This article has been transcribed from a copy of the Cardiff Times in the online collection of scanned Welsh newspapers 1804-1919 in the National Library of Wales, with grateful recognition of the free access accorded to all readers. Paragraph breaks have been introduced for easier reading.
Samuel mentions fiction by George Eliot, George Meredith, Mrs Henry Wood, Rhoda Broughton, ‘Ouida’ (Marie Louise de la Ramée) and Fergus Hume. The Bishop of Ripon, William Boyd Carpenter, who is mentioned, was also court chaplain to Queen Victoria. Samuel is presumably referring to ‘The novelist as preacher’, Carpenter’s lecture to Welsh University Extension students at Oxford in August 1888, as reported in the Cardiff Times of 11th August 1888. In it Carpenter attempts a liberal approach, but is excessively bland, while Samuel is opinionated and reactionary, and his social argument resembles that of the sonnet ‘Thou cam’st not to thy place by accident’ by the high Tory, Richard Chenevix Trench, Anglican Archbishop of Dublin:
Thou cam’st not to thy place by accident,
It is the very place God meant for thee. (“Thou cam’st not to thy place by accident”).
The illustrations project a more nuanced view. The stage instruction ‘hang the dialogue and come to the 'osses’ (correctly ‘hang the dialect and come to the 'osses’) is attributed to Andrew Ducrow (1793-1842), semi-literate circus performer, manager of Astley's London Amphitheatre, and famous for his equestrian shows in London and Paris. He was often called ‘the Colossus of equestrian performers’. —David Skilton
This lady strongly deprecates novels; works of a devotional character are the only ones she permits herself to read.
HE Bishop of Ripon, sir, has evidently a high opinion of the influence of novel-reading for good, and I daresay that he is right, but let us consider the matter and see. There can be no doubt that, looking at novel-reading as an educational influence, it increases the vocabulary of a young man or woman, and, as it were, gives a tone to his or her conversation. What can be more improving to a young man conversationally than to mark that the hero of a novel invariably says to heroine, ‘May I then dare to cherish the hope that you, light of my life, are not wholly indifferent to me?’ and that the heroine's reply is, ‘Think me not unmaidenly when my trembling lips dare to confess that since the first hour when these eyes beheld you standing beside yonder placid pool my heart went out and became yours for all time?’ Vastly improving is conversation of this kind. The magnanimous nobleman (in contradistinction to the bold, bad baronet; ‘barts,’ are nearly always bad men in novels) does not say to a strange visitor, ‘What can I do for you?’ or ‘What may your business with me be?’ but, rising from the luxurious ottoman on which he has been gracefully ‘reposing,’ he waves his taper fingers towards a chair, and, after asking his visitor to be ‘seated,’ he asks in mellifluous tones, ‘To what fortunate circumstance may I attribute the honour of this visit?’
74b She; – ‘Perhaps you wouldn’t mind bringing home for me ‘The Family Screamer,’ ‘The Hatchet of Horrors,’ and the ‘Halfpenny Howler.’
Now a young man in business who adapted diction of this kind would be certain to get on – to the next town, probably. It may be said that the sort of fiction I am dealing with is only of the tenth rate order, but, all the same, there are thousands and thousands of these stories written and read every year, and, even in the case of the best of the modern novelists, the greater body of the readers never take the trouble to ascertain what the classical and other allusions scattered about the pages mean, and they do not, I unhesitatingly aver, know the precise meaning of an immense, proportion of the words used by the novelist. If they read good stories and pondered on them the result would be bound to be for good, but they don't. What they want is plenty of plot and incident; it is a case with them of ‘hang the dialogue and come to the 'osses,’ and they never stop to consult a dictionary as they go along, but they skip all the descriptive passages and the moralisings of an author and simply hurry to the sensational part of the book. Nobody, sir, can ignore the fact that the sale of penny dreadfuls is enormous, and I am pretty well sure that thousands of young women of certain classes, married and otherwise, waste half the day when the male folks have gone to work reading bosh about ‘Gwendolines,’ ‘Lord Cecils,’ ‘gilded halls,’ noblemen who either marry the governess or the housemaid, damsels of exquisite appearance generally who spout claptrap sentiment by the yard, murders, and all the other usual ingredients of the penny novel. These young persons are of the type who read penny novels and never darn their stockings.
The period of the heroine’s life when all the romance ceases – according to the generality of novel readers.
If you examine the particular journal that they usually ‘take in’ you will find that all the portion thereof which is devoted to essays or instructive answers to correspondents is left uncut by the usual hairpin which does duty as a paper knife, whilst all the lurid novel part is well-thumbed. And, sir, in my judgment these stories about dukes and earls and all that kind of people marrying mill girls are calculated to entirely destroy in the minds of young people all idea of the inevitable social distinctions which exist, and I have seen cases myself where good-looking girls have wrecked their lives by disdaining the young men of their own class and ‘taking on’ with men of a superior class, who never cherished the slightest idea of marrying them, and all this has been the result of reading penny dreadfuls.
Bless your life, this gentleman never reads novels –the daily papers are quite good enough for him.
Take even the orthodox novel in three-volume form. There are thousands of such written every year, but who can say that there are more than about half a dozen out of the whole batch that are really worth reading, or that will survive the waste-paper dealer and the butter man? Most of these novels are published at their own expense by sawnies [Scotsmen] who fancy that they will knock out all the best novelists of the day, and I have no hesitation in declaring my opinion that nine hundred and ninety-nine of these novels out of every thousand are the most unmitigated twaddle and trash, that it is absolutely reckless waste of time even to glance at. The books are as untrue to nature as they are weak or silly in style. It would be easy to name three or four novels published during the last twelve months that have attained a large measure of popular success, and that are, as works of art, simply beneath contempt. They have simply been bought and read on account of the gruesome horrors and the dire deeds described in them. Let me name one instance – ‘The Mystery of a Hansom Cab.’ Can anything be more hideously vulgar than the drunken curses of Mother Guttersnipe? Can anything be more slipshod and inelegant than the literary style? The so-called character studies are mere silly caricatures, worthy only of a gory transpontine [American] melodrama, and the grammar is more than shaky. What mental refreshment does such a story afford, I should like to know?
The sort of situation dear to the novel reader.
One thing is very certain, and that is that all those novels in a library which have a spice of naughtiness, or that are very highly spiced with sensation, are those chiefly in demand, and any librarian will tell you so. The murdermongers and the unholy passion merchants have, so far as public appreciation goes, miles of start beyond George Eliot, William Meredith [George Meredith?], and a few other really first-class writers of novels, and even in the case of a popular author you will find that his or her really best and noblest work is neglected in comparison with that portion of his or her work which is written down to the popular standard. I wonder how many of the thousands of people who have snivelled over that lugubrious and comparatively vulgar story ‘East Lynne’ have read and appreciated the same authoress's ‘Johnny Ludlow,’ which contains some of the sweetest and best short stories in the language? The fact is, sir, that the Bishop of Ripon has got a bit out of his depth – his eloquence has run away with him when he gushes about novels and their moral influence. What good would any girl derive by reading the sensuous nonsense of Rhoda Broughton, or by gloating over the moral deductions of Ouida?[i] I should say that young men and women who attempted to educate themselves from novels would derive a very false idea of life and of human nature. Novels may be all very well taken in moderation, like plum pudding, but they are quite as cloying and unwholesome as the latter compound when the mental bill of fare consists of them solely, and but few people will be prepared to deny that the general body of readers, male and female, never take up any species of literature save such as is contained in a novel or a newspaper.
Last modified 26 February 2022