August 26, 1893. Dauntless Anthology.
It is really very difficult to know what to say to Mr. Maynard Leonard, editor of The Dog in British Poetry (London: David Nutt). His case is something the same as Archdeacon Farrar’s. The critic who desires amendment in the Archdeacon’s prose, and suggests that something might be done by a study of Butler or Hume or Cobbett or Newman, is met with the cheerful retort, “But I have studied these writers, and admire them even more than you do.” The position is impregnable; and the Archdeacon is only asserting that two and two make four when he goes on to confess that, “with the best will in the world to profit by the criticisms of his books, he has never profited in the least by any of them.”
Now, Mr. Leonard has at least this much in common with Archdeacon Farrar, that before him criticism must sit down with folded hands. In the lightness of his heart he accepts every fresh argument against such and such a course as an added reason for following it:–
“While this collection of poems was being made,” he tells us, “a well-known author and critic took occasion to gently ridicule (sic) anthologies and anthologists. He suggested, as if the force of foolishness could no further go, that the next anthology would deal with dogs.”
“Undismayed by this,” to use his own words, Mr. Leonard proceeded to prove it. Now it is obvious that no man can set a term to literary activity if it depend on the Briton’s notorious unwillingness to recognize that he is beaten. I might dare, for instance, a Scotsman to compile an anthology on “The Eel in British Poetry”; but of what avail is it to challenge an indomitable race?
I am sorry Mr. Leonard has not given the name of this critic; but have a notion it must be Mr. Andrew Lang, though I am sure he is innocent of the split infinitive quoted above. It really ought to be Mr. Lang, if only for the humor of the means by which Mr. Leonard proposes to silence him. “I am confident,” says he, “that the voice of the great dog-loving public in this country would drown that of the critic in question.” Mr. Leonard’s metaphors, you see, like the dyer’s hand, are subdued to what they work in. But is not the picture delightful? Mr. Lang, the gentle of speech; who, with his master Walton, “studies to be quiet”; who tells us in his very latest verse
“I’ve maistly had my fill
O’ this world’s din”–
–Mr. Lang set down in the midst of a really representative dog show, say at Birmingham or the Crystal Palace, and there howled down! His blandi susurri drowned in the combined clamor of mongrel, puppy, whelp, and hound, and “the great dog-loving public in this country”!
“Solvitur ululando,” hopes Mr. Leonard; and we will wait for the voice of the great dog-loving public to uplift itself and settle the question. Here, at any rate, is the book, beautiful in shape, and printed by the Constables upon sumptuous paper. And the title-page bears a rubric and a reference to Tobias’ dog. “It is no need,” says Wyclif in one of his sermons, “to busy us what hight Tobies’ hound”; but Wyclif had never to reckon with a great dog-loving public. And Mr. Leonard, having considered his work and dedicated it “To the Cynics”–which, I suppose, is Greek for “dog-loving public”–observes, “It is rather remarkable that no one has yet published such a book as this.” Perhaps it is.
But if we take it for granted (1) that it was worth doing, and (2) that whatever be worth doing is worth doing well, then Mr. Leonard has reason for his complacency. “It was never my intention,” he says, “to gather together a complete collection of even British poems about dogs.”–When will that come, I wonder?–“I have sought to secure a representative rather than an exhaustive anthology.” His selections from a mass of poetry ranging from Homer to Mr. Mallock are judicious. He is not concerned (he assures us) to defend the poetical merits of all this verse:–
“–O, the wise contentment
Th’ anthologist doth find!”
–but he has provided it with notes–and capital notes they are–with a magnificent Table of Contents, an Index of Authors, an Index of First Lines, an Index of Dogs Mentioned by Name in the Poems, and an Index of the Species of Dogs Mentioned. So that, even if he miss transportation to an equal sky, the dog has better treatment on earth than most authors. And Mr. Nutt and the Messrs. Constable have done their best; and everyone knows how good is that best. And the wonder is, as Dr. Johnson remarked (concerning a dog, by the way), not that the thing is done so well, but that it should be done at all.