The Emblems of Fidelity: A Comedy in Letters

The Emblems of Fidelity: A Comedy in Letters

by James Lane Allen
Epub (Kobo), Epub (Adobe)
Publication Date: 15/09/2019

I have just read to the end of your latest novel and under the outdoor influence of that Kentucky story have sat here at my windows with my eyes on the English landscape of the first of May: on as much of the landscape, at least, as lies within the grey, ivy-tumbled, rose-besprinkled wall of a companionable old Warwickshire garden. You may or you may not know that I, too, am a novelist. The fact, however negligible otherwise, may help to disarm you of some very natural hostility at the approach of this letter from a stranger; for you probably agree with me that the writing of novels—not, of course, the mere odious manufacture of novels—results in the making of friendly, brotherly men across the barriers of nations, and that we may often do as fellow-craftsmen what we could do less well or not do at all as fellow-creatures. I shall not loiter at the threshold of this letter to fatigue your ear with particulars regarding the several parts of your story most enjoyed, though I do pause there long enough to say that no admirable human being has ever yet succeeded in wearying my own ears by any such desirable procedure. In England, and I presume in the United States, novelists have long noses for incense [poets, too, though of course only in their inferior way]. I repeat that we English novelists are a species of greyhound for running down on the most distant horizon any scampering, half-terrified rabbit of a compliment. But I freely confess that nature loaded me beyond the tendency of being a mere greyhound. I am a veritable elephant in the matter, being marvelously equipped with a huge, flexible proboscis which is not only adapted to admit praise but is quite capable of actively reaching around in every direction to procure it. Even the greyhound cannot run forever; but an elephant, if he once possess it, will wave such a proboscis till he dies. There are likely to be in any very readable book a few pages which the reader feels tempted to tear out for the contrary reason, perhaps, that he cannot tear them out of his tenderness. Some haunting picture of the book-gallery that he would cut from the frame. Should you be displeased by the discrimination, I shall trust that you may be pleased nevertheless by the avowal that there is a scene in your novel which has peculiarly ensnared my affections. At this point I think I can see you throw down my letter with more insight into human nature than patience with its foibles. You toss it aside and exclaim: "What does this Englishman drive at? Why does he not at once say what he wants?" You are right. My letter is perhaps no better than strangers' letters commonly are: coins, one side of which is stamped with your image and the other side with their image, especially theirs. I might as well, therefore, present to you my side of the coin with the selfish image. Or, in terms of your blue-grass country life, you are the horse in an open pasture and I am the stableman who schemes to catch you: to do this, I approach, calling to you affectionately and shaking a bundle of oats behind which is coiled a halter. You are thinking that if I once clutch you by the mane you will get no oats. But, my dear sir, you have from the very first word of this letter already been nibbling the oats. And now you are my animal! There is, then, in your novel a remarkable description of a noonday woodland scene somewhere on your enchanted Kentucky uplands—a cool, moist forest spot. Into this scene you introduced some rare, beautiful Kentucky ferns. I can see the ferns! I can see the sunlight striking through the waving treetops down upon them! Now, as it happens, in the old garden under my windows, loving the shade and moisture of its trees and its wall, I have a bank of ferns. They are a marvelous company, in their way as good as Wordsworth's flock of daffodils; for they have been collected out of England's best and from other countries.

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Library of Alexandria

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