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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Donald Grant Mitchell (Ik Marvel) (1822–1908)
Critical and Biographical Introduction
 
IT was in 1850 that the ‘Reveries of a Bachelor’—far the most popular of Mr. Mitchell’s books—made its public appearance, and instantly won for “Ik Marvel” the kindly feeling of the young people of the land,—of the young of all ages. It kept its place securely for half a century.  1
  There is always a new generation coming forward, to the members of which the brightness of the sunshine, and the freshness of the air, and the greenness of the woods and fields, appeal; whose hearts are full of romance, and whose minds are full of hope and enthusiasm: and even when mayhap youth has taken flight, there is with some—it is to be hoped with many—a kindly response to the thoughts, the dreams, the hopes, and the ambitions of the days of youth:—
          “A boy’s will is the wind’s will,
And the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts.”
  2
  A certain French professor once said, referring to ‘Evangeline,’ “What have I to do with that cow?” The ‘Reveries of a Bachelor’ and ‘Dream Life’ were not written for such as he, nor do they appeal to the taste which is gratified by much of the French and not a little of the English school of to-day; but they are true to youth in every age, and grateful to the unspoiled appetite to which they appeal.  3
  They are exuberant. They are books of sentiment—some would say even of sentimentalism. Yet the sentiment is as eternal as the race; and deep down in his heart the critic responds to it, unless his lost youth be not only lost but forgotten—buried in Lethe. The love that is the theme of these books may be vealy; but he is to be pitied who has no chord far within which vibrates in response to its portrayal, with a feeling which is pure, positive, and intense. And the nature of the life which they depict may be simple, but it is nevertheless based upon the eternal verities. It is a comfort to the reader, and sets him up a little in his own esteem, that after knocking about this world for forty years,—this world which each sometimes thinks that he could reconstruct upon a better plan,—he can again take up the ‘Reveries of a Bachelor,’ and read it with much the same feelings with which he read it when he, it, and the world were young. And it speaks well for the book itself that this can be; for only a book which is sound at the core, and which appeals to a true and abiding sentiment in the race,—only a book which also has definite literary merit,—could endure this test.  4
  In the preface to an edition printed in 1863, its author said:—

          “My publisher has written me that the old type of this book of the ‘Reveries’ are so far worn and battered that they will bear no further usage; and in view of a new edition, he asks for such revision of the text as I may deem judicious, and for a few lines in way of preface.
  “I began the revision. I scored out word after word; presently I came to the scoring out of paragraphs; and before I had done, I was making my scores by the page.
  “It would never do. It might be the better, but it would not be the same. I cannot lop away those twelve swift, changeful years that are gone.
  “Middle age does not look on life like youth; we cannot make it. And why mix the years and the thoughts? Let the young carry their own burdens and banner; and we—ours.
  “I have determined not to touch the book. A race has grown up which may welcome its youngness, and find a spirit or a sentiment in it that cleaves to them, and cheers them, and is true. I hope they will.”
  5
 
  The instinct of the author was sound. The printer’s types may have been worn and battered, but the types of youth were still fresh and true and clear cut. They were types of American—of New England—humanity, but also of universal humanity as well; and so the books were appreciated when translated into another tongue.  6
  In later years Mr. Mitchell published a novel more ambitious in intention, ‘Dr. Johns,’ in which the motif is the contrast between the life of a retired village of Puritan Connecticut and that of the South of France. It is full of carefully drawn pictures of the former,—pictures drawn by one whose early life had been spent amid just such scenes. A different life—that of the metropolis in the days of the ‘Potiphar Papers’ and Mr. Brown of Grace Church—is depicted with a satiric pen in the Lorgnette, which was issued anonymously, and periodically, after the manner of the Spectator; and in ‘Fudge Doings,’ a slight novel of New York society (which appears in the ‘Grand Dictionnaire Universel du XIXe Siècle, par Pierre Larousse,’ as ‘Aventures de la Famille Doings’). He also rewrote for children a number of familiar tales, under the title ‘About Old Story-Tellers,’ and did other work of a similar character. He was also a traveler; and his first book, ‘Fresh Gleanings, or a New Sheaf from the Old Fields of Continental Europe,’ which was published in 1847, was the fruit of his maiden tour. His sketches are very unequal in interest, and are interspersed with stories picked up here and there. The work is marked by an immaturity, the gradual disappearance of which it is interesting to follow in succeeding volumes. After this came, two years later, ‘The Battle Summer’—Paris in 1848. This is written in short fragmentary paragraphs, and apparently under the spell of Victor Hugo; and would be more valuable to the reader of to-day if it appeared to be more absolutely a record of personal observation of the dramatic period of which it treats, like that of Victor Hugo in the later ‘Histoire d’un Crime.’  7
  He was also a frequent lecturer on literature and history; and in ‘English Lands, Letters, and Kings’ has gathered pleasant perceptive sketches of literature and social forces from the time of the Celt to the time of Wordsworth.  8
  But after his books of sentiment, those which are best known are his books upon rural life: ‘My Farm at Edgewood,’ ‘Wet Days at Edgewood,’ ‘Rural Studies,’ etc.; written from the standpoint of the man of letters and of worldly experience, who enjoys to the uttermost the varying aspects of nature, the growth and passing of vegetation, and the changes of the seasons. These books are full of prudent caution to the over-sanguine, of wise advice, of healthy delight in the contest of man with nature.  9
  Mr. Mitchell was born at Norwich, Connecticut, April 12th, 1822; was graduated at Yale College in 1841; studied law; was appointed United States Consul at Venice in 1853, remaining there however but a short time; and in 1855 purchased the farm near New Haven which he called Edgewood, and where he afterwards made his home. He died December 15, 1908.  10
 
 
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