The Rubaiyat of Omar Cayenne by Burgess, Gelett
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THE RUBAIYAT OF OMAR CAYENNE
NEW YORK FREDERICK A STOKES COMPANY PUBLISHERS
Copyright, 1904, BY GELETT BURGESS
_Published December, 1904_
THE RUBAIYAT OF OMAR CAYENNE
Wake! For the Hack can scatter into flight Shakespere and Dante in a single Night! The Penny-a-liner is Abroad, and strikes Our Modern Literature with blithering Blight.
Before Historical Romances died, Methought a Voice from Art's Olympus cried, "When all Dumas and Scott is still for Sale, Why nod o'er drowsy Tales, by Tyros tried?"
A cock-sure Crew with Names ne'er heard before Greedily shouted--"Open then the Door! You know how little Stuff is going to live, But where it came from there is plenty More."
Now the New Year reviving old Desires, The Artist poor to Calendars aspires, But of the Stuff the Publisher puts out Most in the Paper Basket soon suspires.
Harum indeed is gone, and Lady Rose, And Janice Meredith, where no one knows; But still the Author gushes overtime, And many a Poet babbles on in Prose.
Aldrich's lips are lock'd; but people buy High-piping Authoresses, boomed sky-high. "How Fine!"--the Publisher cries to the Mob, That monumental Cheek to justify.
Come, fill the Purse, to Publishers, this Spring, Your Manuscripts of paltry Passion bring: The New York Times has oft a little Way Of praising--let The Times your praises sing.
Whether by Century or Doubleday, Whether Macmillan or the Harpers pay, The Publisher prints new books every Year; The Critics will keep Busy, anyway!
Each Morn a thousand Volumes brings, you say; Yes, but who reads the Books of Yesterday? And this first Autumn List that brings the New Shall take The Pit and Mrs. Wiggs away.
Well, let it take them! What, are we not through With Richard Calmady and Emmy Lou? Let Ade and Dooley guy us as they will, Or Ella Wheeler Wilcox--heed not you.
With me despise this kind of Fiction rude That just divides the Rotten from the Good, Where names of Poe and Dickens are forgot-- And Peace to Thackeray with his giant Brood!
A Book of Limericks--Nonsense, anyhow-- Alice in Wonderland, the Purple Cow Beside me singing on Fifth Avenue-- Ah, this were Modern Literature enow!
Some for the stories of The World; and some Sigh for the Boston Transcript till it come; Ah, take The Sun, and let The Herald go, Nor heed the Yellow Journalistic scum!
Look to the blowing Advertiser--"Lo, Booming's the way," he says, "to make Books go! I advertise until I've drained my Purse, And huge Editions on the Market throw."
And those who made a Mint off Miss MacLane, And those who shuddered at her Jests profane, Alike consigned her to Oblivion, And buried once, would not dig up again.
Anthony Hope men set their hearts upon-- Like Conan Doyle he prospered; and anon, Remained unopened on the dusty Shelf, Delighting us an Hour--and then was gone.
Think, in this gaudy monthly Magazine Whose Covers are Soapette and Breakfastine, How Author after Author with his Tale Fills his fool Pages, and no more is seen.
They say that now Miss Myra Kelly reaps Rewards that Howells used to have for Keeps: And Seton, that great Hunter of Wild Beasts Has Coin ahead; Cash comes to him in Heaps!
I sometimes think that never Prose is read So good as that by Advertising bred, And every Verse Sapolian poets sing Brings laurel wreaths once twin'd for Spenser's head.
And this audacious Author, young and green In Smart Set--surely you know whom I mean-- Ah, look upon him lightly! for who knows But once in Lippincott's he wrote unseen!
Ah, my Belovèd, write the Book that clears TO-DAY of dreary Debt and sad Arrears; _To-morrow!_--Why, To-morrow I may see My Nonsense popular as Edward Lear's.
For some we've read, the month's Six Selling Best The Bookman scored with elephantine Jest, Have sold a half a Million in a Year, Yet no one ever heard of them, out West!
And we, that now within the Editor's Room Make merry while we have our little Boom, Ourselves must we give way to next month's Set-- Girls with Three Names, who know not Who from Whom!
Ah, make the most of what we yet may do, Before our Royalties have vanish'd, too, Book after Book, and under Book to lie, Sans Page, sans Cover, Reader--or Review!
Alike for those who for TO-DAY have Shame, And those who strive for some TO-MORROW'S Fame, A Critic from anonymous Darkness cries, "Fools, your Reward will fool you, just the Same!"
Why, e'en Marie Corelli, who discuss'd Of the Two Worlds so learnedly, is thrust Like Elbert Hubbard forth; her Words to Scorn Are scatter'd, and her Books by Critics cussed.
Myself when young did eagerly peruse James, Meredith and Hardy--but to lose My Reason, trying to make Head or Tail; The more I read, the more did they confuse.
With them the Germs of Madness did I sow, And with "Two Magics" sought to make it grow; Yet this was all the Answer that I found-- "What it is all about, I do not know!"
Into the Library, and _Why_ not knowing, Nor _What I Want_, I find myself a-going; And out of it, with Nothing fit to Read-- Such is the Catalogue's anæmic Showing.
What, without asking, to be hypnotized Into a Sale of Stevenson disguised? Oh, many a page of Bernard Shaw's last Play Must drown the thought of Novels Dramatized!
Up from the Country, into gay Broadway I came, and bought a Scribner's, yesterday, And many a Tale I read and understood, But not the master-tale of Kipling's "They."
There was a Plot to which I found no Key; And Others seem to be as Dull as Me; Some little talk there was of Ghosts, and Such, Then Mrs. Bathurst left me more at Sea!
Kim could not answer--Sherlock Holmes would fail-- The most enlightened Browningite turn pale In futile Wonder and in blank Dismay; Say, is there ANY Meaning to that Tale?
Then of the Critic, he who works behind The Author's back, I tried the Clue to find; But he, too, was in Darkness; and I heard A Literary Agent say--"THEY ALL ARE BLIND!"
Then, from the lips of Editor, I learn, "This Story is the Kind for which I Yearn; Its Advertising brought us such Renown, We jumped Three Hundred Thousand, on that Turn!"
I think the man exaggerated some His increased Circulation,--but, I vum! If I could get Two Thousand for one Tale, I'd write him Something that would simply Hum!
For I remember, shopping by the way, I saw a Novel writ by Bertha Clay; And there was scrawled across its Title-Page, "This is the Stuff that Sells--so People say!"
Listen--a moment listen!--Of the same Wood-pulp on which is printed Hewlett's Name, The "Duchess" Books are made--in fifty years They both will rot asunder--who's to Blame?"
And not a Book that from our Shelves we throw To the Salvation Army, but shall go To vitiate the Taste of some poor Soul Who can get nothing else to read--go Slow!
As then the Poet for his morning Sup Fills with a Metaphor his mental Cup, Do you devoutly read your Manuscripts That Someone may, before you burn them up!
Perplex'd no more with editorial "Nay" To-morrow's Reputation cast away, And lose your College Education in The flippant, foolish Fiction of To-day.
And if the Bosh you write, the Trash you read, End in the Garbage Barrel--take no Heed; Think that you are no worse than other Scribes, Who scribble Stuff to meet the Public Need.
So, when WHO'S-WHO records your silly Name, You'll think that you have found the Road to Fame; And though ten thousand other Names are there, You'll fancy you're a Genius, just the Same!
Why, if an Author can fling Art aside, And in a Book of Balderdash take Pride, Wer't not a Shame--wer't not a Shame for him A Conscientious Novel to have tried?
Writing's a Trade where Newspapers pay best; LeGallienne this Verity confess'd; So join the Union, like the rest of us-- Who strikes for Art is looked at as a Jest.
And fear not, if the Editor refuse Your work, he has no more from which to choose; The Literary Microbe shall bring forth Millions of Manuscripts too bad to use.
When Fitch's Comedies have all gone past, Oh, the long Time Pinero's plays shall last, Which of Belasco's little Triumphs heed As Frohman's Self should heed a Bowery Cast!
A Moment's Halt--Pray see this charming, chaste Ladies' Home Journal--"On the New Shirt Waist"-- "Advice to Girls," and so forth--here is reach'd The Nothing women yearn for, undebased!
Would you a hurried Lunch Hour wish to spend About THE SECRET--hearken to me, Friend! The Editors themselves must guess their Way-- And on their Wives' and Sisters' Hints depend!
A Hair perhaps divides the Good from Bad; And Bok himself a Lot of Trouble had Before he found Stenographers were Wise-- Then, as they laughed or wept, his Soul was glad.
The Woman's Touch runs through our Magazines; For her the Home-and-Mother Tale, and Scenes Of Love-and-Action, Happy at the End-- The same old Plots, the same old Ways and Means.
The Theme once guess'd, the Tale's as good as told, Though Dialect and Local Color mould; This Style will last throughout Eternity, While Women buy our Books--if Books are sold.
But if, in spite of this, you build a Plot Which these immortal Elements has not, You gaze TO-DAY upon a Slip, which reads: "The Editor Regrets"--and such-like Rot.
Waste not your Ink, and don't attempt to use That Subtle Touch which Editors refuse; Better be jocund at two cents a word Than, starving, court an ill-requited Muse!
You know, my Friends, I've done with Purple Cows, And long to sober Fiction paid my Vows; Spontaneous Glee is mighty hard to Sell-- 'Twas Carolyn Wells that shot across _my_ Bows.
For Stuff and Nonsense being in my Line, As Nonsense modern Fiction I define; But of the sort that one would care for, I Can find but Little--and that Little's mine!
Ah, but this wholesale Satire, you may say, Makes me pretend to be a Critic--Nay! Rather be roasted than to roast, say I; And I have been well roasted, by the way!
And lately, in a Studio, a Miss Sat smiling o'er a Book--and it was this: "The Pipes of Pan"--she showed it me, and read, Bidding me pay attention--it was Bliss!
Bliss Carman, who with genius absolute, My poor satiric Logic can confute; The only Poet who, in modern Days, His Poems can to clinking Gold transmute!
The vagrant Singer, how does he, good Lord, Compete with such a money-making Horde Of tinsel rhymesters that infest the Shops? They say he makes enough to pay his Board!
Why, be our Talent truly Art, how dare Refuse our Lucubrations everywhere? And if it's Rot, as our Rejections hint, God knows the things they print are Rot, for Fair!
I must abjure Dramatic Force, I must Take the Sub-Editor's decree on Trust, Or, lured by hope of selling something Good, Write out my Heart--then burn it in Disgust!
Oh, threats of Failure, hopes of Royalties! One thing at least I've sold--these Parodies; One thing is certain, Satire always sells; The Roast is read, no matter where it is.
Strange, is it not? that of the Authors who Publish in England, such a mighty Few Make a Success, though here they score a Hit? The British Public knows a Thing or Two!
By Revelations of the Past we've learn'd The Yankee Author usually is burn'd; All of our Story Writers say the Same; The London Critic all their Books have spurn'd.
I sent my Agent where the Buyers dwell, Some clever Stories of my own to sell: And by and by the Agent said to me, "One thing I sold--that's doing Mighty Well!"
So Heaven seems tame indeed when I behold Editions of Five Hundred Thousand sold; When Clippings show how Critics scorch me, then Hell's Roasting seems comparatively Cold!
We are no other than a passing Show Of clumsy Mountebanks that come and go To please the General Public; now, who gave To IT the right to judge, I'd like to know?
Impotent Writers bound to feed ITS taste For Literature and Poetry debased; Hither and thither pandering we strive, And one by one our Talents are disgraced.
The Scribe no question makes of Verse or Prose, But what the Editor demands he shows; And he who buys three thousand words of Drule, _He_ knows what People want--you Bet He knows!
The facile Scribbler writes; and, having writ, No Rules of Rhetoric bother him a Bit, Or lure him back to cancel half a Line, Nor Grammar's protests change a Word of it.
And though you wring your Hands and wonder Why Such slipshod Work the Magazines will buy, Don't grumble at the Editor, for he Must serve the Public, e'en as You and I.
With Puck's first joke, they did the last Life feed, And there of Judge's Stories sowed the Seed: And the first jokelet that Joe Miller wrote The Sunday Comic-Section readers read.
YESTERDAY _This_ Day's popular Song supplants; TO-MORROW'S will be even worse, perchance: Drink! For the latest Coon-Song's floating by: Drink! Now the music is an Indian Dance!
I tell you this--When, started from the Goal, The first Plantation Ditty 'gan to roll Through Minstrel Troupes and Negro Baritones In its predestined race from Pole to Pole,
The Song had caught a Rag-Time girls could shout And Piano-Organs make a Din about; But syncopated Melodies at last Will pass away, and more shall come, no doubt.
And this I know: though Vaudeville delight, Musical Comedy can bore me quite; One act of Ibsen from the Gallery caught, Better than Daly for a festal Night!
What! out of senseless Show-Girls to evoke A Drama? Surely, I resent the Joke! For me, it is not Pleasure, but a Pain-- An Everlasting Bore for decent Folk.
What, must the Theatre Manager be paid-- Our Gold for what his Carpenter has made-- Must we pay Stars we never did Contract, And cannot hiss at?--Oh, the sorry trade!
Oh Thou, who dost with cool sarcastic Grin Scorn the poor Magazine my Story's in, Though Thou impute to ignorance my Work, I know how bad 't will be, ere I begin!
Oh Thou, whose Taste demandeth silly Tales, Damning the Author when he Tries and Fails, Let us toss up to see which one is Worse-- Thy Fault or mine--Which is it, Heads or Tails?
* * * * *
As, for his Luncheon Hour, away had slipp'd The Editor, his Office-Boy I tipp'd, And once again before the Sacred Desk I stood, surrounded by much Manuscript.
Manuscripts of all Sizes, great and small, Upon that Desk, in Numbers to appall! And Some looked very interesting; some I saw no Sign of Merit in, at all.
Said one among them--"Surely not in vain My Author has exhausted all his Brain In writing me, to be rejected here-- I'd hate to have to be sent back again!"
Then said a Second--"Ne'er a Girl or Boy Such Stuff as I am really could enjoy: Yet He who wrote me, when I am return'd, Will me with Curse and bitter Wrath destroy!"
After a literary Silence spake A Manuscript of Henry James's make; "They sneer at me for being so occult: But Kipling's found such Stuff is going to Take!"
Whereat some one of the typewritten Lot-- I think it was Cy Brady's--waxing hot-- "All this of Shop and Patter--Tell me then, Who buys--Who reads--the Stuff that boils _my_ Pot?"
"Why," said another, "Some there are who tell Of one who threatens he will toss to Hell The luckless Tales he marr'd in making--Pish! He's a blamed Fool, Any Old Thing will sell!"
"Well," murmur'd one, "Let whoso write or buy, My words with long Oblivion are gone dry: But bind me new, let Christy illustrate, Methinks I'd sell at Christmas time; I'll try!"
So while the Manuscripts were wisely speaking, The Editor came in whom I was seeking: And then they signall'd to me, "Brother! Brother! Yours is rejected! You had best be sneaking!"
* * * * *
Though Carnegie for Literature provide, He tombs a Body whence the Life has died, And no one seems to turn a single leaf Upon the unfrequented Classic side,
Unless to see some First Edition rare, Or curious styles of Binding to compare; Art's True Believers know their Aldus well, But of the Author bound, are unaware!
Indeed, Rare Books that they have yearn'd for long Have done their Literary Taste much wrong: Reprints of Burton will not sell to-day (I mean the stupid Burton) for a Song!
Indeed, such First Editions oft before I envied, but they proved to be a Bore. Why, are not Tenth Editions still more rare? Mine are! Why are they not worth even more?
And much as Art has play'd the Infidel And robb'd me of my Royalties--Ah, well, I often wonder what the Women read One half as clever as the Stuff I sell!
Yet Ah, that Spring should come to bring our Woes! That Christmas Season's Sales should ever close! The Book whose praises loud the Critic sang, Is not the one that sells the most, God knows!
Would but these Book Reviewers ever yield One glimpse--if dimly, yet indeed, reveal'd Of what the fainting Traveller can read Worth reading--but the Critic's eyes are seal'd.
Would but some wingèd Angel bring the News Of Critic who _reads_ Books that he Reviews! And make the stern Reviewer do as well Himself, before he Meed of Praise refuse!
Ah, Love! could you and I perchance succeed In boiling down the Million Books we read Into One Book, and edit that a Bit-- There'd be a WORLD'S BEST LITERATURE, indeed!
* * * * *
Oh, rising Author, read Me once again Before my Memory gradually wane! How oft hereafter you may look for me In this same Library--and look in vain!
And when, dear Reader, _you_ shall chance to spend A night within The Hall of Fame--attend! If, in that blissful call, you find the Spot Where I broke in--don't turn me down, my friend!