Philadelphia’s school board has barred Victor Hugo’s “Les Miserables” from the list of books to be used in the high school in the teaching of French, as a book not fit for girls. What would not one give for a diagram of the heads of these educators? It must be a nasty mind which can find anything immoral in that book as a whole. One may take a chapter out here and there, and show it to be broad and coarse, divorced from the context, but the whole effect of the book is moral. The mind of the man who can say that “Les Miserables” will not tend as a whole to make a girl more womanly, a boy more manly, must be poisoned by the miasma from a filthy heart. What and who in it are immoral? Not Valjean! Not Fantine even, nor Cosette! Not Marius! Not Javert, the detective! Is the chapter on Cambronne’s surrender the offending fragment of the great literary masterpiece? That chapter is the sublimity of disgust! There never was anyone hurt spiritually or morally by the great French masterpiece of fiction. The man who can say the book is defiling, would draw defilement from the fount of Castaly. The Philadelphia school board has declared itself an aggregation of asses. “Les Miserables” is the greatest poem of divine humanity that this world has known since Shakespeare wrote “Lear.” But I suppose “Lear,” too, is immoral. I suppose everything is immoral, from “Oedipus, the Tyrant,” to Hall Caine’s “Christian,” that teaches that men are born of woman, and that love will have its way, even unto all bitterness. It is eminently fitting that “Les Miserables” should be condemned as immoral in the most immoral city in the United States. A Philadelphian may be depended upon to see immorality in one of Raphael’s Madonnas.–St. Louis Mirror.
My esteemed contemporary should bottle up its indignation, there is absolutely nothing to be gained by lambasting idiots, by criticizing cretins. Editor Reedy is but casting his pearls before swine–is talking to people who, having eyes see not, having ears hear not, and whose cerebra are filled with sawdust. They are like unto a lot of sheep that follow the master ram, not because they comprehend or care whither he is going, but because they smell him, and point their proboscidi in his direction as naturally as the needle lines the pole. It was Jean Paul–was it not?–who discovered that if a cane be held horizontally before the lead ram of a flock, compelling him to saltate, then removed, the thousandth ewe lamb will jump at that point just as did the pioneer. So it is with a pietistical and puristical people–they will follow some stupid old bellwether because utterly incapable of independent thought, of individual ratiocination. When “Les Miserables” first appeared some literary Columbus made the remarkable discovery that it was a French book, that it was shot full of “slang,” the expressive patois of the race, that it was liberally spiced with argot, the vernacular of vagabonds. Hugo’s immortal masterpiece has not yet recovered from this discovery–the thousandth ewe lamb is still blithely saltating over the blackthorn. It is as useless to contend against the purist fad as against the holiness fake. Like a plague of army worms or epidemic of epizootic, it must run its course. Preternicety of expression, an affectation of euphemism, has in every age and clime evidenced moral degeneration and mental decay. When people emasculate their minds, they redouble their corporeal devotion at the shrine of Priapus, for nature preserves the equipoise. Every writer of virility is now voted obscene, every man who strikes sledge-hammer blows at brutal wrong intrenched in prescriptive right is denounced as immoral. “Les Miserables” not fit for young ladies’ reading!–and this the epocha of the New Woman, of the single standard of mind and morals. While woman is insisting that she is every way man’s equal, entitled to share with him the wardship of this world, Detroit is putting bloomers on the statues of Dian, Boston refusing the Bacchante, Waco draping the marble figure of a child exhibited at her cotton palace, Anthony Comstock having cataleptic convulsions, “Les Miserables” excluded from Philadelphia high schools and the ICONOCLAST denounced by certain bewhiskered old he-virgins as obscene! And so it goes. This world is becoming so awfully nice that it’s infernally nawsty. It sees evil in everything because its point of view is that of the pimp. Its mind is a foul sewer whose exhalations coat even the Rose of Sharon with slime. A writer may no longer call a spade a spade; he must cautiously refer to it as an agricultural implement lest he shock the supersensitiveness of hedonists and call down upon his head the Anathema Maranatha of men infinitely worse than Oscar Wilde. What the Mirror means by “Cambronne’s surrender” I cannot imagine, unless Editor Reedy was indulging in grim irony. I present extracts from the account of Cambronne, which he suspects may have given the pietistical Quakers a pain. It is the finale of Hugo’s matchless word-painting of the Battle of Waterloo: