow to loathe their mire and will come up higher.

          

The mind that can follow a "mission" is not an artistic one. An artist can know no other purpose than his art. A book with a direct purpose plainly stated is seldom the work of a great mind. For this reason "Uncle Tom's Cabin" will never have a place in the highest ranks of literature. The feminine mind has a hankering for hobbies and missions, consequently there have been but two real creators among women authors, George Sand and George Eliot.

          

In these days of purposes and vexed moral problems it is hard for an author to keep himself untainted by the world. It is hard to hold fast to art pure and simple. One reason we all loved Trilby so was because she didn't have any mission or any purpose, and taught us nothing except to love her. She didn't talk Herbert Spencer or Darwin or Humboldt at us, but just sang Alice Benbolt very badly. An author is not an artist until he can create characters that we love not for their goodness or their character or their "cause," but for themselves. An artist has nothing to do with how much wine we may drink at dinner or how low we may wear our ball dresses. His business is to make men and women and breathe into them until they become living souls.

          

Kipling and Richard Harding Davis , who make very little men of very common clay, are better and truer artists than Madame Grand and "Iota," who make colossal monstrosities. If one cannot make great men and make them real men, as Thackeray and Balzac did, then it is better to make very common little men in sack coats as Howell does. The main requisite is that they live.

          

The further the world advances the more it becomes evident that an author's only safe course is to cling close to the skirts of his art, forsaking all others, and keep unto her as long as they two shall live. An artist should not be vexed by human hobbies or human follies; he should be able to lift himself up into the clear firmament of creation where the world is not. He should be among men but not one of them, in the world but not of the world. Other men may think and reason and believe and argue, but he must create.



Notes


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