The Ecphorizer

Notes of a Magaziner II
Paul W. Healy

Issue #13 (September 1982)

Magazines of 100 years ago reveal that things haven't changed much

[quoteright]Though established somewhat later than Atlantic Monthly and Harpers, the Century Illustrated Monthly Magazine started in 1870, rapidly came to equal them

...the tiger, being very hungry, tore down the partition...

in its quality of general articles and fiction. Then, as now, the rulers of Russia were persecuting the Jews. In the May 1882 issue of Century Emma Lazarus (author of the poem on the Statue of Liberty) wrote:

"As for the Jews being 'equally sheltered before the Russian law with their Christian fellow subjects,' if any further proof be needed than the recent unpunished outrages upon their lives and property, I will cite the latest authority on the subject, M. A. Leroy-Beaulieu, whose magnificent work, L'Empire des Tsars affords the fullest and clearest exposition yet made of the actual conditions in Russia. 'Even since the latest reforms, the Israelites still remain in regard to their domicile, their property, and their elective functions, subject to certain restrictions, which make them a separate class even in the midst of the classes to which they belong...'"

The Tsars are long gone, but the present rulers of Russia seem little better disposed toward the Jews than the previous dictators.

In the August 1882 issue of the Century, under "The World's Work," is an article on "Recent Progress in Photography":

"One of the cameras is intended to be used in taking a series of instantaneous photographs of a moving object... The lens is placed in a telescopic tube... At the end of the tube is placed a circular holder having a series of openings that may be brought into line with the tube, precisely as the chambers of a revolver are brought into line with the barrel of the revolver, by turning of the holder on its axis..."

Have you looked at the advertisements for the very latest of Kodak's "new" cameras, with its negatives mounted on a flat disk?

The November 1882 issue of the Century contained the first publication of Frank R. Stockton's classic tale, "The Lady or the Tiger?" A synopsis of the story, without Stockton's florid prose, is this: A semi-barbaric King had a daughter whom he loved very much. She was in love with one of her father's courtiers. Although he was handsome he was low-born, and hence in the opinion of the King no fitting mate for the princess. Now the King's method of dispensing justice was to place the accused in a public arena and let him choose which of two doors facing the arena should be opened. Behind one door was a fierce man-eating tiger; behind the other, a beautiful young maiden. If the accused chose the door with the tiger he was promptly devoured; if he chose the door with the lady behind it, he was just as promptly married to her. When the princess's affair was discovered, the King had her lover placed in the arena and given his choice of the doors. But the princess had managed to discover which door was which, and when her lover stood in the arena she signaled to him with her right hand -- a signal only he saw. He promptly opened the right-hand door. Stockton continues:

"Now, the point of the story is this: Did the tiger come out of that door or did the lady? The more we reflect upon this question, the harder it is to answer. It involves a study of the human heart which leads us through devious mazes of passion, out of which it is difficult to find our way. Think of it, fair reader, not as if the question depended upon yourself, but upon a hot-blooded, semi-barbaric princess, her soul at a white-heat between the combined fires of despair and jealousy. She had lost him, but who should have him?...

"Her decision had been indicated in an instant, but it had been made after days and nights of anguished deliberation. She had known she would be asked, she had decided what she would answer, and, without the slightest hesitation, she had moved her hand to the right.

"The question of her decision is not one to be lightly considered, and it is not for me to set myself up as the one person able to answer it. And so I leave it all to you: -- Which came out of the door the lady, or the tiger?"

This short story has been anthologized countless times, but no one has ever given a truly satisfying answer. But in the Century for June 1883, a reader (Joseph Kirkland) did suggest a sort of solution, in verse. He surmises that the tiger, being very hungry, tore down the partition between the two rooms and devoured the lady. Then, his hunger dulled, he merely sniffed at the youth and walked away. Thereupon the King permitted the princess to marry her lover. Kirkland's poem concludes:

"Oft did the swain in later life
Demand the secret from his wife;
And by all arts strove to oblige her
To tell which door had hid the tiger.

But she, as all historians say,
Kept silent to her dying day:
So no step further ever made he
To solve the problem 'Death or Lady'"

Those looking for a quick way to literary fame could perhaps do worse than to follow the instructions in the February 1883 issue of the Century, under the title "Every Man His Own Novelist -- Specimen Recipes by Augustus Swift." About the style of Anthony Trollope, we read:

"This dish is always in season, but depends, like the omelette, on a certain amount of mechanical skill. The ingredients are simple: three English clergymen of slightly doubtful reputation, a county family, one Duchess, and a pair of purely conventional lovers. It is indispensable that the latter should at once quarrel gently, but, unless they positively curdle and refuse to mix, they should not betray any marked emotion. Stir in several Cabinet Ministers and one impossible American; dilute to taste; garnish with one suicide, chopped fine, and sauce mariage a la mode."
Mr. Swift also includes recipes for William Black, Miss Broughton, "Ouida," and Lord Beaconsfeld.

Finally, a letter from one P. T. Quinn in the June 1883 issue indicates that Anglo-Irish relations have not improved at all in 100 years:

"...every respectable Irish-American I know condemns the acts of the low-lived scoundrels who take any part, directly or indirectly, in such attempts as have been recently made to destroy life and property by the hellish method of dynamite, or crimes like the Phoenix Park murders. Such low and dastardly acts bring the cause into disrepute, and those who commit them are not and cannot be true friends of Ireland. These crimes alienate the friendship and sympathy of the enlightened Christians of all nationalities -- a sympathy that is sure to be extended toward any brave people who are suffering from unjust laws." 

Magaziner Paul Healy has promised to stop raiding dentist's offices to round out his collection.  A devout cineaste, he used to host Contra Costa FOOFs (Friends Of Old Films).

More Articles by Paul W. Healy

We have collected the essential data you need to easily include this page on your blog. Just click and copy!close
E-mail Print to PDF Blog
Return to Table of Contents for Issue #13