Thursday, February 27, 2014

A Tale of Two Dickenses

An upcoming staging of a stage production of A Tale of Two Cities here in Chicago made me realize that I've not read it since high school, so, before I finally embark on The Old Curiosity Shop, my last unread Dickens, I'm turning to the Tale.

A Tale of Two Cities occupies an odd place in Dickens's oeuvre, at least in America. Huge numbers of students read it as a middle school or high school assignment, with only Great Expectations coming even close to it in popularity on syllabi. Presumably for most of those people, it's the only Dickens novel they'll ever read. Its choice as a textbook is understandable: it has a tie to important and (relatively) familiar and easily explained historical events, it offers easily (too easily) explored moral lessons, and its plot features moments of high drama.

For a Dickens fan, however, what's more important is what's missing. It's the only Dickens novel--even counting the books like Martin Chuzzlewit and Barnaby Rudge, that border on being failures--that doesn't offer any truly memorable characters, and it is also the only one that is utterly devoid of humor. Dickens himself described it as a sort of experiment in a letter to John Forster in 1859:
I set myself the little task of making a picturesque story, rising in every chapter with characters true to nature, but whom the story itself should express, more than that they should express themselves, by dialogue. I mean, in other words, that I fancied a story of incident might be written, in place of the odious stuff that is written under that pretence, pounding the characters out in its own mortar, and beating their own interest out of them. If you could have read the story all at once, I hope you wouldn't have stopped halfway.
It's hard not to admire Dickens for trying something new that late in his career, but the problem is that by going away from dialogue and self-expressing characters, he was going away from his strengths. The critical reception reflected that: in Charles Dickens: The Critical Heritage, Philip Collins calls the roll:
It "pleased nobody," according to the Eclectic Review (October 1861); for Adolphus Ward (1870) it was "one of the very few of Mr Dickens's works which require an effort in the perusal."
The only people, it seems who liked it initially were Forster, Thomas Carlyle, whose history of the French Revolution formed its ground and who deemed it "wonderful," and Wilkie Collins, who called it "Dickens's most perfect work of constructive art."

Reading it in high school was my first encounter with Dickens, and I loved it. I was utterly caught up in the drama, and in Sydney Carton's overcoming of his own bad nature. Even a terrible teacher and a classroom technique that consisted almost solely of having the students read aloud at their desks, one sentence per person, consecutively, couldn't dull the excitement it offered. Rereading it, however, I find myself less satisfied. I miss the fire of Dickens's prose at its most inventive, and I very much miss the twinkling eyes of his humor. Ultimately, I find I come down near where Claire Tomalin does:
It is true that the plot is too long drawn out and elaborate; . . and that the depiction of the ancien regime is somewhat mechanical in its horrors, the characters like emblematic puppets representing good and evil--virtuous doctor, perfect daughter and wife, wicked marquis, vengeful woman of the people.
And that not to mention that the "perfect daughter and wife" is yet another of Dickens's insipid, unbelievable, flawlessly dull female characters.

Yet Tomalin is right in how she concludes:
The climax of the action is preposterous and deeply sentimental, but the tension is so built up that Carton's famous last words before the guillotine--"It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done . . ."--make their effects on all but the most determinedly stony hearts. This is Dickens the showman, amusing his people and drawing their tears.
What's perhaps most interesting about A Tale of Two Cities--drawn, as noted above, with as clear lines of black and white, good and evil, as ever he would use--is that within a little more than a year Dickens would publish Great Expectations, his most morally complicated and interesting novel, the one book of his that fully acknowledges ambiguity. And after that, of course, we would have Our Mutual Friend, as brooding a book as he ever wrote, and the stump of Drood, whose shadows seem likely to have matched it. For all the violence and horror of the Tale, its moral certainties make it essentially an untroubling book, and give no hint of the complexity to come.

Monday, February 24, 2014

The root of the disagreement between Johnson and Swift?

Samuel Johnson's dislike of Jonathan Swift's work is famous. Jackson Bate offers the reasonable explanation that what Johnson saw in Swift was a dark reflection of himself--the self he could have been had he let his satiric bite run free rather than constantly attempting to check it and temper it with religious belief. Bate writes,
The Life of Swift strikes the modern reader as the only hopelessly biased Life. Here we can only try to remember Johnson's lifelong fear, especially after the breakdown in his fifties, of the powerful satiric bitterness of his own nature, and his dread--a dread with which he was constantly living--of falling into the anger and the sense of emptiness about life that he associated with Swift.
I suspect Evelyn Waugh may have played a similar role--a sort of "there but by the grace of god"-style role model--for satirically inclined interwar writers.

Bate's position is convincing, and it conforms to what we know of Johnson and of Swift (even as it does nothing to lessen the wish that their lives could have overlapped, giving them an opportunity to meet). But perhaps the explanation is simpler? Perhaps, it's rooted in a simple disagreement about the proper way to approach a hill?

As we saw on Friday, Johnson is documented as a hill-roller: in his fifties, while on the trip to Scotland with Boswell, he took a wistful roll down one, to the amusement (and, presumably, brief worry) of all around. Swift, on the other hand--well, let's let Leo Damrosch, author of last year's excellent biography, tell it:
Swift . . . became convinced that exercise was beneficial, in an era when medical theory discouraged it, and most people avoided it. At Moor Park, as he told Deane Swift long afterward, he would work for two hours and then take a break by running up to the top of a nearby hill and down again. "This exercise he performed in about six minutes; backwards and forwards it was about half a mile."
Oh, I'll admit it seems silly: Could two such great minds as these truly be set at odds by such a silly difference? Could a preference for rolling rather than running down a hill really be enough to cause Johnson to cast Swift beyond of the pale of his appreciation?

Perhaps not--but then, perhaps we should remember what Swift's friend Gulliver learned about the origins of the ongoing conflict between Lilliput and Blefuscu:
It began upon the following occasion. It is allowed on all hands, that the primitive way of breaking eggs, before we eat them, was upon the larger end; but his present majesty's grandfather, while he was a boy, going to eat an egg and breaking it according to the ancient practice, happened to cut one of his fingers. Whereupon the emperor his father published an edict, commanding all his subjects, upon great penalties, to break the smaller end of their eggs. The people so highly resented this law, that our histories tell us, there have been six rebellions raised on that account; wherein one emperor lost his life, and another his crown. These civil commotions were constantly fomented by the monarchs of Blefuscu; and when they were quelled, the exiles always fled for refuge to that empire. It is computed that eleven thousand persons have at several times suffered death, rather than submit to break their eggs at the smaller end.
Suddenly that hill is looking more like a mountain, isn't it?

Friday, February 21, 2014

Samuel Johnson gets silly

At the end of a too-long, too-busy work week, what better than to share too instances of Samuel Johnson being utterly silly? In case you haven't realized it from my Twitter feed, I've been immersed in Johnson the past ten days or so, going from Boswell to W. Jackson Bate's 1975 biography, and both are a reminder that Johnson is always more varied, more multifarious, than whatever impression is most recent in your mind.

And one of the ways he surprises is by being silly--physically silly. To wit, a moment at the top of a hill during his tour of the Hebrides with Boswell, as related by Bate, via the years-later memories of Johnson's companion that day, Bennet Langton:
Johnson, delighted by its steepness, said he wanted to "take a roll down." They tried to stop him. But he said he "had not had a roll for a long time," and taking out of his pockets his keys, a pencil, a purse, and other objects, lay down parallel at the edge of the hill, and rolled down its full length, "turning himself over and over till he came to the bottom."
Johnson was fifty-five at the time.

This one is even better. At conversation with the Reverend Alexander Grant, Johnson mentioned that Joseph Banks had recently sent back reports of a strange animal called a kangaroo. Then,
In order to render his description more vivid, Johnson rose from his chair and [in the words of Grant], "volunteered an imitation of the animal. The company stared . . . nothing could be more ludicrous than the appearance of a tall, heavy, grave-looking man, like Dr. Johnson, standing up to mimic the shape and motions of a kangaroo. He stood erect, put out his hands like feelers, and, gathering up the tails of his huge brown coat so as to resemble the pouch of the animal, made two or three vigorous bounds across the room.
May your weekend be suitably bouncy.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Day Job

I suppose a more skilled self-promoter would have promoted this a bit more than twenty-four hours in advance, but, to to take Donald Rumsfeld's hideous blitheness in vain (and add a bit of Johnsonian self-knowledge), you blog as the blogger you are, not the blogger you wish to be.

My friend Dmitry Samarov, author of the wonderful Hack: Stories from a Chicago Cab, has roped me into a thing: tomorrow night, February 20, at 8:30, a post-martini hour in which I'm usually considering what book will ease my transition to bed, I will be up on stage with him and seven other readers at LivingRoom Realty talking about the Day Job.

If you're in Chicago and able to come out, here's what I can promise you:
1. Dmitry, who is personable and entertaining and a great raconteur.

2. At least one Tolstoy quote.

3. At least one Samuel Johnson quote.

4. At least one brutal dis of Jack Kerouac.

5. That I will talk briefly about my long-ago career as a radio DJ.

6. That I will be off the stage in under eight minutes.

7. Oh, and, crucially, that there will be drinks.
I don't do this sort of thing often, but I can't refuse Dmitry, and I've enjoyed working up something on the theme. If you're around, come out. If I don't know you, I'd love to meet you: in my relatively extensive experience thus far, it's never a mistake to meet people you've come to like through the Internet.

Full details in the image above, or at this link. Hope to see you there!

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Johnson and Boswell

Winter finds me re-reading Boswell on Johnson. Which means admiring Boswell, and appreciating Boswell, and laughing at Boswell, and, necessarily and fundamentally, being grateful for Boswell. Good gods, how lucky we are to have had--exactly, perfectly, suitably--Boswell. In a certain sense, no stance but gratitude is appropriate; at the same time, being human, we can't help but, sentence by sentence, wrangle with him.

For example, when he makes fun of Dr. Johnson's friend and great comfort Mrs. Thrale. Boswell--whom we can never wholly free from self-interest, writes,
Mrs. Thrale, who frequently practised a coarse mode of flattery, by repeating his bon-mots in his hearing . . . 
etc., etc. No one, of course, collected or retailed Johnson's bon mots with anything near the assiduity of Boswell. He admits almost as much, or, at least, admits that he is a sponge for Johnson's wit. Mere pages later as he recounts what seems to have been a remarkably pleasant evening--the sort to perpetually tempt a time traveler--with Johnson at his home:
After the evening service, he said, "Come, you shall go home with me, and sit just an hour." But he was better than his word, for after we had drunk tea with Mrs. Williams, he asked me to go up to his study with him, where we sat a long time while together in a serene undisturbed frame of mind, sometimes in silence, and sometimes conversing, as we felt ourselves inclined, or more properly speaking, as he was inclined; for during all the course of my long intimacy with him, my respectful attention never abated, and my wish to hear him was such, that I constantly watched every dawning of communication from that great and illuminated mind.
Yet there is no question but what Johnson loved Boswell, occasional simpering and all, as a letter from August of 1775 reminds us:
Never, my dear Sir, do you take it into your head to think that I do not love you; you may settle yourself in full confidence both of my love and my esteem; I love you as a kind man, I value you as a worthy man, and hope in time to reverence you as a man of exemplary piety. I hold you, as Hamlet has it, "in my heart of hearts," and, therefore, it is little to say, that I am, Sir, your affectionate humble servant.
What more could an English-speaking, Western-raised reader want? The approbation, Sir, of Dr. Johnson, is sufficient--and beyond--unto the day. And if I may: All, all, all hail Boswell, today and every day when we find ourselves with a drink in our hands and an anecdote on our lips. We could do far worse than to choose him as our watchword and our guide.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Gwen Raverat and the Fears of Childhood (!)

Gwen Raverat's memoir of growing up in late-Victorian and early Edwardian Cambridge, Period Piece (1952), is full of the detailed, charming memories of childhood that are the hallmark of the books that Slightly Foxed Editions republishes. What struck me today as I was reading it, however, wasn't the passages about childhood pleasures. It was the ones about childhood fears.

Here, for example, Raverat presents a catalog of unimpeachable childhood knowledge, much of it relating to fears:
Of course, we children had a few theories of our own. One was that the gum of cherry or plum trees was delicious, and must be eaten as a great treat. This is a mistake, as it is quite incredibly nasty; and so is snow with jam, which we also believed to be nice. Another theory was that if you swallowed the smallest speck of cork, it would swell and swell inside, till it filled you right up and you died. There was also the now-disproved idea that bulls were infuriated by red rags; for this reason I used to bite in my supposedly red lips if ever I met the oldest and mildest cow; and I remember carefully concealing the red halfpenny stamps on any letters I might be taking to the post, for the same reason. And of course we believed, as I think all nurses and children do, that if you cut, or even scratched, the fold of skin which joins your thumb and first finger, you got lockjaw at once, and died in agonies.
If a grade school classmate of mine were to pop up now (on Facebook, which seems to have been designed for that purpose) and tell me that all these beliefs were current at Lincoln Elementary School circa 1983, I wouldn't be particularly surprised.

But it's when Raverat gets to the describes the deliciously scary thrill of bicycling along the Backs (a road that runs along the rear of several Cambridge colleges) after dark that she starts to really bring to mind my own childhood:
I was afraid: but, of course, I never spoke of my fear; for it was above all things necessary to me to see my cousins, and I was more afraid of having my freedom curtailed than of all the terrors of darkness and solitude.
Ah, yes--this is familiar: a variation on the feeling of being out in the woods after dark, pleasantly chilled despite the knowledge that home was but a shout away. Freedom was de facto frightening just as it was de facto desirable.

Raverat's fear of the Backs, however, was more than a fear of the dark:
The Backs were a frightening place, even by daylight, because it was there, more than anywhere else, that Mad Dogs were liable to occur; or so my cousin Frances said, and she knew. For she had seen there a very mysterious figure, who was connected with mad dogs: a girl with red-flannel soles to her shoes. (I cannot imagine who she was, unless she was the Goddess of Hydrophobia?) The possibility, the probability, of Mad Dogs was very much in our minds; slinking about, with their red tongues hanging out, slobbering and whining; like Caldecott's picture of the dog it was that died. Of course there were real mad dogs in those days; and sometimes our dogs had to be muzzled for a time; so we had some excuse for our fears.
Are there any American kids born in the 1960s or 1970s who, thanks to Ol' Yeller and To Kill a Mockingbird, didn't harbor the same fear? Didn't we all assume that at some point we would be called upon to put down a menacing Mad Dog?

That passage, combined with an entry on the Bermuda Triangle (inactive, it seems, since the 1970s) that I read this weekend to my nieces and nephews from a book of Mysterious Phenomena leads me to assemble this list:
Frightening Things That, When I Was a Kid, I Assumed Would Play a Significant Role in Life That, Thus Far, As I Approach Forty, Have Not

1. Quicksand

2. Mad Dogs/Rabies

3. The Bermuda Triangle

4. Space aliens

5. The ghost of Anne Boleyn

6. Kidnappers

7. Ninjas
Your list, I realize, may vary. Details, please?

Friday, February 07, 2014

Anthony Powell and the publishing world of the past

As I promised on Monday, today I turn to Anthony Powell's letters for a glimpse at the publishing world of the not-so-distant past. The letters come from The Acceptance of Absurdity: Anthony Powell and Robert Vanderbilt, Letters 1952-1963, a slim volume that was published in a limited edition in 2011. Vanderbilt was a New York bookshop owner, and the correspondence began when he proposed to Powell that he reissue Venusberg and Agents and Patients in a single volume. They had been published in the UK years earlier, but had failed to find a US home and, as Powell himself noted in a reply to Vanderbilt, were hard to find:
My books are practically impossible to obtain secondhand, which, although satisfactory from one point of view, is most inconvenient from another.
Vanderbilt's proposal met with approval, and by the end of the year he had published the book, complete with cover illustrations by Powell's friend Osbert Lancaster.

That's when the publishing part of the story gets interesting, at least for someone who works as a publicist today. In its first three months on the market, the book--which, remember, was an edition, by a bookshop, rather than a proper publisher, of novels that were at that point twenty years old--Vanderbilt had sent Powell reviews from Newsweek, the New York Times (which Vanderbilt characterized as "doubtless . . . more like a press release of our own than any other we shall get"), the New Yorker (which Powell told Vanderbilt was so good that it "absolutely staggered" him--and which he viewed as useful in England, too, because "In some ways in certain circles, New Yorker book reviews are looked on with even more awe than in the States."), the Atlantic, the New York Herald Tribune (written by Elizabeth Bowen and, Vanderbilt wrote, "rapturously favorable" despite Powell's earlier worry that she wouldn't like his work), the San Francisco Chronicle (contributed by a woman of whom Vanderbilt wrote, "She's been described to me as a type who has gone a long way on self-confidence. She thinks BM [Powell's Dance novel A Buyer's Market] is like Trollope. A friend of mine remained calm, and said 'Also like Proust, don't you think?' This arrow was never recovered."), and Vogue (where it was listed as "a modish subject of conversation"). Oh, and after Vanderbilt poked his head in at the Scribner's bookshop, while they declined to devote a window to the book, they did take five copies.

This happens every once in a while: just when I think I've fully taken in just how different the publishing world, and especially the book review landscape, used to be, I'm surprised anew. The coverage Powell's book received would these days be viewed as a solid success for a new novel, and out of the realm of all possibility for a reissue. Wow.

The letters themselves are a pleasure: Vanderbilt is a congenial interlocutor for Powell, and Powell himself is just as amused, opinionated, and entertaining in his letters as one would hope. I look forward to what will surely be a larger, more complete selection somewhere down the line.

I'll close with another amusing glimpse at older ways. In a letter of February 11, 1953, Vanderbilt tells Powell,
A few days ago my mail included a small blue note saying the following.

Gentlemen: I ordered and received (for which I paid $4.00) a copy of Venusberg. After reading 11 pages of this book I knew it was not the kind of book that I could give as a birthday gift to an elderly, churchgoing lady. It is also not the type of story I enjoy or admire. The book shop from where I purchased it is not carrying any copies--it was a special order--so therefore I cannot expect them to refund my money. Therefore my request to you is will you allow me to return it to you and I shall be satisfied with the refund of the wholesale price. It is in the same perfect condition in which it was delivered to me. May I say in addition I think it a vulgar, salacious book and one which I do not care to read further. (Eleven pages are more than sufficient).
Which leads to two thoughts:

1. Elderly, churchgoing ladies differ in the States and England. Barbara Pym would have found such a gift perfectly suitable, as, I dare say, would a number of her characters. (Though I suppose it would likely have given rise to a flurry of quiet speculation about the motives and stance of the giver.)

2. The woman's understanding of the business, and willingness to adapt to its structures, impresses me. Asking only for the wholesale price is a remarkable concession considering how powerfully she reacted against the book.

Vanderbilt sent her the refund, and the story amused Powell, who replied with an anecdote of his own:
I remember when I was a publisher [with Duckworth] the illustrated catalogue designed by myself elicited a letter saying 'as I have a household of children and young servants I should be obliged if you would not deliver your cess on my door.'
Enjoy the weekend, folks.

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

A brief descent into scatology

I am not, in general, a fan of body humor. That's not to say I don't appreciate vulgarity: friends will gladly attest that, given the right situation or set-up line, I can be as vulgar as any fifteen-year-old boy who's just learned that the gerund form of a certain words can serve as a forceful adjective.

For the most part, however, I line up with Nina Stibbe--or, at least, the twenty-year-old Nina Stibbe who wrote the letters collected in the wonderfully funny Love, Nina. After complaining that A Winter's Tale "doesn't even seem like a comedy" because "the poor little son dies of a broken heart and the baby daughter is left in the woods to die and the wife spends sixteen years as a statue," she moves on to another of the authors on her A-Level syllabus:
It's like Chaucer. People always going on about how rude and funny it is because someone farts.
That said . . . two bits of low body humor made me laugh this week. The first came in Leo Damrosch's excellent new biography of Jonathan Swift--which is appropriate because Swift was as attuned to bodily effluents as any writer, and he's one of the few whose ventures into scatology can make me laugh. There's the sheer horror of the exclamation "Celia shits!" (on which Patrick Kurp can offer a refresher, should one be needed) and also Gulliver's multi-sized problems with waste: his unappreciated firefighting by micturation in Liliput and his spectacular failure to jump a giant cowpat in Brobdingnag.

What made me laugh in Damrosch's book, however, came not from Swift's own work, but instead when Damrosch needed to help the reader understand how poorly sewage was handled in the period. To whom did he turn? Another writer who was never afraid to note what goes into and comes out of the body: Samuel Pepys. In his diary entry for October 20, 1660, Pepys wrote,
This morning one came to me to advise with me where to make me a window into my cellar in lieu of one that Sir W Batten had stopped up; and going down into my cellar to look, I put my foot into a great heap of turds, by which I find that Mr Turner's house of office is full and comes into my cellar, which doth trouble me.
It's the easily (and horribly) visualized "great heap" combined with the now archaic, even prissy-sounding "house of office" and "doth trouble me" that makes me smile: this feels like a misfortune that could only occur to Pepys.

With Swift and Pepys on my mind, I was primed to appreciate a passage from Gwen Raverat's memoir Period Piece (1952) I came across this afternoon, in which she writes about the sewage-laden Cam River late in the nineteenth century:
There is a tale of Queen Victoria being shown over Trinity by the Master, Dr Whewell, and saying, as she looked down over the bridge, "What are all those pieces of paper floating down the river?" To which, with great presence of mind, he replied, "Those, ma'am, are notices that bathing is forbidden."
Which can only be topped by the genius of Bill Watterson:


And with that, we flush the scat humor. By Friday, it will all be clean as ever around here, folks. Promise.

Monday, February 03, 2014

Trollope tries to let a friend down easy

Part of the fun of reading writers' letters--something I spend a fair amount of time doing--is getting a glimpse of publishing's past. I made discoveries on that front in two collections recently, of letters from Anthonys Trollope and Powell. I'll start with Trollope, and pick up Powell later in the week.

That Trollope's letters offer insight into publishing is no surprise: as Michael Dirda writes in Bound to Please of Trollope's Autobiography,
It reveals, better than almost any other work in English, that a writer is a man (or woman) who sits down at a desk each morning . . . and writes. To Trollope, the creation of fiction may occasionally rise to Art, but there's no nonsense about awaiting inspiration or a timely visit from the Muse. . . . He frankly discusses his contracts, even listing the exact amounts he was paid for each of his works. . . . When An Autobiography was published posthumously (in 1883), as was always intended, readers were said to be horrified at its mercantile tone.
So it's no surprise that many of his letters are addressed to publishers: settling fees, checking on dates, discussing editions. This bit from a note to Frederic Chapman, head of Chapman and Hall, of September 25, 1871 is not atypical:
One of the "Australian" people--Editor, manager, or owner [of the Australian magazine] told me that he had bought from you the rights to republish my book about Australia. What is the meaning of this? I have never spoken a word of an Australian novel to any one.

Write again like a good fellow, and send me all the news about the business & other things.
The most striking series of publishing-related letters that I've come across thus far, however, are a string to Trollope's regular correspondent Mary Holmes, an acquaintance of (and eventual governess for) Thackeray of whom the volume editor, Bradford Allen Booth, says she had "literary and musical enthusiasm, and worked hard, but there was little talent." Late in 1874, she sent Trollope a manuscript of a novel, about which he had been theoretically encouraging and which he promised to forward to Chapman and Hall. On November 9, he wrote to Holmes with bad news:
I have seen Mr Chapman the publisher today and he tells me that his reader has said that your novel in its present form will not do, but that he thinks that, with certain alterations, it might do. I presume the novel has been sent back to you. It will be for you to decide whether you will make the alterations which will have been proposed to you--

I did not look at the MS myself. In such a case I can do no good by my doing so. Should I not like it, it would break my heart (as it has done in similar cases) to have to say so; and should I like it my opinion would go for nothing with a publisher who would regard my opinion simply as that of a friend.
Despite Trollope's combination of forthrightness and delicacy, Holmes's response must not have been particularly accepting or even-tempered, for two weeks later Trollope wrote to her again:
Your letter has made me unhappy; because I feel that you feel that you have been ill-used. I feared that it would be so. It generally is so when some little assistance is wanted by literary aspirants. One cannot give the help that is needed. One can only try, and fail, and suffer in the failure.

You think that Chapman and his reader have illused [sic] you,--but I believe you to be wrong in so thinking. I know them both well and would not have put your MS into their hands had they been unworthy. The firm is existing (you suspect that there is no such firm). It is doing a very lucrative business (you imagine the contrary). Mr Chapman is not deterred by the need of publishing the works of either his friends or his relatives from publishing yours. He has in truth done with your MS as he does with others,--but has done this somewhat quicker than he usually does under my instance. He sent your MS to his reader, and acted on his opinion. . . .

You write,--(and not only you but many others with whom I become acquainted, and who use my services because, being an old stager, I am supposed to be able to give assistance,)--as though it were the publishers business to publish your work and as though he injured you by not doing so.
Trollope goes on to explain the role, and necessity, of the publisher's reader, in the course of which he strips away some of the gentleness of the earlier letter's rejection, noting that the reader said it might be publishable "with very great alterations."

It's hard not to feel for both parties, of course: Holmes's letter must surely have been intemperate, but her ambitions are far from uncommon, and it's hard to deny a Victorian woman of slender means the reed of hope that artistic success could conceivably represent. And Trollope's position is certainly unenviable. The bulk of his correspondence with Holmes reveals that he really did think of her as a friend, and the emotional cost he incurred by trying to do her this favor becomes fully apparent in the final paragraph of the letter:
For myself I may say that the task of dealing with the MS of other persons is so painful,--the necessity of explaining to an aspirant that his or her aspirations must be disappointed is so grievous,--that I have often been tempted to say, that I would never again incur the punishment. I can hardly bring myself to tell a friend that he or she cannot do that which I by chance can do myself--But I remember how often I failed myself before I succeeded,--how Vanity Fair and, as you say, Jane Eyre were carried here and there before they were accepted. I would suggest that you should read your own MS carefully and see if you yourself think it capable of improvement--and,--let me say this in pure friendship, without giving offence,--do not allow yourself to be tempted to think evil because the thing does not go as you wish it.
The fulsome closings of old letters ring hollow to contemporary ears, but when Trollope closes this letter with "Yours very sincerely and with true friendship," we believe him.