At the Mermaid Inn

The Globe, Toronto: July 23, 1892


 

       The explanation in the Scandinavian mythology of how the art of poetry arose is so curious and so interesting that I have abbreviated it from Anderson's translation of Bruge's Talk. It began with a war between the gods and a people called the Vans. They agreed to hold a meeting to fix terms of peace, and they settled their dispute in this way: both went to a jar and spit into it. As they were unwilling to let this mark of peace perish, they shaped it into a man, who was so wise that he could answer any question put to him. Once when this man came to the home of the dwarfs two of them killed him, and let his blood run into two jars and a kettle; then they mixed honey with the blood, and made a mead, and whoever drinks of it becomes a scald and a sage. After this exploit the dwarfs drowned a giant by the name of Gilling, and when they told his wife she began to cry. One of them plotted her death, as he was tired of her bawling, and his brother let a millstone drop on her head. This proceeding of the dwarfs enraged Suttung, the son of Gilling, and he took the dwarfs out to sea and left them on a rocky island, which was flooded at high tide. To get away they promised Suttung the precious mead. He accepted it and hid it away, putting his daughter to guard it. The Asas became possessed of the mead in the following manner:—Odin set out from home, and came to a place where nine thralls were mowing hay. He offered to whet their scythes, and did it so well that they asked if the whetstone was for sale. He answered that he would buy it must pay a fair price. But as each one wanted it Odin threw it into the air, and in the scramble each thrall brought his scythe upon the other's neck and cut his head off. When the giant who owned the thralls complained to Odin that he did not know where to get other workmen Odin said he would do the work of the nine men if the giant would get him a drink of Suttung's mead. The giant promised to try to get it for him, and Odin did the work of nine men for the summer. But when they went to Suttung he refused to give them any mead. Then Odin proposed to the giant that they should get the mead by some trick. So Odin produced an auger, and the giant commenced to bore a hole through the rock where the mead was hidden. When the hole was bored Odin changed himself into a serpent and crept into the hole. He made friends with Suttung's daughter, and she promised him three draughts of the mead. He emptied the ten jars and the kettle with these three draughts. Then he took on the form of an eagle and flew away, and Suttung also changed himself to an eagle, and flew after him. When the Asas saw Odin coming they put their jars out in the yard, and when Odin reached them he spewed up the mead. But Suttung had so nearly caught him that he dropped some of the mead. As no care was taken of this it became the share of poetasters. But Odin gave the mead to the Asas and to those man who are able to make verses.
                                                                                                                S.

       Along with the increased abundance of every other kind of popular literature the present day has become very prolific in children's stories and all kinds of writing intended for the benefit and amusement of children. A great deal of it is wonderfully excellent of its kind, although, as in most other things, there is room for many new departures. I have been reading with satisfaction a new story for boys written by a Canadian, Mr. James Macdonald Oxley, in many respects an interesting and instructive book. One of the good things that can be done for children is to provide them with interesting and wholesome stories, in which much practical information in regard to this earth and the things that move and grow upon it is incorporated. In "Fergus McTavish" Mr. Oxley has given a lively sketch of the working of the Hudson Bay Company, its organisation and personnel, together with many instructive pictures of the wild country, with which it has to do. All this information is conveyed to the mind of the young reader through the medium of a pleasant and vivacious narrative. The narrative may be forgotten, but the lad's mind will be clearer and fuller than it was before. Mr. Oxley's story is in some degree a lesson on the bringing up of boys, and, though I do not agree with some of the precepts delivered by the elder McTavish to his son, there is plenty of wisdom in this feature of the book. It seems to me that this kind of work might be carried much further, and with excellent artistic as well as moral and educational effect. A great deal of the higher class of knowledge, scientific results and the serious thought of the day in simple forms might be infused into the minds of children of fourteen or fifteen years of age by means of beautiful and attractive stories.
                                                                                                                L.

       Miss Molly Elliot Seawell has returned to the attack on the literary inferiority of women, in a letter to The New York Critic, in answer to Mr. Higginson, who had valiantly taken up the cudgels for the other side. Some time ago Miss Seawell wrote a strong article in The Critic, in which she put forward the theory "That in the nobler part of human nature—the emotions and the affections—women are superior to men. In the inferior part of human nature—the mere intellect—men are superior to women." To the first part there was no answer, but the second part raised a very storm of literary indignation, especially from the gentler sex, though there were a few champions. The intellectual result of the storm was a lack of denial by proof of Miss Seawell's statement, that no woman has accomplished immortal literary work, that is, work that has lasted down the ages. That there has been no female Homer or Shakespeare is perfectly true, and in the main Miss Seawell is right in her brave assertion. The only question that arises is concerning George Eliot. Mrs. Browning and George Sands can easily be passed by when compared with the giant, masculine literary intellects of the ages, but when we come to George Eliot I am doubtful. The mind that produced Silas Marner got as near to the Shakespearian level as any this side his day. The only way I can explain George Eliot satisfactorily to myself is to deny for her the truly feminine qualities, in short, to say she does not represent the normal woman at her best, but that her great intellectual genius is due to an abnormal masculinity in her nature. Many persons in looking at her portrait have noticed this. The features suggest those of a Savanarola. But is this conclusion perfectly fair to either George Eliot or her sex? Perhaps Mr. Higginson is partly right, and woman's intellect has only begun to develop. We do not know what the future may bring forth in this direction. We have many remarkable women to-day in literature, but when we come to look at the great range of all literature Miss Seawell is right; the immortals are of the sterner sex. This is, without doubt, an important question, and while we would be moved to agree with Miss Seawell's conclusion, yet, to use Sir Roger's impartial dictum, "When it comes down to a hearty discussion, much might be said on both sides," and, as the present weather is too hot, we would rather not fall foul of any the gentler sex in an argument of this kind.
                                                                                                                C.

       In connection with the above it is interesting to note the list of strong female writers that America has produced during the last two or three decades. Such names as Helen Hunt Jackson, in verse and prose, and Edith M. Thomas, Helen Gray Cone and many others in verse, and half a score of strong prose writers, such as C.H. Craddock, Miss Wilkins, Octave Thanet, Rebecca H. Davis, Mary Hallock Foote, show that if women cannot obtain supreme excellence in literature they can, at least, reach comparatively lofty heights in contemporary writing, and that the woman of to-day is closely pushing man in this direction.
                                                                                                                C.

       I find the following statement in a literary journal:—"A series of papers in which eminent novelists will tell how they came to write their most popular book has been arranged for by the editors of The Idler, Mr. Jerome's new magazine." Papers are to be contributed by Mr. Clark Russell, Mr. Besant, Mr. Bret Harte, Mr. Kipling, Mr. Barrie and others. If there is something rather disgusting in the hunger of the public of our day for an undignified familiarity with the habits and craft secrets of distinguished persons there is something much more disgusting in the readiness of distinguished persons to gratify it. People are beginning to complain, and not without truth, of a decadence in literary art. It would be strange indeed if literary art did not decline under the influence of a state of things such as is indicated by the quotation made above. It is only in solitude and seclusion from public curiosity that the fruit of a man's genius can be fully and wholesomely developed. Praise, indeed, and recognition of a serious kind, are very useful to him; but the coarse contact with the popular touch, which is getting to be the demand of the day, cannot be otherwise than utterly destructive of that silent and patient concentration which is the secret of the great in art. It is as if the writer's personality were dispersed among the multitude, and only by a feverish and violent effort is he able to gather his forces together for an important undertaking. This is no doubt the reason why our younger writers, while they produce so much, never succeed in giving to any one work the large and generous stamp of immortality.
                                                                                                                L.