Laudataque virtus crescit
* * * * *
“Buttons, a farthing
Come, who could buy them of me?
They’re round and sound and pretty,
And fit for girls of the city.”
TO JOHN S. SUMNER
(Agent of the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice)
For no short while my indebtedness to you has been such as to require some sort of public acknowledgment, which may now, I think, be tendered most appropriately by inscribing upon the dedication page of this small volume the name to which you are daily adding in significance.
It is a tribute, however trivial, which serves at least to express my appreciation of your zeal in re-establishing what seemed to the less optimistic a lost cause. I may to-day confess without much embarrassment that after fifteen years of foiled endeavors my (various) publishers and I had virtually decided that the printing of my books was not likely ever to come under the head of a business venture, but was more properly describable as a rather costly form of dissipation. People here and there would praise, but until you, unsolicited, had volunteered to make me known to the general public, nobody seemed appreciably moved to purchase.
One by one my books had “fallen dead” with disheartening monotony: then—through what motive it would savor of ingratitude to inquire,—you came to remedy all this in the manner of a philanthropic sorcerer, brandishing everywhither your vivifying wand, and the dead lived again. At once, they tell me, the patrons of bookstores began to ask, not only in whispers for the Jurgen which you had everywhere so glowingly advertised, but with frank curiosity for “some of the fellow’s other books.”
Whereon we of course began to “reprint,” with, I rejoice to say, results which have been very generally acceptable. Barring a few complaints as to the exiguousness of my writing’s salacity,—a salacity which even I confess you amiably exaggerated in attributing to my literary manner all qualities which the average reader most desires in novelists,—there has proved to be in point of fact, as my publishers and I had dubiously believed for years, a gratifying number of persons, living dispersedly about America, prepared to like my books when these books were brought to their attention. The difficulty had been that we did not know how to reach these widely scattered, congenial readers. But you—like Sir James Barrie’s hero—“found a way.”
I cannot say, in candor, that your method of exegetical criticism has always and in every respect appealed to me. Its applicability, for one thing, seems so universal that it might, for aught I know, be employed to interpret the dicta of Ackermann and Macrobius, or even the canons of Doctors Matthews and Sherman herein cited, and thus open dire vistas wherein critic would prey on critic, and the most respectable would be locked in fratricidal strife. Moreover, I have applied your method to many of the Mother Goose rhymes with rather curious results.... But happily, I have here to confess to you, not any disputable literary standards I may harbor, but only my unarguable debt.