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[233] external necessity, but because digression and even disquisition is to the essayist the breath of life.

In The Guardian Angel, the heroine is a composite photograph of half a dozen warring ancestors of whom now one and now another emerges into view to insist upon the reappearance of his or her identity in Myrtle Hazard. Yet, when all deductions are made, both Elsie Venner and The Guardian Angel have many a chapter that only Holmes could have written, rich in wisdom, in wit, in whimsy, and in knowledge of the world. But this can scarcely be said of A Mortal Antipathy, the latest of the medicated fictions and the feeblest, written when its author had long passed threescore years and ten. The physiological theme is too far-fetched, too unusual, too abnormal, to win acceptance even if it had been handled by a master of fiction; and we may doubt whether even Balzac could have dealt with it triumphantly. As Holmes dealt with it, it did not justify itself; the narrative was too fragmentary for fiction and too forced, while the intercalary papers lacked the freshness of view and the unpremeditated ease of Holmes's earlier manner as an essayist.

‘The prologue of life is finished at twenty; then come five acts of a decade each, and the play is over, with now and then a pleasant or a tedious afterpiece, when half the lights are put out, and half the orchestra is gone.’ When Holmes wrote this, he could not foresee that he would be able to keep in their seats more than half of the spectators, if not the most of them, to the very end of his pleasant afterpiece. He was not forty when he first discoursed as the ‘Autocrat’ and he was twice forty when he gossiped ‘Over the Teacups.’ In the octogenarian book he may be a little less spontaneous and a little more selfcentred than in its predecessor of twoscore years earlier; and the shadowy figures who take part in its conversations may seem to talk a little because they are aware that they were created on purpose to converse, instead of talking freely for the fun of it as the solider persons who met around the breakfast table were wont to do. Yet the latest of the group, even if its wit be less pungent, has almost as many samples of shrewd sagacity as adorned the two books that came after the Autocrat. ‘Habits are the crutches of old age,’ Holmes tells us; and he never lost the habit of cheerfulness. There is no hypocritic

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