Search just our sites by using our customised search engine
Unique Cottages | Electric Scotland's Classified Directory

Click here to get a Printer Friendly PageSmiley

The Recreations of a Country Parson
Chapter II. Concerning the Art of Putting Things; Being Thoughts on Representation and Misrepresentation

IF the reader be assured that the word Representation, which has caught his eye on glancing at the title of this essay, has nothing earthly to do with the Elective Franchise, whether in boroughs or counties. Not a syllable will be found upon the following pages bearing directly or indirectly upon any New Reform Bill. I do not care a rush who is member for this county. I have no doubt that all members of Parliament are very much alike. Everybody knows that each individual legislator who pushes his way into the House is actuated solely by a pure patriotic love for his country. No briefless barrister ever got into Parliament in the hope of getting a place of twelve hundred a-year. No barrister in fair practice ever did so in the hope of getting a silk gown, or the Solicitor-Generalship, or a seat on the bench. No merchant or country-gentleman ever did so in the hope of gaining a little accession of dignity and influence in the town or county in which he lives.

All these things are universally understood; and they are mentioned here merely to enable it to be said, that this treatise has' nothing to do with them.

Edgar Allan Poe, the miserable genius who died in America a few years ago> declared that he never had the least difficulty in tracing the logical steps by which he chose any subject on which he had ever written, and matured his plan for treating it And some readers may remember a curious essay, contained in his collected works, in which he gives a minute account of the genesis of his extraordinary poem, The Raven. But Poe was a humbug; and it is impossible to place the least faith in anything said by him upon any subject whatever. In his writings we find him repeatedly avowing that he would assert any falsehood, provided it were likely to excite interest and “create a sensation.” I believe that most authors could tell us that very frequently the conception and the treatment of their subject have darted on them all at once, they could not tell how. Many clergymen know how strangely texts and topics of discourse have been suggested to them, while it was impossible to trace any link of association with what had occupied their minds the instant before. The late Douglas Jerrold relates how he first conceived the idea of one of his most popular productions. Walking on a winter day, he passed a large enclosure full of romping boys at play. He paused for a minute; and as he looked and mused, a thought flashed upon him. It was not so beautiful, and you would say not so natural, as the reflections of Gray, as he looked from a distance at Eton College. As Jerrold gazed at the schoolboys, and listened to their merry shouts, there burst upon him the conception of Mrs Caudlds Curtain Lectures! There seems little enough connexion with what he was looking at; and although Jerrold declared that the sight suggested the idea, he could not pretend to trace the link of association. It would be very interesting if we could accurately know the process, by which authors, small or great, piece together their grander characters. How did Milton pile up his Satan % how did Shakspeare put together Hamlet or Lady Macbeth % how did Charlotte Bront6 imagine Rochester? Writers generally keep their secrets, and do not let us see behind the scenes. We can trace, indeed, in successive pieces by Sheridan, the step-by-step development of his most brilliant jests, and of his most gushing bursts of the feeling of the moment No doubt Lord Brougham had tried the woolsack to see how it would do, before he fell on his knees upon it (on the impulse of the instant) at the end of his great speech on the Reform Bill. But of course Lord Brougham would not tell us; and Sheridan did not intend us to know. Even Mr Dickens, -when, in his preface to the cheap edition of Pickwick, he avows his purpose of telling us all about the origin of that amazingly successful serial, gives us no inkling of the process by which he produced the character which we all know so well. He tells us a great deal about the mere details of the work: the pages of letter-press, the number of illustrations, the price and times ot publication. But the process of actual authorship remains a mystery. The great painters would not tell where they got their colours. The effort which gives a new character to the acquaintance of hundreds of thousands of Englishmen, shall be concealed beneath a decorous veil All that Mr Dickens tells us is this: “I thought of Mr Pickwick, and wrote the first number.” And to the natural question of curiosity, “How on earth did you think of Mr Pickwick?” the authors silence replies, “I don’t choose to tell you that!”

And now, courteous reader, you are humbly asked to suffer the writer’s discursive fashion, as he records how the idea of the present discourse, treatise, dissertation, or essay flashed upon his mind. Yesterday was a most beautiful frosty day. The air was indescribably exhilarating: the cold was no more than bracing; and as I fared forth for a walk of some miles, I saw the tower of the ancient church, green with centuries of ivy, looking through the trees which surround it, the green ivy silvered over with hoar-frost The hedges on either hand, powdered with rime, were shining in the cold sunshine of the winter afternoon. First, I passed through a thick pine-wood, bordering the road on both sides. The stems of the fir-trees had that warm rich colour which is always pleasant to look at; and the green branches were just touched with frost

One undervalues the evergreens in summer: their colour is dull when compared with the fresher and brighter green of the deciduous trees; but now, when these gay transients have changed to shivering skeletons, the hearty firs, hollies, and yews warm and cheer the wintry landscape. Not the wintry, I should say, but the winter landscape, which conveys quite a different impression. The word wintry wakens associations of bleakness, bareness, and bitterness; a hearty evergreen tree never looks wintry, nor does a landscape to which such trees give the tone. Then emerging from the wood, I was in an open country. A great hill rises just ahead, which the road will skirt by and by: on the right, at the foot of a little cliff hard by, runs a shallow, broad, rapid river. Looking across the river, I see a large range of nearly level park, which at a mile’s distance rises into upland; the park shews broad green glades, broken and bounded by fine trees, in clumps and in avenues. In summertime you would see only the green leaves: but now, peering through the branches, you can make out the outline of the gray turrets of the baronial dwelling which has stood there—added to, taken from, patched, and altered, but still the same dwelling—for the last four hundred years. And on the left, I am just passing the rustic gateway through which you approach that quaint cottage on the knoll two hundred yards off—one story high, with deep thatch, steep gables, overhanging eaves, and veranda of rough oak—a sweet little place, where Izaak Walton might successfully have carried out the spirit of his favourite text, and “ studied to be quiet” All this way, three miles and more, I did not meet a human being. There was not a breath of air through the spines of the firs, and not a sound except the ripple of the river. I leant upon a gate, and looked into a field. Something was grazing in the field; but I cannot remember whether it was cows, sheep, oxen, elephants, or camels; for as I was looking, and thinking how I should begin a sermon on a certain subject much thought upon for the last fortnight, my mind resolutely turned away from it, and said, as plainly as mind could express it, For several days to come I shall produce material upon no subject but one,—and that shall be the comprehensive, practical, suggestive, and most important subject of the Art of Putting Things!

And, indeed, there is hardly a larger subject, in relation to the social life of the nineteenth century in England; and there is hardly a practical problem to the solution of which so great an amount of ingenuity and industry, honest and dishonest, is daily brought, as the grand problem of setting forth yourself, your goods, your horses, your case, your plans, your thoughts and arguments—all your belongings, in short—to the best advantage. From the Prime Minister, who exerts all his wonderful skill and eloquence to put his policy before Parliament and the country in the most favourable light, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who does his very best to cast a rosy hue even upon an income-tax, down to the shopman who arranges his draperies in the window against market-day in that fashion which he thinks will prove most fascinating to the maid-servant with her newly-paid wages in her pocket, and the nurse who in a most lively and jovial manner assures a young lady of three years old that she will never feel the taste of her castor-oil,—yea, even to the dentist who with a joke and a smiling face approaches you with his forceps in his hand:— from the great Attorney-General seeking to place his view of his case with convincing force before a bewildered jury, (that view being flatly opposed to common sense,) down to the schoolboy found out in some mischievous trick and trying to throw the blame upon somebody else: almost all civilised beings in Great Britain are from morning to night labouring hard to put things in general or something in particular in the way that they think will lead to the result which best suits their views;—are, in short, practising the art of representing or misrepresenting things for their own advantage. Great skill, you would say, must result from this constant practice: and indeed it probably does. But then, people are so much in the habit of trying to put things themselves, that they are uncommonly sharp at seeing through the devices of others. “Set a thief to catch a thief,” says the ancient adage: and so, set a man who can himself tell a very plausible story without saying anything positively untrue, to discover the real truth under the rainbow tints of the plausible story told by another.

But do not fancy, my kind reader, that I have any purpose of making a misanthropical onslaught upon poor humanity. I am very far from desiring to imply that there is anything essentially wrong or dishonest in trying to put things in the most favourable light for our views and plans. The contrary is the case. It is a noble gift, when a man is able to put great truths or momentous facts before our minds with that vividness and force which shall make us feel these facts and truths in their grand reality. A great evil, to which human beings are by their make subject, is, that they can talk of things, know things, and understand things, without feeling them in their true importance— without, in short, realising them. There appears to be a certain numbness about the mental organs of perception; and the man who is able to put things so strikingly, clearly, pithily, forcibly, glaringly, whether these things are religious, social, or political truths, as to get through that numbness, that crust of insensibility, to the quick of the mind and heart, must be a great man, an earnest man, an honest man, a good man. I believe that any great reformer will find less practical discouragement in the opposition of bad people than in the inertia of good people. You cannot get them to feel that the need and the danger are so imminent and urgent; you cannot get them to bestir themselves with the activity and energy which the case demands. You cannot get them to take it in that the open sewer and the airless home of the working man are such a very serious matter; you cannot get them to feel that |he vast uneducated masses of the British population form a mine beneath our feet which may explode any day, with God knows what devastation. I think that not all the wonderful eloquence, freshness, and pith of Mr Kingsley form a talent so valuable as his power of compelling people to feel what they had always known and talked about, but never felt And wherein lies that power, but just in his skill to put things—in his power of truthful representation?

Sydney Smith was once talking with an Irish Roman Catholic priest about the proposal to endow the Romish Church in Ireland. “We would not take the Saxon money,” said the worthy priest, quite sincerely; “we would not defile our fingers with it. No matter whether Parliament offered us endowments or not, we would not receive them.” “Suppose,” replied Sydney Smith, “you were to receive an official letter that on calling at such a bank in the town three miles off, you would hereafter receive a hundred pounds a-quarter, the first quarter’s allowance payable in advance on the next day; and suppose that you wanted money to do good, or to buy books, or anything else, do you mean to say you would not drive over to the town and take the hundred pounds out of the bank!” The priest was staggered. He had never looked at the thing in that precise light He had never had the vague distant question of endowment brought so home to him. He had been quite sincere in his spirited repudiation of Saxon coin, as recorded above; but he had not exactly understood what he was saying and doing. “Oh! Mr Smith,” he replied, “you have such a way of putting things!” What a triumph of the Anglican’s art of truthful representation!

One of the latest instances of skill in putting things, which I remember to have struck me, I came upon, where abundance of such skill may be found—in a leading article in the Times. The writer of that article was endeavouring to shew that the work of the country clergy is extremely light Of course he is sadly mistaken; but this by the way. As to sermons, said the lively writer, (I don’t pretend to give his exact words,) what work is there in a sermon? Just fancy that you are writing half-a-dozen letters of four pages each, and crossed! The thing was cleverly put; and it really came on me with the force of a fact, a new and surprising fact Many sermons has this thin right hand written; but my impression of a sermon, drawn from some years’ experience, is of a composition very different from a letter—something demanding that brain and heart should be worked to the top of their bent for more hours than need be mentioned here; something implying as hard and as exhausting labour as man can well go through. Surely, I thought, I have been working under a sad delusion! Only half-a-dozen light letters of gossip to a friend: that is the amount of work implied in a sermon! Have I been all these years making a bugbear of such a simple and easy matter as that. Here is a new and cheerful way of putting the thing! But unhappily, though the clever representation would no doubt convey to some thousands of readers the impression that to write a sermon was a very simple affair after all, it broke down, it crumpled up, it went to pieces when brought to the test of fact. When next morning I had written my text, I thought to myself, Now here I have just to do the same amount of work which it would cost me to write half-a-dozen letters to half-a-dozen friends, giving them our little news. Ah, it would not do 1 In a little, I was again in the struggle of mapping out my subject, and cutting a straight track through the jungle of the world of mind; looking about for illustrations, seeking words to put my meaning with clearness and interest before the simple country-folk I preach to. It was not the least like letter-writing. The clever writer’s way of putting things was wrong; and though I acquit him of any crime beyond speaking with authority of a thing which he knew nothing about, I must declare that his representation was a misrepresentation. If you have sufficient skill, you may put what is painful so that it shall sound pleasant; you may put a wearisome journey by railway in such a connexion with cozy cushions, warm rugs, a review or a new book, storm sweeping the fields without, and warmth and ease within, that it shall seem a delightful thing. You may put work, in short, so that it shall look like play. But actual experiment breaks down the representation. You cannot change the essential nature of things. You cannot make black white, though a clever man may make it seem so.

Still, we all have a great love for trying to put any hard work or any painful business, which it is certain we must go through, in such a light as may make it seem less terrible. And it is not difficult to deceive ourselves when we are eager to be deceived. No one can tell how much comfort poor Damien drew from the way in which he put the case on the morning of his death by horrible tortures: “The day will be long,” he said, “but it will have an end.” No one can tell what a gleam of light may have darted upon the mind of Charles I. as he knelt to the block, When Bishop Juxon put encouragingly the last trial the monarch had to go through: “One last stage, somewhat turbulent and troublesome, but still a very short one” No one can tell how much it soothed the self love of Tom Purdie, when Sir Walter Scott ordered him to cut down some trees which Tom wished to stand, and positively commanded that they should go down in spite of all Tom’s arguments and expostulations, and all this in the presence of a number of gentlemen before whom Tom could not bear any impeachment of his woodcraft; no one, I say, can tell how much it soothed the worthy forester’s self love when after half-an-hour’s sulky meditation he thought of the happy plan of putting the thing on another footing than that of obedience to an order, and looking up cheerfully again,-said, “As for those trees, I think I'll take your advice, Sir Walter!” Would it be possible, I wonder, thus pleasantly to pit the writing of an article so as to do away the sense of the exertion which writing an article implies? Have we not all little tricks which we play upon ourselves, to make our labour seem lighter, our dignity greater, our whole position jollier, than in our secret soul we know is the fact! Think, then, thou jaded man, bending over the written page which is one day to attain the dignity of print in Fraser or Blackwood, how in these words thou art addressing many thousands of thy enlightened countrymen and thy fair countrywomen, and becoming known (as Fielding puts it in one of his simply felicitous sentences) “to numbers who otherwise never saw or knew thee, and whom thou shalt never see or know.” Think how thou shalt lie upon massive library-tables, in substantially elegant libraries, side by side perhaps with Helps, Kingsley, or Hazlitt; how thou shalt lighten the cares of middle-aged men, and (if thou art a writer of fiction) be smuggled up to young ladies’ chambers; who shall think, as they read thy article, (oh, much mistaken!) what a nice man thou art! Alas! all that way of putting things is mere poetry. It won’t do. It still remains, and always must remain, the stretch and strain of mind and muscle, to write. Let not the critic be severe on people who write ill: they deserve much credit and sympathy because they write at all. But though these grand and romantic ways of putting the writing of one’s article will not serve, there are little prosaic material expedients which really avail to put it in a light in which it looks decidedly less laborious. Slowly let the large drawer be pulled out wherein lies the paper which will serve, if we are allowed to see them, for many months to come. There lies the large blue quarto, so thick and substantial; there the massive foolscap, so soft and smooth, over which the pen so pleasantly and un-scratchingly glides; that is the raw material for the article. Draw it forth deliberately: fold it accurately: then the ivory stridently cuts it through. Weigh the paper in your hand; then put the case thus: “Well, it is only covering these pages with writing, after all; it is just putting three-and-twenty lines, of so many words each on the average, upon each of these unblotted surfaces.” Surely there is not so much in that. Do not think of all the innumerable processes of mind that go to it; of the weighing of the consequences ot general propositions; of the choice of words; of the pioneering your track right on, not turning to either hand; of the memory taxed to bring up old thoughts upon your subject; of the clock striking unheard while you are bent upon your task, so much harder than carrying any reasonable quantity of coals, or blacking ever so many boots, or currying ever so many horses. Just stick to this view of the matter, just put the thing this way—that all you have to do is to blacken so many pages, and take the comfort of that way of putting it.

To such people as we human beings are, there is hardly any matter of greater practical importance than what we have called the Art of Putting Things. For, to us, things are what they seem. They affect us just according to what we think them. Our knowledge of things, and our feeling in regard to things, are all contingent on the way in which these things have been put before us; and what different ways there are of putting every possible doctrine, or opinion, or doing, or thing, or event! And what mischievous results, colouring all our views and feelings, may follow from an important subject having been wrongly, disagreeably, injudiciously put to us when we were children! How many men hate Sunday all their lives because it was put to them so gloomily in their boyhood; and how many Englishmen, on the other hand, fancy a Scotch Sunday the most disagreeable of days because the case has been wrongly put to them, while in truth there is, in intelligent religious Scotch families, no more pleasant, cheerful, genial, restful, happy day. And did not Byron always hate Horace, put to him in youth with the associations of impositions and the birch? There is no more sunshiny inmate of any home than the happy-tempered one who has the art of putting all things in a pleasant light, from the great misfortunes of life down to a broken carriage-spring, a servant’s failings, a child’s salts and senna. You are extremely indignant at some person who has used you ill; you are worried and annoyed at his misconduct; it is as though you were going about with a mustard blister applied to your mind: when a word or two from some genial friend puts the entire matter in a new light, and your irritation goes, the blister is removed, your anger dies out, you would like to pat the offending being on the head, and say you bear him no malice. And it is wonderful what a little thing sometimes suffices to put a case thus differently. When you are complaining of somebody’s ill-usage, it will change your feeling and the look of things, if the friend you are speaking to does no more than say of the peccant brother, “Ah! poor fellow!” I think that every man or woman who has got servants, and who has pretty frequently to observe (I mean to see, not to speak of) some fault on their part, owes a deep debt of gratitude to the man, whoever he w-as, who thus kindly and wisely gave us a forbearing stand-point from which to regard a servant’s failings, by putting the tiling in this way, true in itself though new to many, that you cannot expect perfection for fourteen, or even for fifty pounds a-year. Has not that way of putting things sometimes checked you when you meditated a sharp reproof, and allayed anger which otherwise would have been pretty hot? Even when a rogue cheats you, (though that, I confess, is a peculiarly irritating thing,) is not your wrath mollified by putting the thing thus: that the poor wretch probably needed very much the money out of which he cheated you, and would not have cheated you if he could have got it honestly? When a horse-dealer sells you, at a remarkably stiff figure, a broken-winded steed, do not yield to unqualified indignation. True, the horse-dealer is always ready to cheat, but feel for the poor fellow, every man thinks it right to cheat him; and with every man’s hand against him, what wonder though his hand should be against every man! Everything, you see, turns on the way in which you put things. And it is so from earliest youth to latest age. The old scholar, whose delight is to sit among his books, thus puts his library:—

“My days among the dead are pass’d:
Around me I behold,
Where’er these casual eyes are cast,
The mighty minds of old :
My never-failing friends are they,
With whom I converse night and day.”

You see the library was not mere shelves of books, and the books were not mere printed pages. You remember how Robinson Crusoe, in his cheerful moods, put his island home. He sat down to his lonely meal, but that was not how he put things. No. “Here was my majesty, all alone by myself, attended by my servants:” his servants being the dog, parrot, and cat I remember how a -wealthy merchant, a man quite of the city as opposed to the country, once talked of emigrating to America, and buying an immense tract of land, where he and his family should lead a simple, unartificial, innocent life. He -was not in the least cut out for such a life, and would have been miserable in it, but he was fascinated with the notion because he put it thus:—“I shall have great flocks and herds, and live in a tent like Abraham.” And that way of putting things brought up before the busy man of the nineteenth century I know not what sweet picture of a primevally quiet and happy life. I can remember yet how, when I crept about my father’s study, a little boy of three years old, I felt the magic of the art of putting things. All children are restless. It is impossible for them to remain still, and we all know how a child in a study worries the busy scholar. All admonitions to keep quiet failed; it -was really impossible to obey them. Creep, creep about; upset footstools; pull off table-covers; upset ink. But when the thing was put in a different way; -when the kind voice said, “Now, you’ll be my little dog: creep into your house there under the table, and lie quite still,” there was no difficulty in obeying that command: and, except an occasional bow-wow’, there was perfect stillness. The art of putting things had prevailed. It Was necessary to keep still; for a dog in a study, I knew, must keep still, and I was a dog.

It must be a worrying thing for a great warrior or statesman, fighting a great battle, or introducing a great legislative measure, to remember that the estimation in which he is to be held in his own day and country, and in other countries and ages, depends not at all on what his conduct is in itself, but entirely on the way in which it shall be put before mankind— represented, or misrepresented, in newspapers, in rumours, in histories. How very unlikely it is that history will ever put the case on its real merits: the characters of history will either be praised far above their deserts, or abused far beyond their sins. “Do not read history to me,” said Sir Robert Walpole, “for that\ I know, must be false.” History could be no more than the record of the way in which men had agreed to put things; and those behind the scenes, the men who pull the wires which move the puppets, must often have reason to smile at the absurd mistakes into which the history-writing outsiders fall. And even apart from ignorance, or bias, or intention to deceive, what a fearful thought it must be to a great man taking a conspicuous part in some great solemnity, such as the trial of a queen, or the impeachment of a governor-general, to reflect that this great solemnity, and his own share in it, and how he looked, and what he said, may possibly be put before mankind by the great historian Mr Wordy! One can enter into Johnson’s feeling when, on hearing that Boswell intended to write his biography, he exclaimed, in mingled terror and fury—“If I thought he contemplated writing my life, I should render that impossible by taking his!” It was something to shudder at, the idea of going down to posterity as represented by a Boswell! But the great lexicographer was mistaken: the Dutch painter like biography shewed him exactly as he was, the great, little, mighty, weak, manly, babyish mind and heart. And not great men alone, historical personages, have this reason for disquiet and apprehension. Don’t you know, my reader not unversed in the ways of life, that it depends entirely on how the story is told, how the thing is represented or misrepresented, whether your conduct on any given occasion shall appear heroic or ridiculous, reasonable or absurd, natural or affected, modest or impudent: and don’t you know, too, what a vast number of ill-set people are always ready to give the story the unfavourable turn, to put the matter in the bad light; and how many more, not really ill-set, not really with any malicious intention, are prompted by their love of fun, in relating any act of any acquaintance, to try to set it in a ridiculous light? Your domestic establishment is shabby or unpretending, elegant or tawdry, just as the fancy of the moment may lead your neighbour to put the tiling. Your equipage is a neat little turn-out or a shabby attempt, your house is quiet or dull, yourself a genius or a blockhead, just as it may strike your friend on the instant to put the thing. And don’t we all know some people—not bad people in the main—who never by any chance put the tiling except in the un favourable way? I have heard the self-same house called a snug little place and a miserable little hole; the same man called a lively talker and an absurd rattlebrain; the same person called a gentlemanlike man and a missy piece of affectation; the same income called competence and starvation; the same horse called a noble animal and an old white cow:—• the entire difference, of course, lay in the fashion in which the narrator chose, from inherent bonhomie or inherent verjuice, to put the thing. While Mr Bright probably regards it as the most ennobling occupation of humanity to buy in the cheapest and sell in the. dearest market, Byron said,' as implying the lowest degree of degradation.

"Trust not for freedom to the Franks—
They have a king who buys and sells!"

And it is just the two opposite ways of putting the same admitted fact, to say that Britain is the first mercantile community of the world, and to say that we are a nation of shopkeepers. One-way of putting the fact is the dignified, the other is the degrading. If a boy plays truant or falls asleep in church, it just depends on how you put it, or how the story is told, whether you are to see in all this the natural thoughtlessness of boyhood, or a first step towards the gallows. “Billy Brown stole some of my apples,” says a kind-hearted man; “well, poor fellow, I daresay he seldom gets any.” “Billy Brown stole my apples,” says the severe man; “ah, the vagabond, he is born to be hanged.” Sydney Smith put Catholic Emancipation as common justice and common sense; Dr M'Neile puts it as a great national sin, and the origin of the potato disease. John Foster mentions in his Diary, that he once expostulated with a great hulking, stupid bumpkin, as to some gross transgression of which he had been guilty. Little effect was produced on the bumpkin, for dense stupidity is a great duller of the conscience. Foster persisted: “Do not you think,” he said, “that the Almighty will be angry at such conduct as yours 1” Blockhead as the fellow was, he could take in the idea of my essay; he replied, “That \s just as A tak’s ut!” But what struck little Paul Dombey as strange, that the same bells rung for weddings and for funerals, and that the same sound was merry or doleful just as we put it, is true of many things besides bells. The character of everything we hear or see is reflected upon it from our own minds. The sun sees the earth look bright because it first made it so. You go to a public meeting, my friend. You make a speech. You get on, you think, uncommonly well. When your auditor Mr A or Miss B. goes home, and is asked there what sort of appearance you made, don’t you fancy that the reply will be affected in any appreciable degree by the actual fact! It depends entirely on the state of the relator’s nerves or digestion, or the passing fancy of the moment, whether you shall be said to have done delightfully or disgustingly; whether you shall be said to have made a brilliant figure, or to have made a fool of yourself. You never can be sure, though you spoke with the tongue of angels, but that ill-nature, peevishness, prejudice, thoughtlessness, may put the case that your speech was most abominable. Do you fancy that you could ever say or do anything that Mr Snarling could not find fault with, or Miss Limejuice could not misrepresent?

Years ago, I was accustomed to frequent the courts of law, and to listen with much interest to the great advocates of that time, as Follett, Wilde, Thesiger, Kelly. Nowhere in the world, I think, is one so deeply impressed with the value of tact and skill in putting things, as in the Court of Queen’s Bench at the trial of an important case by a jury. Does not all the enormous difference, as great as that between a country bumpkin and a hog, between Follett and Mr Briefless, lie simply in their respective powers of putting things ? The actual facts, the actual merits of the case, have very little indeed to do with the verdict, compared with the counsel’s skill in putting them; the artful marshalling of circumstances, the casting weak points into shadow, and bringing out strong points into glaring relief. I remember how I used to look with admiration at one of these great men when, in his speech to the jury, he was approaching some circumstance in the case which made dead against him. It was beautiful to see the intellectual gladiator cautiously approaching the hostile fact; coming up to it, tossing and turning it about, and finally shewing that it made strongly in his favour. Now, if that was really so, why did it look as if it made against him? Why should so much depend on the way in which he put it? Or, if the fact was in truth one that made against him, why should it be possible for a man to put it .so that it should seem to make in his favour, and all without any direct falsification of facts or arguments, without any of that mere vulgar misrepresentation which can be met by direct contradiction? Surely it is not a desirable state of matters, that a plausible fellow should be able to explain away some very doubtful conduct of his own. and by skilful putting of things should be able to make it seem even to the least discerning that he is the most innocent and injured of human beings. And it is provoking, too, when you feel at once that his defence is a mere intellectual juggle, and yet, with all your logic, when you cannot just on the instant tear it to pieces, and put the thing in the light of truth. Indeed, so well is it understood that by tact and addiess you may so put things as to mike the worse appear the better reason, that the idea generally conveyed, when we talk of putting things, is, that there is something wrong, something to be adroitly concealed, some weak point in regard to which dust is to be thrown into too observant eyes. There is a common impression, not one of unqualified truth, that when all is above board, there is less need for skilful putting of the case. Many people think, though the case is by no me^ns so, that truth may always be depended on to tell its own story and produce its due impression. Not a bit of it. However good my case might be, I should be sorry to intrust it to Mr Numskull, with Sir Fitzroy Kelly on the other side.

It is a coarse and stupid expedient to have recourse to anything like falsification m putting things as they would make best for yourself, reader. And there is no need for it. Unless you have absolutely killed a man and taken his watch, or done something equally decided, you can easily represent circumstances so as to throw a favourable light upon yourself and your conduct. It is a mistake to fancy that in this world a story must be either true or false, a deed either right or wrong, a man either good or bad. There are few questions which can be answered by Yes or No. Almost all actions and events are of mingled character; and there is something to be said on both sides of almost every subject which can be-debated. Who does not remember how, when he was a boy, and had done some mischief which he was too honest to deny, he revolved all he had done over and over, putting it in many lights, trying it in all possible points of view, till he had persuaded himself that he had done quite right, or at least that he had done nothing that was so very wrong, after all? There was a lurking feeling, probably, that all this was selfdeception; and oh! how our way of putting the case, so favourably to ourselves, vanished into air when our teacher and governor sternly called us to account! All those jesuitical artifices were forgotten, and we just felt that we had done wrong, and there was no use trying to justify it.

The noble use of the power of putting things, is when a man employs that power to give tenfold force to truth. When you go and hear a great preacher, you sometimes come away wishing heartily that the impression he made on you would last: for you feel that though what struck you so much was not the familiar doctrine which you knew quite well before, but the way in which he put it, still that startling view of things was the right view. Probably in the pulpit more than anywhere else, we feel the difference between a man who talks about and about things, and another man who puts them so that we feel them. And when one thinks of all the ignorance, want, and misery which surround us in the wretched dwellings of the poor, which we know all about but take so coolly, it is sad to remember that truth does not make itself felt as it really is, but depends so sadly for the practical effect upon the skill with which it is put—upon the tact, graphic power, and earnest purpose of the man who tells it A landed proprietor will pass a wretched row of cottages on his estate daily for years, yet never think of making an effort to improve them: who, when the thing is fairly put to him, will forthwith bestir himself to have things brought into a better state. He will wonder how he could have allowed matters to go on in that unhappy style so long; but wall tell you truly, that though the thing was before his eyes, he really never before thought of it in that light.

Some people have a happy knack for putting in a pleasant way everything that concerns themselves. Mr A.’s son gets a poor place as a bank clerk; his father goes about saying that the lad has found a fine opening in business. The young man is ordained, and gets a curacy on Salisbury Plain; his father rejoices that there, never seeing a human face, he has abundant leisure for study, and for improving his mind. Or, the curacy is in the most crowded part of Man* Chester or Bethnal Green; the father now rejoices that his son has opportunities of acquiring clerical experience, and of visiting the homes of the poor. Such a man’s house is in a well-wooded country-; the situation is delightfully sheltered. He removes to a bare district without a tree,—ah! there he has beautiful pure air and extensive views. It is well for human beings when they have the pleasant art of thus putting things; for many, we all know, have the art of putting things in just the opposite way. They look at all things through jaundiced eyes; and as things appear to themselves, so they put them to others. You remember, reader, how once upon a time David Hume the historian kindly sent Rousseau a present of a dish of beef-steaks. Rousseau fired at this; he discerned in it a deep-laid insult; he put il that Hume, by sending the steaks, meant to insinuate that he, Rousseau, could not afford to buy proper food for himself. Ah, I have known various Rousseaus! They had not the genius, indeed, but they had all the wrong-headedness.

Who does not know the contrasted views of mankind and of life that pervade dl the writings of Dickens and of Thackeray! It is the same world that lies before both, but how differently they put it! And look at the accounts in the Blue and Yellow newspapers respectively, of the borough member's speech to his constituent^ last night in the Com Exchange. Judge by the account in the one paper, and he is a Burke for eloquence, a Peel for tact, a Shippen for incorruptible integrity. Judge by the account in the other, and you would wonder where the electors caught a mortal who combines so remarkably ignorance, stupidity, carelessness, inefficiency, and dishonesty. As for the speech, one journal declares it was fluent, the other that it was stuttering; one that it was frank, the other that it was trimming; one that it was sense, the other that it was nonsense. Nor need it be supposed that cither journal intends deliberate falsehood. Each believes his own way of putting the case to be the right way; and the truth, in most instances, doubtless lies midway between. But in fact, till the end of time, there will be at least two ways of putting everything. Perhaps the M.P. warmed with his subject, and threw himself heart and soul into his speech. Shall we say that he spoke with eloquent energy, or shall we put it that he bellowed like a bull? Was he quiet and correct? Then we may choose between saying that he is a classical speaker, and that he was as stiff as a poker. He made some jokes, perhaps: take your choice whether you shall call him clever or flippant, a wit or a buffoon. And so of everybody else. You know a clever, well-read young woman; you may either call her such, or talk sneeringly of blue-stockings. You meet a lively, merry girl, who laughs and talks with all the frankness oi innocence. You would say of her, my kindly reader, something like what I have just said; but crabbed Mrs Backbite will have it that she is a romp, a boisterous hoyden, of most unformed manners. Perhaps Mrs Backbite, spitefully shaking her head, says she trusts, she really hopes, there is no harm in the girl; but certainly no daughter of hers should be allowed to associate with her. And not merely does the way, favourable or unfavourable, in which the thing shall be put, depend mainly on the temperament of the person who puts it, so that you shall know beforehand that Mr Snarling will always give the unfavour able view, and Mr Jollikin the favourable; but a further element of disturbance is introduced by the fact, that often the narrator’s mood is such, that it is a toss-up, five minutes before he begins to tell his story, whether he shall put the conduct of his hero as good or bad.

Who needs the art of putting things more than the painter of portraits? Who sees so much of the littleness, the petty vanity, the silliness of mankind? It must be hard for such a man to retain much respect for human nature. The lurking belief in the mind of every man that he is remarkably good-looking, concealed in daily intercourse with his fellows, breaks out in the painter’s studio. And without positive falsification, how cleverly the artist often contrives to put the features and figure of his sitter in a satisfactory fashion! Have not you seen the portrait of a plain, and even a very ugly person, which was strikingly like, and still very pleasant-looking and almost pretty? Have not you seen things so skilfully put, that the little snob looked dignified, the vulgar boor gentlemanlike, the plain-featured woman angelic —and all the while the likeness was accurately preserved?

It seems to me that in the case of many of those fine things which stir the heart and bring moisture to the eye, it depends entirely on the way in which they are put, whether they shall strike us as pathetic or silly, as sublime or ridiculous. The venerable aspect of the dethroned monarch, led in the triumphal procession of the Roman emperor, and looking indifferently on the scene, as he repeated often the words of Solomon, “Vanity, vanity, all is vanity!" depends much for the effect it always produces on the reader upon the stately yet touching fashion in which Gibbon tells the story. So with Hazlitfs often-recurring account of Poussin’s celebrated picture, the Et in Arcadia Ego. As for Burke flinging the dagger upon the floor of the House of Commons, and Brougham falling on his knees in the House of Peers, what a ridiculous representation Punch could give of such things! What shall be said of Addison, often tipsy in life, yet passing away with the words addressed to his regardless step-son, “See in what peace a Christian can die!” We need not think of things which are essentially ridiculous, though their perpetrators intended them to be sublime: as Lord Ellen-borough’s proclamation about the Gates of Somnauth, Sir William Codrington’s despatch as to the blowing-up of Sebastopol, and all the grand passages in the writings of Mr Wordy. Let me confess that I think it a very unhealthy sign of the times, this love which now exists of putting grave matters in a ridiculous light, which produces Comic Histories of England, Comic Blackstones, Comic Parliamentary Delates, Comic Latin Grammars, and the like. Dreary indeed must be the fun of such books; but that, is not the worst of them. Yet one cannot seriously object to such a facetious serial as Punch, which represents the funny element in our sad insular character. Punch lives by the art of putting things, and putting them in a single way; but how wonderfully well, how successfully, how genially, he puts all things funnily! But to burlesque Macbeth or Othello, to travesty Virgil, to parody the soliloquy in Hamlet; though it may be putting things in a novel and amusing way, approaches to the nature of sacrilege. Sometimes, indeed, the ludicrous way of putting things has served an admirable purpose; as in the imitations of Southey’s Sapphics and Kotzebue’s morality in the Poetry of the Anti-jacobin. And the ludicrous way of putting things has sometimes brought them much more vividly home to “men’s business and bosoms,” as in Sydney Smith’s description of the possible results of a French invasion. Nor has it failed to answer the end of most cogent argument, as in his description of Mrs Partington sweeping back the Atlantic Ocean.

Do not fancy, my friend, that you can by possibility so live that ill-natured folk will not be able to put everything you do unfavourably. The old man with the ass was a martyr to the desire so to act that there should be no possibility of putting what he did as wrong. And when John Gilpin’s wife, for fear the neighbours should think her proud, caused the chaise to draw up five doors off, rely upon it Some of the neighbours would say she did so in the design of making her carriage the more conspicuous. When you give a dinner-party, and after your guests are gone, sit down and review the progress of the entertainment, thinking how nicely everything went on, do you remember, madam, that at that same moment your guests are seated at their own homes, putting all the circumstances in quite a different way: laughing at your hired greengrocer, who (you are just saying) looked so like a butler; execrating your champagne, which (you are this moment flattering yourself) passed for the product of the grape and not of the gooseberry; and generally putting yourself, your children, your house, your dinner, your company, your music, into such ridiculous lights, that, if you knew it, (which happily you never will,) you would wish that you had mingled a little strychnine with the vintage so vilified. Still, it is pleasant to believe that there is no real malice in the way in which most people cut up their friends behind their backs. You really have a very kindly feeling towards Mr A. or Mrs B., though you do turn them into ridicule in their absence. After laughing at Mr A. to Mrs B., you are quite ready to laugh at Mrs B. to Mr A. The truth appears to be, that all this is an instance of that reaction which is necessary to human beings. In people’s presence politeness requires that you should put everything that concerns them in the most agreeable and favourable way. Impatient of this constraint, you revenge yourself upon it whenever circumstances permit, by putting things in the opposite fashion. I feel not the least enmity towards Mr Snooks for saying behind my back that my essays are wretched trash. He has frequently said in my presence that they are far superior to anything ever written by Macaulay, Milton, or Shakspeare. I knew that after my dear friend’s civility had been subjected to so violent a strain as was implied in his making the latter declaration, it would of necessity fly back, like a released bow, whenever he left me; and that the first mutual acquaintance he met would have the satisfaction of hearing the case put in a very different way. And no doubt, if my dear friend were put upon his oath, his true opinion of me would transpire as nearly midway between the two ways of putting it respectively before my face and behind my back.

You are a country clergyman, let us say, my reader, with a small parish; and while you do your duty faithfully and zealously, you spend a spare hour now and then upon a review or a magazine article. You like the thought that thus, from your remote solitude, you are addressing a larger audience than that which you address Sunday by Sunday. You think that reasonable and candid people would say that this is an improving and pleasant way of employing a little leisure time, instead% of rusting into stupidity, or mooning about blankly, or smoking yourself into vacancy, or reading novels, or listening to and retailing gossip, or hanging about the streets of the neighbouring county town, or growing sarcastic and misanthropic. But don’t you remember, my dear friend, that although you put the case in this way, it is highly probable that some of your acquaintances, whose proffered contributions to the periodical with which you are supposed to be connected have been “declined with thanks,” and whom malignant editors exclude from the opportunity of enlightening an ungrateful world, may put the matter very differently indeed? True, you are always thoroughly prepared with your sermon on Sundays, you are assiduous in your care of the sick and the aged, you have cottage lectures here and there throughout the parish, you teach classes of children and young people, you know familiarly the face and the circumstances of every soul of your population, and you honestly give your heart and strength to your sacred calling, suffering nothing whatever to interfere with that: but do you fancy that all this diligence will prevent Miss Lemonjuice and Mr Flyblow from exclaiming, “All, see Mr Smith; isn’t it dreadful? See how he neglects his proper work, and spends his time, his whole time, in writing articles for the Quarterly Review I It’s disgraceful! The bishop, if he did his duty, would pull him up!”

A striking instance of the effect of skilfully putting things may be found in the diary of Warren Hastings. The great Governor-General always insisted that his conduct of Indian affairs had been just and beneficent, and that the charges brought by Burke and Sheridan were without foundation in truth. He declared that he had that conviction in the centre of his being; that he was as sure of it as of his own existence. But as he listened to the opening speech of Burke, he tells us he saw things in a new light. He felt the spell of the way in which the great orator put things. Could this really be the right way? “For half-an-hour,” says Hastings, “I looked up at Burke in a reverie of wonder, and during that time I actually felt myself the most guilty being upon earth!” But Hastings adds that he did what the boy who has played truant does —he took refuge in his own way of putting things. “I recurred to my own heart, and there found what sustained me under all this accusation.”

A young lad’s choice of a profession depends mainly upon the way in which the life of that profession is put before him. If a boy is to go to the bar, it will be expedient to make the Chancellorship the prominent feature in the picture presented to him. It will be better to keep in the background the lonely evenings in the chambers at the Temple, the weary backbenches in court, the heart-sickening waiting year after year. And the first impression, strongly rooted, will probably last I love my own profession. I would exchange its life and its work for no other position on earth; but I feel that I owe part of its fascination to the fragrance of boyish fancies of it which finger yet Blessed be the kind and judicious parent or preceptor, whose skilful putting of things long ago has given to our vocation, whatever it may be, a charm which can overcome the disgust which might otherwise come of the hard realities, the little daily worries, the discouragements and frustrated hopes! How much depends on first impressions—on the way in which a man, a place, a book is put to us for the first time! Something of cheerlessness and dreariness will always linger about even the summer aspect of the house which you first approached when the winter afternoon was closing in, dark, gusty, cold, miserable-looking. What a difference it makes to the little man who is to have a tooth pulled out, whether the dentist approaches with a grievous look, in silence, with the big forceps conspicuous in his hand; or comes up cheerfully, with no display of steel, and says, with a smiling face, “Come, my little friend, it will be over in a moment; you will hardly have time to feel it; you will stand it like a brick, and mamma will be proud of having such a brave little boy!” Or, if either man or boy has a long task to go through, how much more easily it will be done if it is put in separate divisions than if it is set before one all in a mass! Divide et impera states a grand principle in the art of putting things. If your servant is to clear away a mass of snow, he will do it in half the time and with twice the pleasure if you first mark it out into squares, to be cleared away one after the other. By the make of our being we like to have many starts and many arrivals: it does not do to look too far on without a break. I remember the driver of a mail-coach telling me, as I sat on the box through a sixty-mile drive, that it would weary him to death to drive that road daily if it were as straight as a railway: he liked the turnings and windings, which put the distance in the form of successive bits. It was sound philosophy in Sydney Smith to advise us, whether physically or morally, to “take short views.” It would knock you up at once if, when the railway carriage moved out of the station at Edinburgh, you began to trace in your mind’s eye the whole route to London. Never do that. Think first of Dunbar, then of Newcastle, then of York, and, putting the thing thus, you will get over the distance without fatigue of mind. What little child would have heart to begin the alphabet, if, before he did so, you put clearly before him all the school and college work of which it is the beginning? The poor little thing would knock up at once, wearied out by your want of skill in putting things. And so it is that Providence, kindly and gradually putting things, wiles us onward, still keeping hope and heart, through the trials and cares of life. Ah, if we had had it put to us at the outset how much we should have to go through, to reach even our present stage in life, we should have been ready to think it the best plan to sit down and die at once ! But, in compassion for human weakness, the Great Director and Shower of events practises the Art of Putting Things. Might not we sometimes do so when we do not? When we see some poor fellow grumbling at his lot, and shirking his duty, might not a little skill employed in putting these things in a proper light serve better than merely expressing our contempt or indignation? A single sentence might make him sec that what was complaining of was reasonable and right. It is quite wonderful from what odd and perverse points of view people will look at things: and then things look so very different The hill behind your house, which you have seen a thousand times, you would not know if you approached it from some unwonted quarter. Now, if you see a man afflicted with a perverse twist of mind, making him put things in general or something in particular in a wrong way, you do him a much kinder turn in directing him how to put things rightly, than if you were a skilful surgeon and cured him of the most fearful squint that ever hid behind blue spectacles.

Did not Franklin go to hear Whitefield preach a charity sermon resolved not to give a penny; and was he not so thoroughly overcome by the great preacher’s way of putting the claims of the charity which he was advocating, that he ended by emptying his pockets into the plate? I daresay Alexander the Great was somewhat staggered in his plans of conquest by Parmenio’s way of putting things. “After you have conquered Persia, what will you do?” “Then I shall conquer India.” “After you have conquered India, what will you do?” “Conquer Scythia.” “And after you have conquered Scythia, what will you do?” “Sit down and rest.” “Well,” said Parmenio to the conqueror, “why not sit down and rest now?” I trust young Sheridan was proof against his father’s way of putting things, when the young man said he meant to go down a coal-pit “Why go down a coal-pit?” said Sheridan the elder. “Merely to be able to say I have been there.” “You blockhead,” replied the high-principled sire, “what is there to keep you from saying so without going?”

I remember witnessing a decided success of the art of putting things. A vulgar rich man who had recently bought an estate in Aberdeenshire, exclaimed, “It is monstrous hard! I have just had this morning to pay forty pounds of stipend to the parish minister for my property. Now I never enter the parish church,” (nor any other, he might have added,) “and why should I pay to maintain a church to winch I don’t belong?” I omit the oaths which served as sauce. Now, that was Mr Oddbody’s way of putting tilings, and you would say his case was a hard one. But a quiet man wiio wras present changed the aspect of matters. “Is it not true, Mr Oddbody,” he said, “that when you bought your estate its rental was reckoned after deducting the payment you mention; that the exact value of your annual payment to the minister was calculated, and the amount deducted from the price you paid for the property? And is it not therefore true, that not a penny of that forty pounds really comes out of your pocket?” Mr Oddbod/s face elongated. The bystanders unequivocally signified what they thought of him; and as long as he lived he never failed to be remembered as the man who had tried to extort sympathy by false pretences.

To no man is tact in putting things more essential than to the clergyman. An injudicious and unskilful preacher may so put the doctrines which he sets forth as to make them appear revolting and absurd. It is a fearful thing to hear a stupid fellow preaching upon the doctrine of Election. He may so put that doctrine that he shall fill every clever young lad who hears him with prejudices against Christianity, which maj last through life. And in advising one’s parishioners, especially in administering reproof where needful, let the parish priest, if he would do good, call into play all his tact. With the best intentions, through lack of skill in putting things, he may do great mischief. Let the calomel be concealed beneath the jelly. Not that I counsel sneakiness; that is worse than the most indiscreet honesty. There is no need to put things, like the dean immortalised by Pope, who when preaching in the Chapel Royal, said to his hearers that unless they led religious lives they would ultimately reach a place “which he would not mention in so polite an assembly.” Nor will it be expedient to put things like the contemptible wretch who, preaching before Louis XIV., said, Nous mour rons tous; then, turning to the king, and bowing humbly, presque tous. And it is only in addressing quite exceptional congregations that it would now-a-days be regarded as a piece of proper respect for the mighty of the earth, were the preacher, in stating that all who heard him were sinners, to add, by way of reservation, all who have less than a thousand a-year.

Any man who approaches the matter with a candid spirit, must be much struck by the difference between the Protestant and the Roman Catholic wrays of putting the points at issue between the twro great Churches. The Roman prayers are in Latin, for instance. A violent Protestant says that the purpose is to keep the people in ignorance. A strong Romanist tells you that Latin was the universal language of educated men when these prayers were dnnvn up; and puts it that it is a fine thing to think that in all Romish churches over Christendom the devotions of the people are expressed in the selfsame words. Take keeping back the Bible from the people. To us nothing appears more flagrant than to deprive any man of God’s written Word. Still the Romanist has something to say for himself. He puts it that there is so much difficulty in understanding much of the Bible—that such pernicious errors have followed from false interpretations of it. Think, even, of the dogma of the infallibility of the Church. The Protestant puts that dogma as an instance of unheard of arrogance. The Romanist puts it as an instance of deep humility and earnest faith. He says he docs not hold that the Church, in her own wisdom, is able to keep infallibly right; but he says that he has perfect confidence that God will not suffer the Church deliberately to fall into error. Here, certainly, we have two very different ways of putting the same things.

But who shall say that there are no more than two ways of putting any incident, or any opinion, or any character? There are innumerable ways—ways as many as are the idiosyncrasies of the men that put them. You have to describe an event, have you? Then you may put it in the plain matter-of-fact way, like the Time? reporter; or in the sublime way, like Milton and Mr Wordy; or in the ridiculous way, like Punch (of design) and Mr Wordy (unintentionally); or in the romantic way, like Mr G. P. R. James; or in the minutely circumstantial way, like Defoe or Poe; or in the affectedly simple way, like Peter Bell; or in the forcible, knowing way, like Macaulay; or in the genial, manly, good-humoured way, like Sydney Smith; or in the flippant way, like Mr Richard Swiveller, who when he went to ask for an old gentleman, inquired as to the health of the “ancient buffalo;" or in the lackadaisical way, like many young ladies; or in the whining, grumbling way, like many silly people whom it is unnecessary to name; or in the pretentious, lofty way, introducing familiarly many titled names without the least necessity, like many natives of beautiful Erin.

What nonsense it is to say, as it has been said, that the effect of anything spoken or written depends upon the essential thought alone! Why, nine-tenths of the practical power depends on the way in which it is put Somebody has asserted that any thought which is not eloquent in any words whatever, is not eloquent at all. He might as well have said that black was white. Not to speak of the charm of the mere music of gracefully modulated words, and felicitously arranged phrases, how much there is in beautifully logical treatment, and beautifully clear development, that will interest a cultivated man in a speech or a treatise, quite irrespective of its subject! I have known a very eminent man say that it was a delight to him to hear Follett make a speech, he did not care about What. The matter was no matter; the intellectual treat was to watch how the great advocate put it And we have all read with delight stories with no incident and little character, yet 'which derived a nameless fascination from the way in which they were told. Tell me truly, my fair reader, did you not shed some tears over Dickens’s story of Richard Doubledick? Could you have read that story aloud without breaking down? And yet, was there ever a story with less in it? But how beautifully Dickens put what little there was, and how the melody of the closing sentences of the successive paragraphs lingers on the ear! And you have not forgotten the exquisite touches with which Mrs Stowe put so simple a matter as a mother looking into her dead baby’s drawer. I have known an attempt at the pathetic made on a kindred topic provoke yells of laughter; but I could not bear the woman, and hardly the man, who could read Mrs Stowe’s putting of that simple conception without the reverse of smiles. Many readers, too, will not forget how much more sharply they have seen many places and things, from railway-engine sheds to the Britannia Bridge, when put by the graphic pen of Sir Francis Head. That lively baronet is the master of clear, sharp presentment

I have not hitherto spoken of such ways of putting things as were practised in King Hudson’s railway reports, or in those of the Glasgow Western Bank, cooked to make things pleasant by designed misrepresentation. So far we have been thinking of comparatively innocent variations in the ways of putting things —of putting the best foot foremost in a comparatively honest way. But how much intentional misrepresentation there is in British society! How few people can tell a thing exactly as they saw it! It goes in one colour, and comes out another, like light through tinted glass. It is rather amusing, by the way, when a friend corties and tells you a story which he heard from yourself, but so put that you hardly know it again. Unscrupulous putters of things should have good memories. There is no reckoning the ways in which, by varying the turn of an expression, by a tone or look, an entirely false view may be given of a conversation, a transaction, or an event. A lady says to her cook, You are by no means overworked. The cook complains in the servants’ hall that her mistress said she had nothing to do. Lies, in the sense of pure inventions, are not common, I believe, among people with any claim to respectability; but it is perfectly awful to think how great a part of ordinary conversation, especially in little country towns, consists in putting things quite differently from the actual fact; in short, of wilful misrepresentation. Many people cannot resist the temptation to deepen the colours, and strengthen the lines, of any narration, in order to make it more telling. Unluckily, things usually occur in life in such a manner as just to miss what would give them a point and make a good story of them; and the temptation is strong to make them, by the deflection of a hair’s-breadth, what they ought to have been.

It is sad to think, that in ninety-nine out of every hundred cases in which things are thus untruly put, the representation is made worse than the reality. Few old ladies endeavour, by their imaginative putting of things, to exhibit their acquaintances as wiser, better, and more amiable, than the fact An exception may be made whenever putting her friends and their affairs in a dignified light would reflect credit upon the old lady herself. Then, indeed, their income is vast, their house is magnificent, their horses are Eclipses, their conversation is brilliant, their attention to their friends unwearying and indescribable. Alas for our race: that we lean to evil rather than to good, and that it is so much more easy and piquant to pitch into a man than to praise him!

Let us rejoice that there is one happy case in which the way of putting things, though often false, is always favourable. I mean the accounts which are given in country newspapers of the character and the doings of the great men of the district. I often admire the country editor’s skill in putting all things (save the speech of the opposition M.P., as already mentioned) in such a rosy light; nor do I admire his genial bon-homie less than his art. If a marquis makes a stammering speech, it is sure to be put as most interesting and eloquent. If the rector preaches a dull and stupid charity sermon, it is put as striking and effective. A public meeting, consisting chiefly of empty benches, is put as most respectably attended. A gift of a little flannel and coals at Christmas-time, is put as seasonable munificence. A bald and seedy building, just erected in the High Street, is put as chaste and classical; an extravagant display of gingerbread decoration, is put as gorgeous and magnificent. In brief, what other men heartily wish this world were, the conductors of local prints boldly declare that it is. Whatever they think a great man would like to be called, that they make haste to call him. Happy fellows, if they really believe that they live in such a world and among such beings as they put! Their gushing heart is too much for even their sharp head, and they see all things glorified by the sunshine of their own exceeding amiability. -

The subject greatens on me, but the paper dwindles: the five-and-forty fair expanses of foolscap are darkened at last It would need a volume, not an essay, to do this matter justice. Sir Bulwer Lytton has declared, n pages charming but too many, that the world’s great question is, What will he do with It? I shall not debate the point, but simply add, that only second to that question in comprehensive reach and in practical importance is the question—How will he put It?

Return to Book Index Page


This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus