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NORTH. You should try, James: it would come with habit. Mr Meredith has said that to live now, romance must be reinforced by intellectual interest. And as the world grows older in thought and knowledge that is very possibly true.
NORTH. They had, James, and so had those of a later period now past -the novels of Dickens and of Thackeray. That is a fact which the critics of this day seem to doubt.
NORTH They forget, my dear Shepherd, that to be present a thing does not need to be naked. For example, behind Thackeray's often trivial incidents and trivial talk there is a reserve of intellectual power which the wise man feels--a power incomparably greater, even as it is more modestly employed, than that of nine-tenths of the more noisily intellectual writers, English or French, whom these critics admire. But touching this revival of romance, Mr De Quincey, do you think the taste is genuine and will last ?
ENGLISH OPIUM-EATER. Not, my dear sir, if we may judge by the transference of romance to the stage. I have lately witnessed the performance of several versions of Dumas' “Three Musketeers,' and if we may suppose, as I think that without want of charity we may, that the literary tastes of the players are representative rather of the majority than the minority of their fellow-countrymen, then it is significant that these players, with very few exceptions indeed, do not seem to have an atom, a breath, a scintilla of romance in their compositions.
SHEPHERD. The stage! Div ye gang aften to the playhouse, sir? For my pairt I hae been waur shockit at thir modern fawrces than I was thon time I saw the opera in the thirties.
SHEPHERD. I ken fine, Mr Tickler, that ye wad be weel pleased aneuch, ye auld sinner that
ye are, at thae fawrces an’“musical comedies.” But what say ye, sir?
NORTH. I confess, James, that I am parcus cultor et infrequens of the modern playhouse. It seems to me that the managers, being aware that ideas are few, use a careful economy in them, so that when a play of one sort is successful, ten theatres will immediately fit themselves with plays exactly like it. As for example, “The Three Musketeers.” One of these days, by some strange conjunc
tion of accidents, an intelligent play will be produced, and then, alas ! for the playgoing public, it will be a black day if none but intelligent plays are to be produced for a twelvemonth.
ENGLISH OPIUM-EATER. The public will be as a lost sheep, seeking for the shepherd of sentiment and the watch-dog of coincidence.
But I'm weary o' the stage. What think ye o’ modern poetry, Mr De Quinshy?
[ENGLISH OPIUM-EATER fingers his pill-box, but finally replaces it in his pocket.
ENGLISH OPIUM-EATER. A great poet died but lately, Mr Hogg
NORTH. A very great poet. The name of Tennyson will be revered so long as the memory of English literature endures. But what would Alfred have been but for the sage counsel of “
* crusty Christopher”? The discipline was painful to the young poet at the time, but he was wise enough to profit by it. His note of patriotism, I am glad to think, has been well caught up by Mr Kipling.
ENGLISH OPIUM-EATER. A wonderfully vigorous and versatile writer, sir; but we still have one great poet of the older generation.
SHEPHERD. Ye mean Mr Swinburne? He's a wee thing ower luscious for ma taste.
ENGLISH OPIUM-EATER. Mine he pleases to perfection.
NORTH. A vice of most of the others, as of their brothers the novelists, is introspection and the possession by vague and ill-understood ideas. For example, there's Mr Davidson
SHEPHERD. A Scotsman-speak weel o'm
NORTH. Mr Davidson can write pretty songs that might almost have been made by you, James. But he must needs expound theories and philosophies, and so he comes to grief.
SHEPHERD. Ken ye, sir, that in Glesca, o' a' places, they hae a Ballant Club, an' the maist feck o' the members writes verra tolerable verse? Oor freen', Mr Neil Munro, he's ane o' them.
NORTH. Is it even
I am heartily glad to hear it. Ingenuas didicisse feliciter artes, and so forth. But I wish the Odontist had been spared to belong to the club you speak of.
SHEPHERD, Ay, puir auld Pultusky wad hae been blythe to jine sic an association.
But is there no one, Mr North, among the moderns who deserves to be praised?
There are many, my dear Timothy-to be praised gently and quietly. And one great fact, at least, is a light in the semiobscurity of letters to-day. Speaking entirely without prejudice to you, who will listen with an equal absence of it, I merely mention to you the fact that Maga still flourishes.
Verra true. An' huz, wha helped to guide her airly days, can weel afford to gie their due to the men 'at cam' efter. But gin we're to recapeetulate the doings o' Maga's heroes, we maunna forget w'er noble sel's to start wi'.
Not much likelihood of that, my dear Shepherd. And we will remember too with reverent and affectionate feelings John Lockhart perhaps a greater than any in this room, not excepting Mr De Quincey and yourself. But is it not singular how there has never been wanting a race of men to serve Maga ? We had our day-we, Maginn, Galt, Delta, and the rest; a brave and merry one it was. But when we vanished from the scene, others came on to fill our places. Uno avulso non deficit alter.
O man, man, can ye no' keep clear o' the Lait'n? But, for a' that, it's a clear case, as ye hae said, Mr North. There was George Cheape, an' Lytton, an' Aytoun, wha wis a verra tower o' strength
And George Moir, and Laurence Oliphant, and Neaves
Ay, sir, his Lordship wis a fell chiel at the versifeein'.
And Gleig, the Hamleys, Chesney, and Laurence Lockhart, "the nephew of his uncle," and Mrs Oliphant.
Mistress Oliphant! Ah, sirs, yon wis a gran' wumman, a fine writer, an' a stench freen' o' the hoose o' Blackwood. Her awnnals o' the firm's a fair maisterpiece. No' that I wis a'thegither satisfeed wi' her accoont o' James Hogg. But death clears a' scores, an' sin' we forgathered on this side o' the Styx, mony a pleesant hoor hae I passed in her company, an' mony's the time I hae thocht hoo muckle better oor Scots writers o' novelles an' romances micht dae gin they wad condeshend to tak' a gude few leaves oot o' her byuck. I canna thole their deealec'. Whaur wull ye fin' vulgawrity to pawrallel theirs? Their tongue's no' the gude auld Scots, but the tongue o' wabsters, an' tinklers, an' ither gang-there-out bodies, contawminated by contac' wi' ivery specie o' trash. Hae ye seen
Maister Henderson's volumm on Scottish Vernacular Leeterature, sir?
I have, James, and a more admirable work it would be difficult to imagine. Such a happy combination of taste and learning is not too common nowadays. There are plenty of pedants on the one hand, like Mr Furnivall, and plenty of dilettanti on the other, like Mr Gosse; but not many who possess both learning and discrimination.
Is yon the Maister Gosse or Guse wha ance preshoomed to speak o' "Mary Ferrier"? Haw! haw! haw!
Yes; and he has committed a thousand other gross blunders for which a schoolboy would be scourged. But though the second generation of Blackwoodians has all but passed away, there has arisen a not wholly unworthy third. There are
Haud yer haun', Mr North. We'se no win hame till the morn's morn gin ye rin through the roll o' Maga's leevin' contreebutors. What says the knock? Surely it maun be time for a bit chack o' supper.
[The clock strikes eleven. Enter on the very stroke Mr AMBROSE, with the Board, Mons. CADET, King PEPIN, Sir DAVID GAM, TAPPYTOORY, and the PECH, with all the delicacies of the season.
Mr Awmrose, ye're a sicht for sair e'en. Noo for the eisters! Man, but they're fine an' sappy.
[There is comparative silence in the Blue Parlour for threequarters of an hour, while NORTH, SHEPHERD, and TICKLER devote themselves to the business of the evening. The ENGLISH OPIUM-EATER toys absent-mindedly with a rizzared haddie.
What say you, James, to another caulker?
Wi' a' my he'rt an' sowl, sir. That Glenlivet's as gude an' mellow as iver touched a wizen. But, bless me, Mr De Quinshy, hoo's this? Ye mak' nae supper; ye're no' eatin' yer meat. Hae a piece turkey, sir? It's deleecious. Or a wee bit guse? Nae guse? Then alloo me to recommend a drap aipple-sass. It's extr'ord'nar' fine flevvoured.
THE ENGLISH OPIUM-EATER.
I think, Mr Hogg, I should uncommonly like to try an oyster. 'Tis a delicacy which the ancients prized very highly.
Man, it's a peety but what ye didna mak' yer mind up shuner, for they're a' clean gane. I feenished the last twa dizzen mysel'. Ay; ance show baudrons the road to the kirn an' ye may
whustle for the cream. But tak' a dram, Mr De Quinshy, a' the same. I see fine by the blink o's e'e that Mr North has a toast to gie's. Pit awa' thae peels, an' sook the whuskey doon. Mr Tickler an' me'll oxter ye hame gif needs be.
I have a toast in my
Mr De Quincey, the Shepherd is right. mind to which I earnestly crave the attention of the whole company. The night goes on apace, and it will soon be time for us to separate.
Ay, Mr Tickler's unco sleepry, an' Mr De Quinshy's aye pittin' his haun' ower the moo' that poors oot sic a wunnerfu' blatter o' words.
We must not disperse, gentlemen, without drinking the toast of Maga. Her history is a glorious one. Long may she flourish, and may she ever be true to her old traditions!
To Maga! Maga for ever! No heeltaps! Huzza! Huzza! Huzza!
[All drink a bumper. GURNEY steals out from the ear
of Dionysius, surreptitiously drinks the toast, and slips back again. Cheers from behind the door, where PICARDY and his tail are dutifully assembled.
Aweel, a' gude things maun hae an end. We hae had a glorious crack, gentlemen, an' I think the least we can dae is to send this Noctes to the Yeditor, auld Ebony's oe. Gude send he disna pit it intil the Balaam-box! But he'll surely no' daur hanle the likes o' huz wi' sae muckle inciveelity. Gude nicht to ye, Mr North. Ye'll be for Moray Place? Gude nicht, Mr Tickler; gude nicht, Mr De Quinshy.
Good night! good night! gude nicht!
[Exeunt omnes, and sic transeunt Noctes.