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struggles with poetry and is usually worsted. It is a dream of the Orient, delightfully parsimonious as to improving facts, and prodigal of whatever helps the home-keeping reader to comprehend the witchery and fascination of the East. A few timid souls were disturbed by ‘Fair Frailty' and *Kushuk Arnem,' which seem innocent enough now, but the timid souls no doubt found peace in other chapters, such as ‘Under the Palms.'
The Howadji in Syria continues the record. The conditions are changed. Instead of the dahabieh, the camel; for the Ibis was substituted MacWhirter, whose exertions in trotting 'shook my soul 'within me;' for the mud villages and mysterious temples of the Nile, Jerusalem, Acre, Damascus. The temper of the book differs from that of its predecessor. In this volume Curtis is poetical, in the other he was a poet. The mocking American note is heard, as when the Howadji says 'a storm 'besieged us in Nablous and a fellow Christian of 'the Armenian persuasion secured us for his fleas, during the time we remained.' The Howadji has evidently undergone a measure of disenchantment. The wonders of the East are less wonderful because less vague. In Egypt there was intoxication, in Palestine and Syria there is curiosity, mingled with amusement and contempt. The characteristic quality of the second Howadji book is to be found in the descriptions of the cafés, the bazaars, and in that most excellent account of the Turkish bath (* Uncle Kühleborn '), quite the best thing of the kind that has been written.
Lotus-Eating is a series of journalistic letters on the Hudson, Trenton Falls, Niagara, Saratoga, Newport, and Nahant, when Nahant was a shower of little brown cottages fallen upon the rocky 'promontory that terminates Lynn beach. Not in this wise do young men now write for newspapers, with ornate periods and quotations from Waller and Herrick. The book abounds in happy characterizations. At Saratoga 'we discriminate the ‘arctic and antarctic Bostonians, fair, still, stately, with a vein of scorn in their Saratoga enjoyment, ‘and the languid, cordial, and careless Southerners, ' far from precise in dress or style, but balmy in 'manner as a bland Southern morning. We mark
the crisp courtesy of the New Yorker, elegant in dress, exclusive in association, a pallid ghost of
Paris — without its easy elegance, its bonhomie, ‘its gracious savoir faire, without the spirituel sparkle of its conversation, and its natural and elastic grace of style.' And so it runs on.
The Potiphar Papers is in another key. The placid observer, who, in Lotus-Eating, quoted from De Quincey a delectable passage on the poetry of dancing, is now a bitter satirist contemplating a corps-de-ballet of society buds gyrating in the arms of the jeunesse dorée. These “bounding belles' and their admirers shock the observer with a style of dancing which in its whirl, its 'rush, its fury
'is only equalled by that of the masked balls at 'the French opera.' The book is a new treatment (new in 1853) of the old subject of Vanity Fair. The humor is severe. The touch is not light and the caustic writing is not happy. Curtis was never a master of the whip of scorpions. Nevertheless The Potiphar Papers had a vogue.
Prue and I is a book of the sort Zola used to hate — literature which consoles with the lies of the imagination. It is the idyl of contented obscurity, the poetic side of humble life. Delicately wrought, light in texture, shot with charming fancies and dainty conceits, having the grace that belongs to old-school manners, this little prose poem is justly accounted its author's masterpiece.
Curtis wrote one novel, Trumps, and was disappointed in the result. The book is readable, but not because it is a story. Many good novelists are made, not born. Trumps is the work of a novelist in the making.
The twenty-seven essays of the volume entitled From the Easy Chair show very well in brief compass the range of their author's powers in this form. Here are reminiscences of Browning and his wife, of the Dickens readings in ’67, of Everett's oratory and Jennie Lind's singing, of a lecture by Emerson and a recital by Gottschalk or by Thalberg, of a night at the play-house with Jefferson, or a dinner at the old (the very old) Delmonico's, when that famous eating-house stood at the corner of Broadway and Chambers Street. The flavor of by-gone days is here. It ' was a pleasant little New York,' says the essayist regretfully, being mindful of the charm which a lively small city possesses, and which a big city, be it never so lively, somehow lacks.
Half the attractiveness of the ‘Easy Chair' papers is due to their seemingly unpremeditated character. Curtis was not writing a book, nor was he proposing at some time, in response to the earnest solicitations of friends upon whose judgment I ‘rely,' to collect and republish these fugitive leaves. He comes home after a little chat, perhaps, with John Gilbert and sits down to tell us about it. Two or three reflections suggested by the interview are thrown in quite happily, and while we listeners are most absorbed and in no mood to have him break off, Curtis rises, and with some pleasant little remark, nods, and smiles, and is gone. And one of the listeners says, “I wish we saw him oftener. 'He comes only once a month.'
The 'Easy Chair' papers are urban as well as urbane. Curtis was a city man. We know that he had a summer home in Arcadia' and was happy there, but his joy in city life is betrayed in
almost every paper he wrote. No passionate lover of nature, intent on fringed gentians and purling brooks, penned that description of a gown 'a mass of pleats and puffs and marvelous trim‘mings, which, when profusely extravagant upon “the form of an elderly woman, always reminds me of signals of distress hung out upon a craft that ‘is drifting far away from the enchanted isles of 'youth.'
Satirist though he is, Curtis in the 'Easy Chair' is always the gentle satirist. He writes of the mannerless sex, of the people who rent boxes at the opera because they can talk better there than at home, of the taste of the town so greedy for minute details of the doings of the rich and the fashionable, but there is no acerbity in his tone. Here is an illustration of his manner. The Cosmopolitan of the 'Easy Chair' talks with Mrs. Grundy, who proposes as a great boon to introduce him to a very rich man. «« You say he is very ' ‘rich ?” “Enormously, fabulously,” replied Mrs. 'Grundy, as if crossing herself.'
• Trifles light as air' would be a not inadequate description of hundreds of the 'Easy Chair' papers. And they are quite as wholesome as air.