9.—Beadle's Dime Books.—Novels and Library of Fiction; Biographies; Song-Books; School Series; Hand-Books for Popular Use; Hand-Books of Games, &c.; &c., &c., New York. 1859-1864. 12mo.
A YOUNG friend of ours was recently suffering from that most harassing of complaints, convalescence, of which the remedy consists in copious draughts of amusement, prescribed by the patient. Literature was imperatively called for, and administered in the shape of Sir Walter Scott's novels. These did very well for a day or two,—when, the convalescence running into satiety of the most malignant type, a new remedy was demanded, and the clamor de profundis arose. "I wish I had a Dime Novel." The coveted medicament was obtained, and at once took vigorous hold of the system. The rapidity of cure effected by it induced us to investigate somewhat more deeply into the attractions and character of the "Dime Books" of all kinds, and a pile of forty-five volumes—all, with the exception of a few double numbers, sold at ten cents each—lies before us, being merely a selection from among them.
These works are issued by Messrs. Beadle & Co., of New York, in virtue of an enterprise started in the year 1859. They already
amount to several hundred separate publications, and circulate to the extent of many hundred thousands. This need hardly be
stated to any one who is in the way of casting his eye on the counter of any railway book-stall or newsdealer's shop. But
the statistical statement, from authority, may excite some interest,—that, up to April 1st, an aggregate of five millions
of Beadle's Dime Books had been put in circulation, of which half at least were novels, nearly a third songs, and the remainder
hand-books, biographies, &c. After this we are prepared for colossal statements as to the millions of reams of paper employed,
&c. The sales
of single novels by popular authors often amount to nearly forty thousand in two or three months.*
...We come now to the novels. The "Library of Select Fiction" offers us two examples of reprints,—John Neal's "White-Faced Pacer" and Mrs. Gaskell's "Lois the Witch," here called "The Maiden Martyr." The latter is well known as an admirable tale. The former is graphic and characteristic, but surely, when purporting to describe the youth of the gallant Captain Nathan Hale, it need not inflict on him an entirely supposititious and unnatural family, when his own father, brothers, and sisters are so well known in Massachusetts.
But the original novels, Beadle's Dime Novels, of which the favorite authors are Mrs. Ann S. Stephens, Mrs. Metta V. Victor, Edward S. Ellis, Esq., and A. J. H. Duganne! Ten of these novels have we faithfully read through, and more up-hill work in the main we never had; and this while Anthony Trollope and Dickens are living, and Thackeray is only just dead. We shall give abstracts of some of them, to show of what sort they are.
..."Alice Wilde," by Mrs. M. V. Victor, is very much better; but the characters—the refined gentleman who affects the disguise of a back-woodsman, the young lady at once perfectly masculine and perfectly feminine, and her mad lover—are all cruelly unnatural, and but little relieved by the negro humor. The word "shall," we need not say, has but rare admission into Mrs. Victor's style. The same writer gives us the "Backwood's Bride,"—more masculine young lady, more hair-breadth 'scapes, and the addition of a cruel, unnatural father, who suddenly is awakened to a sense of his daughter's misery, by no means at its highest point. The humors of Aunt Debby are delicious, but monotonous. Some terrible mistakes in style occur:—Page 7, "Whom, he was bound, should not have a single one." P. 23, "It was him"; and on p. 25, the common but silly vulgarism, "illy,"—as if "well" and "ill" were not adverbs. In "Uncle Ezekiel," an insolent, loquacious, detestable Yankee-notion-monger appears as the protector of a lovely young lady against the wiles of her aristocratic English relatives, and marries her to his protégé, a young backwoodsman. This of course gives a fine opportunity for all the conventional falsehoods about England and the English, who yet appear even in this book more amiable than in Sam Slick. Mrs. Victor describes her heroine's home, when necessary, as in the wildest part of the prairies, but contrives to get an admirable girl's school and academy founded close by as soon as she is old enough to attend them. "Maum Guinea," by the same author, is one of the thousand stories of negro life which owe their style, character, and very existence to "Uncle Tom's Cabin."