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"The Literary Graveyard" from Leslie's Monthly

by Ellis Parker Butler
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from Leslie's Monthly
The Literary Graveyard
by Ellis Parker Butler

'The Literary Graveyard' by Ellis Parker Butler
'The Literary Graveyard' by Ellis Parker Butler

One pleasant day in the year 1920, just as the leaves of the summer novels were turning, I strolled out of the city along a pleasant road, on either side of which were withered billboards bearing the remains of the posters of last year's dramatized novels. I had an appointment to meet the Great American Novel at the next turn of the road (the Great American Novel is always at the next turn of the road), and I sang blithely as I strode along, for I believed it would be one of my own children. When I had passed some miles of the billboards I came upon a gate over which was an arch bearing the words "The Literary Cemetery," and looking in I saw a quaint old man busily scraping the moss from one of the many headstones. As I paused he looked up and shaking his head sadly he said, "So many die young."

"Die young?" I queried, "What die young?"

"The novels," he answered, mournfully. "Nearly all of them. See," he added, pointing out one stone after another, and I read the sad words "Died in its first edition," "Died at birth," and "Died in its first thousand," repeated again and again.

"I have grown old in this work," continued the old man, "I used to be a second-hand book dealer, and I was official undertaker to the novel publishers, but one day I came out here and scraped the moss from one of these stones, and my tender heart bled that these poor books should be so soon forgotten, and I have done my best to keep their memory clear."

"And your name?" I asked.

"They called me Old Mortality of the Novels," he muttered, and then, "Come," he said, "I will show you my treasures."

I followed him past row after row of graves of books that had died of inanition, dislocation of the plot, style-ache, over-padding and other infant maladies, and at length he paused before a stone on which he rested his hand lovingly.

"He was an old friend," he said, "I sold hundreds of him to young maidens."

I knelt down before the stone, and although the letters had been rendered somewhat illegible by time's ravages, I made out the following:--

Sacred To The Memory of Captain Macklin

Peace, matinee girls, dry your flowing tears,
Silence your sighs, and banish all your fears;
Beneath this stone, 'tis true, your hero lies,
But from the tomb in triumph he will rise,
And, by some other name, will win fresh glow
When R. H. Davis writes his next new story.

"I love to look on that stone," said Old Mortality, "because he lived many editions. I knew him in all his lives. When he was a lad he used to come into my bookshop and tell me about the doings on Park Row. We called him Gallagher then. But I knew the kind of man he would be! And he will appear again! You cannot keep a good character down. Ask Dr. Doyle about Sherlock Holmes. Ask W. D. Howells about -- but come!" he said.

He led me past the graves of many more early demised books, and stopped where a railing of iron fenced off a bit of ground.

"It is a family plot," he said. "Some people call it a lot, but I like to call it a plot, because they deserve a plot. They had none in life to speak of, poor things!"

One stone did duty for all, and I noticed that Old Mortality had taken especial care to keep it free from lichens. I read as follows:

In Memoriam. The Kentons.

Here lies a family which day by day
Did nothing much in a most charming way.
Their bodies rest beneath this waving grass;
Their souls, we trust, have gone to Boston, Mass.

"Why Boston, Mass.?" I asked him.

"I do not know," Old Mortality replied, "unless it was necessary to make a rhyme. You wouldn't have said 'blue mass.' would you? I have often thought they might have omitted the 'Boston' as well as not. 'Their souls, we trust, have gone to mass' would make sense. I should have put 'heaven' myself, and I once thought of changing it so, but I could think of no good rhyme. And, by the way," he said, with more life than he had yet shown, "do you notice that I have let the grass grow long here? That is realism. The epitaph says, 'Beneath this waving grass,' you see. But come!"

Again he led me, and we paused before a stone on which was carved:--

'The Literary Graveyard' by Ellis Parker Butler

Hic Jacet Marna

My poor little wife,
The confession habit ended her life;
She confessed her sins and confessed mine, too;
In fact, she confessed whatever she knew,
But she dared not confess her author's name
And she kept it secret until there came
A time when the secret with which she was loaded
Was bound to come out, and so she exploded.

"It was a sad death," said Old Mortality, and some, of the pieces were never found. But she was always sorely tried. Her husband used morphia. It was worse than the Sunday Magazine Supplement habit. He began when he was in South America, by taking an injection every time there was a revolutionary war and he was soon taking an injection every hour. Ah! Those South American revolutions! What crimes are committed in their name! But what greater crimes our own revolution has been responsible for. Look!" he said, and leading me to the top of a small knoll he pointed out a small valley filled with thousands of gravestones. "All historical novels based on the American revolution," he said, "and Washington is in every one of them. But come! I will show you the longest-lived of them." The stone he pointed out bore this epitaph:--

Here Richard Carvel rests from Strife
After a much-editioned life;
A Crisis checked his long career
And death soon laid him on his bier;
The malady that quenched his light is

"It was a virulent disease," said Old Mortality, "and was an outgrowth of historic-novel-write-osis. At the beginning of this century men, women and children had the latter disease, and historic novels became so numerous that we used them for paving blocks. People who never wrote before wrote historic novels, and dialect writers, Negro minstrels, advertisement writers and bookkeepers, all turned to it. According to authentic statistics, George Washington appeared in 7,642 historic novels; Lincoln in 897; Jefferson in 54, and Mother Goose in 1. 1," he said proudly, "wrote one myself. It had all our public characters in it, from Christopher Columbus to President Roosevelt. The slain were 98,642. It should have sold well, for it was very bloody, and the female characters were properly insipid, but it did not go. It is buried over there."

He stood a moment, while the tears rolled down his cheeks, and then he turned and led the way to a double grave. "This," he said, "is one of my favorite epitaphs; the sentiment is so soulful."

I read as follows:--

Here, side by side, the Two fan Revels lie
Where one alone had lied.
As gentlemen of Indiana vie
In love, these rivals vied.

Both were great beaux, all other beaux above,
And it was strange to see
One beau in reckless manner making love
And one Beaucairefully.

'The Literary Graveyard' by Ellis Parker Butler



Saturday, October 07 at 1:19:45am USA Central
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