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"Raising The Level Of Amusements"
by [?]

It is really most kind on the part of certain good people to reorganise the amusements of the people; but, as each reorganiser fancies himself to be the only man who has the right notion, it follows that matters are becoming more and more complicated. For example, to begin with literature, a simple person who has no taste for profundities likes to read the old sort of stories about love’s pretty fever; the simple person wants to hear about the trials and crosses of true lovers, the defeat of villains–to enjoy the kindly finish where faith and virtue are rewarded, and where the unambitious imagination may picture the coming of a long life of homely toil and homely pleasure. Perhaps the simple personage has a taste for dukes–I know of one young person aged thirteen who will not write a romance of her own without putting her hero at the very summit of the peerage–or wicked baronets, or marble halls. These tastes are by no means confined to women; sailors in far-away seas most persistently beguile their scanty leisure by studying tales of sentiment, and soldiers are, if possible, more eager than seamen for that sort of reading. The righteous organiser comes on the scene, and says, “We must not let these poor souls fritter away any portion of their lives on frivolities. Let us give them less of light literature and more of the serious work which may lead them to strive toward higher things.” The aggressively righteous individual has a most eccentric notion of what constitutes “light” literature; he never thinks that Shakspere is decidedly “light,” and I rather fancy that he would regard Aristophanes as heavy. If one were to suggest, on his proposing to place the Irving Shakspere on the shelves of a free library, that the poet is often foolish, often a buffoon of a low type, often a mere quibbler, and often ribald, he might perhaps have a fit, or he might inquire if the speaker were mad–assuredly he would do something impressive; but he would not scruple to deliver an oration of the severest type if some sweet and innocent story of love and tenderness and old-fashioned sentiment were proposed. As for the lady who dislikes “light” literature, she is a subject for laughter among the gods. To see such an one present a sensible workman with a pamphlet entitled “Who Paid for the Mangle?–or, Maria’s Pennies,” is to know what overpowering joy means. Yet the severe and strait-laced censors are not perhaps so much of a nuisance as the sternly-cultured and emotional persons who “yearn” a great deal. The “yearnest” man or woman always has an ideal which is usually the vaguest thing in the cloudland of metaphysics. I fancy it means that one must always be hankering after something which one has not and keeping a look of sorrow when one’s hankering is fruitless. The feeling of pity with which a “yearnest” one regards somebody who cares only for pleasant and simple or pathetic books is very creditable; but it weighs on the average human being. Why on earth should a girl leave the tenderness of “The Mill on the Floss” and rise to “Daniel Deronda’s” elevated but barren and abhorrent level? There are people capable of advising girls to read such a literary production as “Robert Elsmere”; and this advice reveals a capacity for cruelty worthy of an inquisitor. Then we are bidden to leave the unpolished utterances of frank love and jealousy and fear and anger in order that we may enjoy the peculiar works of art which have come from America of late. In these enthralling fictions all the characters are so exceedingly refined that they can talk only by hints, and sometimes the hints are very long. But the explanations of the reasons for giving the said hints are still longer; and, when once the author starts off to tell why Crespigny Conyers of Conyers Magna, England, stumbled against the music-stool prepared for the reception of Selina Fogg, Bones Co., Mass., one never knows whether the fifth, the twelfth, or the fortieth page of the explanation will bring him up. There is no doubt but that these things are refined in their way. The British peer and the beautiful American girl hint away freely through three volumes; and it is understood that they either go through the practical ceremony of getting married at the finish, or decline into the most delicately-finished melancholy that resignation, or more properly, renunciation can produce. Yet the atmosphere in which they dwell is sickly to the sound soul. It is as if one were placed in an orchid house full of dainty and rare plants, and kept there until the quiet air and the light scents overpowered every faculty. In all the doings of these superfine Americans and Frenchmen and Britons and Italians there is something almost inhuman; the record of a strong speech, a blow, a kiss would be a relief, and one young and unorthodox person has been known to express an opinion to the effect that a naughty word would be quite luxurious. The lovers whom we love kiss when they meet or part, they talk plainly–unless the girls play the natural and delightful trick of being coy–and they behave in a manner which human beings understand. Supposing that the duke uses a language which ordinary dukes do not affect save in moments of extreme emotion, it is not tiresome, and, at the worst, it satisfies a convention which has not done very much harm. Now on what logical ground can we expect people who were nourished on a literature which is at all events hearty even when it chances to be stupid–on what grounds can the organisers of improvement expect an English man or woman to take a sudden fancy to the diaphanous ghosts of the new American fiction? I dislike out-of-the-way words, and so perhaps, instead of “diaphanous ghosts,” I had better say “transparent wraiths,” or “marionettes of superfine manufacture,” or anything the reader likes that implies frailty and want of human resemblance. It all comes to the same thing; the individuals who recommend a change of literature as they might recommend a change of air do not know the constitutions of the patients for whom they prescribe. It has occurred to me that a delightful comedy scene might be witnessed if one of the badgered folk who are to be “raised” were to say on a sudden, “In the name of goodness, how do you know that my literature is not better than yours? Why should I not raise you? When you tell me that these nicely-dressed ladies and gentlemen, who only half say anything they want to say and who never half do anything, are polished and delightful, and so on, I grant that they are so to you, and I do not try to upset your judgment. But your judgment and my taste are two very different things; and, when I use my taste, I find your heroes and heroines very consummate bores; so I shall keep to my own old favourites.” Who could blame the person who uttered those very awkward protests? The question to me is–Who need most to be dealt with–those who are asked to learn some new thing, or those who have learned the new thing and show signs that they would be better if they could forget it? I should not have much hesitation in giving an answer.