Imágenes de páginas

among us, and “ Vanity Fair ” and “Mrs. Grundy" are adduced as proofs of the failure. These, it is true, are dead, but their death does not convince us that similar attempts are always to be attended with like results. That there is a great demand for light reading of this sort, any one may be assured by looking at the “ Nick-Nax” or “ Yankee Notions ”; or, without going so far, by recollecting the column in part or entirely devoted to humor in many of our morning papers. Americans, if they are in general serious, have a love of humor that balances their gravity, and the weighty editorials which might be by themselves too heavy for digestion at breakfast-time are relieved and rendered more wholesome by side-dishes of a racier flavor. We need not go far for an illustration ; our own Boston Daily Advertiser — a bulwark of resistance against needless and unauthorized innovation, a host in itself to withstand temptations to levity and trifling - has yielded so far to this demand, that, though not yet professedly a comic paper, it bas introduced a series of general paragraphs of a nature light and humorous enough to make the old issues turn in their very files for amazement. Far and wide, daily, weekly, and monthly publications issue from the press to face us with at least one feature smiling. It is not, then, from a lack of a proper sense of humor in the country that certain papers have failed. The success of their contemporaries bars such a supposition ; and indeed the flashes of wit and humor that we see at every turn in private life prove the presence of an amount which need only be concentrated and refined to be of the greatest value.

What, then, is the difference between the two classes of papers, represented on the one side by “ Vanity Fair” and “ Mrs. Grundy” as failures, on the other by the “ Nick-Nax” as a success? In the first place, “Nick-Nax” and its like are written for a much larger number of readers,

- that uncounted host which reads for its romance “The Ledger” and “ The Pirate of the Gulf.” Common schools make us a nation of readers. But common schools can, alas ! do little to inculcate taste or discrimination in the choice of reading. The mass of the community has a coarse digestion. It likes strong condiments, and consequently swallows the Dime Novels. It likes horselaughs, and consequently finds “ Nick-Nax” amusing. It is satisfied with ill-drawn pictures, and overlooks, if it sees them, the defects, for the sake of the merits which are clearly perceptible; as, for instance, in a recent political caricature in this paper representing the egg of the Democracy, out of which is coming an unfledged chicken labelled " Universal Suffrage," while underneath is written,

“ Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall;

Humpty Dumpty bad a great fall;

Not all of Dean's horses, nor all of Wood's men,

Could set Humpty Dumpty up again." The drawing is very poor, but the humor is certainly excellent. But there is a class in America that has a taste for better food than this; that is fond of Sydney Smith, Hood, and Thackeray; that dislikes coarseness, vulgarity, and sensation ; - a class not so large as the other, but large enough to support a good comic paper. The two papers mentioned before, which are always adduced to prove that similar attempts must fail, were intended for this class. It is clear that, if this intention is not strictly carried out, such attempts cannot succeed, and the paper, becoming vulgar, will be taken by subscribers who do not object to vulgarity, or, becoming stupid, will not be taken at all.

“ Vanity Fair ” promised at the outset well, although it had two serious difficulties in its path. It was what is called conservative, and used the stale jests about the negroes and philanthropy; while the class on which it needed to rely was in the main not conservative, but liberal, and opposed to its politics. Besides this, it was a copy of Punch; there were the same central cartoons, the satirical pictures of society on just the same pages, and the puns and conundrums in the same corner. Such copying suggested comparison ; and, though this paper was called the Punch of America, it seemed one of those foreign editions of greatness that are always suspicious. The pictures were not quite so good, the jokes had an unlucky air of second-hand about them, and in fact it was too true that it was an American Punch. Some very amusing letters appeared in “ Vanity Fair," some from Artemus Ward, some from that capital master of burlesque, McArone ; but the editors made it too refined to rival “Nick-Nax," and not witty or humorous enough to make a place for itself. It flourished, or appeared to, for a time, then faded with the political party to which it was addressed, and both went simultaneously to a common tomb. The difficulties of the case were, no doubt, aggravated by the high cost of publication during the war.

“ Mrs. Grundy,” our friend of last summer, next made her appearance. Her name was against her; for a paper that aims at a Grundy view of society will, it is to be hoped, never succeed in this country. But her appearance almost made up for the mistake of her christening. No title-page so good was ever drawn for such a purpose, and we could forgive the didactic look of the “

the “ Weekly Lectures," for the sake of the admirable drawing of the lecturer herself and her audience, an audience which Mr. Nast gave, not in caricature, but in likeness. But the whole strength of the meal was in this soup; the rest of the dishes, from the rehash of cartoon down to the entremets of

pun, was watery. “Mrs. Grundy,” moreover, was far below her predecessor in drawing and humor; and she gave us, unfortunately, far less than her title-page promised. Her pictures were poor, and the satire they illustrated poorer ; her political tone was that of a gossip, and her lectures were insufferable. After a short and censured life of a dozen numbers, her prattle was hushed, and she closed her watchful eyes. She, too, had made the mistake of not taking a distinct stand within the reach of one or the other of the two great reading classes of America.

The minor causes, then, which sapped these attempts were many, — bad drawing, bad politics, trashiness, a servile imitation of something better abroad; but the root of all the evil, the great underlying trouble, was that they were not true to themselves, that they made a pretentious appeal to readers who would have been very willing to give encouragement to any nucleus for a humor refined, but still vigorous, yet who refused to believe the watery stuff offered to them was the wine that had been promised; while those not chary of the kind, provided there was strength in it, failed to find any stimulant in such decoctions, and turned again in despair to “ Nick-Nax.” Learning wisdom from the fate of those that have gone before, “The Saturday Press,” recently revived in New York, seems likely to succeed, and should have the credit of desiring to appeal to a love of humor rather than buffoonery ; but the “ Press," with all its merits, has too often a tone of Bohemian provinciality, and does not address itself with sufficient confidence to that class which has never yet, for the reasons we have mentioned, found a paper which it cared to support.

If enterprising men with sufficient capital will undertake the publication of an American humorous paper designed for readers of education and refinement, determined, at whatever cost, to be true to their endeavor, they will in the end succeed. They must not aim at copying anything ; they should take a new form, and not seek comparisons which, however apparently flattering, are almost of necessity unintended sarcasms ; let them have pictures, if they can get good ones, though they are not necessary in any great number, and one good cartoon is worth a dozen ordinary pictorial squibs. Let them use politics as much as possible; it is the great chord of harmony that runs through the country; a touch upon it is felt from one end to the other ; in our present condition, politics are with us what society is with older countries, for our largest city is not, like London or Paris, a social and literary metropolis. Let them seek to embody the wit and humor of all parts of the country, not only of the one city where their paper is published ; let them force Portland to disgorge her Jack Downings, and

New York her Orpheus C. Kerrs, for the common benefit of all. Let them form a nucleus which will draw to itself all the waggery and wit of America. Let them wait patiently, and remember that even Punch for a long time was unprofitable.

9. – An Address on the Limits of Education. Read before the Massa

chusetts Institute of Technology, November 16, 1865. By JACOB BIGELOW, M. D. Boston: E. P. Dutton & Co. 1865. 8vo.

pp. 28.

This Address, printed, as the reverse of the title-page informs us, for and at the expense of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, claims attention, not merely from the well-known name of the author, who, as he tells us, was the first to introduce the word “ technology” into use in English literature, but, moreover, as an indication of the general views and spirit of those who direct this new and hopeful enterprise at its outset. It is in some sort an official programme or platform, to which all interested may look to see in which direction this fresh and powerful influence in the community is likely to be thrown. The first thing that strikes us in it is, that what Dr. Bigelow means by Education is not education at all, but elementary instruction. The title itself indicates this. If by education we mean mental development, there can be no reason for limiting it, any more than for limiting bodily strength or health ; there are, no doubt, limits to what it is possible to confer or to obtain, but there ought to be none to what is attempted. But if we mean instruction, acquisition of knowledge, there may easily be too much of this; and here a voluntary limitation may be useful, just as in the case of other kinds of acquisition. A man might load himself with gold enough to crush him, and he may load his brain with information, no matter how valuable in itself, until all power of useful working is paralyzed. He cannot have too much education, any more than be can be too strong or too well; but he may burden bis memory with more facts than he can dispose of, — just as he may eat more than is good for him.

The same confusion of things different and often opposed to each other appears in the illustrations which Dr. Bigelow draws from the physical world. It is a law, he says, which obtains in regard to the mind and its acquirements, as well as in matter, that strength for the most part decreases as bulk increases ; a column cannot be carried beyond a certain size without crushing itself by its own weight; and in like manner“ human intellect, though varying in capacity in different individuals, has its limits in all plans of enlargement

by acquisition.” Evidently it is not the mind or its enlargement that is here spoken of, but something outside and preliminary. Nobody believes that the mind can be too much enlarged, or that it is ever in danger of being weakened by increased breadth of view or depth of insight. The danger, where any exists, is that the mind may be prevented by the mass of material from making the material its own, from making it into ideas, — may receive it passively and retain it undigested, — not to the enlargement, but to the contraction of its capacity.

This confusion pervades and vitiates the whole argument. Throughout it is assumed that education means the imparting of information useful for some purpose other than education. The training of the mind, as of itself a worthy and sufficient object, as something needful, and above all things needful to all mankind, is wholly overlooked. A liberal education, that is, a training having no purpose but the harmonious development of the man himself, is treated as a luxury and a superfluity, — very well for those who fancy it, can afford it, and have nothing else to do, but something aside from the serious business of life. The test of success, it is assumed everywhere, is what is called “getting on in the world,” — the procuring of bread, by labor of head or hands, and securing a good place in the struggle for distinction and influence. These things are important, and, above all, very obviously important; but their obviousness makes them sure of being cared for, and there is no need to exhort men about them. Rather it is the part of those whose position raises them a little above the struggle, and enables them to see somewhat more clearly what is true as well as what is obvious, to do what they can on occasions to remind their fellows that these things are after all only means, not the end, that they are preliminaries only to the real and truly practical purpose of life.

It has been brought as a reproach against the English scheme of education by Dr. Bigelow's colleague; Professor Atkinson, that its real use is as a road to lucrative sinecures. But why should this be a reproach? “In regard to success in the world at the present day," Dr. Bigelow says, “it is not an academic education, however desirable in any shape it may be, that gives a man access to the confidence and general favor of his fellow-men, or to the influential posts of society.” If the test of value is the market-price, that is good which gets the price; we must meet the demand of the market, whatever that may happen to be. “ It is the duty of educational institutions to adapt themselves to the wants of the place and time in which they exist.”—“ Education to be useful must, as far as possible, be made simple, limited, practicable, acceptable to the learner, adapted to his character and VOL. CII. — NO. 211.


« AnteriorContinuar »