Thursday, October 25, 2012

Everyone's a Critic

Prince of India carving on Study Building
Lew Wallace is probably most famous as the author of Ben-Hur, which was the best-selling novel of the 20th century, but he wrote other novels, and they weren't all as well-received as Ben-Hur. The following is a letter written to him by a doctor from Colorado:

Dear Sir,

Perhaps advice may not be acceptable to you, and in case that it is not, allow me to make a request of you. It is this: in charity to English-speaking humanity, please do not attempt to write any more books of fiction.

Your first* book of the kind, or at least the first one of them that I got hold of, is a fine work. It is a beautiful story and beautifully told. The descriptions in it are superbly realistic, and an intense interest enthralls the reader from the beginning of the book to the end. I am speaking of Ben Hur, and I can not recall any book that gave me more pleasure in reading than Ben Hur.
With the next one I read, The Fair God (1873). I was awfully disappointed. It is hardly worth reading, and is inconceivably inferior to Ben Hur in every way.
But by far the worst of the lot is The Prince of India (1893). I have just managed to read the first volume, and that is all I could stand. It is apparently a rehash of the old yarn of the Wandering Jew, and certainly the most insipid and uninteresting lot of trash that I have had the misfortune to get hold of in years.
Had you been satisfied to stop writing after finishing Ben Hur your reputation as a writer of English literature would have been most admirable; but the effect of The Fair God and more particularly The Prince of India will be to leave the reputation of the author of Ben Hur decidedly clouded. So I repeat my request.
Please do not attempt to write any more works of fiction for you are evidently in your later years not equal to the attempt. In all kindness and thanking you for the pleasure your first book gave me, I am, most respectfully,
J.D. Brandon, M.D.

Ouch!



*Note: The Fair God was actually Lew's first novel, and Ben-Hur the second, though it was, of course, Ben-Hur that received widespread attention and secured Lew's fortune and reputation as a novelist.

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