There are very young, oh absurdly young! reviewers; and there are elderly reviewers, with whiskers. There are also women reviewers. Absurdly young reviewers are inclined to be youthful in their reviews. Elderly reviewers usually have missed fire with their lives, or they wouldn’t still be reviewers. The best sort of a reviewer is the reviewer that is just getting slightly bald. He is not a flippertigibbet, and still an intelligent man–if he is a good reviewer.
Book reviews are in nearly all the papers. Proprietors of newspapers don’t read these things: they think they are deadly stuff. Many authors don’t: because they regard them as ill-natured and exceedingly stupid. Book clerks don’t read them much: for that would be like working overtime. Business men infrequently have time for such nonsense. University professors are inclined to pooh-pooh them as things beneath them. Still somebody must read them, as publishers pay for them with their advertising. No publishers’ advertising, no book reviews, is the policy of nearly every newspaper; and the reviews are generally in proportion to the amount of advertising. Now publishers are sagacious men who generally live in comfortable circumstances, and who occasionally get quite rich and mingle in important society. They set considerable store by reviews; they employ publicity men at good wages who continually supply reviewers with valuable information by post and telephone; they are fond of quoting in large type remarks from reviews which please them; and sometimes, at reviews they don’t like, they stir up a fuss and have literary editors removed from office.
Yes, reviews have much power. They are eagerly read by multitudes of people who write very indignantly to the paper to correct and rebuke the reviewer when, owing to fatigue, he refers to Miss Mitford as having written “Cranford,” or otherwise blunders. They are the wings of fame to new authors. They can increase the sale of a book by saying that it should not be in the hands of the young. They are tolerated by the owners of papers, who are very powerful men indeed, engaged in the vast modern industry of manufacturing news for the people, and in constant effort to obtain control of politics. Reviewers are paid space rates of, in some instances, as much as eight dollars a column, with the head lines deducted. When there is no other payment they always get the book they review free for their libraries, or to sell cheap to the second-hand man. Reviewers are spoken of as “the critics”–by simple-minded people; when their printed remarks are useful for that purpose, the remarks are called “leading critical opinions”–by advertisements; and reviewers are sometimes invited to lunch by astute authors, and are treated to pleasant dishes to cheer them, and given good cigars to smoke.
Occasionally somebody ups and discusses the nature of our literary journalism and what sort of a creature the reviewer is. Dr. Bliss Perry was at this not long ago in the Yale Review. Editor for a couple of decades of our foremost literary journal, and now a professor in one of our great universities, Dr. Perry certainly knows a good deal about various branches of the book business. His highly critical review of the reviewing business has somewhat the character of a history that a great general might write of a war. A man who had served in the trenches, however, would give a more intimate picture, though of course it would not be as good history.
I will give an intimate picture of the American reviewer at work to-day: the absurdly young, the slightly bald, and the elderly with whiskers; and of his hard and picturesque trade.
There was an old man who had devoted a great many years to a close study of engraved gems. He embodied the result of his elaborate researches in a learned volume. I never had a gem of any kind in my life; at the time of which I write I did not have a job. A friend of mine, who was a professional reviewer, and at whose house I was stopping, brought home one day this book on engraved gems, and told me he had got it for me to review. “But,” I said, “I don’t know anything about engraved gems, and” (you see I was very inexperienced) “I can write only about things that particularly interest me.” “You are a devil of a journalist,” was my friend’s reply; “you’d better get to work on this right away. You studied art, didn’t you? I told the editor you knew all about art. And he has to have the article by Thursday.”