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´╗┐Title: Literature and Life (Complete)
Author: Howells, William Dean, 1837-1920
Language: English
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*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Literature and Life (Complete)" ***

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by William Dean Howells


     Man of Letters in Business
     Confessions of a Summer Colonist
     The Young Contributor
     Last Days in a Dutch Hotel
     Anomalies of the Short Story
     Spanish Prisoners of War
     American Literary Centers
     Standard Household Effect Co.
     Notes of a Vanished Summer

     Short Stories and Essays:
         Worries of a Winter Walk
         Summer Isles of Eden
         Wild Flowers of the Asphalt
         A Circus in the Suburbs
         A She Hamlet
         The Midnight Platoon
         The Beach at Rockaway
         Sawdust in the Arena
         At a Dime Museum
         American Literature in Exile
         The Horse Show
         The Problem of the Summer
         Aesthetic New York Fifty-odd Years Ago
         From New York into New England
         The Art of the Adsmith
         The Psychology of Plagiarism
         Puritanism in American Fiction
         The What and How in Art
         Politics in American Authors
         "Floating down the River on the O-hi-o"

     Literary Passions
     Criticism and Fiction


Perhaps the reader may not feel in these papers that inner solidarity
which the writer is conscious of; and it is in this doubt that the writer
wishes to offer a word of explanation. He owns, as he must, that they
have every appearance of a group of desultory sketches and essays,
without palpable relation to one another, or superficial allegiance to
any central motive. Yet he ventures to hope that the reader who makes
his way through them will be aware, in the retrospect, of something like
this relation and this allegiance.

For my own part, if I am to identify myself with the writer who is here
on his defence, I have never been able to see much difference between
what seemed to me Literature and what seemed to me Life. If I did not
find life in what professed to be literature, I disabled its profession,
and possibly from this habit, now inveterate with me, I am never quite
sure of life unless I find literature in it. Unless the thing seen
reveals to me an intrinsic poetry, and puts on phrases that clothe it
pleasingly to the imagination, I do not much care for it; but if it will
do this, I do not mind how poor or common or squalid it shows at first
glance: it challenges my curiosity and keeps my sympathy. Instantly I
love it and wish to share my pleasure in it with some one else, or as
many ones else as I can get to look or listen. If the thing is something
read, rather than seen, I am not anxious about the matter: if it is like
life, I know that it is poetry, and take it to my heart. There can be no
offence in it for which its truth will not make me amends.

Out of this way of thinking and feeling about these two great things,
about Literature and Life, there may have arisen a confusion as to which
is which. But I do not wish to part them, and in their union I have
found, since I learned my letters, a joy in them both which I hope will
last till I forget my letters.

       "So was it when my life began;
        So is it, now I am a man;
        So be it when I shall grow old."

It is the rainbow in the sky for me; and I have seldom seen a sky without
some bit of rainbow in it. Sometimes I can make others see it, sometimes
not; but I always like to try, and if I fail I harbor no worse thought of
them than that they have not had their eyes examined and fitted with
glasses which would at least have helped their vision.

As to the where and when of the different papers, in which I suppose
their bibliography properly lies, I need not be very exact. "The Man of
Letters as a Man of Business" was written in a hotel at Lakewood in the
May of 1892 or 1893, and pretty promptly printed in Scribner's Magazine;
"Confessions of a Summer Colonist" was done at York Harbor in the fall of
1898 for the Atlantic Monthly, and was a study of life at that pleasant
resort as it was lived-in the idyllic times of the earlier settlement,
long before motors and almost before private carriages; "American
Literary Centres," "American Literature in Exile," "Puritanism in
American Fiction," "Politics of American Authors," were, with three or
four other papers, the endeavors of the American correspondent of the
London Times's literary supplement, to enlighten the British
understanding as to our ways of thinking and writing eleven years ago,
and are here left to bear the defects of the qualities of their obsolete
actuality in the year 1899. Most of the studies and sketches are from an
extinct department of "Life and Letters" which I invented for Harper's
Weekly, and operated for a year or so toward the close of the nineteenth
century. Notable among these is the "Last Days in a Dutch Hotel," which
was written at Paris in 1897; it is rather a favorite of mine, perhaps
because I liked Holland so much; others, which more or less personally
recognize effects of sojourn in New York or excursions into New England,
are from the same department; several may be recalled by the longer-
memoried reader as papers from the "Editor's Easy Chair" in Harper's
Monthly; "Wild Flowers of the Asphalt" is the review of an ever-
delightful book which I printed in Harper's Bazar; "The Editor's
Relations with the Young Contributor" was my endeavor in Youth's
Companion to shed a kindly light from my experience in both seats upon
the too-often and too needlessly embittered souls of literary beginners.

So it goes as to the motives and origins of the collection which may
persist in disintegrating under the reader's eye, in spite of my well-
meant endeavors to establish a solidarity for it. The group at least
attests, even in this event, the wide, the wild, variety of my literary
production in time and space. From the beginning the journalist's
independence of the scholar's solitude and seclusion has remained with
me, and though I am fond enough of a bookish entourage, of the serried
volumes of the library shelves, and the inviting breadth of the library
table, I am not disabled by the hard conditions of a bedroom in a summer
hotel, or the narrow possibilities of a candle-stand, without a
dictionary in the whole house, or a book of reference even in the running
brooks outside.
                       W. D. HOWELLS.


I think that every man ought to work for his living, without exception,
and that, when he has once avouched his willingness to work, society
should provide him with work and warrant him a living. I do not think
any man ought to live by an art. A man's art should be his privilege,
when he has proven his fitness to exercise it, and has otherwise earned
his daily bread; and its results should be free to all. There is an
instinctive sense of this, even in the midst of the grotesque confusion
of our economic being; people feel that there is something profane,
something impious, in taking money for a picture, or a poem, or a statue.
Most of all, the artist himself feels this. He puts on a bold front with
the world, to be sure, and brazens it out as Business; but he knows very
well that there is something false and vulgar in it; and that the work
which cannot be truly priced in money cannot be truly paid in money.
He can, of course, say that the priest takes money for reading the
marriage service, for christening the new-born babe, and for saying the
last office for the dead; that the physician sells healing; that justice
itself is paid for; and that he is merely a party to the thing that is
and must be. He can say that, as the thing is, unless he sells his art
he cannot live, that society will leave him to starve if he does not hit
its fancy in a picture, or a poem, or a statue; and all this is bitterly
true. He is, and he must be, only too glad if there is a market for his
wares. Without a market for his wares he must perish, or turn to making
something that will sell better than pictures, or poems, or statues.
All the same, the sin and the shame remain, and the averted eye sees them
still, with its inward vision. Many will make believe otherwise, but I
would rather not make believe otherwise; and in trying to write of
Literature as Business I am tempted to begin by saying that Business is
the opprobrium of Literature.


Literature is at once the most intimate and the most articulate of the
arts. It cannot impart its effect through the senses or the nerves as
the other arts can; it is beautiful only through the intelligence; it is
the mind speaking to the mind; until it has been put into absolute terms,
of an invariable significance, it does not exist at all. It cannot
awaken this emotion in one, and that in another; if it fails to express
precisely the meaning of the author, if it does not say him, it says
nothing, and is nothing. So that when a poet has put his heart, much or
little, into a poem, and sold it to a magazine, the scandal is greater
than when a painter has sold a picture to a patron, or a sculptor has
modelled a statue to order. These are artists less articulate and less
intimate than the poet; they are more exterior to their work; they are
less personally in it; they part with less of themselves in the dicker.
It does not change the nature of the case to say that Tennyson and
Longfellow and Emerson sold the poems in which they couched the most
mystical messages their genius was charged to bear mankind. They
submitted to the conditions which none can escape; but that does not
justify the conditions, which are none the less the conditions of
hucksters because they are imposed upon poets. If it will serve to make
my meaning a little clearer, we will suppose that a poet has been crossed
in love, or has suffered some real sorrow, like the loss of a wife or
child. He pours out his broken heart in verse that shall bring tears of
sacred sympathy from his readers, and an editor pays him a hundred
dollars for the right of bringing his verse to their notice. It is
perfectly true that the poem was not written for these dollars, but it is
perfectly true that it was sold for them. The poet must use his emotions
to pay his provision bills; he has no other means; society does not
propose to pay his bills for him. Yet, and at the end of the ends, the
unsophisticated witness finds the transaction ridiculous, finds it
repulsive, finds it shabby. Somehow he knows that if our huckstering
civilization did not at every moment violate the eternal fitness of
things, the poet's song would have been given to the world, and the poet
would have been cared for by the whole human brotherhood, as any man
should be who does the duty that every man owes it.

The instinctive sense of the dishonor which money-purchase does to art is
so strong that sometimes a man of letters who can pay his way otherwise
refuses pay for his work, as Lord Byron did, for a while, from a noble
pride, and as Count Tolstoy has tried to do, from a noble conscience.
But Byron's publisher profited by a generosity which did not reach his
readers; and the Countess Tolstoy collects the copyright which her
husband foregoes; so that these two eminent instances of protest against
business in literature may be said not to have shaken its money basis.
I know of no others; but there may be many that I am culpably ignorant
of. Still, I doubt if there are enough to affect the fact that
Literature is Business as well as Art, and almost as soon. At present
business is the only human solidarity; we are all bound together with
that chain, whatever interests and tastes and principles separate us,
and I feel quite sure that in writing of the Man of Letters as a Man of
Business I shall attract far more readers than I should in writing of him
as an Artist. Besides, as an artist he has been done a great deal
already; and a commercial state like ours has really more concern in him
as a business man. Perhaps it may sometime be different; I do not
believe it will till the conditions are different, and that is a long way


In the mean time I confidently appeal to the reader's imagination with
the fact that there are several men of letters among us who are such good
men of business that they can command a hundred dollars a thousand words
for all they write. It is easy to write a thousand words a day, and,
supposing one of these authors to work steadily, it can be seen that his
net earnings during the year would come to some such sum as the President
of the United States gets for doing far less work of a much more
perishable sort. If the man of letters were wholly a business man, this
is what would happen; he would make his forty or fifty thousand dollars a
year, and be able to consort with bank presidents, and railroad
officials, and rich tradesmen, and other flowers of our plutocracy on
equal terms. But, unfortunately, from a business point of view, he is
also an artist, and the very qualities that enable him to delight the
public disable him from delighting it uninterruptedly. "No rose blooms
right along," as the English boys at Oxford made an American collegian
say in a theme which they imagined for him in his national parlance; and
the man of letters, as an artist, is apt to have times and seasons when
he cannot blossom. Very often it shall happen that his mind will lie
fallow between novels or stories for weeks and months at a stretch; when
the suggestions of the friendly editor shall fail to fruit in the essays
or articles desired; when the muse shall altogether withhold herself, or
shall respond only in a feeble dribble of verse which he might sell
indeed, but which it would not be good business for him to put on the
market. But supposing him to be a very diligent and continuous worker,
and so happy as to have fallen on a theme that delights him and bears him
along, he may please himself so ill with the result of his labors that he
can do nothing less in artistic conscience than destroy a day's work, a
week's work, a month's work. I know one man of letters who wrote to-day
and tore up tomorrow for nearly a whole summer. But even if part of the
mistaken work may be saved, because it is good work out of place, and not
intrinsically bad, the task of reconstruction wants almost as much time
as the production; and then, when all seems done, comes the anxious and
endless process of revision. These drawbacks reduce the earning capacity
of what I may call the high-cost man of letters in such measure that an
author whose name is known everywhere, and whose reputation is
commensurate with the boundaries of his country, if it does not transcend
them, shall have the income, say, of a rising young physician, known to a
few people in a subordinate city.

In view of this fact, so humiliating to an author in the presence of a
nation of business men like ours, I do not know that I can establish the
man of letters in the popular esteem as very much of a business man,
after all. He must still have a low rank among practical people; and he
will be regarded by the great mass of Americans as perhaps a little off,
a little funny, a little soft! Perhaps not; and yet I would rather not
have a consensus of public opinion on the question; I think I am more
comfortable without it.


There is this to be said in defence of men of letters on the business
side, that literature is still an infant industry with us, and, so far
from having been protected by our laws, it was exposed for ninety years
after the foundation of the republic to the vicious competition of stolen
goods. It is true that we now have the international copyright law at
last, and we can at least begin to forget our shame; but literary
property has only forty-two years of life under our unjust statutes, and
if it is attacked by robbers the law does not seek out the aggressors and
punish them, as it would seek out and punish the trespassers upon any
other kind of property; it leaves the aggrieved owner to bring suit
against them, and recover damages, if he can. This may be right enough
in itself; but I think, then, that all property should be defended by
civil suit, and should become public after forty-two years of private
tenure. The Constitution guarantees us all equality before the law, but
the law-makers seem to have forgotten this in the case of our literary
industry. So long as this remains the case, we cannot expect the best
business talent to go into literature, and the man of letters must keep
his present low grade among business men.

As I have hinted, it is but a little while that he has had any standing
at all. I may say that it is only since the Civil War that literature
has become a business with us. Before that time we had authors, and very
good ones; it is astonishing how good they were; but I do not remember
any of them who lived by literature except Edgar A. Poe, perhaps; and we
all know how he lived; it was largely upon loans. They were either men
of fortune, or they were editors or professors, with salaries or incomes
apart from the small gains of their pens; or they were helped out with
public offices; one need not go over their names or classify them. Some
of them must have made money by their books, but I question whether any
one could have lived, even very simply, upon the money his books brought
him. No one could do that now, unless he wrote a book that we could not
recognize as a work of literature. But many authors live now, and live
prettily enough, by the sale of the serial publication of their writings
to the magazines. They do not live so nicely as successful tradespeople,
of course, or as men in the other professions when they begin to make
themselves names; the high state of brokers, bankers, railroad operators,
and the like is, in the nature of the case, beyond their fondest dreams
of pecuniary affluence and social splendor. Perhaps they do not want the
chief seats in the synagogue; it is certain they do not get them. Still,
they do very fairly well, as things go; and several have incomes that
would seem riches to the great mass of worthy Americans who work with
their hands for a living--when they can get the work. Their incomes are
mainly from serial publication in the different magazines; and the
prosperity of the magazines has given a whole class existence which, as a
class, was wholly unknown among us before the Civil War. It is not only
the famous or fully recognized authors who live in this way, but the much
larger number of clever people who are as yet known chiefly to the
editors, and who may never make themselves a public, but who do well a
kind of acceptable work. These are the sort who do not get reprinted
from the periodicals; but the better recognized authors do get reprinted,
and then their serial work in its completed form appeals to the readers
who say they do not read serials. The multitude of these is not great,
and if an author rested his hopes upon their favor he would be a much
more imbittered man than he now generally is. But he understands
perfectly well that his reward is in the serial and not in the book; the
return from that he may count as so much money found in the road--a few
hundreds, a very few thousands, at the most, unless he is the author of
an historical romance.


I doubt, indeed, whether the earnings of literary men are absolutely as
great as they were earlier in the century, in any of the English-speaking
countries; relatively they are nothing like as great. Scott had forty
thousand dollars for 'Woodstock,' which was not a very large novel, and
was by no means one of his best; and forty thousand dollars then had at
least the purchasing power of sixty thousand now. Moore had three
thousand guineas for 'Lalla Rookh,' but what publisher would be rash
enough to pay fifteen thousand dollars for the masterpiece of a minor
poet now? The book, except in very rare instances, makes nothing like
the return to the author that the magazine makes, and there are few
leading authors who find their account in that form of publication.
Those who do, those who sell the most widely in book form, are often not
at all desired by editors; with difficulty they get a serial accepted by
any principal magazine. On the other hand, there are authors whose
books, compared with those of the popular favorites, do not sell, and yet
they are eagerly sought for by editors; they are paid the highest prices,
and nothing that they offer is refused. These are literary artists; and
it ought to be plain from what I am saying that in belles-lettres, at
least, most of the best literature now first sees the light in the
magazines, and most of the second-best appears first in book form. The
old-fashioned people who flatter themselves upon their distinction in not
reading magazine fiction or magazine poetry make a great mistake, and
simply class themselves with the public whose taste is so crude that they
cannot enjoy the best. Of course, this is true mainly, if not merely, of
belles-lettres; history, science, politics, metaphysics, in spite of the
many excellent articles and papers in these sorts upon what used to be
called various emergent occasions, are still to be found at their best in
books. The most monumental example of literature, at once light and
good, which has first reached the public in book form is in the different
publications of Mark Twain; but Mr. Clemens has of late turned to the
magazines too, and now takes their mint-mark before he passes into
general circulation. All this may change again, but at present the
magazines--we have no longer any reviews form the most direct approach to
that part of our reading public which likes the highest things in
literary art. Their readers, if we may judge from the quality of the
literature they get, are more refined than the book readers in our
community; and their taste has no doubt been cultivated by that of the
disciplined and experienced editors. So far as I have known these, they
are men of aesthetic conscience and of generous sympathy. They have
their preferences in the different kinds, and they have their theory of
what kind will be most acceptable to their readers; but they exercise
their selective function with the wish to give them the best things they
can. I do not know one of them--and it has been, my good fortune to know
them nearly all--who would print a wholly inferior thing for the sake of
an inferior class of readers, though they may sometimes decline a good
thing because for one reason or another, they believe it would not be
liked. Still, even this does not often happen; they would rather chance
the good thing they doubted of than underrate their readers' judgment.

The young author who wins recognition in a first-class magazine has
achieved a double success, first, with the editor, and then with the best
reading public. Many factitious and fallacious literary reputations have
been made through books, but very few have been made through the
magazines, which are not only the best means of living, but of outliving,
with the author; they are both bread and fame to him. If I insist a
little upon the high office which this modern form of publication fulfils
in the literary world, it is because I am impatient of the antiquated and
ignorant prejudice which classes the magazines as ephemeral. They are
ephemeral in form, but in substance they are not ephemeral, and what is
best in them awaits its resurrection in the book, which, as the first
form, is so often a lasting death. An interesting proof of the value of
the magazine to literature is the fact that a good novel will often have
wider acceptance as a book from having been a magazine serial.


Under the 'regime' of the great literary periodicals the prosperity of
literary men would be much greater than it actually is if the magazines
were altogether literary. But they are not, and this is one reason why
literature is still the hungriest of the professions. Two-thirds of the
magazines are made up of material which, however excellent, is without
literary quality. Very probably this is because even the highest class
of readers, who are the magazine readers, have small love of pure
literature, which seems to have been growing less and less in all
classes. I say seems, because there are really no means of ascertaining
the fact, and it may be that the editors are mistaken in making their
periodicals two-thirds popular science, politics, economics, and the
timely topics which I will call contemporanics. But, however that may
be, their efforts in this direction have narrowed the field of literary
industry, and darkened the hope of literary prosperity kindled by the
unexampled prosperity of their periodicals. They pay very well indeed
for literature; they pay from five or six dollars a thousand words for
the work of the unknown writer to a hundred and fifty dollars a thousand
words for that of the most famous, or the most popular, if there is a
difference between fame and popularity; but they do not, altogether, want
enough literature to justify the best business talent in devoting itself
to belles-lettres, to fiction, or poetry, or humorous sketches of travel,
or light essays; business talent can do far better in dry goods,
groceries, drugs, stocks, real estate, railroads, and the like. I do not
think there is any danger of a ruinous competition from it in the field
which, though narrow, seems so rich to us poor fellows, whose business
talent is small, at the best.

The most of the material contributed to the magazines is the subject of
agreement between the editor and the author; it is either suggested by
the author or is the fruit of some suggestion from the editor; in any
case the price is stipulated beforehand, and it is no longer the custom
for a well-known contributor to leave the payment to the justice or the
generosity of the publisher; that was never a fair thing to either, nor
ever a wise thing. Usually, the price is so much a thousand words, a
truly odious method of computing literary value, and one well calculated
to make the author feel keenly the hatefulness of selling his art at all.
It is as if a painter sold his picture at so much a square inch, or a
sculptor bargained away a group of statuary by the pound. But it is a
custom that you cannot always successfully quarrel with, and most writers
gladly consent to it, if only the price a thousand words is large enough.
The sale to the editor means the sale of the serial rights only, but if
the publisher of the magazine is also a publisher of books, the
republication of the material is supposed to be his right, unless there
is an understanding to the contrary; the terms for this are another
affair. Formerly something more could be got for the author by the
simultaneous appearance of his work in an English magazine; but now the
great American magazines, which pay far higher prices than any others in
the world, have a circulation in England so much exceeding that of any
English periodical that the simultaneous publication can no longer be
arranged for from this side, though I believe it is still done here from
the other side.


I think this is the case of authorship as it now stands with regard to
the magazines. I am not sure that the case is in every way improved for
young authors. The magazines all maintain a staff for the careful
examination of manuscripts, but as most of the material they print has
been engaged, the number of volunteer contributions that they can use is
very small; one of the greatest of them, I know, does not use fifty in
the course of a year. The new writer, then, must be very good to be
accepted, and when accepted he may wait long before he is printed.
The pressure is so great in these avenues to the public favor that one,
two, three years, are no uncommon periods of delay. If the young writer
has not the patience for this, or has a soul above cooling his heels in
the courts of fame, or must do his best to earn something at once, the
book is his immediate hope. How slight a hope the book is I have tried
to hint already, but if a book is vulgar enough in sentiment, and crude
enough in taste, and flashy enough in incident, or, better or worse
still, if it is a bit hot in the mouth, and promises impropriety if not
indecency, there is a very fair chance of its success; I do not mean
success with a self-respecting publisher, but with the public, which does
not personally put its name to it, and is not openly smirched by it.
I will not talk of that kind of book, however, but of the book which the
young author has written out of an unspoiled heart and an untainted mind,
such as most young men and women write; and I will suppose that it has
found a publisher. It is human nature, as competition has deformed human
nature, for the publisher to wish the author to take all the risks, and
he possibly proposes that the author shall publish it at his own expense,
and let him have a percentage of the retail price for managing it. If
not that, he proposes that the author shall pay for the stereotype
plates, and take fifteen per cent. of the price of the book; or if this
will not go, if the author cannot, rather than will not, do it (he is
commonly only too glad to do any thing he can), then the publisher offers
him ten per cent. of the retail price after the first thousand copies
have been sold. But if he fully believes in the book, he will give ten
per cent. from the first copy sold, and pay all the costs of publication
himself. The book is to be retailed for a dollar and a half, and the
publisher is not displeased with a new book that sells fifteen hundred
copies. Whether the author has as much reason to be pleased is a
question, but if the book does not sell more he has only himself to
blame, and had better pocket in silence the two hundred and twenty-five
dollars he gets for it, and bless his publisher, and try to find work
somewhere at five dollars a week. The publisher has not made any more,
if quite as much as the author, and until a book has sold two thousand
copies the division is fair enough. After that, the heavier expenses of
manufacturing have been defrayed and the book goes on advertising itself;
there is merely the cost of paper, printing, binding, and marketing to be
met, and the arrangement becomes fairer and fairer for the publisher.
The author has no right to complain of this, in the case of his first
book, which he is only too grateful to get accepted at all. If it
succeeds, he has himself to blame for making the same arrangement for his
second or third; it is his fault, or else it is his necessity, which is
practically the same thing. It will be business for the publisher to
take advantage of his necessity quite the same as if it were his fault;
but I do not say that he will always do so; I believe he will very often
not do so.

At one time there seemed a probability of the enlargement of the author's
gains by subscription publication, and one very well-known American
author prospered fabulously in that way. The percentage offered by the
subscription houses was only about half as much as that paid by the
trade, but the sales were so much greater that the author could very well
afford to take it. Where the book-dealer sold ten, the book-agent sold a
hundred; or at least he did so in the case of Mark Twain's books; and we
all thought it reasonable he could do so with ours. Such of us as made
experiment of him, however, found the facts illogical. No book of
literary quality was made to go by subscription except Mr. Clemens's
books, and I think these went because the subscription public never knew
what good literature they were. This sort of readers, or buyers, were so
used to getting something worthless for their money that they would not
spend it for artistic fiction, or, indeed, for any fiction at all except
Mr. Clemens's, which they probably supposed bad. Some good books of
travel had a measurable success through the book-agents, but not at all
the success that had been hoped for; and I believe now the subscription
trade again publishes only compilations, or such works as owe more to the
skill of the editor than the art of the writer. Mr. Clemens himself no
longer offers his books to the public in that way.

It is not common, I think, in this country, to publish on the half-
profits system, but it is very common in England, where, owing probably
to the moisture in the air, which lends a fairy outline to every
prospect, it seems to be peculiarly alluring. One of my own early books
was published there on these terms, which I accepted with the insensate
joy of the young author in getting any terms from a publisher. The book
sold, sold every copy of the small first edition, and in due time the
publisher's statement came. I did not think my half of the profits was
very great, but it seemed a fair division after every imaginable cost had
been charged up against my poor book, and that frail venture had been
made to pay the expenses of composition, corrections, paper, printing,
binding, advertising, and editorial copies. The wonder ought to have
been that there was anything at all coming to me, but I was young and
greedy then, and I really thought there ought to have been more. I was
disappointed, but I made the best of it, of course, and took the account
to the junior partner of the house which employed me, and said that I
should like to draw on him for the sum due me from the London publishers.
He said, Certainly; but after a glance at the account he smiled and said
he supposed I knew how much the sum was? I answered, Yes; it was eleven
pounds nine shillings, was not it? But I owned at the same time that I
never was good at figures, and that I found English money peculiarly
baffling. He laughed now, and said, It was eleven shillings and
ninepence. In fact, after all those charges for composition,
corrections, paper, printing, binding, advertising, and editorial copies,
there was a most ingenious and wholly surprising charge of ten per cent.
commission on sales, which reduced my half from pounds to shillings, and
handsomely increased the publisher's half in proportion. I do not now
dispute the justice of the charge. It was not the fault of the half-
profits system; it was the fault of the glad young author who did not
distinctly inform himself of its mysterious nature in agreeing to it, and
had only to reproach himself if he was finally disappointed.

But there is always something disappointing in the accounts of
publishers, which I fancy is because authors are strangely constituted,
rather than because publishers are so. I will confess that I have such
inordinate expectations of the sale of my books, which I hope I think
modestly of, that the sales reported to me never seem great enough. The
copyright due me, no matter how handsome it is, appears deplorably mean,
and I feel impoverished for several days after I get it. But, then, I
ought to add that my balance in the bank is always much less than I have
supposed it to be, and my own checks, when they come back to me, have the
air of having been in a conspiracy to betray me.

No, we literary men must learn, no matter how we boast ourselves in
business, that the distress we feel from our publisher's accounts is
simply idiopathic; and I for one wish to bear my witness to the constant
good faith and uprightness of publishers. It is supposed that because
they have the affair altogether in their hands they are apt to take
advantage in it; but this does not follow, and as a matter of fact they
have the affair no more in their own hands than any other business man
you have an open account with. There is nothing to prevent you from
looking at their books, except your own innermost belief and fear that
their books are correct, and that your literature has brought you so
little because it has sold so little.

The author is not to blame for his superficial delusion to the contrary,
especially if he has written a book that has set every one talking,
because it is of a vital interest. It may be of a vital interest,
without being at all the kind of book people want to buy; it may be the
kind of book that they are content to know at second hand; there are such
fatal books; but hearing so much, and reading so much about it, the
author cannot help hoping that it has sold much more than the publisher
says. The publisher is undoubtedly honest, however, and the author had
better put away the comforting question of his integrity.

The English writers seem largely to suspect their publishers; but I
believe that American authors, when not flown with flattering reviews,
as largely trust theirs. Of course there are rogues in every walk of
life. I will not say that I ever personally met them in the flowery
paths of literature, but I have heard of other people meeting them there,
just as I have heard of people seeing ghosts, and I have to believe in
both the rogues and the ghosts, without the witness of my own senses.
I suppose, upon such grounds mainly, that there are wicked publishers,
but, in the case of our books that do not sell, I am afraid that it is
the graceless and inappreciative public which is far more to blame than
the wickedest of the publishers. It is true that publishers will drive a
hard bargain when they can, or when they must; but there is nothing to
hinder an author from driving a hard bargain, too, when he can, or when
he must; and it is to be said of the publisher that he is always more
willing to abide by the bargain when it is made than the author is;
perhaps because he has the best of it. But he has not always the best of
it; I have known publishers too generous to take advantage of the
innocence of authors; and I fancy that if publishers had to do with any
race less diffident than authors, they would have won a repute for
unselfishness that they do now now enjoy. It is certain that in the long
period when we flew the black flag of piracy there were many among our
corsairs on the high seas of literature who paid a fair price for the
stranger craft they seized; still oftener they removed the cargo and
released their capture with several weeks' provision; and although there
was undoubtedly a good deal of actual throat-cutting and scuttling, still
I feel sure that there was less of it than there would have been in any
other line of business released to the unrestricted plunder of the
neighbor. There was for a long time even a comity among these amiable
buccaneers, who agreed not to interfere with each other, and so were
enabled to pay over to their victims some portion of the profit from
their stolen goods. Of all business men publishers are probably the most
faithful and honorable, and are only surpassed in virtue when men of
letters turn business men.


Publishers have their little theories, their little superstitions, and
their blind faith in the great god Chance which we all worship. These
things lead them into temptation and adversity, but they seem to do
fairly well as business men, even in their own behalf. They do not make
above the usual ninety-five per cent. of failures, and more publishers
than authors get rich.

Some theories or superstitions publishers and authors share together.
One of these is that it is best to keep your books all in the hands of
one publisher if you can, because then he can give them more attention
and sell more of them. But my own experience is that when my books were
in the hands of three publishers they sold quite as well as when one had
them; and a fellow-author whom I approached in question of this venerable
belief laughed at it. This bold heretic held that it was best to give
each new book to a new publisher, for then the fresh man put all his
energies into pushing it; but if you had them all together, the publisher
rested in a vain security that one book would sell another, and that the
fresh venture would revive the public interest in the stale ones.
I never knew this to happen; and I must class it with the superstitions
of the trade. It may be so in other and more constant countries, but in
our fickle republic each last book has to fight its own way to public
favor, much as if it had no sort of literary lineage. Of course this is
stating it rather largely, and the truth will be found inside rather than
outside of my statement; but there is at least truth enough in it to give
the young author pause. While one is preparing to sell his basket of
glass, he may as well ask himself whether it is better to part with all
to one dealer or not; and if he kicks it over, in spurning the imaginary
customer who asks the favor of taking the entire stock, that will be his
fault, and not the fault of the customer.

However, the most important question of all with the man of letters as a
man of business is what kind of book will sell the best of itself,
because, at the end of the ends, a book sells itself or does not sell at
all; kissing, after long ages of reasoning and a great deal of culture,
still goes by favor, and though innumerable generations of horses have
been led to the water, not one horse has yet been made to drink. With
the best, or the worst, will in the world, no publisher can force a book
into acceptance. Advertising will not avail, and reviewing is
notoriously futile. If the book does not strike the popular fancy,
or deal with some universal interest, which need by no means be a
profound or important one, the drums and the cymbals shall be beaten in
vain. The book may be one of the best and wisest books in the world,
but if it has not this sort of appeal in it the readers of it, and,
worse yet, the purchasers, will remain few, though fit. The secret of
this, like most other secrets of a rather ridiculous world, is in the
awful keeping of fate, and we can only hope to surprise it by some lucky
chance. To plan a surprise of it, to aim a book at the public favor,
is the most hopeless of all endeavors, as it is one of the unworthiest;
and I can, neither as a man of letters nor as a man of business, counsel
the young author to do it. The best that you can do is to write the book
that it gives you the most pleasure to write, to put as much heart and
soul as you have about you into it, and then hope as hard as you can to
reach the heart and soul of the great multitude of your fellow-men. That,
and that alone, is good business for a man of letters.

The man of letters must make up his mind that in the United States the
fate of a book is in the hands of the women. It is the women with us who
have the most leisure, and they read the most books. They are far better
educated, for the most part, than our men, and their tastes, if not their
minds, are more cultivated. Our men read the newspapers, but our women
read the books; the more refined among them read the magazines. If they
do not always know what is good, they do know what pleases them, and it
is useless to quarrel with their decisions, for there is no appeal from
them. To go from them to the men would be going from a higher to a lower
court, which would be honestly surprised and bewildered, if the thing
were possible. As I say, the author of light literature, and often the
author of solid literature, must resign himself to obscurity unless the
ladies choose to recognize him. Yet it would be impossible to forecast
their favor for this kind or that. Who could prophesy it for another,
who guess it for himself? We must strive blindly for it, and hope
somehow that our best will also be our prettiest; but we must remember at
the same time that it is not the ladies' man who is the favorite of the

There are, of course, a few, a very few, of our greatest authors who have
striven forward to the first place in our Valhalla without the help of
the largest reading-class among us; but I should say that these were
chiefly the humorists, for whom women are said nowhere to have any warm
liking, and who have generally with us come up through the newspapers,
and have never lost the favor of the newspaper readers. They have become
literary men, as it were, without the newspaper readers' knowing it; but
those who have approached literature from another direction have won fame
in it chiefly by grace of the women, who first read them; and then made
their husbands and fathers read them. Perhaps, then, and as a matter of
business, it would be well for a serious author, when he finds that he is
not pleasing the women, and probably never will please them, to turn
humorous author, and aim at the countenance of the men. Except as a
humorist he certainly never will get it, for your American, when he is
not making money, or trying to do it, is making a joke, or trying to do


I hope that I have not been hinting that the author who approaches
literature through journalism is not as fine and high a literary man as
the author who comes directly to it, or through some other avenue; I have
not the least notion of condemning myself by any such judgment. But I
think it is pretty certain that fewer and fewer authors are turning from
journalism to literature, though the 'entente cordiale' between the two
professions seems as great as ever. I fancy, though I may be as mistaken
in this as I am in a good many other things, that most journalists would
have been literary men if they could, at the beginning, and that the
kindness they almost always show to young authors is an effect of the
self-pity they feel for their own thwarted wish to be authors. When an
author is once warm in the saddle, and is riding his winged horse to
glory, the case is different: they have then often no sentiment about
him; he is no longer the image of their own young aspiration, and they
would willingly see Pegasus buck under him, or have him otherwise brought
to grief and shame. They are apt to gird at him for his unhallowed
gains, and they would be quite right in this if they proposed any way for
him to live without them; as I have allowed at the outset, the gains are
unhallowed. Apparently it is unseemly for two or three authors to be
making half as much by their pens as popular ministers often receive in
salary; the public is used to the pecuniary prosperity of some of the
clergy, and at least sees nothing droll in it; but the paragrapher can
always get a smile out of his readers at the gross disparity between the
ten thousand dollars Jones gets for his novel and the five pounds Milton
got for his epic. I have always thought Milton was paid too little, but
I will own that he ought not to have been paid at all, if it comes to
that. Again I say that no man ought to live by any art; it is a shame to
the art if not to the artist; but as yet there is no means of the
artist's living otherwise and continuing an artist.

The literary man has certainly no complaint to make of the newspaper man,
generally speaking. I have often thought with amazement of the kindness
shown by the press to our whole unworthy craft, and of the help so
lavishly and freely given to rising and even risen authors. To put it
coarsely, brutally, I do not suppose that any other business receives so
much gratuitous advertising, except the theatre. It is, enormous, the
space given in the newspapers to literary notes, literary announcements,
reviews, interviews, personal paragraphs, biographies, and all the rest,
not to mention the vigorous and incisive attacks made from time to time
upon different authors for their opinions of romanticism, realism,
capitalism, socialism, Catholicism, and Sandemanianism. I have sometimes
doubted whether the public cared for so much of it all as the editors
gave them, but I have always said this under my breath, and I have
thankfully taken my share of the common bounty. A curious fact, however,
is that this vast newspaper publicity seems to have very little to do
with an author's popularity, though ever so much with his notoriety.
Some of those strange subterranean fellows who never come to the surface
in the newspapers, except for a contemptuous paragraph at long intervals,
outsell the famousest of the celebrities, and secretly have their horses
and yachts and country seats, while immodest merit is left to get about
on foot and look up summer-board at the cheaper hotels. That is probably
right, or it would not happen; it seems to be in the general scheme, like
millionairism and pauperism; but it becomes a question, then, whether the
newspapers, with all their friendship for literature, and their actual
generosity to literary men, can really help one much to fortune, however
much they help one to fame. Such a question is almost too dreadful, and,
though I have asked it, I will not attempt to answer it. I would much
rather consider the question whether, if the newspapers can make an
author, they can also unmake him, and I feel pretty safe in saying that I
do not think they can. The Afreet, once out of the bottle, can never be
coaxed back or cudgelled back; and the author whom the newspapers have
made cannot be unmade by the newspapers. Perhaps he could if they would
let him alone; but the art of letting alone the creature of your favor,
when he has forfeited your favor, is yet in its infancy with the
newspapers. They consign him to oblivion with a rumor that fills the
land, and they keep visiting him there with an uproar which attracts more
and more notice to him. An author who has long enjoyed their favor
suddenly and rather mysteriously loses it, through his opinions on
certain matters of literary taste, say. For the space of five or six
years he is denounced with a unanimity and an incisive vigor that ought
to convince him there is something wrong. If he thinks it is his
censors, he clings to his opinions with an abiding constancy, while
ridicule, obloquy, caricature, burlesque, critical refutation, and
personal detraction follow unsparingly upon every expression, for
instance, of his belief that romantic fiction is the highest form of
fiction, and that the base, sordid, photographic, commonplace school of
Tolstoy, Tourgunief, Zola, Hardy, and James is unworthy a moment's
comparison with the school of Rider Haggard. All this ought certainly to
unmake the author in question, but this is not really the effect. Slowly
but surely the clamor dies away, and the author, without relinquishing
one of his wicked opinions, or in any wise showing himself repentant,
remains apparently whole; and he even returns in a measure to the old
kindness--not indeed to the earlier day of perfectly smooth things, but
certainly to as much of it as he merits.

I would not have the young author, from this imaginary case; believe that
it is well either to court or to defy the good opinion of the press. In
fact, it will not only be better taste, but it will be better business,
for him to keep it altogether out of his mind. There is only one whom he
can safely try to please, and that is himself. If he does this he will
very probably please other people; but if he does not please himself he
may be sure that he will not please them; the book which he has not
enjoyed writing no one will enjoy reading. Still, I would not have him
attach too little consequence to the influence of the press. I should
say, let him take the celebrity it gives him gratefully but not too
seriously; let him reflect that he is often the necessity rather than the
ideal of the paragrapher, and that the notoriety the journalists bestow
upon him is not the measure of their acquaintance with his work, far less
his meaning. They are good fellows, those hard-pushed, poor fellows of
the press, but the very conditions of their censure, friendly or
unfriendly, forbid it thoroughness, and it must often have more zeal than
knowledge in it.


There are some sorts of light literature once greatly in demand, but now
apparently no longer desired by magazine editors, who ought to know what
their readers desire. Among these is the travel sketch, to me a very
agreeable kind, and really to be regretted in its decline. There are
some reasons for its decline besides a change of taste in readers, and a
possible surfeit. Travel itself has become so universal that everybody,
in a manner, has been everywhere, and the foreign scene has no longer the
charm of strangeness. We do not think the Old World either so romantic
or so ridiculous as we used; and perhaps from an instinctive perception
of this altered mood writers no longer appeal to our sentiment or our
humor with sketches of outlandish people and places. Of course, this can
hold true only in a general way; the thing is still done, but not nearly
so much done as formerly. When one thinks of the long line of American
writers who have greatly pleased in this sort, and who even got their
first fame in it, one must grieve to see it obsolescent. Irving, Curtis,
Bayard Taylor, Herman Melville, Ross Browne, Warner, Ik Marvell,
Longfellow, Lowell, Story, Mr. James, Mr. Aldrich, Mr. Hay, Mrs. Hunt,
Mr. C. W. Stoddard, Mark Twain, and many others whose names will not come
to me at the moment, have in their several ways richly contributed to our
pleasure in it; but I cannot now fancy a young author finding favor with
an editor in a sketch of travel or a study of foreign manners and
customs; his work would have to be of the most signal importance and
brilliancy to overcome the editor's feeling that the thing had been done
already; and I believe that a publisher, if offered a book of such
things, would look at it askance and plead the well-known quiet of the
trade. Still, I may be mistaken.

I am rather more confident about the decline of another literary species
--namely, the light essay. We have essays enough and to spare of certain
soberer and severer sorts, such as grapple with problems and deal with
conditions; but the kind that I mean, the slightly humorous, gentle,
refined, and humane kind, seems no longer to abound as it once did. I do
not know whether the editor discourages them, knowing his readers' frame,
or whether they do not offer themselves, but I seldom find them in the
magazines. I certainly do not believe that if any one were now to write
essays such as Warner's Backlog Studies, an editor would refuse them; and
perhaps nobody really writes them. Nobody seems to write the sort that
Colonel Higginson formerly contributed to the periodicals, or such as
Emerson wrote. Without a great name behind it, I am afraid that a volume
of essays would find few buyers, even after the essays had made a public
in the magazines. There are, of course, instances to the contrary, but
they are not so many or so striking as to make me think that the essay
could be offered as a good opening for business talent.

I suspect that good poetry by well-known hands was never better paid in
the magazines than it is now. I must say, too, that I think the quality
of the minor poetry of our day is better than that of twenty-five or
thirty years ago. I could name half a score of young poets whose work
from time to time gives me great pleasure, by the reality of its feeling
and the delicate perfection of its art, but I will not name them, for
fear of passing over half a score of others equally meritorious. We have
certainly no reason to be discouraged, whatever reason the poets
themselves have to be so, and I do not think that even in the short story
our younger writers are doing better work than they are doing in the
slighter forms of verse. Yet the notion of inviting business talent into
this field would be as preposterous as that of asking it to devote itself
to the essay. What book of verse by a recent poet, if we except some
such peculiarly gifted poet as Mr. Whitcomb Riley, has paid its expenses,
not to speak of any profit to the author? Of course, it would be rather
more offensive and ridiculous that it should do so than that any other
form of literary art should do so; and yet there is no more provision in
our economic system for the support of the poet apart from his poems than
there is for the support of the novelist apart from his novel. One could
not make any more money by writing poetry than by writing history, but it
is a curious fact that while the historians have usually been rich men,
and able to afford the luxury of writing history, the poets have usually
been poor men, with no pecuniary justification in their devotion to a
calling which is so seldom an election.

To be sure, it can be said for them that it costs far less to set up poet
than to set up historian. There is no outlay for copying documents, or
visiting libraries, or buying books. In fact, except as historian, the
man of letters, in whatever walk, has not only none of the expenses of
other men of business, but none of the expenses of other artists. He has
no such outlay to make for materials, or models, or studio rent as the
painter or the sculptor has, and his income, such as it is, is immediate.
If he strikes the fancy of the editor with the first thing he offers, as
he very well may, it is as well with him as with other men after long
years of apprenticeship. Although he will always be the better for an
apprenticeship, and the longer apprenticeship the better, he may
practically need none at all. Such are the strange conditions of his
acceptance with the public, that he may please better without it than
with it. An author's first book is too often not only his luckiest, but
really his best; it has a brightness that dies out under the school he
puts himself to, but a painter or a sculptor is only the gainer by all
the school he can give himself.


In view of this fact it becomes again very hard to establish the author's
status in the business world, and at moments I have grave question
whether he belongs there at all, except as a novelist. There is, of
course, no outlay for him in this sort, any more than in any other sort
of literature, but it at least supposes and exacts some measure of
preparation. A young writer may produce a brilliant and very perfect
romance, just as he may produce a brilliant and very perfect poem, but in
the field of realistic fiction, or in what we used to call the novel of
manners, a writer can only produce an inferior book at the outset. For
this work he needs experience and observation, not so much of others as
of himself, for ultimately his characters will all come out of himself,
and he will need to know motive and character with such thoroughness and
accuracy as he can acquire only through his own heart. A man remains in
a measure strange to himself as long as he lives, and the very sources of
novelty in his work will be within himself; he can continue to give it
freshness in no other way than by knowing himself better and better. But
a young writer and an untrained writer has not yet begun to be acquainted
even with the lives of other men. The world around him remains a secret
as well as the world within him, and both unfold themselves
simultaneously to that experience of joy and sorrow that can come only
with the lapse of time. Until he is well on towards forty, he will
hardly have assimilated the materials of a great novel, although he may
have amassed them. The novelist, then, is a man of letters who is like a
man of business in the necessity of preparation for his calling, though
he does not pay store-rent, and may carry all his affairs under his hat,
as the phrase is. He alone among men of letters may look forward to that
sort of continuous prosperity which follows from capacity and diligence
in other vocations; for story-telling is now a fairly recognized trade,
and the story-teller has a money-standing in the economic world. It is
not a very high standing, I think, and I have expressed the belief that
it does not bring him the respect felt for men in other lines of
business. Still our people cannot deny some consideration to a man who
gets a hundred dollars a thousand words or whose book sells five hundred
thousand copies or less. That is a fact appreciable to business, and the
man of letters in the line of fiction may reasonably feel that his place
in our civilization, though he may owe it to the women who form the great
mass of his readers, has something of the character of a vested interest
in the eyes of men. There is, indeed, as yet no conspiracy law which
will avenge the attempt to injure him in his business. A critic, or a
dark conjuration of critics, may damage him at will and to the extent of
their power, and he has no recourse but to write better books, or worse.
The law will do nothing for him, and a boycott of his books might be
preached with immunity by any class of men not liking his opinions on the
question of industrial slavery or antipaedobaptism. Still the market for
his wares is steadier than the market for any other kind of literary
wares, and the prices are better. The historian, who is a kind of
inferior realist, has something like the same steadiness in the market,
but the prices he can command are much lower, and the two branches of the
novelist's trade are not to be compared in a business way. As for the
essayist, the poet, the traveller, the popular scientist, they are
nowhere in the competition for the favor of readers. The reviewer,
indeed, has a pretty steady call for his work, but I fancy the reviewers
who get a hundred dollars a thousand words could all stand upon the point
of a needle without crowding one another; I should rather like to see
them doing it. Another gratifying fact of the situation is that the best
writers of fiction, who are most in demand with the magazines, probably
get nearly as much money for their work as the inferior novelists who
outsell them by tens of thousands, and who make their appeal to the
innumerable multitude of the less educated and less cultivated buyers of
fiction in book form. I think they earn their money, but if I did not
think all of the higher class of novelists earned so much money as they
get, I should not be so invidious as to single out for reproach those who
did not.

The difficulty about payment, as I have hinted, is that literature has no
objective value really, but only a subjective value, if I may so express
it. A poem, an essay, a novel, even a paper on political economy, may be
worth gold untold to one reader, and worth nothing whatever to another.
It may be precious to one mood of the reader, and worthless to another
mood of the same reader. How, then, is it to be priced, and how is it to
be fairly marketed? All people must be fed, and all people must be
clothed, and all people must be housed; and so meat, raiment, and shelter
are things of positive and obvious necessity, which may fitly have a
market price put upon them. But there is no such positive and obvious
necessity, I am sorry to say, for fiction, or not for the higher sort of
fiction. The sort of fiction which corresponds in literature to the
circus and the variety theatre in the show-business seems essential to
the spiritual health of the masses, but the most cultivated of the
classes can get on, from time to time, without an artistic novel. This
is a great pity, and I should be-very willing that readers might feel
something like the pangs of hunger and cold, when deprived of their finer
fiction; but apparently they never do. Their dumb and passive need is
apt only to manifest itself negatively, or in the form of weariness of
this author or that. The publisher of books can ascertain the fact
through the declining sales of a writer; but the editor of a magazine,
who is the best customer of the best writers, must feel the market with a
much more delicate touch. Sometimes it may be years before he can
satisfy himself that his readers are sick of Smith, and are pining for
Jones; even then he cannot know how long their mood will last, and he is
by no means safe in cutting down Smith's price and putting up Jones's.
With the best will in the world to pay justly, he cannot. Smith, who has
been boring his readers to death for a year, may write tomorrow a thing
that will please them so much that he will at once be a prime favorite
again; and Jones, whom they have been asking for, may do something so
uncharacteristic and alien that it will be a flat failure in the
magazine. The only thing that gives either writer positive value is his
acceptance with the reader; but the acceptance is from month to month
wholly uncertain. Authors are largely matters of fashion, like this
style of bonnet, or that shape of gown. Last spring the dresses were all
made with lace berthas, and Smith was read; this year the butterfly capes
are worn, and Jones is the favorite author. Who shall forecast the fall
and winter modes?


In this inquiry it is always the author rather than the publisher, always
the contributor rather than the editor, whom I am concerned for. I study
the difficulties of the publisher and editor only because they involve
the author and the contributor; if they did not, I will not say with how
hard a heart I should turn from them; my only pang now in scrutinizing
the business conditions of literature is for the makers of literature,
not the purveyors of it.

After all, and in spite of my vaunting title, is the man of letters ever
am business man? I suppose that, strictly speaking, he never is, except
in those rare instances where, through need or choice, he is the
publisher as well as the author of his books. Then he puts something on
the market and tries to sell it there, and is a man of business. But
otherwise he is an artist merely, and is allied to the great mass of
wage-workers who are paid for the labor they have put into the thing done
or the thing made; who live by doing or making a thing, and not by
marketing a thing after some other man has done it or made it. The
quality of the thing has nothing to do with the economic nature of the
case; the author is, in the last analysis, merely a working-man, and is
under the rule that governs the working-man's life. If he is sick or
sad, and cannot work, if he is lazy or tipsy, and will not, then he earns
nothing. He cannot delegate his business to a clerk or a manager; it
will not go on while he is sleeping. The wage he can command depends
strictly upon his skill and diligence.

I myself am neither sorry nor ashamed for this; I am glad and proud to be
of those who eat their bread in the sweat of their own brows, and not the
sweat of other men's brows; I think my bread is the sweeter for it. In
the mean time, I have no blame for business men; they are no more of the
condition of things than we working-men are; they did no more to cause it
or create it; but I would rather be in my place than in theirs, and I
wish that I could make all my fellow-artists realize that economically
they are the same as mechanics, farmers, day-laborers. It ought to be
our glory that we produce something, that we bring into the world
something that was not choately there before; that at least we fashion or
shape something anew; and we ought to feel the tie that binds us to all
the toilers of the shop and field, not as a galling chain, but as a
mystic bond also uniting us to Him who works hitherto and evermore.
I know very well that to the vast multitude of our fellow-working-men we
artists are the shadows of names, or not even the shadows. I like to
look the facts in the face, for though their lineaments are often
terrible, yet there is light nowhere else; and I will not pretend, in
this light, that the masses care any more for us than we care for the
masses, or so much. Nevertheless, and most distinctly, we are not of the
classes. Except in our work, they have no use for us; if now and then
they fancy qualifying their material splendor or their spiritual dulness
with some artistic presence, the attempt is always a failure that bruises
and abashes. In so far as the artist is a man of the world, he is the
less an artist, and if he fashions himself upon fashion, he deforms his
art. We all know that ghastly type; it is more absurd even than the
figure which is really of the world, which was born and bred in it, and
conceives of nothing outside of it, or above it. In the social world, as
well as in the business world, the artist is anomalous, in the actual
conditions, and he is perhaps a little ridiculous.

Yet he has to be somewhere, poor fellow, and I think that he will do well
to regard himself as in a transition state. He is really of the masses,
but they do not know it, and what is worse, they do not know him; as yet
the common people do not hear him gladly or hear him at all. He is
apparently of the classes; they know him, and they listen to him; he
often amuses them very much; but he is not quite at ease among them;
whether they know it or not, he knows that he is not of their kind.
Perhaps he will never be at home anywhere in the world as long as there
are masses whom he ought to consort with, and classes whom he cannot
consort with. The prospect is not brilliant for any artist now living,
but perhaps the artist of the future will see in the flesh the
accomplishment of that human equality of which the instinct has been
divinely planted in the human soul.


The season is ending in the little summer settlement on the Down East
coast where I have been passing the last three months, and with each
loath day the sense of its peculiar charm grows more poignant.
A prescience of the homesickness I shall feel for it when I go already
begins to torment me, and I find myself wishing to imagine some form of
words which shall keep a likeness of it at least through the winter; some
shadowy semblance which I may turn to hereafter if any chance or change
should destroy or transform it, or, what is more likely, if I should
never come back to it. Perhaps others in the distant future may turn to
it for a glimpse of our actual life in one of its most characteristic
phases; I am sure that in the distant present there are many millions of
our own inlanders to whom it would be altogether strange.


In a certain sort fragile is written all over our colony; as far as the
visible body of it is concerned it is inexpressibly perishable; a fire
and a high wind could sweep it all away; and one of the most American of
all American things is the least fitted among them to survive from the
present to the future, and impart to it the significance of what may soon
be a "portion and parcel" of our extremely forgetful past.

It is also in a supremely transitional moment: one might say that last
year it was not quite what it is now, and next year it may be altogether
different. In fact, our summer colony is in that happy hour when the
rudeness of the first summer conditions has been left far behind, and
vulgar luxury has not yet cumbrously succeeded to a sort of sylvan

The type of its simple and sufficing hospitalities is the seven-o'clock
supper. Every one, in hotel or in cottage, dines between one and two,
and no less scrupulously sups at seven, unless it is a few extremists who
sup at half-past seven. At this function, which is our chief social
event, it is 'de rigueur' for the men not to dress, and they come in any
sort of sack or jacket or cutaway, letting the ladies make up the pomps
which they forego. From this fact may be inferred the informality of the
men's day-time attire; and the same note is sounded in the whole range of
the cottage life, so that once a visitor from the world outside, who had
been exasperated beyond endurance by the absence of form among us (if
such an effect could be from a cause so negative), burst out with the
reproach, "Oh, you make a fetish of your informality!"

"Fetish" is, perhaps, rather too strong a word, but I should not mind
saying that informality was the tutelary genius of the place. American
men are everywhere impatient of form. It burdens and bothers them, and
they like to throw it off whenever they can. We may not be so very
democratic at heart as we seem, but we are impatient of ceremonies that
separate us when it is our business or our pleasure to get at one
another; and it is part of our splendor to ignore the ceremonies, as we
do the expenses. We have all the decent grades of riches and poverty in
our colony, but our informality is not more the treasure of the humble
than of the great. In the nature of things it cannot last, however, and
the only question is how long it will last. I think, myself, until some
one imagines giving an eight-o'clock dinner; then all the informalities
will go, and the whole train of evils which such a dinner connotes will
rush in.


The cottages themselves are of several sorts, and some still exist in the
earlier stages of mutation from the fishermen's and farmers' houses which
formed their germ. But these are now mostly let as lodgings to bachelors
and other single or semi-detached folks who go for their meals to the
neighboring hotels or boarding-houses. The hotels are each the centre of
this sort of centripetal life, as well as the homes of their own scores
or hundreds of inmates. A single boarding-house gathers about it half a
dozen dependent cottages which it cares for, and feeds at its table; and
even where the cottages have kitchens and all the housekeeping
facilities, their inmates sometimes prefer to dine at the hotels.
By far the greater number of cottagers, however, keep house, bringing
their service with them from the cities, and settling in their summer
homes for three or four or five months.

The houses conform more or less to one type: a picturesque structure of
colonial pattern, shingled to the ground, and stained or left to take a
weather-stain of grayish brown, with cavernous verandas, and dormer-
windowed roofs covering ten or twelve rooms. Within they are, if not
elaborately finished, elaborately fitted up, with a constant regard to
health in the plumbing and drainage. The water is brought in a system of
pipes from a lake five miles away, and as it is only for summer use the
pipes are not buried from the frost, but wander along the surface,
through the ferns and brambles of the tough little sea-side knolls on
which the cottages are perched, and climb the old tumbling stone walls of
the original pastures before diving into the cemented basements.

Most of the cottages are owned by their occupants, and furnished by them;
the rest, not less attractive and hardly less tastefully furnished,
belong to natives, who have caught on to the architectural and domestic
preferences of the summer people, and have built them to let. The
rugosities of the stony pasture land end in a wooded point seaward, and
curve east and north in a succession of beaches. It is on the point, and
mainly short of its wooded extremity, that the cottages of our settlement
are dropped, as near the ocean as may be, and with as little order as
birds' nests in the grass, among the sweet-fern, laurel, bay, wild
raspberries, and dog-roses, which it is the ideal to leave as untouched
as possible. Wheel-worn lanes that twist about among the hollows find
the cottages from the highway, but foot-paths approach one cottage from
another, and people walk rather than drive to each other's doors.
From the deep-bosomed, well-sheltered little harbor the tides swim
inland, half a score of winding miles, up the channel of a river which
without them would be a trickling rivulet. An irregular line of cottages
follows the shore a little way, and then leaves the river to the
schooners and barges which navigate it as far as the oldest pile-built
wooden bridge in New England, and these in their turn abandon it to the
fleets of row-boats and canoes in which summer youth of both sexes
explore it to its source over depths as clear as glass, past wooded
headlands and low, rush-bordered meadows, through reaches and openings of
pastoral fields, and under the shadow of dreaming groves.

If there is anything lovelier than the scenery of this gentle river I do
not know it; and I doubt if the sky is purer and bluer in paradise. This
seems to be the consensus, tacit or explicit, of the youth who visit it,
and employ the landscape for their picnics and their water parties from
the beginning to the end of summer.

The river is very much used for sunsets by the cottagers who live on it,
and who claim a superiority through them to the cottagers on the point.
An impartial mind obliges me to say that the sunsets are all good in our
colony; there is no place from which they are bad; and yet for a certain
tragical sunset, where the dying day bleeds slowly into the channel till
it is filled from shore to shore with red as far as the eye can reach,
the river is unmatched.

For my own purposes, it is not less acceptable, however, when the fog has
come in from the sea like a visible reverie, and blurred the whole valley
with its whiteness. I find that particularly good to look at from the
trolley-car which visits and revisits the river before finally leaving
it, with a sort of desperation, and hiding its passion with a sudden
plunge into the woods.


The old fishing and seafaring village, which has now almost lost the
recollection of its first estate in its absorption with the care of the
summer colony, was sparsely dropped along the highway bordering the
harbor, and the shores of the river, where the piles of the time-worn
wharves are still rotting. A few houses of the past remain, but the type
of the summer cottage has impressed itself upon all the later building,
and the native is passing architecturally, if not personally, into
abeyance. He takes the situation philosophically, and in the season he
caters to the summer colony not only as the landlord of the rented
cottages, and the keeper of the hotels and boarding-houses, but as
livery-stableman, grocer, butcher, marketman, apothecary, and doctor;
there is not one foreign accent in any of these callings. If the native
is a farmer, he devotes himself to vegetables, poultry, eggs, and fruit
for the summer folks, and brings these supplies to their doors; his
children appear with flowers; and there are many proofs that he has
accurately sized the cottagers up in their tastes and fancies as well as
their needs. I doubt if we have sized him up so well, or if our somewhat
conventionalized ideal of him is perfectly representative. He is,
perhaps, more complex than he seems; he is certainly much more
self-sufficing than might have been expected. The summer folks are the
material from which his prosperity is wrought, but he is not dependent,
and is very far from submissive. As in all right conditions, it is here
the employer who asks for work, not the employee; and the work must be
respectfully asked for. There are many fables to this effect, as, for
instance, that of the lady who said to a summer visitor, critical of the
week's wash she had brought home, "I'll wash you and I'll iron you, but I
won't take none of your jaw." A primitive independence is the keynote of
the native character, and it suffers no infringement, but rather boasts
itself. "We're independent here, I tell you," said the friendly person
who consented to take off the wire door. "I was down Bangor way doin' a
piece of work, and a fellow come along, and says he, 'I want you should
hurry up on that job.' 'Hello!' says I, 'I guess I'll pull out.' Well,
we calculate to do our work," he added, with an accent which sufficiently
implied that their consciences needed no bossing in the performance.

The native compliance with any summer-visiting request is commonly in
some such form as, "Well, I don't know but what I can," or, "I guess
there ain't anything to hinder me." This compliance is so rarely, if
ever, carried to the point of domestic service that it may fairly be said
that all the domestic service, at least of the cottagers, is imported.
The natives will wait at the hotel tables; they will come in "to
accommodate"; but they will not "live out." I was one day witness of the
extreme failure of a friend whose city cook had suddenly abandoned him,
and who applied to a friendly farmer's wife in the vain hope that she
might help him to some one who would help his family out in their strait.
"Why, there ain't a girl in the Hollow that lives out! Why, if you was
sick abed, I don't know as I know anybody 't you could git to set up with
you." The natives will not live out because they cannot keep their
self-respect in the conditions of domestic service. Some people laugh
at this self-respect, but most summer folks like it, as I own I do.

In our partly mythical estimate of the native and his relation to us, he
is imagined as holding a kind of carnival when we leave him at the end of
the season, and it is believed that he likes us to go early. We have had
his good offices at a fair price all summer, but as it draws to a close
they are rendered more and more fitfully. From some, perhaps flattered,
reports of the happiness of the natives at the departure of the
sojourners, I have pictured them dancing a sort of farandole, and
stretching with linked hands from the farthest summer cottage up the
river to the last on the wooded point. It is certain that they get
tired, and I could not blame them if they were glad to be rid of their
guests, and to go back to their own social life. This includes church
festivals of divers kinds, lectures and shows, sleigh-rides, theatricals,
and reading-clubs, and a plentiful use of books from the excellently
chosen free village library. They say frankly that the summer folks have
no idea how pleasant it is when they are gone, and I am sure that the
gayeties to which we leave them must be more tolerable than those which
we go back to in the city. It may be, however, that I am too confident,
and that their gayeties are only different. I should really like to know
just what the entertainments are which are given in a building devoted to
them in a country neighborhood three or four miles from the village. It
was once a church, but is now used solely for social amusements.


The amusements of the summer colony I have already hinted at. Besides
suppers, there are also teas, of larger scope, both afternoon and
evening. There are hops every week at the two largest hotels, which are
practically free to all; and the bathing-beach is, of course, a supreme
attraction. The bath-houses, which are very clean and well equipped,
are not very cheap, either for the season or for a single bath, and there
is a pretty pavilion at the edge of the sands. This is always full of
gossiping spectators of the hardy adventurers who brave tides too remote
from the Gulf Stream to be ever much warmer than sixty or sixty-five
degrees. The bathers are mostly young people, who have the courage of
their pretty bathing-costumes or the inextinguishable ardor of their
years. If it is not rather serious business with them all, still I
admire the fortitude with which some of them remain in fifteen minutes.
Beyond our colony, which calls itself the Port, there is a far more
populous watering-place, east of the Point, known as the Beach, which is
the resort of people several grades of gentility lower than ours: so
many, in fact, that we never can speak of the Beach without averting our
faces, or, at the best, with a tolerant smile. It is really a succession
of beaches, all much longer and, I am bound to say, more beautiful than
ours, lined with rows of the humbler sort of summer cottages known as
shells, and with many hotels of corresponding degree. The cottages may
be hired by the week or month at about two dollars a day, and they are
supposed to be taken by inland people of little social importance. Very
likely this is true; but they seemed to be very nice, quiet people, and I
commonly saw the ladies reading, on their verandas, books and magazines,
while the gentlemen sprayed the dusty road before them with the garden
hose. The place had also for me an agreeable alien suggestion, and in
passing the long row of cottages I was slightly reminded of Scheveningen.
Beyond the cottage settlements is a struggling little park, dedicated to
the only Indian saint I ever heard of, though there may be others. His
statue, colossal in sheet-lead, and painted the copper color of his race,
offers any heathen comer the choice between a Bible in one of his hands
and a tomahawk in the other, at the entrance of the park; and there are
other sheet-lead groups and figures in the white of allegory at different
points. It promises to be a pretty enough little place in future years,
but as yet it is not much resorted to by the excursions which largely
form the prosperity of the Beach. The concerts and the "high-class
vaudeville" promised have not flourished in the pavilion provided for
them, and one of two monkeys in the zoological department has perished of
the public inattention. This has not fatally affected the captive bear,
who rises to his hind legs, and eats peanuts and doughnuts in that
position like a fellow-citizen. With the cockatoos and parrots, and the
dozen deer in an inclosure of wire netting, he is no mean attraction; but
he does not charm the excursionists away from the summer village at the
shore, where they spend long afternoons splashing among the waves, or in
lolling groups of men, women, and children on the sand. In the more
active gayeties, I have seen nothing so decided during the whole season
as the behavior of three young girls who once came up out of the sea, and
obliged me by dancing a measure on the smooth, hard beach in their

I thought it very pretty, but I do not believe such a thing could have
been seen on OUR beach, which is safe from all excursionists, and sacred
to the cottage and hotel life of the Port.

Besides our beach and its bathing, we have a reading-club for the men,
evolved from one of the old native houses, and verandaed round for summer
use; and we have golf-links and a golf club-house within easy trolley
reach. The links are as energetically, if not as generally, frequented
as the sands, and the sport finds the favor which attends it everywhere
in the decay of tennis. The tennis-courts which I saw thronged about by
eager girl-crowds, here, seven years ago, are now almost wholly abandoned
to the lovers of the game, who are nearly always men.

Perhaps the only thing (besides, of course, our common mortality) which
we have in common with the excursionists is our love of the trolley-line.
This, by its admirable equipment, and by the terror it inspires in
horses, has well-nigh abolished driving; and following the old country
roads, as it does, with an occasional short-cut though the deep, green-
lighted woods or across the prismatic salt meadows, it is of a
picturesque variety entirely satisfying. After a year of fervent
opposition and protest, the whole community--whether of summer or of
winter folks--now gladly accepts the trolley, and the grandest cottager
and the lowliest hotel dweller meet in a grateful appreciation of its
beauty and comfort.

Some pass a great part of every afternoon on the trolley, and one lady
has achieved celebrity by spending four dollars a week in trolley-rides.
The exhilaration of these is varied with an occasional apprehension when
the car pitches down a sharp incline, and twists almost at right angles
on a sudden curve at the bottom without slacking its speed. A lady who
ventured an appeal to the conductor at one such crisis was reassured, and
at the same time taught her place, by his reply: "That motorman's life,
ma'am, is just as precious to him as what yours is to you."

She had, perhaps, really ventured too far, for ordinarily the employees
of the trolley do not find occasion to use so much severity with their
passengers. They look after their comfort as far as possible, and seek
even to anticipate their wants in unexpected cases, if I may believe a
story which was told by a witness. She had long expected to see some one
thrown out of the open car at one of the sharp curves, and one day she
actually saw a woman hurled from the seat into the road. Luckily the
woman slighted on her feet, and stood looking round in a daze.

"Oh! oh!" exclaimed another woman in the seat behind, "she's left her

The conductor promptly threw it out to her.

"Why," demanded the witness, "did that lady wish to get out here?"

The conductor hesitated before he jerked the bellpull to go on: Then he
said, "Well, she'll want her umbrella, anyway."

The conductors are, in fact, very civil as well as kind. If they see a
horse in anxiety at the approach of the car, they considerately stop, and
let him get by with his driver in safety. By such means, with their
frequent trips and low fares, and with the ease and comfort of their
cars, they have conciliated public favor, and the trolley has drawn
travel away from the steam railroad in such measure that it ran no trains
last winter.

The trolley, in fact, is a fad of the summer folks this year; but what it
will be another no one knows; it may be their hissing and by-word. In
the mean time, as I have already suggested, they have other amusements.
These are not always of a nature so general as the trolley, or so
particular as the tea. But each of the larger hotels has been fully
supplied with entertainments for the benefit of their projectors, though
nearly everything of the sort had some sort of charitable slant. I
assisted at a stereopticon lecture on Alaska for the aid of some youthful
Alaskans of both sexes, who were shown first in their savage state, and
then as they appeared after a merely rudimental education, in the
costumes and profiles of our own civilization. I never would have
supposed that education could do so much in so short a time; and I gladly
gave my mite for their further development in classic beauty and a final
elegance. My mite was taken up in a hat, which, passed round among the
audience, is a common means of collecting the spectators' expressions of
appreciation. Other entertainments, of a prouder frame, exact an
admission fee, but I am not sure that these are better than some of the
hat-shows, as they are called.

The tale of our summer amusements would be sadly incomplete without some
record of the bull-fights given by the Spanish prisoners of war on the
neighboring island, where they were confined the year of the war.
Admission to these could be had only by favor of the officers in charge,
and even among the Elite of the colony those who went were a more elect
few. Still, the day I went, there were some fifty or seventy-five
spectators, who arrived by trolley near the island, and walked to the
stockade which confined the captives. A real bull-fight, I believe, is
always given on Sunday, and Puritan prejudice yielded to usage even in
the case of a burlesque bull-fight; at any rate, it was on a Sunday that
we crouched in an irregular semicircle on a rising ground within the
prison pale, and faced the captive audience in another semicircle, across
a little alley for the entrances and exits of the performers. The
president of the bull-fight was first brought to the place of honor in a
hand-cart, and then came the banderilleros, the picadores, and the
espada, wonderfully effective and correct in white muslin and colored
tissue-paper. Much may be done in personal decoration with advertising
placards; and the lofty mural crown of the president urged the public on
both sides to Use Plug Cut. The picador's pasteboard horse was attached
to his middle, fore and aft, and looked quite the sort of hapless jade
which is ordinarily sacrificed to the bulls. The toro himself was
composed of two prisoners, whose horizontal backs were covered with a
brown blanket; and his feet, sometimes bare and sometimes shod with
india-rubber boots, were of the human pattern. Practicable horns, of a
somewhat too yielding substance, branched from a front of pasteboard, and
a cloth tail, apt to come off in the charge, swung from his rear. I have
never seen a genuine corrida, but a lady present, who had, told me that
this was conducted with all the right circumstance; and it is certain
that the performers entered into their parts with the artistic gust of
their race. The picador sustained some terrific falls, and in his
quality of horse had to be taken out repeatedly and sewed up; the
banderilleros tormented and eluded the toro with table-covers, one red
and two drab, till the espada took him from them, and with due ceremony,
after a speech to the president, drove his blade home to the bull's
heart. I stayed to see three bulls killed; the last was uncommonly
fierce, and when his hindquarters came off or out, his forequarters
charged joyously among the aficionados on the prisoners' side, and made
havoc in their thickly packed ranks. The espada who killed this bull was
showered with cigars and cigarettes from our side.

I do not know what the Sabbath-keeping shades of the old Puritans made of
our presence at such a fete on Sunday; but possibly they had got on so
far in a better life as to be less shocked at the decay of piety among us
than pleased at the rise of such Christianity as had brought us, like
friends and comrades, together with our public enemies in this harmless
fun. I wish to say that the tobacco lavished upon the espada was
collected for the behoof of all the prisoners.

Our fiction has made so much of our summer places as the mise en scene of
its love stories that I suppose I ought to say something of this side of
our colonial life. But after sixty I suspect that one's eyes are poor
for that sort of thing, and I can only say that in its earliest and
simplest epoch the Port was particularly famous for the good times that
the young people had. They still have good times, though whether on just
the old terms I do not know. I know that the river is still here with
its canoes and rowboats, its meadowy reaches apt for dual solitude, and
its groves for picnics. There is not much bicycling--the roads are rough
and hilly--but there is something of it, and it is mighty pretty to see
the youth of both sexes bicycling with their heads bare. They go about
bareheaded on foot and in buggies, too, and the young girls seek the tan
which their mothers used so anxiously to shun.

The sail-boats, manned by weather-worn and weatherwise skippers, are
rather for the pleasure of such older summer folks as have a taste for
cod-fishing, which is here very good. But at every age, and in whatever
sort our colonists amuse themselves, it is with the least possible
ceremony. It is as if, Nature having taken them so hospitably to her
heart, they felt convention an affront to her. Around their cottages, as
I have said, they prefer to leave her primitive beauty untouched, and she
rewards their forbearance with such a profusion of wild flowers as I have
seen nowhere else. The low, pink laurel flushed all the stony fields to
the edges of their verandas when we first came; the meadows were milk-
white with daisies; in the swampy places delicate orchids grew, in the
pools the flags and flowering rushes; all the paths and way-sides were
set with dog-roses; the hollows and stony tops were broadly matted with
ground juniper. Since then the goldenrod has passed from glory to glory,
first mixing its yellow-powdered plumes with the red-purple tufts of the
iron-weed, and then with the wild asters everywhere. There has come
later a dwarf sort, six or ten inches high, wonderfully rich and fine,
which, with a low, white aster, seems to hold the field against
everything else, though the taller golden-rod and the masses of the high,
blue asters nod less thickly above it. But these smaller blooms deck the
ground in incredible profusion, and have an innocent air of being stuck
in, as if they had been fancifully used for ornament by children or

In a little while now, as it is almost the end of September, all the
feathery gold will have faded to the soft, pale ghosts of that
loveliness. The summer birds have long been silent; the crows, as if
they were so many exultant natives, are shouting in the blue sky above
the windrows of the rowan, in jubilant prescience of the depopulation of
our colony, which fled the hotels a fortnight ago. The days are growing
shorter, and the red evenings falling earlier; so that the cottagers'
husbands who come up every Saturday from town might well be impatient for
a Monday of final return. Those who came from remoter distances have
gone back already; and the lady cottagers, lingering hardily on till
October, must find the sight of the empty hotels and the windows of the
neighboring houses, which no longer brighten after the chilly nightfall,
rather depressing. Every one says that this is the loveliest time of
year, and that it will be divine here all through October. But there are
sudden and unexpected defections; there is a steady pull of the heart
cityward, which it is hard to resist. The first great exodus was on the
first of the month, when the hotels were deserted by four-fifths of their
guests. The rest followed, half of them within the week, and within a
fortnight none but an all but inaudible and invisible remnant were left,
who made no impression of summer sojourn in the deserted trolleys.

The days now go by in moods of rapid succession. There have been days
when the sea has lain smiling in placid derision of the recreants who
have fled the lingering summer; there have been nights when the winds
have roared round the cottages in wild menace of the faithful few who
have remained.

We have had a magnificent storm, which came, as an equinoctial storm
should, exactly at the equinox, and for a day and a night heaped the sea
upon the shore in thundering surges twenty and thirty feet high. I
watched these at their awfulest, from the wide windows of a cottage that
crouched in the very edge of the surf, with the effect of clutching the
rocks with one hand and holding its roof on with the other. The sea was
such a sight as I have not seen on shipboard, and while I luxuriously
shuddered at it, I had the advantage of a mellow log-fire at my back,
purring and softly crackling in a quiet indifference to the storm.

Twenty-four hours more made all serene again. Bloodcurdling tales of
lobster-pots carried to sea filled the air; but the air was as blandly
unconscious of ever having been a fury as a lady who has found her lost
temper. Swift alternations of weather are so characteristic of our
colonial climate that the other afternoon I went out with my umbrella
against the raw, cold rain of the morning, and had to raise it against
the broiling sun. Three days ago I could say that the green of the woods
had no touch of hectic in it; but already the low trees of the swamp-land
have flamed into crimson. Every morning, when I look out, this crimson
is of a fierier intensity, and the trees on the distant uplands are
beginning slowly to kindle, with a sort of inner glow which has not yet
burst into a blaze. Here and there the golden-rod is rusting; but there
seems only to be more and more asters sorts; and I have seen ladies
coming home with sheaves of blue gentians; I have heard that the orchids
are beginning again to light their tender lamps from the burning
blackberry vines that stray from the pastures to the edge of the swamps.

After an apparently total evanescence there has been a like resuscitation
of the spirit of summer society. In the very last week of September we
have gone to a supper, which lingered far out of its season like one of
these late flowers, and there has been an afternoon tea which assembled
an astonishing number of cottagers, all secretly surprised to find one
another still here, and professing openly a pity tinged with contempt for
those who are here no longer.

I blamed those who had gone home, but I myself sniff the asphalt afar;
the roar of the street calls to me with the magic that the voice of the
sea is losing. Just now it shines entreatingly, it shines winningly, in
the sun which is mellowing to an October tenderness, and it shines under
a moon of perfect orb, which seems to have the whole heavens to itself in
"the first watch of the night," except for "the red planet Mars." This
begins to burn in the west before the flush of sunset has passed from it;
and then, later, a few moon-washed stars pierce the vast vault with their
keen points. The stars which so powdered the summer sky seem mostly to
have gone back to town, where no doubt people take them for electric


One of the trustiest jokes of the humorous paragrapher is that the editor
is in great and constant dread of the young contributor; but neither my
experience nor my observation bears out his theory of the case.

Of course one must not say anything to encourage a young person to
abandon an honest industry in the vain hope of early honor and profit
from literature; but there have been and there will be literary men and
women always, and these in the beginning have nearly always been young;
and I cannot see that there is risk of any serious harm in saying that it
is to the young contributor the editor looks for rescue from the old
contributor, or from his failing force and charm.

The chances, naturally, are against the young contributor, and vastly
against him; but if any periodical is to live, and to live long, it is by
the infusion of new blood; and nobody knows this better than the editor,
who may seem so unfriendly and uncareful to the young contributor. The
strange voice, the novel scene, the odor of fresh woods and pastures new,
the breath of morning, the dawn of tomorrow--these are what the editor is
eager for, if he is fit to be an editor at all; and these are what the
young contributor alone can give him.

A man does not draw near the sixties without wishing people to believe
that he is as young as ever, and he has not written almost as many books
as he has lived years without persuading himself that each new work of
his has all the surprise of spring; but possibly there are wonted traits
and familiar airs and graces in it which forbid him to persuade others.
I do not say these characteristics are not charming; I am very far from
wishing to say that; but I do say and must say that after the fiftieth
time they do not charm for the first time; and this is where the
advantage of the new contributor lies, if he happens to charm at all.


The new contributor who does charm can have little notion how much he
charms his first reader, who is the editor. That functionary may bide
his pleasure in a short, stiff note of acceptance, or he may mask his joy
in a check of slender figure; but the contributor may be sure that he has
missed no merit in his work, and that he has felt, perhaps far more than
the public will feel, such delight as it can give.

The contributor may take the acceptance as a token that his efforts have
not been neglected, and that his achievements will always be warmly
welcomed; that even his failures will be leniently and reluctantly
recognized as failures, and that he must persist long in failure before
the friend he has made will finally forsake him.

I do not wish to paint the situation wholly rose color; the editor will
have his moods, when he will not see so clearly or judge so justly as at
other times; when he will seem exacting and fastidious, and will want
this or that mistaken thing done to the story, or poem, or sketch, which
the author knows to be simply perfect as it stands; but he is worth
bearing with, and he will be constant to the new contributor as long as
there is the least hope of him.

The contributor may be the man or the woman of one story, one poem, one
sketch, for there are such; but the editor will wait the evidence of
indefinite failure to this effect. His hope always is that he or she is
the man or the woman of many stories, many poems, many sketches, all as
good as the first.

From my own long experience as a magazine editor, I may say that the
editor is more doubtful of failure in one who has once done well than of
a second success. After all, the writer who can do but one good thing is
rarer than people are apt to think in their love of the improbable; but
the real danger with a young contributor is that he may become his own

What would have been quite good enough from him in the first instance is
not good enough in the second, because he has himself fixed his standard
so high. His only hope is to surpass himself, and not begin resting on
his laurels too soon; perhaps it is never well, soon or late, to rest
upon one's laurels. It is well for one to make one's self scarce, and
the best way to do this is to be more and more jealous of perfection in
one's work.

The editor's conditions are that having found a good thing he must get as
much of it as he can, and the chances are that he will be less exacting
than the contributor imagines. It is for the contributor to be exacting,
and to let nothing go to the editor as long as there is the possibility
of making it better. He need not be afraid of being forgotten because he
does not keep sending; the editor's memory is simply relentless; he could
not forget the writer who has pleased him if he would, for such writers
are few.

I do not believe that in my editorial service on the Atlantic Monthly,
which lasted fifteen years in all, I forgot the name or the
characteristic quality, or even the handwriting, of a contributor who had
pleased me, and I forgot thousands who did not. I never lost faith in a
contributor who had done a good thing; to the end I expected another good
thing from him. I think I was always at least as patient with him as he
was with me, though he may not have known it.

At the time I was connected with that periodical it had almost a monopoly
of the work of Longfellow, Emerson, Holmes, Lowell, Whittier, Mrs. Stowe,
Parkman, Higginson, Aldrich, Stedman, and many others not so well known,
but still well known. These distinguished writers were frequent
contributors, and they could be counted upon to respond to almost any
appeal of the magazine; yet the constant effort of the editors was to
discover new talent, and their wish was to welcome it.

I know that, so far as I was concerned, the success of a young
contributor was as precious as if I had myself written his paper or poem,
and I doubt if it gave him more pleasure. The editor is, in fact, a sort
of second self for the contributor, equally eager that he should stand
well with the public, and able to promote his triumphs without egotism
and share them without vanity.


In fact, my curious experience was that if the public seemed not to feel
my delight in a contribution I thought good, my vexation and
disappointment were as great as if the work hod been my own. It was even
greater, for if I had really written it I might have had my misgivings of
its merit, but in the case of another I could not console myself with
this doubt. The sentiment was at the same time one which I could not
cherish for the work of an old contributor; such a one stood more upon
his own feet; and the young contributor may be sure that the editor's
pride, self-interest, and sense of editorial infallibility will all
prompt him to stand by the author whom he has introduced to the public,
and whom he has vouched for.

I hope I am not giving the young contributor too high an estimate of his
value to the editor. After all, he must remember that he is but one of a
great many others, and that the editor's affections, if constant, are
necessarily divided. It is good for the literary aspirant to realize
very early that he is but one of many; for the vice of our comparatively
virtuous craft is that it tends to make each of us imagine himself
central, if not sole.

As a matter of fact, however, the universe does not revolve around any
one of us; we make our circuit of the sun along with the other
inhabitants of the earth, a planet of inferior magnitude. The thing we
strive for is recognition, but when this comes it is apt to turn our
heads. I should say, then, that it was better it should not come in a
great glare and aloud shout, all at once, but should steal slowly upon
us, ray by ray, breath by breath.

In the mean time, if this happens, we shall have several chances of
reflection, and can ask ourselves whether we are really so great as we
seem to other people, or seem to seem.

The prime condition of good work is that we shall get ourselves out of
our minds. Sympathy we need, of course, and encouragement; but I am not
sure that the lack of these is not a very good thing, too. Praise
enervates, flattery poisons; but a smart, brisk snub is always rather

I should say that it was not at all a bad thing for a young contributor
to get his manuscript back, even after a first acceptance, and even a
general newspaper proclamation that he is one to make the immortals
tremble for their wreaths of asphodel--or is it amaranth? I am never
sure which.

Of course one must have one's hour, or day, or week, of disabling the
editor's judgment, of calling him to one's self fool, and rogue, and
wretch; but after that, if one is worth while at all, one puts the
rejected thing by, or sends it off to some other magazine, and sets about
the capture of the erring editor with something better, or at least
something else.


I think it a great pity that editors ever deal other than frankly with
young contributors, or put them off with smooth generalities of excuse,
instead of saying they do not like this thing or that offered them. It
is impossible to make a criticism of all rejected manuscripts, but in the
case of those which show promise I think it is quite possible; and if I
were to sin my sins over again, I think I should sin a little more on the
side of candid severity. I am sure I should do more good in that way,
and I am sure that when I used to dissemble my real mind I did harm to
those whose feelings I wished to spare. There ought not, in fact, to be
question of feeling in the editor's mind.

I know from much suffering of my own that it is terrible to get back a
manuscript, but it is not fatal, or I should have been dead a great many
times before I was thirty, when the thing mostly ceased for me. One
survives it again and again, and one ought to make the reflection that it
is not the first business of a periodical to print contributions of this
one or of that, but that its first business is to amuse and instruct its

To do this it is necessary to print contributions, but whose they are, or
how the writer will feel if they are not printed, cannot be considered.
The editor can consider only what they are, and the young contributor
will do well to consider that, although the editor may not be an
infallible judge, or quite a good judge, it is his business to judge, and
to judge without mercy. Mercy ought no more to qualify judgment in an
artistic result than in a mathematical result.


I suppose, since I used to have it myself, that there is a superstition
with most young contributors concerning their geographical position. I
used to think that it was a disadvantage to send a thing from a small or
unknown place, and that it doubled my insignificance to do so. I
believed that if my envelope had borne the postmark of New York, or
Boston, or some other city of literary distinction, it would have arrived
on the editor's table with a great deal more authority. But I am sure
this was a mistake from the first, and when I came to be an editor myself
I constantly verified the fact from my own dealings with contributors.
A contribution from a remote and obscure place at once piqued my
curiosity, and I soon learned that the fresh things, the original things,
were apt to come from such places, and not from the literary centres.
One of the most interesting facts concerning the arts of all kinds is
that those who wish to give their lives to them do not appear where the
appliances for instruction in them exist. An artistic atmosphere does
not create artists a literary atmosphere does not create literators;
poets and painters spring up where there was never a verse made or a
picture seen.

This suggests that God is no more idle now than He was at the beginning,
but that He is still and forever shaping the human chaos into the
instruments and means of beauty. It may also suggest to that scholar-
pride, that vanity of technique, which is so apt to vaunt itself in the
teacher, that the best he can do, after all, is to let the pupil teach
himself. If he comes with divine authority to the thing he attempts, he
will know how to use the appliances, of which the teacher is only the

The editor, if he does not consciously perceive the truth, will
instinctively feel it, and will expect the acceptable young contributor
from the country, the village, the small town, and he will look eagerly
at anything that promises literature from Montana or Texas, for he will
know that it also promises novelty.

If he is a wise editor, he will wish to hold his hand as much as
possible; he will think twice before he asks the contributor to change
this or correct that; he will leave him as much to himself as he can.
The young contributor; on his part, will do well to realize this, and to
receive all the editorial suggestions, which are veiled commands in most
cases, as meekly and as imaginatively as possible.

The editor cannot always give his reasons; however strongly he may feel
them, but the contributor, if sufficiently docile, can always divine
them. It behooves him to be docile at all times, for this is merely the
willingness to learn; and whether he learns that he is wrong, or that the
editor is wrong, still he gains knowledge.

A great deal of knowledge comes simply from doing, and a great deal more
from doing over, and this is what the editor generally means.

I think that every author who is honest with himself must own that his
work would be twice as good if it were done twice. I was once so
fortunately circumstanced that I was able entirely to rewrite one of my
novels, and I have always thought it the best written, or at least
indefinitely better than it would have been with a single writing. As a
matter of fact, nearly all of them have been rewritten in a certain way.
They have not actually been rewritten throughout, as in the case I speak
of, but they have been gone over so often in manuscript and in proof that
the effect has been much the same.

Unless you are sensible of some strong frame within your work, something
vertebral, it is best to renounce it, and attempt something else in which
you can feel it. If you are secure of the frame you must observe the
quality and character of everything you build about it; you must touch,
you must almost taste, you must certainly test, every material you
employ; every bit of decoration must undergo the same scrutiny as the

It will be some vague perception of the want of this vigilance in the
young contributor's work which causes the editor to return it to him for
revision, with those suggestions which he will do well to make the most
of; for when the editor once finds a contributor he can trust, he
rejoices in him with a fondness which the contributor will never perhaps

It will not do to write for the editor alone; the wise editor understands
this, and averts his countenance from the contributor who writes at him;
but if he feels that the contributor conceives the situation, and will
conform to the conditions which his periodical has invented for itself,
and will transgress none of its unwritten laws; if he perceives that he
has put artistic conscience in every general and detail, and though he
has not done the best, has done the best that he can do, he will begin to
liberate him from every trammel except those he must wear himself, and
will be only too glad to leave him free. He understands, if he is at all
fit for his place, that a writer can do well only what he likes to do,
and his wish is to leave him to himself as soon as possible.


In my own case, I noticed that the contributors who could be best left to
themselves were those who were most amenable to suggestion and even
correction, who took the blue pencil with a smile, and bowed gladly to
the rod of the proof-reader. Those who were on the alert for offence,
who resented a marginal note as a slight, and bumptiously demanded that
their work should be printed just as they had written it, were commonly
not much more desired by the reader than by the editor.

Of course the contributor naturally feels that the public is the test of
his excellence, but he must not forget that the editor is the beginning
of the public; and I believe he is a faithfuller and kinder critic than
the writer will ever find again.

Since my time there is a new tradition of editing, which I do not think
so favorable to the young contributor as the old. Formerly the magazines
were made up of volunteer contributions in much greater measure than they
are now. At present most of the material is invited and even engaged; it
is arranged for a long while beforehand, and the space that can be given
to the aspirant, the unknown good, the potential excellence, grows
constantly less and less.

A great deal can be said for either tradition; perhaps some editor will
yet imagine a return to the earlier method. In the mean time we must
deal with the thing that is, and submit to it until it is changed. The
moral to the young contributor is to be better than ever, to leave
nothing undone that shall enhance his small chances of acceptance.
If he takes care to be so good that the editor must accept him in spite
of all the pressure upon his pages, he will not only be serving-himself
best, but may be helping the editor to a conception of his duty that
shall be more hospitable to all other young contributors. As it is,
however, it must be owned that their hope of acceptance is very, very
small, and they will do well to make sure that they love literature so
much that they can suffer long and often repeated disappointment in its

The love of it is the great and only test of fitness for it. It is
really inconceivable how any one should attempt it without this, but
apparently a great many do. It is evident to every editor that a vast
number of those who write the things he looks at so faithfully, and reads
more or less, have no artistic motive.

People write because they wish to be known, or because they have heard
that money is easily made in that way, or because they think they will
chance that among a number of other things. The ignorance of technique
which they often show is not nearly so disheartening as the palpable
factitiousness of their product. It is something that they have made; it
is not anything that has grown out of their lives.

I should think it would profit the young contributor, before he puts pen
to paper, to ask himself why he does so, and, if he finds that he has no
motive in the love of the thing, to forbear.

Am I interested in what I am going to write about? Do I feel it
strongly? Do I know it thoroughly? Do I imagine it clearly? The young
contributor had better ask himself all these questions, and as many more
like them as he can think of. Perhaps he will end by not being a young

But if he is able to answer them satisfactorily to his own conscience, by
all means let him begin. He may at once put aside all anxiety about
style; that is a thing that will take care of itself; it will be added
unto him if he really has something to say; for style is only a man's way
of saying a thing.

If he has not much to say, or if he has nothing to say, perhaps he will
try to say it in some other man's way, or to hide his own vacuity with
rags of rhetoric and tags and fringes of manner, borrowed from this
author and that. He will fancy that in this disguise his work will be
more literary, and that there is somehow a quality, a grace, imparted to
it which will charm in spite of the inward hollowness. His vain hope
would be pitiful if it were not so shameful, but it is destined to suffer
defeat at the first glance of the editorial eye.

If he really has something to say, however, about something he knows and
loves, he is in the best possible case to say it well. Still, from time
to time he may advantageously call a halt, and consider whether he is
saying the thing clearly and simply.

If he has a good ear he will say it gracefully, and musically; and I
would by no means have him aim to say it barely or sparely. It is not so
that people talk, who talk well, and literature is only the thought of
the writer flowing from the pen instead of the tongue.

To aim at succinctness and brevity merely, as some teach, is to practice
a kind of quackery almost as offensive as the charlatanry of rhetoric.
In either case the life goes out of the subject.

To please one's self, honestly and thoroughly, is the only way to please
others in matters of art. I do not mean to say that if you please
yourself you will always please others, but that unless you please
yourself you will please no one else. It is the sweet and sacred
privilege of work done artistically to delight the doer. Art is the
highest joy, but any work done in the love of it is art, in a kind, and
it strikes the note of happiness as nothing else can.

We hear much of drudgery, but any sort of work that is slighted becomes
drudgery; poetry, fiction, painting, sculpture, acting, architecture, if
you do not do your best by them, turn to drudgery sore as digging
ditches, hewing wood, or drawing water; and these, by the same blessings
of God, become arts if they are done with conscience and the sense of

The young contributor may test his work before the editor assays it, if
he will, and he may know by a rule that is pretty infallible whether it
is good or not, from his own experience in doing it. Did it give him
pleasure? Did he love it as it grew under his hand? Was he glad and
willing with it? Or did he force himself to it, and did it hang heavy
upon him?

There is nothing mystical in all this; it is a matter of plain, every-day
experience, and I think nearly every artist will say the same thing about
it, if he examines himself faithfully.

If the young contributor finds that he has no delight in the thing he has
attempted, he may very well give it up, for no one else will delight in
it. But he need not give it up at once; perhaps his mood is bad; let him
wait for a better, and try it again. He may not have learned how to do
it well, and therefore he cannot love it, but perhaps he can learn to do
it well.

The wonder and glory of art is that it is without formulas. Or, rather,
each new piece of work requires the invention of new formulas, which will
not serve again for another. You must apprentice yourself afresh at
every fresh undertaking, and our mastery is always a victory over certain
unexpected difficulties, and not a dominion of difficulties overcome

I believe, in other words, that mastery is merely the strength that comes
of overcoming and is never a sovereign power that smooths the path of all
obstacles. The combinations in art are infinite, and almost never the
same; you must make your key and fit it to each, and the key that unlocks
one combination will not unlock another.


There is no royal road to excellence in literature, but the young
contributor need not be dismayed at that. Royal roads are the ways that
kings travel, and kings are mostly dull fellows, and rarely have a good
time. They do not go along singing; the spring that trickles into the
mossy log is not for them, nor

        "The wildwood flower that simply blows."

But the traveller on the country road may stop for each of these; and it
is not a bad condition of his progress that he must move so slowly that
he can learn every detail of the landscape, both earth and sky, by heart.

The trouble with success is that it is apt to leave life behind, or
apart. The successful writer especially is in danger of becoming
isolated from the realities that nurtured in him the strength to win
success. When he becomes famous, he becomes precious to criticism, to
society, to all the things that do not exist from themselves, or have not
the root of the matter in them.

Therefore, I think that a young writer's upward course should be slow and
beset with many obstacles, even hardships. Not that I believe in
hardships as having inherent virtues; I think it is stupid to regard them
in that way; but they oftener bring out the virtues inherent in the
sufferer from them than what I may call the 'softships'; and at least
they stop him, and give him time to think.

This is the great matter, for if we prosper forward rapidly, we have no
time for anything but prospering forward rapidly. We have no time for
art, even the art by which we prosper.

I would have the young contributor above all things realize that success
is not his concern. Good work, true work, beautiful work is his affair,
and nothing else. If he does this, success will take care of itself.

He has no business to think of the thing that will take. It is the
editor's business to think of that, and it is the contributor's business
to think of the thing that he can do with pleasure, the high pleasure
that comes from the sense of worth in the thing done. Let him do the
best he can, and trust the editor to decide whether it will take.

It will take far oftener than anything he attempts perfunctorily; and
even if the editor thinks it will not take, and feels obliged to return
it for that reason, he will return it with a real regret, with the honor
and affection which we cannot help feeling for any one who has done a
piece of good work, and with the will and the hope to get something from
him that will take the next time, or the next, or the next.



When we said that we were going to Scheveningen, in the middle of
September, the portier of the hotel at The Hague was sure we should be
very cold, perhaps because we had suffered so much in his house already;
and he was right, for the wind blew with a Dutch tenacity of purpose for
a whole week, so that the guests thinly peopling the vast hostelry seemed
to rustle through its chilly halls and corridors like so many autumn
leaves. We were but a poor hundred at most where five hundred would not
have been a crowd; and, when we sat down at the long tables d'hote in the
great dining-room, we had to warm our hands with our plates before we
could hold our spoons. From time to time the weather varied, as it does
in Europe (American weather is of an exemplary constancy in comparison),
and three or four times a day it rained, and three or four times it
cleared; but through all the wind blew cold and colder. We were
promised, however, that the hotel would not close till October, and we
made shift, with a warm chimney in one room and three gas-burners in
another, if not to keep warm quite, yet certainly to get used to the


In the mean time the sea-bathing went resolutely on with all its forms.
Every morning the bathing machines were drawn down to the beach from the
esplanade, where they were secured against the gale every night; and
every day a half-dozen hardy invalids braved the rigors of wind and wave.
At the discreet distance which one ought always to keep one could not
always be sure whether these bold bathers were mermen or mermaids; for
the sea costume of both sexes is the same here, as regards an absence of
skirts and a presence of what are, after the first plunge, effectively
tights. The first time I walked down to the beach I was puzzled to make
out some object rolling about in the low surf, which looked like a
barrel, and which two bathing-machine men were watching with apparently
the purpose of fishing it out. Suddenly this object reared itself from
the surf and floundered towards the steps of a machine; then I saw that
it was evidently not a barrel, but a lady, and after that I never dared
carry my researches so far. I suppose that the bathing-tights are more
becoming in some cases than in others; but I hold to a modest preference
for skirts, however brief, in the sea-gear of ladies. Without them there
may sometimes be the effect of beauty, and sometimes the effect of

For the convenience and safety of the bathers there were, even in the
last half of September, some twenty machines, and half as many bath-men
and bath-women, who waded into the water and watched that the bathers
came to no harm, instead of a solitary lifeguard showing his statuesque
shape as he paced the shore beside the lifelines, or cynically rocked in
his boat beyond the breakers, as the custom is on Long Island. Here
there is no need of life-lines, and, unless one held his head resolutely
under water, I do not see how he could drown within quarter of a mile of
the shore. Perhaps it is to prevent suicide that the bathmen are so
plentifully provided.

They are a provision of the hotel, I believe, which does not relax itself
in any essential towards its guests as they grow fewer. It seems, on the
contrary, to use them with a more tender care, and to console them as it
may for the inevitable parting near at hand. Now, within three or four
days of the end, the kitchen is as scrupulously and vigilantly perfect as
it could be in the height of the season; and our dwindling numbers sit
down every night to a dinner that we could not get for much more love or
vastly more money in the month of August, at any shore hotel in America.
It is true that there are certain changes going on, but they are going on
delicately, almost silently. A strip of carpeting has come up from along
our corridor, but we hardly miss it from the matting which remains.
Through the open doors of vacant chambers we can see that beds are coming
down, and the dismantling extends into the halls at places. Certain
decorative carved chairs which repeated themselves outside the doors have
ceased to be there; but the pictures still hang on the walls, and within
our own rooms everything is as conscientious as in midsummer. The
service is instant, and, if there is some change in it, the change is not
for the worse. Yesterday our waiter bade me good-bye, and when I said I
was sorry he was going he alleged a boil on his cheek in excuse; he would
not allow that his going had anything to do with the closing of the
hotel, and he was promptly replaced by another who speaks excellent
English. Now that the first is gone, I may own that he seemed not to
speak any foreign language long, but, when cornered in English, took
refuge in French, and then fled from pursuit in that to German, and
brought up in final Dutch, where he was practically inaccessible.

The elevator runs regularly, if not rapidly; the papers arrive
unfailingly in the reading-room, including a solitary London Times, which
even I do not read, perhaps because I have no English-reading rival to
contend for it with. Till yesterday, an English artist sometimes got it;
but he then instantly offered it to me; and I had to refuse it because I
would not be outdone in politeness. Now even he is gone, and on all
sides I find myself in an unbroken circle of Dutch and German, where no
one would dispute the Times with me if he could.

Every night the corridors are fully lighted, and some mornings swept,
while the washing that goes on all over Holland, night and morning, does
not always spare our unfrequented halls and stairs. I note these little
facts, for the contrast with those of an American hotel which we once
assisted in closing, and where the elevator stopped two weeks before we
left, and we fell from electricity to naphtha-gas, and even this died out
before us except at long intervals in the passages; while there were
lightning changes in the service, and a final failure of it till we had
to go down and get our own ice-water of the lingering room-clerk, after
the last bell-boy had winked out.


But in Europe everything is permanent, and in America everything is
provisional. This is the great distinction which, if always kept in
mind, will save a great deal of idle astonishment. It is in nothing more
apparent than in the preparation here at Scheveningen for centuries of
summer visitors, while at our Long Island hotel there was a losing bet on
a scant generation of them. When it seemed likely that it might be a
winning bet the sand was planked there in front of the hotel to the sea
with spruce boards. It was very handsomely planked, but it was never
afterwards touched, apparently, for any manner of repairs. Here, for
half a mile the dune on which the hotel stands is shored up with massive
masonry, and bricked for carriages, and tiled for foot-passengers; and it
is all kept as clean as if wheel or foot had never passed over it. I am
sure that there is not a broken brick or a broken tile in the whole
length or breadth of it. But the hotel here is not a bet; it is a
business. It has come to stay; and on Long Island it had come to see how
it would like it.

Beyond the walk and drive, however, the dunes are left to the winds, and
to the vegetation with which the Dutch planting clothes them against the
winds. First a coarse grass or rush is sown; then a finer herbage comes;
then a tough brushwood, with flowers and blackberry-vines; so that while
the seaward slopes of the dunes are somewhat patched and tattered, the
landward side and all the pleasant hollows between are fairly held
against such gales as on Long Island blow the lower dunes hither and yon.
The sheep graze in the valleys at some points; in many a little pocket of
the dunes I found a potato-patch of about the bigness of a city lot, and
on week-days I saw wooden-shod men slowly, slowly gathering in the crop.
On Sundays I saw the pleasant nooks and corners of these sandy hillocks
devoted, as the dunes of Long Island were, to whispering lovers, who are
here as freely and fearlessly affectionate as at home. Rocking there is
not, and cannot be, in the nature of things, as there used to be at Mount
Desert; but what is called Twoing at York Harbor is perfectly

It is practicable not only in the nooks and corners of the dunes, but on
discreeter terms in those hooded willow chairs, so characteristic of the
Dutch sea-side. These, if faced in pairs towards each other, must be as
favorable to the exchange of vows as of opinions, and if the crowd is
ever very great, perhaps one chair could be made to hold two persons.
It was distinctly a pang, the other day, to see men carrying them up from
the beach, and putting them away to hibernate in the basement of the
hotel. Not all, but most of them, were taken; though I dare say that on
fine days throughout October they will go trooping back to the sands on
the heads of the same men, like a procession of monstrous, two-legged
crabs. Such a day was last Sunday, and then the beach offered a lively
image of its summer gayety. It was dotted with hundreds of hooded
chairs, which foregathered in gossiping groups or confidential couples;
and as the sun shone quite warm the flaps of the little tents next the
dunes were let down against it, and ladies in summer white saved
themselves from sunstroke in their shelter. The wooden booths for the
sale of candies and mineral waters, and beer and sandwiches, were flushed
with a sudden prosperity, so that when I went to buy my pound of grapes
from the good woman who understands my Dutch, I dreaded an indifference
in her which by no means appeared. She welcomed me as warmly as if I had
been her sole customer, and did not put up the price on me; perhaps
because it was already so very high that her imagination could not rise
above it.


The hotel showed the same admirable constancy. The restaurant was
thronged with new-comers, who spread out even over the many-tabled
esplanade before it; but it was in no wise demoralized. That night we
sat down in multiplied numbers to a table d'hote of serenely unconscious
perfection; and we permanent guests--alas! we are now becoming transient,
too--were used with unfaltering recognition of our superior worth. We
shared the respect which, all over Europe, attaches to establishment, and
which sometimes makes us poor Americans wish for a hereditary nobility,
so that we could all mirror our ancestral value in the deference of our
inferiors. Where we should get our inferiors is another thing, but I
suppose we could import them for the purpose, if the duties were not too
great under our tariff.

We have not yet imported the idea of a European hotel in any respect,
though we long ago imported what we call the European plan. No travelled
American knows it in the extortionate prices of rooms when he gets home,
or the preposterous charges of our restaurants, where one portion of
roast beef swimming in a lake of lukewarm juice costs as much as a
diversified and delicate dinner in Germany or Holland. But even if there
were any proportion in these things the European hotel will not be with
us till we have the European portier, who is its spring and inspiration.
He must not, dear home-keeping reader, be at all imagined in the moral or
material figure of our hotel porter, who appears always in his shirt-
sleeves, and speaks with the accent of Cork or of Congo. The European
portier wears a uniform, I do not know why, and a gold-banded cap, and he
inhabits a little office at the entrance of the hotel. He speaks eight
or ten languages, up to certain limit, rather better than people born to
them, and his presence commands an instant reverence softening to
affection under his universal helpfulness. There is nothing he cannot
tell you, cannot do for you; and you may trust yourself implicitly to
him. He has the priceless gift of making each nationality, each
personality, believe that he is devoted to its service alone. He turns
lightly from one language to another, as if he had each under his tongue,
and he answers simultaneously a fussy French woman, an angry English
tourist, a stiff Prussian major, and a thin-voiced American girl in
behalf of a timorous mother, and he never mixes the replies. He is an
inexhaustible bottle of dialects; but this is the least of his merits, of
his miracles.

Our portier here is a tall, slim Dutchman (most Dutchmen are tall and
slim), and in spite of the waning season he treats me as if I were
multitude, while at the same time he uses me with the distinction due the
last of his guests. Twenty times in as many hours he wishes me good-day,
putting his hand to his cap for the purpose; and to oblige me he wears
silver braid instead of gilt on his cap and coat. I apologized yesterday
for troubling him so often for stamps, and said that I supposed he was
much more bothered in the season.

"Between the first of August and the fifteenth," he answered, "you cannot
think. All that you can do is to say, Yes, No; Yes, No." And he left me
to imagine his responsibilities.

I am sure he will hold out to the end, and will smile me a friendly
farewell from the door of his office, which is also his dining-room, as I
know from often disturbing him at his meals there. I have no fear of the
waiters either, or of the little errand-boys who wear suits of sailor
blue, and touch their foreheads when they bring you your letters like so
many ancient sea-dogs. I do not know why the elevator-boy prefers a suit
of snuff-color; but I know that he will salute us as we step out of his
elevator for the last time as unfalteringly as if we had just arrived at
the beginning of the summer.


It is our last day in the hotel at Scheveningen, and I will try to recall
in their pathetic order the events of the final week.

Nothing has been stranger throughout than the fluctuation of the guests.
At times they have dwindled to so small a number that one must reckon
chiefly upon their quality for consolation; at other times they swelled
to such a tide as to overflow the table, long or short, at dinner, and
eddy round a second board beside it. There have been nights when I have
walked down the long corridor to my seaward room through a harking
solitude of empty chambers; there have been mornings when I have come out
to breakfast past door-mats cheerful with boots of both sexes, and door-
post hooks where dangling coats and trousers peopled the place with a
lively if a somewhat flaccid semblance of human presence. The worst was
that, when some one went, we lost a friend, and when some one came we
only won a stranger.

Among the first to go were the kindly English folk whose acquaintance we
made across the table the first night, and who took with them so large a
share of our facile affections that we quite forgot the ancestral
enmities, and grieved for them as much as if they had been Americans.
There have been, in fact, no Americans here but ourselves, and we have
done what we could with the Germans who spoke English. The nicest of
these were a charming family from F-----, father and mother, and son and
daughter, with whom we had a pleasant week of dinners. At the very first
we disagreed with the parents so amicably about Ibsen and Sudermann that
I was almost sorry to have the son take our modern side of the
controversy and declare himself an admirer of those authors with us.
Our frank literary difference established a kindness between us that was
strengthened by our community of English, and when they went they left us
to the sympathy of another German family with whom we had mainly our
humanity in common. They spoke no English, and I only a German which
they must have understood with their hearts rather than their heads,
since it consisted chiefly of good-will. But in the air of their sweet
natures it flourished surprisingly, and sufficed each day for praise of
the weather after it began to be fine, and at parting for some fond
regrets, not unmixed with philosophical reflections, sadly perplexed in
the genders and the order of the verbs: with me the verb will seldom
wait, as it should in German, to the end. Both of these families, very
different in social tradition, I fancied, were one in the amiability
which makes the alien forgive so much militarism to the German nation,
and hope for its final escape from the drill-sergeant. When they went,
we were left for some meals to our own American tongue, with a brief
interval of that English painter and his wife with whom we spoke, our
language as nearly like English as we could. Then followed a desperate
lunch and dinner where an unbroken forest of German, and a still more
impenetrable morass of Dutch, hemmed us in. But last night it was our
joy to be addressed in our own speech by a lady who spoke it as admirably
as our dear friends from F-----. She was Dutch, and when she found we
were Americans she praised our historian Motley, and told us how his
portrait is gratefully honored with a place in the Queen's palace, The
House in the Woods, near Scheveningen.


She had come up from her place in the country, four hours away, for the
last of the concerts here, which have been given throughout the summer by
the best orchestra in Europe, and which have been thronged every
afternoon and evening by people from The Hague.

One honored day this week even the Queen and the Queen Mother came down
to the concert, and gave us incomparably the greatest event of our waning
season. I had noticed all the morning a floral perturbation about the
main entrance of the hotel, which settled into the form of banks of
autumnal bloom on either side of the specially carpeted stairs, and put
forth on the roof of the arcade in a crown, much bigger round than a
barrel, of orange-colored asters, in honor of the Queen's ancestral house
of Orange. Flags of blue, white, and red fluttered nervously about in
the breeze from the sea, and imparted to us an agreeable anxiety not to
miss seeing the Queens, as the Dutch succinctly call their sovereign and
her parent; and at three o'clock we saw them drive up to the hotel.
Certain officials in civil dress stood at the door of the concert-room to
usher the Queens in, and a bareheaded, bald-headed dignity of military
figure backed up the stairs before them. I would not rashly commit
myself to particulars concerning their dress, but I am sure that the
elder Queen wore black, and the younger white. The mother has one of the
best and wisest faces I have seen any woman wear (and most of the good,
wise faces in this imperfectly balanced world are women's) and the
daughter one of the sweetest and prettiest. Pretty is the word for her
face, and it showed pink through her blond veil, as she smiled and bowed
right and left; her features are small and fine, and she is not above the
middle height.

As soon as she had passed into the concert-room, we who had waited to see
her go in ran round to another door and joined the two or three thousand
people who were standing to receive the Queens. These had already
mounted to the royal box, and they stood there while the orchestra played
one of the Dutch national airs. (One air is not enough for the Dutch;
they must have two.) Then the mother faded somewhere into the
background, and the daughter sat alone in the front, on a gilt throne,
with a gilt crown at top, and a very uncomfortable carved Gothic back.
She looked so young, so gentle, and so good that the rudest Republican
could not have helped wishing her well out of a position so essentially
and irreparably false as a hereditary sovereign's. One forgot in the
presence of her innocent seventeen years that most of the ruling princes
of the world had left it the worse for their having been in it; at
moments one forgot her altogether as a princess, and saw her only as a
charming young girl, who had to sit up rather stiffly.

At the end of the programme the Queens rose and walked slowly out, while
the orchestra played the other national air.


I call them the Queens, because the Dutch do; and I like Holland so much
that I should hate to differ with the Dutch in anything. But, as a
matter of fact, they are neither of them quite Queens; the mother is the
regent and the daughter will not be crowned till next year.

But, such as they are, they imparted a supreme emotion to our dying
season, and thrilled the hotel with a fulness of summer life. Since they
went, the season faintly pulses and respires, so that one can just say
that it is still alive. Last Sunday was fine, and great crowds came down
from The Hague to the concert, and spread out on the seaward terrace of
the hotel, around the little tables which I fancied that the waiters had
each morning wiped dry of the dew, from a mere Dutch desire of cleaning
something. The hooded chairs covered the beach; the children played in
the edges of the surf and delved in the sand; the lovers wandered up into
the hollows of the dunes.

There was only the human life, however. I have looked in vain for the
crabs, big and little, that swarm on the Long Island shore, and there are
hardly any gulls, even; perhaps because there are no crabs for them to
eat, if they eat crabs; I never saw gulls doing it, but they must eat
something. Dogs there are, of course, wherever there are people; but
they are part of the human life. Dutch dogs are in fact very human; and
one I saw yesterday behaved quite as badly as a bad boy, with respect to
his muzzle. He did not like his muzzle, and by dint of turning
somersaults in the sand he got it off, and went frolicking to his master
in triumph to show him what he had done.


It is now the last day, and the desolation is thickening upon our hotel.
This morning the door-posts up and down my corridor showed not a single
pair of trousers; not a pair of boots flattered the lonely doormats. In
the lower hall I found the tables of the great dining-room assembled, and
the chairs inverted on them with their legs in the air; but decently,
decorously, not with the reckless abandon displayed by the chairs in our
Long Island hotel for weeks before it closed. In the smaller dining-room
the table was set for lunch as if we were to go on dining there forever;
in the breakfast-room the service and the provision were as perfect as
ever. The coffee was good, the bread delicious, the butter of an
unfaltering sweetness; and the glaze of wear on the polished dress-coats
of the waiters as respectable as it could have been on the first day of
the season. All was correct, and if of a funereal correctness to me, I
am sure this effect was purely subjective.

The little bell-boys in sailor suits (perhaps they ought to be spelled
bell-buoys) clustered about the elevator-boy like so many Roman sentinels
at their posts; the elevator-boy and his elevator were ready to take us
up or down at any moment.

The portier and I ignored together the hour of parting, which we had
definitely ascertained and agreed upon, and we exchanged some compliments
to the weather, which is now settled, as if we expected to enjoy it long
together. I rather dread going in to lunch, however, for I fear the
empty places.


All is over; we are off. The lunch was an heroic effort of the hotel to
hide the fact of our separation. It was perfect, unless the boiled beef
was a confession of human weakness; but even this boiled beef was
exquisite, and the horseradish that went with it was so mellowed by art
that it checked rather than provoked the parting tear. The table d'hote
had reserved a final surprise for us; and when we sat down with the fear
of nothing but German around us, we heard the sound of our own speech
from the pleasantest English pair we had yet encountered; and the
travelling English are pleasant; I will say it, who am said by Sir Walter
Besant to be the only American who hates their nation. It was really an
added pang to go, on their account, but the carriage was waiting at the
door; the 'domestique' had already carried our baggage to the steam-tram
station; the kindly menial train formed around us for an ultimate
'douceur', and we were off, after the 'portier' had shut us into our
vehicle and touched his oft-touched cap for the last time, while the
hotel facade dissembled its grief by architecturally smiling in the soft
Dutch sun.

I liked this manner of leaving better than carrying part of my own
baggage to the train, as I had to do on Long Island, though that, too,
had its charm; the charm of the whole fresh, pungent American life, which
at this distance is so dear.


The interesting experiment of one of our great publishing houses in
putting out serially several volumes of short stories, with the hope that
a courageous persistence may overcome the popular indifference to such
collections when severally administered, suggests some questions as to
this eldest form of fiction which I should like to ask the reader's
patience with. I do not know that I shall be able to answer them, or
that I shall try to do so; the vitality of a question that is answered
seems to exhale in the event; it palpitates no longer; curiosity flutters
away from the faded flower, which is fit then only to be folded away in
the 'hortus siccus' of accomplished facts. In view of this I may wish
merely to state the problems and leave them for the reader's solution,
or, more amusingly, for his mystification.


One of the most amusing questions concerning the short story is why a
form which is singly so attractive that every one likes to read a short
story when he finds it alone is collectively so repellent as it is said
to be. Before now I have imagined the case to be somewhat the same as
that of a number of pleasant people who are most acceptable as separate
householders, but who lose caste and cease to be desirable acquaintances
when gathered into a boarding-house.

Yet the case is not the same quite, for we see that the short story where
it is ranged with others of its species within the covers of a magazine
is so welcome that the editor thinks his number the more brilliant the
more short story writers he can call about his board, or under the roof
of his pension. Here the boardinghouse analogy breaks, breaks so
signally that I was lately moved to ask a distinguished editor why a book
of short stories usually failed and a magazine usually succeeded because
of them. He answered, gayly, that the short stories in most books of
them were bad; that where they were good, they went; and he alleged
several well-known instances in which books of prime short stories had a
great vogue. He was so handsomely interested in my inquiry that I could
not well say I thought some of the short stories which he had boasted in
his last number were indifferent good, and yet, as he allowed, had mainly
helped sell it. I had in mind many books of short stories of the first
excellence which had failed as decidedly as those others had succeeded,
for no reason that I could see; possibly there is really no reason in any
literary success or failure that can be predicted, or applied in another

I could name these books, if it would serve any purpose, but, in my
doubt, I will leave the reader to think of them, for I believe that his
indolence or intellectual reluctance is largely to blame for the failure
of good books of short stories. He is commonly so averse to any
imaginative exertion that he finds it a hardship to respond to that
peculiar demand which a book of good short stories makes upon him. He
can read one good short story in a magazine with refreshment, and a
pleasant sense of excitement, in the sort of spur it gives to his own
constructive faculty. But, if this is repeated in ten or twenty stories,
he becomes fluttered and exhausted by the draft upon his energies;
whereas a continuous fiction of the same quantity acts as an agreeable
sedative. A condition that the short story tacitly makes with the
reader, through its limitations, is that he shall subjectively fill in
the details and carry out the scheme which in its small dimensions the
story can only suggest; and the greater number of readers find this too
much for their feeble powers, while they cannot resist the incitement to
attempt it.

My theory does not wholly account for the fact (no theory wholly accounts
for any fact), and I own that the same objections would lie from the
reader against a number of short stories in a magazine. But it may be
that the effect is not the same in the magazine because of the variety in
the authorship, and because it would be impossibly jolting to read all
the short stories in a magazine 'seriatim'. On the other hand, the
identity of authorship gives a continuity of attraction to the short
stories in a book which forms that exhausting strain upon the imagination
of the involuntary co-partner.


Then, what is the solution as to the form of publication for short
stories, since people do not object to them singly but collectively, and
not in variety, but in identity of authorship? Are they to be printed
only in the magazines, or are they to be collected in volumes combining a
variety of authorship? Rather, I could wish, it might be found feasible
to purvey them in some pretty shape where each would appeal singly to the
reader and would not exhaust him in the subjective after-work required of
him. In this event many short stories now cramped into undue limits by
the editorial exigencies of the magazines might expand to greater length
and breadth, and without ceasing to be each a short story might not make
so heavy a demand upon the subliminal forces of the reader.

If any one were to say that all this was a little fantastic, I should not
contradict him; but I hope there is some reason in it, if reason can help
the short story to greater favor, for it is a form which I have great
pleasure in as a reader, and pride in as an American. If we have not
excelled all other moderns in it, we have certainly excelled in it;
possibly because we are in the period of our literary development which
corresponds to that of other peoples when the short story pre-eminently
flourished among them. But when one has said a thing like this, it
immediately accuses one of loose and inaccurate statement, and requires
one to refine upon it, either for one's own peace of conscience or for
one's safety from the thoughtful reader. I am not much afraid of that
sort of reader, for he is very rare, but I do like to know myself what I
mean, if I mean anything in particular.

In this instance I am obliged to ask myself whether our literary
development can be recognized separately from that of the whole English-
speaking world. I think it can, though, as I am always saying American
literature is merely a condition of English literature. In some sense
every European literature is a condition of some other European
literature, yet the impulse in each eventuates, if it does not originate
indigenously. A younger literature will choose, by a sort of natural
selection, some things for assimilation from an elder literature, for no
more apparent reason than it will reject other things, and it will
transform them in the process so that it will give them the effect of
indigeneity. The short story among the Italians, who called it the
novella, and supplied us with the name devoted solely among us to fiction
of epical magnitude, refined indefinitely upon the Greek romance, if it
derived from that; it retrenched itself in scope, and enlarged itself in
the variety of its types. But still these remained types, and they
remained types with the French imitators of the Italian novella. It was
not till the Spaniards borrowed the form of the novella and transplanted
it to their racier soil that it began to bear character, and to fruit in
the richness of their picaresque fiction. When the English borrowed it
they adapted it, in the metrical tales of Chaucer, to the genius of their
nation, which was then both poetical and humorous. Here it was full of
character, too, and more and more personality began to enlarge the bounds
of the conventional types and to imbue fresh ones. But in so far as the
novella was studied in the Italian sources, the French, Spanish, and
English literatures were conditions of Italian literature as distinctly,
though, of course, not so thoroughly, as American literature is a
condition of English literature. Each borrower gave a national cast to
the thing borrowed, and that is what has happened with us, in the full
measure that our nationality has differenced itself from the English.

Whatever truth there is in all this, and I will confess that a good deal
of it seems to me hardy conjecture, rather favors my position that we are
in some such period of our literary development as those other peoples
when the short story flourished among them. Or, if I restrict our claim,
I may safely claim that they abundantly had the novella when they had not
the novel at all, and we now abundantly have the novella, while we have
the novel only subordinately and of at least no such quantitative
importance as the English, French, Spanish, Norwegians, Russians, and
some others of our esteemed contemporaries, not to name the Italians. We
surpass the Germans, who, like ourselves, have as distinctly excelled in
the modern novella as they have fallen short in the novel. Or, if I may
not quite say this, I will make bold to say that I can think of many
German novelle that I should like to read again, but scarcely one German
novel; and I could honestly say the same of American novelle, though not
of American novels.


The abeyance, not to say the desuetude, that the novella fell into for
several centuries is very curious, and fully as remarkable as the modern
rise of the short story. It began to prevail in the dramatic form, for a
play is a short story put on the stage; it may have satisfied in that
form the early love of it, and it has continued to please in that form;
but in its original shape it quite vanished, unless we consider the
little studies and sketches and allegories of the Spectator and Tatler
and Idler and Rambler and their imitations on the Continent as guises of
the novella. The germ of the modern short story may have survived in
these, or in the metrical form of the novella which appeared in Chaucer
and never wholly disappeared. With Crabbe the novella became as
distinctly the short story as it has become in the hands of Miss Wilkins.
But it was not till our time that its great merit as a form was felt, for
until our time so great work was never done with it. I remind myself of
Boccaccio, and of the Arabian Nights, without the wish to hedge from my
bold stand. They are all elemental; compared with some finer modern work
which deepens inward immeasurably, they are all of their superficial
limits. They amuse, but they do not hold, the mind and stamp it with
large and profound impressions.

An Occidental cannot judge the literary quality of the Eastern tales; but
I will own my suspicion that the perfection of the Italian work is
philological rather than artistic, while the web woven by Mr. James or
Miss Jewett, by Kielland or Bjornson, by Maupassant, by Palacio Valdes,
by Giovanni Verga, by Tourguenief, in one of those little frames seems to
me of an exquisite color and texture and of an entire literary
preciousness, not only as regards the diction, but as regards those more
intangible graces of form, those virtues of truth and reality, and those
lasting significances which distinguish the masterpiece.

The novella has in fact been carried so far in the short story that it
might be asked whether it had not left the novel behind, as to perfection
of form; though one might not like to affirm this. Yet there have been
but few modern fictions of the novel's dimensions which have the beauty
of form many a novella embodies. Is this because it is easier to give
form in the small than in the large, or only because it is easier to hide
formlessness? It is easier to give form in the novella than in the
novel, because the design of less scope can be more definite, and because
the persons and facts are fewer, and each can be more carefully treated.
But, on the other hand, the slightest error in execution shows more in
the small than in the large, and a fault of conception is more evident.
The novella must be clearly imagined, above all things, for there is no
room in it for those felicities of characterization or comment by which
the artist of faltering design saves himself in the novel.


The question as to where the short story distinguishes itself from the
anecdote is of the same nature as that which concerns the bound set
between it and the novel. In both cases the difference of the novella is
in the motive, or the origination. The anecdote is too palpably simple
and single to be regarded as a novella, though there is now and then a
novella like The Father, by Bjornson, which is of the actual brevity of
the anecdote, but which, when released in the reader's consciousness,
expands to dramatic dimensions impossible to the anecdote. Many
anecdotes have come down from antiquity, but not, I believe, one short
story, at least in prose; and the Italians, if they did not invent the
story, gave us something most sensibly distinguishable from the classic
anecdote in the novella. The anecdote offers an illustration of
character, or records a moment of action; the novella embodies a drama
and develops a type.

It is not quite so clear as to when and where a piece of fiction ceases
to be a novella and becomes a novel. The frontiers are so vague that one
is obliged to recognize a middle species, or rather a middle magnitude,
which paradoxically, but necessarily enough, we call the novelette.
First we have the short story, or novella, then we have the long story,
or novel, and between these we have the novelette, which is in name a
smaller than the short story, though it is in point of fact two or three
times longer than a short story. We may realize them physically if we
will adopt the magazine parlance and speak of the novella as a one-number
story, of the novel as a serial, and of the novelette as a two-number or
a three-number story; if it passes the three-number limit it seems to
become a novel. As a two-number or three-number story it is the despair
of editors and publishers. The interest of so brief a serial will not
mount sufficiently to carry strongly over from month to month; when the
tale is completed it will not make a book which the Trade (inexorable
force!) cares to handle. It is therefore still awaiting its
authoritative avatar, which it will be some one's prosperity and glory to
imagine; for in the novelette are possibilities for fiction as yet
scarcely divined.

The novelette can have almost as perfect form as the novella. In fact,
the novel has form in the measure that it approaches the novelette; and
some of the most symmetrical modern novels are scarcely more than
novelettes, like Tourguenief's Dmitri Rudine, or his Smoke, or Spring
Floods. The Vicar of Wakefield, the father of the modern novel, is
scarcely more than a novelette, and I have sometimes fancied, but no
doubt vainly, that the ultimated novel might be of the dimensions of
Hamlet. If any one should say there was not room in Hamlet for the
character and incident requisite in a novel, I should be ready to answer
that there seemed a good deal of both in Hamlet.

But no doubt there are other reasons why the novel should not finally be
of the length of Hamlet, and I must not let my enthusiasm for the
novelette carry me too far, or, rather, bring me up too short. I am
disposed to dwell upon it, I suppose, because it has not yet shared the
favor which the novella and the novel have enjoyed, and because until
somebody invents a way for it to the public it cannot prosper like the
one-number story or the serial. I should like to say as my last word for
it here that I believe there are many novels which, if stripped of their
padding, would turn out to have been all along merely novelettes in

It does not follow, however, that there are many novelle which, if they
were duly padded, would be found novelettes. In that dim, subjective
region where the aesthetic origins present themselves almost with the
authority of inspirations there is nothing clearer than the difference
between the short-story motive and the long-story motive. One, if one is
in that line of work, feels instinctively just the size and carrying
power of the given motive. Or, if the reader prefers a different figure,
the mind which the seed has been dropped into from Somewhere is
mystically aware whether the seed is going to grow up a bush or is going
to grow up a tree, if left to itself. Of course, the mind to which the
seed is intrusted may play it false, and wilfully dwarf the growth, or
force it to unnatural dimensions; but the critical observer will easily
detect the fact of such treasons. Almost in the first germinal impulse
the inventive mind forefeels the ultimate difference and recognizes the
essential simplicity or complexity of the motive. There will be a
prophetic subdivision into a variety of motives and a multiplication of
characters and incidents and situations; or the original motive will be
divined indivisible, and there will be a small group of people
immediately interested and controlled by a single, or predominant, fact.
The uninspired may contend that this is bosh, and I own that something
might be said for their contention, but upon the whole I think it is

The right novel is never a congeries of novelle, as might appear to the
uninspired. If it indulges even in episodes, it loses in reality and
vitality. It is one stock from which its various branches put out, and
form it a living growth identical throughout. The right novella is never
a novel cropped back from the size of a tree to a bush, or the branch of
a tree stuck into the ground and made to serve for a bush. It is another
species, destined by the agencies at work in the realm of unconsciousness
to be brought into being of its own kind, and not of another.


This was always its case, but in the process of time the short story,
while keeping the natural limits of the primal novella (if ever there was
one), has shown almost limitless possibilities within them. It has shown
itself capable of imparting the effect of every sort of intention,
whether of humor or pathos, of tragedy or comedy or broad farce or
delicate irony, of character or action. The thing that first made itself
known as a little tale, usually salacious, dealing with conventionalized
types and conventionalized incidents, has proved itself possibly the most
flexible of all the literary forms in its adaptation to the needs of the
mind that wishes to utter itself, inventively or constructively, upon
some fresh occasion, or wishes briefly to criticise or represent some
phase or fact of life.

The riches in this shape of fiction are effectively inestimable, if we
consider what has been done in the short story, and is still doing
everywhere. The good novels may be easily counted, but the good novelle,
since Boccaccio began (if it was he that first began) to make them,
cannot be computed. In quantity they are inexhaustible, and in quality
they are wonderfully satisfying. Then, why is it that so very, very few
of the most satisfactory of that innumerable multitude stay by you, as
the country people say, in characterization or action? How hard it is to
recall a person or a fact out of any of them, out of the most signally
good! We seem to be delightfully nourished as we read, but is it, after
all, a full meal? We become of a perfect intimacy and a devoted
friendship with the men and women in the short stories, but not
apparently of a lasting acquaintance. It is a single meeting we have
with them, and though we instantly love or hate them dearly, recurrence
and repetition seem necessary to that familiar knowledge in which we hold
the personages in a novel.

It is here that the novella, so much more perfect in form, shows its
irremediable inferiority to the novel, and somehow to the play, to the
very farce, which it may quantitatively excel. We can all recall by name
many characters out of comedies and farces; but how many characters out
of short stories can we recall? Most persons of the drama give
themselves away by name for types, mere figments of allegory, and perhaps
oblivion is the penalty that the novella pays for the fineness of its
characterizations; but perhaps, also, the dramatic form has greater
facilities for repetition, and so can stamp its persons more indelibly on
the imagination than the narrative form in the same small space. The
narrative must give to description what the drama trusts to
representation; but this cannot account for the superior permanency of
the dramatic types in so great measure as we might at first imagine, for
they remain as much in mind from reading as from seeing the plays. It is
possible that as the novella becomes more conscious, its persons will
become more memorable; but as it is, though we now vividly and with
lasting delight remember certain short stories, we scarcely remember by
name any of the people in them. I may be risking too much in offering an
instance, but who, in even such signal instances as The Revolt of Mother,
by Miss Wilkins, or The Dulham Ladies, by Miss Jewett, can recall by name
the characters that made them delightful?


The defect of the novella which we have been acknowledging seems an
essential limitation; but perhaps it is not insuperable; and we may yet
have short stories which shall supply the delighted imagination with
creations of as much immortality as we can reasonably demand. The
structural change would not be greater than the moral or material change
which has been wrought in it since it began as a yarn, gross and
palpable, which the narrator spun out of the coarsest and often the
filthiest stuff, to snare the thick fancy or amuse the lewd leisure of
listeners willing as children to have the same persons and the same
things over and over again. Now it has not only varied the persons and
things, but it has refined and verified them in the direction of the
natural and the supernatural, until it is above all other literary forms
the vehicle of reality and spirituality. When one thinks of a bit of Mr.
James's psychology in this form, or a bit of Verga's or Kielland's
sociology, or a bit of Miss Jewett's exquisite veracity, one perceives
the immense distance which the short story has come on the way to the
height it has reached. It serves equally the ideal and the real; that
which it is loath to serve is the unreal, so that among the short stories
which have recently made reputations for their authors very few are of
that peculiar cast which we have no name for but romanticistic. The only
distinguished modern writer of romanticistic novelle whom I can think of
is Mr. Bret Harte, and he is of a period when romanticism was so
imperative as to be almost a condition of fiction. I am never so
enamoured of a cause that I will not admit facts that seem to tell
against it, and I will allow that this writer of romanticistic short
stories has more than any other supplied us with memorable types and
characters. We remember Mr. John Oakhurst by name; we remember Kentuck
and Tennessee's Partner, at least by nickname; and we remember their
several qualities. These figures, if we cannot quite consent that they
are persons, exist in our memories by force of their creator's
imagination, and at the moment I cannot think of any others that do,
out of the myriad of American short stories, except Rip Van Winkle out of
Irving's Legend of Sleepy Hollow, and Marjorie Daw out of Mr. Aldrich's
famous little caprice of that title, and Mr. James's Daisy Miller.

It appears to be the fact that those writers who have first distinguished
themselves in the novella have seldom written novels of prime order.
Mr. Kipling is an eminent example, but Mr. Kipling has yet a long life
before him in which to upset any theory about him, and one can only
instance him provisionally. On the other hand, one can be much more
confident that the best novelle have been written by the greatest
novelists, conspicuously Maupassant, Verga, Bjornson, Mr. Thomas Hardy,
Mr. James, Mr. Cable, Tourguenief, Tolstoy, Valdes, not to name others.
These have, in fact, all done work so good in this form that one is
tempted to call it their best work. It is really not their best, but it
is work so good that it ought to have equal acceptance with their novels,
if that distinguished editor was right who said that short stories sold
well when they were good short stories. That they ought to do so is so
evident that a devoted reader of them, to whom I was submitting the
anomaly the other day, insisted that they did. I could only allege the
testimony of publishers and authors to the contrary, and this did not
satisfy him.

It does not satisfy me, and I wish that the general reader, with whom the
fault lies, could be made to say why, if he likes one short story by
itself and four short stories in a magazine, he does not like, or will
not have, a dozen short stories in a book. This was the baffling
question which I began with and which I find myself forced to end with,
after all the light I have thrown upon the subject. I leave it where I
found it, but perhaps that is a good deal for a critic to do. If I had
left it anywhere else the reader might not feel bound to deal with it
practically by reading all the books of short stories he could lay hands
on, and either divining why he did not enjoy them, or else forever
foregoing his prejudice against them because of his pleasure in them.


Certain summers ago our cruisers, the St. Louis and the Harvard, arrived
at Portsmouth, New Hampshire, with sixteen or seventeen hundred Spanish
prisoners from Santiago de Cuba. They were partly soldiers of the land
forces picked up by our troops in the fights before the city, but by far
the greater part were sailors and marines from Cervera's ill-fated fleet.
I have not much stomach for war, but the poetry of the fact I have stated
made a very potent appeal to me on my literary side, and I did not hold
out against it longer than to let the St. Louis get away with Cervera to
Annapolis, when only her less dignified captives remained with those of
the Harvard to feed either the vainglory or the pensive curiosity of the
spectator. Then I went over from our summer colony to Kittery Point, and
got a boat, and sailed out to have a look at these subordinate enemies in
the first hours of their imprisonment.


It was an afternoon of the brilliancy known only to an afternoon of the
American summer, and the water of the swift Piscataqua River glittered in
the sun with a really incomparable brilliancy. But nothing could light
up the great monster of a ship, painted the dismal lead-color which our
White Squadrons put on with the outbreak of the war, and she lay sullen
in the stream with a look of ponderous repose, to which the activities of
the coaling-barges at her side, and of the sailors washing her decks,
seemed quite unrelated. A long gun forward and a long gun aft threatened
the fleet of launches, tugs, dories, and cat-boats which fluttered about
her, but the Harvard looked tired and bored, and seemed as if asleep.
She had, in fact, finished her mission. The captives whom death had
released had been carried out and sunk in the sea; those who survived to
a further imprisonment had all been taken to the pretty island a mile
farther up in the river, where the tide rushes back and forth through the
Narrows like a torrent. Its defiant rapidity has won it there the
graphic name of Pull-and-be-Damned; and we could only hope to reach the
island by a series of skilful tacks, which should humor both the wind and
the tide, both dead against us. Our boatman, one of those shore New
Englanders who are born with a knowledge of sailing, was easily master of
the art of this, but it took time, and gave me more than the leisure I
wanted for trying to see the shore with the strange eyes of the captives
who had just looked upon it. It was beautiful, I had to own, even in my
quality of exile and prisoner. The meadows and the orchards came down to
the water, or, where the wandering line of the land was broken and lifted
in black fronts of rock, they crept to the edge of the cliff and peered
over it. A summer hotel stretched its verandas along a lovely level;
everywhere in clovery hollows and on breezy knolls were gray old
farmhouses and summer cottages-like weather-beaten birds' nests, and like
freshly painted marten-boxes; but all of a cold New England neatness
which made me homesick for my malodorous Spanish fishing-village,
shambling down in stony lanes to the warm tides of my native seas. Here,
every place looked as if it had been newly scrubbed with soap and water,
and rubbed down with a coarse towel, and was of an antipathetic
alertness. The sweet, keen breeze made me shiver, and the northern sky,
from which my blinding southern sun was blazing, was as hard as sapphire.
I tried to bewilder myself in the ignorance of a Catalonian or Asturian
fisherman, and to wonder with his darkened mind why it should all or any
of it have been, and why I should have escaped from the iron hell in
which I had fought no quarrel of my own to fall into the hands of
strangers, and to be haled over seas to these alien shores for a
captivity of unknown term. But I need not have been at so much pains;
the intelligence (I do not wish to boast) of an American author would
have sufficed; for if there is anything more grotesque than another in
war it is its monstrous inconsequence. If we had a grief with the
Spanish government, and if it was so mortal we must do murder for it, we
might have sent a joint committee of the House and Senate, and, with the
improved means of assassination which modern science has put at our
command, killed off the Spanish cabinet, and even the queen--mother and
the little king. This would have been consequent, logical, and in a sort
reasonable; but to butcher and capture a lot of wretched Spanish peasants
and fishermen, hapless conscripts to whom personally and nationally we
were as so many men in the moon, was that melancholy and humiliating
necessity of war which makes it homicide in which there is not even the
saving grace of hate, or the excuse of hot blood.

I was able to console myself perhaps a little better for the captivity of
the Spaniards than if I had really been one of them, as we drew nearer
and nearer their prison isle, and it opened its knotty points and little
ravines, overrun with sweet-fern, blueberry-bushes, bay, and low
blackberry-vines, and rigidly traversed with a high stockade of yellow
pine boards. Six or eight long, low, wooden barracks stretched side by
side across the general slope, with the captive officers' quarters,
sheathed in weather-proof black paper, at one end of them. About their
doors swarmed the common prisoners, spilling out over the steps and on
the grass, where some of them lounged smoking. One operatic figure in a
long blanket stalked athwart an open space; but there was such poverty of
drama in the spectacle at the distance we were keeping that we were glad
of so much as a shirt-sleeved contractor driving out of the stockade in
his buggy. On the heights overlooking the enclosure Gatling guns were
posted at three or four points, and every thirty or forty feet sentries
met and parted, so indifferent to us, apparently, that we wondered if we
might get nearer. We ventured, but at a certain moment a sentry called to
us, "Fifty yards off, please!" Our young skipper answered, "All right,"
and as the sentry had a gun on his shoulder which we had every reason to
believe was loaded, it was easily our pleasure to retreat to the
specified limit. In fact, we came away altogether, after that, so little
promise was there of our being able to satisfy our curiosity further.
We came away care fully nursing such impression as we had got of a spec
tacle whose historical quality we did our poor best to feel. It related
us, after solicitation, to the wars against the Moors, against the
Mexicans and Peruvians, against the Dutch; to the Italian campaigns of
the Gran Capitan, to the Siege of Florence, to the Sack of Rome, to the
wars of the Spanish Succession, and what others. I do not deny that
there was a certain aesthetic joy in having the Spanish prisoners there
for this effect; we came away duly grateful for what we had seen of them;
and we had long duly resigned ourselves to seeing no more, when word was
sent to us that our young skipper had got a permit to visit the island,
and wished us to go with him.


It was just such another afternoon when we went again, but this time we
took the joyous trolley-car, and bounded and pirouetted along as far as
the navyyard of Kittery, and there we dismounted and walked among the
vast, ghostly ship-sheds, so long empty of ships. The grass grew in the
Kittery navy-yard, but it was all the pleasanter for the grass, and those
pale, silent sheds were far more impressive in their silence than they
would have been if resonant with saw and hammer. At several points, an
unarmed marine left his leisure somewhere, and lunged across our path
with a mute appeal for our permit; but we were nowhere delayed till we
came to the office where it had to be countersigned, and after that we
had presently crossed a bridge, by shady, rustic ways, and were on the
prison island. Here, if possible, the sense of something pastoral
deepened; a man driving a file of cows passed before us under kindly
trees, and the bell which the foremost of these milky mothers wore about
her silken throat sent forth its clear, tender note as if from the depth
of some grassy bosk, and instantly witched me away to the woods-pastures
which my boyhood knew in southern Ohio. Even when we got to what seemed
fortifications they turned out to be the walls of an old reservoir, and
bore on their gate a paternal warning that children unaccompanied by
adults were not allowed within.

We mounted some stone steps over this portal and were met by a young
marine, who left his Gatling gun for a moment to ask for our permit, and
then went back satisfied. Then we found ourselves in the presence of a
sentry with a rifle on his shoulder, who was rather more exacting.
Still, he only wished to be convinced, and when he had pointed out the
headquarters where we were next to go, he let us over his beat. At the
headquarters there was another sentry, equally serious, but equally
civil, and with the intervention of an orderly our leader saw the officer
of the day. He came out of the quarters looking rather blank, for he had
learned that his pass admitted our party to the lines, but not to the
stockade, which we might approach, at a certain point of vantage and look
over into, but not penetrate. We resigned ourselves, as we must, and
made what we could of the nearest prison barrack, whose door overflowed
and whose windows swarmed with swarthy captives. Here they were, at such
close quarters that their black, eager eyes easily pierced the pockets
full of cigarettes which we had brought for them. They looked mostly
very young, and there was one smiling rogue at the first window who was
obviously prepared to catch anything thrown to him. He caught, in fact,
the first box of cigarettes shied over the stockade; the next box flew
open, and spilled its precious contents outside the dead-line under the
window, where I hope some compassionate guard gathered them up and gave
them to the captives.

Our fellows looked capable of any kindness to their wards short of
letting them go. They were a most friendly company, with an effect of
picnicking there among the sweet-fern and blueberries, where they had
pitched their wooden tents with as little disturbance to the shrubbery as
possible. They were very polite to us, and when, after that misadventure
with the cigarettes (I had put our young leader up to throwing the box,
merely supplying the corpus delicti myself), I wandered vaguely towards a
Gatling gun planted on an earthen platform where the laurel and the
dogroses had been cut away for it, the man in charge explained with a
smile of apology that I must not pass a certain path I had already

One always accepts the apologies of a man with a Gatling gun to back
them, and I retreated. That seemed the end; and we were going
crestfallenly away when the officer of the day came out and allowed us to
make his acquaintance. He permitted us, with laughing reluctance, to
learn that he had been in the fight at Santiago, and had come with the
prisoners, and he was most obligingly sorry that our permit did not let
us into the stockade. I said I had some cigarettes for the prisoners,
and I supposed I might send them; in, but he said he could not allow
this, for they had money to buy tobacco; and he answered another of our
party, who had not a soul above buttons, and who asked if she could get
one from the Spaniards, that so far from promoting her wish, he would
have been obliged to take away any buttons she might have got from them.

"The fact is," he explained, "you've come to the wrong end for
transactions in buttons and tobacco."

But perhaps innocence so great as ours had wrought upon him. When we
said we were going, and thanked him for his unavailing good-will, he
looked at his watch and said they were just going to feed the prisoners;
and after some parley he suddenly called out, "Music of the guard!"
Instead of a regimental band, which I had supposed summoned, a single
corporal ran out the barracks, touching his cap.

"Take this party round to the gate," the officer said, and he promised us
that he would see us there, and hoped we would not mind a rough walk. We
could have answered that to see his prisoners fed we would wade through
fathoms of red-tape; but in fact we were arrested at the last point by
nothing worse than the barbed wire which fortified the outer gate. Here
two marines were willing to tell us how well the prisoners lived, while
we stared into the stockade through an inner gate of plank which was run
back for us. They said the Spaniards had a breakfast of coffee, and hash
or stew and potatoes, and a dinner of soup and roast; and now at five
o'clock they were to have bread and coffee, which indeed we saw the
white-capped, whitejacketed cooks bringing out in huge tin wash-boilers.
Our marines were of opinion, and no doubt rightly, that these poor
Spaniards had never known in their lives before what it was to have full
stomachs. But the marines said they never acknowledged it, and the one
who had a German accent intimated that gratitude was not a virtue of any
Roman (I suppose he meant Latin) people. But I do not know that if I
were a prisoner, for no fault of my own, I should be very explicitly
thankful for being unusually well fed. I thought (or I think now) that a
fig or a bunch of grapes would have been more acceptable to me under my
own vine and fig-tree than the stew and roast of captors who were indeed
showing themselves less my enemies than my own government, but were still
not quite my hosts.


How is it the great pieces of good luck fall to us? The clock strikes
twelve as it strikes two, and with no more premonition. As we stood
there expecting nothing better of it than three at the most, it suddenly
struck twelve. Our officer appeared at the inner gate and bade our
marines slide away the gate of barbed wire and let us into the enclosure,
where he welcomed us to seats on the grass against the stockade, with
many polite regrets that the tough little knots of earth beside it were
not chairs.

The prisoners were already filing out of their quarters, at a rapid trot
towards the benches where those great wash-boilers of coffee were set.
Each man had a soup-plate and bowl of enamelled tin, and each in his turn
received quarter of a loaf of fresh bread and a big ladleful of steaming
coffee, which he made off with to his place at one of the long tables
under a shed at the side of the stockade. One young fellow tried to get
a place not his own in the shade, and our officer when he came back
explained that he was a guerrillero, and rather unruly. We heard that
eight of the prisoners were in irons, by sentence of their own officers,
for misconduct, but all save this guerrillero here were docile and
obedient enough, and seemed only too glad to get peacefully at their
bread and coffee.

First among them came the men of the Cristobal Colon, and these were the
best looking of all the captives. From their pretty fair average the
others varied to worse and worse, till a very scrub lot, said to be
ex-convicts, brought up the rear. They were nearly all little fellows,
and very dark, though here and there a six-footer towered up, or a blond
showed among them. They were joking and laughing together, harmlessly
enough, but I must own that they looked a crew of rather sorry
jail-birds; though whether any run of humanity clad in misfits of our navy
blue and white, and other chance garments, with close-shaven heads, and
sometimes bare feet, would have looked much less like jail-birds I am not
sure. Still, they were not prepossessing, and though some of them were
pathetically young, they had none of the charm of boyhood. No doubt they
did not do themselves justice, and to be herded there like cattle did not
improve their chances of making a favorable impression on the observer.
They were kindly used by our officer and his subordinates, who mixed
among them, and straightened out the confusion they got into at times,
and perhaps sometimes wilfully. Their guards employed a few handy words
of Spanish with them; where these did not avail, they took them by the
arm and directed them; but I did not hear a harsh tone, and I saw no
violence, or even so much indignity offered them as the ordinary trolley-
car passenger is subjected to in Broadway. At a certain bugle-call they
dispersed, when they had finished their bread and coffee, and scattered
about over the grass, or returned to their barracks. We were told that
these children of the sun dreaded its heat, and kept out of it whenever
they could, even in its decline; but they seemed not so much to withdraw
and hide themselves from that, as to vanish into the history of "old,
unhappy, far-off" times, where prisoners of war, properly belong. I
roused myself with a start as if I had lost them in the past.

Our officer came towards us and said gayly, "Well, you have seen the
animals fed," and let us take our grateful leave. I think we were rather
a loss, in our going, to the marines, who seemed glad of a chance to
talk. I am sure we were a loss to the man on guard at the inner gate,
who walked his beat with reluctance when it took him from us, and eagerly
when it brought him back. Then he delayed for a rapid and comprehensive
exchange of opinions and ideas, successfully blending military
subordination with American equality in his manner.

The whole thing was very American in the perfect decorum and the utter
absence of ceremony. Those good fellows were in the clothes they wore
through the fights at Santiago, and they could not have put on much
splendor if they had wished, but apparently they did not wish. They were
simple, straightforward, and adequate. There was some dry joking about
the superiority of the prisoners' rations and lodgings, and our officer
ironically professed his intention of messing with the Spanish officers.
But there was no grudge, and not a shadow of ill will, or of that stupid
and atrocious hate towards the public enemy which abominable newspapers
and politicians had tried to breed in the popular mind. There was
nothing manifest but a sort of cheerful purpose to live up to that
military ideal of duty which is so much nobler than the civil ideal of
self-interest. Perhaps duty will yet become the civil ideal, when the
peoples shall have learned to live for the common good, and are united
for the operation of the industries as they now are for the hostilities.


Shall I say that a sense of something domestic, something homelike,
imparted itself from what I had seen? Or was this more properly an
effect from our visit, on the way back to the hospital, where a hundred
and fifty of the prisoners lay sick of wounds and fevers? I cannot say
that a humaner spirit prevailed here than in the camp; it was only a more
positive humanity which was at work. Most of the sufferers were
stretched on the clean cots of two long, airy, wooden shells, which
received them, four days after the orders for their reception had come,
with every equipment for their comfort. At five o'clock, when we passed
down the aisles between their beds, many of them had a gay, nonchalant
effect of having toothpicks or cigarettes in their mouths; but it was
really the thermometers with which the nurses were taking their
temperature. It suggested a possibility to me, however, and I asked if
they were allowed to smoke, and being answered that they did smoke,
anyway, whenever they could, I got rid at last of those boxes of
cigarettes which had been burning my pockets, as it were, all afternoon.
I gave them to such as I was told were the most deserving among the sick
captives, but Heaven knows I would as willingly have given them to the
least. They took my largesse gravely, as became Spaniards; one said,
smiling sadly, "Muchas gracias," but the others merely smiled sadly; and
I looked in vain for the response which would have twinkled up in the
faces of even moribund Italians at our looks of pity. Italians would
have met our sympathy halfway; but these poor fellows were of another
tradition, and in fact not all the Latin peoples are the same, though we
sometimes conveniently group them together for our detestation. Perhaps
there are even personal distinctions among their several nationalities,
and there are some Spaniards who are as true and kind as some Americans.
When we remember Cortez let us not forget Las Casas.

They lay in their beds there, these little Spanish men, whose dark faces
their sickness could not blanch to more than a sickly sallow, and as they
turned their dull black eyes upon us I must own that I could not "support
the government" so fiercely as I might have done elsewhere. But the
truth is, I was demoralized by the looks of these poor little men, who,
in spite of their character of public enemies, did look so much like
somebody's brothers, and even somebody's children. I may have been
infected by the air of compassion, of scientific compassion, which
prevailed in the place. There it was as wholly business to be kind and
to cure as in another branch of the service it was business to be cruel
and to kill. How droll these things are! The surgeons had their
favorites among the patients, to all of whom they were equally devoted;
inarticulate friendships had sprung up between them and certain of their
hapless foes, whom they spoke of as "a sort of pets." One of these was
very useful in making the mutinous take their medicine; another was liked
apparently because he was so likable. At a certain cot the chief surgeon
stopped and said, "We did not expect this boy to live through the night."
He took the boy's wrist between his thumb and finger, and asked tenderly
as he leaned over him, "Poco mejor?" The boy could not speak to say that
he was a little better; he tried to smile--such things do move the
witness; nor does the sight of a man whose bandaged cheek has been half
chopped away by a machete tend to restore one's composure.


One of the facts which we Americans have a difficulty in making clear to
a rather inattentive world outside is that, while we have apparently a
literature of our own, we have no literary centre. We have so much
literature that from time to time it seems even to us we must have a
literary centre. We say to ourselves, with a good deal of logic, Where
there is so much smoke there must be some fire, or at least a fireplace.
But it is just here that, misled by tradition, and even by history, we
deceive ourselves. Really, we have no fireplace for such fire as we have
kindled; or, if any one is disposed to deny this, then I say, we have a
dozen fireplaces; which is quite as bad, so far as the notion of a
literary centre is concerned, if it is not worse.

I once proved this fact to my own satisfaction in some papers which I
wrote several years ago; but it appears, from a question which has lately
come to me from England, that I did not carry conviction quite so far as
that island; and I still have my work all before me, if I understand the
London friend who wishes "a comparative view of the centres of literary
production" among us; "how and why they change; how they stand at
present; and what is the relation, for instance, of Boston to other such


Here, if I cut my coat according to my cloth, t should have a garment
which this whole volume would hardly stuff out with its form; and I have
a fancy that if I begin by answering, as I have sometimes rather too
succinctly done, that we have no more a single literary centre than Italy
or than Germany has (or had before their unification), I shall not be
taken at my word. I shall be right, all the same, and if I am told that
in those countries there is now a tendency to such a centre, I can only
say that there is none in this, and that, so far as I can see, we get
further every day from having such a centre. The fault, if it is a
fault, grows upon us, for the whole present tendency of American life is
centrifugal, and just so far as literature is the language of our life,
it shares this tendency. I do not attempt to say how it will be when, in
order to spread ourselves over the earth, and convincingly to preach the
blessings of our deeply incorporated civilization by the mouths of our
eight-inch guns, the mind of the nation shall be politically centred at
some capital; that is the function of prophecy, and I am only writing
literary history, on a very small scale, with a somewhat crushing sense
of limits.

Once, twice, thrice there was apparently an American literary centre: at
Philadelphia, from the time Franklin went to live there until the death
of Charles Brockden Brown, our first romancer; then at New York, during
the period which may be roughly described as that of Irving, Poe, Willis,
and Bryant; then at Boston, for the thirty or forty years illumined by
the presence of Longfellow, Lowell, Whittier, Hawthorne, Emerson, Holmes,
Prescott, Parkman, and many lesser lights. These are all still great
publishing centres. If it were not that the house with the largest list
of American authors was still at Boston, I should say New York was now
the chief publishing centre; but in the sense that London and Paris, or
even Madrid and Petersburg, are literary centres, with a controlling
influence throughout England and France, Spain and Russia, neither New
York nor Boston is now our literary centre, whatever they may once have
been. Not to take Philadelphia too seriously, I may note that when New
York seemed our literary centre Irving alone among those who gave it
lustre was a New-Yorker, and he mainly lived abroad; Bryant, who was a
New Englander, was alone constant to the city of his adoption; Willis, a
Bostonian, and Poe, a Marylander, went and came as their poverty or their
prosperity compelled or invited; neither dwelt here unbrokenly, and Poe
did not even die here, though he often came near starving. One cannot
then strictly speak of any early American literary centre except Boston,
and Boston, strictly speaking, was the New England literary centre.

However, we had really no use for an American literary centre before the
Civil War, for it was only after the Civil War that we really began to
have an American literature. Up to that time we had a Colonial
literature, a Knickerbocker literature, and a New England literature.
But as soon as the country began to feel its life in every limb with the
coming of peace, it began to speak in the varying accents of all the
different sections--North, East, South, West, and Farthest West; but not
before that time.


Perhaps the first note of this national concord, or discord, was sounded
from California, in the voices of Mr. Bret Harte, of Mark Twain, of Mr.
Charles Warren Stoddard (I am sorry for those who do not know his
beautiful Idyls of the South Seas), and others of the remarkable group of
poets and humorists whom these names must stand for. The San Francisco
school briefly flourished from 1867 till 1872 or so, and while it endured
it made San Francisco the first national literary centre we ever had, for
its writers were of every American origin except Californian.

After the Pacific Slope, the great Middle West found utterance in the
dialect verse of Mr. John Hay, and after that began the exploitation of
all the local parlances, which has sometimes seemed to stop, and then has
begun again. It went on in the South in the fables of Mr. Joel Chandler
Harris's Uncle Remus, and in the fiction of Miss Murfree, who so long
masqueraded as Charles Egbert Craddock. Louisiana found expression in
the Creole stories of Mr. G. W. Cable, Indiana in the Hoosier poems of
Mr. James Whitcomb Riley, and central New York in the novels of Mr.
Harold Frederic; but nowhere was the new impulse so firmly and finely
directed as in New England, where Miss Sarah Orne Jewett's studies of
country life antedated Miss Mary Wilkins's work. To be sure, the
portrayal of Yankee character began before either of these artists was
known; Lowell's Bigelow Papers first reflected it; Mrs. Stowe's Old Town
Stories caught it again and again; Mrs. Harriet Prescott Spofford, in her
unromantic moods, was of an excellent fidelity to it; and Mrs. Rose Terry
Cooke was even truer to the New England of Connecticut. With the later
group Mrs. Lily Chase Wyman has pictured Rhode Island work-life with
truth pitiless to the beholder, and full of that tender humanity for the
material which characterizes Russian fiction.

Mr. James Lane Allen has let in the light upon Kentucky; the Red Men and
White of the great plains have found their interpreter in Mr. Owen
Wister, a young Philadelphian witness of their dramatic conditions and
characteristics; Mr. Hamlin Garlafid had already expressed the sad
circumstances of the rural Northwest in his pathetic idyls, colored from
the experience of one who had been part of what he saw. Later came Mr.
Henry B. Fuller, and gave us what was hardest and most sordid, as well as
something of what was most touching and most amusing, in the burly-burly
of Chicago.


A survey of this sort imparts no just sense of the facts, and I own that
I am impatient of merely naming authors and books that each tempt me to
an expansion far beyond the limits of this essay; for, if I may be so
personal, I have watched the growth of our literature in Americanism with
intense sympathy. In my poor way I have always liked the truth, and in
times past I am afraid that I have helped to make it odious to those who
believed beauty was something different; but I hope that I shall not now
be doing our decentralized literature a disservice by saying that its
chief value is its honesty, its fidelity to our decentralized life.
Sometimes I wish this were a little more constant; but upon the whole I
have no reason to complain; and I think that as a very interested
spectator of New York I have reason to be content with the veracity with
which some phases of it have been rendered. The lightning--or the
flash-light, to speak more accurately--has been rather late in striking
this ungainly metropolis, but it has already got in its work with notable
effect at some points. This began, I believe, with the local dramas of
Mr. Edward Harrigan, a species of farces, or sketches of character,
loosely hung together, with little sequence or relevancy, upon the thread
of a plot which would keep the stage for two or three hours. It was very
rough magic, as a whole, but in parts it was exquisite, and it held the
mirror up towards politics on their social and political side, and gave
us East-Side types--Irish, German, negro, and Italian--which were
instantly recognizable and deliciously satisfying. I never could
understand why Mr. Harrigan did not go further, but perhaps he had gone
far enough; and, at any rate, he left the field open for others. The
next to appear noticeably in it was Mr. Stephen Crane, whose Red Badge of
Courage wronged the finer art which he showed in such New York studies as
Maggie: A Girl of the Streets, and George's Mother. He has been followed
by Abraham Cahan, a Russian Hebrew, who has done portraits of his race
and nation with uncommon power. They are the very Russian Hebrews of
Hester Street translated from their native Yiddish into English, which
the author mastered after coming here in his early manhood. He brought
to his work the artistic qualities of both the Slav and the Jew, and in
his 'Jekl: A Story of the Ghetto', he gave proof of talent which his more
recent book of sketches--'The Imported Bride groom'--confirms. He sees
his people humorously, and he is as unsparing of their sordidness as he
is compassionate of their hard circumstance and the somewhat frowsy
pathos of their lives. He is a Socialist, but his fiction is wholly
without "tendentiousness."

A good many years ago--ten or twelve, at least--Mr. Harry Harland had
shown us some politer New York Jews, with a romantic coloring, though
with genuine feeling for the novelty and picturesqueness of his material;
but I do not think of any one who has adequately dealt with our Gentile
society. Mr. James has treated it historically in Washington Square, and
more modernly in some passages of The Bostonians, as well as in some of
his shorter stories; Mr. Edgar Fawcett has dealt with it intelligently
and authoritatively in a novel or two; and Mr. Brander Matthews has
sketched it, in this aspect, and that with his Gallic cleverness,
neatness, and point. In the novel, 'His Father's Son', he in fact faces
it squarely and renders certain forms of it with masterly skill. He has
done something more distinctive still in 'The Action and the Word', one
of the best American stories I know. But except for these writers, our
literature has hardly taken to New York society.


It is an even thing: New York society has not taken to our literature.
New York publishes it, criticises it, and circulates it, but I doubt if
New York society much reads it or cares for it, and New York is therefore
by no means the literary centre that Boston once was, though a large
number of our literary men live in or about New York. Boston, in my time
at least, had distinctly a literary atmosphere, which more or less
pervaded society; but New York has distinctly nothing of the kind, in any
pervasive sense. It is a vast mart, and literature is one of the things
marketed here; but our good society cares no more for it than for some
other products bought and sold here; it does not care nearly so much for
books as for horses or for stocks, and I suppose it is not unlike the
good society of any other metropolis in this. To the general, here,
journalism is a far more appreciable thing than literature, and has
greater recognition, for some very good reasons; but in Boston literature
had vastly more honor, and even more popular recognition, than
journalism. There journalism desired to be literary, and here literature
has to try hard not to be journalistic. If New York is a literary centre
on the business side, as London is, Boston was a literary centre, as
Weimar was, and as Edinburgh was. It felt literature, as those capitals
felt it, and if it did not love it quite so much as might seem, it always
respected it.

To be quite clear in what I wish to say of the present relation of Boston
to our other literary centres, I must repeat that we have now no such
literary centre as Boston was. Boston itself has perhaps outgrown the
literary consciousness which formerly distinguished it from all our other
large towns. In a place of nearly a million people (I count in the
outlying places) newspapers must be more than books; and that alone says

Mr. Aldrich once noticed that whenever an author died in Boston, the
New-Yorkers thought they had a literary centre; and it is by some such
means that the primacy has passed from Boston, even if it has not passed
to New York. But still there is enough literature left in the body at
Boston to keep her first among equals in some things, if not easily first
in all.

Mr. Aldrich himself lives in Boston, and he is, with Mr. Stedman, the
foremost of our poets. At Cambridge live Colonel T. W. Higginson, an
essayist in a certain sort without rival among us; and Mr. William James,
the most interesting and the most literary of psychologists, whose repute
is European as well as American. Mr. Charles Eliot Norton alone survives
of the earlier Cambridge group--Longfellow, Lowell, Richard Henry Dana,
Louis Agassiz, Francis J. Child, and Henry James, the father of the
novelist and the psychologist.

To Boston Mr. James Ford Rhodes, the latest of our abler historians, has
gone from Ohio; and there Mr. Henry Cabot Lodge, the Massachusetts
Senator, whose work in literature is making itself more and more known,
was born and belongs, politically, socially, and intellectually. Mrs.
Julia Ward Howe, a poet of wide fame in an elder generation, lives there;
Mr. T. B. Aldrich lives there; and thereabouts live Mrs. Elizabeth Stuart
Phelps Ward and Mrs. Harriet Prescott Spofford, the first of a fame
beyond the last, who was known to us so long before her. Then at Boston,
or near Boston, live those artists supreme in the kind of short story
which we have carried so far: Miss Jewett, Miss Wilkins, Miss Alice
Brown, Mrs. Chase-Wyman, and Miss Gertrude Smith, who comes from Kansas,
and writes of the prairie farm-life, though she leaves Mr. E. W. Howe
(of 'The Story of a Country Town' and presently of the Atchison Daily
Globe) to constitute, with the humorous poet Ironquill, a frontier
literary centre at Topeka. Of Boston, too, though she is of western
Pennsylvania origin, is Mrs. Margaret Deland, one of our most successful
novelists. Miss Wilkins has married out of Massachusetts into New
Jersey, and is the neighbor of Mr. H. M. Alden at Metuchen.

All these are more or less embodied and represented in the Atlantic
Monthly, still the most literary, and in many things still the first of
our magazines. Finally, after the chief publishing house in New York,
the greatest American publishing house is in Boston, with by far the
largest list of the best American books. Recently several firms of
younger vigor and valor have recruited the wasted ranks of the Boston
publishers, and are especially to be noted for the number of rather nice
new poets they give to the light.


Dealing with the question geographically, in the right American way, we
descend to Hartford obliquely by way of Springfield, Massachusetts,
where, in a little city of fifty thousand, a newspaper of metropolitan
influence and of distinctly literary tone is published. At Hartford
while Charles Dudley Warner lived, there was an indisputable literary
centre; Mark Twain lives there no longer, and now we can scarcely count
Hartford among our literary centres, though it is a publishing centre of
much activity in subscription books.

At New Haven, Yale University has latterly attracted Mr. William H.
Bishop, whose novels I always liked for the best reasons, and has long
held Professor J. T. Lounsbury, who is, since Professor Child's death at
Cambridge, our best Chaucer scholar. Mr. Donald G. Mitchell, once
endeared to the whole fickle American public by his Reveries of a
Bachelor and his Dream Life, dwells on the borders of the pleasant town,
which is also the home of Mr. J. W. De Forest, the earliest real American
novelist, and for certain gifts in seeing and telling our life also one
of the greatest.

As to New York (where the imagination may arrive daily from New Haven,
either by a Sound boat or by eight or ten of the swiftest express trains
in the world), I confess I am more and more puzzled. Here abide the
poets, Mr. R. H. Stoddard, Mr. E. C. Stedman, Mr. R. W. Gilder, and many
whom an envious etcetera must hide from view; the fictionists, Mr. R. H.
Davis, Mrs. Kate Douglas Wiggin, Mr. Brander Matthews, Mr. Frank
Hopkinson Smith, Mr. Abraham Cahan, Mr. Frank Norris, and Mr. James Lane
Allen, who has left Kentucky to join the large Southern contingent, which
includes Mrs. Burton Harrison and Mrs. McEnery Stuart; the historians,
Professor William M. Sloane and Dr. Eggleston (reformed from a novelist);
the literary and religious and economic essayists, Mr. Hamilton W.
Mabie, Mr. H. M. Alden, Mr. J. J. Chapman, and Mr. E. L. Godkin, with
critics, dramatists, satirists, magazinists, and journalists of literary
stamp in number to convince the wavering reason against itself that here
beyond all question is the great literary centre of these States. There
is an Authors' Club, which alone includes a hundred and fifty authors,
and, if you come to editors, there is simply no end. Magazines are
published here and circulated hence throughout the land by millions; and
books by the ton are the daily output of our publishers, who are the
largest in the country.

If these things do not mean a great literary centre, it would be hard to
say what does; and I am not going to try for a reason against such facts.
It is not quality that is wanting, but perhaps it is the quantity of the
quality; there is leaven, but not for so large a lump. It may be that
New York is going to be our literary centre, as London is the literary
centre of England, by gathering into itself all our writing talent, but
it has by no means done this yet. What we can say is that more authors
come here from the West and South than go elsewhere; but they often stay
at home, and I fancy very wisely. Mr. Joel Chandler Harris stays at
Atlanta, in Georgia; Mr. James Whitcomb Riley stays at Indianapolis; Mr.
Maurice Thompson spent his whole literary life, and General Lew. Wallace
still lives at Crawfordsville, Indiana; Mr. Madison Cawein stays at
Louisville, Kentucky; Miss Murfree stays at St. Louis, Missouri; Francis
R. Stockton spent the greater part of the year at his place in West
Virginia, and came only for the winter months to New York; Mr. Edward
Bellamy, until his failing health exiled him to the Far West, remained at
Chicopee, Massachusetts; and I cannot think of one of these writers whom
it would have advantaged in any literary wise to dwell in New York. He
would not have found greater incentive than at home; and in society he
would not have found that literary tone which all society had, or wished
to have, in Boston when Boston was a great town and not yet a big town.

In fact, I doubt if anywhere in the world there was ever so much taste
and feeling for literature as there was in that Boston. At Edinburgh (as
I imagine it) there was a large and distinguished literary class, and at
Weimar there was a cultivated court circle; but in Boston there was not
only such a group of authors as we shall hardly see here again for
hundreds of years, but there was such regard for them and their calling,
not only in good society, but among the extremely well-read people of the
whole intelligent city, as hardly another community has shown. New York,
I am quite sure, never was such a centre, and I see no signs that it ever
will be. It does not influence the literature of the whole country as
Boston once did through writers whom all the young writers wished to
resemble; it does not give the law, and it does not inspire the love that
literary Boston inspired. There is no ideal that it represents.

A glance at the map of the Union will show how very widely our smaller
literary centres are scattered; and perhaps it will be useful in
following me to other more populous literary centres. Dropping southward
from New York, now, we find ourselves in a literary centre of importance
at Philadelphia, since that is the home of Mr. J. B. McMasters, the
historian of the American people; of Mr. Owen Wister, whose fresh and
vigorous work I have mentioned; and of Dr. Weir Mitchell, a novelist of
power long known to the better public, and now recognized by the larger
in the immense success of his historical romance, Hugh Wynne.

If I skip Baltimore, I may ignore a literary centre of great promise, but
while I do not forget the excellent work of Johns Hopkins University in
training men for the solider literature of the future, no Baltimore names
to conjure with occur to me at the moment; and we must really get on to
Washington. This, till he became ambassador at the Court of St. James,
was the home of Mr. John Hay, a poet whose biography of Lincoln must rank
him with the historians, and whose public service as Secretary of State
classes him high among statesmen. He blotted out one literary centre at
Cleveland, Ohio, when he removed to Washington, and Mr. Thomas Nelson
Page another at Richmond, Virginia, when he came to the national capital.
Mr. Paul Dunbar, the first negro poet to divine and utter his race,
carried with him the literary centre of Dayton, Ohio, when he came to be
an employee in the Congressional Library; and Mr. Charles Warren
Stoddard, in settling at Washington as Professor of Literature in the
Catholic University, brought somewhat indirectly away with him the last
traces of the old literary centre at San Francisco.

A more recent literary centre in the Californian metropolis went to
pieces when Mr. Gelett Burgess came to New York and silenced the 'Lark',
a bird of as new and rare a note as ever made itself heard in this air;
but since he has returned to California, there is hope that the literary
centre may form itself there again. I do not know whether Mrs. Charlotte
Perkins Stetson wrecked a literary centre in leaving Los Angeles or not.
I am sure only that she has enriched the literary centre of New York by
the addition of a talent in sociological satire which would be
extraordinary even if it were not altogether unrivalled among us.

Could one say too much of the literary centre at Chicago? I fancy, yes;
or too much, at least, for the taste of the notable people who constitute
it. In Mr. Henry B. Fuller we have reason to hope, from what he has
already done, an American novelist of such greatness that he may well
leave being the great American novelist to any one who likes taking that
role. Mr. Hamlin Garland is another writer of genuine and original gift
who centres at Chicago; and Mrs. Mary Catherwood has made her name well
known in romantic fiction. Miss Edith Wyatt is a talent, newly known, of
the finest quality in minor fiction; Mr. Robert Herrick, Mr. Will Payne
in their novels, and Mr. George Ade and Mr. Peter Dump in their satires
form with those named a group not to be matched elsewhere in the country.
It would be hard to match among our critical journals the 'Dial' of
Chicago; and with a fair amount of publishing in a sort of books often as
good within as they are uncommonly pretty without, Chicago has a claim to
rank with our first literary centres.

It is certainly to be reckoned not so very far below London, which, with
Mr. Henry James, Mr. Harry Harland, and Mr. Bret Harte, seems to me an
American literary centre worthy to be named with contemporary Boston.
Which is our chief literary centre, however, I am not, after all, ready
to say. When I remember Mr. G. W. Cable, at Northampton, Massachusetts,
I am shaken in all my preoccupations; when I think of Mark Twain, it
seems to me that our greatest literary centre is just now at Riverdale-


My friend came in the other day, before we had left town, and looked
round at the appointments of the room in their summer shrouds, and said,
with a faint sigh, "I see you have had the eternal-womanly with you,


"Isn't the eternal-womanly everywhere? What has happened to you?"
I asked.

"I wish you would come to my house and see. Every rug has been up for a
month, and we have been living on bare floors. Everything that could be
tied up has been tied up, everything that could be sewed up has been
sewed up. Everything that could be moth-balled and put away in chests
has been moth-balled and put away. Everything that could be taken down
has been taken down. Bags with draw-strings at their necks have been
pulled over the chandeliers and tied. The pictures have been hidden in
cheese-cloth, and the mirrors veiled in gauze so that I cannot see my own
miserable face anywhere."

"Come! That's something."

"Yes, it's something. But I have been thinking this matter over very
seriously, and I believe it is going from bad to worse. I have heard
praises of the thorough housekeeping of our grandmothers, but the
housekeeping of their granddaughters is a thousand times more intense."

"Do you really believe that?" I asked. "And if you do, what of it?"

"Simply this, that if we don't put a stop to it, at the gait it's going,
it will put a stop to the eternal-womanly."

"I suppose we should hate that."

"Yes, it would be bad. It would be very bad; and I have been turning the
matter over in my mind, and studying out a remedy."

"The highest type of philosopher turns a thing over in his mind and lets
some one else study out a remedy."

"Yes, I know. I feel that I may be wrong in my processes, but I am sure
that I am right in my results. The reason why our grandmothers could be
such good housekeepers without danger of putting a stop to the eternal-
womanly was that they had so few things to look after in their houses.
Life was indefinitely simpler with them. But the modern improvements,
as we call them, have multiplied the cares of housekeeping without
subtracting its burdens, as they were expected to do. Every novel
convenience and comfort, every article of beauty and luxury, every means
of refinement and enjoyment in our houses, has been so much added to the
burdens of housekeeping, and the granddaughters have inherited from the
grandmothers an undiminished conscience against rust and the moth, which
will not suffer them to forget the least duty they owe to the naughtiest
of their superfluities."

"Yes, I see what you mean," I said. This is what one usually says when
one does not quite know what another is driving at; but in this case I
really did know, or thought I did. "That survival of the conscience is a
very curious thing, especially in our eternal-womanly. I suppose that
the North American conscience was evolved from the rudimental European
conscience during the first centuries of struggle here, and was more or
less religious and economical in its origin. But with the advance of
wealth and the decay of faith among us, the conscience seems to be simply
conscientious, or, if it is otherwise, it is social. The eternal-womanly
continues along the old lines of housekeeping from an atavistic impulse,
and no one woman can stop because all the other women are going on. It
is something in the air, or something in the blood. Perhaps it is
something in both."

"Yes," said my friend, quite as I had said already, "I see what you mean.
But I think it is in the air more than in the blood. I was in Paris,
about this time last year, perhaps because I was the only thing in my
house that had not been swathed in cheese-cloth, or tied up in a bag with
drawstrings, or rolled up with moth-balls and put away in chests. At any
rate, I was there. One day I left my wife in New York carefully tagging
three worn-out feather dusters, and putting them into a pillow-case, and
tagging it, and putting the pillow-case into a camphorated self-sealing
paper sack, and tagging it; and another day I was in Paris, dining at the
house of a lady whom I asked how she managed with the things in her house
when she went into the country for the summer. 'Leave them just as they
are,' she said. 'But what about the dust and the moths, and the rust and
the tarnish?' She said, 'Why, the things would have to be all gone over
when I came back in the autumn, anyway, and why should I give myself
double trouble?' I asked her if she didn't even roll anything up and put
it away in closets, and she said: 'Oh, you mean that old American horror
of getting ready to go away. I used to go through all that at home, too,
but I shouldn't dream of it here. In the first place, there are no
closets in the house, and I couldn't put anything away if I wanted to.
And really nothing happens. I scatter some Persian powder along the
edges of things, and under the lower shelves, and in the dim corners, and
I pull down the shades. When I come back in the fall I have the powder
swept out, and the shades pulled up, and begin living again. Suppose a
little dust has got in, and the moths have nibbled a little here and
there? The whole damage would not amount to half the cost of putting
everything away and taking everything out, not to speak of the weeks of
discomfort, and the wear and tear of spirit. No, thank goodness--I left
American housekeeping in America.' I asked her: 'But if you went back?'
and she gave a sigh, and said:

"'I suppose I should go back to that, along with all the rest. Everybody
does it there.' So you see," my friend concluded, "it's in the air,
rather than the blood."

"Then your famous specific is that our eternal-womanly should go and live
in Paris?"

"Oh, dear, not" said my friend. "Nothing so drastic as all that. Merely
the extinction of household property."

"I see what you mean," I said. "But--what do you mean?"

"Simply that hired houses, such as most of us live in, shall all be
furnished houses, and that the landlord shall own every stick in them,
and every appliance down to the last spoon and ultimate towel. There
must be no compromise, by which the tenant agrees to provide his own
linen and silver; that would neutralize the effect I intend by the
expropriation of the personal proprietor, if that says what I mean. It
must be in the lease, with severe penalties against the tenant in case of
violation, that the landlord into furnish everything in perfect order
when the tenant comes in, and is to put everything in perfect order when
the tenant goes out, and the tenant is not to touch anything, to clean
it, or dust it, or roll it up in moth-balls and put it away in chests.
All is to be so sacredly and inalienably the property of the landlord
that it shall constitute a kind of trespass if the tenant attempts to
close the house for the summer or to open it for the winter in the usual
way that houses are now closed and opened. Otherwise my scheme would be
measurably vitiated."

"I see what you mean," I murmured. "Well?"

"Some years ago," my friend went on, "when we came home from Europe, we
left our furniture in storage for a time, while we rather drifted about,
and did not settle anywhere in particular. During that interval my wife
opened and closed five furnished houses in two years."

"And she has lived to tell the tale?"

"She has lived to tell it a great many times. She can hardly be kept
from telling it yet. But it is my belief that, although she brought to
the work all the anguish of a quickened conscience, under the influence
of the American conditions she had returned to, she suffered far less in
her encounters with either of those furnished houses than she now does
with our own furniture when she shuts up our house in the summer, and
opens it for the winter. But if there had been a clause in the lease, as
there should have been, forbidding her to put those houses in order when
she left them, life would have been simply a rapture. Why, in Europe
custom almost supplies the place of statute in such cases, and you come
and go so lightly in and out of furnished houses that you do not mind
taking them for a month, or a few weeks. We are very far behind in this
matter, but I have no doubt that if we once came to do it on any extended
scale we should do it, as we do everything else we attempt, more
perfectly than any other people in the world. You see what I mean?"

"I am not sure that I do. But go on."

"I would invert the whole Henry George principle, and I would tax
personal property of the household kind so heavily that it would
necessarily pass out of private hands; I would make its tenure so costly
that it would be impossible to any but the very rich, who are also the
very wicked, and ought to suffer."

"Oh, come, now!"

"I refer you to your Testament. In the end, all household property would
pass into the hands of the state."

"Aren't you getting worse and worse?"

"Oh, I'm not supposing there won't be a long interval when household
property will be in the hands of powerful monopolies, and many
millionaires will be made by letting it out to middle-class tenants like
you and me, along with the houses we hire of them. I have no doubt that
there will be a Standard Household-Effect Company, which will extend its
relations to Europe, and get the household effects of the whole world
into its grasp. It will be a fearful oppression, and we shall probably
groan under it for generations, but it will liberate us from our personal
ownership of them, and from the far more crushing weight of the
mothball. We shall suffer, but--"

"I see what you mean," I hastened to interrupt at this point, "but these
suggestive remarks of yours are getting beyond--Do you think you could
defer the rest of your incompleted sentence for a week?"

"Well, for not more than a week," said my friend, with an air of
discomfort in his arrest.


--"We shall not suffer so much as we do under our present system," said
my friend, completing his sentence after the interruption of a week. By
this time we had both left town, and were taking up the talk again on the
veranda of a sea-side hotel. "As for the eternal-womanly, it will be her
salvation from herself. When once she is expropriated from her household
effects, and forbidden under severe penalties from meddling with those of
the Standard Household-Effect Company, she will begin to get back her
peace of mind, and be the same blessing she was before she began

"That may all very well be," I assented, though I did not believe it, and
I found something almost too fantastical in my friend's scheme. "But
when we are expropriated from all our dearest belongings, what is to
become of our tender and sacred associations with them?"

"What has become of devotion to the family gods, and the worship of
ancestors? Once the graves of the dead were at the door of the living,
so that libations might be conveniently poured out on them, and the
ground where they lay was inalienable because it was supposed to be used
by their spirits as well as their bodies. A man could not sell the
bones, because he could not sell the ghosts, of his kindred. By-and by,
when religion ceased to be domestic and became social, and the service of
the gods was carried on in temples common to all, it was found that the
tombs of one's forefathers could be sold without violence to their
spectres. I dare say it wouldn't be different in the case of our tender
and sacred associations with tables and chairs, pots and pans, beds and
bedding, pictures and bric-a-brac. We have only to evolve a little
further. In fact we have already evolved far beyond the point that
troubles you. Most people in modern towns and cities have changed their
domiciles from ten to twenty times during their lives, and have not paid
the slightest attention to the tender and sacred associations connected
with them. I don't suppose you would say that a man has no such
associations with the house that has sheltered him, while he has them
with the stuff that has furnished it?"

"No, I shouldn't say that."

"If anything, the house should be dearer than the household gear. Yet at
each remove we drag a lengthening chain of tables, chairs, side-boards,
portraits, landscapes, bedsteads, washstands, stoves, kitchen utensils,
and bric-a-brac after us, because, as my wife says, we cannot bear to
part with them. At several times in our own lives we have accumulated
stuff enough to furnish two or three house and have paid a pretty stiff
house-rent in the form of storage for the overflow. Why, I am doing that
very thing now! Aren't you?"

"I am--in a certain degree," I assented.

"We all are, we well-to-do people, as we think ourselves. Once my wife
and I revolted by a common impulse against the ridiculous waste and
slavery of the thing. We went to the storage warehouse and sent three or
four vanloads of the rubbish to the auctioneer. Some of the pieces we
had not seen for years, and as each was hauled out for us to inspect and
decide upon, we condemned it to the auction-block with shouts of
rejoicing. Tender and sacred associations! We hadn't had such light
hearts since we had put everything in storage and gone to Europe
indefinitely as we had when we left those things to be carted out of our
lives forever. Not one had been a pleasure to us; the sight of every one
had been a pang. All we wanted was never to set eyes on them again."

"I must say you have disposed of the tender and sacred associations
pretty effectually, so far as they relate to things in storage. But the
things that we have in daily use?"

"It is exactly the same with them. Why should they be more to us than
the floors and walls of the houses we move in and move out of with no
particular pathos? And I think we ought not to care for them, certainly
not to the point of letting them destroy our eternal-womanly with the
anxiety she feels for them. She is really much more precious, if she
could but realize it, than anything she swathes in cheese-cloth or wraps
up with moth-balls. The proof of the fact that the whole thing is a
piece of mere sentimentality is that we may live in a furnished house for
years, amid all the accidents of birth and death, joy and sorrow, and yet
not form the slightest attachment to the furniture. Why should we have
tender and sacred associations with a thing we have bought, and not with
a thing we have hired?"

"I confess, I don't know. And do you really think we could liberate
ourselves from our belongings if they didn't belong to us? Wouldn't the
eternal-womanly still keep putting them away for summer and taking them
out for winter?"

"At first, yes, there might be some such mechanical action in her; but it
would be purely mechanical, and it would soon cease. When the Standard
Household-Effect Company came down on the temporal-manly with a penalty
for violation of the lease, the eternal-womanly would see the folly of
her ways and stop; for the eternal-womanly is essentially economical,
whatever we say about the dressmaker's bills; and the very futilities of
putting away and taking out, that she now wears herself to a thread with,
are founded in the instinct of saving."

"But," I asked, "wouldn't our household belongings lose a good deal of
character if they didn't belong to us? Wouldn't our domestic interiors
become dreadfully impersonal?"

"How many houses now have character-personality? Most people let the
different dealers choose for them, as it is. Why not let the Standard
Household-Effect Company, and finally the state? I am sure that either
would choose much more wisely than people choose for themselves, in the
few cases where they even seem to choose for themselves. In most
interiors the appointments are without fitness, taste, or sense; they are
the mere accretions of accident in the greater number of cases; where
they are the result of design, they are worse. I see what you mean by
character and personality in them. You mean the sort of madness that let
itself loose a few years ago in what was called household art, and has
since gone to make the junk-shops hideous. Each of the eternal-womanly
was supposed suddenly to have acquired a talent for decoration and a gift
for the selection and arrangement of furniture, and each began to stamp
herself upon our interiors. One painted a high-shouldered stone bottle
with a stork and stood it at the right corner of the mantel on a scarf;
another gilded the bottle and stood it at the left corner, and tied the
scarf through its handle. One knotted a ribbon around the arm of a
chair; another knotted it around the leg. In a day, an hour, a moment,
the chairs suddenly became angular, cushionless, springless; and the
sofas were stood across corners, or parallel with the fireplace, in
slants expressive of the personality of the presiding genius. The walls
became all frieze and dado; and instead of the simple and dignified
ugliness of the impersonal period our interiors abandoned themselves to a
hysterical chaos, full of character. Some people had their doors painted
black, and the daughter or mother of the house then decorated them with
morning-glories. I saw such a door in a house I looked at the other day,
thinking I might hire it. The sight of that black door and its morning-
glories made me wish to turn aside and live with the cattle, as Walt
Whitman says. No, the less we try to get personality and character into
our household effects the more beautiful and interesting they will be.
As soon as we put the Standard Household-Effect Company in possession and
render it a relentless monopoly, it will corrupt a competent architect
and decorator in each of our large towns and cities, and when you hire a
new house these will be sent to advise with the eternal-womanly
concerning its appointments, and tell her what she wants, and what she
will like; for at present the eternal womanly, as soon as she has got a
thing she wants, begins to hate it. The company's agents will begin by
convincing her that she does not need half the things she has lumbered up
her house with, and that every useless thing is an ugly thing, even in
the region of pure aesthetics. I once asked an Italian painter if he did
not think a certain nobly imagined drawing-room was fine, and he said
'SI. Ma troppa roba.' There were too many rugs, tables, chairs, sofas,
pictures; vases, statues, chandeliers. 'Troppa roba' is the vice of all
our household furnishing, and it will be the death of the eternal-womanly
if it is not stopped. But the corrupt agents of a giant monopoly will
teach the eternal-womanly something of the wise simplicity of the South,
and she will end by returning to the ideal of housekeeping as it prevails
among the Latin races, whom it began with, whom civilization began with.
What of a harmless, necessary moth or two, or even a few fleas?"

"That might be all very well as far as furniture and carpets and curtains
are concerned," I said, "but surely you wouldn't apply it to pictures and
objects of art?"

"I would apply it to them first of all and above all," rejoined my
friend, hardily. "Among all the people who buy and own such things there
is not one in a thousand who has any real taste or feeling for them, and
the objects they choose are generally such as can only deprave and
degrade them further. The pictures, statues, and vases supplied by the
Standard Household-Effect Company would be selected by agents with a real
sense of art, and a knowledge of it. When the house-letting and house-
furnishing finally passed into the hands of the state, these things would
be lent from the public galleries, or from immense municipal stores for
the purpose."

"And I suppose you would have ancestral portraits supplied along with the
other pictures?" I sneered.

"Ancestral portraits, of course," said my friend, with unruffled temper.
"So few people have ancestors of their own that they will be very glad to
have ancestral portraits chosen for them out of the collections of the
company or the state. The agents of the one, or the officers of the
other, will study the existing type of family face, and will select
ancestors and ancestresses whose modelling, coloring, and expression
agree with it, and will keep in view the race and nationality of the
family whose ancestral portraits are to be supplied, so that there shall
be no chance of the grossly improbable effect which ancestral portraits
now have in many cases. Yes, I see no flaw in the scheme," my friend
concluded, "and no difficulty that can't be easily overcome. We must
alienate our household furniture, and make it so sensitively and
exclusively the property of some impersonal agency--company or community,
I don't care which--that any care of it shall be a sort of crime; any
sense of responsibility for its preservation a species of incivism
punishable by fine or imprisonment. This, and nothing short of it, will
be the salvation of the eternal-womanly."

"And the perdition of something even more precious than that!"

"What can be more precious?"


"My dear friend," demanded my visitor, who had risen, and whom I was
gradually edging to the door, "do you mean to say there is any
individuality in such things now? What have we been saying about

"Ah, I see what you mean," I said.


Monday afternoon the storm which had been beating up against the
southeasterly wind nearly all day thickened, fold upon fold, in the
northwest. The gale increased, and blackened the harbor and whitened the
open sea beyond, where sail after sail appeared round the reef of
Whaleback Light, and ran in a wild scamper for the safe anchorages

Since noon cautious coasters of all sorts had been dropping in with a
casual air; the coal schooners and barges had rocked and nodded knowingly
to one another, with their taper and truncated masts, on the breast of
the invisible swell; and the flock of little yachts and pleasure-boats
which always fleck the bay huddled together in the safe waters. The
craft that came scurrying in just before nightfall were mackerel seiners
from Gloucester. They were all of one graceful shape and one size; they
came with all sail set, taking the waning light like sunshine on their
flying-jibs, and trailing each two dories behind them, with their seines
piled in black heaps between the thwarts. As soon as they came inside
their jibs weakened and fell, and the anchor-chains rattled from their
bows. Before the dark hid them we could have counted sixty or seventy
ships in the harbor, and as the night fell they improvised a little
Venice under the hill with their lights, which twinkled rhythmically,
like the lamps in the basin of St. Mark, between the Maine and New
Hampshire coasts.

There was a dash of rain, and we thought the storm had begun; but that
ended it, as so many times this summer a dash of rain has ended a storm.
The morning came veiled in a fog that kept the shipping at anchor through
the day; but the next night the weather cleared. We woke to the clucking
of tackle, and saw the whole fleet standing dreamily out to sea. When
they were fairly gone, the summer, which had held aloof in dismay of the
sudden cold, seemed to return and possess the land again; and the
succession of silver days and crystal nights resumed the tranquil round
which we thought had ceased.


One says of every summer, when it is drawing near its end, "There never
was such a summer"; but if the summer is one of those which slip from the
feeble hold of elderly hands, when the days of the years may be reckoned
with the scientific logic of the insurance tables and the sad conviction
of the psalmist, one sees it go with a passionate prescience of never
seeing its like again such as the younger witness cannot know. Each new
summer of the few left must be shorter and swifter than the last: its
Junes will be thirty days long, and its Julys and Augusts thirty-one, in
compliance with the almanac; but the days will be of so small a compass
that fourteen of them will rattle round in a week of the old size like
shrivelled peas in a pod.

To be sure they swell somewhat in the retrospect, like the same peas put
to soak; and I am aware now of some June days of those which we first
spent at Kittery Point this year, which were nearly twenty-four hours
long. Even the days of declining years linger a little here, where there
is nothing to hurry them, and where it is pleasant to loiter, and muse
beside the sea and shore, which are so netted together at Kittery Point
that they hardly know themselves apart. The days, whatever their length,
are divided, not into hours, but into mails. They begin, without regard
to the sun, at eight o'clock, when the first mail comes with a few
letters and papers which had forgotten themselves the night before. At
half-past eleven the great mid-day mail arrives; at four o'clock there is
another indifferent and scattering post, much like that at eight in the
morning; and at seven the last mail arrives with the Boston evening
papers and the New York morning papers, to make you forget any letters
you were looking for. The opening of the mid-day mail is that which most
throngs with summer folks the little postoffice under the elms, opposite
the weather-beaten mansion of Sir William Pepperrell; but the evening
mail attracts a large and mainly disinterested circle of natives. The
day's work on land and sea is then over, and the village leisure, perched
upon fences and stayed against house walls, is of a picturesqueness which
we should prize if we saw it abroad, and which I am not willing to slight
on our own ground.


The type is mostly of a seafaring brown, a complexion which seems to be
inherited rather than personally acquired; for the commerce of Kittery
Point perished long ago, and the fishing fleets that used to fit out from
her wharves have almost as long ago passed to Gloucester. All that is
left of the fishing interest is the weir outside which supplies, fitfully
and uncertainly, the fish shipped fresh to the nearest markets. But in
spite of this the tint taken from the suns and winds of the sea lingers
on the local complexion; and the local manner is that freer and easier
manner of people who have known other coasts, and are in some sort
citizens of the world. It is very different from the inland New England
manner; as different as the gentle, slow speech of the shore from the
clipped nasals of the hill-country. The lounging native walk is not the
heavy plod taught by the furrow, but has the lurch and the sway of the
deck in it.

Nothing could be better suited to progress through the long village,
which rises and sinks beside the shore like a landscape with its sea-legs
on; and nothing could be more charming and friendly than this village.
It is quite untainted as yet by the summer cottages which have covered so
much of the coast, and made it look as if the aesthetic suburbs of New
York and Boston had gone ashore upon it. There are two or three
old-fashioned summer hotels; but the summer life distinctly fails to
characterize the place. The people live where their forefathers have
lived for two hundred and fifty years; and for the century since the
baronial domain of Sir William was broken up and his possessions
confiscated by the young Republic, they have dwelt in small red or white
houses on their small holdings along the slopes and levels of the low
hills beside the water, where a man may pass with the least inconvenience
and delay from his threshold to his gunwale. Not all the houses are
small; some are spacious and ambitious to be of ugly modern patterns; but
most are simple and homelike. Their gardens, following the example of
Sir William's vanished pleasaunce, drop southward to the shore, where the
lobster-traps and the hen-coops meet in unembarrassed promiscuity. But
the fish-flakes which once gave these inclines the effect of terraced
vineyards have passed as utterly as the proud parterres of the old
baronet; and Kittery Point no longer "makes" a cod or a haddock for the

Three groceries, a butcher shop, and a small variety store study the few
native wants; and with a little money one may live in as great real
comfort here as for much in a larger place. The street takes care of
itself; the seafaring housekeeping of New England is not of the
insatiable Dutch type which will not spare the stones of the highway; but
within the houses are of almost terrifying cleanliness. The other day I
found myself in a kitchen where the stove shone like oxidized silver; the
pump and sink were clad in oilcloth as with blue tiles; the walls were
papered; the stainless floor was strewn with home-made hooked and braided
rugs; and I felt the place so altogether too good for me that I pleaded
to stay there for the transaction of my business, lest a sharper sense of
my unfitness should await me in the parlor.

The village, with scarcely an interval of farm-lands, stretches four
miles along the water-side to Portsmouth; but it seems to me that just at
the point where our lines have fallen there is the greatest concentration
of its character. This has apparently not been weakened, it has been
accented, by the trolley-line which passes through its whole length, with
gayly freighted cars coming and going every half-hour. I suppose they
are not longer than other trolley-cars, but they each affect me like a
procession. They are cheerful presences by day, and by night they light
up the dim, winding street with the flare of their electric bulbs, and
bring to the country a vision of city splendor upon terms that do not
humiliate or disquiet. During July and August they are mostly filled
with summer folks from a great summer resort beyond us, and their lights
reveal the pretty fashions of hats and gowns in all the charm of the
latest lines and tints. But there is an increasing democracy in these
splendors, and one might easily mistake a passing excursionist from some
neighboring inland town, or even a local native with the instinct of
clothes, for a social leader from York Harbor.

With the falling leaf, the barge-like open cars close up into well-warmed
saloons, and falter to hourly intervals in their course. But we are
still far from the falling leaf; we are hardly come to the blushing or
fading leaf. Here and there an impassioned maple confesses the autumn;
the ancient Pepperrell elms fling down showers of the baronet's fairy
gold in the September gusts; the sumacs and the blackberry vines are
ablaze along the tumbling black stone walls; but it is still summer, it
is still summer: I cannot allow otherwise!


The other day I visited for the first time (in the opulent indifference
of one who could see it any time) the stately tomb of the first
Pepperrell, who came from Cornwall to these coasts, and settled finally
at Kittery Point. He laid there the foundations of the greatest fortune
in colonial New England, which revolutionary New England seized and
dispersed, as I cannot but feel, a little ruthlessly. In my personal
quality I am of course averse to all great fortunes; and in my civic
capacity I am a patriot. But still I feel a sort of grace in wealth a
century old, and if I could now have my way, I would not have had their
possessions reft from those kindly Pepperrells, who could hardly help
being loyal to the fountain of their baronial honors. Sir William,
indeed; had helped, more than any other man, to bring the people who
despoiled him to a national consciousness. If he did not imagine, he
mainly managed the plucky New England expedition against Louisbourg at
Cape Breton a half century before the War of Independence; and his
splendid success in rending that stronghold from the French taught the
colonists that they were Americans, and need be Englishmen no longer than
they liked. His soldiers were of the stamp of all succeeding American
armies, and his leadership was of the neighborly and fatherly sort
natural to an amiable man who knew most of them personally. He was
already the richest man in America, and his grateful king made him a
baronet; but he came contentedly back to Kittery, and took up his old
life in a region where he had the comfortable consideration of an
unrivalled magnate. He built himself the dignified mansion which still
stands across the way from the post-office on Kittery Point, within an
easy stone's cast of the far older house, where his father wedded Margery
Bray, when he came, a thrifty young Welsh fisherman, from the Isles of
Shoals, and established his family on Kittery. The Bray house had been
the finest in the region a hundred years before the Pepperrell mansion
was built; it still remembers its consequence in the panelling and
wainscoting of the large, square parlor where the young people were
married and in the elaborate staircase cramped into the little, square
hall; and the Bray fortune helped materially to swell the wealth of the

I do not know that I should care now to have a man able to ride thirty
miles on his own land; but I do not mind Sir William's having done it
here a hundred and fifty years ago; and I wish the confiscations had left
his family, say, about a mile of it. They could now, indeed, enjoy it
only in the collateral branches, for all Sir William's line is extinct.
The splendid mansion which he built his daughter is in alien hands, and
the fine old house which Lady Pepperrell built herself after his death
belongs to the remotest of kinsmen. A group of these, the descendants of
a prolific sister of the baronet, meets every year at Kittery Point as
the Pepperrell Association, and, in a tent hard by the little grove of
drooping spruces which shade the admirable renaissance cenotaph of Sir
William's father, cherishes the family memories with due American


The meeting of the Pepperrell Association was by no means the chief
excitement of our summer. In fact, I do not know that it was an
excitement at all; and I am sure it was not comparable to the presence of
our naval squadron, when for four days the mighty dragon and kraken
shapes of steel, which had crumbled the decrepit pride of Spain in the
fight at Santiago, weltered in our peaceful waters, almost under my

I try now to dignify them with handsome epithets; but while they were
here I had moments of thinking they looked like a lot of whited
locomotives, which had broken through from some trestle, in a recent
accident, and were waiting the offices of a wrecking-train. The poetry
of the man-of-war still clings to the "three-decker out of the foam" of
the past; it is too soon yet for it to have cast a mischievous halo about
the modern battle-ship; and I looked at the New York and the Texas and
the Brooklyn and the rest, and thought, "Ah, but for you, and our need of
proving your dire efficiency, perhaps we could have got on with the
wickedness of Spanish rule in Cuba, and there had been no war!" Under my
reluctant eyes the great, dreadful spectacle of the Santiago fight
displayed itself in peaceful Kittery Harbor. I saw the Spanish ships
drive upon the reef where a man from Dover, New Hampshire, was camping in
a little wooden shanty unconscious; and I heard the dying screams of the
Spanish sailors, seethed and scalded within the steel walls of their own
wicked war-kettles.

As for the guns, battle or no battle, our ships, like "kind Lieutenant
Belay of the 'Hot Cross-Bun'," seemed to be "banging away the whole day
long." They set a bad example to the dreamy old fort on the Newcastle
shore, which, till they came, only recollected itself to salute the
sunrise and sunset with a single gun; but which, under provocation of the
squadron, formed a habit of firing twenty or thirty times at noon.

Other martial shows and noises were not so bad. I rather liked seeing
the morning drill of the marines and the bluejackets on the iron decks,
with the lively music that went with it. The bugle calls and the bells
were charming; the week's wash hung out to dry had its picturesqueness by
day, and by night the spectral play of the search-lights along the waves
and shores, and against the startled skies, was even more impressive.
There was a band which gave us every evening the airs of the latest
coon-songs, and the national anthems which we have borrowed from various
nations; and yes, I remember the white squadron kindly, though I was so
glad to have it go, and let us lapse back into our summer silence and
calm. It was (I do not mind saying now) a majestic sight to see those
grotesque monsters gather themselves together, and go wallowing, one
after another, out of the harbor, and drop behind the ledge of Whaleback
Light, as if they had sunk into the sea.


A deep peace fell upon us when they went, and it must have been at this
most receptive moment, when all our sympathies were adjusted in a mood of
hospitable expectation, that Jim appeared.

Jim was, and still is, and I hope will long be, a cat; but unless one has
lived at Kittery Point, and realized, from observation and experience,
what a leading part cats may play in society, one cannot feel the full
import of this fact. Not only has every house in Kittery its cat, but
every house seems to have its half-dozen cats, large, little, old, and
young; of divers colors, tending mostly to a dark tortoise-shell. With a
whole ocean inviting to the tragic rite, I do not believe there is ever a
kitten drowned in Kittery; the illimitable sea rather employs itself in
supplying the fish to which "no cat's averse," but which the cats of
Kittery demand to have cooked. They do not like raw fish; they say it
plainly, and they prefer to have the bones taken out for them, though
they do not insist upon that point.

At least, Jim never did so from the time when he first scented the odor
of delicate young mackerel in the evening air about our kitchen, and
dropped in upon the maids there with a fine casual effect of being merely
out for a walk, and feeling it a neighborly thing to call. He had on a
silver collar, engraved with his name and surname, which offered itself
for introduction like a visiting-card. He was too polite to ask himself
to the table at once, but after he had been welcomed to the family
circle, he formed the habit of finding himself with us at breakfast and
supper, when he sauntered in like one who should say, "Did I smell fish?"
but would not go further in the way of hinting.

He had no need to do so. He was made at home, and freely invited to our
best not only in fish, but in chicken, for which he showed a nice taste,
and in sweetcorn, for which he revealed a most surprising fondness when
it was cut from the cob for him. After he had breakfasted or supped he
gracefully suggested that he was thirsty by climbing to the table where
the water-pitcher stood and stretching his fine feline head towards it.
When he had lapped up his saucer of water; he marched into the parlor,
and riveted the chains upon our fondness by taking the best chair and
going to sleep in it in attitudes of Egyptian, of Assyrian majesty.
His arts were few or none; he rather disdained to practise any; he
completed our conquest by maintaining himself simply a fascinating
presence; and perhaps we spoiled Jim. It is certain that he came under
my window at two o'clock one night, and tried the kitchen door. It
resisted his efforts to get in, and then Jim began to use language which
I had never heard from the lips of a cat before, and seldom from the lips
of a man. I will not repeat it; enough that it carried to the listener
the conviction that Jim was not sober. Where he could have got his
liquor in the totally abstinent State of Maine I could not positively
say, but probably of some sailor who had brought it from the neighboring
New Hampshire coast. There could be no doubt, however, that Jim was
drunk; and a dash from the water-pitcher seemed the only thing for him.
The water did not touch him, but he started back in surprise and grief,
and vanished into the night without a word.

His feelings must have been deeply wounded, for it was almost a week
before he came near us again; and then I think that nothing but young
lobster would have brought him. He forgave us finally, and made us of
his party in the quarrel he began gradually to have with the large yellow
cat of a next-door neighbor. This culminated one afternoon, after a long
exchange of mediaeval defiance and insult, in a battle upon a bed of
ragweed, with wild shrieks of rage, and prodigious feats of ground and
lofty tumbling. It seemed to our anxious eyes that Jim was getting the
worst of it; but when we afterwards visited the battle-field and picked
up several tufts of blond fur, we were in a doubt which was afterwards
heightened by Jim's invasion of the yellow cat's territory, where he
stretched himself defiantly upon the grass and seemed to be challenging
the yellow cat to come out and try to put him off the premises.

LITERATURE AND LIFE--Short Stories and Essays


   Worries of a Winter Walk
   Summer Isles of Eden
   Wild Flowers of the Asphalt
   A Circus in the Suburbs
   A She Hamlet
   The Midnight Platoon
   The Beach at Rockaway
   Sawdust in the Arena
   At a Dime Museum
   American Literature in Exile
   The Horse Show
   The Problem of the Summer
   Aesthetic New York Fifty-odd Years Ago
   From New York into New England
   The Art of the Adsmith
   The Psychology of Plagiarism
   Puritanism in American Fiction
   The What and How in Art
   Politics in American Authors
   "Floating down the River on the O-hi-o"


The other winter, as I was taking a morning walk down to the East River,
I came upon a bit of our motley life, a fact of our piebald civilization,
which has perplexed me from time to time, ever since, and which I wish
now to leave with the reader, for his or her more thoughtful


The morning was extremely cold. It professed to be sunny, and there was
really some sort of hard glitter in the air, which, so far from being
tempered by this effulgence, seemed all the stonier for it. Blasts of
frigid wind swept the streets, and buffeted each other in a fury of
resentment when they met around the corners. Although I was passing
through a populous tenement-house quarter, my way was not hindered by the
sports of the tenement-house children, who commonly crowd one from the
sidewalks; no frowzy head looked out over the fire-escapes; there were no
peddlers' carts or voices in the road-way; not above three or four
shawl-hooded women cowered out of the little shops with small purchases
in their hands; not so many tiny girls with jugs opened the doors of the
beer saloons. The butchers' windows were painted with patterns of frost,
through which I could dimly see the frozen meats hanging like hideous
stalactites from the roof. When I came to the river, I ached in sympathy
with the shipping painfully atilt on the rocklike surface of the brine,
which broke against the piers, and sprayed itself over them like showers
of powdered quartz.

But it was before I reached this final point that I received into my
consciousness the moments of the human comedy which have been an
increasing burden to it. Within a block of the river I met a child so
small that at first I almost refused to take any account of her, until
she appealed to my sense of humor by her amusing disproportion to the
pail which she was lugging in front of her with both of her little
mittened hands. I am scrupulous about mittens, though I was tempted to
write of her little naked hands, red with the pitiless cold. This would
have been more effective, but it would not have been true, and the truth
obliges me to own that she had a stout, warm-looking knit jacket on.
The pail-which was half her height and twice her bulk-was filled to
overflowing with small pieces of coal and coke, and if it had not been
for this I might have taken her for a child of the better classes, she
was so comfortably clad. But in that case she would have had to be
fifteen or sixteen years old, in order to be doing so efficiently and
responsibly the work which, as the child of the worse classes, she was
actually doing at five or six. We must, indeed, allow that the early
self-helpfulness of such children is very remarkable, and all the more so
because they grow up into men and women so stupid that, according to the
theories of all polite economists, they have to have their discontent
with their conditions put into their heads by malevolent agitators.

From time to time this tiny creature put down her heavy burden to rest;
it was, of course, only relatively heavy; a man would have made nothing
of it. From time to time she was forced to stop and pick up the bits of
coke that tumbled from her heaping pail. She could not consent to lose
one of them, and at last, when she found she could not make all of them
stay on the heap, she thriftily tucked them into the pockets of her
jacket, and trudged sturdily on till she met a boy some years older, who
planted himself in her path and stood looking at her, with his hands in
his pockets. I do not say he was a bad boy, but I could see in his
furtive eye that she was a sore temptation to him. The chance to have
fun with her by upsetting her bucket, and scattering her coke about till
she cried with vexation, was one which might not often present itself,
and I do not know what made him forego it, but I know that he did, and
that he finally passed her, as I have seen a young dog pass a little cat,
after having stopped it, and thoughtfully considered worrying it.

I turned to watch the child out of sight, and when I faced about towards
the river again I received the second instalment of my present
perplexity. A cart, heavily laden with coke, drove out of the coal-yard
which I now perceived I had come to, and after this cart followed two
brisk old women, snugly clothed and tightly tucked in against the cold
like the child, who vied with each other in catching up the lumps of coke
that were jolted from the load, and filling their aprons with them; such
old women, so hale, so spry, so tough and tireless, with the withered
apples red in their cheeks, I have not often seen. They may have been
about sixty years, or sixty-five, the time of life when most women are
grandmothers and are relegated on their merits to the cushioned seats of
their children's homes, softly silk-gowned and lace-capped, dear visions
of lilac and lavender, to be loved and petted by their grandchildren.
The fancy can hardly put such sweet ladies in the place of those nimble
beldams, who hopped about there in the wind-swept street, plucking up
their day's supply of firing from the involuntary bounty of the cart.
Even the attempt is unseemly, and whether mine is at best but a feeble
fancy, not bred to strenuous feats of any kind, it fails to bring them
before me in that figure. I cannot imagine ladies doing that kind of
thing; I can only imagine women who had lived hard and worked hard all
their lives doing it; who had begun to fight with want from their
cradles, like that little one with the pail, and must fight without
ceasing to their graves. But I am not unreasonable; I understand and I
understood what I saw to be one of the things that must be, for the
perfectly good and sufficient reason that they always have been; and at
the moment I got what pleasure I could out of the stolid indifference of
the cart-driver, who never looked about him at the scene which interested
me, but jolted onward, leaving a trail of pungent odors from his pipe in
the freezing eddies of the air behind him.


It is still not at all, or not so much, the fact that troubles me; it is
what to do with the fact. The question began with me almost at once, or
at least as soon as I faced about and began to walk homeward with the
wind at my back. I was then so much more comfortable that the aesthetic
instinct thawed out in me, and I found myself wondering what use I could
make of what I had seen in the way of my trade. Should I have something
very pathetic, like the old grandmother going out day after day to pick
up coke for her sick daughter's freezing orphans till she fell sick
herself? What should I do with the family in that case? They could not
be left at that point, and I promptly imagined a granddaughter, a girl of
about eighteen, very pretty and rather proud, a sort of belle in her
humble neighborhood, who should take her grandmother's place. I decided
that I should have her Italian, because I knew something of Italians, and
could manage that nationality best, and I should call her Maddalena;
either Maddalena or Marina; Marina would be more Venetian, and I saw that
I must make her Venetian. Here I was on safe ground, and at once the
love-interest appeared to help me out. By virtue of the law of
contrasts; it appeared to me in the person of a Scandinavian lover, tall,
silent, blond, whom I at once felt I could do, from my acquaintance with
Scandinavian lovers in Norwegian novels. His name was Janssen, a good,
distinctive Scandinavian name; I do not know but it is Swedish; and I
thought he might very well be a Swede; I could imagine his manner from
that of a Swedish waitress we once had.

Janssen--Jan Janssen, say-drove the coke-cart which Marina's grandmother
used to follow out of the coke-yard, to pick up the bits of coke as they
were jolted from it, and he had often noticed her with deep indifference.
At first he noticed Marina--or Nina, as I soon saw I must call her--with
the same unconcern; for in her grandmother's hood and jacket and check
apron, with her head held shamefacedly downward, she looked exactly like
the old woman. I thought I would have Nina make her self-sacrifice
rebelliously, as a girl like her would be apt to do, and follow the
cokecart with tears. This would catch Janssen's notice, and he would
wonder, perhaps with a little pang, what the old woman was crying about,
and then he would see that it was not the old woman. He would see that
it was Nina, and he would be in love with her at once, for she would not
only be very pretty, but he would know that she was good, if she were
willing to help her family in that way.

He would respect the girl, in his dull, sluggish, Northern way. He would
do nothing to betray himself. But little by little he would begin to
befriend her. He would carelessly overload his cart before he left the
yard, so that the coke would fall from it more lavishly; and not only
this, but if he saw a stone or a piece of coal in the street he would
drive over it, so that more coke would be jolted from his load.

Nina would get to watching for him. She must not notice him much at
first, except as the driver of the overladen, carelessly driven cart.
But after several mornings she must see that he is very strong and
handsome. Then, after several mornings more, their eyes must meet, her
vivid black eyes, with the tears of rage and shame in them, and his cold
blue eyes. This must be the climax; and just at this point I gave my
fancy a rest, while I went into a drugstore at the corner of Avenue B to
get my hands warm.

They were abominably cold, even in my pockets, and I had suffered past
several places trying to think of an excuse to go in. I now asked the
druggist if he had something which I felt pretty sure he had not, and
this put him in the wrong, so that when we fell into talk he was very
polite. We agreed admirably about the hard times, and he gave way
respectfully when I doubted his opinion that the winters were getting
milder. I made him reflect that there was no reason for this, and that
it was probably an illusion from that deeper impression which all
experiences made on us in the past, when we were younger; I ought to say
that he was an elderly man, too. I said I fancied such a morning as this
was not very mild for people that had no fires, and this brought me back
again to Janssen and Marina, by way of the coke-cart. The thought of
them rapt me so far from the druggist that I listened to his answer with
a glazing eye, and did not know what he said. My hands had now got warm,
and I bade him good-morning with a parting regret, which he civilly
shared, that he had not the thing I had not wanted, and I pushed out
again into the cold, which I found not so bad as before.

My hero and heroine were waiting for me there, and I saw that to be truly
modern, to be at once realistic and mystical, to have both delicacy and
strength, I must not let them get further acquainted with each other.
The affair must simply go on from day to day, till one morning Jan must
note that it was again the grandmother and no longer the girl who was
following his cart. She must be very weak from a long sickness--I was
not sure whether to have it the grippe or not, but I decided upon that
provisionally and she must totter after Janssen, so that he must get down
after a while to speak to her under pretence of arranging the tail-board
of his cart, or something of that kind; I did not care for the detail.
They should get into talk in the broken English which was the only
language they could have in common, and she should burst into tears, and
tell him that now Nina was sick; I imagined making this very simple, but
very touching, and I really made it so touching that it brought the lump
into my own throat, and I knew it would be effective with the reader.
Then I had Jan get back upon his cart, and drive stolidly on again, and
the old woman limp feebly after.

There should not be any more, I decided, except that one very cold
morning, like that; Jan should be driving through that street, and should
be passing the door of the tenement house where Nina had lived, just as a
little procession should be issuing from it. The fact must be told in
brief sentences, with a total absence of emotionality. The last touch
must be Jan's cart turning the street corner with Jan's figure sharply
silhouetted against the clear, cold morning light. Nothing more.

But it was at this point that another notion came into my mind, so antic,
so impish, so fiendish, that if there were still any Evil One, in a world
which gets on so poorly without him, I should attribute it to his
suggestion; and this was that the procession which Jan saw issuing from
the tenement-house door was not a funeral procession, as the reader will
have rashly fancied, but a wedding procession, with Nina at the head of
it, quite well again, and going to be married to the little brown youth
with ear-rings who had long had her heart.

With a truly perverse instinct, I saw how strong this might be made, at
the fond reader's expense, to be sure, and how much more pathetic, in
such a case, the silhouetted figure on the coke-cart would really be.
I should, of course, make it perfectly plain that no one was to blame,
and that the whole affair had been so tacit on Jan's part that Nina might
very well have known nothing of his feeling for her. Perhaps at the very
end I might subtly insinuate that it was possible he might have had no
such feeling towards her as the reader had been led to imagine.


The question as to which ending I ought to have given my romance is what
has ever since remained to perplex me, and it is what has prevented my
ever writing it. Here is material of the best sort lying useless on my
hands, which, if I could only make up my mind, might be wrought into a
short story as affecting as any that wring our hearts in fiction; and I
think I could get something fairly unintelligible out of the broken
English of Jan and Nina's grandmother, and certainly something novel.
All that I can do now, however, is to put the case before the reader, and
let him decide for himself how it should end.

The mere humanist, I suppose, might say, that I am rightly served for
having regarded the fact I had witnessed as material for fiction at all;
that I had no business to bewitch it with my miserable art; that I ought
to have spoken to that little child and those poor old women, and tried
to learn something of their lives from them, that I might offer my
knowledge again for the instruction of those whose lives are easy and
happy in the indifference which ignorance breeds in us. I own there is
something in this, but then, on the other hand, I have heard it urged by
nice people that they do not want to know about such squalid lives, that
it is offensive and out of taste to be always bringing them in, and that
we ought to be writing about good society, and especially creating
grandes dames for their amusement. This sort of people could say to the
humanist that he ought to be glad there are coke-carts for fuel to fall
off from for the lower classes, and that here was no case for sentiment;
for if one is to be interested in such things at all, it must be
aesthetically, though even this is deplorable in the presence of fiction
already overloaded with low life, and so poor in grades dames as ours.


It may be all an illusion of the map, where the Summer Islands glimmer a
small and solitary little group of dots and wrinkles, remote from
continental shores, with a straight line descending southeastwardly upon
them, to show how sharp and swift the ship's course is, but they seem so
far and alien from my wonted place that it is as if I had slid down a
steepy slant from the home-planet to a group of asteroids nebulous
somewhere in middle space, and were resting there, still vibrant from the
rush of the meteoric fall. There were, of course, facts and incidents
contrary to such a theory: a steamer starting from New York in the raw
March morning, and lurching and twisting through two days of diagonal
seas, with people aboard dining and undining, and talking and smoking and
cocktailing and hot-scotching and beef-teaing; but when the ship came in
sight of the islands, and they began to lift their cedared slopes from
the turquoise waters, and to explain their drifted snows as the white
walls and white roofs of houses, then the waking sense became the
dreaming sense, and the sweet impossibility of that drop through air
became the sole reality.


Everything here, indeed, is so strange that you placidly accept whatever
offers itself as the simplest and naturalest fact. Those low hills, that
climb, with their tough, dark cedars, from the summer sea to the summer
sky, might have drifted down across the Gulf Stream from the coast of
Maine; but when, upon closer inspection, you find them skirted with palms
and bananas, and hedged with oleanders, you merely wonder that you had
never noticed these growths in Maine before, where you were so familiar
with the cedars. The hotel itself, which has brought the Green Mountains
with it, in every detail, from the dormer-windowed mansard-roof, and the
white-painted, green-shuttered walls, to the neat, school-mistressly
waitresses in the dining-room, has a clump of palmettos beside it,
swaying and sighing in the tropic breeze, and you know that when it
migrates back to the New England hill-country, at the end of the season,
you shall find it with the palmettos still before its veranda, and
equally at home, somewhere in the Vermont or New Hampshire July. There
will be the same American groups looking out over them, and rocking and
smoking, though, alas! not so many smoking as rocking.

But where, in that translation, would be the gold braided red or blue
jackets of the British army and navy which lend their lustre and color
here to the veranda groups? Where should one get the house walls of
whitewashed stone and the garden walls which everywhere glow in the sun,
and belt in little spaces full of roses and lilies? These things must
come from some other association, and in the case of him who here
confesses, the lustrous uniforms and the glowing walls rise from waters
as far away in time as in space, and a long-ago apparition of Venetian
Junes haunts the coral shore. (They are beginning to say the shore is
not coral; but no matter.) To be sure, the white roofs are not accounted
for in this visionary presence; and if one may not relate them to the
snowfalls of home winters, then one must frankly own them absolutely
tropical, together with the green-pillared and green-latticed galleries.
They at least suggest the tropical scenery of Prue and I as one remembers
seeing it through Titbottom's spectacles; and yet, if one supplies roofs
of brown-red tiles, it is all Venetian enough, with the lagoon-like
expanses that lend themselves to the fond effect. It is so Venetian,
indeed, that it wants but a few silent gondolas and noisy gondoliers,
in place of the dark, taciturn oarsmen of the clumsy native boats, to
complete the coming and going illusion; and there is no good reason why
the rough little isles that fill the bay should not call themselves
respectively San Giorgio and San Clemente, and Sant' Elena and San
Lazzaro: they probably have no other names!


These summer isles of Eden have this advantage over the scriptural Eden,
that apparently it was not woman and her seed who were expelled, when
once she set foot here, but the serpent and his seed: women now abound in
the Summer Islands, and there is not a snake anywhere to be found. There
are some tortoises and a great many frogs in their season, but no other
reptiles. The frogs are fabled of a note so deep and hoarse that its
vibration almost springs the environing mines of dynamite, though it has
never yet done so; the tortoises grow to a great size and a patriarchal
age, and are fond of Boston brown bread and baked beans, if their
preferences may be judged from those of a colossal specimen in the care
of an American family living on the islands. The observer who
contributes this fact to science is able to report the case of a
parrot-fish, on the same premises, so exactly like a large brown and
purple cockatoo that, seeing such a cockatoo later on dry land, it was
with a sense of something like cruelty in its exile from its native
waters. The angel-fish he thinks not so much like angels; they are of a
transparent purity of substance, and a cherubic innocence of expression,
but they terminate in two tails, which somehow will not lend themselves
to the resemblance.

Certainly the angel-fish is not so well named as the parrot-fish; it
might better be called the ghostfish, it is so like a moonbeam in the
pools it haunts, and of such a convertible quality with the iridescent
vegetable growths about it. All things here are of a weird
convertibility to the alien perception, and the richest and rarest facts
of nature lavish themselves in humble association with the commonest and
most familiar. You drive through long stretches of wayside willows, and
realize only now and then that these willows are thick clumps of
oleanders; and through them you can catch glimpses of banana-orchards,
which look like dishevelled patches of gigantic cornstalks. The fields
of Easter lilies do not quite live up to their photographs; they are
presently suffering from a mysterious blight, and their flowers are not
frequent enough to lend them that sculpturesque effect near to, which
they wear as far off as New York. The potato-fields, on the other hand,
are of a tender delicacy of coloring which compensates for the lilies'
lack, and the palms give no just cause for complaint, unless because they
are not nearly enough to characterize the landscape, which in spite of
their presence remains so northern in aspect. They were much whipped and
torn by a late hurricane, which afflicted all the vegetation of the
islands, and some of the royal palms were blown down. Where these are
yet standing, as four or five of them are in a famous avenue now quite
one-sided, they are of a majesty befitting that of any king who could
pass by them: no sovereign except Philip of Macedon in his least judicial
moments could pass between them.

The century-plant, which here does not require pampering under glass,
but boldly takes its place out doors with the other trees of the garden,
employs much less than a hundred years to bring itself to bloom.
It often flowers twice or thrice in that space of time, and ought to take
away the reproach of the inhabitants for a want of industry and
enterprise: a century-plant at least could do no more in any air, and it
merits praise for its activity in the breath of these languorous seas.
One such must be in bloom at this very writing, in the garden of a house
which this very writer marked for his own on his first drive ashore from
the steamer to the hotel, when he bestowed in its dim, unknown interior
one of the many multiples of himself which are now pretty well dispersed
among the pleasant places of the earth. It fills the night with a heavy
heliotropean sweetness, and on the herb beneath, in the effulgence of the
waxing moon, the multiple which has spiritually expropriated the legal
owners stretches itself in an interminable reverie, and hears Youth come
laughing back to it on the waters kissing the adjacent shore, where other
white houses (which also it inhabits) bathe their snowy underpinning.
In this dream the multiple drives home from the balls of either hotel
with the young girls in the little victorias which must pass its sojourn;
and, being but a vision itself, fore casts the shapes of flirtation which
shall night-long gild the visions of their sleep with the flash of
military and naval uniforms. Of course the multiple has been at the
dance too (with a shadowy heartache for the dances of forty years ago),
and knows enough not to confuse the uniforms.


In whatever way you walk, at whatever hour, the birds are sweetly calling
in the way-side oleanders and the wild sage-bushes and the cedar-tops.
They are mostly cat-birds, quite like our own; and bluebirds, but of a
deeper blue than ours, and redbirds of as liquid a note, but not so
varied, as that of the redbirds of our woods. How came they all here,
seven hundred miles from any larger land? Some think, on the stronger
wings of tempests, for it is not within the knowledge of men that men
brought them. Men did, indeed, bring the pestilent sparrows which swarm
about their habitations here, and beat away the gentler and lovelier
birds with a ferocity unknown in the human occupation of the islands.
Still, the sparrows have by no means conquered, and in the wilder places
the catbird makes common cause with the bluebird and the redbird, and
holds its own against them. The little ground-doves mimic in miniature
the form and markings and the gait and mild behavior of our turtle-doves,
but perhaps not their melancholy cooing. Nature has nowhere anything
prettier than these exquisite creatures, unless it be the long-tailed
white gulls which sail over the emerald shallows of the landlocked seas,
and take the green upon their translucent bodies as they trail their
meteoric splendor against the midday sky. Full twenty-four inches they
measure from the beak to the tip of the single pen that protracts them a
foot beyond their real bulk; but it is said their tempers are shorter
than they, and they attack fiercely anything they suspect of too intimate
a curiosity concerning their nests.

They are probably the only short-tempered things in the Summer Islands,
where time is so long that if you lose your patience you easily find it
again. Sweetness, if not light, seems to be the prevailing human
quality, and a good share of it belongs to such of the natives as are in
no wise light. Our poor brethren of a different pigment are in the large
majority, and they have been seventy years out of slavery, with the full
enjoyment of all their civil rights, without lifting themselves from
their old inferiority. They do the hard work, in their own easy way, and
possibly do not find life the burden they make it for the white man, whom
here, as in our own country, they load up with the conundrum which their
existence involves for him. They are not very gay, and do not rise to a
joke with that flashing eagerness which they show for it at home. If you
have them against a background of banana-stems, or low palms, or feathery
canes, nothing could be more acceptably characteristic of the air and
sky; nor are they out of place on the box of the little victorias, where
visitors of the more inquisitive sex put them to constant question. Such
visitors spare no islander of any color. Once, in the pretty Public
Garden which the multiple had claimed for its private property, three
unmerciful American women suddenly descended from the heavens and began
to question the multiple's gardener, who was peacefully digging at the
rate of a spadeful every five minutes. Presently he sat down on his
wheelbarrow, and then shifted, without relief, from one handle of it to
the other. Then he rose and braced himself desperately against the
tool-house, where, when his tormentors drifted away, he seemed to the
soft eye of pity pinned to the wall by their cruel interrogations, whose
barbed points were buried in the stucco behind him, and whose feathered
shafts stuck out half a yard before his breast.

Whether he was black or not, pity could not see, but probably he was.
At least the garrison of the islands is all black, being a Jamaican
regiment of that color; and when one of the warriors comes down the white
street, with his swagger-stick in his hand, and flaming in scarlet and
gold upon the ground of his own blackness, it is as if a gigantic oriole
were coming towards you, or a mighty tulip. These gorgeous creatures
seem so much readier than the natives to laugh, that you wish to test
them with a joke. But it might fail. The Summer Islands are a British
colony, and the joke does not flourish so luxuriantly, here as some other

To be sure, one of the native fruits seems a sort of joke when you hear
it first named, and when you are offered a 'loquat', if you are of a
frivolous mind you search your mind for the connection with 'loquor'
which it seems to intimate. Failing in this, you taste the fruit, and
then, if it is not perfectly ripe, you are as far from loquaciousness as
if you had bitten a green persimmon. But if it is ripe, it is delicious,
and may be consumed indefinitely. It is the only native fruit which one
can wish to eat at all, with an unpractised palate, though it is claimed
that with experience a relish may come for the pawpaws. These break out
in clusters of the size of oranges at the top of a thick pole, which may
have some leaves or may not, and ripen as they fancy in the indefinite
summer. They are of the color and flavor of a very insipid little
muskmelon which has grown too near a patch of squashes.

One may learn to like this pawpaw, yes, but one must study hard. It is
best when plucked by a young islander of Italian blood whose father
orders him up the bare pole in the sunny Sunday morning air to oblige the
signori, and then with a pawpaw in either hand stands talking with them
about the two bad years there have been in Bermuda, and the probability
of his doing better in Nuova York. He has not imagined our winter,
however, and he shrinks from its boldly pictured rigors, and lets the
signori go with a sigh, and a bunch of pink and crimson roses.

The roses are here, budding and blooming in the quiet bewilderment which
attends the flowers and plants from the temperate zone in this latitude,
and which in the case of the strawberries offered with cream and cake at
another public garden expresses itself in a confusion of red, ripe fruit
and white blossoms on the same stem. They are a pleasure to the nose and
eye rather than the palate, as happens with so many growths of the
tropics, if indeed the Summer Islands are tropical, which some plausibly
deny; though why should not strawberries, fresh picked from the plant in
mid-March, enjoy the right to be indifferent sweet?


What remains? The events of the Summer Islands are few, and none out of
the order of athletics between teams of the army and navy, and what may
be called societetics, have happened in the past enchanted fortnight.
But far better things than events have happened: sunshine and rain of
such like quality that one could not grumble at either, and gales, now
from the south and now from the north, with the languor of the one and
the vigor of the other in them. There were drives upon drives that were
always to somewhere, but would have been delightful the same if they had
been mere goings and comings, past the white houses overlooking little
lawns through the umbrage of their palm-trees. The lawns professed to be
of grass, but were really mats of close little herbs which were not
grass; but which, where the sparse cattle were grazing them, seemed to
satisfy their inexacting stomachs. They are never very green, and in
fact the landscape often has an air of exhaustion and pause which it
wears with us in late August; and why not, after all its interminable,
innumerable summers? Everywhere in the gentle hollows which the coral
hills (if they are coral) sink into are the patches of potatoes and
lilies and onions drawing their geometrical lines across the brown-red,
weedless soil; and in very sheltered spots are banana-orchards which are
never so snugly sheltered there but their broad leaves are whipped to
shreds. The white road winds between gray walls crumbling in an amiable
disintegration, but held together against ruin by a network of maidenhair
ferns and creepers of unknown name, and overhung by trees where the
cactus climbs and hangs in spiky links, or if another sort, pierces them
with speary stems as tall and straight as the stalks of the neighboring
bamboo. The loquat-trees cluster--like quinces in the garden closes, and
show their pale golden, plum-shaped fruit.

For the most part the road runs by still inland waters, but sometimes it
climbs to the high downs beside the open sea, grotesque with wind-worn
and wave-worn rocks, and beautiful with opalescent beaches, and the black
legs of the negro children paddling in the tints of the prostrate

All this seems probable and natural enough at the writing; but how will
it be when one has turned one's back upon it? Will it not lapse into the
gross fable of travellers, and be as the things which the liars who swap
them cannot themselves believe? What will be said to you when you tell
that in the Summer Islands one has but to saw a hole in his back yard and
take out a house of soft, creamy sandstone and set it up and go to living
in it? What, when you relate that among the northern and southern
evergreens there are deciduous trees which, in a clime where there is no
fall or spring, simply drop their leaves when they are tired of keeping
them on, and put out others when they feel like it? What, when you
pretend that in the absence of serpents there are centipedes a span long,
and spiders the bigness of bats, and mosquitoes that sweetly sing in the
drowsing ear, but bite not; or that there are swamps but no streams, and
in the marshes stand mangrove-trees whose branches grow downward into the
ooze, as if they wished to get back into the earth and pull in after them
the holes they emerged from?

These every-day facts seem not only incredible to the liar himself, even
in their presence, but when you begin the ascent of that steep slant back
to New York you foresee that they will become impossible. As impossible
as the summit of the slant now appears to the sense which shudderingly
figures it a Bermuda pawpaw-tree seven hundred miles high, and fruiting
icicles and snowballs in the March air!


Looking through Mrs. Caroline A. Creevey's charming book on the Flowers
of Field, Hill, and Swamp, the other day, I was very forcibly reminded of
the number of these pretty, wilding growths which I had been finding all
the season long among the streets of asphalt and the sidewalks of
artificial stone in this city; and I am quite sure that any one who has
been kept in New York, as I have been this year, beyond the natural time
of going into the country, can have as real a pleasure in this sylvan
invasion as mine, if he will but give himself up to a sense of it.


Of course it is altogether too late, now, to look for any of the early
spring flowers, but I can recall the exquisite effect of the tender blue
hepatica fringing the centre rail of the grip-cars, all up and down
Broadway, and apparently springing from the hollow beneath, where the
cable ran with such a brooklike gurgle that any damp-living plant must
find itself at home there. The water-pimpernel may now be seen, by any
sympathetic eye, blowing delicately along the track, in the breeze of the
passing cabs, and elastically lifting itself from the rush of the cars.
The reader can easily verify it by the picture in Mrs. Creevey's book.
He knows it by its other name of brook weed; and he will have my delight,
I am sure, in the cardinal-flower which will be with us in August. It is
a shy flower, loving the more sequestered nooks, and may be sought along
the shady stretches of Third Avenue, where the Elevated Road overhead
forms a shelter as of interlacing boughs. The arrow-head likes such
swampy expanses as the converging surface roads form at Dead Man's Curve
and the corners of Twenty third Street. This is in flower now, and will
be till September; and St.-John's-wort, which some call the false
goldenrod, is already here. You may find it in any moist, low ground, but
the gutters of Wall Street, or even the banks of the Stock Exchange, are
not too dry for it. The real golden-rod is not much in evidence with us,
for it comes only when summer is on the wane. The other night, however,
on the promenade of the Madison Square Roof Garden, I was delighted to
see it growing all over the oblong dome of the auditorium, in response to
the cry of a homesick cricket which found itself in exile there at the
base of a potted ever green. This lonely insect had no sooner sounded its
winter-boding note than the fond flower began sympathetically to wave and
droop along those tarry slopes, as I have seen it on how many hill-side
pastures! But this may have been only a transitory response to the
cricket, and I cannot promise the visitor to the Roof Garden that he will
find golden-rod there every night. I believe there is always Golden Seal,
but it is the kind that comes in bottles, and not in the gloom of "deep,
cool, moist woods," where Mrs. Creevey describes it as growing, along
with other wildings of such sweet names or quaint as Celandine, and Dwarf
Larkspur, and Squirrel-corn, and Dutchman's breeches, and Pearlwort, and
Wood-sorrel, and Bishop's--cap, and Wintergreen, and Indian-pipe, and
Snowberry, and Adder's-tongue, and Wakerobin, and Dragon-root, and
Adam-and-Eve, and twenty more, which must have got their names from some
fairy of genius. I should say it was a female fairy of genius who called
them so, and that she had her own sex among mortals in mind when she
invented their nomenclature, and was thinking of little girls, and slim,
pretty maids, and happy young wives. The author tells how they all look,
with a fine sense of their charm in her words, but one would know how
they looked from their names; and when you call them over they at
once transplant themselves to the depths of the dells between our
sky-scrapers, and find a brief sojourn in the cavernous excavations
whence other sky-scrapers are to rise.


That night on the Roof Garden, when the cricket's cry flowered the dome
with golden-rod, the tall stems of rye growing among the orchestra sloped
all one way at times, just like the bows of violins, in the half-dollar
gale that always blows over the city at that height. But as one turns
the leaves of Mrs. Creevey's magic book-perhaps one ought to say turns
its petals--the forests and the fields come and make themselves at home
in the city everywhere. By virtue of it I have been more in the country
in a half-hour than if I had lived all June there. When I lift my eyes
from its pictures or its letter-press my vision prints the eidolons of
wild flowers everywhere, as it prints the image of the sun against the
air after dwelling on his brightness. The rose-mallow flaunts along
Fifth Avenue and the golden threads of the dodder embroider the house
fronts on the principal cross streets; and I might think at times that it
was all mere fancy, it has so much the quality of a pleasing illusion.

Yet Mrs. Creevey's book is not one to lend itself to such a deceit by any
of the ordinary arts. It is rather matter of fact in form and manner,
and largely owes what magic it has to the inherent charm of its subject.
One feels this in merely glancing at the index, and reading such titles
of chapters as "Wet Meadows and Low Grounds"; "Dry Fields--Waste Places
--Waysides"; "Hills and Rocky Woods, Open Woods"; and "Deep, Cool, Moist
Woods"; each a poem in itself, lyric or pastoral, and of a surpassing
opulence of suggestion. The spring and, summer months pass in stately
processional through the book, each with her fillet inscribed with the
names of her characteristic flowers or blossoms, and brightened with the
blooms themselves.

They are plucked from where nature bade them grow in the wild places, or
their own wayward wills led them astray. A singularly fascinating
chapter is that called "Escaped from Gardens," in which some of these
pretty runagates are catalogued. I supposed in my liberal ignorance that
the Bouncing Bet was the only one of these, but I have learned that the
Pansy and the Sweet Violet love to gad, and that the Caraway, the
Snapdragon, the Prince's Feather, the Summer Savory, the Star of
Bethlehem, the Day-Lily, and the Tiger-Lily, and even the sluggish Stone
Crop are of the vagrant, fragrant company. One is not surprised to meet
the Tiger-Lily in it; that must always have had the jungle in its heart;
but that the Baby's Breath should be found wandering by the road-sides
from Massachusetts and Virginia to Ohio, gives one a tender pang as for a
lost child. Perhaps the poor human tramps, who sleep in barns and feed
at back doors along those dusty ways, are mindful of the Baby's Breath,
and keep a kindly eye out for the little truant.


As I was writing those homely names I felt again how fit and lovely they
were, how much more fit and lovely than the scientific names of the
flowers. Mrs. Creevey will make a botanist of you if you will let her,
and I fancy a very good botanist, though I cannot speak from experience,
but she will make a poet of you in spite of yourself, as I very well
know; and she will do this simply by giving you first the familiar name
of the flowers she loves to write of. I am not saying that the Day-Lily
would not smell as sweet by her title of 'Hemerocallis Fulva', or that
the homely, hearty Bouncing Bet would not kiss as deliciously in her
scholar's cap and gown of 'Saponaria Officinalis'; but merely that their
college degrees do not lend themselves so willingly to verse, or even
melodious prose, which is what the poet is often after nowadays. So I
like best to hail the flowers by the names that the fairies gave them,
and the children know them by, especially when my longing for them makes
them grow here in the city streets. I have a fancy that they would all
vanish away if I saluted them in botanical terms. As long as I talk of
cat-tail rushes, the homeless grimalkins of the areas and the back fences
help me to a vision of the swamps thickly studded with their stiff
spears; but if I called them 'Typha Latifolia', or even 'Typha
Angustifolia', there is not the hardiest and fiercest prowler of the roof
and the fire-escape but would fly the sound of my voice and leave me
forlorn amid the withered foliage of my dream. The street sparrows,
pestiferous and persistent as they are, would forsake my sylvan pageant
if I spoke of the Bird-foot Violet as the 'Viola Pedata'; and the
commonest cur would run howling if he beard the gentle Poison Dogwood
maligned as the 'Rhus Venenata'. The very milk-cans would turn to their
native pumps in disgust from my attempt to invoke our simple American
Cowslip as the 'Dodecatheon Meadia'.


Yet I do not deny that such scientific nomenclature has its uses; and I
should be far from undervaluing this side of Mrs. Creevey's book. In
fact, I secretly respect it the more for its botanical lore, and if ever
I get into the woods or fields again I mean to go up to some of the
humblest flowers, such as I can feel myself on easy terms with, and tell
them what they are in Latin. I think it will surprise them, and I dare
say they will some of them like it, and will want their initials
inscribed on their leaves, like those signatures which the medicinal
plants bear, or are supposed to bear. But as long as I am engaged in
their culture amid this stone and iron and asphalt, I find it best to
invite their presence by their familiar names, and I hope they will not
think them too familiar. I should like to get them all naturalized here,
so that the thousands of poor city children, who never saw them growing
in their native places, might have some notion of how bountifully the
world is equipped with beauty, and how it is governed by many laws which
are not enforced by policemen. I think that would interest them very
much, and I shall not mind their plucking my Barmecide blossoms, and
carrying them home by the armfuls. When good-will costs nothing we ought
to practise it even with the tramps, and these are very welcome, in their
wanderings over the city pave, to rest their weary limbs in any of my
pleached bowers they come to.


We dwellers in cities and large towns, if we are well-to-do, have more
than our fill of pleasures of all kinds; and for now many years past we
have been used to a form of circus where surfeit is nearly as great
misery as famine in that kind could be. For our sins, or some of our
friends' sins, perhaps, we have now gone so long to circuses of three
rings and two raised-platforms that we scarcely realize that in the
country there are still circuses of one ring and no platform at all.
We are accustomed, in the gross and foolish-superfluity of these city
circuses, to see no feat quite through, but to turn our greedy eyes at
the most important instant in the hope of greater wonders in another
ring. We have four or five clowns, in as many varieties of grotesque
costume, as well as a lady clown in befitting dress; but we hear none of
them speak, not even the lady clown, while in the country circus the old
clown of our childhood, one and indivisible, makes the same style of
jokes, if not the very same jokes, that we used to hear there. It is not
easy to believe all this, and I do not know that I should quite believe
it myself if I had not lately been witness of it in the suburban village
where I was passing the summer.


The circus announced itself in the good old way weeks beforehand by the
vast posters of former days and by a profusion of small bills which fell
upon the village as from the clouds, and left it littered everywhere with
their festive pink. They prophesied it in a name borne by the first
circus I ever saw, which was also an animal show, but the animals must
all have died during the fifty years past, for there is now no menagerie
attached to it. I did not know this when I heard the band braying
through the streets of the village on the morning of the performance,
and for me the mangy old camels and the pimpled elephants of yore led the
procession through accompanying ranks of boys who have mostly been in
their graves for half a lifetime; the distracted ostrich thrust an
advertising neck through the top of its cage, and the lion roared to
himself in the darkness of his moving prison. I felt the old thrill of
excitement, the vain hope of something preternatural and impossible, and
I do not know what could have kept me from that circus as soon as I had
done lunch. My heart rose at sight of the large tent (which was yet so
very little in comparison with the tents of the three-ring and
two-platform circuses); the alluring and illusory sideshows of fat women
and lean men; the horses tethered in the background and stamping under
the fly-bites; the old, weather-beaten grand chariot, which looked like
the ghost of the grand chariot which used to drag me captive in its
triumph; and the canvas shelters where the cooks were already at work
over their kettles on the evening meal of the circus folk.

I expected to be kept a long while from the ticket-wagon by the crowd,
but there was no crowd, and perhaps there never used to be much of a
crowd. I bought my admittances without a moment's delay, and the man who
sold me my reserve seats had even leisure to call me back and ask to look
at the change he had given me, mostly nickels. "I thought I didn't give
you enough," he said, and he added one more, and sent me on to the
doorkeeper with my faith in human nature confirmed and refreshed.
It was cool enough outside, but within it was very warm, as it should be,
to give the men with palm-leaf fans and ice-cold lemonade a chance. They
were already making their rounds, and crying their wares with voices from
the tombs of the dead past; and the child of the young mother who took my
seat-ticket from me was going to sleep at full length on the lowermost
tread of the benches, so that I had to step across its prostrate form.
These reserved seats were carpeted; but I had forgotten how little one
rank was raised above another, and how very trying they were upon the
back and legs. But for the carpeting, I could not see how I was
advantaged above the commoner folk in the unreserved seats, and I
reflected how often in this world we paid for an inappreciable splendor.
I could not see but they were as well off as I; they were much more gayly
dressed, and some of them were even smoking cigars, while they were
nearly all younger by ten, twenty, forty, or fifty years, and even more.
They did not look like the country people whom I rather hoped and
expected to see, but were apparently my fellow-villagers, in different
stages of excitement. They manifested by the usual signs their
impatience to have the performance begin, and I confess that I shared
this, though I did not take part in the demonstration.


I have no intention of following the events seriatim. Front time to time
during their progress I renewed my old one-sided acquaintance with the
circus-men. They were quite the same people, I believe, but strangely
softened and ameliorated, as I hope I am, and looking not a day older,
which I cannot say of myself, exactly. The supernumeraries were patently
farmer boys who had entered newly upon that life in a spirit of
adventure, and who wore their partial liveries, a braided coat here and a
pair of striped trousers there, with a sort of timorous pride, a
deprecating bravado, as if they expected to be hooted by the spectators
and were very glad when they were not. The man who went round with a dog
to keep boys from hooking in under the curtain had grown gentler, and his
dog did not look as if he would bite the worst boy in town. The man came
up and asked the young mother about her sleeping child, and I inferred
that the child had been sick, and was therefore unusually interesting to
all the great, kind-hearted, simple circus family. He was good to the
poor supes, and instructed them, not at all sneeringly, how best to
manage the guy ropes for the nets when the trapeze events began.

There was, in fact, an air of pleasing domesticity diffused over the
whole circus. This was, perhaps, partly an effect from our extreme
proximity to its performances; I had never been on quite such intimate
terms with equitation and aerostation of all kinds; but I think it was
also largely from the good hearts of the whole company. A circus must
become, during the season, a great brotherhood and sisterhood, especially
sisterhood, and its members must forget finally that they are not united
by ties of blood. I dare say they often become so, as husbands and wives
and fathers and mothers, if not as brothers.

The domestic effect was heightened almost poignantly when a young lady in
a Turkish-towel bath-gown came out and stood close by the band, waiting
for her act on a barebacked horse of a conventional pattern. She really
looked like a young goddess in a Turkish-towel bath-gown: goddesses must
have worn bath-gowns, especially Venus, who was often imagined in the
bath, or just out of it. But when this goddess threw off her bath-gown,
and came bounding into the ring as gracefully as the clogs she wore on
her slippers would let her, she was much more modestly dressed than most
goddesses. What I am trying to say, however, is that, while she stood
there by the band, she no more interested the musicians than if she were
their collective sister. They were all in their shirt-sleeves for the
sake of the coolness, and they banged and trumpeted and fluted away as
indifferent to her as so many born brothers.

Indeed, when the gyrations of her horse brought her to our side of the
ring, she was visibly not so youthful and not so divine as she might have
been; but the girl who did the trapeze acts, and did them wonderfully,
left nothing to be desired in that regard; though really I do not see why
we who have neither youth nor beauty should always expect it of other
people. I think it would have been quite enough for her to do the
trapeze acts so perfectly; but her being so pretty certainly added a
poignancy to the contemplation of her perils. One could follow every
motion of her anxiety in that close proximity: the tremor of her chin as
she bit her lips before taking her flight through the air, the straining
eagerness of her eye as she measured the distance, the frown with which
she forbade herself any shrinking or reluctance.


How strange is life, how sad and perplexing its contradictions! Why
should such an exhibition as that be supposed to give pleasure? Perhaps
it does not give pleasure, but is only a necessary fulfilment of one of
the many delusions we are in with regard to each other in this
bewildering world. They are of all sorts and degrees, these delusions,
and I suppose that in the last analysis it was not pleasure I got from
the clown and his clowning, clowned he ever so merrily. I remember that
I liked hearing his old jokes, not because they were jokes, but because
they were old and endeared by long association. He sang one song which I
must have heard him sing at my first circus (I am sure it was he), about
"Things that I don't like to see," and I heartily agreed with him that
his book of songs, which he sent round to be sold, was fully worth the
half-dime asked for it, though I did not buy it.

Perhaps the rival author in me withheld me, but, as a brother man, I will
not allow that I did not feel for him and suffer with him because of the
thick, white pigment which plentifully coated his face, and, with the
sweat drops upon it, made me think of a newly painted wall in the rain.
He was infinitely older than his personality, than his oldest joke
(though you never can be sure how old a joke is), and, representatively,
I dare say he outdated the pyramids. They must have made clowns whiten
their faces in the dawn of time, and no doubt there were drolls among the
antediluvians who enhanced the effect of their fun by that means. All
the same, I pitied this clown for it, and I fancied in his wildest
waggery the note of a real irascibility. Shall I say that he seemed the
only member of that little circus who was not of an amiable temper? But
I do not blame him, and I think it much to have seen a clown once more
who jested audibly with the ringmaster and always got the better of him
in repartee. It was long since I had known that pleasure.


Throughout the performance at this circus I was troubled by a curious
question, whether it were really of the same moral and material grandeur
as the circuses it brought to memory, or whether these were thin and
slight, too. We all know how the places of our childhood, the heights,
the distances, shrink and dwindle when we go back to them, and was it
possible that I had been deceived in the splendor of my early circuses?
The doubt was painful, but I was forced to own that there might be more
truth in it than in a blind fealty to their remembered magnificence.
Very likely circuses have grown not only in size, but in the richness and
variety of their entertainments, and I was spoiled for the simple joys
of this. But I could see no reflection of my dissatisfaction on the
young faces around me, and I must confess that there was at least so much
of the circus that I left when it was half over. I meant to go into the
side-shows and see the fat woman and the living skeleton, and take the
giant by the hand and the armless man by his friendly foot, if I might be
so honored. But I did none of these things, and I am willing to believe
the fault was in me, if I was disappointed in the circus. It was I who
had shrunk and dwindled, and not it. To real boys it was still the size
of the firmament, and was a world of wonders and delights. At least I
can recognize this fact now, and can rejoice in the peaceful progress all
over the country of the simple circuses which the towns never see, but
which help to render the summer fairer and brighter to the unspoiled eyes
and hearts they appeal to. I hope it will be long before they cease to
find profit in the pleasure they give.


The other night as I sat before the curtain of the Garden Theatre and
waited for it to rise upon the Hamlet of Mme. Bernhardt, a thrill of the
rich expectation which cannot fail to precede the rise of any curtain
upon any Hamlet passed through my eager frame. There is, indeed, no
scene of drama which is of a finer horror (eighteenth-century horror)
than that which opens the great tragedy. The sentry pacing up and down
upon the platform at Elsinore under the winter night; the greeting
between him and the comrade arriving to relieve him, with its hints of
the bitter cold; the entrance of Horatio and Marcellus to these before
they can part; the mention of the ghost, and, while the soldiers are in
the act of protesting it a veridical phantom, the apparition of the
ghost, taking the word from their lips and hushing all into a pulseless
awe: what could be more simply and sublimely real, more naturally
supernatural? What promise of high mystical things to come there is in
the mere syllabling of the noble verse, and how it enlarges us from
ourselves, for that time at least, to a disembodied unity with the
troubled soul whose martyry seems foreboded in the solemn accents!
As the many Hamlets on which the curtain had risen in my time passed in
long procession through my memory, I seemed to myself so much of their
world, and so little of the world that arrogantly calls itself the actual
one, that I should hardly have been surprised to find myself one of the
less considered persons of the drama who were seen but not heard in its


The trouble in judging anything is that if you have the materials for an
intelligent criticism, the case is already prejudiced in your hands.
You do not bring a free mind to it, and all your efforts to free your
mind are a species of gymnastics more or less admirable, but not really
effective for the purpose. The best way is to own yourself unfair at the
start, and then you can have some hope of doing yourself justice, if not
your subject. In other words, if you went to see the Hamlet of Mme.
Bernhardt frankly expecting to be disappointed, you were less likely in
the end to be disappointed in your expectations, and you could not blame
her if you were. To be ideally fair to that representation, it would be
better not to have known any other Hamlet, and, above all, the Hamlet of

From the first it was evident that she had three things overwhelmingly
against her--her sex, her race, and her speech. You never ceased to feel
for a moment that it was a woman who was doing that melancholy Dane, and
that the woman was a Jewess, and the Jewess a French Jewess. These three
removes put a gulf impassable between her utmost skill and the
impassioned irresolution of that inscrutable Northern nature which is in
nothing so masculine as its feminine reluctances and hesitations, or so
little French as in those obscure emotions which the English poetry
expressed with more than Gallic clearness, but which the French words
always failed to convey. The battle was lost from the first, and all you
could feel about it for the rest was that if it was magnificent it was
not war.

While the battle went on I was the more anxious to be fair, because I
had, as it were, pre-espoused the winning side; and I welcomed, in the
interest of critical impartiality, another Hamlet which came to mind,
through readily traceable associations. This was a Hamlet also of French
extraction in the skill and school of the actor, but as much more deeply
derived than the Hamlet of Mme. Bernhardt as the large imagination of
Charles Fechter transcended in its virile range the effect of her
subtlest womanish intuition. His was the first blond Hamlet known to our
stage, and hers was also blond, if a reddish-yellow wig may stand for a
complexion; and it was of the quality of his Hamlet in masterly


The Hamlet of Fechter, which rose ghostlike out of the gulf of the past,
and cloudily possessed the stage where the Hamlet of Mme. Bernhardt was
figuring, was called a romantic Hamlet thirty years ago; and so it was in
being a break from the classic Hamlets of the Anglo-American theatre.
It was romantic as Shakespeare himself was romantic, in an elder sense of
the word, and not romanticistic as Dumas was romanticistic. It was,
therefore, the most realistic Hamlet ever yet seen, because the most
naturally poetic. Mme. Bernhardt recalled it by the perfection of her
school; for Fechter's poetic naturalness differed from the
conventionality of the accepted Hamlets in nothing so much as the
superiority of its self-instruction. In Mme. Bernhardt's Hamlet, as in
his, nothing was trusted to chance, or "inspiration." Good or bad, what
one saw was what was meant to be seen. When Fechter played Edmond Dantes
or Claude Melnotte, he put reality into those preposterous inventions,
and in Hamlet even his alien accent helped him vitalize the part; it
might be held to be nearer the Elizabethan accent than ours; and after
all, you said Hamlet was a foreigner, and in your high content with what
he gave you did not mind its being in a broken vessel. When he
challenged the ghost with "I call thee keeng, father, rawl-Dane," you
Would hardly have had the erring utterance bettered. It sufficed as it
was; and when he said to Rosencrantz, "Will you pleh upon this pyip?"
it was with such a princely authority and comradely entreaty that you
made no note of the slips in the vowels except to have pleasure of their
quaintness afterwards. For the most part you were not aware of these
betrayals of his speech; and in certain high things it was soul
interpreted to soul through the poetry of Shakespeare so finely, so
directly, that there was scarcely a sense of the histrionic means.

He put such divine despair into the words, "Except my life, except my
life, except my life!" following the mockery with which he had assured
Polonius there was nothing he would more willingly part withal than his
leave, that the heart-break of them had lingered with me for thirty
years, and I had been alert for them with every Hamlet since. But before
I knew, Mme. Bernhardt had uttered them with no effect whatever. Her
Hamlet, indeed, cut many of the things that we have learned to think the
points of Hamlet, and it so transformed others by its interpretation of
the translator's interpretation of Shakespeare that they passed
unrecognized. Soliloquies are the weak invention of the enemy, for the
most part, but as such things go that soliloquy of Hamlet's, "To be or
not to be," is at least very noble poetry; and yet Mme. Bernhardt was so
unimpressive in it that you scarcely noticed the act of its delivery.
Perhaps this happened because the sumptuous and sombre melancholy of
Shakespeare's thought was transmitted in phrases that refused it its
proper mystery. But there was always a hardness, not always from the
translation, upon this feminine Hamlet. It was like a thick shell with
no crevice in it through which the tenderness of Shakespeare's Hamlet
could show, except for the one moment at Ophelia's grave, where he
reproaches Laertes with those pathetic words--

       "What is the reason that you use me thus?
        I loved you ever; but it is no matter."

Here Mme. Bernhardt betrayed a real grief, but as a woman would, and not
a man. At the close of the Gonzago play, when Hamlet triumphs in a mad
whirl, her Hamlet hopped up and down like a mischievous crow, a
mischievous she-crow.

There was no repose in her Hamlet, though there were moments of leaden
lapse which suggested physical exhaustion; and there was no range in her
elocution expressive of the large vibration of that tormented spirit.
Her voice dropped out, or jerked itself out, and in the crises of strong
emotion it was the voice of a scolding or a hysterical woman. At times
her movements, which she must have studied so hard to master, were drolly
womanish, especially those of the whole person. Her quickened pace was a
woman's nervous little run, and not a man's swift stride; and to give
herself due stature, it was her foible to wear a woman's high heels to
her shoes, and she could not help tilting on them.

In the scene with the queen after the play, most English and American
Hamlets have required her to look upon the counterfeit presentment of two
brothers in miniatures something the size of tea-plates; but Mme.
Bernhardt's preferred full-length, life-size family portraits. The dead
king's effigy did not appear a flattered likeness in the scene-painter's
art, but it was useful in disclosing his ghost by giving place to it in
the wall at the right moment. She achieved a novelty by this treatment
of the portraits, and she achieved a novelty in the tone she took with
the wretched queen. Hamlet appeared to scold her mother, but though it
could be said that her mother deserved a scolding, was it the part of a
good daughter to give it her?

One should, of course, say a good son, but long before this it had become
impossible to think at all of Mme. Bernhardt's Hamlet as a man, if it
ever had been possible. She had traversed the bounds which tradition as
well as nature has set, and violated the only condition upon which an
actress may personate a man. This condition is that there shall be
always a hint of comedy in the part, that the spectator shall know all
the time that the actress is a woman, and that she shall confess herself
such before the play is over; she shall be fascinating in the guise of a
man only because she is so much more intensely a woman in it.
Shakespeare had rather a fancy for women in men's roles, which, as
women's roles in his time were always taken by pretty and clever boys,
could be more naturally managed then than now. But when it came to the
eclaircissement, and the pretty boys, who had been playing the parts of
women disguised as men, had to own themselves women, the effect must have
been confused if not weakened. If Mme. Bernhardt, in the necessity of
doing something Shakespearean, had chosen to do Rosalind, or Viola, or
Portia, she could have done it with all the modern advantages of women in
men's roles. These characters are, of course, "lighter motions bounded
in a shallower brain" than the creation she aimed at; but she could at
least have made much of them, and she does not make much of Hamlet.


The strongest reason against any woman Hamlet is that it does violence to
an ideal. Literature is not so rich in great imaginary masculine types
that we can afford to have them transformed to women; and after seeing
Mme. Bernhardt's Hamlet no one can altogether liberate himself from the
fancy that the Prince of Denmark was a girl of uncertain age, with crises
of mannishness in which she did not seem quite a lady. Hamlet is in
nothing more a man than in the things to which as a man he found himself
unequal; for as a woman he would have been easily superior to them.
If we could suppose him a woman as Mme. Bernhardt, in spite of herself,
invites us to do, we could only suppose him to have solved his
perplexities with the delightful precipitation of his putative sex.
As the niece of a wicked uncle, who in that case would have had to be a
wicked aunt, wedded to Hamlet's father hard upon the murder of her
mother, she would have made short work of her vengeance. No fine
scruples would have delayed her; she would not have had a moment's
question whether she had not better kill herself; she would have out with
her bare bodkin and ended the doubt by first passing it through her
aunt's breast.

To be sure, there would then have been no play of "Hamlet," as we have
it; but a Hamlet like that imagined, a frankly feminine Hamlet, Mme.
Bernhardt could have rendered wonderfully. It is in attempting a
masculine Hamlet that she transcends the imaginable and violates an
ideal. It is not thinkable. After you have seen it done, you say, as
Mr. Clemens is said to have said of bicycling: "Yes, I have seen it, but
it's impossible. It doesn't stand to reason."

Art, like law, is the perfection of reason, and whatever is unreasonable
in the work of an artist is inartistic. By the time I had reached these
bold conclusions I was ready to deduce a principle from them, and to
declare that in a true civilization such a thing as that Hamlet would be
forbidden, as an offence against public morals, a violence to something
precious and sacred.

In the absence of any public regulation the precious and sacred ideals in
the arts must be trusted to the several artists, who bring themselves to
judgment when they violate them. After Mme. Bernhardt was perversely
willing to attempt the part of Hamlet, the question whether she did it
well or not was of slight consequence. She had already made her failure
in wishing to play the part. Her wish impugned her greatness as an
artist; of a really great actress it would have been as unimaginable as
the assumption of a sublime feminine role by a really great actor. There
is an obscure law in this matter which it would be interesting to trace,
but for the present I must leave the inquiry with the reader. I can note
merely that it seems somehow more permissible for women in imaginary
actions to figure as men than for men to figure as women. In the theatre
we have conjectured how and why this may be, but the privilege, for less
obvious reasons, seems yet more liberally granted in fiction. A woman
may tell a story in the character of a man and not give offence, but a
man cannot write a novel in autobiographical form from the personality of
a woman without imparting the sense of something unwholesome. One feels
this true even in the work of such a master as Tolstoy, whose Katia is a
case in point. Perhaps a woman may play Hamlet with a less shocking
effect than a man may play Desdemona, but all the same she must not play
Hamlet at all. That sublime ideal is the property of the human
imagination, and may not be profaned by a talent enamoured of the
impossible. No harm could be done by the broadest burlesque, the most
irreverent travesty, for these would still leave the ideal untouched.
Hamlet, after all the horse-play, would be Hamlet; but Hamlet played by a
woman, to satisfy her caprice, or to feed her famine for a fresh effect,
is Hamlet disabled, for a long time, at least, in its vital essence.
I felt that it would take many returns to the Hamlet of Shakespeare to
efface the impression of Mme. Bernhardt's Hamlet; and as I prepared to
escape from my row of stalls in the darkening theatre, I experienced a
noble shame for having seen the Dane so disnatured, to use Mr. Lowell's
word. I had not been obliged to come; I had voluntarily shared in the
wrong done; by my presence I had made myself an accomplice in the wrong.
It was high ground, but not too high for me, and I recovered a measure of
self-respect in assuming it.


He had often heard of it. Connoisseurs of such matters, young newspaper
men trying to make literature out of life and smuggle it into print under
the guard of unwary editors, and young authors eager to get life into
their literature, had recommended it to him as one of the most impressive
sights of the city; and he had willingly agreed with them that he ought
to see it. He imagined it very dramatic, and he was surprised to find it
in his experience so largely subjective. If there was any drama at all
it was wholly in his own consciousness. But the thing was certainly
impressive in its way.


He thought it a great piece of luck that he should come upon it by
chance, and so long after he had forgotten about it that he was surprised
to recognize it for the spectacle he had often promised himself the
pleasure of seeing.

Pleasure is the right word; for pleasure of the painful sort that all
hedonists will easily imagine was what he expected to get from it; though
upon the face of it there seems no reason why a man should delight to see
his fellow-men waiting in the winter street for the midnight dole of
bread which must in some cases be their only meal from the last midnight
to the next midnight. But the mere thought of it gave him pleasure, and
the sight of it, from the very first instant. He was proud of knowing
just what it was at once, with the sort of pride which one has in knowing
an earthquake, though one has never felt one before. He saw the double
file of men stretching up one street, and stretching down the other from
the corner of the bakery where the loaves were to be given out on the
stroke of twelve, and he hugged himself in a luxurious content with his

It was all the more comfortable to do this because he was in a coup,
warmly shut against the sharp, wholesome Christmas-week weather, and was
wrapped to the chin in a long fur overcoat, which he wore that night as a
duty to his family, with a conscience against taking cold and alarming
them for his health. He now practised another piece of self-denial: he
let the cabman drive rapidly past the interesting spectacle, and carry
him to the house where he was going to fetch away the child from the
Christmas party. He wished to be in good time, so as to save the child
from anxiety about his coming; but he promised himself to stop, going
back, and glut his sensibility in a leisurely study of the scene. He got
the child, with her arms full of things from the Christmas-tree, into the
coup, and then he said to the cabman, respectfully leaning as far over
from his box to listen as his thick greatcoat would let him: "When you
get up there near that bakery again, drive slowly. I want to have a look
at those men."

"All right, sir," said the driver intelligently, and he found his why
skilfully out of the street among the high banks of the seasonable
Christmas-week snow, which the street-cleaners had heaped up there till
they could get round to it with their carts.

When they were in Broadway again it seemed lonelier and silenter than it
was a few minutes before. Except for their own coup, the cable-cars,
with their flaming foreheads, and the mechanical clangor of their gongs
at the corners, seemed to have it altogether to themselves. A tall,
lumbering United States mail van rolled by, and impressed my friend in
the coup with a cheap and agreeable sense of mystery relative to the
letters it was carrying to their varied destination at the Grand Central
Station. He listened with half an ear to the child's account of the fun
she had at the party, and he watched with both eyes for the sight of the
men waiting at the bakery for the charity of the midnight loaves.

He played with a fear that they might all have vanished, and with an
apprehension that the cabman might forget and whirl him rapidly by the
place where he had left them. But the driver remembered, and checked his
horses in good time; and there were the men still, but in even greater
number than before, stretching farther up Broadway and farther out along
the side street. They stood slouched in dim and solemn phalanx under the
night sky, so seasonably, clear and frostily atwinkle with Christmas-week
stars; two by two they stood, slouched close together, perhaps for their
mutual warmth, perhaps in an unconscious effort to get near the door
where the loaves were to be given out, in time to share in them before
they were all gone.


My friend's heart beat with glad anticipation. He was really to see this
important, this representative thing to the greatest possible advantage.
He rapidly explained to his companion that the giver of the midnight
loaves got rid of what was left of his daily bread in that way: the next
day it could not be sold, and he preferred to give it away to those who
needed it, rather than try to find his account in it otherwise. She
understood, and he tried to think that sometimes coffee was given with
the bread, but he could not make sure of this, though he would have liked
very much to have it done; it would have been much more dramatic.
Afterwards he learned that it was done, and he was proud of having
fancied it.

He decided that when he came alongside of the Broadway file he would get
out, and go to the side door of the bakery and watch the men receiving
the bread. Perhaps he would find courage to speak to them, and ask them
about themselves. At the time it did not strike him that it would be

A great many things about them were open to reasonable conjecture. It
was not probable that they were any of them there for their health, as
the saying is. They were all there because they were hungry, or else
they were there in behalf of some one else who was hungry. But it was
always possible that some of them were impostors, and he wondered if any
test was applied to them that would prove them deserving or undeserving.
If one were poor, one ought to be deserving; if one were rich, it did not
so much matter.

It seemed to him very likely that if he asked these men questions they
would tell him lies. A fantastic association of their double files and
those of the galley-slaves whom Don Quixote released, with the tonguey
Gines de Passamonte at their head, came into his mind. He smiled, and
then he thought how these men were really a sort of slaves and convicts
--slaves to want and self-convicted of poverty. All at once he fancied
them actually manacled there together, two by two, a coffle of captives
taken in some cruel foray, and driven to a market where no man wanted to
buy. He thought how old their slavery was; and he wondered if it would
ever be abolished, as other slaveries had been. Would the world ever
outlive it? Would some New-Year's day come when some President would
proclaim, amid some dire struggle, that their slavery was to be no more?
That would be fine.


He noticed how still the most of them were. A few of them stepped a
little out of the line, and stamped to shake off the cold; but all the
rest remained motionless, shrinking into themselves, and closer together.
They might have been their own dismal ghosts, they were so still, with no
more need of defence from the cold than the dead have.

He observed now that not one among them had a fur overcoat on; and at a
second glance he saw that there was not an overcoat of any kind among
them. He made his reflection that if any of them were impostors, and not
true men, with real hunger, and if they were alive to feel that stiff,
wholesome, Christmas-week cold, they were justly punished for their

He was interested by the celerity, the simultaneity of his impressions,
his reflections. It occurred to him that his abnormal alertness must be
something like that of a drowning person, or a person in mortal peril,
and being perfectly safe and well, he was obscurely flattered by the

To test his condition further he took note of the fine mass of the great
dry-goods store on the hither corner, blocking itself out of the
blue-black night, and of the Gothic beauty of the church beyond, so near
that the coffle of captives might have issued from its sculptured portal,
after vain prayer.

Fragments of conjecture, of speculation, drifted through his mind. How
early did these files begin to form themselves for the midnight dole of
bread? As early as ten, as nine o'clock? If so, did the fact argue
habitual destitution, or merely habitual leisure? Did the slaves in the
coffle make acquaintance, or remain strangers to one another, though they
were closely neighbored night after night by their misery? Perhaps they
joked away the weary hours of waiting; they must have their jokes. Which
of them were old-comers, and which novices? Did they ever quarrel over
questions of precedence? Had they some comity, some etiquette, which a
man forced to leave his place could appeal to, and so get it back? Could
one say to his next-hand man, "Will you please keep my place?" and would
this man say to an interloper, "Excuse me, this place is engaged"? How
was it with them, when the coffle worked slowly or swiftly past the door
where the bread and coffee were given out, and word passed to the rear
that the supply was exhausted? This must sometimes happen, and what did
they do then?


My friend did not quite like to think. Vague, reproachful thoughts for
all the remote and immediate luxury of his life passed through his mind.
If he reformed that and gave the saving to hunger and cold? But what was
the use? There was so much hunger, so much cold, that it could not go

The cabman was obeying his orders too faithfully. He was not only
walking by the Broadway coffle, he was creeping by. His action caught
the notice of the slaves, and as the coups passed them they all turned
and faced it, like soldiers under review making ready to salute a
superior. They were perfectly silent, perfectly respectful, but their
eyes seemed to pierce the coupe through and through.

My friend was suddenly aware of a certain quality of representivity; he
stood to these men for all the ease and safety that they could never,
never hope to know. He was Society: Society that was to be preserved
because it embodies Civilization. He wondered if they hated him in his
capacity of Better Classes. He no longer thought of getting out and
watching their behavior as they took their bread and coffee. He would
have liked to excuse that thought, and protest that he was ashamed of it;
that he was their friend, and wished them well--as well as might be
without the sacrifice of his own advantages or superfluities, which he
could have persuaded them would be perfectly useless. He put his hand on
that of his companion trembling on his arm with sympathy, or at least
with intelligence.

"You mustn't mind. What we are and what we do is all right. It's what
they are and what they suffer that's all wrong."


"Does that view of the situation still satisfy you?" I asked, when he
had told me of this singular experience; I liked his apparently not
coloring it at all.

"I don't know," he answered. "It seems to be the only way out."

"Well, it's an easy way," I admitted, "and it's an idea that ought to
gratify the midnight platoon."


I confess that I cannot hear people rejoice in their summer sojourn as
beyond the reach of excursionists without a certain rebellion; and yet I
have to confess also that after spending a Sunday afternoon of late July,
four or five years ago, with the excursionists at one of the beaches near
New York, I was rather glad that my own summer sojourn was not within
reach of them. I know very well that the excursionists must go
somewhere, and as a man and a brother I am willing they should go
anywhere, but as a friend of quiet and seclusion I should be sorry to
have them come much where I am. It is not because I would deny them a
share of any pleasure I enjoy, but because they are so many and I am so
few that I think they would get all the pleasure and I none. I hope the
reader will see how this attitude distinguishes me from the selfish
people who inhumanly exult in their remoteness from excursionists.


It was at Rockaway Beach that I saw these fellow-beings whose mere
multitude was too much for me. They were otherwise wholly without
offence towards me, and so far as I noted, towards each other; they were,
in fact, the most entirely peaceable multitude I ever saw in any country,
and the very quietest.

There were thousands, mounting well up towards tens of thousands, of
them, in every variety of age and sex; yet I heard no voice lifted above
the conversational level, except that of some infant ignorant of its
privileges in a day at the sea-side, or some showman crying the
attractions of the spectacle in his charge. I used to think the American
crowds rather boisterous and unruly, and many years ago, when I lived in
Italy, I celebrated the greater amiability and self-control of the
Italian crowds. But we have certainly changed all that within a
generation, and if what I saw the other day was a typical New York crowd,
then the popular joy of our poorer classes is no longer the terror it
once was to the peaceful observer. The tough was not visibly present,
nor the toughness, either of the pure native East Side stock or of the
Celtic extraction; yet there were large numbers of Americans with rather
fewer recognizable Irish among the masses, who were mainly Germans,
Russians, Poles, and the Jews of these several nationalities.

There was eating and drinking without limit, on every hand and in every
kind, at the booths abounding in fried seafood, and at the tables under
all the wide-spreading verandas of the hotels and restaurants; yet I saw
not one drunken man, and of course not any drunken women. No one that I
saw was even affected by drink, and no one was guilty of any rude or
unseemly behavior. The crowd was, in short, a monument to the democratic
ideal of life in that very important expression of life, personal
conduct, I have not any notion who or what the people were, or how
virtuous or vicious they privately might be; but I am sure that no
society assemblage could be of a goodlier outside; and to be of a goodly
outside is all that the mere spectator has a right to ask of any crowd.

I fancied, however, that great numbers of this crowd, or at least all the
Americans in it, were Long-Islanders from the inland farms and villages
within easy distance of the beach. They had probably the hereditary
habit of coming to it, for it was a favorite resort in the time of their
fathers and grandfathers, who had

          --"many an hour whiled away
          Listening to the breakers' roar
          That washed the beach at Rockaway."

But the clothing store and the paper pattern have equalized the cheaper
dress of the people so that you can no longer know citizen and countryman
apart by their clothes, still less citizeness and countrywoman; and I can
only conjecture that the foreign-looking folk I saw were from New York
and Brooklyn. They came by boat, and came and went by the continually
arriving and departing trains, and last but not least by bicycles, both
sexes. A few came in the public carriages and omnibuses of the
neighborhood, but by far the vaster number whom neither the boats nor the
trains had brought had their own vehicles, the all-pervading bicycles,
which no one seemed so poor as not to be able to keep. The bicyclers
stormed into the frantic village of the beach the whole afternoon, in the
proportion of one woman to five men, and most of these must have ridden
down on their wheels from the great cities. Boys ran about in the
roadway with bunches of brasses, to check the wheels, and put them for
safekeeping in what had once been the stable-yards of the hotels; the
restaurants had racks for them, where you could see them in solid masses,
side by side, for a hundred feet, and no shop was without its door-side
rack, which the wheelman might slide his wheel into when he stopped for a
soda, a cigar, or a sandwich. All along the road the gay bicycler and
bicycless swarmed upon the piazzas of the inns, munching, lunching, while
their wheels formed a fantastic decoration for the underpinning of the
house and a novel balustering for the steps.


The amusements provided for these throngs of people were not different
from those provided for throngs of people everywhere, who must be of much
the same mind and taste the world over. I had fine moments when I moved
in an illusion of the Midway Plaisance; again I was at the Fete de
Neuilly, with all of Paris but the accent about me; yet again the county
agricultural fairs of my youth spread their spectral joys before me. At
none of these places, however, was there a sounding sea or a mountainous
chute, and I made haste to experience the variety these afforded,
beginning with the chute, since the sea was always there, and the chute
might be closed for the day if I waited to view it last. I meant only to
enjoy the pleasure of others in it, and I confined my own participation
to the ascent of the height from which the boat plunges down the watery
steep into the oblong pool below. When I bought my ticket for the car
that carried passengers up, they gave me also a pasteboard medal,
certifying for me, "You have shot the chute," and I resolved to keep this
and show it to doubting friends as a proof of my daring; but it is a
curious evidence of my unfitness for such deceptions that I afterwards
could not find the medal. So I will frankly own that for me it was quite
enough to see others shoot the chute, and that I came tamely down myself
in the car. There is a very charming view from the top, of the sea with
its ships, and all the mad gayety of the shore, but of course my main
object was to exult in the wild absurdity of those who shot the chute.
There was always a lady among the people in the clumsy flat-boat that
flew down the long track, and she tried usually to be a pretty girl, who
clutched her friends and lovers and shrieked aloud in her flight; but
sometimes it was a sober mother of a family, with her brood about her,
who was probably meditating, all the way, the inculpation of their father
for any harm that came of it. Apparently no harm came of it in any case.

The boat struck the water with the impetus gained from a half-
perpendicular slide of a hundred feet, bounded high into the air, struck
again and again, and so flounced awkwardly across the pond to the farther
shore, where the passengers debarked and went away to commune with their
viscera, and to get their breath as they could. I did not ask any of
them what their emotions or sensations were, but, so far as I could
conjecture, the experience of shooting the chute must comprise the rare
transport of a fall from a ten-story building and the delight of a
tempestuous passage of the Atlantic, powerfully condensed.

The mere sight was so athletic that it took away any appetite I might
have had to witness the feats of strength performed by Madame La Noire at
the nearest booth on my coming out, though madame herself was at the
door-to testify, in her own living picture, how much muscular force may
be masked in vast masses of adipose. She had a weary, bored look, and
was not without her pathos, poor soul, as few of those are who amuse the
public; but I could not find her quite justifiable as a Sunday
entertainment. One forgot, however, what day it was, and for the time I
did not pretend to be so much better than my neighbors that I would not
compromise upon a visit to, an animal show a little farther on. It was a
pretty fair collection of beasts that had once been wild, perhaps, and in
the cage of the lions there was a slight, sad-looking, long-haired young
man, exciting them to madness by blows of a whip and pistol-shots whom I
was extremely glad to have get away without being torn in pieces, or at
least bitten in two. A little later I saw him at the door of the tent,
very breathless, dishevelled, and as to his dress not of the spotlessness
one could wish. But perhaps spotlessness is not compatible with the
intimacy of lions and lionesses. He had had his little triumph; one
spectator of his feat had declared that you would not see anything like
that at Coney Island; and soiled and dusty as he was in his cotton
tights, he was preferable to the living picture of a young lady whom he
replaced as an attraction of the show. It was professedly a moral show;
the manager exhorted us as we came out to say whether it was good or not;
and in the box-office sat a kind and motherly faced matron who would have
apparently abhorred to look upon a living picture at any distance, much
less have it at her elbow.

Upon the whole, there seemed a melancholy mistake in it all; the people
to whom the showmen made their appeal were all so much better, evidently,
than the showmen supposed; the showmen themselves appeared harmless
enough, and one could not say that there was personally any harm in the
living picture; rather she looked listless and dull, but as to the face
respectable enough.

I would not give the impression that most of the amusements were not in
every respect decorous. As a means of pleasure, the merry-go-round, both
horizontal with horses and vertical with swinging cradles, prevailed, and
was none the worse for being called by the French name of carrousel, for
our people aniglicize the word, and squeeze the last drop of Gallic
wickedness from it by pronouncing it carousal. At every other step there
were machines for weighing you and ascertaining your height; there were
photographers' booths, and X-ray apparatus for showing you the inside of
your watch; and in one open tent I saw a gentleman (with his back to the
public) having his fortune read in the lines of his hand by an Egyptian
seeress. Of course there was everywhere soda, and places of the softer
drinks abounded.


I think you could only get a hard drink by ordering something to eat and
sitting down to your wine or beer at a table. Again I say that I saw no
effects of drink in the crowd, and in one of the great restaurants built
out over the sea on piers, where there was perpetual dancing to the
braying of a brass-band, the cotillon had no fire imparted to its figures
by the fumes of the bar. In fact it was a very rigid sobriety that
reigned here, governing the common behavior by means of the placards
which hung from the roof over the heads of the dancers, and repeatedly
announced that gentlemen were not allowed to dance together, or to carry
umbrellas or canes while dancing, while all were entreated not to spit on
the floor.

The dancers looked happy and harmless, if not very wise or splendid; they
seemed people of the same simple neighborhoods, village lovers, young
wives and husbands, and parties of friends who had come together for the
day's pleasure. A slight mother, much weighed down by a heavy baby,
passed, rapt in an innocent envy of them, and I think she and the child's
father meant to join them as soon as they could find a place where to lay
it. Almost any place would do; at another great restaurant I saw two
chairs faced together, and a baby sleeping on them as quietly amid the
coming and going of lagers and frankfurters as if in its cradle at home.

Lagers and frankfurters were much in evidence everywhere, especially
frankfurters, which seemed to have whole booths devoted to broiling them.
They disputed this dignity with soft-shell crabs, and sections of eels,
piled attractively on large platters, or sizzling to an impassioned brown
in deep skillets of fat. The old acrid smell of frying brought back many
holidays of Italy to me, and I was again at times on the Riva at Venice,
and in the Mercato Vecchio at Florence. But the Continental Sunday
cannot be felt to have quite replaced the old American Sabbath yet; the
Puritan leaven works still, and though so many of our own people consent
willingly to the transformation, I fancy they always enjoy themselves on
Sunday with a certain consciousness of wrong-doing.


I have already said that the spectator quite lost sense of what day it
was. Nothing could be more secular than all the sights and sounds. It
was the Fourth of July, less the fire-crackers and the drunkenness, and
it was the high day of the week. But if it was very wicked, and I must
recognize that the scene would be shocking to most of my readers, I feel
bound to say that the people themselves did not look wicked. They looked
harmless; they even looked good, the most of them. I am sorry to say
they were not very good-looking. The women were pretty enough, and the
men were handsome enough; perhaps the average was higher in respect of
beauty than the average is anywhere else; I was lately from New England,
where the people were distinctly more hard-favored; but among all those
thousands at Rockaway I found no striking types. It may be that as we
grow older and our satisfaction with our own looks wanes, we become more
fastidious as to the looks of others. At any rate, there seems to be
much less beauty in the world than there was thirty or forty years ago.

On the other hand, the dresses seem indefinitely prettier, as they should
be in compensation. When we were all so handsome we could well afford to
wear hoops or peg-top trousers, but now it is different, and the poor
things must eke out their personal ungainliness with all the devices of
the modiste and the tailor. I do not mean that there was any distinction
in the dress of the crowd, but I saw nothing positively ugly or
grotesquely out of taste. The costumes were as good as the customs, and
I have already celebrated the manners of this crowd. I believe I must
except the costumes of the bicyclesses, who were unfailingly dumpy in
effect when dismounted, and who were all the more lamentable for
tottering about, in their short skirts, upon the tips of their narrow
little, sharp-pointed, silly high-heeled shoes. How severe I am!
But those high heels seemed to take all honesty from their daring in the
wholesome exercise of the wheel, and to keep them in the tradition of
cheap coquetry still, and imbecilly dependent.


I have almost forgotten in the interest of the human spectacle that there
is a sea somewhere about at Rockaway Beach, and it is this that the
people have come for. I might well forget that modest sea, it is so
built out of sight by the restaurants and bath-houses and switch-backs
and shops that border it, and by the hotels and saloons and shows flaring
along the road that divides the village, and the planked streets that
intersect this. But if you walk southward on any of the streets, you
presently find the planks foundering in sand, which drifts far up over
them, and then you find yourself in full sight of the ocean and the ocean
bathing. Swarms and heaps of people in all lolling and lying and
wallowing shapes strew the beach, and the water is full of slopping and
shouting and shrieking human creatures, clinging with bare white arms to
the life-lines that run from the shore to the buoys; beyond these the
lifeguard stays himself in his boat with outspread oars, and rocks on the
incoming surf.

All that you can say of it is that it is queer. It is not picturesque,
or poetic, or dramatic; it is queer. An enfilading glance gives this
impression and no other; if you go to the balcony of the nearest marine
restaurant for a flanking eye-shot, it is still queer, with the added
effect, in all those arms upstretched to the life-lines, of frogs' legs
inverted in a downward plunge.

On the sand before this spectacle I talked with a philosopher of humble
condition who backed upon me and knocked my umbrella out of my hand.
This made us beg each other's pardon; he said that he did not know I was
there, and I said it did not matter. Then we both looked at the bathing,
and he said:

"I don't like that."

"Why," I asked, "do you see any harm in it?"

"No. But I don't like the looks of it. It ain't nice. It's queer."

It was indeed like one of those uncomfortable dreams where you are not
dressed sufficiently for company, or perhaps at all, and yet are making a
very public appearance. This promiscuous bathing was not much in excess
of the convention that governs the sea-bathing of the politest people; it
could not be; and it was marked by no grave misconduct. Here and there a
gentleman was teaching a lady to swim, with his arms round her; here and
there a wild nereid was splashing another; a young Jew pursued a flight
of naiads with a section of dead eel in his hand. But otherwise all was
a damp and dreary decorum. I challenged my philosopher in vain for a
specific cause of his dislike of the scene.

Most of the people on the sand were in bathing-dress, but there were a
multitude of others who had apparently come for the sea-air and not the
sea-bathing. A mother sat with a sick child on her knees; babies were
cradled in the sand asleep, and people walked carefully round and over
them. There were everywhere a great many poor mothers and children, who
seemed getting the most of the good that was going.


But upon the whole, though I drove away from the beach celebrating the
good temper and the good order of the scene to an applausive driver, I
have since thought of it as rather melancholy. It was in fact no wiser
or livelier than a society function in the means of enjoyment it
afforded. The best thing about it was that it left the guests very much
to their own devices. The established pleasures were clumsy and
tiresome-looking; but one could eschew them. The more of them one
eschewed, the merrier perhaps; for I doubt if the race is formed for much
pleasure; and even a day's rest is more than most people can bear. They
endure it in passing, but they get home weary and cross, even after a
twenty-mile run on the wheel. The road, by-the-by, was full of homeward
wheels by this time, single and double and tandem, and my driver
professed that their multitude greatly increased the difficulties of his


It was in the old Roman arena of beautiful Verona that the circus events
I wish to speak of took place; in fact, I had the honor and profit of
seeing two circuses there. Or, strictly speaking, it was one entire
circus that I saw, and the unique speciality of another, the dying glory
of a circus on its last legs, the triumphal fall of a circus superb in


The entire circus was altogether Italian, with the exception of the
clowns, who, to the credit of our nation, are always Americans, or
advertised as such, in Italy. Its chief and almost absorbing event was a
reproduction of the tournament which had then lately been held at Rome in
celebration of Prince Tommaso's coming of age, and for a copy of a copy
it was really fine. It had fitness in the arena, which must have
witnessed many such mediaeval shows in their time, and I am sensible
still of the pleasure its effects of color gave me. There was one
beautiful woman, a red blonde in a green velvet gown, who might have
ridden, as she was, out of a canvas of Titian's, if he had ever painted
equestrian pictures, and who at any rate was an excellent Carpaccio.
Then, the 'Clowns Americani' were very amusing, from a platform devoted
solely to them, and it was a source of pride if not of joy with me to
think that we were almost the only people present who understood their
jokes. In the vast oval of the arena, however, the circus ring looked
very little, not half so large, say, as the rim of a lady's hat in front
of you at the play; and on the gradines of the ancient amphitheatre we
were all such a great way off that a good field-glass would have been
needed to distinguish the features of the actors. I could not make out,
therefore, whether the 'Clowns Americani' had the national expression or
not, but one of them, I am sorry to say, spoke the United States language
with a cockney accent. I suspect that he was an Englishman who had
passed himself off upon the Italian management as a true Yankee, and who
had formed himself upon our school of clowning, just as some of the
recent English humorists have patterned after certain famous wits of
ours. I do not know that I would have exposed this impostor, even if
occasion had offered, for, after all, his fraud was a tribute to our own
primacy in clowning, and the Veronese were none the worse for his erring

The audience was for me the best part of the spectacle, as the audience
always is in Italy, and I indulged my fancy in some cheap excursions
concerning the place and people. I reflected that it was the same race
essentially as that which used to watch the gladiatorial shows in that
arena when it was new, and that very possibly there were among these
spectators persons of the same blood as those Veronese patricians who had
left their names carved on the front of the gradines in places, to claim
this or that seat for their own. In fact, there was so little
difference, probably, in their qualities, from that time to this, that I
felt the process of the generations to be a sort of impertinence; and if
Nature had been present, I might very well have asked her why, when she
had once arrived at a given expression of humanity, she must go on
repeating it indefinitely? How were all those similar souls to know
themselves apart in their common eternity? Merely to have been
differently circumstanced in time did not seem enough; and I think Nature
would have been puzzled to answer me. But perhaps not; she may have had
her reasons, as that you cannot have too much of a good thing, and that
when the type was so fine in most respects as the Italian you could not
do better than go on repeating impressions from it.

Certainly I myself could have wished no variation from it in the young
officer of 'bersaglieri', who had come down from antiquity to the topmost
gradine of the arena over against me, and stood there defined against the
clear evening sky, one hand on his hip, and the other at his side, while
his thin cockerel plumes streamed in the light wind. I have since
wondered if he knew how beautiful he was, and I am sure that, if he did
not, all the women there did, and that was doubtless enough for the young
officer of 'bersaglieri'.


I think that he was preliminary to the sole event of that partial circus
I have mentioned. This event was one that I have often witnessed
elsewhere, but never in such noble and worthy keeping. The top of the
outer arena wall must itself be fifty feet high, and the pole in the
centre of its oval seemed to rise fifty feet higher yet. At its base an
immense net was stretched, and a man in a Prince Albert coat and a derby
hat was figuring about, anxiously directing the workmen who were fixing
the guy-ropes, and testing every particular of the preparation with his
own hands. While this went on, a young girl ran out into the arena, and,
after a bow to the spectators, quickly mounted to the top of the pole,
where she presently stood in statuesque beauty that took all eyes even
from the loveliness of the officer of 'bersaglieri'. There the man in
the Prince Albert coat and the derby hat stepped back from the net and
looked up at her.

She called down, in English that sounded like some delocalized,
denaturalized speech, it was so strange then and there, "Is it all

He shouted back in the same alienated tongue, "Yes; keep to the left,"
and she dived straight downward in the long plunge, till, just before she
reached the net, she turned a quick somersault into its elastic mesh.

It was all so exquisitely graceful that one forgot how wickedly dangerous
it was; but I think that the brief English colloquy was the great wonder
of the event for me, and I doubt if I could ever have been perfectly
happy again, if chance had not amiably suffered me to satisfy my
curiosity concerning the speakers. A few evenings after that, I was at
that copy of a copy of a tournament, and, a few gradines below me, I saw
the man of the Prince Albert coat and the derby hat. I had already made
up my mind that he was an American, for I supposed that an Englishman
would rather perish than wear such a coat with such a hat, and as I had
wished all my life to speak to a circus-man, I went down and boldly
accosted him. "Are you a brother Yankee?" I asked, and he laughed, and
confessed that he was an Englishman, but he said he was glad to meet any
one who spoke English, and he made a place for me by his side. He was
very willing to tell how he happened to be there, and he explained that
he was the manager of a circus, which had been playing to very good
business all winter in Spain. In an evil hour he decided to come to
Italy, but he found the prices so ruinously low that he was forced to
disband his company. This diving girl was all that remained to him of
its many attractions, and he was trying to make a living for both in a
country where the admission to a circus was six of our cents, with fifty
for a reserved seat. But he was about to give it up and come to America,
where he said Barnum had offered him an engagement. I hope he found it
profitable, and is long since an American citizen, with as good right as
any of us to wear a Prince Albert coat with a derby hat.


There used to be very good circuses in Venice, where many Venetians had
the only opportunity of their lives to see a horse. The horses were the
great attraction for them, and, perhaps in concession to their habitual
destitution in this respect, the riding was providentially very good. It
was so good that it did not bore me, as circus-riding mostly does,
especially that of the silk-clad jockey who stands in his high boots, on
his back-bared horse, and ends by waving an American flag in triumph at
having been so tiresome.

I am at a loss to know why they make such an ado about the lady who jumps
through paper hoops, which have first had holes poked in them to render
her transit easy, or why it should be thought such a merit in her to hop
over a succession of banners which are swept under her feet in a manner
to minify her exertion almost to nothing, but I observe it is so at all
circuses. At my first Venetian circus, which was on a broad expanse of
the Riva degli Schiavoni, there was a girl who flung herself to the
ground and back to her horse again, holding by his mane with one hand,
quite like the goddess out of the bath-gown at my village circus the
other day; and apparently there are more circuses in the world than
circus events. It must be as hard to think up anything new in that kind
as in romanticistic fiction, which circus-acting otherwise largely

At a circus which played all one winter in Florence I saw for the first
time-outside of polite society--the clown in evening dress, who now seems
essential to all circuses of metropolitan pretensions, and whom I missed
so gladly at my village circus. He is nearly as futile as the lady
clown, who is one of the saddest and strangest developments of New

Of the clowns who do not speak, I believe I like most the clown who
catches a succession of peak-crowned soft hats on his head, when thrown
across the ring by an accomplice. This is a very pretty sight always,
and at the Hippodrome in Paris I once saw a gifted creature take his
stand high up on the benches among the audience and catch these hats on
his head from a flight of a hundred feet through the air. This made me
proud of human nature, which is often so humiliating; and altogether I do
not think that after a real country circus there are many better things
in life than the Hippodrome. It had a state, a dignity, a smoothness, a
polish, which I should not know where to match, and when the superb coach
drove into the ring to convey the lady performers to the scene of their
events, there was a majesty in the effect which I doubt if courts have
the power to rival. Still, it should be remembered that I have never
been at court, and speak from a knowledge of the Hippodrome only.


"I see," said my friend, "that you have been writing a good deal about
the theatre during the past winter. You have been attacking its high
hats and its high prices, and its low morals; and I suppose that you
think you have done good, as people call it."


This seemed like a challenge of some sort, and I prepared myself to take
it up warily. I said I should be very sorry to do good, as people called
it; because such a line of action nearly always ended in spiritual pride
for the doer and general demoralization for the doee. Still, I said, a
law had lately been passed in Ohio giving a man who found himself behind
a high hat at the theatre a claim for damages against the manager; and if
the passage of this law could be traced ever so faintly and indirectly to
my teachings, I should not altogether grieve for the good I had done.
I added that if all the States should pass such a law, and other laws
fixing a low price for a certain number of seats at the theatres, or
obliging the managers to give one free performance every month, as the
law does in Paris, and should then forbid indecent and immoral plays--

"I see what you mean," said my friend, a little impatiently. "You mean
sumptuary legislation. But I have not come to talk to you upon that
subject, for then you would probably want to do all the talking yourself.
I want to ask you if you have visited any of the cheaper amusements of
this metropolis, or know anything of the really clever and charming
things one may see there for a very little money."

"Ten cents, for instance?"


I answered that I would never own to having come as low down as that; and
I expressed a hardy and somewhat inconsistent doubt of the quality of the
amusement that could be had for that money. I questioned if anything
intellectual could be had for it.

"What do you say to the ten-cent magazines?" my friend retorted. "And
do you pretend that the two-dollar drama is intellectual?"

I had to confess that it generally was not, and that this was part of my
grief with it.

Then he said: "I don't contend that it is intellectual, but I say that it
is often clever and charming at the ten-cent shows, just as it is less
often clever and charming in the ten-cent magazines. I think the average
of propriety is rather higher than it is at the two-dollar theatres; and
it is much more instructive at the ten-cent shows, if you come to that.
The other day," said my friend, and in squaring himself comfortably in
his chair and finding room for his elbow on the corner of my table he
knocked off some books for review, "I went to a dime museum for an hour
that I had between two appointments, and I must say that I never passed
an hour's time more agreeably. In the curio hall, as one of the
lecturers on the curios called it--they had several lecturers in white
wigs and scholars' caps and gowns--there was not a great deal to see, I
confess; but everything was very high-class. There was the inventor of a
perpetual motion, who lectured upon it and explained it from a diagram.
There was a fortune-teller in a three-foot tent whom I did not interview;
there were five macaws in one cage, and two gloomy apes in another. On a
platform at the end of the hall was an Australian family a good deal
gloomier than the apes, who sat in the costume of our latitude, staring
down the room with varying expressions all verging upon melancholy
madness, and who gave me such a pang of compassion as I have seldom got
from the tragedy of the two-dollar theatres. They allowed me to come
quite close up to them, and to feed my pity upon their wild dejection in
exile without stint. I couldn't enter into conversation with them, and
express my regret at finding them so far from their native boomerangs and
kangaroos and pinetree grubs, but I know they felt my sympathy, it was so
evident. I didn't see their performance, and I don't know that they had
any. They may simply have been there ethnologically, but this was a good
object, and the sight of their spiritual misery was alone worth the price
of admission.

"After the inventor of the perpetual motion had brought his harangue to a
close, we all went round to the dais where a lady in blue spectacles
lectured us upon a fire-escape which she had invented, and operated a
small model of it. None of the events were so exciting that we could
regret it when the chief lecturer announced that this was the end of the
entertainment in the curio hall, and that now the performance in the
theatre was about to begin. He invited us to buy tickets at an
additional charge of five, ten, or fifteen cents for the gallery,
orchestra circle, or orchestra.

"I thought I could afford an orchestra stall, for once. We were three in
the orchestra, another man and a young mother, not counting the little
boy she had with her; there were two people in the gallery, and a dozen
at least in the orchestra circle. An attendant shouted, 'Hats off!' and
the other man and I uncovered, and a lady came up from under the stage
and began to play the piano in front of it. The curtain rose, and the
entertainment began at once. It was a passage apparently from real life,
and it involved a dissatisfied boarder and the daughter of the landlady.
There was not much coherence in it, but there was a good deal of
conscience on the part of the actors, who toiled through it with
unflagging energy. The young woman was equipped for the dance she
brought into it at one point rather than for the part she had to sustain
in the drama. It was a very blameless dance, and she gave it as if she
was tired of it, but was not going to falter. She delivered her lines
with a hard, Southwestern accent, and I liked fancying her having come up
in a simpler-hearted section of the country than ours, encouraged by a
strong local belief that she was destined to do Juliet and Lady Macbeth,
or Peg Woffington at the least; but very likely she had not.

"Her performance was followed by an event involving a single character.
The actor, naturally, was blackened as to his skin, but as to his dress
he was all in white, and at the first glance I could see that he had
temperament. I suspect that he thought I had, too, for he began to
address his entire drama to me. This was not surprising, for it would
not have been the thing for him to single out the young mother; and the
other man in the orchestra stalls seemed a vague and inexperienced youth,
whom he would hardly have given the preference over me. I felt the
compliment, but upon the whole it embarrassed me; it was too intimate,
and it gave me a publicity I would willingly have foregone. I did what I
could to reject it, by feigning an indifference to his jokes; I even
frowned a measure of disapproval; but this merely stimulated his
ambition. He was really a merry creature, and when he had got off a
number of very good things which were received in perfect silence, and
looked over his audience with a woe-begone eye, and said, with an effect
of delicate apology, 'I hope I'm not disturbing you any,' I broke down
and laughed, and that delivered me into his hand. He immediately said to
me that now he would tell me about a friend of his, who had a pretty
large family, eight of them living, and one in Philadelphia; and then for
no reason he seemed to change his mind, and said he would sing me a song
written expressly for him--by an expressman; and he went on from one wild
gayety to another, until he had worked his audience up to quite a frenzy
of enthusiasm, and almost had a recall when he went off.

"I was rather glad to be rid of him, and I was glad that the next
performers, who were a lady and a gentleman contortionist of Spanish-
American extraction, behaved more impartially. They were really
remarkable artists in their way, and though it's a painful way, I
couldn't help admiring their gift in bowknots and other difficult poses.
The gentleman got abundant applause, but the lady at first got none. I
think perhaps it was because, with the correct feeling that prevailed
among us, we could not see a lady contort herself with so much approval
as a gentleman, and that there was a wound to our sense of propriety in
witnessing her skill. But I could see that the poor girl was hurt in her
artist pride by our severity, and at the next thing she did I led off the
applause with my umbrella. She instantly lighted up with a joyful smile,
and the young mother in the orchestra leaned forward to nod her sympathy
to me while she clapped. We were fast becoming a domestic circle, and it
was very pleasant, but I thought that upon the whole I had better go."

"And do you think you had a profitable hour at that show?" I asked, with
a smile that was meant to be sceptical.

"Profitable?" said my friend. "I said agreeable. I don't know about
the profit. But it was very good variety, and it was very cheap. I
understand that this is the kind of thing you want the two-dollar theatre
to come down to, or up to."

"Not exactly, or not quite," I returned, thoughtfully, "though I must say
I think your time was as well spent as it would have been at most of the
plays I have seen this winter."

My friend left the point, and said, with a dreamy air: "It was all very
pathetic, in a way. Three out of those five people were really clever,
and certainly artists. That colored brother was almost a genius, a very
common variety of genius, but still a genius, with a gift for his calling
that couldn't be disputed. He was a genuine humorist, and I sorrowed
over him--after I got safely away from his intimacy--as I should over
some author who was struggling along without winning his public. Why
not? One is as much in the show business as the other. There is a
difference of quality rather than of kind. Perhaps by-and-by my colored
humorist will make a strike with his branch of the public, as you are
always hoping to do with yours."

"You don't think you're making yourself rather offensive?" I suggested.

"Not intentionally. Aren't the arts one? How can you say that any art
is higher than the others? Why is it nobler to contort the mind than to
contort the body?"

"I am always saying that it is not at all noble to contort the mind,"
I returned, "and I feel that to aim at nothing higher than the amusement
of your readers is to bring yourself most distinctly to the level of the
show business."

"Yes, I know that is your pose," said my friend. "And I dare say you
really think that you make a distinction in facts when you make a
distinction in terms. If you don't amuse your readers, you don't keep
them; practically, you cease to exist. You may call it interesting them,
if you like; but, really, what is the difference? You do your little
act, and because the stage is large and the house is fine, you fancy you
are not of that sad brotherhood which aims to please in humbler places,
with perhaps cruder means--"

"I don't know whether I like your saws less than your instances, or your
instances less than your saws," I broke in. "Have you been at the circus


"Yet?" demanded my friend. "I went the first night, and I have been a
good deal interested in the examination of my emotions ever since.
I can't find out just why I have so much pleasure in the trapeze.
Half the time I want to shut my eyes, and a good part of the time I do
look away; but I wouldn't spare any actor the most dangerous feat.
One of the poor girls, that night, dropped awkwardly into the net after
her performance, and limped off to the dressing-room with a sprained
ankle. It made me rather sad to think that now she must perhaps give up
her perilous work for a while, and pay a doctor, and lose her salary, but
it didn't take away my interest in the other trapezists flying through
the air above another net.

"If I had honestly complained of anything it would have been of the
superfluity which glutted rather than fed me. How can you watch three
sets of trapezists at once? You really see neither well. It's the same
with the three rings. There should be one ring, and each act should have
a fair chance with the spectator, if it took six hours; I would willingly
give the time. Fancy three stages at the theatre, with three plays going
on at once!"

"No, don't fancy that!" I entreated. "One play is bad enough."

"Or fancy reading three novels simultaneously, and listening at the same
time to a lecture and a sermon, which could represent the two platforms
between the rings," my friend calmly persisted. "The three rings are an
abuse and an outrage, but I don't know but I object still more to the
silencing of the clowns. They have a great many clowns now, but they are
all dumb, and you only get half the good you used to get out of the
single clown of the old one-ring circus. Why, it's as if the literary
humorist were to lead up to a charming conceit or a subtle jest, and then
put asterisks where the humor ought to come in."

"Don't you think you are going from bad to worse?" I asked.

My friend went on: "I'm afraid the circus is spoiled for me. It has
become too much of a good thing; for it is a good thing; almost the best
thing in the way of an entertainment that there is. I'm still very fond
of it, but I come away defeated and defrauded because I have been
embarrassed with riches, and have been given more than I was able to
grasp. My greed has been overfed. I think I must keep to those
entertainments where you can come at ten in the morning and stay till ten
at night, with a perpetual change of bill, only one stage, and no fall of
the curtain. I suppose you would object to them because they're getting
rather dear; at the best of them now they ask you a dollar for the first

I said that I did not think this too much for twelve hours, if the
intellectual character of the entertainment was correspondingly high.

"It's as high as that of some magazines," said my friend, "though I could
sometimes wish it were higher. It's like the matter in the Sunday
papers--about that average. Some of it's good, and most of it isn't.
Some of it could hardly be worse. But there is a great deal of it, and
you get it consecutively and not simultaneously. That constitutes its
advantage over the circus."

My friend stopped, with a vague smile, and I asked:

"Then, do I understand that you would advise me to recommend the dime
museums, the circus, and the perpetual-motion varieties in the place of
the theatres?"

"You have recommended books instead, and that notion doesn't seem to have
met with much favor, though you urged their comparative cheapness. Now,
why not suggest something that is really level with the popular taste?"


A recently lecturing Englishman is reported to have noted the unenviable
primacy of the United States among countries where the struggle for
material prosperity has been disastrous to the pursuit of literature.
He said, or is said to have said (one cannot be too careful in
attributing to a public man the thoughts that may be really due to an
imaginative frame in the reporter), that among us, "the old race of
writers of distinction, such as Longfellow, Bryant, Holmes, and
Washington Irving, have (sic) died out, and the Americans who are most
prominent in cultivated European opinion in art or literature, like
Sargent, Henry James, or Marion Crawford, live habitually out of America,
and draw their inspiration from England, France, and Italy."


If this were true, I confess that I am so indifferent to what many
Americans glory in that it would not distress me, or wound me in the sort
of self-love which calls itself patriotism. If it would at all help to
put an end to that struggle for material prosperity which has eventuated
with us in so many millionaires and so many tramps, I should be glad to
believe that it was driving our literary men out of the country. This
would be a tremendous object-lesson, and might be a warning to the
millionaires and the tramps. But I am afraid it would not have this
effect, for neither our very rich nor our very poor care at all for the
state of polite learning among us; though for the matter of that, I
believe that economic conditions have little to do with it; and that if a
general mediocrity of fortune prevailed and there were no haste to be
rich and to get poor, the state of polite learning would not be
considerably affected. As matters stand, I think we may reasonably ask
whether the Americans "most prominent in cultivated European opinion,"
the Americans who "live habitually out of America," are not less exiles
than advance agents of the expansion now advertising itself to the world.
They may be the vanguard of the great army of adventurers destined to
overrun the earth from these shores, and exploit all foreign countries to
our advantage. They probably themselves do not know it, but in the act
of "drawing their inspiration" from alien scenes, or taking their own
where they find it, are not they simply transporting to Europe "the
struggle for material prosperity," which Sir Lepel supposes to be fatal
to them here?

There is a question, however, which comes before this, and that is the
question whether they have quitted us in such numbers as justly to alarm
our patriotism. Qualitatively, in the authors named and in the late Mr.
Bret Harte, Mr. Harry Harland, and the late Mr. Harold Frederic, as well
as in Mark Twain, once temporarily resident abroad, the defection is very
great; but quantitatively it is not such as to leave us without a fair
measure of home-keeping authorship. Our destitution is not nearly so
great now in the absence of Mr. James and Mr. Crawford as it was in the
times before the "struggle for material prosperity" when Washington
Irving went and lived in England and on the European continent well-nigh
half his life.

Sir Lepel Griffin--or Sir Lepel Griffin's reporter--seems to forget the
fact of Irving's long absenteeism when he classes him with "the old race"
of eminent American authors who stayed at home. But really none of those
he names were so constant to our air as he seems--or his reporter seems
--to think. Longfellow sojourned three or four years in Germany, Spain,
and Italy; Holmes spent as great time in Paris; Bryant was a frequent
traveller, and each of them "drew his inspiration" now and then from
alien sources. Lowell was many years in Italy, Spain, and England;
Motley spent more than half his life abroad; Hawthorne was away from us
nearly a decade.


If I seem to be proving too much in one way, I do not feel that I am
proving too much in another. My facts go to show that the literary
spirit is the true world-citizen, and is at home everywhere. If any good
American were distressed by the absenteeism of our authors, I should
first advise him that American literature was not derived from the
folklore of the red Indians, but was, as I have said once before,
a condition of English literature, and was independent even of our
independence. Then I should entreat him to consider the case of foreign
authors who had found it more comfortable or more profitable to live out
of their respective countries than in them. I should allege for his
consolation the case of Byron, Shelley, and Leigh Hunt, and more latterly
that of the Brownings and Walter Savage Landor, who preferred an Italian
to an English sojourn; and yet more recently that of Mr. Rudyard Kipling,
who voluntarily lived several years in Vermont, and has "drawn his
inspiration" in notable instances from the life of these States. It will
serve him also to consider that the two greatest Norwegian authors,
Bjornsen and Ibsen, have both lived long in France and Italy. Heinrich
Heine loved to live in Paris much better than in Dusseldorf, or even in
Hamburg; and Tourguenief himself, who said that any man's country could
get on without him, but no man could get on without his country, managed
to dispense with his own in the French capital, and died there after he
was quite free to go back to St. Petersburg. In the last century Rousseau
lived in France rather than Switzerland; Voltaire at least tried to live
in Prussia, and was obliged to a long exile elsewhere; Goldoni left fame
and friends in Venice for the favor of princes in Paris.

Literary absenteeism, it seems to me, is not peculiarly an American vice
or an American virtue. It is an expression and a proof of the modern
sense which enlarges one's country to the bounds of civilization.
I cannot think it justly a reproach in the eyes of the world, and if any
American feels it a grievance, I suggest that he do what he can to have
embodied in the platform of his party a plank affirming the right of
American authors to a public provision that will enable them to live as
agreeably at home as they can abroad on the same money. In the mean
time, their absenteeism is not a consequence of "the struggle for
material prosperity," not a high disdain of the strife which goes on not
less in Europe than in America, and must, of course, go on everywhere as
long as competitive conditions endure, but is the result of chances and
preferences which mean nothing nationally calamitous or discreditable.


"As good as the circus--not so good as the circus--better than the
circus." These were my varying impressions, as I sat looking down upon
the tanbark, the other day, at the Horse Show in Madison Square Garden;
and I came away with their blend for my final opinion.


I might think that the Horse Show (which is so largely a Man Show and a
Woman Show) was better or worse than the circus, or about as good; but I
could not get away from the circus, in my impression of it. Perhaps the
circus is the norm of all splendors where the horse and his master are
joined for an effect upon the imagination of the spectator. I am sure
that I have never been able quite to dissociate from it the
picturesqueness of chivalry, and that it will hereafter always suggest to
me the last correctness of fashion. It is through the horse that these
far extremes meet; in all times the horse has been the supreme expression
of aristocracy; and it may very well be that a dream of the elder world
prophesied the ultimate type of the future, when the Swell shall have
evolved into the Centaur.

Some such teasing notion of their mystical affinity is what haunts you as
you make your round of the vast ellipse, with the well-groomed men about
you and the well-groomed horses beyond the barrier.

In this first affair of the new-comer, the horses are not so much on
show as the swells; you get only glimpses of shining coats and tossing
manes, with a glint here and there of a flying hoof through the lines of
people coming and going, and the ranks of people, three or four feet
deep, against the rails of the ellipse; but the swells are there in
perfect relief, and it is they who finally embody the Horse Show to you.
The fact is that they are there to see, of course, but the effect is that
they are there to be seen.

The whole spectacle had an historical quality, which I tasted with
pleasure. It was the thing that had eventuated in every civilization,
and the American might feel a characteristic pride that what came to Rome
in five hundred years had come to America in a single century. There was
something fine in the absolutely fatal nature of the result, and I
perceived that nowhere else in our life, which is apt to be reclusive in
its exclusiveness, is the prime motive at work in it so dramatically
apparent. "Yes," I found myself thinking, "this is what it all comes to:
the 'subiti guadagni' of the new rich, made in large masses and seeking a
swift and eager exploitation, and the slowly accumulated fortunes, put
together from sparing and scrimping, from slaving and enslaving, in
former times, and now in the stainless white hands of the second or third
generation, they both meet here to the purpose of a common ostentation,
and create a Horse Show."

I cannot say that its creators looked much as if they liked it, now they
had got it; and, so far as I have been able to observe them, people of
wealth and fashion always dissemble their joy, and have the air of being
bored in the midst of their amusements. This reserve of rapture may be
their delicacy, their unwillingness to awaken envy in the less prospered;
and I should not have objected to the swells at the Horse Show looking
dreary if they had looked more like swells; except for a certain hardness
of the countenance (which I found my own sympathetically taking on) I
should not have thought them very patrician, and this hardness may have
been merely the consequence of being so much stared at. Perhaps, indeed,
they were not swells whom I saw in the boxes, but only companies of
ordinary people who had clubbed together and hired their boxes;
I understand that this can be done, and the student of civilization so
far misled. But certainly if they were swells they did not look quite up
to themselves; though, for that matter, neither do the nobilities of
foreign countries, and on one or two occasions when I have seen them,
kings and emperors have failed me in like manner. They have all wanted
that indescribable something which I have found so satisfying in
aristocracies and royalties on the stage; and here at the Horse Show,
while I made my tour, I constantly met handsome, actor-like folk on foot
who could much better have taken the role of the people in the boxes.
The promenaders may not have been actors at all; they may have been the
real thing for which I was in vain scanning the boxes, but they looked
like actors, who indeed set an example to us all in personal beauty and
in correctness of dress.

I mean nothing offensive either to swells or to actors. We have not
distinction, as a people; Matthew Arnold noted that; and it is not our
business to have it: When it is our business our swells will have it,
just as our actors now have it, especially our actors of English birth.
I had not this reflection about me at the time to console me for my
disappointment, and it only now occurs to me that what I took for an
absence of distinction may have been such a universal prevalence of it
that the result was necessarily a species of indistinction. But in the
complexion of any social assembly we Americans are at a disadvantage with
Europeans from the want of uniforms. A few military scattered about in
those boxes, or even a few sporting bishops in shovel-hats and aprons,
would have done much to relieve them from the reproach I have been
heaping upon them. Our women, indeed, poor things, always do their duty
in personal splendor, and it is not of a poverty in their modes at the
Horse Show that I am complaining. If the men had borne their part as
well, there would not have been these tears: and yet, what am I saying?
There was here and there a clean-shaven face (which I will not believe
was always an actor's), and here and there a figure superbly set up, and
so faultlessly appointed as to shoes, trousers, coat, tie, hat, and
gloves as to have a salience from the mass of good looks and good clothes
which I will not at last call less than distinction.


At any rate, I missed these marked presences when I left the lines of the
promenaders around the ellipse, and climbed to a seat some tiers above
the boxes. I am rather anxious to have it known that my seat was not one
of those cheap ones in the upper gallery, but was with the virtuous poor
who could afford to pay a dollar and a half for their tickets. I bought
it of a speculator on the sidewalk, who said it was his last, so that I
conceived it the last in the house; but I found the chairs by no means
all filled, though it was as good an audience as I have sometimes seen in
the same place at other circuses. The people about me were such as I had
noted at the other circuses, hotel-sojourners, kindly-looking comers from
provincial towns and cities, whom I instantly felt myself at home with,
and free to put off that gloomy severity of aspect which had grown upon
me during my association with the swells below. My neighbors were
sufficiently well dressed, and if they had no more distinction than their
betters, or their richers, they had not the burden of the occasion upon
them, and seemed really glad of what was going on in the ring.

There again I was sensible of the vast advantage of costume. The bugler
who stood up at one end of the central platform and blew a fine fanfare
(I hope it was a fanfare) towards the gates where the horses were to
enter from their stalls in the basement was a hussar-like shape that
filled my romantic soul with joy; and the other figures of the management
I thought very fortunate compromises between grooms and ringmasters. At
any rate, their nondescript costumes were gay, and a relief from the
fashions in the boxes and the promenade; they were costumes, and costumes
are always more sincere, if not more effective, than fashions. As I have
hinted, I do not know just what costumes they were, but they took the
light well from the girandole far aloof and from the thousands of little
electric bulbs that beaded the roof in long lines, and dispersed the
sullenness of the dull, rainy afternoon. When the knights entered the
lists on the seats of their dog-carts, with their squires beside them,
and their shining tandems before them, they took the light well, too, and
the spectacle was so brilliant that I trust my imagery may be forgiven a
novelist pining for the pageantries of the past. I do not know to this
moment whether these knights were bona fide gentlemen, or only their
deputies, driving their tandems for them, and I am equally at a loss to
account for the variety, of their hats. Some wore tall, shining silk
hats; some flat-topped, brown derbys; some simple black pot-hats;--and is
there, then, no rigor as to the head-gear of people driving tandems?
I felt that there ought to be, and that there ought to be some rule as to
where the number of each tandem should be displayed. As it was, this was
sometimes carelessly stuck into the seat of the cart; sometimes it was
worn at the back of the groom's waist, and sometimes full upon his
stomach. In the last position it gave a touch of burlesque which wounded
me; for these are vital matters, and I found myself very exacting in

With the horses themselves I could find no fault upon the grounds of my
censure of the show in some other ways. They had distinction; they were
patrician; they were swell. They felt it, they showed it, they rejoiced
in it; and the most reluctant observer could not deny them the glory of
blood, of birth, which the thoroughbred horse has expressed in all lands
and ages. Their lordly port was a thing that no one could dispute, and
for an aristocracy I suppose that they had a high average of
intelligence, though there might be two minds about this. They made me
think of mettled youths and haughty dames; they abashed the humble spirit
of the beholder with the pride of their high-stepping, their curvetting
and caracoling, as they jingled in their shining harness around the long
ring. Their noble uselessness took the fancy, for I suppose that there
is nothing so superbly superfluous as a tandem, outside or inside of the
best society. It is something which only the ambition of wealth and
unbroken leisure can mount to; and I was glad that the display of tandems
was the first event of the Horse Show which I witnessed, for it seemed to
me that it must beyond all others typify the power which created the
Horse Show. I wished that the human side of it could have been more
unquestionably adequate, but the equine side of the event was perfect.
Still, I felt a certain relief, as in something innocent and simple and
childlike, in the next event.


This was the inundation of the tan-bark with troops of pretty Shetland
ponies of all ages, sizes, and colors. A cry of delight went up from a
group of little people near me, and the spell of the Horse Show was
broken. It was no longer a solemnity of fashion, it was a sweet and
kindly pleasure which every one could share, or every one who had ever
had, or ever wished to have, a Shetland pony; the touch of nature made
the whole show kin. I could not see that the freakish, kittenish
creatures did anything to claim our admiration, but they won our
affection by every trait of ponyish caprice and obstinacy. The small
colts broke away from the small mares, and gambolled over the tanbark in
wanton groups, with gay or plaintive whinnyings, which might well have
touched a responsive chord in the bosom of fashion itself: I dare say it
is not so hard as it looks. The scene remanded us to a moment of
childhood; and I found myself so fond of all the ponies that I felt it
invidious of the judges to choose among them for the prizes; they ought
every one to have had the prize.

I suppose a Shetland pony is not a very useful animal in our conditions;
no doubt a good, tough, stubbed donkey would be worth all their tribe
when it came down to hard work; but we cannot all be hard-working
donkeys, and some of us may be toys and playthings without too great
reproach. I gazed after the broken, refluent wave of these amiable
creatures, with the vague toleration here formulated, but I was not quite
at peace in it, or fully consoled in my habitual ethicism till the next
event brought the hunters with their high-jumping into the ring. These
noble animals unite use and beauty in such measure that the censor must
be of Catonian severity who can refuse them his praise. When I reflected
that by them and their devoted riders our civilization had been
assimilated to that of the mother-country in its finest expression, and
another tie added to those that bind us to her through the language of
Shakespeare and Milton; that they had tamed the haughty spirit of the
American farmer in several parts of the country so that he submitted for
a consideration to have his crops ridden over, and that they had all but
exterminated the ferocious anise-seed bag, once so common and destructive
among us, I was in a fit mood to welcome the bars and hurdles which were
now set up at four or five places for the purposes of the high-jumping.
As to the beauty of the hunting-horse, though, I think I must hedge a
little, while I stand firmly to my admiration of his use. To be honest,
the tandem horse is more to my taste. He is better shaped, and he bears
himself more proudly. The hunter is apt to behave, whatever his reserve
of intelligence, like an excited hen; he is apt to be ewe-necked and bred
away to nothing where the ideal horse abounds; he has the behavior of a
turkey-hen when not behaving like the common or garden hen. But there
can be no question of his jumping, which seems to be his chief business
in a world where we are all appointed our several duties, and I at once
began to take a vivid pleasure in his proficiency. I have always felt a
blind and insensate joy in running races, which has no relation to any
particular horse, and I now experienced an impartial rapture in the
performances of these hunters. They looked very much alike, and if it
had not been for the changing numbers on the sign-board in the centre of
the ring announcing that 650, 675, or 602 was now jumping, I might have
thought it was 650 all the time.

A high jump is not so fine a sight as a running race when the horses have
got half a mile away and look like a covey of swift birds, but it is
still a fine sight. I became very fastidious as to which moment of it
was the finest, whether when the horse rose in profile, or when his
aerial hoof touched the ground (with the effect of half jerking his
rider's head half off), or when he showed a flying heel in perspective;
and I do not know to this hour which I prefer. But I suppose I was
becoming gradually spoiled by my pleasure, for as time went on I noticed
that I was not satisfied with the monotonous excellence of the horses'
execution. Will it be credited that I became willing something should
happen, anything, to vary it? I asked myself why, if some of the more
exciting incidents of the hunting-field which I had read of must befall;
I should not see them. Several of the horses had balked at the barriers,
and almost thrown their riders across them over their necks, but not
quite done it; several had carried away the green-tufted top rail with
their heels; when suddenly there came a loud clatter from the farther
side of the ellipse, where a whole panel of fence had gone down. I
looked eagerly for the prostrate horse and rider under the bars, but they
were cantering safely away.


It was enough, however. I perceived that I was becoming demoralized, and
that if I were to write of the Horse Show with at all the superiority one
likes to feel towards the rich and great, I had better come away. But I
came away critical, even in my downfall, and feeling that, circus for
circus, the Greatest Show on Earth which I had often seen in that place
had certain distinct advantages of the Horse Show. It had three rings
and two platforms; and, for another thing, the drivers and riders in the
races, when they won, bore the banner of victory aloft in their hands,
instead of poorly letting a blue or red ribbon flicker at their horses'
ears. The events were more frequent and rapid; the costumes infinitely
more varied and picturesque. As for the people in the boxes, I do not
know that they were less distinguished than these at the Horse Show, but
if they were not of the same high level in which distinction was
impossible, they did not show it in their looks.

The Horse Show, in fine, struck me as a circus of not all the first
qualities; and I had moments of suspecting that it was no more than the
evolution of the county cattle show. But in any case I had to own that
its great success was quite legitimate; for the horse, upon the whole,
appeals to a wider range of humanity, vertically as well as horizontally,
than any other interest, not excepting politics or religion. I cannot,
indeed, regard him as a civilizing influence; but then we cannot be
always civilizing.


It has sometimes seemed to me that the solution of the problem how and
where to spend the summer was simplest with those who were obliged to
spend it as they spent the winter, and increasingly difficult in the
proportion of one's ability to spend it wherever and however one chose.
Few are absolutely released to this choice, however, and those few are
greatly to be pitied. I know that they are often envied and hated for it
by those who have no such choice, but that is a pathetic mistake. If we
could look into their hearts, indeed, we should witness there so much
misery that we should wish rather to weep over them than to reproach them
with their better fortune, or what appeared so.


For most people choice is a curse, and it is this curse that the summer
brings upon great numbers who would not perhaps otherwise be afflicted.
They are not in the happy case of those who must stay at home; their hard
necessity is that they can go away, and try to be more agreeably placed
somewhere else; but although I say they are in great numbers, they are an
infinitesimal minority of the whole bulk of our population. Their bane
is not, in its highest form, that of the average American who has no
choice of the kind; and when one begins to speak of the summer problem,
one must begin at once to distinguish. It is the problem of the East
rather than of the West (where people are much more in the habit of
staying at home the year round), and it is the problem of the city and
not of the country. I am not sure that there is one practical farmer in
the whole United States who is obliged to witness in his household those
sad dissensions which almost separate the families of professional men as
to where and how they shall pass the summer. People of this class, which
is a class with some measure of money, ease, and taste, are commonly of
varying and decided minds, and I once knew a family of the sort whose
combined ideal for their summer outing was summed up in the simple desire
for society and solitude, mountain-air and sea-bathing. They spent the
whole months of April, May, and June in a futile inquiry for a resort
uniting these attractions, and on the first of July they drove to the
station with no definite point in view. But they found that they could
get return tickets for a certain place on an inland lake at a low figure,
and they took the first train for it. There they decided next morning to
push on to the mountains, and sent their baggage to the station, but
before it was checked they changed their minds, and remained two weeks
where they were. Then they took train for a place on the coast, but in
the cars a friend told them they ought to go to another place; they
decided to go there, but before arriving at the junction they decided
again to keep on. They arrived at their original destination, and the
following day telegraphed for rooms at a hotel farther down the coast.
The answer came that there were no rooms, and being by this time ready to
start, they started, and in due time reported themselves at the hotel.
The landlord saw that something must be done, and he got them rooms, at a
smaller house, and 'mealed' them (as it used to be called at Mt. Desert)
in his own. But upon experiment of the fare at the smaller house they
liked it so well that they resolved to live there altogether, and they
spent a summer of the greatest comfort there, so that they would hardly
come away when the house closed in the fall.

This was an extreme case, and perhaps such a venture might not always
turn out so happily; but I think that people might oftener trust
themselves to Providence in these matters than they do. There is really
an infinite variety of pleasant resorts of all kinds now, and one could
quite safely leave it to the man in the ticket-office where one should
go, and check one's baggage accordingly. I think the chances of an
agreeable summer would be as good in that way as in making a hard-and-
fast choice of a certain place and sticking to it. My own experience is
that in these things chance makes a very good choice for one, as it does
in most non-moral things.


A joke dies hard, and I am not sure that the life is yet quite out of the
kindly ridicule that was cast for a whole generation upon the people who
left their comfortable houses in town to starve upon farm-board or stifle
in the narrow rooms of mountain and seaside hotels. Yet such people were
in the right, and their mockers were in the wrong, and their patient
persistence in going out of town for the summer in the face of severe
discouragements has multiplied indefinitely the kinds of summer resorts,
and reformed them altogether. I believe the city boarding-house remains
very much what it used to be; but I am bound to say that the country
boarding-house has vastly improved since I began to know it. As for the
summer hotel, by steep or by strand, it leaves little to be complained of
except the prices. I take it for granted, therefore, that the out-of-
town summer has come to stay, for all who can afford it, and that the
chief sorrow attending it is that curse of choice, which I have already
spoken of.

I have rather favored chance than choice, because, whatever choice you
make, you are pretty sure to regret it, with a bitter sense of
responsibility added, which you cannot feel if chance has chosen for you.
I observe that people who own summer cottages are often apt to wish they
did not, and were foot-loose to roam where they listed, and I have been
told that even a yacht is not a source of unmixed content, though so
eminently detachable. To great numbers Europe looks from this shore like
a safe refuge from the American summer problem; and yet I am not sure
that it is altogether so; for it is not enough merely to go to Europe;
one has to choose where to go when one has got there. A European city is
certainly always more tolerable than an American city, but one cannot
very well pass the summer in Paris, or even in London. The heart there,
as here, will yearn for some blessed seat

       "Where falls not hail, or rain, or any snow,
        Nor ever wind blows loudly; but it lies
        Deep-meadow'd, happy, fair with orchard lawns
        And bowery hollows crown'd with summer sea,"

and still, after your keel touches the strand of that alluring old world,
you must buy your ticket and register your trunk for somewhere in


It is truly a terrible stress, this summer problem, and, as I say, my
heart aches much more for those who have to solve it and suffer the
consequences of their choice than for those who have no choice, but must
stay the summer through where their work is, and be humbly glad that they
have any work to keep them there. I am not meaning now, of course,
business men obliged to remain in the city to earn the bread--or, more
correctly, the cake--of their families in the country, or even their
clerks and bookkeepers, and porters and messengers, but such people as I
sometimes catch sight of from the elevated trains (in my reluctant
midsummer flights through the city), sweltering in upper rooms over
sewing-machines or lap-boards, or stewing in the breathless tenement
streets, or driving clangorous trucks, or monotonous cars, or bending
over wash-tubs at open windows for breaths of the no-air without.
These all get on somehow, and at the end of the summer they have not to
accuse themselves of folly in going to one place rather than another.
Their fate is decided for them, and they submit to it; whereas those who
decide their fate are always rebelling against it. They it is whom I am
truly sorry for, and whom I write of with tears in my ink. Their case is
hard, and it will seem all the harder if we consider how foolish they
will look and how flat they will feel at the judgment-day, when they are
asked about their summer outings. I do not really suppose we shall be
held to a very strict account for our pleasures because everybody else
has not enjoyed them, too; that would be a pity of our lives; and yet
there is an old-fashioned compunction which will sometimes visit the
heart if we take our pleasures ungraciously, when so many have no
pleasures to take. I would suggest, then, to those on whom the curse of
choice between pleasures rests, that they should keep in mind those who
have chiefly pains to their portion in life.

I am not, I hope, urging my readers to any active benevolence, or
counselling them to share their pleasures with others; it has been
accurately ascertained that there are not pleasures enough to go round,
as things now are; but I would seriously entreat them to consider whether
they could not somewhat alleviate the hardships of their own lot at the
sea-side or among the mountains, by contrasting it with the lot of others
in the sweat-shops and the boiler-factories of life. I know very well
that it is no longer considered very good sense or very good morality to
take comfort in one's advantages from the disadvantages of others, and
this is not quite what I mean to teach. Perhaps I mean nothing more than
an overhauling of the whole subject of advantages and disadvantages,
which would be a light and agreeable occupation for the leisure of the
summer outer. It might be very interesting, and possibly it might be
amusing, for one stretched upon the beach or swaying in the hammock to
inquire into the reasons for his or her being so favored, and it is not
beyond the bounds of expectation that a consensus of summer opinion on
this subject would go far to enlighten the world upon a question that has
vexed the world ever since mankind was divided into those who work too
much and those who rest too much.


A study of New York civilization in 1849 has lately come into my hands,
with a mortifying effect, which I should like to share with the reader,
to my pride of modernity. I had somehow believed that after half a
century of material prosperity, such as the world has never seen before,
New York in 1902 must be very different from New York in 1849, but if I
am to trust either the impressions of the earlier student or my own, New
York is essentially the same now that it was then. The spirit of the
place has not changed; it is as it was, splendidly and sordidly
commercial. Even the body of it has undergone little or no alteration;
it was as shapeless, as incongruous; as ugly when the author of 'New York
in Slices' wrote as it is at this writing; it has simply grown, or
overgrown, on the moral and material lines which seem to have been
structural in it from the beginning. He felt in his time the same
vulgarity, the same violence, in its architectural anarchy that I have
felt in my time, and he noted how all dignity and beauty perished, amid
the warring forms, with a prescience of my own affliction, which deprives
me of the satisfaction of a discoverer and leaves me merely the sense of
being rather old-fashioned in my painful emotions.


I wish I could pretend that my author philosophized the facts of his New
York with something less than the raw haste of the young journalist; but
I am afraid I must own that 'New York in Slices' affects one as having
first been printed in an evening paper, and that the writer brings to the
study of the metropolis something like the eager horror of a country
visitor. This probably enabled him to heighten the effect he wished to
make with readers of a kindred tradition, and for me it adds a certain
innocent charm to his work. I may make myself better understood if I say
that his attitude towards the depravities of a smaller New York is much
the same as that of Mr. Stead towards the wickedness of a much larger
Chicago. He seizes with some such avidity upon the darker facts of the
prisons, the slums, the gambling-houses, the mock auctions, the toughs
(who then called themselves b'hoys and g'hals), the quacks, the theatres,
and even the intelligence offices, and exploits their iniquities with a
ready virtue which the wickedest reader can enjoy with him.

But if he treated of these things alone, I should not perhaps have
brought his curious little book to the polite notice of my readers.
He treats also of the press, the drama, the art, and, above all,
"the literary soirees" of that remote New York of his in a manner to make
us latest New-Yorkers feel our close proximity to it. Fifty-odd years
ago journalism had already become "the absorbing, remorseless, clamorous
thing" we now know, and very different from the thing it was when
"expresses were unheard of, and telegraphs were uncrystallized from the
lightning's blue and fiery film." Reporterism was beginning to assume
its present importance, but it had not yet become the paramount
intellectual interest, and did not yet "stand shoulder to shoulder" with
the counting-room in authority. Great editors, then as now, ranked great
authors in the public esteem, or achieved a double primacy by uniting
journalism and literature in the same personality. They were often the
owners as well as the writers of their respective papers, and they
indulged for the advantage of the community the rancorous rivalries,
recriminations, and scurrilities which often form the charm, if not the
chief use, of our contemporaneous journals. Apparently, however,
notarially authenticated boasts of circulation had not yet been made the
delight of their readers, and the press had not become the detective
agency that it now is, nor the organizer and distributer of charities.

But as dark a cloud of doubt rested upon its relations to the theatre as
still eclipses the popular faith in dramatic criticism. "How can you
expect," our author asks, "a frank and unbiassed criticism upon the
performance of George Frederick Cooke Snooks . . . when the editor or
reporter who is to write it has just been supping on beefsteak and stewed
potatoes at Windust's, and regaling himself on brandy-and-water cold,
without, at the expense of the aforesaid George Frederick Cooke Snooks?"
The severest censor of the press, however, would hardly declare now that
"as to such a thing as impartial and independent criticism upon theatres
in the present state of the relations between editors, reporters,
managers, actors--and actresses--the thing is palpably out of the
question," and if matters were really at the pass hinted, the press has
certainly improved in fifty years, if one may judge from its present
frank condemnations of plays and players. The theatre apparently has
not, for we read that at that period "a very great majority of the
standard plays and farces on the stage depend mostly for their piquancy
and their power of interesting an audience upon intrigues with married
women, elopements, seductions, bribery, cheating, and fraud of every
description . . . . Stage costume, too, wherever there is half a
chance, is usually made as lascivious and immodest as possible; and a
freedom and impropriety prevails among the characters of the piece which
would be kicked out of private society the instant it would have the
audacity to make its appearance there."


I hope private society in New York would still be found as correct if not
quite so violent; and I wish I could believe that the fine arts were
presently in as flourishing a condition among us as they were in 1849.
That was the prosperous day of the Art Unions, in which the artists
clubbed their output, and the subscribers parted the works among
themselves by something so very like raffling that the Art Unions were
finally suppressed under the law against lotteries. While they lasted,
however, they had exhibitions thronged by our wealth, fashion, and
intellect (to name them in the order they hold the New York mind), as our
private views now are, or ought to be; and the author "devotes an entire
number" of his series "to a single institution"--fearless of being
accused of partiality by any who rightly appreciate the influences of the
fine arts upon the morals and refinement of mankind.

He devotes even more than an entire number to literature; for, besides
treating of various literary celebrities at the "literary soirees," he
imagines encountering several of them at the high-class restaurants.
At Delmonico's, where if you had "French and money" you could get in that
day "a dinner which, as a work of art, ranks with a picture by
Huntington, a poem by Willis, or a statue by Powers," he meets such a
musical critic as Richard Grant White, such an intellectual epicurean as
N. P. Willis, such a lyric poet as Charles Fenno Hoffman. But it would
be a warm day for Delmonico's when the observer in this epoch could
chance upon so much genius at its tables, perhaps because genius among us
has no longer the French or the money. Indeed, the author of 'New York
in Slices' seems finally to think that he has gone too far, even for his
own period, and brings himself up with the qualifying reservation that if
Willis and Hoffman never did dine together at Delmonico's, they ought to
have done so. He has apparently no misgivings as to the famous musical
critic, and he has no scruple in assembling for us at his "literary
soiree" a dozen distinguished-looking men and "twice as many women....
listening to a tall, deaconly man, who stands between two candles held by
a couple of sticks summoned from the recesses of the back parlor, reading
a basketful of gilt-edged notes. It is . . . the annual Valentine
Party, to which all the male and female authors have contributed for the
purpose of saying on paper charming things of each other, and at which,
for a few hours, all are gratified with the full meed of that praise
which a cold world is chary of bestowing upon its literary cobweb-

It must be owned that we have no longer anything so like a 'salon' as
this. It is, indeed, rather terrible, and it is of a quality in its
celebrities which may well carry dismay to any among us presently
intending immortality. Shall we, one day, we who are now in the rich
and full enjoyment of our far-reaching fame, affect the imagination of
posterity as these phantoms of the past affect ours? Shall we, too,
appear in some pale limbo of unimportance as thin and faded as "John
Inman, the getter-up of innumerable things for the annuals and
magazines," or as Dr. Rufus Griswold, supposed for picturesque purposes
to be "stalking about with an immense quarto volume under his arm . . .
an early copy of his forthcoming 'Female Poets of America'"; or as Lewis
Gaylord Clark, the "sunnyfaced, smiling" editor of the Knickerbocker
Magazine, "who don't look as if the Ink-Fiend had ever heard of him,"
as he stands up to dance a polka with "a demure lady who has evidently
spilled the inkstand over her dress"; or as "the stately Mrs. Seba Smith,
bending aristocratically over the centre-table, and talking in a bright,
cold, steady stream, like an antique fountain by moonlight"; or as "the
spiritual and dainty Fanny Osgood, clapping her hands and crowing like a
baby," where she sits "nestled under a shawl of heraldic devices, like a
bird escaped from its cage"; or as Margaret Fuller, "her large, gray eyes
Tamping inspiration, and her thin, quivering lip prophesying like a

I hope not; I earnestly hope not. Whatever I said at the outset,
affirming the persistent equality of New York characteristics and
circumstances, I wish to take back at this point; and I wish to warn
malign foreign observers, of the sort who have so often refused to see us
as we see ourselves, that they must not expect to find us now grouped in
the taste of 1849. Possibly it was not so much the taste of 1849 as the
author of 'New York in Slices' would have us believe; and perhaps any one
who trusted his pictures of life among us otherwise would be deceived by
a parity of the spirit in which they are portrayed with that of our
modern "society journalism."


There is, of course, almost a world's difference between England and the
Continent anywhere; but I do not recall just now any transition between
Continental countries which involves a more distinct change in the
superficial aspect of things than the passage from the Middle States into
New England. It is all American, but American of diverse ideals; and you
are hardly over the border before you are sensible of diverse effects,
which are the more apparent to you the more American you are. If you
want the contrast at its sharpest you had better leave New York on a
Sound boat; for then you sleep out of the Middle State civilization and
wake into the civilization of New England, which seems to give its stamp
to nature herself. As to man, he takes it whether native or alien; and
if he is foreign-born it marks him another Irishman, Italian, Canadian,
Jew, or negro from his brother in any other part of the United States.


When you have a theory of any kind, proofs of it are apt to seek you out,
and I, who am rather fond of my faith in New England's influence of this
sort, had as pretty an instance of it the day after my arrival as I could
wish. A colored brother of Massachusetts birth, as black as a man can
well be, and of a merely anthropoidal profile, was driving me along shore
in search of a sea-side hotel when we came upon a weak-minded young
chicken in the road. The natural expectation is that any chicken in
these circumstances will wait for your vehicle, and then fly up before it
with a loud screech; but this chicken may have been overcome by the heat
(it was a land breeze and it drew like the breath of a furnace over the
hay-cocks and the clover), or it may have mistimed the wheel, which
passed over its head and left it to flop a moment in the dust and then
fall still. The poor little tragedy was sufficiently distressful to me,
but I bore it well, compared with my driver. He could hardly stop
lamenting it; and when presently we met a young farmer, he pulled up.
"You goin' past Jim Marden's?" "Yes." "Well, I wish you'd tell him I
just run over a chicken of his, and I killed it, I guess. I guess it was
a pretty big one." "Oh no," I put in, "it was only a broiler. What do
you think it was worth?" I took out some money, and the farmer noted the
largest coin in my hand; "About half a dollar, I guess." On this I put
it all back in my pocket, and then he said, "Well, if a chicken don't
know enough to get out of the road, I guess you ain't to blame."
I expressed that this was my own view of the case, and we drove on. When
we parted I gave the half-dollar to my driver, and begged him not to let
the owner of the chicken come on me for damages; and though he chuckled
his pleasure in the joke, I could see that he was still unhappy, and I
have no doubt that he has that pullet on his conscience yet, unless he
has paid for it. He was of a race which elsewhere has so immemorially
plundered hen-roosts that chickens are as free to it as the air it
breathes, without any conceivable taint of private ownership. But the
spirit of New England had so deeply entered into him that the imbecile
broiler of another, slain by pure accident and by its own contributory
negligence, was saddening him, while I was off in my train without a pang
for the owner and with only an agreeable pathos for the pullet.


The instance is perhaps extreme; and, at any rate, it has carried me in a
psychological direction away from the simpler differences which I meant
to note in New England. They were evident as soon as our train began to
run from the steamboat landing into the country, and they have
intensified, if they have not multiplied, themselves as I have penetrated
deeper and deeper into the beautiful region. The land is poorer than the
land to the southward--one sees that at once; the soil is thin, and often
so thickly burdened with granite bowlders that it could never have borne
any other crop since the first Puritans, or Pilgrims, cut away the
primeval woods and betrayed its hopeless sterility to the light. But
wherever you come to a farm-house, whether standing alone or in one of
the village groups that New England farm-houses have always liked to
gather themselves into, it is of a neatness that brings despair, and of a
repair that ought to bring shame to the beholder from more easy-going
conditions. Everything is kept up with a strenuous virtue that imparts
an air of self-respect to the landscape, which the bleaching and
blackening stone walls, wandering over the hill-slopes, divide into wood
lots of white birch and pine, stony pastures, and little patches of
potatoes and corn. The mowing-lands alone are rich; and if the New
England year is in the glory of the latest June, the breath of the clover
blows honey--sweet into the car windows, and the fragrance of the new-cut
hay rises hot from the heavy swaths that seem to smoke in the sun.

We have struck a hot spell, one of those torrid mood of continental
weather which we have telegraphed us ahead to heighten our suffering by
anticipation. But the farmsteads and village houses are safe in the
shade of their sheltering trees amid the fluctuation of the grass that
grows so tall about them that the June roses have to strain upward to get
themselves free of it. Behind each dwelling is a billowy mass of
orchard, and before it the Gothic archway of the elms stretches above the
quiet street. There is no tree in the world so full of sentiment as the
American elm, and it is nowhere so graceful as in these New England
villages, which are themselves, I think, the prettiest and wholesomest of
mortal sojourns. By a happy instinct, their wooden houses are all
painted white, to a marble effect that suits our meridional sky, and the
contrast of their dark-green shutters is deliciously refreshing. There
was an evil hour, the terrible moment of the aesthetic revival now
happily past, when white walls and green blinds were thought in bad
taste, and the village houses were often tinged a dreary ground color, or
a doleful olive, or a gloomy red, but now they have returned to their
earlier love. Not the first love; that was a pale buff with white trim;
but I doubt if it were good for all kinds of village houses; the eye
rather demands the white. The pale buff does very well for large
colonial mansions, like Lowell's or Longfellow's in Cambridge; but when
you come, say, to see the great square houses built in Portsmouth, New
Hampshire; early in this century, and painted white, you find that white,
after all, is the thing for our climate, even in the towns.

In such a village as my colored brother drove me through on the way to
the beach it was of an absolute fitness; and I wish I could convey a due
sense of the exquisite keeping of the place. Each white house was more
or less closely belted in with a white fence, of panels or pickets; the
grassy door-yards glowed with flowers, and often a climbing rose
embowered the door-way with its bloom. Away backward or sidewise
stretched the woodshed from the dwelling to the barn, and shut the whole
under one cover; the turf grew to the wheel-tracks of the road-way, over
which the elms rose and drooped; and from one end of the village to the
other you could not, as the saying is, find a stone to throw at a dog.
I know Holland; I have seen the wives of Scheveningen scrubbing up for
Sunday to the very middle of their brick streets, but I doubt if Dutch
cleanliness goes so far without, or comes from so deep a scruple within,
as the cleanliness of New England. I felt so keenly the feminine quality
of its motive as I passed through that village, that I think if I had
dropped so much as a piece of paper in the street I must have knocked at
the first door and begged the lady of the house (who would have opened it
in person after wiping her hands from her work, taking off her apron, and
giving a glance at herself in the mirror and at me through the window
blind) to report me to the selectmen in the interest of good morals.


I did not know at once quite how to reconcile the present foulness of the
New England capital with the fairness of the New England country; and I
am still somewhat embarrassed to own that after New York (even under the
relaxing rule of Tammany) Boston seemed very dirty when we arrived there.
At best I was never more than a naturalized Bostonian; but it used to
give me great pleasure--so penetratingly does the place qualify even the
sojourning Westerner--to think of the defect of New York in the virtue
that is next to godliness; and now I had to hang my head for shame at the
mortifying contrast of the Boston streets to the well-swept asphalt which
I had left frying in the New York sun the afternoon before. Later,
however, when I began to meet the sort of Boston faces I remembered so
well--good, just, pure, but set and severe, with their look of challenge,
of interrogation, almost of reproof--they not only ignored the
disgraceful untidiness of the streets, but they convinced me of a state
of transition which would leave the place swept and garnished behind it;
and comforted me against the litter of the winding thoroughfares and
narrow lanes, where the dust had blown up against the brick walls, and
seemed permanently to have smutched and discolored them.

In New York you see the American face as Europe characterizes it; in
Boston you see it as it characterizes Europe; and it is in Boston that
you can best imagine the strenuous grapple of the native forces which all
alien things must yield to till they take the American cast. It is
almost dismaying, that physiognomy, before it familiarizes itself anew;
and in the brief first moment while it is yet objective, you ransack your
conscience for any sins you may have committed in your absence from it
and make ready to do penance for them. I felt almost as if I had brought
the dirty streets with me, and were guilty of having left them lying
about, so impossible were they with reference to the Boston face.

It is a face that expresses care, even to the point of anxiety, and it
looked into the window of our carriage with the serious eyes of our
elderly hackman to make perfectly sure of our destination before we drove
away from the station. It was a little rigorous with us, as requiring us
to have a clear mind; but it was not unfriendly, not unkind, and it was
patient from long experience. In New York there are no elderly hackmen;
but in Boston they abound, and I cannot believe they would be capable of
bad faith with travellers. In fact, I doubt if this class is anywhere as
predatory as it is painted; but in Boston it appears to have the public
honor in its keeping. I do not mean that it was less mature, less
self-respectful in Portsmouth, where we were next to arrive; more so it
could not be; an equal sense of safety, of ease, began with it in both
places, and all through New England it is of native birth, while in New
York it is composed of men of many nations, with a weight in numbers
towards the Celtic strain. The prevalence of the native in New England
helps you sensibly to realize from the first moment that here you are in
America as the first Americans imagined and meant it; and nowhere in New
England is the original tradition more purely kept than in the beautiful
old seaport of New Hampshire. In fact, without being quite prepared to
defend a thesis to this effect, I believe that Portsmouth is preeminently
American, and in this it differs from Newburyport and from Salem, which
have suffered from different causes an equal commercial decline, and,
though among the earliest of the great Puritan towns after Boston, are
now largely made up of aliens in race and religion; these are actually
the majority, I believe, in Newburyport.


The adversity of Portsmouth began early in the century, but before that
time she had prospered so greatly that her merchant princes were able to
build themselves wooden palaces with white walls and green shutters, of a
grandeur and beauty unmatched elsewhere in the country. I do not know
what architect had his way with them, though his name is richly worth
remembrance, but they let him make them habitations of such graceful
proportion and of such delicate ornament that they have become shrines of
pious pilgrimage with the young architects of our day who hope to house
our well-to-do people fitly in country or suburbs. The decoration is
oftenest spent on a porch or portal, or a frieze of peculiar refinement;
or perhaps it feels its way to the carven casements or to the delicate
iron-work of the transoms; the rest is a simplicity and a faultless
propriety of form in the stately mansions which stand under the arching
elms, with their gardens sloping, or dropping by easy terraces behind
them to the river, or to the borders of other pleasances. They are all
of wood, except for the granite foundations and doorsteps, but the stout
edifices rarely sway out of the true line given them, and they look as if
they might keep it yet another century.

Between them, in the sun-shotten shade, lie the quiet streets, whose
gravelled stretch is probably never cleaned because it never needs
cleaning. Even the business streets, and the quaint square which gives
the most American of towns an air so foreign and Old Worldly, look as if
the wind and rain alone cared for them; but they are not foul, and the
narrower avenues, where the smaller houses of gray, unpainted wood crowd
each other, flush upon the pavements, towards the water--side, are
doubtless unvisited by the hoe or broom, and must be kept clean by a New
England conscience against getting them untidy.

When you get to the river-side there is one stretch of narrow, high-
shouldered warehouses which recall Holland, especially in a few with
their gables broken in steps, after the Dutch fashion. These, with their
mouldering piers and grass-grown wharves, have their pathos, and the
whole place embodies in its architecture an interesting record of the
past, from the time when the homesick exiles huddled close to the water's
edge till the period of post-colonial prosperity, when proud merchants
and opulent captains set their vast square houses each in its handsome
space of gardened ground.

My adjectives might mislead as to size, but they could not as to beauty,
and I seek in vain for those that can duly impart the peculiar charm of
the town. Portsmouth still awaits her novelist; he will find a rich
field when he comes; and I hope he will come of the right sex, for it
needs some minute and subtle feminine skill, like that of Jane Austen, to
express a fit sense of its life in the past. Of its life in the present
I know nothing. I could only go by those delightful, silent houses, and
sigh my longing soul into their dim interiors. When now and then a young
shape in summer silk, or a group of young shapes in diaphanous muslin,
fluttered out of them, I was no wiser; and doubtless my elderly fancy
would have been unable to deal with what went on in them. Some girl of
those flitting through the warm, odorous twilight must become the
creative historian of the place; I can at least imagine a Jane Austen now
growing up in Portsmouth.


If Miss Jewett were of a little longer breath than she has yet shown
herself in fiction, I might say the Jane Austen of Portsmouth was already
with us, and had merely not yet begun to deal with its precious material.
One day when we crossed the Piscataqua from New Hampshire into Maine, and
took the trolley-line for a run along through the lovely coast country,
we suddenly found ourselves in the midst of her own people, who are a
little different sort of New-Englanders from those of Miss Wilkins. They
began to flock into the car, young maidens and old, mothers and
grandmothers, and nice boys and girls, with a very, very few farmer youth
of marriageable age, and more rustic and seafaring elders long past it,
all in the Sunday best which they had worn to the graduation exercises at
the High School, where we took them mostly up. The womenkind were in a
nervous twitter of talk and laughter, and the men tolerantly gay beyond
their wont, "passing the time of day" with one another, and helping the
more tumultuous sex to get settled in the overcrowded open car. They
courteously made room for one another, and let the children stand between
their knees, or took them in their laps, with that unfailing American
kindness which I am prouder of than the American valor in battle,
observing in all that American decorum which is no bad thing either. We
had chanced upon the high and mighty occasion of the neighborhood year,
when people might well have been a little off their balance, but there
was not a boisterous note in the subdued affair. As we passed the
school-house door, three dear, pretty maids in white gowns and white
slippers stood on the steps and gently smiled upon our company. One
could see that they were inwardly glowing and thrilling with the
excitement of their graduation, but were controlling their emotions to a
calm worthy of the august event, so that no one might ever have it to say
that they had appeared silly.

The car swept on, and stopped to set down passengers at their doors or
gates, where they severally left it, with an easy air as of private
ownership, into some sense of which the trolley promptly flatters people
along its obliging lines. One comfortable matron, in a cinnamon silk,
was just such a figure as that in the Miss Wilkins's story where the
bridegroom fails to come on the wedding-day; but, as I say, they made me
think more of Miss Jewett's people. The shore folk and the Down-Easters
are specifically hers; and these were just such as might have belonged in
'The Country of the Pointed Firs', or 'Sister Wisby's Courtship', or
'Dulham Ladies', or 'An Autumn Ramble', or twenty other entrancing tales.
Sometimes one of them would try her front door, and then, with a bridling
toss of the head, express that she had forgotten locking it, and slip
round to the kitchen; but most of the ladies made their way back at once
between the roses and syringas of their grassy door-yards, which were as
neat and prim as their own persons, or the best chamber in their white-
walled, green-shuttered, story-and-a-half house, and as perfectly kept as
the very kitchen itself.

The trolley-line had been opened only since the last September, but in an
effect of familiar use it was as if it had always been there, and it
climbed and crooked and clambered about with the easy freedom of the
country road which it followed. It is a land of low hills, broken by
frequent reaches of the sea, and it is most amusing, most amazing, to see
how frankly the trolley-car takes and overcomes its difficulties. It
scrambles up and down the little steeps like a cat, and whisks round a
sharp and sudden curve with a feline screech, broadening into a loud
caterwaul as it darts over the estuaries on its trestles. Its course
does not lack excitement, and I suppose it does not lack danger; but as
yet there have been no accidents, and it is not so disfiguring as one
would think. The landscape has already accepted it, and is making the
best of it; and to the country people it is an inestimable convenience.
It passes everybody's front door or back door, and the farmers can get
themselves or their produce (for it runs an express car) into Portsmouth
in an hour, twice an hour, all day long. In summer the cars are open,
with transverse seats, and stout curtains that quite shut out a squall of
wind or rain. In winter the cars are closed, and heated by electricity.
The young motorman whom I spoke with, while we waited on a siding to let
a car from the opposite direction get by, told me that he was caught out
in a blizzard last Winter, and passed the night in a snowdrift. "But the
cah was so wa'm, I neva suff'ed a mite."

"Well," I summarized, "it must be a great advantage to all the people
along the line."

"Well, you wouldn't 'a' thought so, from the kick they made."

"I suppose the cottagers"--the summer colony--"didn't like the noise."

"Oh yes; that's what I mean. The's whe' the kick was. The natives like
it. I guess the summa folks 'll like it, too."

He looked round at me with enjoyment of his joke in his eye, for we both
understood that the summer folks could not help themselves, and must bow
to the will of the majority.


The other day, a friend of mine, who professes all the intimacy of a bad
conscience with many of my thoughts and convictions, came in with a bulky
book under his arm, and said, "I see by a guilty look in your eye that
you are meaning to write about spring."

"I am not," I retorted, "and if I were, it would be because none of the
new things have been said yet about spring, and because spring is never
an old story, any more than youth or love."

"I have heard something like that before," said my friend, "and I
understand. The simple truth of the matter is that this is the fag-end
of the season, and you have run low in your subjects. Now take my advice
and don't write about spring; it will make everybody hate you, and will
do no good. Write about advertising." He tapped the book under his arm
significantly. "Here is a theme for you."


He had no sooner pronounced these words than I began to feel a weird and
potent fascination in his suggestion. I took the book from him and
looked it eagerly through. It was called Good Advertising, and it was
written by one of the experts in the business who have advanced it almost
to the grade of an art, or a humanity.

"But I see nothing here," I said, musingly, "which would enable a
self-respecting author to come to the help of his publisher in giving due
hold upon the public interest those charming characteristics of his book
which no one else can feel so penetratingly or celebrate so

"I expected some such objection from you," said my friend. "You will
admit that there is everything else here?"

"Everything but that most essential thing. You know how we all feel
about it: the bitter disappointment, the heart-sickening sense of
insufficiency that the advertised praises of our books give us poor
authors. The effect is far worse than that of the reviews, for the
reviewer is not your ally and copartner, while your publisher--"

"I see what you mean," said my friend. "But you must have patience.
If the author of this book can write so luminously of advertising in
other respects, I am sure he will yet be able to cast a satisfactory
light upon your problem. The question is, I believe, how to translate
into irresistible terms all that fond and exultant regard which a writer
feels for his book, all his pervasive appreciation of its singular
beauty, unique value, and utter charm, and transfer it to print, without
infringing upon the delicate and shrinking modesty which is the
distinguishing ornament of the literary spirit?"

"Something like that. But you understand."

"Perhaps a Roentgen ray might be got to do it," said my friend,
thoughtfully, "or perhaps this author may bring his mind to bear upon
it yet. He seems to have considered every kind of advertising except

"The most important of all!" I cried, impatiently.

"You think so because you are in that line. If you were in the line of
varnish, or bicycles, or soap, or typewriters, or extract of beef, or of

"Still I should be interested in book--advertising, because it is the
most vital of human interests."

"Tell me," said my friend, "do you read the advertisements of the books
of rival authors?"

"Brother authors," I corrected him.

"Well, brother authors."

I said, No, candidly, I did not; and I forbore to add that I thought them
little better than a waste of the publishers' money.


My friend did not pursue his inquiry to my personal disadvantage, but
seemed to prefer a more general philosophy of the matter.

"I have often wondered," he said, "at the enormous expansion of
advertising, and doubted whether it was not mostly wasted. But my
author, here, has suggested a brilliant fact which I was unwittingly
groping for. When you take up a Sunday paper"--I shuddered, and my
friend smiled intelligence--"you are simply appalled at the miles of
announcements of all sorts. Who can possibly read them? Who cares even
to look at them? But if you want something in particular--to furnish a
house, or buy a suburban place, or take a steamer for Europe, or go, to
the theatre--then you find out at once who reads the advertisements, and
cares to look at them. They respond to the multifarious wants of the
whole community. You have before you the living operation of that law of
demand and supply which it has always been such a bore to hear about.
As often happens, the supply seems to come before the demand; but that's
only an appearance. You wanted something, and you found an offer to meet
your want."

"Then you don't believe that the offer to meet your want suggested it?"

"I see that my author believes something of the kind. We may be full of
all sorts of unconscious wants which merely need the vivifying influence
of an advertisement to make them spring into active being; but I have a
feeling that the money paid for advertising which appeals to potential
wants is largely thrown away. You must want a thing, or think you want
it; otherwise you resent the proffer of it as a kind of impertinence."

"There are some kinds of advertisements, all the same, that I read
without the slightest interest in the subject matter. Simply the beauty
of the style attracts me."

"I know. But does it ever move you to get what you don't want?"

"Never; and I should be glad to know what your author thinks of that sort
of advertising: the literary, or dramatic, or humorous, or quaint."

"He doesn't contemn it, quite. But I think he feels that it may have had
its day. Do you still read such advertisements with your early zest?"

"No; the zest for nearly everything goes. I don't care so much for
Tourguenief as I used. Still, if I come upon the jaunty and laconic
suggestions of a certain well-known clothing-house, concerning the
season's wear, I read them with a measure of satisfaction. The
advertising expert--"

"This author calls him the adsmith."

"Delightful! Ad is a loathly little word, but we must come to it. It's
as legitimate as lunch. But as I was saying, the adsmith seems to have
caught the American business tone, as perfectly as any of our novelists
have caught the American social tone."

"Yes," said my friend, "and he seems to have prospered as richly by it.
You know some of those chaps make fifteen or twenty thousand dollars by
adsmithing. They have put their art quite on a level with fiction

"Perhaps it is a branch of fiction."

"No; they claim that it is pure fact. My author discourages the
slightest admixture of fable. The truth, clearly and simply expressed,
is the best in an ad.

"It is best in a wof, too. I am always saying that."


"Well, work of fiction. It's another new word, like lunch or ad."

"But in a wof," said my friend, instantly adopting it, "my author
insinuates that the fashion of payment tempts you to verbosity, while in
an ad the conditions oblige you to the greatest possible succinctness.
In one case you are paid by the word; in the other you pay by the word.
That is where the adsmith stands upon higher moral ground than the

"I should think your author might have written a recent article in
'The---------, reproaching fiction with its unhallowed gains."

"If you mean that for a sneer, it is misplaced. He would have been
incapable of it. My author is no more the friend of honesty in
adsmithing than he is of propriety, He deprecates jocosity in
apothecaries and undertakers, not only as bad taste, but as bad business;
and he is as severe as any one could be upon ads that seize the attention
by disgusting or shocking the reader.

"He is to be praised for that, and for the other thing; and I shouldn't
have minded his criticising the ready wofsmith. I hope he attacks the
use of display type, which makes our newspapers look like the poster-
plastered fences around vacant lots. In New York there is only one paper
whose advertisements are not typographically a shock to the nerves."

"Well," said my friend, "he attacks foolish and ineffective display."

"It is all foolish and ineffective. It is like a crowd of people trying
to make themselves heard by shouting each at the top of his voice.
A paper full of display advertisements is an image of our whole congested
and delirious state of competition; but even in competitive conditions it
is unnecessary, and it is futile. Compare any New York paper but one
with the London papers, and you will see what I mean. Of course I refer
to the ad pages; the rest of our exception is as offensive with pictures
and scare heads as all the rest. I wish your author could revise his
opinions and condemn all display in ads."

"I dare say he will when he knows what you think," said my friend, with
imaginable sarcasm.


"I wish," I went on, "that he would give us some philosophy of the
prodigious increase of advertising within the last twenty-five years, and
some conjecture as to the end of it all. Evidently, it can't keep on
increasing at the present rate. If it does, there will presently be no
room in the world for things; it will be filled up with the
advertisements of things."

"Before that time, perhaps," my friend suggested, "adsmithing will have
become so fine and potent an art that advertising will be reduced in
bulk, while keeping all its energy and even increasing its

"Perhaps," I said, "some silent electrical process will be contrived, so
that the attractions of a new line of dress-goods or the fascination of a
spring or fall opening may be imparted to a lady's consciousness without
even the agency of words. All other facts of commercial and industrial
interest could be dealt with in the same way. A fine thrill could be
made to go from the last new book through the whole community, so that
people would not willingly rest till they had it. Yes, one can see an
indefinite future for advertising in that way. The adsmith may be the
supreme artist of the twentieth century. He may assemble in his grasp,
and employ at will, all the arts and sciences."

"Yes," said my friend, with a sort of fall in his voice, "that is very
well. But what is to become of the race when it is penetrated at every
pore with a sense of the world's demand and supply?"

"Oh, that is another affair. I was merely imagining the possible
resources of invention in providing for the increase of advertising while
guarding the integrity of the planet. I think, very likely, if the thing
keeps on, we shall all go mad; but then we shall none of us be able to
criticise the others. Or possibly the thing may work its own cure. You
know the ingenuity of the political economists in justifying the egotism
to which conditions appeal. They do not deny that these foster greed and
rapacity in merciless degree, but they contend that when the wealth-
winner drops off gorged there is a kind of miracle wrought, and good
comes of it all. I never could see how; but if it is true, why shouldn't
a sort of ultimate immunity come back to us from the very excess and
invasion of the appeals now made to us, and destined to be made to us
still more by the adsmith? Come, isn't there hope in that?"

"I see a great opportunity for the wofsmith in some such dream," said my
friend. "Why don't you turn it to account?"

"You know that isn't my line; I must leave that sort of wofsmithing to
the romantic novelist. Besides, I have my well-known panacea for all the
ills our state is heir to, in a civilization which shall legislate
foolish and vicious and ugly and adulterate things out of the possibility
of existence. Most of the adsmithing is now employed in persuading
people that such things are useful, beautiful, and pure. But in any
civilization they shall not even be suffered to be made, much less
foisted upon the community by adsmiths."

"I see what you mean," said my friend; and he sighed gently. "I had much
better let you write about spring."


A late incident in the history of a very widespread English novelist,
triumphantly closed by the statement of his friend that the novelist had
casually failed to accredit a given passage in his novel to the real
author, has brought freshly to my mind a curious question in ethics.
The friend who vindicated the novelist, or, rather, who contemptuously
dismissed the matter, not only confessed the fact of adoption, but
declared that it was one of many which could be found in the novelist's
works. The novelist, he said, was quite in the habit of so using
material in the rough, which he implied was like using any fact or idea
from life, and he declared that the novelist could not bother to answer
critics who regarded these exploitations as a sort of depredation. In a
manner he brushed the impertinent accusers aside, assuring the general
public that the novelist always meant, at his leisure, and in his own
way, duly to ticket the flies preserved in his amber.


When I read this haughty vindication, I thought at first that if the case
were mine I would rather have several deadly enemies than such a friend
as that; but since, I have not been so sure. I have asked myself upon a
careful review of the matter whether plagiarism may not be frankly
avowed, as in nowise dishonest, and I wish some abler casuist would take
the affair into consideration and make it clear for me. If we are to
suppose that offences against society disgrace the offender, and that
public dishonor argues the fact of some such offence, then apparently
plagiarism is not such an offence; for in even very flagrant cases it
does not disgrace. The dictionary, indeed, defines it as "the crime of
literary theft"; but as no penalty attaches to it, and no lasting shame,
it is hard to believe it either a crime or a theft; and the offence, if
it is an offence (one has to call it something, and I hope the word is
not harsh), is some such harmless infraction of the moral law as

The much-perverted saying of Moliere, that he took his own where he found
it, is perhaps in the consciousness of those who appropriate the things
other people have rushed in with before them. But really they seem to
need neither excuse nor defence with the impartial public if they are
caught in the act of reclaiming their property or despoiling the rash
intruder upon their premises. The novelist in question is by no means
the only recent example, and is by no means a flagrant example. While
the ratification of the treaty with Spain was pending before the Senate
of the United States, a member of that body opposed it in a speech almost
word for word the same as a sermon delivered in New York City only a few
days earlier and published broadcast. He was promptly exposed by the
parallel-column system; but I have never heard that his standing was
affected or his usefulness impaired by the offence proven against him. A
few years ago an eminent divine in one of our cities preached as his own
the sermon of a brother divine, no longer living; he, too, was detected
and promptly exposed by the parallel-column system, but nothing whatever
happened from the exposure. Every one must recall like instances, more
or less remote. I remember one within my youthfuller knowledge of a
journalist who used as his own all the denunciatory passages of
Macaulay's article on Barrere, and applied them with changes of name to
the character and conduct of a local politician whom he felt it his duty
to devote to infamy. He was caught in the fact, and by means of the
parallel column pilloried before the community. But the community did
not mind it a bit, and the journalist did not either. He prospered on
amid those who all knew what he had done, and when he removed to another
city it was to a larger one, and to a position of more commanding
influence, from which he was long conspicuous in helping shape the
destinies of the nation.

So far as any effect from these exposures was concerned, they were as
harmless as those exposures of fraudulent spiritistic mediums which from
time to time are supposed to shake the spiritistic superstition to its
foundations. They really do nothing of the kind; the table-tippings,
rappings, materializations, and levitations keep on as before; and I do
not believe that the exposure of the novelist who has been the latest
victim of the parallel column will injure him a jot in the hearts or
heads of his readers.


I am very glad of it, being a disbeliever in punishments of all sorts.
I am always glad to have sinners get off, for I like to get off from my
own sins; and I have a bad moment from my sense of them whenever
another's have found him out. But as yet I have not convinced myself
that the sort of thing we have been considering is a sin at all, for it
seems to deprave no more than it dishonors; or that it is what the
dictionary (with very unnecessary brutality) calls a "crime" and a
"theft." If it is either, it is differently conditioned, if not
differently natured, from all other crimes and thefts. These may be more
or less artfully and hopefully concealed, but plagiarism carries
inevitable detection with it. If you take a man's hat or coat out of his
hall, you may pawn it before the police overtake you; if you take his
horse out of his stable, you may ride it away beyond pursuit and sell it;
if you take his purse out of his pocket, you may pass it to a pal in the
crowd, and easily prove your innocence. But if you take his sermon, or
his essay, or even his apposite reflection, you cannot escape discovery.
The world is full of idle people reading books, and they are only too
glad to act as detectives; they please their miserable vanity by showing
their alertness, and are proud to hear witness against you in the court
of parallel columns. You have no safety in the obscurity of the author
from whom you take your own; there is always that most terrible reader,
the reader of one book, who knows that very author, and will the more
indecently hasten to bring you to the bar because he knows no other, and
wishes to display his erudition. A man may escape for centuries and yet
be found out. In the notorious case of William Shakespeare the offender
seemed finally secure of his prey; and yet one poor lady, who ended in a
lunatic asylum, was able to detect him at last, and to restore the goods
to their rightful owner, Sir Francis Bacon.

In spite, however, of this almost absolute certainty of exposure,
plagiarism goes on as it has always gone on; and there is no probability
that it will cease as long as there are novelists, senators, divines, and
journalists hard pressed for ideas which they happen not to have in mind
at the time, and which they see going to waste elsewhere. Now and then
it takes a more violent form and becomes a real mania, as when the
plagiarist openly claims and urges his right to a well-known piece of
literary property. When Mr. William Allen Butler's famous poem of
"Nothing to Wear" achieved its extraordinary popularity, a young girl
declared and apparently quite believed that she had written it and lost
the MS. in an omnibus. All her friends apparently believed so, too; and
the friends of the different gentlemen and ladies who claimed the
authorship of "Beautiful Snow" and "Rock Me to Sleep" were ready to
support them by affidavit against the real authors of those pretty
worthless pieces.

From all these facts it must appear to the philosophic reader that
plagiarism is not the simple "crime" or "theft" that the lexicographers
would have us believe. It argues a strange and peculiar courage on the
part of those who commit it or indulge it, since they are sure of having
it brought home to them, for they seem to dread the exposure, though it
involves no punishment outside of themselves. Why do they do it, or,
having done it, why do they mind it, since the public does not? Their
temerity and their timidity are things almost irreconcilable, and the
whole position leaves one quite puzzled as to what one would do if one's
own plagiarisms were found out. But this is a mere question of conduct,
and of infinitely less interest than that of the nature or essence of the
thing itself.


The question whether the fiction which gives a vivid impression of
reality does truly represent the conditions studied in it, is one of
those inquiries to which there is no very final answer. The most
baffling fact of such fiction is that its truths are self-evident;
and if you go about to prove them you are in some danger of shaking the
convictions of those whom they have persuaded. It will not do to affirm
anything wholesale concerning them; a hundred examples to the contrary
present themselves if you know the ground, and you are left in doubt of
the verity which you cannot gainsay. The most that you can do is to
appeal to your own consciousness, and that is not proof to anybody else.
Perhaps the best test in this difficult matter is the quality of the art
which created the picture. Is it clear, simple, unaffected? Is it true
to human experience generally? If it is so, then it cannot well be false
to the special human experience it deals with.


Not long ago I heard of something which amusingly, which pathetically,
illustrated the sense of reality imparted by the work of one of our
writers, whose art is of the kind I mean. A lady was driving with a
young girl of the lighter-minded civilization of New York through one of
those little towns of the North Shore in Massachusetts, where the small;
wooden houses cling to the edges of the shallow bay, and the schooners
slip, in and out on the hidden channels of the salt meadows as if they
were blown about through the tall grass. She tried to make her feel the
shy charm of the place, that almost subjective beauty, which those to the
manner born are so keenly aware of in old-fashioned New England villages;
but she found that the girl was not only not looking at the sad-colored
cottages, with their weather-worn shingle walls, their grassy door-yards
lit by patches of summer bloom, and their shutterless windows with their
close-drawn shades, but she was resolutely averting her eyes from them,
and staring straightforward until she should be out of sight of them
altogether. She said that they were terrible, and she knew that in each
of them was one of those dreary old women, or disappointed girls, or
unhappy wives, or bereaved mothers, she had read of in Miss Wilkins's

She had been too little sensible of the humor which forms the relief of
these stories, as it forms the relief of the bare, duteous,
conscientious, deeply individualized lives portrayed in them; and no
doubt this cannot make its full appeal to the heart of youth aching for
their stoical sorrows. Without being so very young, I, too, have found
the humor hardly enough at times, and if one has not the habit of
experiencing support in tragedy itself, one gets through a remote New
England village, at nightfall, say, rather limp than otherwise, and in
quite the mood that Miss Wilkins's bleaker studies leave one in. At
midday, or in the bright sunshine of the morning, it is quite possible to
fling off the melancholy which breathes the same note in the fact and the
fiction; and I have even had some pleasure at such times in identifying
this or, that one-story cottage with its lean-to as a Mary Wilkins house
and in placing one of her muted dramas in it. One cannot know the people
of such places without recognizing her types in them, and one cannot know
New England without owning the fidelity of her stories to New England
character, though, as I have already suggested, quite another sort of
stories could be written which should as faithfully represent other
phases of New England village life.

To the alien inquirer, however, I should be by no means confident that
their truth would evince itself, for the reason that human nature is
seldom on show anywhere. I am perfectly certain of the truth of Tolstoy
and Tourguenief to Russian life, yet I should not be surprised if I went
through Russia and met none of their people. I should be rather more
surprised if I went through Italy and met none of Verga's or Fogazzaro's,
but that would be because I already knew Italy a little. In fact, I
suspect that the last delight of truth in any art comes only to the
connoisseur who is as well acquainted with the subject as the artist
himself. One must not be too severe in challenging the truth of an
author to life; and one must bring a great deal of sympathy and a great
deal of patience to the scrutiny. Types are very backward and shrinking
things, after all; character is of such a mimosan sensibility that if you
seize it too abruptly its leaves are apt to shut and hide all that is
distinctive in it; so that it is not without some risk to an author's
reputation for honesty that he gives his readers the impression of his


The difficulty with characters in fiction is that the reader there finds
them dramatized; not only their actions, but also their emotions are
dramatized; and the very same sort of persons when one meets them in real
life are recreantly undramatic. One might go through a New England
village and see Mary Wilkins houses and Mary Wilkins people, and yet not
witness a scene nor hear a word such as one finds in her tales. It is
only too probable that the inhabitants one met would say nothing quaint
or humorous, or betray at all the nature that she reveals in them; and
yet I should not question her revelation on that account. The life of
New England, such as Miss Wilkins deals with, and Miss Sarah O. Jewett,
and Miss Alice Brown, is not on the surface, or not visibly so, except to
the accustomed eye. It is Puritanism scarcely animated at all by the
Puritanic theology. One must not be very positive in such things, and I
may be too bold in venturing to say that while the belief of some New
Englanders approaches this theology the belief of most is now far from
it; and yet its penetrating individualism so deeply influenced the New
England character that Puritanism survives in the moral and mental make
of the people almost in its early strength. Conduct and manner conform
to a dead religious ideal; the wish to be sincere, the wish to be just,
the wish to be righteous are before the wish to be kind, merciful,
humble. A people are not a chosen people for half a dozen generations
without acquiring a spiritual pride that remains with them long after
they cease to believe themselves chosen. They are often stiffened in the
neck and they are often hardened in the heart by it, to the point of
making them angular and cold; but they are of an inveterate
responsibility to a power higher than themselves, and they are
strengthened for any fate. They are what we see in the stories which,
perhaps, hold the first place in American fiction.

As a matter of fact, the religion of New England is not now so
Puritanical as that of many parts of the South and West, and yet the
inherited Puritanism stamps the New England manner, and differences it
from the manner of the straightest sects elsewhere. There was, however,
always a revolt against Puritanism when Puritanism was severest and
securest; this resulted in types of shiftlessness if not wickedness,
which have not yet been duly studied, and which would make the fortune of
some novelist who cared to do a fresh thing. There is also a
sentimentality, or pseudo-emotionality (I have not the right phrase for
it), which awaits full recognition in fiction. This efflorescence from
the dust of systems and creeds, carried into natures left vacant by the
ancestral doctrine, has scarcely been noticed by the painters of New
England manners. It is often a last state of Unitarianism, which
prevailed in the larger towns and cities when the Calvinistic theology
ceased to be dominant, and it is often an effect of the spiritualism so
common in New England, and, in fact, everywhere in America. Then, there
is a wide-spread love of literature in the country towns and villages
which has in great measure replaced the old interest in dogma, and which
forms with us an author's closest appreciation, if not his best. But as
yet little hint of all this has got into the short stories, and still
less of that larger intellectual life of New England, or that exalted
beauty of character which tempts one to say that Puritanism was a
blessing if it made the New-Englanders what they are; though one can
always be glad not to have lived among them in the disciplinary period.
Boston, the capital of that New England nation which is fast losing
itself in the American nation, is no longer of its old literary primacy,
and yet most of our right thinking, our high thinking, still begins
there, and qualifies the thinking of the country at large. The good
causes, the generous causes, are first befriended there, and in a
wholesome sort the New England culture, as well as the New England
conscience, has imparted itself to the American people.

Even the power of writing short stories, which we suppose ourselves to
have in such excellent degree, has spread from New England. That is,
indeed, the home of the American short story, and it has there been
brought to such perfection in the work of Miss Wilkins, of Miss Jewett,
of Miss Brown, and of that most faithful, forgotten painter of manners,
Mrs. Rose Terry Cook, that it presents upon the whole a truthful picture
of New England village life in some of its more obvious phases. I say
obvious because I must, but I have already said that this is a life which
is very little obvious; and I should not blame any one who brought the
portrait to the test of reality, and found it exaggerated, overdrawn, and
unnatural, though I should be perfectly sure that such a critic was


One of the things always enforcing itself upon the consciousness of the
artist in any sort is the fact that those whom artists work for rarely
care for their work artistically. They care for it morally, personally,
partially. I suspect that criticism itself has rather a muddled
preference for the what over the how, and that it is always haunted by a
philistine question of the material when it should, aesthetically
speaking, be concerned solely with the form.


The other night at the theatre I was witness of a curious and amusing
illustration of my point. They were playing a most soul-filling
melodrama, of the sort which gives you assurance from the very first that
there will be no trouble in the end, but everything will come out just as
it should, no matter what obstacles oppose themselves in the course of
the action. An over-ruling Providence, long accustomed to the exigencies
of the stage, could not fail to intervene at the critical moment in
behalf of innocence and virtue, and the spectator never had the least
occasion for anxiety. Not unnaturally there was a black-hearted villain
in the piece; so very black-hearted that he seemed not to have a single
good impulse from first to last. Yet he was, in the keeping of the stage
Providence, as harmless as a blank cartridge, in spite of his deadly
aims. He accomplished no more mischief, in fact, than if all his intents
had been of the best; except for the satisfaction afforded by the
edifying spectacle of his defeat and shame, he need not have been in the
play at all; and one might almost have felt sorry for him, he was so
continually baffled. But this was not enough for the audience, or for
that part of it which filled the gallery to the roof. Perhaps he was
such an uncommonly black-hearted villain, so very, very cold-blooded in
his wickedness that the justice unsparingly dealt out to him by the
dramatist could not suffice. At any rate, the gallery took such a vivid
interest in his punishment that it had out the actor who impersonated the
wretch between all the acts, and hissed him throughout his deliberate
passage across the stage before the curtain. The hisses were not at all
for the actor, but altogether for the character. The performance was
fairly good, quite as good as the performance of any virtuous part in the
piece, and easily up to the level of other villanous performances (I
never find much nature in them, perhaps because there is not much nature
in villany itself; that is, villany pure and simple); but the mere
conception of the wickedness this bad man had attempted was too much for
an audience of the average popular goodness. It was only after he had
taken poison, and fallen dead before their eyes, that the spectators
forbore to visit him with a lively proof of their abhorrence; apparently
they did not care to "give him a realizing sense that there was a
punishment after death," as the man in Lincoln's story did with the dead


The whole affair was very amusing at first, but it has since put me upon
thinking (I like to be put upon thinking; the eighteenth-century
essayists were) that the attitude of the audience towards this deplorable
reprobate is really the attitude of most readers of books, lookers at
pictures and statues, listeners to music, and so on through the whole
list of the arts. It is absolutely different from the artist's attitude,
from the connoisseur's attitude; it is quite irreconcilable with their
attitude, and yet I wonder if in the end it is not what the artist works
for. Art is not produced for artists, or even for connoisseurs; it is
produced for the general, who can never view it otherwise than morally,
personally, partially, from their associations and preconceptions.

Whether the effect with the general is what the artist works for or not,
he, does not succeed without it. Their brute liking or misliking is the
final test; it is universal suffrage that elects, after all. Only, in
some cases of this sort the polls do not close at four o'clock on the
first Tuesday after the first Monday of November, but remain open
forever, and the voting goes on. Still, even the first day's canvass is
important, or at least significant. It will not do for the artist to
electioneer, but if he is beaten, he ought to ponder the causes of his
defeat, and question how he has failed to touch the chord of universal
interest. He is in the world to make beauty and truth evident to his
fellowmen, who are as a rule incredibly stupid and ignorant of both, but
whose judgment he must nevertheless not despise. If he can make
something that they will cheer, or something that they will hiss, he may
not have done any great thing, but if he has made something that they
will neither cheer nor hiss, he may well have his misgivings, no matter
how well, how finely, how truly he has done the thing.

This is very humiliating, but a tacit snub to one's artist-pride such as
one gets from public silence is not a bad thing for one. Not long ago I
was talking about pictures with a painter, a very great painter, to my
thinking; one whose pieces give me the same feeling I have from reading
poetry; and I was excusing myself to him with respect to art, and perhaps
putting on a little more modesty than I felt. I said that I could enjoy
pictures only on the literary side, and could get no answer from my soul
to those excellences of handling and execution which seem chiefly to
interest painters. He replied that it was a confession of weakness in a
painter if he appealed merely or mainly to technical knowledge in the
spectator; that he narrowed his field and dwarfed his work by it; and
that if he painted for painters merely, or for the connoisseurs of
painting, he was denying his office, which was to say something clear and
appreciable to all sorts of men in the terms of art. He even insisted
that a picture ought to tell a story.

The difficulty in humbling one's self to this view of art is in the ease
with which one may please the general by art which is no art. Neither
the play nor the playing that I saw at the theatre when the actor was
hissed for the wickedness of the villain he was personating, was at all
fine; and yet I perceived, on reflection, that they had achieved a
supreme effect. If I may be so confidential, I will say that I should be
very sorry to have written that piece; yet I should be very proud if, on
the level I chose and with the quality I cared for, I could invent a
villain that the populace would have out and hiss for his surpassing
wickedness. In other words, I think it a thousand pities whenever an
artist gets so far away from the general, so far within himself or a
little circle of amateurs, that his highest and best work awakens no
response in the multitude. I am afraid this is rather the danger of the
arts among us, and how to escape it is not so very plain. It makes one
sick and sorry often to see how cheaply the applause of the common people
is won. It is not an infallible test of merit, but if it is wanting to
any performance, we may be pretty sure it is not the greatest


The paradox lies in wait here, as in most other human affairs, to
confound us, and we try to baffle it, in this way and in that. We talk,
for instance, of poetry for poets, and we fondly imagine that this is
different from talking of cookery for cooks. Poetry is not made for
poets; they have enough poetry of their own, but it is made for people
who are not poets. If it does not please these, it may still be poetry,
but it is poetry which has failed of its truest office. It is none the
less its truest office because some very wretched verse seems often to do

The logic of such a fact is not that the poet should try to achieve this
truest office of his art by means of doggerel, but that he should study
how and where and why the beauty and the truth he has made manifest are
wanting in universal interest, in human appeal. Leaving the drama out of
the question, and the theatre which seems now to be seeking only the
favor of the dull rich, I believe that there never was a time or a race
more open to the impressions of beauty and of truth than ours. The
artist who feels their divine charm, and longs to impart it, has now and
here a chance to impart it more widely than ever artist had in the world
before. Of course, the means of reaching the widest range of humanity
are the simple and the elementary, but there is no telling when the
complex and the recondite may not universally please. 288

The art is to make them plain to every one, for every one has them in
him. Lowell used to say that Shakespeare was subtle, but in letters a
foot high.

The painter, sculptor, or author who pleases the polite only has a
success to be proud of as far as it goes, and to be ashamed of that it
goes no further. He need not shrink from giving pleasure to the vulgar
because bad art pleases them. It is part of his reason for being that he
should please them, too; and if he does not it is a proof that he is
wanting in force, however much he abounds in fineness. Who would not
wish his picture to draw a crowd about it? Who would not wish his novel
to sell five hundred thousand copies, for reasons besides the sordid love
of gain which I am told governs novelists? One should not really wish it
any the less because chromos and historical romances are popular.

Sometime, I believe, the artist and his public will draw nearer together
in a mutual understanding, though perhaps not in our present conditions.
I put that understanding off till the good time when life shall be more
than living, more even than the question of getting a living; but in the
mean time I think that the artist might very well study the springs of
feeling in others; and if I were a dramatist I think I should quite
humbly go to that play where they hiss the villain for his villany, and
inquire how his wickedness had been made so appreciable, so vital, so
personal. Not being a dramatist, I still cannot indulge the greatest
contempt of that play and its public.


No thornier theme could well be suggested than I was once invited to
consider by an Englishman who wished to know how far American politicians
were scholars, and how far American authors took part in politics. In my
mind I first revolted from the inquiry, and then I cast about, in the
fascination it began to have for me, to see how I might handle it and
prick myself least. In a sort, which it would take too long to set
forth, politics are very intimate matters with us, and if one were to
deal quite frankly with the politics of a contemporary author, one might
accuse one's self of an unwarrantable personality. So, in what I shall
have to say in answer to the question asked me, I shall seek above all
things not to be quite frank.


My uncandor need not be so jealously guarded in speaking of authors no
longer living. Not to go too far back among these, it is perfectly safe
to say that when the slavery question began to divide all kinds of men
among us, Lowell, Longfellow, Whittier, Curtis, Emerson, and Bryant more
or less promptly and openly took sides against slavery. Holmes was very
much later in doing so, but he made up for his long delay by his final
strenuousness; as for Hawthorne, he was, perhaps, too essentially a
spectator of life to be classed with either party, though his
associations, if not his sympathies, were with the Northern men who had
Southern principles until the civil war came. After the war, when our
political questions ceased to be moral and emotional and became economic
and sociological, literary men found their standing with greater
difficulty. They remained mostly Republicans, because the Republicans
were the anti-slavery party, and were still waging war against slavery in
their nerves.

I should say that they also continued very largely the emotional
tradition in politics, and it is doubtful if in the nature of things the
politics of literary men can ever be otherwise than emotional. In fact,
though the questions may no longer be so, the politics of vastly the
greater number of Americans are so. Nothing else would account for the
fact that during the last ten or fifteen years men have remained
Republicans and remained Democrats upon no tangible issues except of
office, which could practically concern only a few hundreds or thousands
out of every million voters. Party fealty is praised as a virtue, and
disloyalty to party is treated as a species of incivism next in
wickedness to treason. If any one were to ask me why then American
authors were not active in American politics, as they once were, I should
feel a certain diffidence in replying that the question of other people's
accession to office was, however emotional, unimportant to them as
compared with literary questions. I should have the more diffidence
because it might be retorted that literary men were too unpractical for
politics when they did not deal with moral issues.

Such a retort would be rather mild and civil, as things go, and might
even be regarded as complimentary. It is not our custom to be tender
with any one who doubts if any actuality is right, or might not be
bettered, especially in public affairs. We are apt to call such a one
out of his name and to punish him for opinions he has never held. This
may be a better reason than either given why authors do not take part in
politics with us. They are a thin-skinned race, fastidious often, and
always averse to hard knocks; they are rather modest, too, and distrust
their fitness to lead, when they have quite a firm faith in their
convictions. They hesitate to urge these in the face of practical
politicians, who have a confidence in their ability to settle all affairs
of State not surpassed even by that of business men in dealing with
economic questions.

I think it is a pity that our authors do not go into politics at least
for the sake of the material it would yield them; but really they do not.
Our politics are often vulgar, but they are very picturesque; yet, so
far, our fiction has shunned them even more decidedly than it has shunned
our good society--which is not picturesque or apparently anything but a
tiresome adaptation of the sort of drama that goes on abroad under the
same name. In nearly the degree that our authors have dealt with our
politics as material, they have given the practical politicians only too
much reason to doubt their insight and their capacity to understand the
mere machinery, the simplest motives, of political life.


There are exceptions, of course, and if my promise of reticence did not
withhold me I might name some striking ones. Privately and
unprofessionally, I think our authors take as vivid an interest in public
affairs as any other class of our citizens, and I should be sorry to
think that they took a less intelligent interest. Now and then, but only
very rarely, one of them speaks out, and usually on the unpopular side.
In this event he is spared none of the penalties with which we like to
visit difference of opinion; rather they are accumulated on him.

Such things are not serious, and they are such as no serious man need
shrink from, but they have a bearing upon what I am trying to explain,
and in a certain measure they account for a certain attitude in our
literary men. No one likes to have stones, not to say mud, thrown at
him, though they are not meant to hurt him badly and may be partly thrown
in joke. But it is pretty certain that if a man not in politics takes
them seriously, he will have more or less mud, not to say stones, thrown
at him. He might burlesque or caricature them, or misrepresent them,
with safety; but if he spoke of public questions with heart and
conscience, he could not do it with impunity, unless he were authorized
to do so by some practical relation to them. I do not mean that then he
would escape; but in this country, where there were once supposed to be
no classes, people are more strictly classified than in any other.
Business to the business man, law to the lawyer, medicine to the
physician, politics to the politician, and letters to the literary man;
that is the rule. One is not expected to transcend his function, and
commonly one does not. We keep each to his last, as if there were not
human interests, civic interests, which had a higher claim than the last
upon our thinking and feeling. The tendency has grown upon us severally
and collectively through the long persistence of our prosperity; if
public affairs were going ill, private affairs were going so well that we
did not mind the others; and we Americans are, I think, meridional in our
improvidence. We are so essentially of to-day that we behave as if
to-morrow no more concerned us than yesterday. We have taught ourselves to
believe that it will all come out right in the end so long that we have
come to act upon our belief; we are optimistic fatalists.


The turn which our politics have taken towards economics, if I may so
phrase the rise of the questions of labor and capital, has not largely
attracted literary men. It is doubtful whether Edward Bellamy himself,
whose fancy of better conditions has become the abiding faith of vast
numbers of Americans, supposed that he was entering the field of
practical politics, or dreamed of influencing elections by his hopes of
economic equality. But he virtually founded the Populist party, which,
as the vital principle of the Democratic party, came so near electing its
candidate for the Presidency some years ago; and he is to be named first
among our authors who have dealt with politics on their more human side
since the days of the old antislavery agitation. Without too great
disregard of the reticence concerning the living which I promised myself,
I may mention Dr. Edward Everett Hale and Colonel Thomas Wentworth
Higginson as prominent authors who encouraged the Nationalist movement
eventuating in Populism, though they were never Populists. It may be
interesting to note that Dr. Hale and Colonel Higginson, who later came
together in their sociological sympathies, were divided by the schism of
1884, when the first remained with the Republicans and the last went off
to the Democrats. More remotely, Colonel Higginson was anti slavery
almost to the point of Abolitionism, and he led a negro regiment in the
war. Dr. Hale was of those who were less radically opposed to slavery
before the war, but hardly so after it came. Since the war a sort of
refluence of the old anti-slavery politics carried from his moorings in
Southern tradition Mr. George W. Cable, who, against the white sentiment
of his section, sided with the former slaves, and would, if the indignant
renunciation of his fellow-Southerners could avail, have consequently
ceased to be the first of Southern authors, though he would still have
continued the author of at least one of the greatest American novels.

If I must burn my ships behind me in alleging these modern instances, as
I seem really to be doing, I may mention Mr. R. W. Gilder, the poet, as
an author who has taken part in the politics of municipal reform, Mr.
Hamlin Garland has been known from the first as a zealous George man, or
single-taxer. Mr. John Hay, Mr. Theodore Roosevelt, and Mr. Henry Cabot
Lodge are Republican politicians, as well as recognized literary men.
Mr. Joel Chandler Harris, when not writing Uncle Remus, writes political
articles in a leading Southern journal. Mark Twain is a leading


I am not sure whether I have made out a case for our authors or against
them; perhaps I have not done so badly; but I have certainly not tried to
be exhaustive; the exhaustion is so apt to extend from the subject to the
reader, and I wish to leave him in a condition to judge for himself
whether American literary men take part in American politics or not.
I think they bear their share, in the quieter sort of way which we hope
(it may be too fondly) is the American way. They are none of them
politicians in the Latin sort. Few, if any, of our statesmen have come
forward with small volumes of verse in their hands as they used to do in
Spain; none of our poets or historians have been chosen Presidents of the
republic as has happened to their French confreres; no great novelist of
ours has been exiled as Victor Hugo was, or atrociously mishandled as
Zola has been, though I have no doubt that if, for instance, one had once
said the Spanish war wrong he would be pretty generally 'conspue'.
They have none of them reached the heights of political power, as several
English authors have done; but they have often been ambassadors,
ministers, and consuls, though they may not often have been appointed for
political reasons. I fancy they discharge their duties in voting rather
faithfully, though they do not often take part in caucuses or

As for the other half of the question--how far American politicians are
scholars--one's first impulse would be to say that they never were so.
But I have always had an heretical belief that there were snakes in
Ireland; and it may be some such disposition to question authority that
keeps me from yielding to this impulse. The law of demand and supply
alone ought to have settled the question in favor of the presence of the
scholar in our politics, there has been such a cry for him among us for
almost a generation past. Perhaps the response has not been very direct,
but I imagine that our politicians have never been quite so destitute of
scholarship as they would sometimes make appear. I do not think so many
of them now write a good style, or speak a good style, as the politicians
of forty, or fifty, or sixty years ago; but this may be merely part of
the impression of the general worsening of things, familiar after middle
life to every one's experience, from the beginning of recorded time. If
something not so literary is meant by scholarship, if a study of finance,
of economics, of international affairs is in question, it seems to go on
rather more to their own satisfaction than that of their critics. But
without being always very proud of the result, and without professing to
know the facts very profoundly, one may still suspect that under an
outside by no means academic there is a process of thinking in our
statesmen which is not so loose, not so unscientific, and not even so
unscholarly as it might be supposed. It is not the effect of specific
training, and yet it is the effect of training. I do not find that the
matters dealt with are anywhere in the world intrusted to experts; and in
this sense scholarship has not been called to the aid of our legislation
or administration; but still I should not like to say that none of our
politicians were scholars. That would be offensive, and it might not be
true. In fact, I can think of several whom I should be tempted to call
scholars if I were not just here recalled to a sense of my purpose not to
deal quite frankly with this inquiry.


It has been the belief of certain kindly philosophers that if the one
half of mankind knew how the other half lived, the two halves might be
brought together in a family affection not now so observable in human
relations. Probably if this knowledge were perfect, there would still be
things, to bar the perfect brotherhood; and yet the knowledge itself is
so interesting, if not so salutary as it has been imagined, that one can
hardly refuse to impart it if one has it, and can reasonably hope, in the
advantage of the ignorant, to find one's excuse with the better informed.


City and country are still so widely apart in every civilization that one
can safely count upon a reciprocal strangeness in many every-day things.
For instance, in the country, when people break up house-keeping, they
sell their household goods and gods, as they did in cities fifty or a
hundred years ago; but now in cities they simply store them; and vast
warehouses in all the principal towns have been devoted to their storage.
The warehouses are of all types, from dusty lofts over stores, and
ammoniacal lofts over stables, to buildings offering acres of space, and
carefully planned for the purpose. They are more or less fire-proof,
slow-burning, or briskly combustible, like the dwellings they have
devastated. But the modern tendency is to a type where flames do not
destroy, nor moth corrupt, nor thieves break through and steal. Such a
warehouse is a city in itself, laid out in streets and avenues, with the
private tenements on either hand duly numbered, and accessible only to
the tenants or their order. The aisles are concreted, the doors are
iron, and the roofs are ceiled with iron; the whole place is heated by
steam and lighted by electricity. Behind the iron doors, which in the
New York warehouses must number hundreds of thousands, and throughout all
our other cities, millions, the furniture of a myriad households is
stored--the effects of people who have gone to Europe, or broken up
house-keeping provisionally or definitively, or have died, or been
divorced. They are the dead bones of homes, or their ghosts, or their
yet living bodies held in hypnotic trances; destined again in some future
time to animate some house or flat anew. In certain cases the spell
lasts for many years, in others for a few, and in others yet it prolongs
itself indefinitely.

I may mention the case of one owner whom I saw visiting the warehouse to
take out the household stuff that had lain there a long fifteen years.
He had been all that while in Europe, expecting any day to come home and
begin life again, in his own land. That dream had passed, and now he was
taking his stuff out of storage and shipping it to Italy. I did not envy
him his feelings as the parts of his long-dead past rose round him in
formless resurrection. It was not that they were all broken or defaced.
On the contrary, they were in a state of preservation far more
heartbreaking than any decay. In well-managed storage warehouses the
things are handled with scrupulous care, and they are so packed into the
appointed rooms that if not disturbed they could suffer little harm in
fifteen or fifty years. The places are wonderfully well kept, and if you
will visit them, say in midwinter, after the fall influx of furniture has
all been hidden away behind the iron doors of the several cells, you
shall find their far-branching corridors scrupulously swept and dusted,
and shall walk up and down their concrete length with some such sense of
secure finality as you would experience in pacing the aisle of your
family vault.

That is what it comes to. One may feign that these storage warehouses
are cities, but they are really cemeteries: sad columbaria on whose
shelves are stowed exanimate things once so intimately of their owners'
lives that it is with the sense of looking at pieces and bits of one's
dead self that one revisits them. If one takes the fragments out to fit
them to new circumstance, one finds them not only uncomformable and
incapable, but so volubly confidential of the associations in which they
are steeped, that one wishes to hurry them back to their cell and lock it
upon them forever. One feels then that the old way was far better, and
that if the things had been auctioned off, and scattered up and down, as
chance willed, to serve new uses with people who wanted them enough to
pay for them even a tithe of their cost, it would have been wiser.
Failing this, a fire seems the only thing for them, and their removal to
the cheaper custody of a combustible or slow-burning warehouse the best
recourse. Desperate people, aging husbands and wives, who have attempted
the reconstruction of their homes with these

     "Portions and parcels of the dreadful past"

have been known to wish for an earthquake, even, that would involve their
belongings in an indiscriminate ruin.


In fact, each new start in life should be made with material new to you,
if comfort is to attend the enterprise. It is not only sorrowful but it
is futile to store your possessions, if you hope to find the old
happiness in taking them out and using them again. It is not that they
will not go into place, after a fashion, and perform their old office,
but that the pang they will inflict through the suggestion of the other
places where they served their purpose in other years will be only the
keener for the perfection with which they do it now. If they cannot be
sold, and if no fire comes down from heaven to consume them, then they
had better be stored with no thought of ever taking them out again.

That will be expensive, or it will be inexpensive, according to the sort
of storage they are put into. The inexperienced in such matters may be
surprised, and if they have hearts they may be grieved, to learn that the
fire-proof storage of the furniture of the average house would equal the
rent of a very comfortable domicile in a small town, or a farm by which a
family's living can be earned, with a decent dwelling in which it can be
sheltered. Yet the space required is not very great; three fair-sized
rooms will hold everything; and there is sometimes a fierce satisfaction
in seeing how closely the things that once stood largely about, and
seemed to fill ample parlors and chambers, can be packed away. To be
sure they are not in their familiar attitudes; they lie on their sides or
backs, or stand upon their heads; between the legs of library or dining
tables are stuffed all kinds of minor movables, with cushions, pillows,
pictures, cunningly adjusted to the environment; and mattresses pad the
walls, or interpose their soft bulk between pieces of furniture that
would otherwise rend each other. Carpets sewn in cotton against moths,
and rugs in long rolls; the piano hovering under its ample frame a whole
brood of helpless little guitars, mandolins, and banjos, and supporting
on its broad back a bulk of lighter cases to the fire-proof ceiling of
the cell; paintings in boxes indistinguishable outwardly from their
companioning mirrors; barrels of china and kitchen utensils, and all the
what-not of householding and house-keeping contribute to the repletion.

There is a science observed in the arrangement of the various effects;
against the rear wall and packed along the floor, and then in front of
and on top of these, is built a superstructure of the things that may be
first wanted, in case of removal, or oftenest wanted in some exigency of
the homeless life of the owners, pending removal. The lightest and
slightest articles float loosely about the door, or are interwoven in a
kind of fabric just within, and curtaining the ponderous mass behind.
The effect is not so artistic as the mortuary mosaics which the Roman
Capuchins design with the bones of their dead brethren in the crypt of
their church, but the warehousemen no doubt have their just pride in it,
and feel an artistic pang in its provisional or final disturbance.

It had better never be disturbed, for it is disturbed only in some futile
dream of returning to the past; and we never can return to the past on
the old terms. It is well in all things to accept life implicitly, and
when an end has come to treat it as the end, and not vainly mock it as a
suspense of function. When the poor break up their homes, with no
immediate hope of founding others, they must sell their belongings
because they cannot afford to pay storage on them. The rich or richer
store their household effects, and cheat themselves with the illusion
that they are going some time to rehabilitate with them just such a home
as they have dismantled. But the illusion probably deceives nobody so
little as those who cherish the vain hope. As long as they cherish it,
however--and they must cherish it till their furniture or themselves fall
to dust--they cannot begin life anew, as the poor do who have kept
nothing of the sort to link them to the past. This is one of the
disabilities of the prosperous, who will probably not be relieved of it
till some means of storing the owner as well as the' furniture is
invented. In the immense range of modern ingenuity, this is perhaps not
impossible. Why not, while we are still in life, some sweet oblivious
antidote which shall drug us against memory, and after time shall elapse
for the reconstruction of a new home in place of the old, shall repossess
us of ourselves as unchanged as the things with which we shall again
array it? Here is a pretty idea for some dreamer to spin into the filmy
fabric of a romance, and I handsomely make a present of it to the first
comer. If the dreamer is of the right quality he will know how to make
the reader feel that with the universal longing to return to former
conditions or circumstances it must always be a mistake to do so, and he
will subtly insinuate the disappointment and discomfort of the stored
personality in resuming its old relations. With that just mixture of the
comic and pathetic which we desire in romance, he will teach convincingly
that a stored personality is to be desired only if it is permanently
stored, with the implication of a like finality in the storage of its

Save in some signal exception, a thing taken out of storage cannot be
established in its former function without a sense of its comparative
inadequacy. It stands in the old place, it serves the old use, and yet
a new thing would be better; it would even in some subtle wise be more
appropriate, if I may indulge so audacious a paradox; for the time is
new, and so will be all the subconscious keeping in which our lives are
mainly passed. We are supposed to have associations with the old things
which render them precious, but do not the associations rather render
them painful? If that is true of the inanimate things, how much truer it
is of those personalities which once environed and furnished our lives!
Take the article of old friends, for instance: has it ever happened to
the reader to witness the encounter of old friends after the lapse of
years? Such a meeting is conventionally imagined to be full of tender
joy, a rapture that vents itself in manly tears, perhaps, and certainly
in womanly tears. But really is it any such emotion? Honestly is not it
a cruel embarrassment, which all the hypocritical pretences cannot hide?
The old friends smile and laugh, and babble incoherently at one another,
but are they genuinely glad? Is not each wishing the other at that end
of the earth from which he came? Have they any use for each other such
as people of unbroken associations have?

I have lately been privy to the reunion of two old comrades who are bound
together more closely than most men in a community of interests,
occupations, and ideals. During a long separation they had kept account
of each other's opinions as well as experiences; they had exchanged
letters, from time to time, in which they opened their minds fully to
each other, and found themselves constantly in accord. When they met
they made a great shouting, and each pretended that he found the other
just what he used to be. They talked a long, long time, fighting the
invisible enemy which they felt between them. The enemy was habit, the
habit of other minds and hearts, the daily use of persons and things
which in their separation they had not had in common. When the old
friends parted they promised to meet every day, and now, since their
lines had been cast in the same places again, to repair the ravage of the
envious years, and become again to each other all that they had ever
been. But though they live in the same town, and often dine at the same
table, and belong to the same club, yet they have not grown together
again. They have grown more and more apart, and are uneasy in each
other's presence, tacitly self-reproachful for the same effect which
neither of them could avert or repair. They had been respectively in
storage, and each, in taking the other out, has experienced in him the
unfitness which grows upon the things put away for a time and reinstated
in a former function.


I have not touched upon these facts of life, without the purpose of
finding some way out of the coil. There seems none better than the
counsel of keeping one's face set well forward, and one's eyes fixed
steadfastly upon the future. This is the hint we will get from nature if
we will heed her, and note how she never recurs, never stores or takes
out of storage. Fancy rehabilitating one's first love: how nature would
mock at that! We cannot go back and be the men and women we were, any
more than we can go back and be children. As we grow older, each year's
change in us is more chasmal and complete. There is no elixir whose
magic will recover us to ourselves as we were last year; but perhaps we
shall return to ourselves more and more in the times, or the eternity, to
come. Some instinct or inspiration implies the promise of this, but only
on condition that we shall not cling to the life that has been ours, and
hoard its mummified image in our hearts. We must not seek to store
ourselves, but must part with what we were for the use and behoof of
others, as the poor part with their worldly gear when they move from one
place to another. It is a curious and significant property of our
outworn characteristics that, like our old furniture, they will serve
admirably in the life of some other, and that this other can profitably
make them his when we can no longer keep them ours, or ever hope to
resume them. They not only go down to successive generations, but they
spread beyond our lineages, and serve the turn of those whom we never
knew to be within the circle of our influence.

Civilization imparts itself by some such means, and the lower classes are
clothed in the cast conduct of the upper, which if it had been stored
would have left the inferiors rude and barbarous. We have only to think
how socially naked most of us would be if we had not had the beautiful
manners of our exclusive society to put on at each change of fashion when
it dropped them.

All earthly and material things should be worn out with use, and not
preserved against decay by any unnatural artifice. Even when broken and
disabled from overuse they have a kind of respectability which must
commend itself to the observer, and which partakes of the pensive grace
of ruin. An old table with one leg gone, and slowly lapsing to decay in
the woodshed, is the emblem of a fitter order than the same table, with
all its legs intact, stored with the rest of the furniture from a broken
home. Spinning-wheels gathering dust in the garret of a house that is
itself falling to pieces have a dignity that deserts them when they are
dragged from their refuge, and furbished up with ribbons and a tuft of
fresh tow, and made to serve the hollow occasions of bric-a-brac, as they
were a few years ago. A pitcher broken at the fountain, or a battered
kettle on a rubbish heap, is a venerable object, but not crockery and
copper-ware stored in the possibility of future need. However carefully
handed down from one generation to another, the old objects have a
forlorn incongruity in their successive surroundings which appeals to the
compassion rather than the veneration of the witness.

It was from a truth deeply mystical that Hawthorne declared against any
sort of permanence in the dwellings of men, and held that each generation
should newly house itself. He preferred the perishability of the wooden
American house to the durability of the piles of brick or stone which in
Europe affected him as with some moral miasm from the succession of sires
and sons and grandsons that had died out of them. But even of such
structures as these it is impressive how little the earth makes with the
passage of time. Where once a great city of them stood, you shall find a
few tottering walls, scarcely more mindful of the past than "the cellar
and the well" which Holmes marked as the ultimate monuments, the last
witnesses, to the existence of our more transitory habitations. It is
the law of the patient sun that everything under it shall decay, and if
by reason of some swift calamity, some fiery cataclysm, the perishable
shall be overtaken by a fate that fixes it in unwasting arrest, it cannot
be felt that the law has been set aside in the interest of men's
happiness or cheerfulness. Neither Pompeii nor Herculaneum invites the
gayety of the spectator, who as he walks their disinterred thoroughfares
has the weird sense of taking a former civilization out of storage, and
the ache of finding it wholly unadapted to the actual world. As far as
his comfort is concerned, it had been far better that those cities had
not been stored, but had fallen to the ruin that has overtaken all their


No, good friend, sir or madam, as the case may be, but most likely madam:
if you are about to break up your household for any indefinite period,
and are not so poor that you need sell your things, be warned against
putting them in storage, unless of the most briskly combustible type.
Better, far better, give them away, and disperse them by that means to a
continuous use that shall end in using them up; or if no one will take
them, then hire a vacant lot, somewhere, and devote them to the flames.
By that means you shall bear witness against a custom that insults the
order of nature, and crowds the cities with the cemeteries of dead homes,
where there is scarcely space for the living homes. Do not vainly fancy
that you shall take your stuff out of storage and find it adapted to the
ends that it served before it was put in. You will not be the same, or
have the same needs or desire, when you take it out, and the new place
which you shall hope to equip with it will receive it with cold
reluctance, or openly refuse it, insisting upon forms and dimensions that
render it ridiculous or impossible. The law is that nothing taken out of
storage is the same as it was when put in, and this law, hieroglyphed in
those rude 'graffiti' apparently inscribed by accident in the process of
removal, has only such exceptions as prove the rule.

The world to which it has returned is not the same, and that makes all
the difference. Yet, truth and beauty do not change, however the moods
and fashions change. The ideals remain, and these alone you can go back
to, secure of finding them the same, to-day and to-morrow, that they were
yesterday. This perhaps is because they have never been in storage, but
in constant use, while the moods and fashions have been put away and
taken out a thousand times. Most people have never had ideals, but only
moods and fashions, but such people, least of all, are fitted to find in
them that pleasure of the rococo which consoles the idealist when the old
moods and fashions reappear.


There was not much promise of pleasure in the sodden afternoon of a
mid-March day at Pittsburg, where the smoke of a thousand foundry
chimneys gave up trying to rise through the thick, soft air, and fell
with the constant rain which it dyed its own black. But early memories
stirred joyfully in the two travellers in whose consciousness I was
making my tour, at sight of the familiar stern-wheel steamboat lying
beside the wharf boat at the foot of the dilapidated levee, and doing its
best to represent the hundreds of steamboats that used to lie there in
the old days. It had the help of three others in its generous effort, and
the levee itself made a gallant pretence of being crowded with freight,
and succeeded in displaying several saturated piles of barrels and
agricultural implements on the irregular pavement whose wheel-worn
stones, in long stretches, were sunken out of sight in their parent mud.
The boats and the levee were jointly quite equal to the demand made upon
them by the light-hearted youngsters of sixty-five and seventy, who were
setting out on their journey in fulfilment of a long-cherished dream, and
for whom much less freight and much fewer boats would have rehabilitated
the past.


When they mounted the broad stairway, tidily strewn with straw to save it
from the mud of careless boots, and entered the long saloon of the
steamboat, the promise of their fancy was more than made good for them.
From the clerk's office, where they eagerly paid their fare, the saloon
stretched two hundred feet by thirty away to the stern, a cavernous
splendor of white paint and gilding, starred with electric bulbs, and
fenced at the stern with wide windows of painted glass. Midway between
the great stove in the bow where the men were herded, and the great stove
at the stern where the women kept themselves in the seclusion which the
tradition of Western river travel still guards, after well-nigh a hundred
years, they were given ample state-rooms, whose appointments so exactly
duplicated those they remembered from far-off days that they could have
believed themselves awakened from a dream of insubstantial time, with the
events in which it had seemed to lapse, mere feints of experience. When
they sat down at the supper-table and were served with the sort of
belated steamboat dinner which it recalled as vividly, the kind, sooty
faces and snowy aprons of those who served them were so quite those of
other days that they decided all repasts since were mere Barmecide
feasts, and made up for the long fraud practised upon them with the
appetites of the year 1850.


A rigider sincerity than shall be practised here might own that the table
of the good steamboat 'Avonek' left something to be desired, if tested by
more sophisticated cuisines, but in the article of corn-bread it was of
an inapproachable preeminence. This bread was made of the white corn
which North knows not, nor the hapless East; and the buckwheat cakes at
breakfast were without blame, and there was a simple variety in the
abundance which ought to have satisfied if it did not flatter the choice.
The only thing that seemed strangely, that seemed sadly, anomalous in a
land flowing with ham and bacon was that the 'Avonek' had not imagined
providing either for the guests, no one of whom could have had a
religious scruple against them.

The thing, indeed, which was first and last conspicuous in the
passengers, was their perfectly American race and character. At the
start, when with an acceptable observance of Western steamboat tradition
the 'Avonek' left her wharf eight hours behind her appointed time, there
were very few passengers; but they began to come aboard at the little
towns of both shores as she swam southward and westward, till all the
tables were so full that, in observance of another Western steamboat
tradition; one did well to stand guard over his chair lest some other who
liked it should seize it earlier. The passengers were of every age and
condition, except perhaps the highest condition, and they seemed none the
worse for being more like Americans of the middle of the last century
than of the beginning of this. Their fashions were of an approximation
to those of the present, but did not scrupulously study detail; their
manners were those of simpler if not sincerer days.

The women kept to themselves at their end of the saloon, aloof from the
study of any but their husbands or kindred, but the men were everywhere
else about, and open to observation. They were not so open to
conversation, for your mid-Westerner is not a facile, though not an
unwilling, talker. They sat by their tall, cast-iron stove (of the oval
pattern unvaried since the earliest stove of the region), and silently
ruminated their tobacco and spat into the clustering, cuspidors at their
feet. They would always answer civilly if questioned, and oftenest
intelligently, but they asked nothing in return, and they seemed to have
none of that curiosity once known or imagined in them by Dickens and
other averse aliens. They had mostly faces of resolute power, and such a
looking of knowing exactly what they wanted as would not have promised
well for any collectively or individually opposing them. If ever the
sense of human equality has expressed itself in the human countenance it
speaks unmistakably from American faces like theirs.

They were neither handsome nor unhandsome; but for a few striking
exceptions, they had been impartially treated by nature; and where they
were notably plain their look of force made up for their lack of beauty.
They were notably handsomest in a tall young fellow of a lean face,
absolute Greek in profile, amply thwarted with a branching mustache, and
slender of figure, on whom his clothes, lustrous from much sitting down
and leaning up, grew like the bark on a tree, and who moved slowly and
gently about, and spoke with a low, kind voice. In his young comeliness
he was like a god, as the gods were fancied in the elder world: a chewing
and a spitting god, indeed, but divine in his passionless calm.

He was a serious divinity, and so were all the mid-Western human-beings
about him. One heard no joking either of the dapper or cockney sort of
cities, or the quaint graphic phrasing of Eastern country folk; and it
may have been not far enough West for the true Western humor. At any
rate, when they were not silent these men still were serious.

The women were apparently serious, too, and where they were associated
with the men were, if they were not really subject, strictly abeyant, in
the spectator's eye. The average of them was certainly not above the
American woman's average in good looks, though one young mother of six
children, well grown save for the baby in her arms, was of the type some
masters loved to paint, with eyes set wide under low arched brows. She
had the placid dignity and the air of motherly goodness which goes fitly
with such beauty, and the sight of her was such as to disperse many of
the misgivings that beset the beholder who looketh upon the woman when
she is New. As she seemed, so any man might wish to remember his mother

All these river folk, who came from the farms and villages along the
stream, and never from the great towns or cities, were well mannered, if
quiet manners are good; and though the men nearly all chewed tobacco and
spat between meals, at the table they were of an exemplary behavior. The
use of the fork appeared strange to them, and they handled it strenuously
rather than agilely, yet they never used their knives shovel-wise,
however they planted their forks like daggers in the steak: the steak
deserved no gentler usage, indeed. They were usually young, and they
were constantly changing, bent upon short journeys between the shore
villages; they were mostly farm youth, apparently, though some were said
to be going to find work at the great potteries up the river for wages
fabulous to home-keeping experience.

One personality which greatly took the liking of one of our tourists was
a Kentucky mountaineer who, after three years' exile in a West Virginia
oil town, was gladly returning to the home for which he and all his
brood-of large and little comely, red-haired boys and girls-had never
ceased to pine. His eagerness to get back was more than touching; it was
awing; for it was founded on a sort of mediaeval patriotism that could
own no excellence beyond the borders of the natal region. He had
prospered at high wages in his trade at that oil town, and his wife and
children had managed a hired farm so well as to pay all the family
expenses from it, but he was gladly leaving opportunity behind, that he
might return to a land where, if you were passing a house at meal-time,
they came out and made you come in and eat. "When you eat where I've
been living you pay fifty cents," he explained. "And are you taking all
your household stuff with you?" "Only the cook-stove. Well, I'll tell
you: we made the other things ourselves; made them out of plank, and they
were not worth-moving." Here was the backwoods surviving into the day of
Trusts; and yet we talk of a world drifted hopelessly far from the old


The new ideals, the ideals of a pitiless industrialism, were sufficiently
expressed along the busy shores, where the innumerable derricks of
oil-wells silhouetted their gibbet shapes against the horizon, and the
myriad chimneys of the foundries sent up the smoke of their torment into
the quiet skies and flamed upon the forehead of the evening like baleful
suns. But why should I be so violent of phrase against these guiltless
means of millionairing? There must be iron and coal as well as wheat and
corn in the world, and without their combination we cannot have bread. If
the combination is in the form of a trust, such as has laid its giant
clutch upon all those warring industries beside the Ohio and swept them
into one great monopoly, why, it has still to show that it is worse than
competition; that it is not, indeed, merely the first blind stirrings of
the universal cooperation of which the dreamers of ideal commonwealths
have always had the vision.

The derricks and the chimneys, when one saw them, seem to have all the
land to themselves; but this was an appearance only, terrifying in its
strenuousness, but not, after all, the prevalent aspect. That was rather
of farm, farms, and evermore farms, lying along the rich levels of the
stream, and climbing as far up its beautiful hills as the plough could
drive. In the spring and in the Mall, when it is suddenly swollen by the
earlier and the later rains, the river scales its banks and swims over
those levels to the feet of those hills, and when it recedes it leaves
the cornfields enriched for the crop that, has never failed since the
forests were first cut from the land. Other fertilizing the fields have
never had any, but they teem as if the guano islands had been emptied
into their laps. They feel themselves so rich that they part with great
lengths and breadths of their soil to the river, which is not good for
the river, and is not well for the fields; so that the farmers, whose
ease learns slowly, are beginning more and more to fence their borders
with the young willows which form a hedge in the shallow wash such a
great part of the way up and down the Ohio. Elms and maples wade in
among the willows, and in time the river will be denied the indigestion
which it confesses in shoals and bars at low water, and in a difficulty
of channel at all stages.

Meanwhile the fields flourish in spite of their unwise largesse to the
stream, whose shores the comfortable farmsteads keep so constantly that
they are never out of sight. Most commonly they are of brick, but
sometimes of painted wood, and they are set on little eminences high
enough to save them from the freshets, but always so near the river that
they cannot fail of its passing life. Usually a group of planted
evergreens half hides the house from the boat, but its inmates will not
lose any detail of the show, and come down to the gate of the paling
fence to watch the 'Avonek' float by: motionless men and women, who lean
upon the supporting barrier, and rapt children who hold by their skirts
and hands. There is not the eager New England neatness about these
homes; now and then they have rather a sloven air, which does not discord
with their air of comfort; and very, very rarely they stagger drunkenly
in a ruinous neglect. Except where a log cabin has hardily survived the
pioneer period, the houses are nearly all of one pattern; their facades
front the river, and low chimneys point either gable, where a half-story
forms the attic of the two stories below. Gardens of pot-herbs flank
them, and behind cluster the corn-cribs, and the barns and stables
stretch into the fields that stretch out to the hills, now scantily
wooded, but ever lovely in the lines that change with the steamer's

Except in the immediate suburbs of the large towns, there is no ambition
beyond that of rustic comfort in the buildings on the shore. There is no
such thing, apparently, as a summer cottage, with its mock humility of
name, up or down the whole tortuous length of the Ohio. As yet the land
is not openly depraved by shows of wealth; those who amass it either keep
it to themselves or come away to spend it in European travel, or pause to
waste it unrecognized on the ungrateful Atlantic seaboard. The only
distinctions that are marked are between the homes of honest industry
above the banks and the homes below them of the leisure, which it is
hoped is not dishonest. But, honest or dishonest, it is there apparently
to stay in the house-boats which line the shores by thousands, and repeat
on Occidental terms in our new land the river-life of old and far Cathay.

They formed the only feature of their travel which our tourists found
absolutely novel; they could clearly or dimly recall from the past every
other feature but the houseboats, which they instantly and gladly
naturalized to their memories of it. The houses had in common the form
of a freight-car set in a flat-bottomed boat; the car would be shorter or
longer, with one, or two, or three windows in its sides, and a section of
stovepipe softly smoking from its roof. The windows might be curtained
or they might be bare, but apparently there was no other distinction
among the houseboat dwellers, whose sluggish craft lay moored among the
willows, or tied to an elm or a maple, or even made fast to a stake on
shore. There were cases in which they had not followed the fall of the
river promptly enough, and lay slanted on the beach, or propped up to a
more habitable level on its slope; in a sole, sad instance, the house had
gone down with the boat and lay wallowing in the wash of the flood. But
they all gave evidence of a tranquil and unhurried life which the soul of
the beholder envied within him, whether it manifested itself in the lord
of the house-boat fishing from its bow, or the lady coming to cleanse
some household utensil at its stern. Infrequently a group of the house-
boat dwellers seemed to be drawing a net, and in one high event they
exhibited a good-sized fish of their capture, but nothing so strenuous
characterized their attitude on any other occasion. The accepted theory
of them was that they did by day as nearly nothing as men could do and
live, and that by night their forays on the bordering farms supplied the
simple needs of people who desired neither to toil nor to spin, but only
to emulate Solomon in his glory with the least possible exertion. The
joyful witness of their ease would willingly have sacrificed to them any
amount of the facile industrial or agricultural prosperity about them and
left them slumberously afloat, unmolested by dreams of landlord or tax-
gatherer. Their existence for the fleeting time seemed the true
interpretation of the sage's philosophy, the fulfilment of the poet's

   "Why should we only toil, that are the roof and crown of things."

How did they pass their illimitable leisure, when they rested from the
fishing-net by day and the chicken-coop by night? Did they read the new
historical fictions aloud to one another? Did some of them even meditate
the thankless muse and not mind her ingratitude? Perhaps the ladies of
the house-boats, when they found themselves--as they often did--in
companies of four or five, had each other in to "evenings," at which one
of them read a paper on some artistic or literary topic.


The trader's boat, of an elder and more authentic tradition, sometimes
shouldered the house-boats away from a village landing, but it, too, was
a peaceful home, where the family life visibly went hand-in-hand with
commerce. When the trader has supplied all the wants and wishes of a
neighborhood, he unmoors his craft and drops down the river's tide to
where it meets the ocean's tide in the farthermost Mississippi, and there
either sells out both his boat and his stock, or hitches his home to some
returning steamboat, and climbs slowly, with many pauses, back to the
upper Ohio. But his home is not so interesting as that of the
houseboatman, nor so picturesque as that of the raftsman, whose floor of
logs rocks flexibly under his shanty, but securely rides the current. As
the pilots said, a steamboat never tries to hurt a raft of logs, which is
adapted to dangerous retaliation; and by night it always gives a wide
berth to the lantern tilting above the raft from a swaying pole. By day
the raft forms one of the pleasantest aspects of the river-life, with its
convoy of skiffs always searching the stream or shore for logs which have
broken from it, and which the skiffmen recognize by distinctive brands or
stamps. Here and there the logs lie in long ranks upon the shelving
beaches, mixed with the drift of trees and fence-rails, and frames of
corn-cribs and hencoops, and even house walls, which the freshets have
brought down and left stranded. The tops of the little willows are
tufted gayly with hay and rags, and other spoil of the flood; and in one
place a disordered mattress was lodged high among the boughs of a water-
maple, where it would form building material for countless generations of
birds. The fat cornfields were often littered with a varied wreckage
which the farmers must soon heap together and burn, to be rid of it, and
everywhere were proofs of the river's power to devastate as well as
enrich its shores. The dwellers there had no power against it, in its
moments of insensate rage, and the land no protection from its
encroachments except in the simple device of the willow hedges, which, if
planted, sometimes refused to grow, but often came of themselves and kept
the torrent from the loose, unfathomable soil of the banks, otherwise
crumbling helplessly into it.

The rafts were very well, and the house-boats and the traders' boats, but
the most majestic feature of the riverlife was the tow of coal-barges
which, going or coming, the 'Avonek' met every few miles. Whether going
or coming they were pushed, not pulled, by the powerful steamer which
gathered them in tens and twenties before her, and rode the mid-current
with them, when they were full, or kept the slower water near shore when
they were empty. They claimed the river where they passed, and the
'Avonek' bowed to an unwritten law in giving them the full right of way,
from the time when their low bulk first rose in sight, with the chimneys
of their steamer towering above them and her gay contours gradually
making themselves seen, till she receded from the encounter, with the
wheel at her stern pouring a cataract of yellow water from its blades.
It was insurpassably picturesque always, and not the tapering masts or
the swelling sails of any sea-going craft could match it.


So at least the travellers thought who were here revisiting the earliest
scenes of childhood, and who perhaps found them unduly endeared. They
perused them mostly from an easy seat at the bow of the hurricane-deck,
and, whenever the weather favored them, spent the idle time in selecting
shelters for their declining years among the farmsteads that offered
themselves to their choice up and down the shores. The weather commonly
favored them, and there was at least one whole day on the lower river
when the weather was divinely flattering. The soft, dull air lulled
their nerves while it buffeted their faces, and the sun, that looked
through veils of mist and smoke, gently warmed their aging frames and
found itself again in their hearts. Perhaps it was there that the water-
elms and watermaples chiefly budded, and the red-birds sang, and the
drifting flocks of blackbirds called and clattered; but surely these also
spread their gray and pink against the sky and filled it with their
voices. There were meadow-larks and robins without as well as within,
and it was no subjective plough that turned the earliest furrows in those
opulent fields.

When they were tired of sitting there, they climbed, invited or
uninvited, but always welcomed, to the pilothouse, where either pilot of
the two who were always on watch poured out in an unstinted stream the
lore of the river on which all their days had been passed. They knew
from indelible association every ever-changing line of the constant
hills; every dwelling by the low banks; every aspect of the smoky towns;
every caprice of the river; every-tree, every stump; probably every bud
and bird in the sky. They talked only of the river; they cared for
nothing else. The Cuban cumber and the Philippine folly were equally far
from them; the German prince was not only as if he had never been here,
but as if he never had been; no public question concerned them but that
of abandoning the canals which the Ohio legislature was then foolishly
debating. Were not the canals water-ways, too, like the river, and if
the State unnaturally abandoned them would not it be for the behoof of
those railroads which the rivermen had always fought, and which would
have made a solitude of the river if they could?

But they could not, and there was nothing more surprising and delightful
in this blissful voyage than the evident fact that the old river traffic
had strongly survived, and seemed to be more strongly reviving. Perhaps
it was not; perhaps the fondness of those Ohio-river-born passengers was
abused by an illusion (as subjective as that of the buds and birds) of a
vivid variety of business and pleasure on the beloved stream. But again,
perhaps not. They were seldom out of sight of the substantial proofs of
both in the through or way packets they encountered, or the nondescript
steam craft that swarmed about the mouths of the contributory rivers, and
climbed their shallowing courses into the recesses of their remotest
hills, to the last lurking-places of their oil and coal.


The Avonek was always stopping to put off or take on merchandise or men.
She would stop for a single passenger, plaited in the mud with his
telescope valise or gripsack under the edge of a lonely cornfield, or to
gather upon her decks the few or many casks or bales that a farmer wished
to ship. She lay long hours by the wharf-boats of busy towns, exchanging
one cargo for another, in that anarchic fetching and carrying which we
call commerce, and which we drolly suppose to be governed by laws. But
wherever she paused or parted, she tested the pilot's marvellous skill;
for no landing, no matter how often she landed in the same place, could
be twice the same. At each return the varying stream and shore must be
studied, and every caprice of either divined. It was always a triumph,
a miracle, whether by day or by night, a constant wonder how under the
pilot's inspired touch she glided softly to her moorings, and without a
jar slipped from them again and went on her course.

But the landings by night were of course the finest. Then the wide fan
of the search-light was unfurled upon the point to be attained and the
heavy staging lowered from the bow to the brink, perhaps crushing the
willow hedges in it's fall, and scarcely touching the land before a
black, ragged deck-hand had run out through the splendor and made a line
fast to the trunk of the nearest tree. Then the work of lading or
unlading rapidly began in the witching play of the light that set into
radiant relief the black, eager faces and the black, eager figures of the
deck-hands struggling up or down the staging under boxes of heavy wares,
or kegs of nails, or bales of straw, or blocks of stone, steadily mocked
or cursed at in their shapeless effort, till the last of them reeled back
to the deck down the steep of the lifting stage, and dropped to his
broken sleep wherever he could coil himself, doglike, down among the
heaps of freight.

No dog, indeed, leads such a hapless life as theirs; and ah! and ah! why
should their sable shadows intrude in a picture that was meant to be all
so gay and glad? But ah! and ah! where, in what business of this hard
world, is not prosperity built upon the struggle of toiling men, who
still endeavor their poor best, and writhe and writhe under the burden of
their brothers above, till they lie still under the lighter load of their
mother earth?


By William Dean Howells



    IV.    IRVING
    VII.   SCOTT
    IX.    POPE
    XV.    DICKENS


The papers collected here under the name of 'My Literary Passions' were
printed serially in a periodical of such vast circulation that they might
well have been supposed to have found there all the acceptance that could
be reasonably hoped for them. Nevertheless, they were reissued in a
volume the year after they first appeared, in 1895, and they had a
pleasing share of such favor as their author's books have enjoyed. But
it is to be doubted whether any one liked reading them so much as he
liked writing them--say, some time in the years 1893 and 1894, in a New
York flat, where he could look from his lofty windows over two miles and
a half of woodland in Central Park, and halloo his fancy wherever he
chose in that faery realm of books which he re-entered in reminiscences
perhaps too fond at times, and perhaps always too eager for the reader's
following. The name was thought by the friendly editor of the popular
publication where they were serialized a main part of such inspiration as
they might be conjectured to have, and was, as seldom happens with editor
and author, cordially agreed upon before they were begun.

The name says, indeed, so exactly and so fully what they are that little
remains for their bibliographer to add beyond the meagre historical
detail here given. Their short and simple annals could be eked out by
confidences which would not appreciably enrich the materials of the
literary history of their time, and it seems better to leave them to the
imagination of such posterity as they may reach. They are rather
helplessly frank, but not, I hope, with all their rather helpless
frankness, offensively frank. They are at least not part of the polemic
which their author sustained in the essays following them in this volume,
and which might have been called, in conformity with 'My Literary
Passions', by the title of 'My Literary Opinions' better than by the
vague name which they actually wear.

They deal, to be sure, with the office of Criticism and the art of
Fiction, and so far their present name is not a misnomer. It follows
them from an earlier date and could not easily be changed, and it may
serve to recall to an elder generation than this the time when their
author was breaking so many lances in the great, forgotten war between
Realism and Romanticism that the floor of the "Editor's Study" in
Harper's Magazine was strewn with the embattled splinters. The "Editor's
Study" is now quite another place, but he who originally imagined it in
1886, and abode in it until 1892, made it at once the scene of such
constant offence that he had no time, if he had the temper, for defence.
The great Zola, or call him the immense Zola, was the prime mover in the
attack upon the masters of the Romanticistic school; but he lived to own
that he had fought a losing fight, and there are some proofs that he was
right. The Realists, who were undoubtedly the masters of fiction in
their passing generation, and who prevailed not only in France, but in
Russia, in Scandinavia, in Spain, in Portugal, were overborne in all
Anglo-Saxon countries by the innumerable hosts of Romanticism, who to
this day possess the land; though still, whenever a young novelist does
work instantly recognizable for its truth and beauty among us, he is seen
and felt to have wrought in the spirit of Realism. Not even yet,
however, does the average critic recognize this, and such lesson as the
"Editor's Study" assumed to teach remains here in all its essentials for
his improvement.

Month after month for the six years in which the "Editor's Study"
continued in the keeping of its first occupant, its lesson was more or
less stormily delivered, to the exclusion, for the greater part, of other
prophecy, but it has not been found well to keep the tempestuous manner
along with the fulminant matter in this volume. When the author came to
revise the material, he found sins against taste which his zeal for
righteousness could not suffice to atone for. He did not hesitate to
omit the proofs of these, and so far to make himself not only a precept,
but an example in criticism. He hopes that in other and slighter things
he has bettered his own instruction, and that in form and in fact the
book is altogether less crude and less rude than the papers from which it
has here been a second time evolved.

The papers, as they appeared from month to month, were not the product of
those unities of time and place which were the happy conditioning of
'My Literary Passions.' They could not have been written in quite so
many places as times, but they enjoyed a comparable variety of origin.
Beginning in Boston, they were continued in a Boston suburb, on the
shores of Lake George, in a Western New York health resort, in Buffalo,
in Nahant; once, twice, and thrice in New York, with reversions to
Boston, and summer excursions to the hills and waters of New England,
until it seemed that their author had at last said his say, and he
voluntarily lapsed into silence with the applause of friends and enemies

The papers had made him more of the last than of the first, but not as
still appears to him with greater reason. At moments his deliverances
seemed to stir people of different minds to fury in two continents, so
far as they were English-speaking, and on the coasts of the seven seas;
and some of these came back at him with such violent personalities as it
is his satisfaction to remember that he never indulged in his attacks
upon their theories of criticism and fiction. His opinions were always
impersonal; and now as their manner rather than their make has been
slightly tempered, it may surprise the belated reader to learn that it
was the belief of one English critic that their author had "placed
himself beyond the pale of decency" by them. It ought to be less
surprising that, since these dreadful words were written of him, more
than one magnanimous Englishman has penitently expressed to the author
the feeling that he was not so far wrong in his overboldly hazarded
convictions. The penitence of his countrymen is still waiting
expression, but it may come to that when they have recurred to the
evidences of his offence in their present shape.



To give an account of one's reading is in some sort to give an account of
one's life; and I hope that I shall not offend those who follow me in
these papers, if I cannot help speaking of myself in speaking of the
authors I must call my masters: my masters not because they taught me
this or that directly, but because I had such delight in them that I
could not fail to teach myself from them whatever I was capable of
learning. I do not know whether I have been what people call a great
reader; I cannot claim even to have been a very wise reader; but I have
always been conscious of a high purpose to read much more, and more
discreetly, than I have ever really done, and probably it is from the
vantage-ground of this good intention that I shall sometimes be found
writing here rather than from the facts of the case.

But I am pretty sure that I began right, and that if I had always kept
the lofty level which I struck at the outset I should have the right to
use authority in these reminiscences without a bad conscience. I shall
try not to use authority, however, and I do not expect to speak here of
all my reading, whether it has been much or little, but only of those
books, or of those authors that I have felt a genuine passion for. I
have known such passions at every period of my life, but it is mainly of
the loves of my youth that I shall write, and I shall write all the more
frankly because my own youth now seems to me rather more alien than that
of any other person.

I think that I came of a reading race, which has always loved literature
in a way, and in spite of varying fortunes and many changes. From a
letter of my great-grandmother's written to a stubborn daughter upon some
unfilial behavior, like running away to be married, I suspect that she
was fond of the high-colored fiction of her day, for she tells the wilful
child that she has "planted a dagger in her mother's heart," and I should
not be surprised if it were from this fine-languaged lady that my
grandfather derived his taste for poetry rather than from his father, who
was of a worldly wiser mind. To be sure, he became a Friend by
Convincement as the Quakers say, and so I cannot imagine that he was
altogether worldly; but he had an eye to the main chance: he founded the
industry of making flannels in the little Welsh town where he lived, and
he seems to have grown richer, for his day and place, than any of us have
since grown for ours. My grandfather, indeed, was concerned chiefly in
getting away from the world and its wickedness. He came to this country
early in the nineteenth century and settled his family in a log-cabin in
the Ohio woods, that they might be safe from the sinister influences of
the village where he was managing some woollen-mills. But he kept his
affection for certain poets of the graver, not to say gloomier sort, and
he must have suffered his children to read them, pending that great
question of their souls' salvation which was a lifelong trouble to him.

My father, at any rate, had such a decided bent in the direction of
literature, that he was not content in any of his several economical
experiments till he became the editor of a newspaper, which was then the
sole means of satisfying a literary passion. His paper, at the date when
I began to know him, was a living, comfortable and decent, but without
the least promise of wealth in it, or the hope even of a much better
condition. I think now that he was wise not to care for the advancement
which most of us have our hearts set upon, and that it was one of his
finest qualities that he was content with a lot in life where he was not
exempt from work with his hands, and yet where he was not so pressed by
need but he could give himself at will not only to the things of the
spirit, but the things of the mind too. After a season of scepticism he
had become a religious man, like the rest of his race, but in his own
fashion, which was not at all the fashion of my grandfather: a Friend who
had married out of Meeting, and had ended a perfervid Methodist. My
father, who could never get himself converted at any of the camp-meetings
where my grandfather often led the forces of prayer to his support, and
had at last to be given up in despair, fell in with the writings of
Emanuel Swedenborg, and embraced the doctrine of that philosopher with a
content that has lasted him all the days of his many years. Ever since I
can remember, the works of Swedenborg formed a large part of his library;
he read them much himself, and much to my mother, and occasionally a
"Memorable Relation" from them to us children. But he did not force them
upon our notice, nor urge us to read them, and I think this was very
well. I suppose his conscience and his reason kept him from doing so.
But in regard to other books, his fondness was too much for him, and when
I began to show a liking for literature he was eager to guide my choice.

His own choice was for poetry, and the most of our library, which was not
given to theology, was given to poetry. I call it the library now, but
then we called it the bookcase, and that was what literally it was,
because I believe that whatever we had called our modest collection of
books, it was a larger private collection than any other in the town
where we lived. Still it was all held, and shut with glass doors, in a
case of very few shelves. It was not considerably enlarged during my
childhood, for few books came to my father as editor, and he indulged
himself in buying them even more rarely. My grandfather's book store
(it was also the village drug-store) had then the only stock of
literature for sale in the place; and once, when Harper & Brothers' agent
came to replenish it, he gave my father several volumes for review. One
of these was a copy of Thomson's Seasons, a finely illustrated edition,
whose pictures I knew long before I knew the poetry, and thought them the
most beautiful things that ever were. My father read passages of the
book aloud, and he wanted me to read it all myself. For the matter of
that he wanted me to read Cowper, from whom no one could get anything but
good, and he wanted me to read Byron, from whom I could then have got no
harm; we get harm from the evil we understand. He loved Burns, too, and
he used to read aloud from him, I must own, to my inexpressible
weariness. I could not away with that dialect, and I could not then feel
the charm of the poet's wit, nor the tender beauty of his pathos. Moore,
I could manage better; and when my father read "Lalla Rookh" to my mother
I sat up to listen, and entered into all the woes of Iran in the story of
the "Fire Worshippers." I drew the line at the "Veiled Prophet of
Khorassan," though I had some sense of the humor of the poet's conception
of the critic in "Fadladeen." But I liked Scott's poems far better, and
got from Ispahan to Edinburgh with a glad alacrity of fancy. I followed
the "Lady of the Lake" throughout, and when I first began to contrive
verses of my own I found that poem a fit model in mood and metre.

Among other volumes of verse on the top shelf of the bookcase, of which I
used to look at the outside without penetrating deeply within, were
Pope's translation of the Iliad and the Odyssey, and Dryden's Virgil,
pretty little tomes in tree-calf, published by James Crissy in
Philadelphia, and illustrated with small copper-plates, which somehow
seemed to put the matter hopelessly beyond me. It was as if they said to
me in so many words that literature which furnished the subjects of such
pictures I could not hope to understand, and need not try. At any rate,
I let them alone for the time, and I did not meddle with a volume of
Shakespeare, in green cloth and cruelly fine print, which overawed me in
like manner with its wood-cuts. I cannot say just why I conceived that
there was something unhallowed in the matter of the book; perhaps this
was a tint from the reputation of the rather profligate young man from
whom my father had it. If he were not profligate I ask his pardon. I
have not the least notion who he was, but that was the notion I had of
him, whoever he was, or wherever he now is. There may never have been
such a young man at all; the impression I had may have been pure
invention of my own, like many things with children, who do not very
distinctly know their dreams from their experiences, and live in the
world where both project the same quality of shadow.

There were, of course, other books in the bookcase, which my
consciousness made no account of, and I speak only of those I remember.
Fiction there was none at all that I can recall, except Poe's 'Tales of
the Grotesque and the Arabesque' (I long afflicted myself as to what
those words meant, when I might easily have asked and found out) and
Bulwer's Last Days of Pompeii, all in the same kind of binding. History
is known, to my young remembrance of that library, by a History of the
United States, whose dust and ashes I hardly made my way through; and by
a 'Chronicle of the Conquest of Granada', by the ever dear and precious
Fray Antonio Agapida, whom I was long in making out to be one and the
same as Washington Irving.

In school there was as little literature then as there is now, and I
cannot say anything worse of our school reading; but I was not really
very much in school, and so I got small harm from it. The printing-
office was my school from a very early date. My father thoroughly
believed in it, and he had his beliefs as to work, which he illustrated
as soon as we were old enough to learn the trade he followed. We could
go to school and study, or we could go into the printing-office and work,
with an equal chance of learning, but we could not be idle; we must do
something, for our souls' sake, though he was willing enough we should
play, and he liked himself to go into the woods with us, and to enjoy the
pleasures that manhood can share with childhood. I suppose that as the
world goes now we were poor. His income was never above twelve hundred a
year, and his family was large; but nobody was rich there or then; we
lived in the simple abundance of that time and place, and we did not know
that we were poor. As yet the unequal modern conditions were undreamed
of (who indeed could have dreamed of them forty or fifty years ago?) in
the little Southern Ohio town where nearly the whole of my most happy
boyhood was passed.


When I began to have literary likings of my own, and to love certain
books above others, the first authors of my heart were Goldsmith,
Cervantes, and Irving. In the sharply foreshortened perspective of the
past I seem to have read them all at once, but I am aware of an order of
time in the pleasure they gave me, and I know that Goldsmith came first.
He came so early that I cannot tell when or how I began to read him, but
it must have been before I was ten years old. I read other books about
that time, notably a small book on Grecian and Roman mythology, which I
perused with such a passion for those pagan gods and goddesses that, if
it had ever been a question of sacrificing to Diana, I do not really know
whether I should have been able to refuse. I adored indiscriminately all
the tribes of nymphs and naiads, demigods and heroes, as well as the high
ones of Olympus; and I am afraid that by day I dwelt in a world peopled
and ruled by them, though I faithfully said my prayers at night, and fell
asleep in sorrow for my sins. I do not know in the least how Goldsmith's
Greece came into my hands, though I fancy it must have been procured for
me because of a taste which I showed for that kind of reading, and I can
imagine no greater luck for a small boy in a small town of Southwestern
Ohio well-nigh fifty years ago. I have the books yet; two little, stout
volumes in fine print, with the marks of wear on them, but without those
dishonorable blots, or those other injuries which boys inflict upon books
in resentment of their dulness, or out of mere wantonness. I was always
sensitive to the maltreatment of books; I could not bear to see a book
faced down or dogs-eared or broken-backed. It was like a hurt or an
insult to a thing that could feel.

Goldsmith's History of Rome came to me much later, but quite as
immemorably, and after I had formed a preference for the Greek Republics,
which I dare say was not mistaken. Of course I liked Athens best, and
yet there was something in the fine behavior of the Spartans in battle,
which won a heart formed for hero-worship. I mastered the notion of
their communism, and approved of their iron money, with the poverty it
obliged them to, yet somehow their cruel treatment of the Helots failed
to shock me; perhaps I forgave it to their patriotism, as I had to
forgive many ugly facts in the history of the Romans to theirs. There
was hardly any sort of bloodshed which I would not pardon in those days
to the slayers of tyrants; and the swagger form of such as despatched a
despot with a fine speech was so much to my liking that I could only
grieve that I was born too late to do and to say those things.

I do not think I yet felt the beauty of the literature which made them
all live in my fancy, that I conceived of Goldsmith as an artist using
for my rapture the finest of the arts; and yet I had been taught to see
the loveliness of poetry, and was already trying to make it on my own
poor account. I tried to make verses like those I listened to when my
father read Moore and Scott to my mother, but I heard them with no such
happiness as I read my beloved histories, though I never thought then of
attempting to write like Goldsmith. I accepted his beautiful work as
ignorantly as I did my other blessings. I was concerned in getting at
the Greeks and Romans, and I did not know through what nimble air and by
what lovely ways I was led to them. Some retrospective perception of
this came long afterward when I read his essays, and after I knew all of
his poetry, and later yet when I read the 'Vicar of Wakefield'; but for
the present my eyes were holden, as the eyes of a boy mostly are in the
world of art. What I wanted with my Greeks and Romans after I got at
them was to be like them, or at least to turn them to account in verse,
and in dramatic verse at that. The Romans were less civilized than the
Greeks, and so were more like boys, and more to a boy's purpose. I did
not make literature of the Greeks, but I got a whole tragedy out of the
Romans; it was a rhymed tragedy, and in octosyllabic verse, like the
"Lady of the Lake." I meant it to be acted by my schoolmates, but I am
not sure that I ever made it known to them. Still, they were not
ignorant of my reading, and I remember how proud I was when a certain
boy, who had always whipped me when we fought together, and so outranked
me in that little boys' world, once sent to ask me the name of the Roman
emperor who lamented at nightfall, when he had done nothing worthy, that
he had lost a day. The boy was going to use the story, in a composition,
as we called the school themes then, and I told him the emperor's name; I
could not tell him now without turning to the book.

My reading gave me no standing among the boys, and I did not expect it to
rank me with boys who were more valiant in fight or in play; and I have
since found that literature gives one no more certain station in the
world of men's activities, either idle or useful. We literary folk try
to believe that it does, but that is all nonsense. At every period of
life, among boys or men, we are accepted when they are at leisure, and
want to be amused, and at best we are tolerated rather than accepted.
I must have told the boys stories out of my Goldsmith's Greece and Rome,
or it would not have been known that I had read them, but I have no
recollection now of doing so, while I distinctly remember rehearsing the
allegories and fables of the 'Gesta Romanorum', a book which seems to
have been in my hands about the same time or a little later. I had a
delight in that stupid collection of monkish legends which I cannot
account for now, and which persisted in spite of the nightmare confusion
it made of my ancient Greeks and Romans. They were not at all the
ancient Greeks and Romans of Goldsmith's histories.

I cannot say at what times I read these books, but they must have been
odd times, for life was very full of play then, and was already beginning
to be troubled with work. As I have said, I was to and fro between the
schoolhouse and the printing-office so much that when I tired of the one
I must have been very promptly given my choice of the other. The
reading, however, somehow went on pretty constantly, and no doubt my love
for it won me a chance for it. There were some famous cherry-trees in
our yard, which, as I look back at them, seem to have been in flower or
fruit the year round; and in one of them there was a level branch where a
boy could sit with a book till his dangling legs went to sleep, or till
some idler or busier boy came to the gate and called him down to play
marbles or go swimming. When this happened the ancient world was rolled
up like a scroll, and put away until the next day, with all its orators
and conspirators, its nymphs and satyrs, gods and demigods; though
sometimes they escaped at night and got into the boy's dreams.

I do not think I cared as much as some of the other boys for the 'Arabian
Nights' or 'Robinson Crusoe,' but when it came to the 'Ingenious
Gentleman of La Mancha,' I was not only first, I was sole.

Before I speak, however, of the beneficent humorist who next had my
boyish heart after Goldsmith, let me acquit myself in full of my debt to
that not unequal or unkindred spirit. I have said it was long after I
had read those histories, full of his inalienable charm, mere pot-boilers
as they were, and far beneath his more willing efforts, that I came to
know his poetry. My father must have read the "Deserted Village" to us,
and told us something of the author's pathetic life, for I cannot
remember when I first knew of "sweet Auburn," or had the light of the
poet's own troubled day upon the "loveliest village of the plain."
The 'Vicar of Wakefield' must have come into my life after that poem and
before 'The Traveler'. It was when I would have said that I knew all
Goldsmith; we often give ourselves credit for knowledge in this way
without having any tangible assets; and my reading has always been very
desultory. I should like to say here that the reading of any one who
reads to much purpose is always very desultory, though perhaps I had
better not say so, but merely state the fact in my case, and own that I
never read any one author quite through without wandering from him to
others. When I first read the 'Vicar of Wakefield' (for I have since
read it several times, and hope yet to read it many times), I found its
persons and incidents familiar, and so I suppose I must have heard it
read. It is still for me one of the most modern novels: that is to say,
one of the best. It is unmistakably good up to a certain point, and then
unmistakably bad, but with always good enough in it to be forever
imperishable. Kindness and gentleness are never out of fashion; it is
these in Goldsmith which make him our contemporary, and it is worth the
while of any young person presently intending deathless renown to take a
little thought of them. They are the source of all refinement, and I do
not believe that the best art in any kind exists without them. The style
is the man, and he cannot hide himself in any garb of words so that we
shall not know somehow what manner of man he is within it; his speech
betrayeth him, not only as to his country and his race, but more subtly
yet as to his heart, and the loves and hates of his heart. As to
Goldsmith, I do not think that a man of harsh and arrogant nature, of
worldly and selfish soul, could ever have written his style, and I do not
think that, in far greater measure than criticism has recognized, his
spiritual quality, his essential friendliness, expressed itself in the
literary beauty that wins the heart as well as takes the fancy in his

I should have my reservations and my animadversions if it came to close
criticism of his work, but I am glad that he was the first author I
loved, and that even before I knew I loved him I was his devoted reader.
I was not consciously his admirer till I began to read, when I was
fourteen, a little volume of his essays, made up, I dare say, from the
'Citizen of the World' and other unsuccessful ventures of his. It
contained the papers on Beau Tibbs, among others, and I tried to write
sketches and studies of life in their manner. But this attempt at
Goldsmith's manner followed a long time after I tried to write in the
style of Edgar A. Poe, as I knew it from his 'Tales of the Grotesque
erred Arabesque.' I suppose the very poorest of these was the "Devil in
the Belfry," but such as it was I followed it as closely as I could in
the "Devil in the Smoke-Pipes"; I meant tobacco-pipes. The resemblance
was noted by those to whom I read my story; I alone could not see it or
would not own it, and I really felt it a hardship that I should be found
to have produced an imitation.

It was the first time I had imitated a prose writer, though I had
imitated several poets like Moore, Campbell, and Goldsmith himself.
I have never greatly loved an author without wishing to write like him.
I have now no reluctance to confess that, and I do not see why I should
not say that it was a long time before I found it best to be as like
myself as I could, even when I did not think so well of myself as of some
others. I hope I shall always be able and willing to learn something
from the masters of literature and still be myself, but for the young
writer this seems impossible. He must form himself from time to time
upon the different authors he is in love with, but when he has done this
he must wish it not to be known, for that is natural too. The lover
always desires to ignore the object of his passion, and the adoration
which a young writer has for a great one is truly a passion passing the
love of women. I think it hardly less fortunate that Cervantes was one
of my early passions, though I sat at his feet with no more sense of his
mastery than I had of Goldsmith's.


I recall very fully the moment and the place when I first heard of 'Don
Quixote,' while as yet I could not connect it very distinctly with
anybody's authorship. I was still too young to conceive of authorship,
even in my own case, and wrote my miserable verses without any notion of
literature, or of anything but the pleasure of seeing them actually come
out rightly rhymed and measured. The moment was at the close of a
summer's day just before supper, which, in our house, we had lawlessly
late, and the place was the kitchen where my mother was going about her
work, and listening as she could to what my father was telling my brother
and me and an apprentice of ours, who was like a brother to us both, of a
book that he had once read. We boys were all shelling peas, but the
story, as it went on, rapt us from the poor employ, and whatever our
fingers were doing, our spirits were away in that strange land of
adventures and mishaps, where the fevered life of the knight truly
without fear and without reproach burned itself out. I dare say that my
father tried to make us understand the satirical purpose of the book.
I vaguely remember his speaking of the books of chivalry it was meant to
ridicule; but a boy could not care for this, and what I longed to do at
once was to get that book and plunge into its story. He told us at
random of the attack on the windmills and the flocks of sheep, of the
night in the valley of the fulling-mills with their trip-hammers, of the
inn and the muleteers, of the tossing of Sancho in the blanket, of the
island that was given him to govern, and of all the merry pranks at the
duke's and duchess's, of the liberation of the galley-slaves, of the
capture of Mambrino's helmet, and of Sancho's invention of the enchanted
Dulcinea, and whatever else there was wonderful and delightful in the
most wonderful and delightful book in the world. I do not know when or
where my father got it for me, and I am aware of an appreciable time that
passed between my hearing of it and my having it. The event must have
been most important to me, and it is strange I cannot fix the moment when
the precious story came into my hands; though for the matter of that
there is nothing more capricious than a child's memory, what it will hold
and what it will lose.

It is certain my Don Quixote was in two small, stout volumes not much
bigger each than my Goldsmith's 'Greece', bound in a sort of law-calf,
well fitted to withstand the wear they were destined to undergo. The
translation was, of course, the old-fashioned version of Jervas, which,
whether it was a closely faithful version or not, was honest eighteenth-
century English, and reported faithfully enough the spirit of the
original. If it had any literary influence with me the influence must
have been good. But I cannot make out that I was sensible of the
literature; it was the forever enchanting story that I enjoyed.
I exulted in the boundless freedom of the design; the open air of that
immense scene, where adventure followed adventure with the natural
sequence of life, and the days and the nights were not long enough for
the events that thronged them, amidst the fields and woods, the streams
and hills, the highways and byways, hostelries and hovels, prisons and
palaces, which were the setting of that matchless history. I took it as
simply as I took everything else in the world about me. It was full of
meaning that I could not grasp, and there were significances of the kind
that literature unhappily abounds in, but they were lost upon my
innocence. I did not know whether it was well written or not; I never
thought about that; it was simply there in its vast entirety, its
inexhaustible opulence, and I was rich in it beyond the dreams of

My father must have told us that night about Cervantes as well as about
his 'Don Quixote', for I seem to have known from the beginning that he
was once a slave in Algiers, and that he had lost a hand in battle, and I
loved him with a sort of personal affection, as if he were still living
and he could somehow return my love. His name and nature endeared the
Spanish name and nature to me, so that they were always my romance, and
to this day I cannot meet a Spanish man without clothing him in something
of the honor and worship I lavished upon Cervantes when I was a child.
While I was in the full flush of this ardor there came to see our school,
one day, a Mexican gentleman who was studying the American system of
education; a mild, fat, saffron man, whom I could almost have died to
please for Cervantes' and Don Quixote's sake, because I knew he spoke
their tongue. But he smiled upon us all, and I had no chance to
distinguish myself from the rest by any act of devotion before the
blessed vision faded, though for long afterwards, in impassioned
reveries, I accosted him and claimed him kindred because of my fealty,
and because I would have been Spanish if I could.

I would not have had the boy-world about me know anything of these fond
dreams; but it was my tastes alone, my passions, which were alien there;
in everything else I was as much a citizen as any boy who had never heard
of Don Quixote. But I believe that I carried the book about with me most
of the time, so as not to lose any chance moment of reading it. Even in
the blank of certain years, when I added little other reading to my
store, I must still have been reading it. This was after we had removed
from the town where the earlier years of my boyhood were passed, and I
had barely adjusted myself to the strange environment when one of my
uncles asked me to come with him and learn the drug business, in the
place, forty miles away, where he practised medicine. We made the long
journey, longer than any I have made since, in the stage-coach of those
days, and we arrived at his house about twilight, he glad to get home,
and I sick to death with yearning for the home I had left. I do not know
how it was that in this state, when all the world was one hopeless
blackness around me, I should have got my 'Don Quixote' out of my bag;
I seem to have had it with me as an essential part of my equipment for my
new career. Perhaps I had been asked to show it, with the notion of
beguiling me from my misery; perhaps I was myself trying to drown my
sorrows in it. But anyhow I have before me now the vision of my sweet
young aunt and her young sister looking over her shoulder, as they stood
together on the lawn in the summer evening light. My aunt held my Don
Quixote open in one hand, while she clasped with the other the child she
carried on her arm. She looked at the book, and then from time to time
she looked at me, very kindly but very curiously, with a faint smile, so
that as I stood there, inwardly writhing in my bashfulness, I had the
sense that in her eyes I was a queer boy. She returned the book without
comment, after some questions, and I took it off to my room, where the
confidential friend of Cervantes cried himself to sleep.

In the morning I rose up and told them I could not stand it, and I was
going home. Nothing they could say availed, and my uncle went down to
the stage-office with me and took my passage back.

The horror of cholera was then in the land; and we heard in the stage-
office that a man lay dead of it in the hotel overhead. But my uncle led
me to his drugstore, where the stage was to call for me, and made me
taste a little camphor; with this prophylactic, Cervantes and I somehow
got home together alive.

The reading of 'Don Quixote' went on throughout my boyhood, so that I
cannot recall any distinctive period of it when I was not, more or less,
reading that book. In a boy's way I knew it well when I was ten, and a
few years ago, when I was fifty, I took it up in the admirable new
version of Ormsby, and found it so full of myself and of my own
irrevocable past that I did not find it very gay. But I made a great
many discoveries in it; things I had not dreamt of were there, and must
always have been there, and other things wore a new face, and made a new
effect upon me. I had my doubts, my reserves, where once I had given it
my whole heart without question, and yet in what formed the greatness of
the book it seemed to me greater than ever. I believe that its free and
simple design, where event follows event without the fettering control of
intrigue, but where all grows naturally out of character and conditions,
is the supreme form of fiction; and I cannot help thinking that if we
ever have a great American novel it must be built upon some such large
and noble lines. As for the central figure, Don Quixote himself, in his
dignity and generosity, his unselfish ideals, and his fearless devotion
to them, he is always heroic and beautiful; and I was glad to find in my
latest look at his history that I had truly conceived of him at first,
and had felt the sublimity of his nature. I did not want to laugh at him
so much, and I could not laugh at all any more at some of the things done
to him. Once they seemed funny, but now only cruel, and even stupid, so
that it was strange to realize his qualities and indignities as both
flowing from the same mind. But in my mature experience, which threw a
broader light on the fable, I was happy to keep my old love of an author
who had been almost personally, dear to me.


I have told how Cervantes made his race precious to me, and I am sure
that it must have been he who fitted me to understand and enjoy the
American author who now stayed me on Spanish ground and kept me happy in
Spanish air, though I cannot trace the tie in time and circumstance
between Irving and Cervantes. The most I can make sure of is that I read
the 'Conquest of Granada' after I read Don Quixote, and that I loved the
historian so much because I had loved the novelist much more. Of course
I did not perceive then that Irving's charm came largely from Cervantes
and the other Spanish humorists yet unknown to me, and that he had formed
himself upon them almost as much as upon Goldsmith, but I dare say that
this fact had insensibly a great deal to do with my liking. Afterwards I
came to see it, and at the same time to see what was Irving's own in
Irving; to feel his native, if somewhat attenuated humor, and his
original, if somewhat too studied grace. But as yet there was no
critical question with me. I gave my heart simply and passionately to
the author who made the scenes of that most pathetic history live in my
sympathy, and companioned me with the stately and gracious actors in

I really cannot say now whether I loved the Moors or the Spaniards more.
I fought on both sides; I would not have had the Spaniards beaten, and
yet when the Moors lost I was vanquished with them; and when the poor
young King Boabdil (I was his devoted partisan and at the same time a
follower of his fiery old uncle and rival, Hamet el Zegri) heaved the
Last Sigh of the Moor, as his eyes left the roofs of Granada forever, it
was as much my grief as if it had burst from my own breast. I put both
these princes into the first and last historical romance I ever wrote.
I have now no idea what they did in it, but as the story never came to a
conclusion it does not greatly matter. I had never yet read an
historical romance that I can make sure of, and probably my attempt must
have been based almost solely upon the facts of Irving's history. I am
certain I could not have thought of adding anything to them, or at all
varying them.

In reading his 'Chronicle' I suffered for a time from its attribution to
Fray Antonio Agapida, the pious monk whom he feigns to have written it,
just as in reading 'Don Quixote' I suffered from Cervantes masquerading
as the Moorish scribe, Cid Hamet Ben Engeli. My father explained the
literary caprice, but it remained a confusion and a trouble for me, and I
made a practice of skipping those passages where either author insisted
upon his invention. I will own that I am rather glad that sort of thing
seems to be out of fashion now, and I think the directer and franker
methods of modern fiction will forbid its revival. Thackeray was fond of
such open disguises, and liked to greet his reader from the mask of
Yellowplush and Michael Angelo Titmarsh, but it seems to me this was in
his least modern moments.

My 'Conquest of Granada' was in two octavo volumes, bound in drab boards,
and printed on paper very much yellowed with time at its irregular edges.
I do not know when the books happened in my hands. I have no remembrance
that they were in any wise offered or commended to me, and in a sort of
way they were as authentically mine as if I had made them. I saw them at
home, not many months ago, in my father's library (it has long outgrown
the old bookcase, which has gone I know not where), and upon the whole I
rather shrank from taking them down, much more from opening them, though
I could not say why, unless it was from the fear of perhaps finding the
ghost of my boyish self within, pressed flat like a withered leaf,
somewhere between the familiar pages.

When I learned Spanish it was with the purpose, never yet fulfilled, of
writing the life of Cervantes, although I have since had some forty-odd
years to do it in. I taught myself the language, or began to do so, when
I knew nothing of the English grammar but the prosody at the end of the
book. My father had the contempt of familiarity with it, having himself
written a very brief sketch of our accidence, and he seems to have let me
plunge into the sea of Spanish verbs and adverbs, nouns and pronouns, and
all the rest, when as yet I could not confidently call them by name, with
the serene belief that if I did not swim I would still somehow get ashore
without sinking. The end, perhaps, justified him, and I suppose I did
not do all that work without getting some strength from it; but I wish I
had back the time that it cost me; I should like to waste it in some
other way. However, time seemed interminable then, and I thought there
would be enough of it for me in which to read all Spanish literature; or,
at least, I did not propose to do anything less.

I followed Irving, too, in my later reading, but at haphazard, and with
other authors at the same time. I did my poor best to be amused by his
'Knickerbocker History of New York', because my father liked it so much,
but secretly I found it heavy; and a few years ago when I went carefully
through it again. I could not laugh. Even as a boy I found some other
things of his uphill work. There was the beautiful manner, but the
thought seemed thin; and I do not remember having been much amused by
'Bracebridge Hall', though I read it devoutly, and with a full sense that
it would be very 'comme il faut' to like it. But I did like the 'Life of
Goldsmith'; I liked it a great deal better than the more authoritative
'Life by Forster', and I think there is a deeper and sweeter sense of
Goldsmith in it. Better than all, except the 'Conquest of Granada',
I liked the 'Legend of Sleepy Hollow' and the story of Rip Van Winkle,
with their humorous and affectionate caricatures of life that was once of
our own soil and air; and the 'Tales of the Alhambra', which transported
me again, to the scenes of my youth beside the Xenil. It was long after
my acquaintance with his work that I came to a due sense of Irving as an
artist, and perhaps I have come to feel a full sense of it only now, when
I perceive that he worked willingly only when he worked inventively.
At last I can do justice to the exquisite conception of his 'Conquest of
Granada', a study of history which, in unique measure, conveys not only
the pathos, but the humor of one of the most splendid and impressive
situations in the experience of the race. Very possibly something of the
severer truth might have been sacrificed to the effect of the pleasing
and touching tale, but I do not under stand that this was really done.
Upon the whole I am very well content with my first three loves in
literature, and if I were to choose for any other boy I do not see how I
could choose better than Goldsmith and Cervantes and Irving, kindred
spirits, and each not a master only, but a sweet and gentle friend, whose
kindness could not fail to profit him.


In my own case there followed my acquaintance with these authors certain
Boeotian years, when if I did not go backward I scarcely went forward in
the paths I had set out upon. They were years of the work, of the
over-work, indeed, which falls to the lot of so many that I should be
ashamed to speak of it except in accounting for the fact. My father had
sold his paper in Hamilton and had bought an interest in another at
Dayton, and we were all straining our utmost to help pay for it. My daily
tasks began so early and ended so late that I had little time, even if I
had the spirit, for reading; and it was not till what we thought ruin,
but what was really release, came to us that I got back again to my
books. Then we went to live in the country for a year, and that stress of
toil, with the shadow of failure darkening all, fell from me like the
horror of an evil dream. The only new book which I remember to have read
in those two or three years at Dayton, when I hardly remember to have
read any old ones, was the novel of 'Jane Eyre,' which I took in very
imperfectly, and which I associate with the first rumor of the Rochester
Knockings, then just beginning to reverberate through a world that they
have not since left wholly at peace. It was a gloomy Sunday afternoon
when the book came under my hand; and mixed with my interest in the story
was an anxiety lest the pictures on the walls should leave their nails
and come and lay themselves at my feet; that was what the pictures had
been doing in Rochester and other places where the disembodied spirits
were beginning to make themselves felt. The thing did not really happen
in my case, but I was alone in the house, and it might very easily have

If very little came to me in those days from books, on the other hand my
acquaintance with the drama vastly enlarged itself. There was a hapless
company of players in the town from time to time, and they came to us for
their printing. I believe they never paid for it, or at least never
wholly, but they lavished free passes upon us, and as nearly as I can
make out, at this distance of time, I profited by their generosity, every
night. They gave two or three plays at every performance to houses
ungratefully small, but of a lively spirit and impatient temper that
would not brook delay in the representation; and they changed the bill
each day. In this way I became familiar with Shakespeare before I read
him, or at least such plays of his as were most given in those days, and
I saw "Macbeth" and "Hamlet," and above all "Richard III.," again and
again. I do not know why my delight in those tragedies did not send me
to the volume of his plays, which was all the time in the bookcase at
home, but I seem not to have thought of it, and rapt as I was in them I
am not sure that they gave me greater pleasure, or seemed at all finer,
than "Rollo," "The Wife," "The Stranger," "Barbarossa," "The Miser of
Marseilles," and the rest of the melodramas, comedies, and farces which I
saw at that time. I have a notion that there were some clever people in
one of these companies, and that the lighter pieces at least were well
played, but I may be altogether wrong. The gentleman who took the part
of villain, with an unfailing love of evil, in the different dramas, used
to come about the printing-office a good deal, and I was puzzled to find
him a very mild and gentle person. To be sure he had a mustache, which
in those days devoted a man to wickedness, but by day it was a blond
mustache, quite flaxen, in fact, and not at all the dark and deadly thing
it was behind the footlights at night. I could scarcely gasp in his
presence, my heart bounded so in awe and honor of him when he paid a
visit to us; perhaps he used to bring the copy of the show-bills. The
company he belonged to left town in the adversity habitual with them.

Our own adversity had been growing, and now it became overwhelming. We
had to give up the paper we had struggled so hard to keep, but when the
worst came it was not half so bad as what had gone before. There was no
more waiting till midnight for the telegraphic news, no more waking at
dawn to deliver the papers, no more weary days at the case, heavier for
the doom hanging over us. My father and his brothers had long dreamed of
a sort of family colony somewhere in the country, and now the uncle who
was most prosperous bought a milling property on a river not far from
Dayton, and my father went out to take charge of it until the others
could shape their business to follow him. The scheme came to nothing
finally, but in the mean time we escaped from the little city and its
sorrowful associations of fruitless labor, and had a year in the country,
which was blest, at least to us children, by sojourn in a log-cabin,
while a house was building for us.


This log-cabin had a loft, where we boys slept, and in the loft were
stored in barrels the books that had now begun to overflow the bookcase.
I do not know why I chose the loft to renew my long-neglected friendship
with them. The light could not have been good, though if I brought my
books to the little gable window that overlooked the groaning and
whistling gristmill I could see well enough. But perhaps I liked the
loft best because the books were handiest there, and because I could be
alone. At any rate, it was there that I read Longfellow's "Spanish
Student," which I found in an old paper copy of his poems in one of the
barrels, and I instantly conceived for it the passion which all things
Spanish inspired in me. As I read I not only renewed my acquaintance
with literature, but renewed my delight in people and places where I had
been happy before those heavy years in Dayton. At the same time I felt a
little jealousy, a little grudge, that any one else should love them as
well as I, and if the poem had not been so beautiful I should have hated
the poet for trespassing on my ground. But I could not hold out long
against the witchery of his verse. The "Spanish Student" became one of
my passions; a minor passion, not a grand one, like 'Don Quixote' and the
'Conquest of Granada', but still a passion, and I should dread a little
to read the piece now, lest I should disturb my old ideal of its beauty.
The hero's rogue servant, Chispa, seemed to me, then and long afterwards,
so fine a bit of Spanish character that I chose his name for my first
pseudonym when I began to write for the newspapers, and signed my
legislative correspondence for a Cincinnati paper with it. I was in love
with the heroine, the lovely dancer whose 'cachucha' turned my head,
along with that of the cardinal, but whose name even I have forgotten,
and I went about with the thought of her burning in my heart, as if she
had been a real person.


All the while I was bringing up the long arrears of play which I had not
enjoyed in the toil-years at Dayton, and was trying to make my Spanish
reading serve in the sports that we had in the woods and by the river.
We were Moors and Spaniards almost as often as we were British and
Americans, or settlers and Indians. I suspect that the large, mild boy,
the son of a neighboring farmer, who mainly shared our games, had but a
dim notion of what I meant by my strange people, but I did my best to
enlighten him, and he helped me make a dream out of my life, and did his
best to dwell in the region of unrealities where I preferably had my
being; he was from time to time a Moor when I think he would rather have
been a Mingo.

I got hold of Scott's poems, too, in that cabin loft, and read most of
the tales which were yet unknown to me after those earlier readings of my
father's. I could not say why "Harold the Dauntless" most took my fancy;
the fine, strongly flowing rhythm of the verse had a good deal to do with
it, I believe. I liked these things, all of them, and in after years I
liked the "Lady of the Lake" more and more, and from mere love of it got
great lengths of it by heart; but I cannot say that Scott was then or
ever a great passion with me. It was a sobered affection at best, which
came from my sympathy with his love of nature, and the whole kindly and
humane keeping of his genius. Many years later, during the month when I
was waiting for my passport as Consul for Venice, and had the time on my
hands, I passed it chiefly in reading all his novels, one after another,
without the interruption of other reading. 'Ivanhoe' I had known before,
and the 'Bride of Lammermoor' and 'Woodstock', but the rest had remained
in that sort of abeyance which is often the fate of books people expect
to read as a matter of course, and come very near not reading at all, or
read only very late. Taking them in this swift sequence, little or
nothing of them remained with me, and my experience with them is against
that sort of ordered and regular reading, which I have so often heard
advised for young people by their elders. I always suspect their elders
of not having done that kind of reading themselves.

For my own part I believe I have never got any good from a book that I
did not read lawlessly and wilfully, out of all leading and following,
and merely because I wanted to read it; and I here make bold to praise
that way of doing. The book which you read from a sense of duty, or
because for any reason you must, does not commonly make friends with you.
It may happen that it will yield you an unexpected delight, but this will
be in its own unentreated way and in spite of your good intentions.
Little of the book read for a purpose stays with the reader, and this is
one reason why reading for review is so vain and unprofitable. I have
done a vast deal of this, but I have usually been aware that the book was
subtly withholding from me the best a book can give, since I was not
reading it for its own sake and because I loved it, but for selfish ends
of my own, and because I wished to possess myself of it for business
purposes, as it were. The reading that does one good, and lasting good,
is the reading that one does for pleasure, and simply and unselfishly,
as children do. Art will still withhold herself from thrift, and she
does well, for nothing but love has any right to her.

Little remains of the events of any period, however vivid they were in
passing. The memory may hold record of everything, as it is believed,
but it will not be easily entreated to give up its facts, and I find
myself striving in vein to recall the things that I must have read that
year in the country. Probably I read the old things over; certainly I
kept on with Cervantes, and very likely with Goldsmith. There was a
delightful history of Ohio, stuffed with tales of the pioneer times,
which was a good deal in the hands of us boys; and there was a book of
Western Adventure, full of Indian fights and captivities, which we wore
to pieces. Still, I think that it was now that I began to have a
literary sense of what I was reading. I wrote a diary, and I tried to
give its record form and style, but mostly failed. The versifying which
I was always at was easier, and yielded itself more to my hand. I should
be very glad to, know at present what it dealt with.


When my uncles changed their minds in regard to colonizing their families
at the mills, as they did in about a year, it became necessary for my
father to look about for some new employment, and he naturally looked in
the old direction. There were several schemes for getting hold of this
paper and that, and there were offers that came to nothing. In that day
there were few salaried editors in the country outside of New York, and
the only hope we could have was of some place as printers in an office
which we might finally buy. The affair ended in our going to the State
capital, where my father found work as a reporter of legislative
proceedings for one of the daily journals, and I was taken into the
office as a compositor. In this way I came into living contact with
literature again, and the daydreams began once more over the familiar
cases of type. A definite literary ambition grew up in me, and in the
long reveries of the afternoon, when I was distributing my case,
I fashioned a future of overpowering magnificence and undying celebrity.
I should be ashamed to say what literary triumphs I achieved in those
preposterous deliriums. What I actually did was to write a good many
copies of verse, in imitation, never owned, of Moore and Goldsmith, and
some minor poets, whose work caught my fancy, as I read it in the
newspapers or put it into type.

One of my pieces, which fell so far short of my visionary performances as
to treat of the lowly and familiar theme of Spring, was the first thing I
ever had in print. My father offered it to the editor of the paper I
worked on, and I first knew, with mingled shame and pride, of what he had
done when I saw it in the journal. In the tumult of my emotions I
promised myself that if I got through this experience safely I would
never suffer anything else of mine to be published; but it was not long
before I offered the editor a poem myself. I am now glad to think it
dealt with so humble a fact as a farmer's family leaving their old home
for the West. The only fame of my poem which reached me was when another
boy in the office quoted some lines of it in derision. This covered me
with such confusion that I wonder that I did not vanish from the earth.
At the same time I had my secret joy in it, and even yet I think it was
attempted in a way which was not false or wrong. I had tried to sketch
an aspect of life that I had seen and known, and that was very well
indeed, and I had wrought patiently and carefully in the art of the poor
little affair.

My elder brother, for whom there was no place in the office where I
worked, had found one in a store, and he beguiled the leisure that light
trade left on his hands by reading the novels of Captain Marryat. I read
them after him with a great deal of amusement, but without the passion
that I bestowed upon my favorite authors. I believe I had no critical
reserves in regard to them, but simply they did not take my fancy.
Still, we had great fun with Japhet in 'Search of a Father', and with
'Midshipman Easy', and we felt a fine physical shiver in the darkling
moods of 'Snarle-yow the Dog-Fiend.' I do not remember even the names of
the other novels, except 'Jacob Faithful,' which I chanced upon a few
years ago and found very, hard reading.

We children who were used to the free range of woods and fields were
homesick for the country in our narrow city yard, and I associate with
this longing the 'Farmer's Boy of Bloomfield,' which my father got for
me. It was a little book in blue cloth, and there were some mild
woodcuts in it. I read it with a tempered pleasure, and with a vague
resentment of its trespass upon Thomson's ground in the division of its
parts under the names of the seasons. I do not know why I need have felt
this. I was not yet very fond of Thomson. I really liked Bloomfield
better; for one thing, his poem was written in the heroic decasyllabics
which I preferred to any other verse.


I infer, from the fact of this preference that I had already begun to
read Pope, and that I must have read the "Deserted Village" of Goldsmith.
I fancy, also, that I must by this time have read the Odyssey, for the
"Battle of the Frogs and Mice" was in the second volume, and it took me
so much that I paid it the tribute of a bald imitation in a mock-heroic
epic of a cat fight, studied from the cat fights in our back yard, with
the wonted invocation to the Muse, and the machinery of partisan gods and
goddesses. It was in some hundreds of verses, which I did my best to
balance as Pope did, with a caesura falling in the middle of the line,
and a neat antithesis at the end.

The story of the Odyssey charmed me, of course, and I had moments of
being intimate friends with Ulysses, but I was passing out of that phase,
and was coming to read more with a sense of the author, and less with a
sense of his characters as real persons; that is, I was growing more
literary, and less human. I fell in love with Pope, whose life I read
with an ardor of sympathy which I am afraid he hardly merited. I was of
his side in all his quarrels, as far as I understood them, and if I did
not understand them I was of his side anyway. When I found that he was a
Catholic I was almost ready to abjure the Protestant religion for his
sake; but I perceived that this was not necessary when I came to know
that most of his friends were Protestants. If the truth must be told,
I did not like his best things at first, but long remained chiefly
attached to his rubbishing pastorals, which I was perpetually imitating,
with a whole apparatus of swains and shepherdesses, purling brooks,
enamelled meads, rolling years, and the like.

After my day's work at the case I wore the evening away in my boyish
literary attempts, forcing my poor invention in that unnatural kind, and
rubbing and polishing at my wretched verses till they did sometimes take
on an effect, which, if it was not like Pope's, was like none of mine.
With all my pains I do not think I ever managed to bring any of my
pastorals to a satisfactory close. They all stopped somewhere about
halfway. My swains could not think of anything more to say, and the
merits of my shepherdesses remained undecided. To this day I do not know
whether in any given instance it was the champion of Chloe or of Sylvia
that carried off the prize for his fair, but I dare say it does not much
matter. I am sure that I produced a rhetoric as artificial and treated
of things as unreal as my master in the art, and I am rather glad that I
acquainted myself so thoroughly with a mood of literature which, whatever
we may say against it, seems to have expressed very perfectly a mood of

The severe schooling I gave myself was not without its immediate use.
I learned how to choose between words after a study of their fitness,
and though I often employed them decoratively and with no vital sense of
their qualities, still in mere decoration they had to be chosen
intelligently, and after some thought about their structure and meaning.
I could not imitate Pope without imitating his methods, and his method
was to the last degree intelligent. He certainly knew what he was doing,
and although I did not always know what I was doing, he made me wish to
know, and ashamed of not knowing. There are several truer poets who
might not have done this; and after all the modern contempt of Pope, he
seems to me to have been at least one of the great masters, if not one of
the great poets. The poor man's life was as weak and crooked as his
frail, tormented body, but he had a dauntless spirit, and he fought his
way against odds that might well have appalled a stronger nature.
I suppose I must own that he was from time to time a snob, and from time
to time a liar, but I believe that he loved the truth, and would have
liked always to respect himself if he could. He violently revolted,
now and again, from the abasement to which he forced himself, and he
always bit the heel that trod on him, especially if it was a very high,
narrow heel, with a clocked stocking and a hooped skirt above it.
I loved him fondly at one time, and afterwards despised him, but now I am
not sorry for the love, and I am very sorry for the despite. I humbly,
own a vast debt to him, not the least part of which is the perception
that he is a model of ever so much more to be shunned than to be followed
in literature.

He was the first of the writers of great Anna's time whom I knew, and he
made me ready to understand, if he did not make me understand at once,
the order of mind and life which he belonged to. Thanks to his
pastorals, I could long afterwards enjoy with the double sense requisite
for full pleasure in them, such divinely excellent artificialities at
Tasso's "Aminta" and Guarini's "Pastor Fido"; things which you will
thoroughly like only after you are in the joke of thinking how people
once seriously liked them as high examples of poetry.

Of course I read other things of Pope's besides his pastorals, even at
the time I read these so much. I read, or not very easily or willingly
read at, his 'Essay on Man,' which my father admired, and which he
probably put Pope's works into my hands to have me read; and I read the
'Dunciad,' with quite a furious ardor in the tiresome quarrels it
celebrates, and an interest in its machinery, which it fatigues me to
think of. But it was only a few years ago that I read the 'Rape of the
Lock,' a thing perfect of its kind, whatever we may choose to think of
the kind. Upon the whole I think much better of the kind than I once
did, though still not so much as I should have thought if I had read the
poem when the fever of my love for Pope was at the highest.

It is a nice question how far one is helped or hurt by one's
idealizations of historical or imaginary characters, and I shall not try
to answer it fully. I suppose that if I once cherished such a passion
for Pope personally that I would willingly have done the things that he
did, and told the lies, and vented the malice, and inflicted the
cruelties that the poor soul was full of, it was for the reason, partly,
that I did not see these things as they were, and that in the glamour of
his talent I was blind to all but the virtues of his defects, which he
certainly had, and partly that in my love of him I could not take sides
against him, even when I knew him to be wrong. After all, I fancy not
much harm comes to the devoted boy from his enthusiasms for this
imperfect hero or that. In my own case I am sure that I distinguished as
to certain sins in my idols. I could not cast them down or cease to
worship them, but some of their frailties grieved me and put me to secret
shame for them. I did not excuse these things in them, or try to believe
that they were less evil for them than they would have been for less
people. This was after I came more or less to the knowledge of good and
evil. While I remained in the innocence of childhood I did not even
understand the wrong. When I realized what lives some of my poets had
led, how they were drunkards, and swindlers, and unchaste, and untrue,
I lamented over them with a sense of personal disgrace in them, and to
this day I have no patience with that code of the world which relaxes
itself in behalf of the brilliant and gifted offender; rather he should
suffer more blame. The worst of the literature of past times, before an
ethical conscience began to inform it, or the advance of the race
compelled it to decency, is that it leaves the mind foul with filthy
images and base thoughts; but what I have been trying to say is that the
boy, unless he is exceptionally depraved beforehand, is saved from these
through his ignorance. Still I wish they were not there, and I hope the
time will come when the beast-man will be so far subdued and tamed in us
that the memory of him in literature shall be left to perish; that what
is lewd and ribald in the great poets shall be kept out of such editions
as are meant for general reading, and that the pedant-pride which now
perpetuates it as an essential part of those poets shall no longer have
its way. At the end of the ends such things do defile, they do corrupt.
We may palliate them or excuse them for this reason or that, but that is
the truth, and I do not see why they should not be dropped from
literature, as they were long ago dropped from the talk of decent people.
The literary histories might keep record of them, but it is loath some to
think of those heaps of ordure, accumulated from generation to
generation, and carefully passed down from age to age as something
precious and vital, and not justly regarded as the moral offal which they

During the winter we passed at Columbus I suppose that my father read
things aloud to us after his old habit, and that I listened with the
rest. I have a dim notion of first knowing Thomson's 'Castle of
Indolence' in this way, but I was getting more and more impatient of
having things read to me. The trouble was that I caught some thought or
image from the text, and that my fancy remained playing with that while
the reading went on, and I lost the rest. But I think the reading was
less in every way than it had been, because his work was exhausting and
his leisure less. My own hours in the printing-office began at seven and
ended at six, with an hour at noon for dinner, which I often used for
putting down such verses as had come to me during the morning. As soon
as supper was over at night I got out my manuscripts, which I kept in
great disorder, and written in several different hands on several
different kinds of paper, and sawed, and filed, and hammered away at my
blessed Popean heroics till nine, when I went regularly to bed, to rise
again at five. Sometimes the foreman gave me an afternoon off on
Saturdays, and though the days were long the work was not always
constant, and was never very severe. I suspect now the office was not so
prosperous as might have been wished. I was shifted from place to place
in it, and there was plenty of time for my day-dreams over the
distribution of my case. I was very fond of my work, though, and proud
of my swiftness and skill in it. Once when the perplexed foreman could
not think of any task to set me he offered me a holiday, but I would not
take it, so I fancy that at this time I was not more interested in my art
of poetry than in my trade of printing. What went on in the office
interested me as much as the quarrels of the Augustan age of English
letters, and I made much more record of it in the crude and shapeless
diary which I kept, partly in verse and partly in prose, but always of a
distinctly lower literary kind than that I was trying otherwise to write.
There must have been some mention in it of the tremendous combat with wet
sponges I saw there one day between two of the boys who hurled them back
and forth at each other. This amiable fray, carried on during the
foreman's absence, forced upon my notice for the first time the boy who
has come to be a name well-known in literature. I admired his vigor as a
combatant, but I never spoke to him at that time, and I never dreamed
that he, too, was effervescing with verse, probably as fiercely as
myself. Six or seven years later we met again, when we had both become
journalists, and had both had poems accepted by Mr. Lowell for the
Atlantic Monthly, and then we formed a literary friendship which
eventuated in the joint publication of a volume of verse. 'The Poems of
Two Friends' became instantly and lastingly unknown to fame; the West
waited, as it always does, to hear what the East should say; the East
said nothing, and two-thirds of the small edition of five hundred came
back upon the publisher's hands. I imagine these copies were "ground up"
in the manner of worthless stock, for I saw a single example of the book
quoted the other day in a book-seller's catalogue at ten dollars, and I
infer that it is so rare as to be prized at least for its rarity. It was
a very pretty little book, printed on tinted paper then called "blush,"
in the trade, and it was manufactured in the same office where we had
once been boys together, unknown to each other. Another boy of that time
had by this time become foreman in the office, and he was very severe
with us about the proofs, and sent us hurting messages on the margin.
Perhaps he thought we might be going to take on airs, and perhaps we
might have taken on airs if the fate of our book had been different.
As it was I really think we behaved with sufficient meekness, and after
thirty four or five years for reflection I am still of a very modest mind
about my share of the book, in spite of the price it bears in the book-
seller's catalogue. But I have steadily grown in liking for my friend's
share in it, and I think that there is at present no American of twenty-
three writing verse of so good a quality, with an ideal so pure and high,
and from an impulse so authentic as John J. Piatt's were then. He
already knew how to breathe into his glowing rhyme the very spirit of the
region where we were both native, and in him the Middle West has its true
poet, who was much more than its poet, who had a rich and tender
imagination, a lovely sense of color, and a touch even then securely and
fully his own. I was reading over his poems in that poor little book a
few days ago, and wondering with shame and contrition that I had not at
once known their incomparable superiority to mine. But I used then and
for long afterwards to tax him with obscurity, not knowing that my own
want of simplicity and directness was to blame for that effect.
My reading from the first was such as to enamour me of clearness, of
definiteness; anything left in the vague was intolerable to me; but my
long subjection to Pope, while it was useful in other ways, made me so
strictly literary in my point of view that sometimes I could not see what
was, if more naturally approached and without any technical
preoccupation, perfectly transparent. It remained for another great
passion, perhaps the greatest of my life, to fuse these gyves in which I
was trying so hard to dance, and free me forever from the bonds which I
had spent so much time and trouble to involve myself in. But I was not
to know that passion for five or six years yet, and in the mean time I
kept on as I had been going, and worked out my deliverance in the
predestined way. What I liked then was regularity, uniformity,
exactness. I did not conceive of literature as the expression of life,
and I could not imagine that it ought to be desultory, mutable, and
unfixed, even if at the risk of some vagueness.


My father was very fond of Byron, and I must before this have known that
his poems were in our bookcase. While we were still in Columbus I began
to read them, but I did not read so much of them as could have helped me
to a truer and freer ideal. I read "English Bards and Scotch Reviewers,"
and I liked its vulgar music and its heavy-handed sarcasm. These would,
perhaps, have fascinated any boy, but I had such a fanaticism for
methodical verse that any variation from the octosyllabic and
decasyllabic couplets was painful to me. The Spencerian stanza, with its
rich variety of movement and its harmonious closes, long shut "Childe
Harold" from me, and whenever I found a poem in any book which did not
rhyme its second line with its first I read it unwillingly or not at all.

This craze could not last, of course, but it lasted beyond our stay in
Columbus, which ended with the winter, when the Legislature adjourned,
and my father's employment ceased. He tried to find some editorial work
on the paper which had printed his reports, but every place was full, and
it was hopeless to dream of getting a proprietary interest in it. We had
nothing, and we must seek a chance where something besides money would
avail us. This offered itself in the village of Ashtabula, in the
northeastern part of the State, and there we all found ourselves one
moonlight night of early summer. The Lake Shore Railroad then ended at
Ashtabula, in a bank of sand, and my elder brother and I walked up from
the station, while the rest of the family, which pretty well filled the
omnibus, rode. We had been very happy at Columbus, as we were apt to be
anywhere, but none of us liked the narrowness of city streets, even so
near to the woods as those were, and we were eager for the country again.
We had always lived hitherto in large towns, except for that year at the
Mills, and we were eager to see what a village was like, especially a
village peopled wholly by Yankees, as our father had reported it. I must
own that we found it far prettier than anything we had known in Southern
Ohio, which we were so fond of and so loath to leave, and as I look back
it still seems to me one of the prettiest little places I have ever
known, with its white wooden houses, glimmering in the dark of its elms
and maples, and their silent gardens beside each, and the silent, grass-
bordered, sandy streets between them. The hotel, where we rejoined our
family, lurked behind a group of lofty elms, and we drank at the town
pump before it just for the pleasure of pumping it.

The village was all that we could have imagined of simply and sweetly
romantic in the moonlight, and when the day came it did not rob it of its
charm. It was as lovely in my eyes as the loveliest village of the
plain, and it had the advantage of realizing the Deserted Village without
being deserted.


The book that moved me most, in our stay of six months at Ashtabula, was
then beginning to move the whole world more than any other book has moved
it. I read it as it came out week after week in the old National Era,
and I broke my heart over Uncle Tom's Cabin, as every one else did. Yet
I cannot say that it was a passion of mine like Don Quixote, or the other
books that I had loved intensely. I felt its greatness when I read it
first, and as often as I have read it since, I have seen more and more
clearly that it was a very great novel. With certain obvious lapses in
its art, and with an art that is at its best very simple, and perhaps
primitive, the book is still a work of art. I knew this, in a measure
then, as I know it now, and yet neither the literary pride I was
beginning to have in the perception of such things, nor the powerful
appeal it made to my sympathies, sufficed to impassion me of it. I could
not say why this was so. Why does the young man's fancy, when it lightly
turns to thoughts of love, turn this way and not that? There seems no
more reason for one than for the other.

Instead of remaining steeped to the lips in the strong interest of what
is still perhaps our chief fiction, I shed my tribute of tears, and went
on my way. I did not try to write a story of slaver, as I might very
well have done; I did not imitate either the make or the manner of Mrs.
Stowe's romance; I kept on at my imitation of Pope's pastorals, which I
dare say I thought much finer, and worthier the powers of such a poet as
I meant to be. I did this, as I must have felt then, at some personal
risk of a supernatural kind, for my studies were apt to be prolonged into
the night after the rest of the family had gone to bed, and a certain
ghost, which I had every reason to fear, might very well have visited the
small room given me to write in. There was a story, which I shrank from
verifying, that a former inmate of our house had hung himself in it, but
I do not know to this day whether it was true or not. The doubt did not
prevent him from dangling at the door-post, in my consciousness, and many
a time I shunned the sight of this problematical suicide by keeping my
eyes fastened on the book before me. It was a very simple device, but
perfectly effective, as I think any one will find who employs it in like
circumstances; and I would really like to commend it to growing boys
troubled as I was then.

I never heard who the poor soul was, or why he took himself out of the
world, if he really did so, or if he ever was in it; but I am sure that
my passion for Pope, and my purpose of writing pastorals, must have been
powerful indeed to carry me through dangers of that kind. I suspect that
the strongest proof of their existence was the gloomy and ruinous look of
the house, which was one of the oldest in the village, and the only one
that was for rent there. We went into it because we must, and we were to
leave it as soon as we could find a better. But before this happened we
left Ashtabula, and I parted with one of the few possibilities I have
enjoyed of seeing a ghost on his own ground, as it were.

I was not sorry, for I believe I never went in or came out of the place,
by day or by night, without a shudder, more or less secret; and at least,
now, we should be able to get another house.


Very likely the reading of Ossian had something to do with my morbid
anxieties. I had read Byron's imitation of him before that, and admired
it prodigiously, and when my father got me the book--as usual I did not
know where or how he got it--not all the tall forms that moved before the
eyes of haunted bards in the dusky vale of autumn could have kept me from
it. There were certain outline illustrations in it, which were very good
in the cold Flaxman manner, and helped largely to heighten the
fascination of the poems for me. They did not supplant the pastorals of
Pope in my affections, and they were never the grand passion with me that
Pope's poems had been.

I began at once to make my imitations of Ossian, and I dare say they were
not windier and mistier than the original. At the same time I read the
literature of the subject, and gave the pretensions of Macpherson an
unquestioning faith. I should have made very short work of any one who
had impugned the authenticity of the poems, but happily there was no one
who held the contrary opinion in that village, so far as I knew, or who
cared for Ossian, or had even heard of him. This saved me a great deal
of heated controversy with my contemporaries, but I had it out in many
angry reveries with Dr. Johnson and others, who had dared to say in their
time that the poems of Ossian were not genuine lays of the Gaelic bard,
handed down from father to son, and taken from the lips of old women in
Highland huts, as Macpherson claimed.

In fact I lived over in my small way the epoch of the eighteenth century
in which these curious frauds found polite acceptance all over Europe,
and I think yet that they were really worthier of acceptance than most of
the artificialities that then passed for poetry. There was a light of
nature in them, and this must have been what pleased me, so long-shut up
to the studio-work of Pope. But strangely enough I did not falter in my
allegiance to him, or realize that here in this free form was a
deliverance, if I liked, from the fetters and manacles which I had been
at so much pains to fit myself with. Probably nothing would then have
persuaded me to put them off permanently, or to do more than lay them
aside for the moment while I tried that new stop and that new step.

I think that even then I had an instinctive doubt whether formlessness
was really better than formality. Something, it seems to me, may be
contained and kept alive in formality, but in formlessness everything
spills and wastes away. This is what I find the fatal defect of our
American Ossian, Walt Whitman, whose way is where artistic madness lies.
He had great moments, beautiful and noble thoughts, generous aspirations,
and a heart wide and warm enough for the whole race, but he had no
bounds, no shape; he was as liberal as the casing air, but he was often
as vague and intangible. I cannot say how long my passion for Ossian
lasted, but not long, I fancy, for I cannot find any trace of it in the
time following our removal from Ashtabula to the county seat at
Jefferson. I kept on with Pope, I kept on with Cervantes, I kept on with
Irving, but I suppose there was really not substance enough in Ossian to
feed my passion, and it died of inanition.


The establishment of our paper in the village where there had been none
before, and its enlargement from four to eight pages, were events so
filling that they left little room for any other excitement but that of
getting acquainted with the young people of the village, and going to
parties, and sleigh rides, and walks, and drives, and picnics, and
dances, and all the other pleasures in which that community seemed to
indulge beyond any other we had known. The village was smaller than the
one we had just left, but it was by no means less lively, and I think
that for its size and time and place it had an uncommon share of what has
since been called culture. The intellectual experience of the people was
mainly theological and political, as it was everywhere in that day, but
there were several among them who had a real love for books, and when
they met at the druggist's, as they did every night, to dispute of the
inspiration of the Scriptures and the principles of the Free Soil party,
the talk sometimes turned upon the respective merits of Dickens and
Thackeray, Gibbon and Macaulay, Wordsworth and Byron. There were law
students who read "Noctes Ambrosianae," the 'Age of Reason', and Bailey's
"Festus," as well as Blackstone's 'Commentaries;' and there was a public
library in that village of six hundred people, small but very well
selected, which was kept in one of the lawyers' offices, and was free to
all. It seems to me now that the people met there oftener than they do
in most country places, and rubbed their wits together more, but this may
be one of those pleasing illusions of memory which men in later life are
subject to.

I insist upon nothing, but certainly the air was friendlier to the tastes
I had formed than any I had yet known, and I found a wider if not deeper
sympathy with them. There was one of our printers who liked books, and
we went through 'Don Quixote' together again, and through the 'Conquest
of Granada', and we began to read other things of Irving's. There was a
very good little stock of books at the village drugstore, and among those
that began to come into my hands were the poems of Dr. Holmes, stray
volumes of De Quincey, and here and there minor works of Thackeray.
I believe I had no money to buy them, but there was an open account,
or a comity, between the printer and the bookseller, and I must have been
allowed a certain discretion in regard to getting books.

Still I do not think I went far in the more modern authors, or gave my
heart to any of them. Suddenly, it was now given to Shakespeare, without
notice or reason, that I can recall, except that my friend liked him too,
and that we found it a double pleasure to read him together. Printers in
the old-time offices were always spouting Shakespeare more or less, and I
suppose I could not have kept away from him much longer in the nature of
things. I cannot fix the time or place when my friend and I began to
read him, but it was in the fine print of that unhallowed edition of
ours, and presently we had great lengths of him by heart, out of
"Hamlet," out of "The Tempest," out of "Macbeth," out of "Richard III.,"
out of "Midsummer-Night's Dream," out of the "Comedy of Errors," out of
"Julius Caesar," out of "Measure for Measure," out of "Romeo and Juliet,"
out of "Two Gentlemen of Verona."

These were the plays that we loved, and must have read in common, or at
least at the same time: but others that I more especially liked were the
Histories, and among them particularly were the Henrys, where Falstaff
appeared. This gross and palpable reprobate greatly took my fancy.
I delighted in him immensely, and in his comrades, Pistol, and Bardolph,
and Nym. I could not read of his death without emotion, and it was a
personal pang to me when the prince, crowned king, denied him: blackguard
for blackguard, I still think the prince the worse blackguard. Perhaps I
flatter myself, but I believe that even then, as a boy of sixteen,
I fully conceived of Falstaff's character, and entered into the author's
wonderfully humorous conception of him. There is no such perfect
conception of the selfish sensualist in literature, and the conception is
all the more perfect because of the wit that lights up the vice of
Falstaff, a cold light without tenderness, for he was not a good fellow,
though a merry companion. I am not sure but I should put him beside
Hamlet, and on the name level, for the merit of his artistic
completeness, and at one time I much preferred him, or at least his

As to Falstaff personally, or his like, I was rather fastidious, and
would not have made friends with him in the flesh, much or little.
I revelled in all his appearances in the Histories, and I tried to be as
happy where a factitious and perfunctory Falstaff comes to life again in
the "Merry Wives of Windsor," though at the bottom of my heart I felt the
difference. I began to make my imitations of Shakespeare, and I wrote 57
out passages where Falstaff and Pistol and Bardolph talked together, in
that Ercles vein which is so easily caught. This was after a year or two
of the irregular and interrupted acquaintance with the author which has
been my mode of friendship with all the authors I have loved. My worship
of Shakespeare went to heights and lengths that it had reached with no
earlier idol, and there was a supreme moment, once, when I found myself
saying that the creation of Shakespeare was as great as the creation of a

There ought certainly to be some bound beyond which the cult of favorite
authors should not be suffered to go. I should keep well within the
limit of that early excess now, and should not liken the creation of
Shakespeare to the creation of any heavenly body bigger, say, than one of
the nameless asteroids that revolve between Mars and Jupiter. Even this
I do not feel to be a true means of comparison, and I think that in the
case of all great men we like to let our wonder mount and mount, till it
leaves the truth behind, and honesty is pretty much cast out as ballast.
A wise criticism will no more magnify Shakespeare because he is already
great than it will magnify any less man. But we are loaded down with the
responsibility of finding him all we have been told he is, and we must do
this or suspect ourselves of a want of taste, a want of sensibility. At
the same time, we may really be honester than those who have led us to
expect this or that of him, and more truly his friends. I wish the time
might come when we could read Shakespeare, and Dante, and Homer, as
sincerely and as fairly as we read any new book by the least known of our
contemporaries. The course of criticism is towards this, but when I
began to read Shakespeare I should not have ventured to think that he was
not at every moment great. I should no more have thought of questioning
the poetry of any passage in him than of questioning the proofs of holy
writ. All the same, I knew very well that much which I read was really
poor stuff, and the persons and positions were often preposterous. It is
a great pity that the ardent youth should not be permitted and even
encouraged to say this to himself, instead of falling slavishly before a
great author and accepting him at all points as infallible. Shakespeare
is fine enough and great enough when all the possible detractions are
made, and I have no fear of saying now that he would be finer and greater
for the loss of half his work, though if I had heard any one say such a
thing then I should have held him as little better than one of the

Upon the whole it was well that I had not found my way to Shakespeare
earlier, though it is rather strange that I had not. I knew him on the
stage in most of the plays that used to be given. I had shared the
conscience of Macbeth, the passion of Othello, the doubt of Hamlet; many
times, in my natural affinity for villains, I had mocked and suffered
with Richard III.

Probably no dramatist ever needed the stage less, and none ever brought
more to it. There have been few joys for me in life comparable to that
of seeing the curtain rise on "Hamlet," and hearing the guards begin to
talk about the ghost; and yet how fully this joy imparts itself without
any material embodiment! It is the same in the whole range of his plays:
they fill the scene, but if there is no scene they fill the soul. They
are neither worse nor better because of the theatre. They are so great
that it cannot hamper them; they are so vital that they enlarge it to
their own proportions and endue it with something of their own living
force. They make it the size of life, and yet they retire it so wholly
that you think no more of it than you think of the physiognomy of one who
talks importantly to you. I have heard people say that they would rather
not see Shakespeare played than to see him played ill, but I cannot agree
with them. He can better afford to be played ill than any other man that
ever wrote. Whoever is on the stage, it is always Shakespeare who is
speaking to me, and perhaps this is the reason why in the past I can
trace no discrepancy between reading his plays and seeing them.

The effect is so equal from either experience that I am not sure as to
some plays whether I read them or saw them first, though as to most of
them I am aware that I never saw them at all; and if the whole truth must
be told there is still one of his plays that I have not read, and I
believe it is esteemed one of his greatest. There are several, with all
my reading of others, that I had not read till within a few years; and I
do not think I should have lost much if I, had never read "Pericles" and
"Winter's Tale."

In those early days I had no philosophized preference for reality in
literature, and I dare say if I had been asked, I should have said that
the plays of Shakespeare where reality is least felt were the most
imaginative; that is the belief of the puerile critics still; but I
suppose it was my instinctive liking for reality that made the great
Histories so delightful to me, and that rendered "Macbeth" and "Hamlet"
vital in their very ghosts and witches. There I found a world
appreciable to experience, a world inexpressibly vaster and grander than
the poor little affair that I had only known a small obscure corner of,
and yet of one quality with it, so that I could be as much at home and
citizen in it as where I actually lived. There I found joy and sorrow
mixed, and nothing abstract or typical, but everything standing for
itself, and not for some other thing. Then, I suppose it was the
interfusion of humor through so much of it, that made it all precious and
friendly. I think I had a native love of laughing, which was fostered in
me by my father's way of looking at life, and had certainly been
flattered by my intimacy with Cervantes; but whether this was so or not,
I know that I liked best and felt deepest those plays and passages in
Shakespeare where the alliance of the tragic and the comic was closest.
Perhaps in a time when self-consciousness is so widespread, it is the
only thing that saves us from ourselves. I am sure that without it I
should not have been naturalized to that world of Shakespeare's
Histories, where I used to spend so much of my leisure, with such a sense
of his own intimate companionship there as I had nowhere else. I felt
that he must somehow like my being in the joke of it all, and that in his
great heart he had room for a boy willing absolutely to lose himself in
him, and be as one of his creations.

It was the time of life with me when a boy begins to be in love with the
pretty faces that then peopled this world so thickly, and I did not fail
to fall in love with the ladies of that Shakespeare-world where I lived
equally. I cannot tell whether it was because I found them like my
ideals here, or whether my ideals acquired merit because of their
likeness to the realities there; they appeared to be all of one degree of
enchanting loveliness; but upon the whole I must have preferred them in
the plays, because it was so much easier to get on with them there; I was
always much better dressed there; I was vastly handsomer; I was not
bashful or afraid, and I had some defects of these advantages to contend
with here.

That friend of mine, the printer whom I have mentioned, was one with me
in a sense of the Shakespearean humor, and he dwelt with me in the sort
of double being I had in those two worlds. We took the book into the
woods at the ends of the long summer afternoons that remained to us when
we had finished our work, and on the shining Sundays of the warm, late
spring, the early, warm autumn, and we read it there on grassy slopes or
heaps of fallen leaves; so that much of the poetry is mixed for me with a
rapturous sense of the out-door beauty of this lovely natural world.
We read turn about, one taking the story up as the other tired, and as we
read the drama played itself under the open sky and in the free air with
such orchestral effects as the soughing woods or some rippling stream
afforded. It was not interrupted when a squirrel dropped a nut on us
from the top of a tall hickory; and the plaint of a meadow-lark prolonged
itself with unbroken sweetness from one world to the other.

But I think it takes two to read in the open air. The pressure of walls
is wanted to keep the mind within itself when one reads alone; otherwise
it wanders and disperses itself through nature. When my friend left us
for want of work in the office, or from the vagarious impulse which is so
strong in our craft, I took my Shakespeare no longer to the woods and
fields, but pored upon him mostly by night, in the narrow little space
which I had for my study, under the stairs at home. There was a desk
pushed back against the wall, which the irregular ceiling eloped down to
meet behind it, and at my left was a window, which gave a good light on
the writing-leaf of my desk. This was my workshop for six or seven
years, and it was not at all a bad one; I have had many since that were
not so much to the purpose; and though I would not live my life over, I
would willingly enough have that little study mine again. But it is gone
an utterly as the faces and voices that made home around it, and that I
was fierce to shut out of it, so that no sound or sight should molest me
in the pursuit of the end which I sought gropingly, blindly, with very
little hope, but with an intense ambition, and a courage that gave way
under no burden, before no obstacle. Long ago changes were made in the
low, rambling house which threw my little closet into a larger room; but
this was not until after I had left it many years; and as long as I
remained a part of that dear and simple home it was my place to read, to
write, to muse, to dream.

I sometimes wish in these later years that I had spent less time in it,
or that world of books which it opened into; that I had seen more of the
actual world, and had learned to know my brethren in it better. I might
so have amassed more material for after use in literature, but I had to
fit myself to use it, and I suppose that this was what I was doing, in my
own way, and by such light as I had. I often toiled wrongly and
foolishly; but certainly I toiled, and I suppose no work is wasted. Some
strength, I hope, was coming to me, even from my mistakes, and though I
went over ground that I need not have traversed, if I had not been left
so much to find the way alone, yet I was not standing still, and some of
the things that I then wished to do I have done. I do not mind owning
that in others I have failed. For instance, I have never surpassed
Shakespeare as a poet, though I once firmly meant to do so; but then, it
is to be remembered that very few other people have surpassed him, and
that it would not have been easy.


My ardor for Shakespeare must have been at its height when I was between
sixteen and seventeen years old, for I fancy when I began to formulate my
admiration, and to try to measure his greatness in phrases, I was less
simply impassioned than at some earlier time. At any rate, I am sure
that I did not proclaim his planetary importance in creation until I was
at least nineteen. But even at an earlier age I no longer worshipped at
a single shrine; there were many gods in the temple of my idolatry, and I
bowed the knee to them all in a devotion which, if it was not of one
quality, was certainly impartial. While I was reading, and thinking, and
living Shakespeare with such an intensity that I do not see how there
could have been room in my consciousness for anything else, there seem to
have been half a dozen other divinities there, great and small, whom I
have some present difficulty in distinguishing. I kept Irving, and
Goldsmith, and Cervantes on their old altars, but I added new ones, and
these I translated from the contemporary: literary world quite as often
as from the past. I am rather glad that among them was the gentle and
kindly Ik Marvel, whose 'Reveries of a Bachelor' and whose 'Dream Life'
the young people of that day were reading with a tender rapture which
would not be altogether surprising, I dare say, to the young people of
this. The books have survived the span of immortality fixed by our
amusing copyright laws, and seem now, when any pirate publisher may
plunder their author, to have a new life before them. Perhaps this is
ordered by Providence, that those who have no right to them may profit by
them, in that divine contempt of such profit which Providence so often

I cannot understand just how I came to know of the books, but I suppose
it was through the contemporary criticism which I was then beginning to
read, wherever I could find it, in the magazines and newspapers; and I
could not say why I thought it would be very 'comme il faut' to like
them. Probably the literary fine world, which is always rubbing
shoulders with the other fine world, and bringing off a little of its
powder and perfume, was then dawning upon me, and I was wishing to be of
it, and to like the things that it liked; I am not so anxious to do it
now. But if this is true, I found the books better than their friends,
and had many a heartache from their pathos, many a genuine glow of
purpose from their high import, many a tender suffusion from their
sentiment. I dare say I should find their pose now a little
old-fashioned. I believe it was rather full of sighs, and shrugs and
starts, expressed in dashes, and asterisks, and exclamations, but I am
sure that the feeling was the genuine and manly sort which is of all
times and always the latest wear. Whatever it was, it sufficed to win my
heart, and to identify me with whatever was most romantic and most
pathetic in it. I read 'Dream Life' first--though the 'Reveries of a
Bachelor' was written first, and I believe is esteemed the better book
--and 'Dream Life' remains first in my affections. I have now little
notion what it was about, but I love its memory. The book is associated
especially in my mind with one golden day of Indian summer, when I
carried it into the woods with me, and abandoned myself to a welter of
emotion over its page. I lay, under a crimson maple, and I remember how
the light struck through it and flushed the print with the gules of the
foliage. My friend was away by this time on one of his several absences
in the Northwest, and I was quite alone in the absurd and irrelevant
melancholy with which I read myself and my circumstances into the book. I
began to read them out again in due time, clothed with the literary airs
and graces that I admired in it, and for a long time I imitated Ik Marvel
in the voluminous letters I wrote my friend in compliance with his
Shakespearean prayer:

     "To Milan let me hear from thee by letters,
     Of thy success in love, and what news else
     Betideth here in absence of thy friend;
     And I likewise will visit thee with mine."

Milan was then presently Sheboygan, Wisconsin, and Verona was our little
village; but they both served the soul of youth as well as the real
places would have done, and were as really Italian as anything else in
the situation was really this or that. Heaven knows what gaudy
sentimental parade we made in our borrowed plumes, but if the travesty
had kept itself to the written word it would have been all well enough.
My misfortune was to carry it into print when I began to write a story,
in the Ik Marvel manner, or rather to compose it in type at the case, for
that was what I did; and it was not altogether imitated from Ik Marvel
either, for I drew upon the easier art of Dickens at times, and helped
myself out with bald parodies of Bleak House in many places. It was all
very well at the beginning, but I had not reckoned with the future
sufficiently to have started with any clear ending in my mind, and as I
went on I began to find myself more and more in doubt about it. My
material gave out; incidents failed me; the characters wavered and
threatened to perish on my hands. To crown my misery there grew up an
impatience with the story among its readers, and this found its way to me
one day when I overheard an old farmer who came in for his paper say that
he did not think that story amounted to much. I did not think so either,
but it was deadly to have it put into words, and how I escaped the mortal
effect of the stroke I do not know. Somehow I managed to bring the
wretched thing to a close, and to live it slowly into the past. Slowly
it seemed then, but I dare say it was fast enough; and there is always
this consolation to be whispered in the ear of wounded vanity, that the
world's memory is equally bad for failure and success; that if it will
not keep your triumphs in mind as you think it ought, neither will it
long dwell upon your defeats. But that experience was really terrible.
It was like some dreadful dream one has of finding one's self in battle
without the courage needed to carry one creditably through the action,
or on the stage unprepared by study of the part which one is to appear
in. I have hover looked at that story since, so great was the shame and
anguish that I suffered from it, and yet I do not think it was badly
conceived, or attempted upon lines that were mistaken. If it were not
for what happened in the past I might like some time to write a story on
the same lines in the future.


What I have said of Dickens reminds me that I had been reading him at the
same time that I had been reading Ik Marvel; but a curious thing about
the reading of my later boyhood is that the dates do not sharply detach
themselves one from another. This may be so because my reading was much
more multifarious than it had been earlier, or because I was reading
always two or three authors at a time. I think Macaulay a little
antedated Dickens in my affections, but when I came to the novels of that
masterful artist (as I must call him, with a thousand reservations as to
the times when he is not a master and not an artist), I did not fail to
fall under his spell.

This was in a season of great depression, when I began to feel in broken
health the effect of trying to burn my candle at both ends. It seemed
for a while very simple and easy to come home in the middle of the
afternoon, when my task at the printing-office was done, and sit down to
my books in my little study, which I did not finally leave until the
family were in bed; but it was not well, and it was not enough that I
should like to do it. The most that can be said in defence of such a
thing is that with the strong native impulse and the conditions it was
inevitable. If I was to do the thing I wanted to do I was to do it in
that way, and I wanted to do that thing, whatever it was, more than I
wanted to do anything else, and even more than I wanted to do nothing.
I cannot make out that I was fond of study, or cared for the things I was
trying to do, except as a means to other things. As far as my pleasure
went, or my natural bent was concerned, I would rather have been
wandering through the woods with a gun on my shoulder, or lying under a
tree, or reading some book that cost me no sort of effort. But there was
much more than my pleasure involved; there was a hope to fulfil, an aim
to achieve, and I could no more have left off trying for what I hoped and
aimed at than I could have left off living, though I did not know very
distinctly what either was. As I look back at the endeavor of those days
much of it seems mere purblind groping, wilful and wandering. I can see
that doing all by myself I was not truly a law to myself, but only a sort
of helpless force.

I studied Latin because I believed that I should read the Latin authors,
and I suppose I got as much of the language as most school-boys of my
age, but I never read any Latin author but Cornelius Nepos. I studied
Greek, and I learned so much of it as to read a chapter of the Testament,
and an ode of Anacreon. Then I left it, not because I did not mean to go
farther, or indeed stop short of reading all Greek literature, but
because that friend of mine and I talked it over and decided that I could
go on with Greek any time, but I had better for the present study German,
with the help of a German who had come to the village. Apparently I was
carrying forward an attack on French at the same time, for I distinctly
recall my failure to enlist with me an old gentleman who had once lived a
long time in France, and whom I hoped to get at least an accent from.
Perhaps because he knew he had no accent worth speaking of, or perhaps
because he did not want the bother of imparting it, he never would keep
any of the engagements he made with me, and when we did meet he so
abounded in excuses and subterfuges that he finally escaped me, and I was
left to acquire an Italian accent of French in Venice seven or eight
years later. At the same time I was reading Spanish, more or less,
but neither wisely nor too well. Having had so little help in my
studies, I had a stupid pride in refusing all, even such as I might have
availed myself of, without shame, in books, and I would not read any
Spanish author with English notes. I would have him in an edition wholly
Spanish from beginning to end, and I would fight my way through him
single-handed, with only such aid as I must borrow from a lexicon.

I now call this stupid, but I have really no more right to blame the boy
who was once I than I have to praise him, and I am certainly not going to
do that. In his day and place he did what he could in his own way; he
had no true perspective of life, but I do not know that youth ever has
that. Some strength came to him finally from the mere struggle,
undirected and misdirected as it often was, and such mental fibre as he
had was toughened by the prolonged stress. It could be said, of course,
that the time apparently wasted in these effectless studies could have
been well spent in deepening and widening a knowledge of English
literature never yet too great, and I have often said this myself; but
then, again, I am not sure that the studies were altogether effectless.
I have sometimes thought that greater skill had come to my hand from them
than it would have had without, and I have trusted that in making known
to me the sources of so much English, my little Latin and less Greek have
enabled me to use my own speech with a subtler sense of it than I should
have had otherwise.

But I will by no means insist upon my conjecture. What is certain is
that for the present my studies, without method and without stint, began
to tell upon my health, and that my nerves gave way in all manner of
hypochondriacal fears. These finally resolved themselves into one,
incessant, inexorable, which I could escape only through bodily fatigue,
or through some absorbing interest that took me out of myself altogether
and filled my morbid mind with the images of another's creation.

In this mood I first read Dickens, whom I had known before in the reading
I had listened to. But now I devoured his books one after another as
fast as I could read them. I plunged from the heart of one to another,
so as to leave myself no chance for the horrors that beset me. Some of
them remain associated with the gloom and misery of that time, so that
when I take them up they bring back its dreadful shadow. But I have
since read them all more than once, and I have had my time of thinking
Dickens, talking Dickens, and writing Dickens, as we all had who lived in
the days of the mighty magician. I fancy the readers who have come to
him since he ceased to fill the world with his influence can have little
notion how great it was. In that time he colored the parlance of the
English-speaking race, and formed upon himself every minor talent
attempting fiction. While his glamour lasted it was no more possible for
a young novelist to escape writing Dickens than it was for a young poet
to escape writing Tennyson. I admired other authors more; I loved them
more, but when it came to a question of trying to do something in fiction
I was compelled, as by a law of nature, to do it at least partially in
his way.

All the while that he held me so fast by his potent charm I was aware
that it was a very rough magic now and again, but I could not assert my
sense of this against him in matters of character and structure. To
these I gave in helplessly; their very grotesqueness was proof of their
divine origin, and I bowed to the crudest manifestations of his genius in
these kinds as if they were revelations not to be doubted without
sacrilege. But in certain small matters, as it were of ritual, I
suffered myself to think, and I remember boldly speaking my mind about
his style, which I thought bad.

I spoke it even to the quaint character whom I borrowed his books from,
and who might almost have come out of his books. He lived in Dickens in
a measure that I have never known another to do, and my contumely must
have brought him a pang that was truly a personal grief. He forgave it,
no doubt because I bowed in the Dickens worship without question on all
other points. He was then a man well on towards fifty, and he had come
to America early in life, and had lived in our village many years,
without casting one of his English prejudices, or ceasing to be of a
contrary opinion on every question, political, religious and social.
He had no fixed belief, but he went to the service of his church whenever
it was held among us, and he revered the Book of Common Prayer while he
disputed the authority of the Bible with all comers. He had become a
citizen, but he despised democracy, and achieved a hardy consistency only
by voting with the pro-slavery party upon all measures friendly to the
institution which he considered the scandal and reproach of the American
name. From a heart tender to all, he liked to say wanton, savage and
cynical things, but he bore no malice if you gainsaid him. I know
nothing of his origin, except the fact of his being an Englishman, or
what his first calling had been; but he had evolved among us from a
house-painter to an organ-builder, and he had a passionate love of music.
He built his organs from the ground up, and made every part of them with
his own hands; I believe they were very good, and at any rate the
churches in the country about took them from him as fast as he could make
them. He had one in his own house, and it was fine to see him as he sat
before it, with his long, tremulous hands outstretched to the keys, his
noble head thrown back and his sensitive face lifted in the rapture of
his music. He was a rarely intelligent creature, and an artist in every
fibre; and if you did not quarrel with his manifold perversities, he was
a delightful companion.

After my friend went away I fell much to him for society, and we took
long, rambling walks together, or sat on the stoop before his door,
or lounged over the books in the drug-store, and talked evermore of
literature. He must have been nearly three times my age, but that did
not matter; we met in the equality of the ideal world where there is
neither old nor young, any more than there is rich or poor. He had read
a great deal, but of all he had read he liked Dickens best, and was
always coming back to him with affection, whenever the talk strayed.
He could not make me out when I criticised the style of Dickens; and when
I praised Thackeray's style to the disadvantage of Dickens's he could
only accuse me of a sort of aesthetic snobbishness in my preference.
Dickens, he said, was for the million, and Thackeray was for the upper
ten thousand. His view amused me at the time, and yet I am not sure that
it was altogether mistaken.

There is certainly a property in Thackeray that somehow flatters the
reader into the belief that he is better than other people. I do not
mean to say that this was why I thought him a finer writer than Dickens,
but I will own that it was probably one of the reasons why I liked him
better; if I appreciated him so fully as I felt, I must be of a finer
porcelain than the earthen pots which were not aware of any particular
difference in the various liquors poured into them. In Dickens the
virtue of his social defect is that he never appeals to the principle
which sniffs, in his reader. The base of his work is the whole breadth
and depth of humanity itself. It is helplessly elemental, but it is not
the less grandly so, and if it deals with the simpler manifestations of
character, character affected by the interests and passions rather than
the tastes and preferences, it certainly deals with the larger moods
through them. I do not know that in the whole range of his work he once
suffers us to feel our superiority to a fellow-creature through any
social accident, or except for some moral cause. This makes him very fit
reading for a boy, and I should say that a boy could get only good from
him. His view of the world and of society, though it was very little
philosophized, was instinctively sane and reasonable, even when it was
most impossible.

We are just beginning to discern that certain conceptions of our
relations to our fellow-men, once formulated in generalities which met
with a dramatic acceptation from the world, and were then rejected by it
as mere rhetoric, have really a vital truth in them, and that if they
have ever seemed false it was because of the false conditions in which we
still live. Equality and fraternity, these are the ideals which once
moved the world, and then fell into despite and mockery, as unrealities;
but now they assert themselves in our hearts once more.

Blindly, unwittingly, erringly as Dickens often urged them, these ideals
mark the whole tendency of his fiction, and they are what endear him to
the heart, and will keep him dear to it long after many a cunninger
artificer in letters has passed into forgetfulness. I do not pretend
that I perceived the full scope of his books, but I was aware of it in
the finer sense which is not consciousness. While I read him, I was in a
world where the right came out best, as I believe it will yet do in this
world, and where merit was crowned with the success which I believe will
yet attend it in our daily life, untrammelled by social convention or
economic circumstance. In that world of his, in the ideal world, to
which the real world must finally conform itself, I dwelt among the shows
of things, but under a Providence that governed all things to a good end,
and where neither wealth nor birth could avail against virtue or right.
Of course it was in a way all crude enough, and was already contradicted
by experience in the small sphere of my own being; but nevertheless it
was true with that truth which is at the bottom of things, and I was
happy in it. I could not fail to love the mind which conceived it, and
my worship of Dickens was more grateful than that I had yet given any
writer. I did not establish with him that one-sided understanding which
I had with Cervantes and Shakespeare; with a contemporary that was not
possible, and as an American I was deeply hurt at the things he had said
against us, and the more hurt because I felt that they were often so
just. But I was for the time entirely his, and I could not have wished
to write like any one else.

I do not pretend that the spell I was under was wholly of a moral or
social texture. For the most part I was charmed with him because he was
a delightful story-teller; because he could thrill me, and make me hot
and cold; because he could make me laugh and cry, and stop my pulse and
breath at will. There seemed an inexhaustible source of humor and pathos
in his work, which I now find choked and dry; I cannot laugh any more at
Pickwick or Sam Weller, or weep for little Nell or Paul Dombey; their
jokes, their griefs, seemed to me to be turned on, and to have a
mechanical action. But beneath all is still the strong drift of a
genuine emotion, a sympathy, deep and sincere, with the poor, the lowly,
the unfortunate. In all that vast range of fiction, there is nothing
that tells for the strong, because they are strong, against the weak,
nothing that tells for the haughty against the humble, nothing that tells
for wealth against poverty. The effect of Dickens is purely democratic,
and however contemptible he found our pseudo-equality, he was more truly
democratic than any American who had yet written fiction. I suppose it
was our instinctive perception in the region of his instinctive
expression, that made him so dear to us, and wounded our silly vanity so
keenly through our love when he told us the truth about our horrible sham
of a slave-based freedom. But at any rate the democracy is there in his
work more than he knew perhaps, or would ever have known, or ever
recognized by his own life. In fact, when one comes to read the story of
his life, and to know that he was really and lastingly ashamed of having
once put up shoe-blacking as a boy, and was unable to forgive his mother
for suffering him to be so degraded, one perceives that he too was the
slave of conventions and the victim of conditions which it is the highest
function of his fiction to help destroy.

I imagine that my early likes and dislikes in Dickens were not very
discriminating. I liked 'David Copperfield,' and 'Barnaby Rudge,' and
'Bleak House,' and I still like them; but I do not think I liked them
more than 'Dombey & Son,' and 'Nicholas Nickleby,' and the 'Pickwick
Papers,' which I cannot read now with any sort of patience, not to speak
of pleasure. I liked 'Martin Chuzzlewit,' too, and the other day I read
a great part of it again, and found it roughly true in the passages that
referred to America, though it was surcharged in the serious moods, and
caricatured in the comic. The English are always inadequate observers;
they seem too full of themselves to have eyes and ears for any alien
people; but as far as an Englishman could, Dickens had caught the look of
our life in certain aspects. His report of it was clumsy and farcical;
but in a large, loose way it was like enough; at least he had caught the
note of our self-satisfied, intolerant, and hypocritical provinciality,
and this was not altogether lost in his mocking horse-play.

I cannot make out that I was any the less fond of Dickens because of it.
I believe I was rather more willing to accept it as a faithful
portraiture then than I should be now; and I certainly never made any
question of it with my friend the organ-builder. 'Martin Chuzzlewit' was
a favorite book with him, and so was the 'Old Curiosity Shop.' No doubt
a fancied affinity with Tom Pinch through their common love of music made
him like that most sentimental and improbable personage, whom he would
have disowned and laughed to scorn if he had met him in life; but it was
a purely altruistic sympathy that he felt with Little Nell and her
grandfather. He was fond of reading the pathetic passages from both
books, and I can still hear his rich, vibrant voice as it lingered in
tremulous emotion on the periods he loved. He would catch the volume up
anywhere, any time, and begin to read, at the book-store, or the harness-
shop, or the law-office, it did not matter in the wide leisure of a
country village, in those days before the war, when people had all the
time there was; and he was sure of his audience as long as he chose to
read. One Christmas eve, in answer to a general wish, he read the
'Christmas Carol' in the Court-house, and people came from all about to
hear him.

He was an invalid and he died long since, ending a life of suffering in
the saddest way. Several years before his death money fell to his
family, and he went with them to an Eastern city, where he tried in vain
to make himself at home. He never ceased to pine for the village he had
left, with its old companionships, its easy usages, its familiar faces;
and he escaped to it again and again, till at last every tie was severed,
and he could come back no more. He was never reconciled to the change,
and in a manner he did really die of the homesickness which deepened an
hereditary taint, and enfeebled him to the disorder that carried him.
off. My memories of Dickens remain mingled with my memories of this
quaint and most original genius, and though I knew Dickens long before I
knew his lover, I can scarcely think of one without thinking of the


Certain other books I associate with another pathetic nature, of whom the
organ-builder and I were both fond. This was the young poet who looked
after the book half of the village drug and book store, and who wrote
poetry in such leisure as he found from his duties, and with such
strength as he found in the disease preying upon him. He must have been
far gone in consumption when I first knew him, for I have no recollection
of a time when his voice was not faint and husky, his sweet smile wan,
and his blue eyes dull with the disease that wasted him away,

        "Like wax in the fire,
        Like snow in the sun."

People spoke of him as once strong and vigorous, but I recall him fragile
and pale, gentle, patient, knowing his inexorable doom, and not hoping or
seeking to escape it. As the end drew near he left his employment and
went home to the farm, some twenty miles away, where I drove out to see
him once through the deep snow of a winter which was to be his last.
My heart was heavy all the time, but he tried to make the visit pass
cheerfully with our wonted talk about books. Only at parting, when he
took my hand in his thin, cold clasp, he said, "I suppose my disease is
progressing," with the patience he always showed.

I did not see him again, and I am not sure now that his gift was very
distinct or very great. It was slight and graceful rather, I fancy,
and if he had lived it might not have sufficed to make him widely known,
but he had a real and a very delicate sense of beauty in literature,
and I believe it was through sympathy with his preferences that I came
into appreciation of several authors whom I had not known, or had not
cared for before. There could not have been many shelves of books in
that store, and I came to be pretty well acquainted with them all before
I began to buy them. For the most part, I do not think it occurred to me
that they were there to be sold; for this pale poet seemed indifferent to
the commercial property in them, and only to wish me to like them.

I am not sure, but I think it was through some volume which I found in
his charge that I first came to know of De Quincey; he was fond of
Dr. Holmes's poetry; he loved Whittier and Longfellow, each represented
in his slender stock by some distinctive work. There were several stray
volumes of Thackeray's minor writings, and I still have the 'Yellowplush
Papers' in the smooth red cloth (now pretty well tattered) of Appleton's
Popular Library, which I bought there. But most of the books were in the
famous old brown cloth of Ticknor & Fields, which was a warrant of
excellence in the literature it covered. Besides these there were
standard volumes of poetry, published by Phillips & Sampson, from
wornout plates; for a birthday present my mother got me Wordsworth in
this shape, and I am glad to think that I once read the "Excursion" in
it, for I do not think I could do so now, and I have a feeling that it is
very right and fit to have read the "Excursion." To be honest, it was
very hard reading even then, and I cannot truthfully pretend that I have
ever liked Wordsworth except in parts, though for the matter of that, I
do not suppose that any one ever did. I tried hard enough to like
everything in him, for I had already learned enough to know that I ought
to like him, and that if I did not, it was a proof of intellectual and
moral inferiority in me. My early idol, Pope, had already been tumbled
into the dust by Lowell, whose lectures on English Poetry had lately been
given in Boston, and had met with my rapturous acceptance in such
newspaper report as I had of them. So, my preoccupations were all in
favor of the Lake School, and it was both in my will and my conscience to
like Wordsworth. If I did not do so it was not my fault, and the fault
remains very much what it first was.

I feel and understand him more deeply than I did then, but I do not think
that I then failed of the meaning of much that I read in him, and I am
sure that my senses were quick to all the beauty in him. After suffering
once through the "Excursion" I did not afflict myself with it again,
but there were other poems of his which I read over and over, as I fancy
it is the habit of every lover of poetry to do with the pieces he is fond
of. Still, I do not make out that Wordsworth was ever a passion of mine;
on the other hand, neither was Byron. Him, too, I liked in passages and
in certain poems which I knew before I read Wordsworth at all; I read him
throughout, but I did not try to imitate him, and I did not try to
imitate Wordsworth.

Those lectures of Lowell's had a great influence with me, and I tried to
like whatever they bade me like, after a fashion common to young people
when they begin to read criticisms; their aesthetic pride is touched;
they wish to realize that they too can feel the fine things the critic
admires. From this motive they do a great deal of factitious liking;
but after all the affections will not be bidden, and the critic can only
avail to give a point of view, to enlighten a perspective. When I read
Lowell's praises of him, I had all the will in the world to read Spencer,
and I really meant to do so, but I have not done so to this day, and as
often as I have tried I have found it impossible. It was not so with
Chaucer, whom I loved from the first word of his which I found quoted in
those lectures, and in Chambers's 'Encyclopaedia of English Literature,'
which I had borrowed of my friend the organ-builder.

In fact, I may fairly class Chaucer among my passions, for I read him
with that sort of personal attachment I had for Cervantes, who resembled
him in a certain sweet and cheery humanity. But I do not allege this as
the reason, for I had the same feeling for Pope, who was not like either
of them. Kissing goes by favor, in literature as in life, and one cannot
quite account for one's passions in either; what is certain is, I liked
Chaucer and I did not like Spencer; possibly there was an affinity
between reader and poet, but if there was I should be at a loss to name
it, unless it was the liking for reality; and the sense of mother earth
in human life. By the time I had read all of Chaucer that I could find
in the various collections and criticisms, my father had been made a
clerk in the legislature, and on one of his visits home he brought me the
poet's works from the State Library, and I set about reading them with a
glossary. It was not easy, but it brought strength with it, and lifted
my heart with a sense of noble companionship.

I will not pretend that I was insensible to the grossness of the poet's
time, which I found often enough in the poet's verse, as well as the
goodness of his nature, and my father seems to have felt a certain
misgiving about it. He repeated to me the librarian's question as to
whether he thought he ought to put an unexpurgated edition in the hands
of a boy, and his own answer that he did not believe it would hurt me.
It was a kind of appeal to me to make the event justify him, and I
suppose he had not given me the book without due reflection. Probably he
reasoned that with my greed for all manner of literature the bad would
become known to me along with the good at any rate, and I had better know
that he knew it.

The streams of filth flow down through the ages in literature, which
sometimes seems little better than an open sewer, and, as I have said,
I do not see why the time should not come when the noxious and noisome
channels should be stopped; but the base of the mind is bestial, and so
far the beast in us has insisted upon having his full say. The worst of
lewd literature is that it seems to give a sanction to lewdness in the
life, and that inexperience takes this effect for reality: that is the
danger and the harm, and I think the fact ought not to be blinked.
Compared with the meaner poets the greater are the cleaner, and Chaucer
was probably safer than any other English poet of his time, but I am not
going to pretend that there are not things in Chaucer which a boy would
be the better for not reading; and so far as these words of mine shall be
taken for counsel, I am not willing that they should unqualifiedly praise
him. The matter is by no means simple; it is not easy to conceive of a
means of purifying the literature of the past without weakening it, and
even falsifying it, but it is best to own that it is in all respects just
what it is, and not to feign it otherwise. I am not ready to say that
the harm from it is positive, but you do get smeared with it, and the
filthy thought lives with the filthy rhyme in the ear, even when it does
not corrupt the heart or make it seem a light thing for the reader's
tongue and pen to sin in kind.

I loved my Chaucer too well, I hope, not to get some good from the best
in him; and my reading of criticism had taught me how and where to look
for the best, and to know it when I had found it. Of course I began to
copy him. That is, I did not attempt anything like his tales in kind;
they must have seemed too hopelessly far away in taste and time, but I
studied his verse, and imitated a stanza which I found in some of his
things and had not found elsewhere; I rejoiced in the freshness and
sweetness of his diction, and though I felt that his structure was
obsolete, there was in his wording something homelier and heartier than
the imported analogues that had taken the place of the phrases he used.

I began to employ in my own work the archaic words that I fancied most,
which was futile and foolish enough, and I formed a preference for the
simpler Anglo-Saxon woof of our speech, which was not so bad. Of course,
being left so much as I was to my own whim in such things, I could not
keep a just mean; I had an aversion for the Latin derivatives which was
nothing short of a craze. Some half-bred critic whom I had read made me
believe that English could be written without them, and had better be
written so, and I did not escape from this lamentable error until I had
produced with weariness and vexation of spirit several pieces of prose
wholly composed of monosyllables. I suspect now that I did not always
stop to consider whether my short words were not as Latin by race as any
of the long words I rejected, and that I only made sure they were short.

The frivolous ingenuity which wasted itself in this exercise happily
could not hold out long, and in verse it was pretty well helpless from
the beginning. Yet I will not altogether blame it, for it made me know,
as nothing else could, the resources of our tongue in that sort; and in
the revolt from the slavish bondage I took upon myself I did not go so
far as to plunge into any very wild polysyllabic excesses. I still like
the little word if it says the thing I want to say as well as the big
one, but I honor above all the word that says the thing. At the same
time I confess that I have a prejudice against certain words that I
cannot overcome; the sight of some offends me, the sound of others, and
rather than use one of those detested vocables, even when I perceive that
it would convey my exact meaning, I would cast about long for some other.
I think this is a foible, and a disadvantage, but I do not deny it.

An author who had much to do with preparing me for the quixotic folly in
point was that Thomas Babington Macaulay, who taught simplicity of
diction in phrases of as "learned length and thundering sound," as any he
would have had me shun, and who deplored the Latinistic English of
Johnson in terms emulous of the great doctor's orotundity and
ronderosity. I wonder now that I did not see how my physician avoided
his medicine, but I did not, and I went on to spend myself in an endeavor
as vain and senseless as any that pedantry has conceived. It was none
the less absurd because I believed in it so devoutly, and sacrificed
myself to it with such infinite pains and labor. But this was long after
I read Macaulay, who was one of my grand passions before Dickens or


One of the many characters of the village was the machinist who had his
shop under our printing-office when we first brought our newspaper to the
place, and who was just then a machinist because he was tired of being
many other things, and had not yet made up his mind what he should be
next. He could have been whatever he turned his agile intellect and his
cunning hand to; he had been a schoolmaster and a watch-maker, and I
believe an amateur doctor and irregular lawyer; he talked and wrote
brilliantly, and he was one of the group that nightly disposed of every
manner of theoretical and practical question at the drug-store; it was
quite indifferent to him which side he took; what he enjoyed was the
mental exercise. He was in consumption, as so many were in that region,
and he carbonized against it, as he said; he took his carbon in the
liquid form, and the last time I saw him the carbon had finally prevailed
over the consumption, but it had itself become a seated vice; that was
many years since, and it is many years since he died.

He must have been known to me earlier, but I remember him first as he
swam vividly into my ken, with a volume of Macaulay's essays in his hand,
one day. Less figuratively speaking, he came up into the printing-office
to expose from the book the nefarious plagiarism of an editor in a
neighboring city, who had adapted with the change of names and a word or
two here and there, whole passages from the essay on Barere, to the
denunciation of a brother editor. It was a very simple-hearted fraud,
and it was all done with an innocent trust in the popular ignorance which
now seems to me a little pathetic; but it was certainly very barefaced,
and merited the public punishment which the discoverer inflicted by means
of what journalists call the deadly parallel column. The effect ought
logically to have been ruinous for the plagiarist, but it was really
nothing of the kind. He simply ignored the exposure, and the comments of
the other city papers, and in the process of time he easily lived down
the memory of it and went on to greater usefulness in his profession.

But for the moment it appeared to me a tremendous crisis, and I listened
as the minister of justice read his communication, with a thrill which
lost itself in the interest I suddenly felt in the plundered author.
Those facile and brilliant phrases and ideas struck me as the finest
things I had yet known in literature, and I borrowed the book and read it
through. Then I borrowed another volume of Macaulay's essays, and
another and another, till I had read them every one. It was like a long
debauch, from which I emerged with regret that it should ever end.

I tried other essayists, other critics, whom the machinist had in his
library, but it was useless; neither Sidney Smith nor Thomas Carlyle
could console me; I sighed for more Macaulay and evermore Macaulay. I
read his History of England, and I could measurably console myself with
that, but only measurably; and I could not go back to the essays and read
them again, for it seemed to me I had absorbed them so thoroughly that I
had left nothing unenjoyed in them. I used to talk with the machinist
about them, and with the organ-builder, and with my friend the printer,
but no one seemed to feel the intense fascination in them that I did, and
that I should now be quite unable to account for.

Once more I had an author for whom I could feel a personal devotion, whom
I could dream of and dote upon, and whom I could offer my intimacy in
many an impassioned revery. I do not think T. B. Macaulay would really
have liked it; I dare say he would not have valued the friendship of the
sort of a youth I was, but in the conditions he was helpless, and I
poured out my love upon him without a rebuff. Of course I reformed my
prose style, which had been carefully modelled upon that of Goldsmith and
Irving, and began to write in the manner of Macaulay, in short, quick
sentences, and with the prevalent use of brief Anglo-Saxon words, which
he prescribed, but did not practise. As for his notions of literature, I
simply accepted them with the feeling that any question of them would
have been little better than blasphemy.

For a long time he spoiled my taste for any other criticism; he made it
seem pale, and poor, and weak; and he blunted my sense to subtler
excellences than I found in him. I think this was a pity, but it was a
thing not to be helped, like a great many things that happen to our hurt
in life; it was simply inevitable. How or when my frenzy for him began
to abate I cannot say, but it certainly waned, and it must have waned
rapidly, for after no great while I found myself feeling the charm of
quite different minds, as fully as if his had never enslaved me. I
cannot regret that I enjoyed him so keenly as I did; it was in a way a
generous delight, and though he swayed me helplessly whatever way he
thought, I do not think yet that he swayed me in any very wrong way. He
was a bright and clear intelligence, and if his light did not go far, it
is to be said of him that his worst fault was only to have stopped short
of the finest truth in art, in morals, in politics.


What remained to me from my love of Macaulay was a love of criticism,
and I read almost as much in criticism as I read in poetry and history
and fiction. It was of an eccentric doctor, another of the village
characters, that I got the works of Edgar A. Poe; I do not know just how,
but it must have been in some exchange of books; he preferred
metaphysics. At any rate I fell greedily upon them, and I read with no
less zest than his poems the bitter, and cruel, and narrow-minded
criticisms which mainly filled one of the volumes. As usual, I accepted
them implicitly, and it was not till long afterwards that I understood
how worthless they were.

I think that hardly less immoral than the lubricity of literature, and
its celebration of the monkey and the goat in us, is the spectacle such
criticism affords of the tigerish play of satire. It is monstrous that
for no offence but the wish to produce something beautiful, and the
mistake of his powers in that direction, a writer should become the prey
of some ferocious wit, and that his tormentor should achieve credit by
his lightness and ease in rending his prey; it is shocking to think how
alluring and depraving the fact is to the young reader emulous of such
credit, and eager to achieve it. Because I admired these barbarities of
Poe's, I wished to irritate them, to spit some hapless victim on my own
spear, to make him suffer and to make the reader laugh. This is as far
as possible from the criticism that enlightens and ennobles, but it is
still the ideal of most critics, deny it as they will; and because it is
the ideal of most critics criticism still remains behind all the other
literary arts.

I am glad to remember that at the same time I exulted in these ferocities
I had mind enough and heart enough to find pleasure in the truer and
finer work, the humaner work of other writers, like Hazlitt, and Leigh
Hunt, and Lamb, which became known to me at a date I cannot exactly fix.
I believe it was Hazlitt whom I read first, and he helped me to clarify
and formulate my admiration of Shakespeare as no one else had yet done;
Lamb helped me too, and with all the dramatists, and on every hand I was
reaching out for light that should enable me to place in literary history
the authors I knew and loved.

I fancy it was well for me at this period to have got at the four great
English reviews, the Edinburgh, the Westminster, the London Quarterly,
and the North British, which I read regularly, as well as Blackwood's
Magazine. We got them in the American editions in payment for printing
the publisher's prospectus, and their arrival was an excitement, a joy,
and a satisfaction with me, which I could not now describe without having
to accuse myself of exaggeration. The love of literature, and the hope
of doing something in it, had become my life to the exclusion of all
other interests, or it was at least the great reality, and all other
things were as shadows. I was living in a time of high political tumult,
and I certainly cared very much for the question of slavery which was
then filling the minds of men; I felt deeply the shame and wrong of our
Fugitive Slave Law; I was stirred by the news from Kansas, where the
great struggle between the two great principles in our nationality was
beginning in bloodshed; but I cannot pretend that any of these things
were more than ripples on the surface of my intense and profound interest
in literature. If I was not to live by it, I was somehow to live for it.

If I thought of taking up some other calling it was as a means only;
literature was always the end I had in view, immediately or finally.
I did not see how it was to yield me a living, for I knew that almost all
the literary men in the country had other professions; they were editors,
lawyers, or had public or private employments; or they were men of
wealth; there was then not one who earned his bread solely by his pen in
fiction, or drama, or history, or poetry, or criticism, in a day when
people wanted very much less butter on their bread than they do now.
But I kept blindly at my studies, and yet not altogether blindly, for,
as I have said, the reading I did had more tendency than before, and I
was beginning to see authors in their proportion to one another, and to
the body of literature.

The English reviews were of great use to me in this; I made a rule of
reading each one of them quite through. To be sure I often broke this
rule, as people are apt to do with rules of the kind; it was not possible
for a boy to wade through heavy articles relating to English politics and
economics, but I do not think I left any paper upon a literary topic
unread, and I did read enough politics, especially in Blackwood's, to be
of Tory opinions; they were very fit opinions for a boy, and they did not
exact of me any change in regard to the slavery question.


I suppose I might almost class my devotion to English reviews among my
literary passions, but it was of very short lease, not beyond a year or
two at the most. In the midst of it I made my first and only essay aside
from the lines of literature, or rather wholly apart from it. After some
talk with my father it was decided, mainly by myself, I suspect, that I
should leave the printing-office and study law; and it was arranged with
the United States Senator who lived in our village, and who was at home
from Washington for the summer, that I was to come into his office. The
Senator was by no means to undertake my instruction himself; his nephew,
who had just begun to read law, was to be my fellow-student, and we were
to keep each other up to the work, and to recite to each other, until we
thought we had enough law to go before a board of attorneys and test our
fitness for admission to the bar.

This was the custom in that day and place, as I suppose it is still in
most parts of the country. We were to be fitted for practice in the
courts, not only by our reading, but by a season of pettifogging before
justices of the peace, which I looked forward to with no small shrinking
of my shy spirit; but what really troubled me most, and was always the
grain of sand between my teeth, was Blackstone's confession of his own
original preference for literature, and his perception that the law was
"a jealous mistress," who would suffer no rival in his affections.
I agreed with him that I could not go through life with a divided
interest; I must give up literature or I must give up law. I not only
consented to this logically, but I realized it in my attempt to carry on
the reading I had loved, and to keep at the efforts I was always making
to write something in verse or prose, at night, after studying law all
day. The strain was great enough when I had merely the work in the
printing-office; but now I came home from my Blackstone mentally fagged,
and I could not take up the authors whom at the bottom of my heart I
loved so much better. I tried it a month, but almost from the fatal day
when I found that confession of Blackstone's, my whole being turned from
the "jealous mistress" to the high minded muses: I had not only to go
back to literature, but I had also to go back to the printing-office.
I did not regret it, but I had made my change of front in the public eye,
and I felt that it put me at a certain disadvantage with my fellow-
citizens; as for the Senator, whose office I had forsaken, I met him now
and then in the street, without trying to detain him, and once when he
came to the printing-office for his paper we encountered at a point where
we could not help speaking. He looked me over in my general effect of
base mechanical, and asked me if I had given up the law; I had only to
answer him I had, and our conference ended. It was a terrible moment for
me, because I knew that in his opinion I had chosen a path in life, which
if it did not lead to the Poor House was at least no way to the White
House. I suppose now that he thought I had merely gone back to my trade,
and so for the time I had; but I have no reason to suppose that he judged
my case narrow-mindedly, and I ought to have had the courage to have the
affair out with him, and tell him just why I had left the law; we had
sometimes talked the English reviews over, for he read them as well as I,
and it ought not to have been impossible for me to be frank with him;
but as yet I could not trust any one with my secret hope of some day
living for literature, although I had already lived for nothing else.
I preferred the disadvantage which I must be at in his eyes, and in the
eyes of most of my fellow-citizens; I believe I had the applause of the
organ-builder, who thought the law no calling for me.

In that village there was a social equality which, if not absolute, was
as nearly so as can ever be in a competitive civilization; and I could
have suffered no slight in the general esteem for giving up a profession
and going back to a trade; if I was despised at all it was because I had
thrown away the chance of material advancement; I dare say some people
thought I was a fool to do that. No one, indeed, could have imagined the
rapture it was to do it, or what a load rolled from my shoulders when I
dropped the law from them. Perhaps Sinbad or Christian could have
conceived of my ecstatic relief; yet so far as the popular vision reached
I was not returning to literature, but to the printing business, and I
myself felt the difference. My reading had given me criterions different
from those of the simple life of our village, and I did not flatter
myself that my calling would have been thought one of great social
dignity in the world where I hoped some day to make my living.
My convictions were all democratic, but at heart I am afraid I was a
snob, and was unworthy of the honest work which I ought to have felt it
an honor to do; this, whatever we falsely pretend to the contrary, is the
frame of every one who aspires beyond the work of his hands. I do not
know how it had become mine, except through my reading, and I think it
was through the devotion I then had for a certain author that I came to a
knowledge not of good and evil so much as of common and superfine.


It was of the organ-builder that I had Thackeray's books first. He knew
their literary quality, and their rank in the literary, world; but I
believe he was surprised at the passion I instantly conceived for them.
He could not understand it; he deplored it almost as a moral defect in
me; though he honored it as a proof of my critical taste. In a certain
measure he was right.

What flatters the worldly pride in a young man is what fascinates him
with Thackeray. With his air of looking down on the highest, and
confidentially inviting you to be of his company in the seat of the
scorner he is irresistible; his very confession that he is a snob, too,
is balm and solace to the reader who secretly admires the splendors he
affects to despise. His sentimentality is also dear to the heart of
youth, and the boy who is dazzled by his satire is melted by his easy
pathos. Then, if the boy has read a good many other books, he is taken
with that abundance of literary turn and allusion in Thackeray; there is
hardly a sentence but reminds him that he is in the society of a great
literary swell, who has read everything, and can mock or burlesque life
right and left from the literature always at his command. At the same
time he feels his mastery, and is abjectly grateful to him in his own
simple love of the good for his patronage of the unassuming virtues.
It is so pleasing to one's 'vanity, and so safe, to be of the master's
side when he assails those vices and foibles which are inherent in the
system of things, and which one can contemn with vast applause so long as
one does not attempt to undo the conditions they spring from.

I exulted to have Thackeray attack the aristocrats, and expose their
wicked pride and meanness, and I never noticed that he did not propose to
do away with aristocracy, which is and must always be just what it has
been, and which cannot be changed while it exists at all. He appeared to
me one of the noblest creatures that ever was when he derided the shams
of society; and I was far from seeing that society, as we have it, was
necessarily a sham; when he made a mock of snobbishness I did not know
but snobbishness was something that might be reached and cured by
ridicule. Now I know that so long as we have social inequality we shall
have snobs; we shall have men who bully and truckle, and women who snub
and crawl. I know that it is futile to, spurn them, or lash them for
trying to get on in the world, and that the world is what it must be from
the selfish motives which underlie our economic life. But I did not know
these things then, nor for long afterwards, and so I gave my heart to
Thackeray, who seemed to promise me in his contempt of the world a refuge
from the shame I felt for my own want of figure in it. He had the effect
of taking me into the great world, and making me a party to his splendid
indifference to titles, and even to royalties; and I could not see that
sham for sham he was unwittingly the greatest sham of all.

I think it was 'Pendennis' I began with, and I lived in the book to the
very last line of it, and made its alien circumstance mine to the
smallest detail. I am still not sure but it is the author's greatest
book, and I speak from a thorough acquaintance with every line he has
written, except the Virginians, which I have never been able to read
quite through; most of his work I have read twice, and some of it twenty

After reading 'Pendennis' I went to 'Vanity Fair,' which I now think the
poorest of Thackeray's novels--crude, heavy-handed, caricatured. About
the same time I revelled in the romanticism of 'Henry Esmond,' with its
pseudo-eighteenth-century sentiment, and its appeals to an overwrought
ideal of gentlemanhood and honor. It was long before I was duly revolted
by Esmond's transfer of his passion from the daughter to the mother whom
he is successively enamoured of. I believe this unpleasant and
preposterous affair is thought one of the fine things in the story; I do
not mind owning that I thought it so myself when I was seventeen; and if
I could have found a Beatrix to be in love with, and a Lady Castlewood to
be in love with me, I should have asked nothing finer of fortune.
The glamour of Henry Esmond was all the deeper because I was reading the
'Spectator' then, and was constantly in the company of Addison, and
Steele, and Swift, and Pope, and all the wits at Will's, who are
presented evanescently in the romance. The intensely literary keeping,
as well as quality, of the story I suppose is what formed its highest
fascination for me; but that effect of great world which it imparts to
the reader, making him citizen, and, if he will, leading citizen of it,
was what helped turn my head.

This is the toxic property of all Thackeray's writing. He is himself
forever dominated in imagination by the world, and even while he tells
you it is not worth while he makes you feel that it is worth while. It
is not the honest man, but the man of honor, who shines in his page; his
meek folk are proudly meek, and there is a touch of superiority, a glint
of mundane splendor, in his lowliest. He rails at the order of things,
but he imagines nothing different, even when he shows that its baseness,
and cruelty, and hypocrisy are well-nigh inevitable, and, for most of
those who wish to get on in it, quite inevitable. He has a good word for
the virtues, he patronizes the Christian graces, he pats humble merit on
the head; he has even explosions of indignation against the insolence and
pride of birth, and purse-pride. But, after all, he is of the world,
worldly, and the highest hope he holds out is that you may be in the
world and despise its ambitions while you compass its ends.

I should be far from blaming him for all this. He was of his time; but
since his time men have thought beyond him, and seen life with a vision
which makes his seem rather purblind. He must have been immensely in
advance of most of the thinking and feeling of his day, for people then
used to accuse his sentimental pessimism of cynical qualities which we
could hardly find in it now. It was the age of intense individualism,
when you were to do right because it was becoming to you, say, as a
gentleman, and you were to have an eye single to the effect upon your
character, if not your reputation; you were not to do a mean thing
because it was wrong, but because it was mean. It was romanticism
carried into the region of morals. But I had very little concern then as
to that sort of error.

I was on a very high esthetic horse, which I could not have conveniently
stooped from if I had wished; it was quite enough for me that Thackeray's
novels were prodigious works of art, and I acquired merit, at least with
myself, for appreciating them so keenly, for liking them so much. It
must be, I felt with far less consciousness than my formulation of the
feeling expresses, that I was of some finer sort myself to be able to
enjoy such a fine sort. No doubt I should have been a coxcomb of some
kind, if not that kind, and I shall not be very strenuous in censuring
Thackeray for his effect upon me in this way. No doubt the effect was
already in me, and he did not so much produce it as find it.

In the mean time he was a vast delight to me, as much in the variety of
his minor works--his 'Yellowplush,' and 'Letters of Mr. Brown,' and
'Adventures of Major Gahagan,' and the 'Paris Sketch Book,' and the
'Irish Sketch Book,' and the 'Great Hoggarty Diamond,' and the 'Book of
Snobs,' and the 'English Humorists,' and the 'Four Georges,' and all the
multitude of his essays, and verses, and caricatures--as in the spacious
designs of his huge novels, the 'Newcomes,' and 'Pendennis,' and 'Vanity
Fair,' and 'Henry Esmond,' and 'Barry Lyndon.'

There was something in the art of the last which seemed to me then, and
still seems, the farthest reach of the author's great talent. It is
couched, like so much of his work, in the autobiographic form, which next
to the dramatic form is the most natural, and which lends itself with
such flexibility to the purpose of the author. In 'Barry Lyndon' there
is imagined to the life a scoundrel of such rare quality that he never
supposes for a moment but he is the finest sort of a gentleman; and so,
in fact, he was, as most gentlemen went in his day. Of course, the
picture is over-colored; it was the vice of Thackeray, or of Thackeray's
time, to surcharge all imitations of life and character, so that a
generation apparently much slower, if not duller than ours, should not
possibly miss the artist's meaning. But I do not think it is so much
surcharged as 'Esmond;' 'Barry Lyndon' is by no manner of means so
conscious as that mirror of gentlemanhood, with its manifold
self-reverberations; and for these reasons I am inclined to think
he is the most perfect creation of Thackeray's mind.

I did not make the acquaintance of Thackeray's books all at once, or even
in rapid succession, and he at no time possessed the whole empire of my
catholic, not to say, fickle, affections, during the years I was
compassing a full knowledge and sense of his greatness, and burning
incense at his shrine. But there was a moment when he so outshone and
overtopped all other divinities in my worship that I was effectively his
alone, as I have been the helpless and, as it were, hypnotized devotee of
three or four others of the very great. From his art there flowed into
me a literary quality which tinged my whole mental substance, and made it
impossible for me to say, or wish to say, anything without giving it the
literary color. That is, while he dominated my love and fancy, if I had
been so fortunate as to have a simple concept of anything in life, I must
have tried to give the expression of it some turn or tint that would
remind the reader of books even before it reminded him of men.

It is hard to make out what I mean, but this is a try at it, and I do not
know that I shall be able to do better unless I add that Thackeray, of
all the writers that I have known, is the most thoroughly and profoundly
imbued with literature, so that when he speaks it is not with words and
blood, but with words and ink. You may read the greatest part of
Dickens, as you may read the greatest part of Hawthorne or Tolstoy, and
not once be reminded of literature as a business or a cult, but you can
hardly read a paragraph, hardly a sentence, of Thackeray's without being
reminded of it either by suggestion or downright allusion.

I do not blame him for this; he was himself, and he could not have been
any other manner of man without loss; but I say that the greatest talent
is not that which breathes of the library, but that which breathes of the
street, the field, the open sky, the simple earth. I began to imitate
this master of mine almost as soon as I began to read him; this must be,
and I had a greater pride and joy in my success than I should probably
have known in anything really creative; I should have suspected that, I
should have distrusted that, because I had nothing to test it by, no
model; but here before me was the very finest and noblest model, and I
had but to form my lines upon it, and I had produced a work of art
altogether more estimable in my eyes than anything else could have been.
I saw the little world about me through the lenses of my master's
spectacles, and I reported its facts, in his tone and his attitude, with
his self-flattered scorn, his showy sighs, his facile satire. I need not
say I was perfectly satisfied with the result, or that to be able to
imitate Thackeray was a much greater thing for me than to have been able
to imitate nature. In fact, I could have valued any picture of the life
and character I knew only as it put me in mind of life and character as
these had shown themselves to me in his books.


At the same time, I was not only reading many books besides Thackeray's,
but I was studying to get a smattering of several languages as well as I
could, with or without help. I could now manage Spanish fairly well, and
I was sending on to New York for authors in that tongue. I do not
remember how I got the money to buy them; to be sure it was no great sum;
but it must have been given me out of the sums we were all working so
hard to make up for the debt, and the interest on the debt (that is
always the wicked pinch for the debtor!), we had incurred in the purchase
of the newspaper which we lived by, and the house which we lived in.
I spent no money on any other sort of pleasure, and so, I suppose, it was
afforded me the more readily; but I cannot really recall the history of
those acquisitions on its financial side. In any case, if the sums I
laid out in literature could not have been comparatively great, the
excitement attending the outlay was prodigious.

I know that I used to write on to Messrs. Roe Lockwood & Son, New York,
for my Spanish books, and I dare say that my letters were sufficiently
pedantic, and filled with a simulated acquaintance with all Spanish
literature. Heaven knows what they must have thought, if they thought
anything, of their queer customer in that obscure little Ohio village;
but he could not have been queerer to them than to his fellow-villagers,
I am sure. I haunted the post-office about the time the books were due,
and when I found one of them in our deep box among a heap of exchange
newspapers and business letters, my emotion was so great that it almost
took my breath. I hurried home with the precious volume, and shut myself
into my little den, where I gave myself up to a sort of transport in it.
These books were always from the collection of Spanish authors published
by Baudry in Paris, and they were in saffron-colored paper cover, printed
full of a perfectly intoxicating catalogue of other Spanish books which I
meant to read, every one, some time. The paper and the ink had a certain
odor which was sweeter to me than the perfumes of Araby. The look of the
type took me more than the glance of a girl, and I had a fever of longing
to know the heart of the book, which was like a lover's passion. Some
times I did not reach its heart, but commonly I did. Moratin's 'Origins
of the Spanish Theatre,' and a large volume of Spanish dramatic authors,
were the first Spanish books I sent for, but I could not say why I sent
for them, unless it was because I saw that there were some plays of
Cervantes among the rest. I read these and I read several comedies of
Lope de Vega, and numbers of archaic dramas in Moratin's history, and I
really got a fairish perspective of the Spanish drama, which has now
almost wholly faded from my mind. It is more intelligible to me why I
should have read Conde's 'Dominion of the Arabs in Spain;' for that was
in the line of my reading in Irving, which would account for my pleasure
in the 'History of the Civil Wars of Granada;' it was some time before I
realized that the chronicles in this were a bundle of romances and not
veritable records; and my whole study in these things was wholly
undirected and unenlightened. But I meant to be thorough in it, and I
could not rest satisfied with the Spanish-English grammars I had; I was
not willing to stop short of the official grammar of the Spanish Academy.
I sent to New York for it, and my booksellers there reported that they
would have to send to Spain for it. I lived till it came to hand through
them from Madrid; and I do not understand why I did not perish then from
the pride and joy I had in it.

But, after all, I am not a Spanish scholar, and can neither speak nor
write the language. I never got more than a good reading use of it,
perhaps because I never really tried for more. But I am very glad of
that, because it has been a great pleasure to me, and even some profit,
and it has lighted up many meanings in literature, which must always have
remained dark to me. Not to speak now of the modern Spanish writers whom
it has enabled me to know in their own houses as it were, I had even in
that remote day a rapturous delight in a certain Spanish book, which was
well worth all the pains I had undergone to get at it. This was the
famous picaresque novel, 'Lazarillo de Tormes,' by Hurtado de Mendoza,
whose name then so familiarized itself to my fondness that now as I write
it I feel as if it were that of an old personal friend whom I had known
in the flesh. I believe it would not have been always comfortable to
know Mendoza outside of his books; he was rather a terrible person; he
was one of the Spanish invaders of Italy, and is known in Italian history
as the Tyrant of Sierra. But at my distance of time and place I could
safely revel in his friendship, and as an author I certainly found him a
most charming companion. The adventures of his rogue of a hero, who
began life as the servant and accomplice of a blind beggar, and then
adventured on through a most diverting career of knavery, brought back
the atmosphere of Don Quixote, and all the landscape of that dear wonder-
world of Spain, where I had lived so much, and I followed him with all
the old delight.

I do not know that I should counsel others to do so, or that the general
reader would find his account in it, but I am sure that the intending
author of American fiction would do well to study the Spanish picaresque
novels; for in their simplicity of design he will find one of the best
forms for an American story. The intrigue of close texture will never
suit our conditions, which are so loose and open and variable; each man's
life among us is a romance of the Spanish model, if it is the life of a
man who has risen, as we nearly all have, with many ups and downs. The
story of 'Latzarillo' is gross in its facts, and is mostly "unmeet for
ladies," like most of the fiction in all languages before our times; but
there is an honest simplicity in the narration, a pervading humor, and a
rich feeling for character that gives it value.

I think that a good deal of its foulness was lost upon me, but I
certainly understood that it would not do to present it to an American
public just as it was, in the translation which I presently planned to
make. I went about telling the story to people, and trying to make them
find it as amusing as I did, but whether I ever succeeded I cannot say,
though the notion of a version with modifications constantly grew with
me, till one day I went to the city of Cleveland with my father. There
was a branch house of an Eastern firm of publishers in that place, and I
must have had the hope that I might have the courage to propose a
translation of Lazarillo to them. My father urged me to try my fortune,
but my heart failed me. I was half blind with one of the headaches that
tormented me in those days, and I turned my sick eyes from the sign,
"J. P. Jewett & Co., Publishers," which held me fascinated, and went home
without at least having my much-dreamed-of version of Lazarillo refused.


I am quite at a loss to know why my reading had this direction or that in
those days. It had necessarily passed beyond my father's suggestion, and
I think it must have been largely by accident or experiment that I read
one book rather than another. He made some sort of newspaper arrangement
with a book-store in Cleveland, which was the means of enriching our home
library with a goodly number of books, shop-worn, but none the worse for
that, and new in the only way that books need be new to the lover of
them. Among these I found a treasure in Curtis's two books, the 'Nile
Notes of a Howadji,' and the 'Howadji in Syria.' I already knew him by
his 'Potiphar Papers,' and the ever-delightful reveries which have since
gone under the name of 'Prue and I;' but those books of Eastern travel
opened a new world of thinking and feeling. They had at once a great
influence upon me. The smooth richness of their diction; the amiable
sweetness of their mood, their gracious caprice, the delicacy of their
satire (which was so kind that it should have some other name), their
abundance of light and color, and the deep heart of humanity underlying
their airiest fantasticality, all united in an effect which was different
from any I had yet known.

As usual, I steeped myself in them, and the first runnings of my fancy
when I began to pour it out afterwards were of their flavor. I tried to
write like this new master; but whether I had tried or not, I should
probably have done so from the love I bore him. He was a favorite not
only of mine, but of all the young people in the village who were reading
current literature, so that on this ground at least I had abundant
sympathy. The present generation can have little notion of the deep
impression made upon the intelligence and conscience of the whole nation
by the 'Potiphar Papers,' or how its fancy was rapt with the 'Prue and I'
sketches, These are among the most veritable literary successes we have
had, and probably we who were so glad when the author of these beautiful
things turned aside from the flowery paths where he led us, to battle for
freedom in the field of politics, would have felt the sacrifice too great
if we could have dreamed it would be life-long. But, as it was, we could
only honor him the more, and give him a place in our hearts which he
shared with Longfellow.

This divine poet I have never ceased to read. His Hiawatha was a new
book during one of those terrible Lake Shore winters, but all the other
poems were old friends with me by that time. With a sister who is no
longer living I had a peculiar affection for his pretty and touching and
lightly humorous tale of 'Kavanagh,' which was of a village life enough
like our own, in some things, to make us know the truth of its delicate
realism. We used to read it and talk it fondly over together, and I
believe some stories of like make and manner grew out of our pleasure in
it. They were never finished, but it was enough to begin them, and there
were few writers, if any, among those I delighted in who escaped the
tribute of an imitation. One has to begin that way, or at least one had
in my day; perhaps it is now possible for a young writer to begin by
being himself; but for my part, that was not half so important as to be
like some one else. Literature, not life, was my aim, and to reproduce
it was my joy and my pride.

I was widening my knowledge of it helplessly and involuntarily, and I was
always chancing upon some book that served this end among the great
number of books that I read merely for my pleasure without any real
result of the sort. Schlegel's 'Lectures on Dramatic Literature' came
into my hands not long after I had finished my studies in the history of
the Spanish theatre, and it made the whole subject at once luminous.
I cannot give a due notion of the comfort this book afforded me by the
light it cast upon paths where I had dimly made my way before, but which
I now followed in the full day.

Of course, I pinned my faith to everything that Schlegel said.
I obediently despised the classic unities and the French and Italian
theatre which had perpetuated them, and I revered the romantic drama
which had its glorious course among the Spanish and English poets, and
which was crowned with the fame of the Cervantes and the Shakespeare whom
I seemed to own, they owned me so completely. It vexes me now to find
that I cannot remember how the book came into my hands, or who could have
suggested it to me. It is possible that it may have been that artist who
came and stayed a month with us while she painted my mother's portrait.
She was fresh from her studies in New York, where she had met authors and
artists at the house of the Carey sisters, and had even once seen my
adored Curtis somewhere, though she had not spoken with him. Her talk
about these things simply emparadised me; it lifted me into a heaven of
hope that I, too, might some day meet such elect spirits and converse
with them face to face. My mood was sufficiently foolish, but it was not
such a frame of mind as I can be ashamed of; and I could wish a boy no
happier fortune than to possess it for a time, at least.


I cannot quite see now how I found time for even trying to do the things
I had in hand more or less. It is perfectly clear to me that I did none
of them well, though I meant at the time to do none of them other than
excellently. I was attempting the study of no less than four languages,
and I presently added a fifth to these. I was reading right and left in
every direction, but chiefly in that of poetry, criticism, and fiction.
From time to time I boldly attacked a history, and carried it by a 'coup
de main,' or sat down before it for a prolonged siege. There was
occasionally an author who worsted me, whom I tried to read and quietly
gave up after a vain struggle, but I must say that these authors were
few. I had got a very fair notion of the range of all literature, and
the relations of the different literatures to one another, and I knew
pretty well what manner of book it was that I took up before I committed
myself to the task of reading it. Always I read for pleasure, for the
delight of knowing something more; and this pleasure is a very different
thing from amusement, though I read a great deal for mere amusement, as I
do still, and to take my mind away from unhappy or harassing thoughts.
There are very few things that I think it a waste of time to have read;
I should probably have wasted the time if I had not read them, and at the
period I speak of I do not think I wasted much time.

My day began about seven o'clock, in the printing-office, where it took
me till noon to do my task of so many thousand ems, say four or five.
Then we had dinner, after the simple fashion of people who work with
their hands for their dinners. In the afternoon I went back and
corrected the proof of the type I had set, and distributed my case for
the next day. At two or three o'clock I was free, and then I went home
and began my studies; or tried to write something; or read a book.
We had supper at six, and after that I rejoiced in literature, till I
went to bed at ten or eleven. I cannot think of any time when I did not
go gladly to my books or manuscripts, when it was not a noble joy as well
as a high privilege.

But it all ended as such a strain must, in the sort of break which was
not yet known as nervous prostration. When I could not sleep after my
studies, and the sick headaches came oftener, and then days and weeks of
hypochondriacal misery, it was apparent I was not well; but that was not
the day of anxiety for such things, and if it was thought best that I
should leave work and study for a while, it was not with the notion that
the case was at all serious, or needed an uninterrupted cure. I passed
days in the woods and fields, gunning or picking berries; I spent myself
in heavy work; I made little journeys; and all this was very wholesome
and very well; but I did not give up my reading or my attempts to write.
No doubt I was secretly proud to have been invalided in so great a cause,
and to be sicklied over with the pale cast of thought, rather than by
some ignoble ague or the devastating consumption of that region. If I
lay awake, noting the wild pulsations of my heart, and listening to the
death-watch in the wall, I was certainly very much scared, but I was not
without the consolation that I was at least a sufferer for literature.
At the same time that I was so horribly afraid of dying, I could have
composed an epitaph which would have moved others to tears for my
untimely fate. But there was really not impairment of my constitution,
and after a while I began to be better, and little by little the health
which has never since failed me under any reasonable stress of work
established itself.

I was in the midst of this unequal struggle when I first became
acquainted with the poet who at once possessed himself of what was best
worth having in me. Probably I knew of Tennyson by extracts, and from
the English reviews, but I believe it was from reading one of Curtis's
"Easy Chair" papers that I was prompted to get the new poem of "Maud,"
which I understood from the "Easy Chair" was then moving polite youth in
the East. It did not seem to me that I could very well live without that
poem, and when I went to Cleveland with the hope that I might have
courage to propose a translation of Lazarillo to a publisher it was with
the fixed purpose of getting "Maud" if it was to be found in any
bookstore there.

I do not know why I was so long in reaching Tennyson, and I can only
account for it by the fact that I was always reading rather the earlier
than the later English poetry. To be sure I had passed through what I
may call a paroxysm of Alexander Smith, a poet deeply unknown to the
present generation, but then acclaimed immortal by all the critics, and
put with Shakespeare, who must be a good deal astonished from time to
time in his Elysian quiet by the companionship thrust upon him. I read
this now dead-and-gone immortal with an ecstasy unspeakable; I raved of
him by day, and dreamed of him by night; I got great lengths of his
"Life-Drama" by heart; and I can still repeat several gorgeous passages
from it; I would almost have been willing to take the life of the sole
critic who had the sense to laugh at him, and who made his wicked fun in
Graham's Magazine, an extinct periodical of the old extinct Philadelphian
species. I cannot tell how I came out of this craze, but neither could
any of the critics who led me into it, I dare say. The reading world is
very susceptible of such-lunacies, and all that can be said is that at a
given time it was time for criticism to go mad over a poet who was
neither better nor worse than many another third-rate poet apotheosized
before and since. What was good in Smith was the reflected fire of the
poets who had a vital heat in them; and it was by mere chance that I
bathed myself in his second-hand effulgence. I already knew pretty well
the origin of the Tennysonian line in English poetry; Wordsworth, and
Keats, and Shelley; and I did not come to Tennyson's worship a sudden
convert, but my devotion to him was none the less complete and exclusive.
Like every other great poet he somehow expressed the feelings of his day,
and I suppose that at the time he wrote "Maud" he said more fully what
the whole English-speaking race were then dimly longing to utter than any
English poet who has lived.

One need not question the greatness of Browning in owning the fact that
the two poets of his day who preeminently voiced their generation were
Tennyson and Longfellow; though Browning, like Emerson, is possibly now
more modern than either. However, I had then nothing to do with
Tennyson's comparative claim on my adoration; there was for the time no
parallel for him in the whole range of literary divinities that I had
bowed the knee to. For that while, the temple was not only emptied of
all the other idols, but I had a richly flattering illusion of being his
only worshipper. When I came to the sense of this error, it was with the
belief that at least no one else had ever appreciated him so fully, stood
so close to him in that holy of holies where he wrought his miracles.

I say tawdily and ineffectively and falsely what was a very precious and
sacred experience with me. This great poet opened to me a whole world of
thinking and feeling, where I had my being with him in that mystic
intimacy, which cannot be put into words. I at once identified myself
not only with the hero of the poem, but in some so with the poet himself,
when I read "Maud"; but that was only the first step towards the lasting
state in which his poetry has upon the whole been more to me than that of
any other poet. I have never read any other so closely and continuously,
or read myself so much into and out of his verse. There have been times
and moods when I have had my questions, and made my cavils, and when it
seemed to me that the poet was less than I had thought him; and certainly
I do not revere equally and unreservedly all that he has written; that
would be impossible. But when I think over all the other poets I have
read, he is supreme above them in his response to some need in me that he
has satisfied so perfectly.

Of course, "Maud" seemed to me the finest poem I had read, up to that
time, but I am not sure that this conclusion was wholly my own; I think
it was partially formed for me by the admiration of the poem which I felt
to be everywhere in the critical atmosphere, and which had already
penetrated to me. I did not like all parts of it equally well, and some
parts of it seemed thin and poor (though I would not suffer myself to say
so then), and they still seem so. But there were whole passages and
spaces of it whose divine and perfect beauty lifted me above life. I did
not fully understand the poem then; I do not fully understand it now, but
that did not and does not matter; for there something in poetry that
reaches the soul by other enues than the intelligence. Both in this poem
and others of Tennyson, and in every poet that I have loved, there are
melodies and harmonies enfolding significance that appeared long after I
had first read them, and had even learned them by heart; that lay weedy
in my outer ear and were enough in their Mere beauty of phrasing, till
the time came for them to reveal their whole meaning. In fact they could
do this only to later and greater knowledge of myself and others, as
every one must recognize who recurs in after-life to a book that he read
when young; then he finds it twice as full of meaning as it was at first.

I could not rest satisfied with "Maud"; I sent the same summer to
Cleveland for the little volume which then held all the poet's work, and
abandoned myself so wholly to it, that for a year I read no other verse
that I can remember. The volume was the first of that pretty blue-and-
gold series which Ticknor & Fields began to publish in 1856, and which
their imprint, so rarely affixed to an unworthy book, at once carried far
and wide. Their modest old brown cloth binding had long been a quiet
warrant of quality in the literature it covered, and now this splendid
blossom of the bookmaking art, as it seemed, was fitly employed to convey
the sweetness and richness of the loveliest poetry that I thought the
world had yet known. After an old fashion of mine, I read it
continuously, with frequent recurrences from each new poem to some that
had already pleased me, and with a most capricious range among the
pieces. "In Memoriam" was in that book, and the "Princess"; I read the
"Princess" through and through, and over and over, but I did not then
read "In Memoriam" through, and I have never read it in course; I am not
sure that I have even yet read every part of it. I did not come to the
"Princess," either, until I had saturated my fancy and my memory with
some of the shorter poems, with the "Dream of Fair Women," with the
"Lotus-Eaters," with the "Miller's Daughter," with the "Morte d'Arthur,"
with "Edwin Morris, or The Lake," with "Love and Duty," and a score of
other minor and briefer poems. I read the book night and day, in-doors
and out, to myself and to whomever I could make listen. I have no words
to tell the rapture it was to me; but I hope that in some more articulate
being, if it should ever be my unmerited fortune to meet that 'sommo
poeta' face to face, it shall somehow be uttered from me to him, and he
will understand how completely he became the life of the boy I was then.
I think it might please, or at least amuse, that lofty ghost, and that he
would not resent it, as he would probably have done on earth. I can well
understand why the homage of his worshippers should have afflicted him
here, and I could never have been one to burn incense in his earthly
presence; but perhaps it might be done hereafter without offence.
I eagerly caught up and treasured every personal word I could find about
him, and I dwelt in that sort of charmed intimacy with him through his
verse, in which I could not presume nor he repel, and which I had enjoyed
in turn with Cervantes and Shakespeare, without a snub from them.

I have never ceased to adore Tennyson, though the rapture of the new
convert could not last. That must pass like the flush of any other
passion. I think I have now a better sense of his comparative greatness,
but a better sense of his positive greatness I could not have than I had
at the beginning; and I believe this is the essential knowledge of a
poet. It is very well to say one is greater than Keats, or not so great
as Wordsworth; that one is or is not of the highest order of poets like
Shakespeare and Dante and Goethe; but that does not mean anything of
value, and I never find my account in it. I know it is not possible for
any less than the greatest writer to abide lastingly in one's life. Some
dazzling comer may enter and possess it for a day, but he soon wears his
welcome out, and presently finds the door, to be answered with a not-at-
home if he knocks again. But it was only this morning that I read one of
the new last poems of Tennyson with a return of the emotion which he
first woke in me well-nigh forty years ago. There has been no year of
those many when I have not read him and loved him with something of the
early fire if not all the early conflagration; and each successive poem
of his has been for me a fresh joy.

He went with me into the world from my village when I left it to make my
first venture away from home. My father had got one of those legislative
clerkships which used to fall sometimes to deserving country editors when
their party was in power, and we together imagined and carried out a
scheme for corresponding with some city newspapers. We were to furnish a
daily, letter giving an account of the legislative proceedings which I
was mainly to write up from material he helped me to get together. The
letters at once found favor with the editors who agreed to take them, and
my father then withdrew from the work altogether, after telling them who
was doing it. We were afraid they might not care for the reports of a
boy of nineteen, but they did not seem to take my age into account, and I
did not boast of my youth among the lawmakers. I looked three or four
years older than I was; but I experienced a terrible moment once when a
fatherly Senator asked me my age. I got away somehow without saying, but
it was a great relief to me when my twentieth birthday came that winter,
and I could honestly proclaim that I was in my twenty-first year.

I had now the free range of the State Library, and I drew many sorts of
books from it. Largely, however, they were fiction, and I read all the
novels of Bulwer, for whom I had already a great liking from 'The
Caxtons' and 'My Novel.' I was dazzled by them, and I thought him a
great writer, if not so great a one as he thought himself. Little or
nothing of those romances, with their swelling prefaces about the poet
and his function, their glittering criminals, and showy rakes and rogues
of all kinds, and their patrician perfume and social splendor, remained
with me; they may have been better or worse; I will not attempt to say.
If I may call my fascination with them a passion at all, I must say that
it was but a fitful fever. I also read many volumes of Zschokke's
admirable tales, which I found in a translation in the Library, and I
think I began at the same time to find out De Quincey. These authors I
recall out of the many that passed through my mind almost as tracelessly
as they passed through my hands. I got at some versions of Icelandic
poems, in the metre of "Hiawatha"; I had for a while a notion of studying
Icelandic, and I did take out an Icelandic grammar and lexicon, and
decided that I would learn the language later. By this time I must have
begun German, which I afterwards carried so far, with one author at
least, as to find in him a delight only second to that I had in Tennyson;
but as yet Tennyson was all in all to me in poetry. I suspect that I
carried his poems about with me a great part of the time; I am afraid
that I always had that blue-and-gold Tennyson in my pocket; and I was
ready to draw it upon anybody, at the slightest provocation. This is the
worst of the ardent lover of literature: he wishes to make every one else
share his rapture, will he, nill he. Many good fellows suffered from my
admiration of this author or that, and many more pretty, patient maids.
I wanted to read my favorite passages, my favorite poems to them; I am
afraid I often did read, when they would rather have been talking; in the
case of the poems I did worse, I repeated them. This seems rather
incredible now, but it is true enough, and absurd as it is, it at least
attests my sincerity. It was long before I cured myself of so pestilent
a habit; and I am not yet so perfectly well of it that I could be safely
trusted with a fascinating book and a submissive listener. I dare say I
could not have been made to understand at this time that Tennyson was not
so nearly the first interest of life with other people as he was with me;
I must often have suspected it, but I was helpless against the wish to
make them feel him as important to their prosperity and well-being as he
was to mine. My head was full of him; his words were always behind my
lips; and when I was not repeating his phrase to myself or to some one
else, I was trying to frame something of my own as like him as I could.
It was a time of melancholy from ill-health, and of anxiety for the
future in which I must make my own place in the world. Work, and hard
work, I had always been used to and never afraid of; but work is by no
means the whole story. You may get on without much of it, or you may do
a great deal, and not get on. I was willing to do as much of it as I
could get to do, but I distrusted my health, somewhat, and I had many
forebodings, which my adored poet helped me to transfigure to the
substance of literature, or enabled me for the time to forget. I was
already imitating him in the verse I wrote; he now seemed the only worthy
model for one who meant to be as great a poet as I did. None of the
authors whom I read at all displaced him in my devotion, and I could not
have believed that any other poet would ever be so much to me. In fact,
as I have expressed, none ever has been.


That winter passed very quickly and happily for me, and at the end of the
legislative session I had acquitted myself so much to the satisfaction of
one of the newspapers which I wrote for that I was offered a place on it.
I was asked to be city editor, as it was called in that day, and I was to
have charge of the local reporting. It was a great temptation, and for a
while I thought it the greatest piece of good fortune. I went down to
Cincinnati to acquaint myself with the details of the work, and to fit
myself for it by beginning as reporter myself. One night's round of the
police stations with the other reporters satisfied me that I was not
meant for that work, and I attempted it no farther. I have often been
sorry since, for it would have made known to me many phases of life that
I have always remained ignorant of, but I did not know then that life was
supremely interesting and important. I fancied that literature, that
poetry was so; and it was humiliation and anguish indescribable to think
of myself torn from my high ideals by labors like those of the reporter.
I would not consent even to do the office work of the department, and the
proprietor and editor who was more especially my friend tried to make
some other place for me. All the departments were full but the one I
would have nothing to do with, and after a few weeks of sufferance and
suffering I turned my back on a thousand dollars a year, and for the
second time returned to the printing-office.

I was glad to get home, for I had been all the time tormented by my old
malady of homesickness. But otherwise the situation was not cheerful for
me, and I now began trying to write something for publication that I
could sell. I sent off poems and they came back; I offered little
translations from the Spanish that nobody wanted. At the same time I
took up the study of German, which I must have already played with, at
such odd times as I could find. My father knew something of it, and that
friend of mine among the printers was already reading it and trying to
speak it. I had their help with the first steps so far as the
recitations from Ollendorff were concerned, but I was impatient to read
German, or rather to read one German poet who had seized my fancy from
the first line of his I had seen.

This poet was Heinrich Heine, who dominated me longer than any one author
that I have known. Where or when I first acquainted myself with his most
fascinating genius, I cannot be sure, but I think it was in some article
of the Westminster Review, where several poems of his were given in
English and German; and their singular beauty and grace at once possessed
my soul. I was in a fever to know more of him, and it was my great good
luck to fall in with a German in the village who had his books. He was a
bookbinder, one of those educated artisans whom the revolutions of 1848
sent to us in great numbers. He was a Hanoverian, and his accent was
then, I believe, the standard, though the Berlinese is now the accepted
pronunciation. But I cared very little for accent; my wish was to get at
Heine with as little delay as possible; and I began to cultivate the
friendship of that bookbinder in every way. I dare say he was glad of
mine, for he was otherwise quite alone in the village, or had no
companionship outside of his own family. I clothed him in all the
romantic interest I began to feel for his race and language, which new
took the place of the Spaniards and Spanish in my affections. He was a
very quick and gay intelligence, with more sympathy for my love of our
author's humor than for my love of his sentiment, and I can remember very
well the twinkle of his little sharp black eyes, with their Tartar slant,
and the twitching of his keenly pointed, sensitive nose, when we came to
some passage of biting satire, or some phrase in which the bitter Jew had
unpacked all the insult of his soul.

We began to read Heine together when my vocabulary had to be dug almost
word by word out of the dictionary, for the bookbinder's English was
rather scanty at the best, and was not literary. As for the grammar, I
was getting that up as fast as I could from Ollendorff, and from other
sources, but I was enjoying Heine before I well knew a declension or a
conjugation. As soon as my task was done at the office, I went home to
the books, and worked away at them until supper. Then my bookbinder and
I met in my father's editorial room, and with a couple of candles on the
table between us, and our Heine and the dictionary before us, we read
till we were both tired out.

The candles were tallow, and they lopped at different angles in the flat
candlesticks heavily loaded with lead, which compositors once used.
It seems to have been summer when our readings began, and they are
associated in my memory with the smell of the neighboring gardens, which
came in at the open doors and windows, and with the fluttering of moths,
and the bumbling of the dorbugs, that stole in along with the odors.
I can see the perspiration on the shining forehead of the bookbinder as
he looks up from some brilliant passage, to exchange a smile of triumph
with me at having made out the meaning with the meagre facilities we had
for the purpose; he had beautiful red pouting lips, and a stiff little
branching mustache above them, that went to the making of his smile.
Sometimes, in the truce we made with the text, he told a little story of
his life at home, or some anecdote relevant to our reading, or quoted a
passage from some other author. It seemed to me the make of a high
intellectual banquet, and I should be glad if I could enjoy anything as
much now.

We walked home as far as his house, or rather his apartment over one of
the village stores; and as he mounted to it by an outside staircase, we
exchanged a joyous "Gute Nacht," and I kept on homeward through the dark
and silent village street, which was really not that street, but some
other, where Heine had been, some street out of the Reisebilder, of his
knowledge, or of his dream. When I reached home it was useless to go to
bed. I shut myself into my little study, and went over what we had read,
till my brain was so full of it that when I crept up to my room at last,
it was to lie down to slumbers which were often a mere phantasmagory of
those witching Pictures of Travel.

I was awake at my father's call in the morning, and before my mother had
breakfast ready I had recited my lesson in Ollendorff to him. To tell
the truth, I hated those grammatical studies, and nothing but the love of
literature, and the hope of getting at it, could ever have made me go
through them. Naturally, I never got any scholarly use of the languages
I was worrying at, and though I could once write a passable literary
German, it has all gone from me now, except for the purposes of reading.
It cost me so much trouble, however, to dig the sense out of the grammar
and lexicon, as I went on with the authors I was impatient to read, that
I remember the words very well in all their forms and inflections, and I
have still what I think I may call a fair German vocabulary.

The German of Heine, when once you are in the joke of his capricious
genius, is very simple, and in his poetry it is simple from the first,
so that he was, perhaps, the best author I could have fallen in with if I
wanted to go fast rather than far. I found this out later, when I
attempted other German authors without the glitter of his wit or the
lambent glow of his fancy to light me on my hard way. I should find it
hard to say just why his peculiar genius had such an absolute fascination
for me from the very first, and perhaps I had better content myself with
saying simply that my literary liberation began with almost the earliest
word from him; for if he chained me to himself he freed me from all other
bondage. I had been at infinite pains from time to time, now upon one
model and now upon another, to literarify myself, if I may make a word
which does not quite say the thing for me. What I mean is that I had
supposed, with the sense at times that I was all wrong, that the
expression of literature must be different from the expression of life;
that it must be an attitude, a pose, with something of state or at least
of formality in it; that it must be this style, and not that; that it
must be like that sort of acting which you know is acting when you see it
and never mistake for reality. There are a great many children,
apparently grown-up, and largely accepted as critical authorities, who
are still of this youthful opinion of mine. But Heine at once showed me
that this ideal of literature was false; that the life of literature was
from the springs of the best common speech and that the nearer it could
be made to conform, in voice, look and gait, to graceful, easy,
picturesque and humorous or impassioned talk, the better it was.

He did not impart these truths without imparting certain tricks with
them, which I was careful to imitate as soon as I began to write in his
manner, that is to say instantly. His tricks he had mostly at
second-hand, and mainly from Sterne, whom I did not know well enough then
to know their origin. But in all essentials he was himself, and my final
lesson from him, or the final effect of all my lessons from him, was to
find myself, and to be for good or evil whatsoever I really was.

I kept on writing as much like Heine as I could for several years,
though, and for a much longer time than I should have done if I had
ever become equally impassioned of any other author.

Some traces of his method lingered so long in my work that nearly ten
years afterwards Mr. Lowell wrote me about something of mine that
he had been reading: "You must sweat the Heine out of your bones as
men do mercury," and his kindness for me would not be content with less
than the entire expulsion of the poison that had in its good time saved
my life. I dare say it was all well enough not to have it in my bones
after it had done its office, but it did do its office.

It was in some prose sketch of mine that his keen analysis had found the
Heine, but the foreign property had been so prevalent in my earlier work
in verse that he kept the first contribution he accepted from me for the
Atlantic Monthly a long time, or long enough to make sure that it was not
a translation of Heine. Then he printed it, and I am bound to say that
the poem now justifies his doubt to me, in so much that I do not see why
Heine should not have had the name of writing it if he had wanted. His
potent spirit became immediately so wholly my "control," as the mediums
say, that my poems might as well have been communications from him so far
as any authority of my own was concerned; and they were quite like other
inspirations from the other world in being so inferior to the work of the
spirit before it had the misfortune to be disembodied and obliged to use
a medium. But I do not think that either Heine or I had much lasting
harm from it, and I am sure that the good, in my case at least, was one
that can only end with me. He undid my hands, which had taken so much
pains to tie behind my back, and he forever persuaded me that though it
may be ingenious and surprising to dance in chains, it is neither pretty
nor useful.


Another author who was a prime favorite with me about this time was De
Quincey, whose books I took out of the State Library, one after another,
until I had read them all. We who were young people of that day thought
his style something wonderful, and so indeed it was, especially in those
passages, abundant everywhere in his work, relating to his own life with
an intimacy which was always-more rather than less. His rhetoric there,
and in certain of his historical studies, had a sort of luminous
richness, without losing its colloquial ease. I keenly enjoyed this
subtle spirit, and the play of that brilliant intelligence which lighted
up so many ways of literature with its lambent glow or its tricksy
glimmer, and I had a deep sympathy with certain morbid moods and
experiences so like my own, as I was pleased to fancy. I have not looked
at his Twelve Caesars for twice as many years, but I should be greatly
surprised to find it other than one of the greatest historical monographs
ever written. His literary criticisms seemed to me not only exquisitely
humorous, but perfectly sane and just; and it delighted me to have him
personally present, with the warmth of his own temperament in regions of
cold abstraction; I am not sure that I should like that so much now. De
Quincey was hardly less autobiographical when he wrote of Kant, or the
Flight of the Crim-Tartars, than when he wrote of his own boyhood or the
miseries of the opium habit. He had the hospitable gift of making you at
home with him, and appealing to your sense of comradery with something of
the flattering confidentiality of Thackeray, but with a wholly different

In fact, although De Quincey was from time to time perfunctorily Tory,
and always a good and faithful British subject, he was so eliminated from
his time and place by his single love for books, that one could be in his
company through the whole vast range of his writings, and come away
without a touch of snobbishness; and that is saying a great deal for an
English writer. He was a great little creature, and through his intense
personality he achieved a sort of impersonality, so that you loved the
man, who was forever talking-of himself, for his modesty and reticence.
He left you feeling intimate with him but by no means familiar; with all
his frailties, and with all those freedoms he permitted himself with the
lives of his contemporaries, he is to me a figure of delicate dignity,
and winning kindness. I think it a misfortune for the present generation
that his books have fallen into a kind of neglect, and I believe that
they will emerge from it again to the advantage of literature.

In spite of Heine and Tennyson, De Quincey had a large place in my
affections, though this was perhaps because he was not a poet; for more
than those two great poets there was then not much room. I read him the
first winter I was at Columbus, and when I went down from the village the
next winter, to take up my legislative correspondence again, I read him
more than ever. But that was destined to be for me a very disheartening
time. I had just passed through a rheumatic fever, which left my health
more broken than before, and one morning shortly after I was settled in
the capital, I woke to find the room going round me like a wheel. It was
the beginning of a vertigo which lasted for six months, and which I began
to fight with various devices and must yield to at last. I tried
medicine and exercise, but it was useless, and my father came to take my
letters off my hands while I gave myself some ineffectual respites.
I made a little journey to my old home in southern Ohio, but there and
everywhere, the sure and firm-set earth waved and billowed under my feet,
and I came back to Columbus and tried to forget in my work the fact that
I was no better. I did not give up trying to read, as usual, and part of
my endeavor that winter was with Schiller, and Uhland, and even Goethe,
whose 'Wahlverwandschaften,' hardly yielded up its mystery to me. To
tell the truth, I do not think that I found my account in that novel.
It must needs be a disappointment after Wilhelm Meister, which I had read
in English; but I dare say my disappointment was largely my own fault;
I had certainly no right to expect such constant proofs and instances of
wisdom in Goethe as the unwisdom of his critics had led me to hope for.
I remember little or nothing of the story, which I tried to find very
memorable, as I held my sick way through it. Longfellow's "Miles
Standish" came out that winter, and I suspect that I got vastly more real
pleasure from that one poem of his than I found in all my German authors
put together, the adored Heine always excepted; though certainly I felt
the romantic beauty of 'Uhland,' and was aware of something of Schiller's
generous grandeur.

Of the American writers Longfellow has been most a passion with me, as
the English, and German, and Spanish, and Russian writers have been. I
am sure that this was largely by mere chance. It was because I happened,
in such a frame and at such a time, to come upon his books that I loved
them above those of other men as great. I am perfectly sensible that
Lowell and Emerson outvalue many of the poets and prophets I have given
my heart to; I have read them with delight and with a deep sense of their
greatness, and yet they have not been my life like those other, those
lesser, men. But none of the passions are reasoned, and I do not try to
account for my literary preferences or to justify them.

I dragged along through several months of that winter, and did my best to
carry out that notable scheme of not minding my vertigo. I tried doing
half-work, and helping my father with the correspondence, but when it
appeared that nothing would avail, he remained in charge of it, till the
close of the session, and I went home to try what a complete and
prolonged rest would do for me. I was not fit for work in the printing-
office, but that was a simpler matter than the literary work that was
always tempting me. I could get away from it only by taking my gun and
tramping day after day through the deep, primeval woods. The fatigue was
wholesome, and I was so bad a shot that no other creature suffered loss
from my gain except one hapless wild pigeon. The thawing snow left the
fallen beechnuts of the autumn before uncovered among the dead leaves,
and the forest was full of the beautiful birds. In most parts of the
middle West they are no longer seen, except in twos or threes, but once
they were like the sands of the sea for multitude. It was not now the
season when they hid half the heavens with their flight day after day;
but they were in myriads all through the woods, where their iridescent
breasts shone like a sudden untimely growth of flowers when you came upon
them from the front. When they rose in fright, it was like the upward
leap of fire, and with the roar of flame. I use images which, after all,
are false to the thing I wish to express; but they must serve. I tried
honestly enough to kill the pigeons, but I had no luck, or too much, till
I happened to bring down one of a pair that I found apart from the rest
in a softy tree-top. The poor creature I had widowed followed me to the
verge of the woods, as I started home with my prey, and I do not care to
know more personally the feelings of a murderer than I did then. I tried
to shoot the bird, but my aim was so bad that I could not do her this
mercy, and at last she flew away, and I saw her no more.

The spring was now opening, and I was able to keep more and more with
Nature, who was kinder to me than I was to her other children, or wished
to be, and I got the better of my malady, which gradually left me for no
more reason apparently than it came upon me. But I was still far from
well, and I was in despair of my future. I began to read again
--I suppose I had really never altogether stopped. I borrowed from my
friend the bookbinder a German novel, which had for me a message of
lasting cheer. It was the 'Afraja' of Theodore Mugge, a story of life in
Norway during the last century, and I remember it as a very lovely story
indeed, with honest studies of character among the Norwegians, and a
tender pathos in the fate of the little Lap heroine Gula, who was perhaps
sufficiently romanced. The hero was a young Dane, who was going up among
the fiords to seek his fortune in the northern fisheries; and by a
process inevitable in youth I became identified with him, so that I
adventured, and enjoyed, and suffered in his person throughout. There
was a supreme moment when he was sailing through the fiords, and finding
himself apparently locked in by their mountain walls without sign or hope
of escape, but somehow always escaping by some unimagined channel, and
keeping on. The lesson for him was one of trust and courage; and I, who
seemed to be then shut in upon a mountain-walled fiord without inlet or
outlet, took the lesson home and promised myself not to lose heart again.
It seems a little odd that this passage of a book, by no means of the
greatest, should have had such an effect with me at a time when I was no
longer so young as to be unduly impressed by what I read; but it is true
that I have never since found myself in circumstances where there seemed
to be no getting forward or going back, without a vision of that fiord
scenery, and then a rise of faith, that if I kept on I should, somehow,
come out of my prisoning environment.


I got back health enough to be of use in the printing office that autumn,
and I was quietly at work there with no visible break in my surroundings
when suddenly the whole world opened to me through what had seemed an
impenetrable wall. The Republican newspaper at the capital had been
bought by a new management, and the editorial force reorganized upon a
footing of what we then thought metropolitan enterprise; and to my great
joy and astonishment I was asked to come and take a place in it. The
place offered me was not one of lordly distinction; in fact, it was
partly of the character of that I had already rejected in Cincinnati,
but I hoped that in the smaller city its duties would not be so odious;
and by the time I came to fill it, a change had taken place in the
arrangements so that I was given charge of the news department. This
included the literary notices and the book reviews, and I am afraid that
I at once gave my prime attention to these.

It was an evening paper, and I had nearly as much time for reading and
study as I had at home. But now society began to claim a share of this
leisure, which I by no means begrudged it. Society was very charming in
Columbus then, with a pretty constant round of dances and suppers, and an
easy cordiality, which I dare say young people still find in it
everywhere. I met a great many cultivated people, chiefly young ladies,
and there were several houses where we young fellows went and came almost
as freely as if they were our own. There we had music and cards, and
talk about books, and life appeared to me richly worth living; if any one
had said this was not the best planet in the universe I should have
called him a pessimist, or at least thought him so, for we had not the
word in those days. A world in which all those pretty and gracious women
dwelt, among the figures of the waltz and the lancers, with chat between
about the last instalment of 'The Newcomes,' was good enough world for
me; I was only afraid it was too good. There were, of course, some girls
who did not read, but few openly professed indifference to literature,
and there was much lending of books back and forth, and much debate of
them. That was the day when 'Adam Bede' was a new book, and in this I
had my first knowledge of that great intellect for which I had no
passion, indeed, but always the deepest respect, the highest honor; and
which has from time to time profoundly influenced me by its ethics.

I state these things simply and somewhat baldly; I might easily refine
upon them, and study that subtle effect for good and for evil which young
people are always receiving from the fiction they read; but this its not
the time or place for the inquiry, and I only wish to own that so far as
I understand it, the chief part of my ethical experience has been from
novels. The life and character I have found portrayed there have
appealed always to the consciousness of right and wrong implanted in me;
and from no one has this appeal been stronger than from George Eliot.
Her influence continued through many years, and I can question it now
only in the undue burden she seems to throw upon the individual, and her
failure to account largely enough for motive from the social environment.
There her work seems to me unphilosophical.

It shares whatever error there is in its perspective with that of
Hawthorne, whose 'Marble Faun' was a new book at the same time that 'Adam
Bede' was new, and whose books now came into my life and gave it their
tinge. He was always dealing with the problem of evil, too, and I found
a more potent charm in his more artistic handling of it than I found in
George Eliot. Of course, I then preferred the region of pure romance
where he liked to place his action; but I did not find his instances the
less veritable because they shone out in

     "The light that never was on sea or land."

I read the 'Marble Faun' first, and then the 'Scarlet Letter,' and then
the 'House of Seven Gables,' and then the 'Blithedale Romance;' but I
always liked best the last, which is more nearly a novel, and more
realistic than the others. They all moved me with a sort of effect such
as I had not felt before. They veers so far from time and place that,
although most of them related to our country and epoch, I could not
imagine anything approximate from them; and Hawthorne himself seemed a
remote and impalpable agency, rather than a person whom one might
actually meet, as not long afterward happened with me. I did not hold
the sort of fancied converse with him that I held with ether authors,
and I cannot pretend that I had the affection for him that attracted me
to them. But he held me by his potent spell, and for a time he dominated
me as completely as any author I have read. More truly than any other
American author he has been a passion with me, and lately I heard with a
kind of pang a young man saying that he did not believe I should find the
'Scarlet Letter' bear reading now. I did not assent to the possibility,
but the notion gave me a shiver of dismay. I thought how much that book
had been to me, how much all of Hawthorne's books had been, and to have
parted with my faith in their perfection would have been something I
would not willingly have risked doing.

Of course there is always something fatally weak in the scheme of the
pure romance, which, after the color of the contemporary mood dies out of
it, leaves it in danger of tumbling into the dust of allegory; and
perhaps this inherent weakness was what that bold critic felt in the
'Scarlet Letter.' But none of Hawthorne's fables are without a profound
and distant reach into the recesses of nature and of being. He came back
from his researches with no solution of the question, with no message,
indeed, but the awful warning, "Be true, be true," which is the burden of
the Scarlet Letter; yet in all his books there is the hue of thoughts
that we think only in the presence of the mysteries of life and death.
It is not his fault that this is not intelligence, that it knots the brow
in sorer doubt rather than shapes the lips to utterance of the things
that can never be said. Some of his shorter stories I have found thin
and cold to my later reading, and I have never cared much for the 'House
of Seven Gables,' but the other day I was reading the 'Blithedale
Romance' again, and I found it as potent, as significant, as sadly and
strangely true as when it first enthralled my soul.

In those days when I tried to kindle my heart at the cold altar of
Goethe, I did read a great deal of his prose and somewhat of his poetry,
but it was to be ten years yet before I should go faithfully through with
his Faust and come to know its power. For the present, I read 'Wilhelm
Meister' and the 'Wahlverwandschaften,' and worshipped him much at
second-hand through Heine. In the mean time I invested such Germans as
I met with the halo of their national poetry, and there was one lady of
whom I heard with awe that she had once known my Heine. When I came to
meet her, over a glass of the mild egg-nog which she served at her house
on Sunday nights, and she told me about Heine, and how he looked, and
some few things he said, I suffered an indescribable disappointment; and
if I could have been frank with myself I should have owned to a fear that
it might have been something like that, if I had myself met the poet in
the flesh, and tried to hold the intimate converse with him that I held
in the spirit. But I shut my heart to all such misgivings and went on
reading him much more than I read any other German author. I went on
writing him too, just as I went on reading and writing Tennyson. Heine
was always a personal interest with me, and every word of his made me
long to have had him say it to me, and tell me why he said it. In a poet
of alien race and language and religion I found a greater sympathy than I
have experienced with any other. Perhaps the Jews are still the chosen
people, but now they bear the message of humanity, while once they bore
the message of divinity. I knew the ugliness of Heine's nature: his
revengefulness, and malice, and cruelty, and treachery, and uncleanness;
and yet he was supremely charming among the poets I have read. The
tenderness I still feel for him is not a reasoned love, I must own; but,
as I am always asking, when was love ever reasoned?

I had a room-mate that winter in Columbus who was already a contributor
to the Atlantic Monthly, and who read Browning as devotedly as I read
Heine. I will not say that he wrote him as constantly, but if that had
been so, I should not have cared. What I could not endure without pangs
of secret jealousy was that he should like Heine, too, and should read
him, though it was but an arm's-length in an English version. He had
found the origins of those tricks and turns of Heine's in 'Tristram
Shandy' and the 'Sentimental Journey;' and this galled me, as if he had
shown that some mistress of my soul had studied her graces from another
girl, and that it was not all her own hair that she wore. I hid my
rancor as well as I could, and took what revenge lay in my power by
insinuating that he might have a very different view if he read Heine in
the original. I also made haste to try my own fate with the Atlantic,
and I sent off to Mr. Lowell that poem which he kept so long in order to
make sure that Heine had not written it, as well as authorized it.


This was the winter when my friend Piatt and I made our first literary
venture together in those 'Poems of Two Friends;' which hardly passed the
circle of our amity; and it was altogether a time of high literary
exaltation with me. I walked the streets of the friendly little city by
day and by night with my head so full of rhymes and poetic phrases that
it seemed as if their buzzing might have been heard several yards away;
and I do not yet see quite how I contrived to keep their music out of my
newspaper paragraphs. Out of the newspaper I could not keep it, and from
time to time I broke into verse in its columns, to the great amusement of
the leading editor, who knew me for a young man with a very sharp tooth
for such self-betrayals in others. He wanted to print a burlesque review
he wrote of the 'Poems of Two Friends' in our paper, but I would not
suffer it. I must allow that it was very, funny, and that he was always
a generous friend, whose wounds would have been as faithful as any that
could have been dealt me then. He did not indeed care much for any
poetry but that of Shakespeare and the 'Ingoldsby Legends;' and when one
morning a State Senator came into the office with a volume of Tennyson,
and began to read,

     "The poet in a golden clime was born,
     With golden stars above;
     Dowered with the hate of hate, the scorn of scorn
     The love of love,"

he hitched his chair about, and started in on his leader for the day.

He might have been more patient if he had known that this State Senator
was to be President Garfield. But who could know anything of the
tragical history that was so soon to follow that winter of 1859-60?
Not I; at least I listened rapt by the poet and the reader, and it seemed
to me as if the making and the reading of poetry were to go on forever,
and that was to be all there was of it. To be sure I had my hard little
journalistic misgivings that it was not quite the thing for a State
Senator to come round reading Tennyson at ten o'clock in the morning, and
I dare say I felt myself superior in my point of view, though I could not
resist the charm of the verse. I myself did not bring Tennyson to the
office at that time. I brought Thackeray, and I remember that one day
when I had read half an hour or so in the 'Book of Snobs,' the leading
editor said frankly, Well, now, he guessed we had had enough of that.
He apologized afterwards as if he were to blame, and not I, but I dare
say I was a nuisance with my different literary passions, and must have
made many of my acquaintances very tired of my favorite authors. I had
some consciousness of the fact, but I could not help it.

I ought not to omit from the list of these favorites an author who was
then beginning to have his greatest vogue, and who somehow just missed of
being a very great one. We were all reading his jaunty, nervy, knowing
books, and some of us were questioning whether we ought not to set him
above Thackeray and Dickens and George Eliot, 'tulli quanti', so great
was the effect that Charles Reade had with our generation. He was a man
who stood at the parting of the ways between realism and romanticism, and
if he had been somewhat more of a man he might have been the master of a
great school of English realism; but, as it was, he remained content to
use the materials of realism and produce the effect of romanticism. He
saw that life itself infinitely outvalued anything that could be feigned
about it, but its richness seemed to corrupt him, and he had not the
clear, ethical conscience which forced George Eliot to be realistic when
probably her artistic prepossessions were romantic.

As yet, however, there was no reasoning of the matter, and Charles Reade
was writing books of tremendous adventure and exaggerated character,
which he prided himself on deriving from the facts of the world around
him. He was intoxicated with the discovery he had made that the truth
was beyond invention, but he did not know what to do with the truth in
art after he had found it in life, and to this day the English mostly do
not. We young people were easily taken with his glittering error, and we
read him with much the same fury, that he wrote. 'Never Too Late to
Mend;' 'Love Me Little, Love Me Long;' 'Christie Johnstone;' 'Peg
Woffington;' and then, later, 'Hard Cash,' 'The Cloister and the Hearth,'
'Foul Play,' 'Put Yourself in His Place'--how much they all meant once,
or seemed to mean!

The first of them, and the other poems and fictions I was reading, meant
more to me than the rumors of war that were then filling the air, and
that so soon became its awful actualities. To us who have our lives so
largely in books the material world is always the fable, and the ideal
the fact. I walked with my feet on the ground, but my head was in the
clouds, as light as any of them. I neither praise nor blame this fact;
but I feel bound to own it, for that time, and for every time in my life,
since the witchery of literature began with me.

Those two happy winters in Columbus, when I was finding opportunity and
recognition, were the heydey of life for me. There has been no time like
them since, though there have been smiling and prosperous times a plenty;
for then I was in the blossom of my youth, and what I had not I could
hope for without unreason, for I had so much of that which I had most
desired. Those times passed, and there came other times, long years of
abeyance, and waiting, and defeat, which I thought would never end, but
they passed, too.

I got my appointment of Consul to Venice, and I went home to wait for my
passport and to spend the last days, so full of civic trouble, before I
should set out for my post. If I hoped to serve my country there and
sweep the Confederate cruisers from the Adriatic, I am afraid my prime
intent was to add to her literature and to my own credit. I intended,
while keeping a sleepless eye out for privateers, to write poems.
concerning American life which should eclipse anything yet done in that
kind, and in the mean time I read voraciously and perpetually, to make
the days go swiftly which I should have been so glad to have linger. In
this month I devoured all the 'Waverley novels,' but I must have been
devouring a great many others, for Charles Reade's 'Christie Johnstone'
is associated with the last moment of the last days.

A few months ago I was at the old home, and I read that book again,
after not looking at it for more than thirty years; and I read it with
amazement at its prevailing artistic vulgarity, its prevailing aesthetic
error shot here and there with gleams of light, and of the truth that
Reade himself was always dimly groping for. The book is written
throughout on the verge of realism, with divinations and conjectures
across its border, and with lapses into the fool's paradise of
romanticism, and an apparent content with its inanity and impossibility.
But then it was brilliantly new and surprising; it seemed to be the last
word that could be said for the truth in fiction; and it had a spell that
held us like an anesthetic above the ache of parting, and the anxiety for
the years that must pass, with all their redoubled chances, before our
home circle could be made whole again. I read on, and the rest listened,
till the wheels of the old stage made themselves heard in their approach
through the absolute silence of the village street. Then we shut the
book and all went down to the gate together, and parted under the pale
sky of the October night. There was one of the home group whom I was not
to see again: the young brother who died in the blossom of his years
before I returned from my far and strange sojourn. He was too young then
to share our reading of the novel, but when I ran up to his room to bid
him good-by I found him awake, and, with aching hearts, we bade each
other good-by forever!


I ran through an Italian grammar on my way across the Atlantic, and from
my knowledge of Latin, Spanish, and French, I soon had a reading
acquaintance with the language. I had really wanted to go to Germany,
that I might carry forward my studies in German literature, and I first
applied for the consulate at Munich. The powers at Washington thought it
quite the same thing to offer me Rome; but I found that the income of the
Roman consulate would not give me a living, and I was forced to decline
it. Then the President's private secretaries, Mr. John Nicolay and Mr.
John Hay, who did not know me except as a young Westerner who had written
poems in the Atlantic Monthly, asked me how I would like Venice, and
promised that they would have the salary put up to a thousand a year,
under the new law to embarrass privateers. It was really put up to
fifteen hundred, and with this income assured me I went out to the city
whose influence changed the whole course of my literary life.

No privateers ever came, though I once had notice from Turin that the
Florida had been sighted off Ancona; and I had nearly four years of
nearly uninterrupted leisure at Venice, which I meant to employ in
reading all Italian literature, and writing a history of the republic.
The history, of course, I expected would be a long affair, and I did not
quite suppose that I could despatch the literature in any short time;
besides, I had several considerable poems on hand that occupied me a good
deal, and worked at these as well as advanced myself in Italian,
preparatory to the efforts before me.

I had already a slight general notion of Italian letters from Leigh Hunt,
and from other agreeable English Italianates; and I knew that I wanted to
read not only the four great poets, Dante, Petrarch, Ariosto, and Tasso,
but that whole group of burlesque poets, Pulci, Berni, and the rest, who,
from what I knew of them, I thought would be even more to my mind. As a
matter of fact, and in the process of time, I did read somewhat of all
these, but rather in the minor than the major way; and I soon went off
from them to the study of the modern poets, novelists, and playwrights
who interested me so much more. After my wonted fashion I read half a
dozen of these authors together, so that it would be hard to say which I
began with, but I had really a devotion to Dante, though not at that
time, or ever for the whole of Dante. During my first year in Venice I
met an ingenious priest, who had been a tutor in a patrician family, and
who was willing to lead my faltering steps through the "Inferno." This
part of the "Divine Comedy" I read with a beginner's carefulness, and
with a rapture in its beauties, which I will whisper the reader do not
appear in every line.

Again I say it is a great pity that criticism is not honest about the
masterpieces of literature, and does not confess that they are not every
moment masterly, that they are often dull and tough and dry, as is
certainly the case with Dante's. Some day, perhaps, we shall have this
way of treating literature, and then the lover of it will not feel
obliged to browbeat himself into the belief that if he is not always
enjoying himself it is his own fault. At any rate I will permit myself
the luxury of frankly saying that while I had a deep sense of the majesty
and grandeur of Dante's design, many points of its execution bored me,
and that I found the intermixture of small local fact and neighborhood
history in the fabric of his lofty creation no part of its noblest
effect. What is marvellous in it is its expression of Dante's
personality, and I can never think that his personalities enhance its
greatness as a work of art. I enjoyed them, however, and I enjoyed them
the more, as the innumerable perspectives of Italian history began to
open all about me. Then, indeed, I understood the origins if I did not
understand the aims of Dante, which there is still much dispute about
among those who profess to know them clearly. What I finally perceived
was that his poem came through him from the heart of Italian life, such
as it was in his time, and that whatever it teaches, his poem expresses
that life, in all its splendor and squalor, its beauty and deformity, its
love and its hate.

Criticism may torment this sense or that sense out of it, but at the end
of the ends the "Divine Comedy" will stand for the patriotism of
medieval Italy, as far as its ethics is concerned, and for a profound and
lofty ideal of beauty, as far as its aesthetics is concerned. This is
vague enough and slight enough, I must confess, but I must confess also
that I had not even a conception of so much when I first read the
"Inferno." I went at it very simply, and my enjoyment of it was that
sort which finds its account in the fine passages, the brilliant
episodes, the striking pictures. This was the effect with me of all the
criticism which I had hitherto read, and I am not sure yet that the
criticism which tries to be of a larger scope, and to see things "whole,"
is of any definite effect. As a matter of fact we see nothing whole,
neither life nor art. We are so made, in soul and in sense, that we can
deal only with parts, with points, with degrees; and the endeavor to
compass any entirety must involve a discomfort and a danger very
threatening to our intellectual integrity.

Or if this postulate is as untenable as all the others, still I am very
glad that I did not then lose any fact of the majesty, and beauty, and
pathos of the great certain measures for the sake of that fourth
dimension of the poem which is not yet made palpable or visible. I took
my sad heart's fill of the sad story of "Paolo and Francesca," which I
already knew in Leigh Hunt's adorable dilution, and most of the lines
read themselves into my memory, where they linger yet. I supped on the
horrors of Ugolino's fate with the strong gust of youth, which finds
every exercise of sympathy a pleasure. My good priest sat beside me in
these rich moments, knotting in his lap the calico handkerchief of the
snuff-taker, and entering with tremulous eagerness into my joy in things
that he had often before enjoyed. No doubt he had an inexhaustible
pleasure in them apart from mine, for I have found my pleasure in them
perennial, and have not failed to taste it as often as I have read or
repeated any of the great passages of the poem to myself. This pleasure
came often from some vital phrase, or merely the inspired music of a
phrase quite apart from its meaning. I did not get then, and I have not
got since, a distinct conception of the journey through Hell, and as
often as I have tried to understand the topography of the poem I have
fatigued myself to no purpose, but I do not think the essential meaning
was lost upon me.

I dare say my priest had his notion of the general shape and purport,
the gross material body of the thing, but he did not trouble me with it,
while we sat tranced together in the presence of its soul. He seemed,
at times, so lost in the beatific vision, that he forgot my stumblings in
the philological darkness, till I appealed to him for help. Then he
would read aloud with that magnificent rhythm the Italians have in
reading their verse, and the obscured meaning would seem to shine out of
the mere music of the poem, like the color the blind feel in sound.

I do not know what has become of him, but if he is like the rest of the
strange group of my guides, philosophers, and friends in literature--the
printer, the organ-builder, the machinist, the drug-clerk, and the
bookbinder--I am afraid he is dead. In fact, I who was then I, might be
said to be dead too, so little is my past self like my present self in
anything but the "increasing purpose" which has kept me one in my love of
literature. He was a gentle and kindly man, with a life and a longing,
quite apart from his vocation, which were never lived or fulfilled.
I did not see him after he ceased to read Dante with me, and in fact I
was instructed by the suspicions of my Italian friends to be careful how
I consorted with a priest, who might very well be an Austrian spy.
I parted with him for no such picturesque reason, for I never believed
him other than the truest and faithfulest of friends, but because I was
then giving myself more entirely to work in which he could not help me.

Naturally enough this was a long poem in the terza rima of the "Divina
Commedia," and dealing with a story of our civil war in a fashion so
remote that no editor would print it. This was the first fruits and the
last of my reading of Dante, in verse, and it was not so like Dante as I
would have liked to make it; but Dante is not easy to imitate; he is too
unconscious, and too single, too bent upon saying the thing that is in
him, with whatever beauty inheres in it, to put on the graces that others
may catch.


However, this poem only shared the fate of nearly, all the others that I
wrote at this time; they came back to me with unfailing regularity from
all the magazine editors of the English-speaking world; I had no success
with any of them till I sent Mr. Lowell a paper on recent Italian comedy
for the North American Review, which he and Professor Norton had then
begun to edit. I was in the mean time printing the material of Venetian
Life and the Italian Journeys in a Boston newspaper after its rejection
by the magazines; and my literary life, almost without my willing it, had
taken the course of critical observance of books and men in their

That is to say, I was studying manners, in the elder sense of the word,
wherever I could get at them in the frank life of the people about me,
and in such literature of Italy as was then modern. In this pursuit I
made a discovery that greatly interested me, and that specialized my
inquiries. I found that the Italians had no novels which treated of
their contemporary life; that they had no modern fiction but the
historical romance. I found that if I wished to know their life from
their literature I must go to their drama, which was even then
endeavoring to give their stage a faithful picture of their
civilization. There was even then in the new circumstance of a people
just liberated from every variety of intellectual repression and
political oppression, a group of dramatic authors, whose plays were not
only delightful to see but delightful to read, working in the good
tradition of one of the greatest realists who has ever lived, and
producing a drama of vital strength and charm. One of them, whom I by no
means thought the best, has given us a play, known to all the world,
which I am almost ready to think with Zola is the greatest play of modern
times; or if it is not so, I should be puzzled to name the modern drama
that surpasses "La Morte Civile" of Paolo Giacometti. I learned to know
all the dramatists pretty well, in the whole range of their work, on the
stage and in the closet, and I learned to know still better, and to love
supremely, the fine, amiable genius whom, as one of them said, they did
not so much imitate as learn from to imitate nature.

This was Carlo Goldoni, one of the first of the realists, but antedating
conscious realism so long as to have been born at Venice early in the
eighteenth century, and to have come to his hand-to-hand fight with the
romanticism of his day almost before that century had reached its noon.
In the early sixties of our own century I was no more conscious of his
realism than he was himself a hundred years before; but I had eyes in my
head, and I saw that what he had seen in Venice so long before was so
true that it was the very life of Venice in my own day; and because I
have loved the truth in art above all other things, I fell instantly and
lastingly in love with Carlo Goldoni. I was reading his memoirs, and
learning to know his sweet, honest, simple nature while I was learning to
know his work, and I wish that every one who reads his plays would read
his life as well; one must know him before one can fully know them. I
believe, in fact, that his autobiography came into my hands first. But,
at any rate, both are associated with the fervors and languors of that
first summer in Venice, so that I cannot now take up a book of Goldoni's
without a renewed sense of that sunlight and moonlight, and of the sounds
and silences of a city that is at once the stillest and shrillest in the

Perhaps because I never found his work of great ethical or aesthetical
proportions, but recognized that it pretended to be good only within its
strict limitations, I recur to it now without that painful feeling of a
diminished grandeur in it, which attends us so often when we go back to
something that once greatly pleased us. It seemed to me at the time that
I must have read all his comedies in Venice, but I kept reading new ones
after I came home, and still I can take a volume of his from the shelf,
and when thirty years are past, find a play or two that I missed before.
Their number is very great, but perhaps those that I fancy I have not
read, I have really read once or more and forgotten. That might very
easily be, for there is seldom anything more poignant in any one of them
than there is in the average course of things. The plays are light and
amusing transcripts from life, for the most part, and where at times they
deepen into powerful situations, or express strong emotions, they do so
with persons so little different from the average of our acquaintance
that we do not remember just who the persons are.

There is no doubt but the kindly playwright had his conscience, and meant
to make people think as well as laugh. I know of none of his plays that
is of wrong effect, or that violates the instincts of purity, or insults
common sense with the romantic pretence that wrong will be right if you
will only paint it rose-color. He is at some obvious pains to "punish
vice and reward virtue," but I do not mean that easy morality when I
praise his; I mean the more difficult sort that recognizes in each man's
soul the arbiter not of his fate surely, but surely of his peace. He
never makes a fool of the spectator by feigning that passion is a reason
or justification, or that suffering of one kind can atone for wrong of
another. That was left for the romanticists of our own century to
discover; even the romanticists whom Goldoni drove from the stage, were
of that simpler eighteenth-century sort who had not yet liberated the
individual from society, but held him accountable in the old way. As for
Goldoni himself, he apparently never dreams of transgression; he is of
rather an explicit conventionality in most things, and he deals with
society as something finally settled. How artfully he deals with it,
how decently, how wholesomely, those who know Venetian society of the
eighteenth century historically, will perceive when they recall the
adequate impression he gives of it without offence in character or
language or situation. This is the perpetual miracle of his comedy,
that it says so much to experience and worldly wisdom, and so little to
inexperience and worldly innocence. No doubt the Serenest Republic was
very strict with the theatre, and suffered it to hold the mirror up to
nature only when nature was behaving well, or at least behaving as if
young people were present. Yet the Italians are rather plain-spoken, and
they recognize facts which our company manners at least do not admit the
existence of. I should say that Goldoni was almost English, almost
American, indeed, in his observance of the proprieties, and I like this
in him; though the proprieties are not virtues, they are very good
things, and at least are better than the improprieties.

This, however, I must own, had not a great deal to do with my liking him
so much, and I should be puzzled to account for my passion, as much in
his case as in most others. If there was any reason for it, perhaps it
was that he had the power of taking me out of my life, and putting me
into the lives of others, whom I felt to be human beings as much as
myself. To make one live in others, this is the highest effect of
religion as well as of art, and possibly it will be the highest bliss we
shall ever know. I do not pretend that my translation was through my
unselfishness; it was distinctly through that selfishness which perceives
that self is misery; and I may as well confess here that I do not regard
the artistic ecstasy as in any sort noble. It is not noble to love the
beautiful, or to live for it, or by it; and it may even not be refining.
I would not have any reader of mine, looking forward to some aesthetic
career, suppose that this love is any merit in itself; it may be the
grossest egotism. If you cannot look beyond the end you aim at, and seek
the good which is not your own, all your sacrifice is to yourself and not
of yourself, and you might as well be going into business. In itself and
for itself it is no more honorable to win fame than to make money, and
the wish to do the one is no more elevating than the wish to do the

But in the days I write of I had no conception of this, and I am sure
that my blindness to so plain a fact kept me even from seeking and
knowing the highest beauty in the things I worshipped. I believe that if
I had been sensible of it I should hays read much more of such humane
Italian poets and novelists as Manzoni and D'Azeglio, whom I perceived to
be delightful, without dreaming of them in the length and breadth of
their goodness. Now and then its extent flashed upon me, but the glimpse
was lost to my retroverted vision almost as soon as won. It is only in
thinking back to there that I can realize how much they might always have
meant to me. They were both living in my time in Italy, and they were
two men whom I should now like very much to have seen, if I could have
done so without that futility which seems to attend every effort to pay
one's duty to such men.

The love of country in all the Italian poets and romancers of the long
period of the national resurrection ennobled their art in a measure which
criticism has not yet taken account of. I conceived of its effect then,
but I conceived of it as a misfortune, a fatality; now I am by no means
sure that it was so; hereafter the creation of beauty, as we call it, for
beauty's sake, may be considered something monstrous. There is forever a
poignant meaning in life beyond what mere living involves, and why should
not there be this reference in art to the ends beyond art?
The situation, the long patience, the hope against hope, dignified and
beautified the nature of the Italian writers of that day, and evoked from
them a quality which I was too little trained in their school to
appreciate. But in a sort I did feel it, I did know it in them all, so
far as I knew any of them, and in the tragedies of Manzoni, and in the
romances of D'Azeglio, and yet more in the simple and modest records of
D'Azeglio's life published after his death, I profited by it, and
unconsciously prepared myself for that point of view whence all the arts
appear one with all the uses, and there is nothing beautiful that is

I am very glad of that experience of Italian literature, which I look
back upon as altogether wholesome and sanative, after my excesses of
Heine. No doubt it was all a minor affair as compared with equal
knowledge of French literature, and so far it was a loss of time. It is
idle to dispute the general positions of criticism, and there is no
useful gainsaying its judgment that French literature is a major
literature and Italian a minor literature in this century; but whether
this verdict will stand for all time, there may be a reasonable doubt.
Criterions may change, and hereafter people may look at the whole affair
so differently that a literature which went to the making of a people
will not be accounted a minor literature, but will take its place with
the great literary movements.

I do not insist upon this possibility, and I am far from defending myself
for liking the comedies of Goldoni better than the comedies of Moliere,
upon purely aesthetic grounds, where there is no question as to the
artistic quality. Perhaps it is because I came to Moliere's comedies
later, and with my taste formed for those of Goldoni; but again, it is
here a matter of affection; I find Goldoni for me more sympathetic, and
because he is more sympathetic I cannot do otherwise than find him more
natural, more true. I will allow that this is vulnerable, and as I say,
I do not defend it. Moliere has a place in literature infinitely loftier
than Goldoni's; and he has supplied types, characters, phrases, to the
currency of thought, and Goldoni has supplied none. It is, therefore,
without reason which I can allege that I enjoy Goldoni more. I am
perfectly willing to be rated low for my preference, and yet I think that
if it had been Goldoni's luck to have had the great age of a mighty
monarchy for his scene, instead of the decline of an outworn republic,
his place in literature might have been different.


I have always had a great love for the absolutely unreal, the purely
fanciful in all the arts, as well as of the absolutely real; I like the
one on a far lower plane than the other, but it delights me, as a
pantomime at a theatre does, or a comic opera, which has its being wholly
outside the realm of the probabilities. When I once transport myself to
this sphere I have no longer any care for them, and if I could I would
not exact of them an allegiance which has no concern with them. For this
reason I have always vastly enjoyed the artificialities of pastoral
poetry; and in Venice I read with a pleasure few serious poems have given
me the "Pastor Fido" of Guarini. I came later but not with fainter zest
to the "Aminta" of Tasso, without which, perhaps, the "Pastor Fido" would
not have been, and I revelled in the pretty impossibilities of both these
charming effects of the liberated imagination.

I do not the least condemn that sort of thing; one does not live by
sweets, unless one is willing to spoil one's digestion; but one may now
and then indulge one's self without harm, and a sugar-plum or two after
dinner may even be of advantage. What I object to is the romantic thing
which asks to be accepted with all its fantasticality on the ground of
reality; that seems to me hopelessly bad. But I have been able to dwell
in their charming out-land or no-land with the shepherds and
shepherdesses and nymphs, satyrs, and fauns, of Tasso and Guarini, and I
take the finest pleasure in their company, their Dresden china loves and
sorrows, their airy raptures, their painless throes, their polite
anguish, their tears not the least salt, but flowing as sweet as the
purling streams of their enamelled meadows. I wish there were more of
that sort of writing; I should like very much to read it.

The greater part of my reading in Venice, when I began to find that I
could not help writing about the place, was in books relating to its life
and history, which I made use of rather than found pleasure in. My
studies in Italian literature were full of the most charming interest,
and if I had to read a good many books for conscience' sake, there were a
good many others I read for their own sake. They were chiefly poetry;
and after the first essays in which I tasted the classic poets, they were
chiefly the books of the modern poets.

For the present I went no farther in German literature, and I recurred to
it in later years only for deeper and fuller knowledge of Heine; my
Spanish was ignored, as all first loves are when one has reached the age
of twenty-six. My English reading was almost wholly in the Tauchnitz
editions, for otherwise English books were not easily come at then and
there. George Eliot's 'Romola' was then new, and I read it again and
again with the sense of moral enlargement which the first fiction to
conceive of the true nature of evil gave all of us who were young in that
day. Tito Malema was not only a lesson, he was a revelation, and I
trembled before him as in the presence of a warning and a message from
the only veritable perdition. His life, in which so much that was good
was mixed, with so much that was bad, lighted up the whole domain of
egotism with its glare, and made one feel how near the best and the worst
were to each other, and how they sometimes touched without absolute
division in texture and color. The book was undoubtedly a favorite of
mine, and I did not see then the artistic falterings in it which were
afterwards evident to me.

There were not Romolas to read all the time, though, and I had to devolve
upon inferior authors for my fiction the greater part of the time. Of
course, I kept up with 'Our Mutual Friend,' which Dickens was then
writing, and with 'Philip,' which was to be the last of Thackeray. I was
not yet sufficiently instructed to appreciate Trollope, and I did not
read him at all.

I got hold of Kingsley, and read 'Yeast,' and I think some other novels
of his, with great relish, and without sensibility to his Charles
Readeish lapses from his art into the material of his art. But of all
the minor fiction that I read at this time none impressed me so much as
three books which had then already had their vogue, and which I knew
somewhat from reviews. They were Paul Ferroll, 'Why Paul Ferroll Killed
His Wife,' and 'Day after Day.' The first two were, of course, related
to each other, and they were all three full of unwholesome force. As to
their aesthetic merit I will not say anything, for I have not looked at
either of the books for thirty years. I fancy, however, that their
strength was rather of the tetanic than the titanic sort. They made your
sympathies go with the hero, who deliberately puts his wife to death for
the lie she told to break off his marriage with the woman he had loved,
and who then marries this tender and gentle girl, and lives in great
happiness with her till her death. Murder in the first degree is
flattered by his fate up to the point of letting him die peacefully in
Boston after these dealings of his in England; and altogether his story
could not be commended to people with a morbid taste for bloodshed.
Naturally enough the books were written by a perfectly good woman, the
wife of an English clergyman, whose friends were greatly scandalized by
them. As a sort of atonement she wrote 'Day after Day,' the story of a
dismal and joyless orphan, who dies to the sound of angelic music, faint
and farheard, filling the whole chamber. A carefuller study of the
phenomenon reveals the fact that the seraphic strains are produced by the
steam escaping from the hot-water bottles at the feet of the invalid.

As usual, I am not able fully to account for my liking of these books,
and I am so far from wishing to justify it that I think I ought rather to
excuse it. But since I was really greatly fascinated with them, and read
them with an evergrowing fascination, the only honest thing to do is to
own my subjection to them. It would be an interesting and important
question for criticism to study, that question why certain books at a.
certain time greatly dominate our fancy, and others manifestly better
have no influence with us. A curious proof of the subtlety of these Paul
Ferroll books in the appeal they made to the imagination is the fact that
I came to them fresh from 'Romolo,' and full of horror for myself in
Tito; yet I sympathized throughout with Paul Ferroll, and was glad when
he got away.


On my return to America, my literary life immediately took such form that
most of my reading was done for review. I wrote at first a good many of
the lighter criticisms in 'The Nation', at New York, and after I went to
Boston to become the assistant editor of the 'Atlantic Monthly' I wrote
the literary notices in that periodical for four or five years.

It was only when I came into full charge of the magazine that I began to
share these labors with others, and I continued them in some measure as
long as I had any relation to it. My reading for reading's sake, as I
had hitherto done it, was at an end, and I read primarily for the sake of
writing about the book in hand, and secondarily for the pleasure it might
give me. This was always considerable, and sometimes so great that I
forgot the critic in it, and read on and on for pleasure. I was master
to review this book or that as I chose, and generally I reviewed only
books I liked to read, though sometimes I felt that I ought to do a book,
and did it from a sense of duty; these perfunctory criticisms I do not
think were very useful, but I tried to make them honest.

In a long sickness, which I had shortly after I went to live in
Cambridge, a friend brought me several of the stories of Erckmann-
Chatrian, whom people were then reading much more than they are now, I
believe; and I had a great joy in them, which I have renewed since as
often as I have read one of their books. They have much the same quality
of simple and sincerely moralized realism that I found afterwards in the
work of the early Swiss realist, Jeremias Gotthelf, and very likely it
was this that captivated my judgment. As for my affections, battered and
exhausted as they ought to have been in many literary passions, they
never went out with fresher enjoyment than they did to the charming story
of 'L'Ami Fritz,' which, when I merely name it, breathes the spring sun
and air about me, and fills my senses with the beauty and sweetness of
cherry blossoms. It is one of the loveliest and kindest books that ever
was written, and my heart belongs to it still; to be sure it belongs to
several hundreds of other books in equal entirety.

It belongs to all the books of the great Norwegian Bjorstjerne Bjornson,
whose 'Arne,' and whose 'Happy Boy,' and whose 'Fisher Maiden' I read in
this same fortunate sickness. I have since read every other book of his
that I could lay hands on: 'Sinnove Solbakken,' and 'Magnhild,' and
'Captain Manzanca,' and 'Dust,' and 'In God's Ways,' and 'Sigurd,' and
plays like "The Glove" and "The Bankrupt." He has never, as some authors
have, dwindled in my sense; when I open his page, there I find him as
large, and free, and bold as ever. He is a great talent, a clear
conscience, a beautiful art. He has my love not only because he is a
poet of the most exquisite verity, but because he is a lover of men,
with a faith in them such as can move mountains of ignorance,
and dulness, and greed. He is next to Tolstoy in his willingness to give
himself for his kind; if he would rather give himself in fighting than in
suffering wrong, I do not know that his self-sacrifice is less in degree.

I confess, however, that I do not think of him as a patriot and a
socialist when I read him; he is then purely a poet, whose gift holds me
rapt above the world where I have left my troublesome and wearisome self
for the time. I do not know of any novels that a young endeavorer in
fiction could more profitably read than his for their large and simple
method, their trust of the reader's intelligence, their sympathy with
life. With him the problems are all soluble by the enlightened and
regenerate will; there is no baffling Fate, but a helping God. In
Bjornson there is nothing of Ibsen's scornful despair, nothing of his
anarchistic contempt, but his art is full of the warmth and color of a
poetic soul, with no touch of the icy cynicism which freezes you in the
other. I have felt the cold fascination of Ibsen, too, and I should be
far from denying his mighty mastery, but he has never possessed me with
the delight that Bjornson has.

In those days I read not only all the new books, but I made many forays
into the past, and came back now and then with rich spoil, though I
confess that for the most part I had my trouble for my pains; and I wish
now that I had given the time I spent on the English classics to
contemporary literature, which I have not the least hesitation in saying
I like vastly better. In fact, I believe that the preference for the
literature of the past, except in the case of the greatest masters, is
mainly the affectation of people who cannot otherwise distinguish
themselves from the herd, and who wish very much to do so.

There is much to be learned from the minor novelists and poets of the
past about people's ways of thinking and feeling, but not much that the
masters do not give you in better quality and fuller measure; and I
should say, Read the old masters and let their schools go, rather than
neglect any possible master of your own time. Above all, I would not
have any one read an old author merely that he might not be ignorant of
him; that is most beggarly, and no good can come of it. When literature
becomes a duty it ceases to be a passion, and all the schoolmastering in
the world, solemnly addressed to the conscience, cannot make the fact
otherwise. It is well to read for the sake of knowing a certain ground
if you are to make use of your knowledge in a certain way, but it would
be a mistake to suppose that this is a love of literature.


In those years at Cambridge my most notable literary experience without
doubt was the knowledge of Tourguenief's novels, which began to be
recognized in all their greatness about the middle seventies. I think
they made their way with such of our public as were able to appreciate
them before they were accepted in England; but that does not matter. It
is enough for the present purpose that 'Smoke,' and 'Lisa,' and 'On the
Eve,' and 'Dimitri Roudine,' and 'Spring Floods,' passed one after
another through my hands, and that I formed for their author one of the
profoundest literary passions of my life.

I now think that there is a finer and truer method than his, but in its
way, Tourguenief's method is as far as art can go. That is to say, his
fiction is to the last degree dramatic. The persons are sparely
described, and briefly accounted for, and then they are left to transact
their affair, whatever it is, with the least possible comment or
explanation from the author. The effect flows naturally from their
characters, and when they have done or said a thing you conjecture why as
unerringly as you would if they were people whom you knew outside of a
book. I had already conceived of the possibility of this from Bjornson,
who practises the same method, but I was still too sunken in the gross
darkness of English fiction to rise to a full consciousness of its
excellence. When I remembered the deliberate and impertinent moralizing
of Thackeray, the clumsy exegesis of George Eliot, the knowing nods and
winks of Charles Reade, the stage-carpentering and limelighting of
Dickens, even the fine and important analysis of Hawthorne, it was with a
joyful astonishment that I realized the great art of Tourguenief.

Here was a master who was apparently not trying to work out a plot, who
was not even trying to work out a character, but was standing aside from
the whole affair, and letting the characters work the plot out. The
method was revealed perfectly in 'Smoke,' but each successive book of his
that I read was a fresh proof of its truth, a revelation of its
transcendent superiority. I think now that I exaggerated its value
somewhat; but this was inevitable in the first surprise. The sane
aesthetics of the first Russian author I read, however, have seemed more
and more an essential part of the sane ethics of all the Russians I have
read. It was not only that Tourguenief had painted life truly, but that
he had painted it conscientiously.

Tourguenief was of that great race which has more than any other fully
and freely uttered human nature, without either false pride or false
shame in its nakedness. His themes were oftenest those of the French
novelist, but how far he was from handling them in the French manner and
with the French spirit! In his hands sin suffered no dramatic
punishment; it did not always show itself as unhappiness, in the personal
sense, but it was always unrest, and without the hope of peace. If the
end did not appear, the fact that it must be miserable always appeared.
Life showed itself to me in different colors after I had once read
Tourguenief; it became more serious, more awful, and with mystical
responsibilities I had not known before. My gay American horizons were
bathed in the vast melancholy of the Slav, patient, agnostic, trustful.
At the same time nature revealed herself to me through him with an
intimacy she had not hitherto shown me. There are passages in this
wonderful writer alive with a truth that seems drawn from the reader's
own knowledge; who else but Tourguenief and one's own most secret self
ever felt all the rich, sad meaning of the night air drawing in at the
open window, of the fires burning in the darkness on the distant fields?
I try in vain to give some notion of the subtle sympathy with nature
which scarcely put itself into words with him. As for the people of his
fiction, though they were of orders and civilizations so remote from my
experience, they were of the eternal human types whose origin and
potentialities every one may find in his own heart, and I felt their
verity in every touch.

I cannot describe the satisfaction his work gave me; I can only impart
some sense of it, perhaps, by saying that it was like a happiness I had
been waiting for all my life, and now that it had come, I was richly
content forever. I do not mean to say that the art of Tourguenief
surpasses the art of Bjornson; I think Bjornson is quite as fine and
true. But the Norwegian deals with simple and primitive circumstances
for the most part, and always with a small world; and the Russian has to
do with human nature inside of its conventional shells, and his scene is
often as large as Europe. Even when it is as remote as Norway, it is
still related to the great capitals by the history if not the actuality
of the characters. Most of Tourguenief's books I have read many times
over, all of them I have read more than twice. For a number of years I
read them again and again without much caring for other fiction. It was
only the other day that I read Smoke through once more, with no
diminished sense of its truth, but with somewhat less than my first
satisfaction in its art. Perhaps this was because I had reached the
point through my acquaintance with Tolstoy where I was impatient even of
the artifice that hid itself. In 'Smoke' I was now aware of an artifice
that kept out of sight, but was still always present somewhere, invisibly
operating the story.

I must not fail to own the great pleasure that I have had in some of the
stories of Auerbach. It is true that I have never cared greatly for 'On
the Heights,' which in its dealing with royalties seems too far aloof
from the ordinary human life, and which on the moral side finally fades
out into a German mistiness. But I speak of it with the imperfect
knowledge of one who was never able to read it quite through, and I have
really no right to speak of it. The book of his that pleased me most was
'Edelweiss,' which, though the story was somewhat too catastrophical,
seemed to me admirably good and true. I still think it very delicately
done, and with a deep insight; but there is something in all Auerbach's
work which in the retrospect affects me as if it dealt with pigmies.


I have always loved history, whether in the annals of peoples or in the
lives of persons, and I have at all times read it. I am not sure but I
rather prefer it to fiction, though I am aware that in looking back over
this record of my literary passions I must seem to have cared for very
little besides fiction. I read at the time I have just been speaking of,
nearly all the new poetry as it came out, and I constantly recurred to it
in its mossier sources, where it sprang from the green English ground, or
trickled from the antique urns of Italy.

I do not think that I have ever cared much for metaphysics, or to read
much in that way, but from time to time I have done something of it.

Travels, of course, I have read as part of the great human story, and
autobiography has at times appeared to me the most delightful reading in
the world; I have a taste in it that rejects nothing, though I have never
enjoyed any autobiographies so much as those of such Italians as have
reasoned of themselves.

I suppose I have not been a great reader of the drama, and I do not know
that I have ever greatly relished any plays but those of Shakespeare and
Goldoni, and two or three of Beaumont and Fletcher, and one or so of
Marlow's, and all of Ibsen's and Maeterlinck's. The taste for the old
English dramatists I believe I have never formed.

Criticism, ever since I filled myself so full of it in my boyhood, I have
not cared for, and often I have found it repulsive.

I have a fondness for books of popular science, perhaps because they too
are part of the human story.

I have read somewhat of the theology of the Swedenborgian faith I was
brought up in, but I have not read other theological works; and I do not
apologize for not liking any. The Bible itself was not much known to me
at an age when most children have been obliged to read it several times
over; the gospels were indeed familiar, and they have always been to me
the supreme human story; but the rest of the New Testament I had not read
when a man grown, and only passages of the Old Testament, like the story
of the Creation, and the story of Joseph, and the poems of Job and
Ecclesiastes, with occasional Psalms. I therefore came to the Scriptures
with a sense at once fresh and mature, and I can never be too glad that I
learned to see them under the vaster horizon and in the truer
perspectives of experience.

Again as lights on the human story I have liked to read such books of
medicine as have fallen in my way, and I seldom take up a medical
periodical without reading of all the cases it describes, and in fact
every article in it.

But I did not mean to make even this slight departure from the main
business of these papers, which is to confide my literary passions to the
reader; he probably has had a great many of his own. I think I may class
the "Ring and the Book" among them, though I have never been otherwise a
devotee of Browning. But I was still newly home from Italy, or away from
home, when that poem appeared, and whether or not it was because it took
me so with the old enchantment of that land, I gave my heart promptly to
it. Of course, there are terrible longueurs in it, and you do get tired
of the same story told over and over from the different points of view,
and yet it is such a great story, and unfolded with such a magnificent
breadth and noble fulness, that one who blames it lightly blames himself
heavily. There are certain books of it--"Caponsacchi's story,"
"Pompilia's story," and "Count Guido's story"--that I think ought to rank
with the greatest poetry ever written, and that have a direct, dramatic
expression of the fact and character, which is without rival. There is a
noble and lofty pathos in the close of Caponsacchi's statement, an
artless and manly break from his self-control throughout, that seems to
me the last possible effect in its kind; and Pompilia's story holds all
of womanhood in it, the purity, the passion, the tenderness, the
helplessness. But if I begin to praise this or any of the things I have
liked, I do not know when I should stop. Yes, as I think it over, the
"Ring and the Book" appears to me one of the great few poems whose
splendor can never suffer lasting eclipse, however it may have presently
fallen into abeyance. If it had impossibly come down to us from some
elder time, or had not been so perfectly modern in its recognition of
feeling and motives ignored by the less conscious poetry of the past, it
might be ranked with the great epics.

Of other modern poets I have read some things of William Morris, like the
"Life and Death of Jason," the "Story of Gudrun," and the "Trial of
Guinevere," with a pleasure little less than passionate, and I have
equally liked certain pieces of Dante Rossetti. I have had a high joy in
some of the great minor poems of Emerson, where the goddess moves over
Concord meadows with a gait that is Greek, and her sandalled tread
expresses a high scorn of the india-rubber boots that the American muse
so often gets about in.

The "Commemoration Ode" of Lowell has also been a source from which I
drank something of the divine ecstasy of the poet's own exalted mood, and
I would set this level with the 'Biglow Papers,' high above all his other
work, and chief of the things this age of our country shall be remembered
by. Holmes I always loved, and not for his wit alone, which is so
obvious to liking, but for those rarer and richer strains of his in which
he shows himself the lover of nature and the brother of men. The deep
spiritual insight, the celestial music, and the brooding tenderness of
Whittier have always taken me more than his fierier appeals and his civic
virtues, though I do not underrate the value of these in his verse.

My acquaintance with these modern poets, and many I do not name because
they are so many, has been continuous with their work, and my pleasure in
it not inconstant if not equal. I have spoken before of Longfellow as
one of my first passions, and I have never ceased to delight in him; but
some of the very newest and youngest of our poets have given me thrills
of happiness, for which life has become lastingly sweeter.

Long after I had thought never to read it--in fact when I was 'nel mezzo
del cammin di nostra vita'--I read Milton's "Paradise Lost," and found in
it a majestic beauty that justified to me the fame it wears, and eclipsed
the worth of those lesser poems which I had ignorantly accounted his
worthiest. In fact, it was one of the literary passions of the time I
speak of, and it shared my devotion for the novels of Tourguenief and
(shall I own it?) the romances of Cherbuliez. After all, it is best to
be honest, and if it is not best, it is at least easiest; it involves the
fewest embarrassing consequences; and if I confess the spell that the
Revenge of Joseph Noirel cast upon me for a time, perhaps I shall be able
to whisper the reader behind my hand that I have never yet read the
"AEneid" of Virgil; the "Georgics," yes; but the "AEneid," no. Some
time, however, I expect to read it and to like it immensely. That is
often the case with things that I have held aloof from indefinitely.

One fact of my experience which the reader may, find interesting is that
when I am writing steadily I have little relish for reading. I fancy,
that reading is not merely a pastime when it is apparently the merest
pastime, but that a certain measure of mind-stuff is used up in it, and
that if you are using up all the mind stuff you have, much or little, in
some other way, you do not read because you have not the mind-stuff for
it. At any rate it is in this sort only that I can account for my
failure to read a great deal during four years of the amplest quiet that
I spent in the country at Belmont, whither we removed from Cambridge.
I had promised myself that in this quiet, now that I had given up
reviewing, and wrote little or nothing in the magazine but my stories,
I should again read purely for the pleasure of it, as I had in the early
days before the critical purpose had qualified it with a bitter alloy.
But I found that not being forced to read a number of books each month,
so that I might write about them, I did not read at all, comparatively
speaking. To be sure I dawdled over a great many books that I had read
before, and a number of memoirs and biographies, but I had no intense
pleasure from reading in that time, and have no passions to record of it.
It may have been a period when no new thing happened in literature deeply
to stir one's interest; I only state the fact concerning myself, and
suggest the most plausible theory I can think of.

I wish also to note another incident, which may or may not have its
psychological value. An important event of these years was a long
sickness which kept me helpless some seven or eight weeks, when I was
forced to read in order to pass the intolerable time. But in this misery
I found that I could not read anything of a dramatic cast, whether in the
form of plays or of novels. The mere sight of the printed page, broken
up in dialogue, was anguish. Yet it was not the excitement of the
fiction that I dreaded, for I consumed great numbers of narratives of
travel, and was not in the least troubled by hairbreadth escapes, or
shipwrecks, or perils from wild beasts or deadly serpents; it was the
dramatic effect contrived by the playwright or novelist, and worked up to
in the speech of his characters that I could not bear. I found a like
impossible stress from the Sunday newspaper which a mistaken friend sent
in to me, and which with its scare-headings, and artfully wrought
sensations, had the effect of fiction, as in fact it largely was.

At the end of four years we went abroad again, and travel took away the
appetite for reading as completely as writing did. I recall nothing read
in that year in Europe which moved me, and I think I read very little,
except the local histories of the Tuscan cities which I afterwards wrote


In fact, it was not till I returned, and took up my life again in Boston,
in the old atmosphere of work, that I turned once more to books. Even
then I had to wait for the time when I undertook a critical department in
one of the magazines, before I felt the rise of the old enthusiasm for an
author. That is to say, I had to begin reading for business again before
I began reading for pleasure. One of the first great pleasures which I
had upon these terms was in the book of a contemporary Spanish author.
This was the 'Marta y Maria' of Armando Palacio Valdes, a novelist who
delights me beyond words by his friendly and abundant humor, his feeling
for character, and his subtle insight. I like every one of his books
that I have read, and I believe that I have read nearly every one that he
has written. As I mention 'Riverito, Maximina, Un Idilio de un Inferno,
La Hermana de San Sulpizio, El Cuarto Poder, Espuma,' the mere names
conjure up the scenes and events that have moved me to tears and
laughter, and filled me with a vivid sense of the life portrayed in them.
I think the 'Marta y Maria' one of the most truthful and profound
fictions I have read, and 'Maximina' one of the most pathetic, and
'La Hermana de San Sulpizio' one of the most amusing. Fortunately, these
books of Valdes's have nearly all been translated, and the reader may
test the matter in English; though it necessarily halts somewhat behind
the Spanish.

I do not know whether the Spaniards themselves rank Valdes with Galdos or
not, and I have no wish to decide upon their relative merits. They are
both present passions of mine, and I may say of the 'Dona Perfecta' of
Galdos that no book, if I except those of the greatest Russians, has
given me a keener and deeper impression; it is infinitely pathetic, and
is full of humor, which, if more caustic than that of Valdes, is not less
delicious. But I like all the books of Galdos that I have read, and
though he seems to have worked more tardily out of his romanticism than
Valdes, since he has worked finally into such realism as that of Leon
Roch, his greatness leaves nothing to be desired.

I have read one of the books of Emilia Pardo-Bazan, called 'Morrina,'
which must rank her with the great realists of her country and age; she,
too, has that humor of her race, which brings us nearer the Spanish than
any other non-Anglo-Saxon people.

A contemporary Italian, whom I like hardly less than these noble
Spaniards, is Giovanni Verga, who wrote 'I Malavoglia,' or, as we call it
in English, 'The House by the Medlar Tree': a story of infinite beauty,
tenderness and truth. As I have said before, I think with Zola that
Giacometti, the Italian author of "La Morte Civile," has written almost
the greatest play, all round, of modern times.

But what shall I say of Zola himself, and my admiration of his epic
greatness? About his material there is no disputing among people of our
Puritanic tradition. It is simply abhorrent, but when you have once
granted him his material for his own use, it is idle and foolish to deny
his power. Every literary theory of mine was contrary to him when I took
up 'L'Assommoir,' though unconsciously I had always been as much of a
realist as I could, but the book possessed me with the same fascination
that I felt the other day in reading his 'L'Argent.' The critics know
now that Zola is not the realist he used to fancy himself, and he is full
of the best qualities of the romanticism he has hated so much; but for
what he is, there is but one novelist of our time, or of any, that
outmasters him, and that is Tolstoy. For my own part, I think that the
books of Zola are not immoral, but they are indecent through the facts
that they nakedly represent; they are infinitely more moral than the
books of any other French novelist. This may not be saying a great deal,
but it is saying the truth, and I do not mind owning that he has been one
of my great literary passions, almost as great as Flaubert, and greater
than Daudet or Maupassant, though I have profoundly appreciated the
exquisite artistry of both these. No French writer, however, has moved
me so much as the Spanish, for the French are wanting in the humor which
endears these, and is the quintessence of their charm.

You cannot be at perfect ease with a friend who does not joke, and I
suppose this is what deprived me of a final satisfaction in the company
of Anthony Trollope, who jokes heavily or not at all, and whom I should
otherwise make bold to declare the greatest of English novelists; as it
is, I must put before him Jane Austen, whose books, late in life, have
been a youthful rapture with me. Even without, much humor Trollope's
books have been a vast pleasure to me through their simple truthfulness.
Perhaps if they were more humorous they would not be so true to the
British life and character present in them in the whole length and
breadth of its expansive commonplaceness. It is their serious fidelity
which gives them a value unique in literature, and which if it were
carefully analyzed would afford a principle of the same quality in an
author who was undoubtedly one of the finest of artists as well as the
most Philistine of men.

I came rather late, but I came with all the ardor of what seems my
perennial literary youth, to the love of Thomas Hardy, whom I first knew
in his story 'A Pair of Blue Eyes.' As usual, after I had read this book
and felt the new charm in it, I wished to read the books of no other
author, and to read his books over and over. I love even the faults of
Hardy; I will let him play me any trick he chooses (and he is not above
playing tricks, when he seems to get tired of his story or perplexed with
it), if only he will go on making his peasants talk, and his rather
uncertain ladies get in and out of love, and serve themselves of every
chance that fortune offers them of having their own way. We shrink from
the unmorality of the Latin races, but Hardy has divined in the heart of
our own race a lingering heathenism, which, if not Greek, has certainly
been no more baptized than the neo-hellenism of the Parisians. His
heroines especially exemplify it, and I should be safe in saying that his
Ethelbertas, his Eustacias, his Elfridas, his Bathshebas, his Fancies,
are wholly pagan. I should not dare to ask how much of their charm came
from that fact; and the author does not fail to show you how much harm,
so that it is not on my conscience. His people live very close to the
heart of nature, and no one, unless it is Tourguenief, gives you a richer
and sweeter sense of her unity with human nature. Hardy is a great poet
as well as a great humorist, and if he were not a great artist also his
humor would be enough to endear him to me.


I come now, though not quite in the order of time, to the noblest of all
these enthusiasms--namely, my devotion for the writings of Lyof Tolstoy.
I should wish to speak of him with his own incomparable truth, yet I do
not know how to give a notion of his influence without the effect of
exaggeration. As much as one merely human being can help another I
believe that he has helped me; he has not influenced me in aesthetics
only, but in ethics, too, so that I can never again see life in the way I
saw it before I knew him. Tolstoy awakens in his reader the will to be a
man; not effectively, not spectacularly, but simply, really. He leads
you back to the only true ideal, away from that false standard of the
gentleman, to the Man who sought not to be distinguished from other men,
but identified with them, to that Presence in which the finest gentleman
shows his alloy of vanity, and the greatest genius shrinks to the measure
of his miserable egotism. I learned from Tolstoy to try character and
motive by no other test, and though I am perpetually false to that
sublime ideal myself, still the ideal remains with me, to make me ashamed
that I am not true to it. Tolstoy gave me heart to hope that the world
may yet be made over in the image of Him who died for it, when all
Caesars things shall be finally rendered unto Caesar, and men shall come
into their own, into the right to labor and the right to enjoy the fruits
of their labor, each one master of himself and servant to every other.
He taught me to see life not as a chase of a forever impossible personal
happiness, but as a field for endeavor towards the happiness of the whole
human family; and I can never lose this vision, however I close my eyes,
and strive to see my own interest as the highest good. He gave me new
criterions, new principles, which, after all, were those that are taught
us in our earliest childhood, before we have come to the evil wisdom of
the world. As I read his different ethical books, 'What to Do,'
'My Confession,' and 'My Religion,' I recognized their truth with a
rapture such as I have known in no other reading, and I rendered them my
allegiance, heart and soul, with whatever sickness of the one and despair
of the other. They have it yet, and I believe they will have it while I
live. It is with inexpressible astonishment that I bear them attainted
of pessimism, as if the teaching of a man whose ideal was simple goodness
must mean the prevalence of evil. The way he showed me seemed indeed
impossible to my will, but to my conscience it was and is the only
possible way. If there, is any point on which he has not convinced my
reason it is that of our ability to walk this narrow way alone. Even
there he is logical, but as Zola subtly distinguishes in speaking of
Tolstoy's essay on "Money," he is not reasonable. Solitude enfeebles and
palsies, and it is as comrades and brothers that men must save the world
from itself, rather than themselves from the world. It was so the
earliest Christians, who had all things common, understood the life of
Christ, and I believe that the latest will understand it so.

I have spoken first of the ethical works of Tolstoy, because they are of
the first importance to me, but I think that his aesthetical works are as
perfect. To my thinking they transcend in truth, which is the highest
beauty, all other works of fiction that have been written, and I believe
that they do this because they obey the law of the author's own life.
His conscience is one ethically and one aesthetically; with his will to
be true to himself he cannot be false to his knowledge of others. I
thought the last word in literary art had been said to me by the novels
of Tourguenief, but it seemed like the first, merely, when I began to
acquaint myself with the simpler method of Tolstoy. I came to it by
accident, and without any manner, of preoccupation in The Cossacks, one
of his early books, which had been on my shelves unread for five or six
years. I did not know even Tolstoy's name when I opened it, and it was
with a kind of amaze that I read it, and felt word by word, and line by
line, the truth of a new art in it.

I do not know how it is that the great Russians have the secret of
simplicity. Some say it is because they have not a long literary past
and are not conventionalized by the usage of many generations of other
writers, but this will hardly account for the brotherly directness of
their dealing with human nature; the absence of experience elsewhere
characterizes the artist with crudeness, and simplicity is the last
effect of knowledge. Tolstoy is, of course, the first of them in this
supreme grace. He has not only Tourguenief's transparency of style,
unclouded by any mist of the personality which we mistakenly value in
style, and which ought no more to be there than the artist's personality
should be in a portrait; but he has a method which not only seems without
artifice, but is so. I can get at the manner of most writers, and tell
what it is, but I should be baffled to tell what Tolstoy's manner is;
perhaps he has no manner. This appears to me true of his novels, which,
with their vast variety of character and incident, are alike in their
single endeavor to get the persons living before you, both in their
action and in the peculiarly dramatic interpretation of their emotion and
cogitation. There are plenty of novelists to tell you that their
characters felt and thought so and so, but you have to take it on trust;
Tolstoy alone makes you know how and why it was so with them and not
otherwise. If there is anything in him which can be copied or burlesqued
it is this ability of his to show men inwardly as well as outwardly; it
is the only trait of his which I can put my hand on.

After 'The Cossacks' I read 'Anna Karenina' with a deepening sense of the
author's unrivalled greatness. I thought that I saw through his eyes a
human affair of that most sorrowful sort as it must appear to the
Infinite Compassion; the book is a sort of revelation of human nature in
circumstances that have been so perpetually lied about that we have
almost lost the faculty of perceiving the truth concerning an illicit
love. When you have once read 'Anna Karenina' you know how fatally
miserable and essentially unhappy such a love must be. But the character
of Karenin himself is quite as important as the intrigue of Anna and
Vronsky. It is wonderful how such a man, cold, Philistine and even mean
in certain ways, towers into a sublimity unknown (to me, at least), in
fiction when he forgives, and yet knows that he cannot forgive with
dignity. There is something crucial, and something triumphant, not
beyond the power, but hitherto beyond the imagination of men in this
effect, which is not solicited, not forced, not in the least romantic,
but comes naturally, almost inevitably, from the make of man.

The vast prospects, the far-reaching perspectives of 'War and Peace' made
it as great a surprise for me in the historical novel as 'Anna Karenina'
had been in the study of contemporary life; and its people and interests
did not seem more remote, since they are of a civilization always as
strange and of a humanity always as known.

I read some shorter stories of Tolstoy's before I came to this greatest
work of his: I read 'Scenes of the Siege of Sebastopol,' which is so much
of the same quality as 'War and Peace;' and I read 'Policoushka' and most
of his short stories with a sense of my unity with their people such as I
had never felt with the people of other fiction.

His didactic stories, like all stories of the sort, dwindle into
allegories; perhaps they do their work the better for this, with the
simple intelligences they address; but I think that where Tolstoy becomes
impatient of his office of artist, and prefers to be directly a teacher,
he robs himself of more than half his strength with those he can move
only through the realization of themselves in others. The simple pathos,
and the apparent indirectness of such a tale as that of 'Poticoushka,'
the peasant conscript, is of vastly more value to the world at large than
all his parables; and 'The Death of Ivan Ilyitch,' the Philistine
worldling, will turn the hearts of many more from the love of the world
than such pale fables of the early Christian life as "Work while ye have
the Light." A man's gifts are not given him for nothing, and the man who
has the great gift of dramatic fiction has no right to cast it away or to
let it rust out in disuse.

Terrible as the 'Kreutzer Sonata' was, it had a moral effect dramatically
which it lost altogether when the author descended to exegesis, and
applied to marriage the lesson of one evil marriage. In fine, Tolstoy is
certainly not to be held up as infallible. He is very, distinctly
fallible, but I think his life is not less instructive because in certain
things it seems a failure. There was but one life ever lived upon the
earth which was without failure, and that was Christ's, whose erring and
stumbling follower Tolstoy is. There is no other example, no other
ideal, and the chief use of Tolstoy is to enforce this fact in our age,
after nineteen centuries of hopeless endeavor to substitute ceremony for
character, and the creed for the life. I recognize the truth of this
without pretending to have been changed in anything but my point of view
of it. What I feel sure is that I can never look at life in the mean and
sordid way that I did before I read Tolstoy.

Artistically, he has shown me a greatness that he can never teach me.
I am long past the age when I could wish to form myself upon another
writer, and I do not think I could now insensibly take on the likeness of
another; but his work has been a revelation and a delight to me, such as
I am sure I can never know again. I do not believe that in the whole
course of my reading, and not even in the early moment of my literary
enthusiasms, I have known such utter satisfaction in any writer, and this
supreme joy has come to me at a time of life when new friendships, not to
say new passions, are rare and reluctant. It is as if the best wine at
this high feast where I have sat so long had been kept for the last, and
I need not deny a miracle in it in order to attest my skill in judging
vintages. In fact, I prefer to believe that my life has been full of
miracles, and that the good has always come to me at the right time, so
that I could profit most by it. I believe if I had not turned the corner
of my fiftieth year, when I first knew Tolstoy, I should not have been
able to know him as fully as I did. He has been to me that final
consciousness, which he speaks of so wisely in his essay on "Life."
I came in it to the knowledge of myself in ways I had not dreamt of
before, and began at least to discern my relations to the race, without
which we are each nothing. The supreme art in literature had its highest
effect in making me set art forever below humanity, and it is with the
wish to offer the greatest homage to his heart and mind, which any man
can pay another, that I close this record with the name of Lyof Tolstoy.


By William Dean Howells

The question of a final criterion for the appreciation of art is one that
perpetually recurs to those interested in any sort of aesthetic endeavor.
Mr. John Addington Symonds, in a chapter of 'The Renaissance in Italy'
treating of the Bolognese school of painting, which once had so great
cry, and was vaunted the supreme exemplar of the grand style, but which
he now believes fallen into lasting contempt for its emptiness and
soullessness, seeks to determine whether there can be an enduring
criterion or not; and his conclusion is applicable to literature as to
the other arts. "Our hope," he says, "with regard to the unity of taste
in the future then is, that all sentimental or academical seekings after
the ideal having been abandoned, momentary theories founded upon
idiosyncratic or temporary partialities exploded, and nothing accepted
but what is solid and positive, the scientific spirit shall make men
progressively more and more conscious of these 'bleibende Verhaltnisse,'
more and more capable of living in the whole; also, that in proportion as
we gain a firmer hold upon our own place in the world, we shall come to
comprehend with more instinctive certitude what is simple, natural, and
honest, welcoming with gladness all artistic products that exhibit these
qualities. The perception of the enlightened man will then be the task
of a healthy person who has made himself acquainted with the laws of
evolution in art and in society, and is able to test the excellence of
work in any stage from immaturity to decadence by discerning what there
is of truth, sincerity, and natural vigor in it."


That is to say, as I understand, that moods and tastes and fashions
change; people fancy now this and now that; but what is unpretentious and
what is true is always beautiful and good, and nothing else is so. This
is not saying that fantastic and monstrous and artificial things do not
please; everybody knows that they do please immensely for a time, and
then, after the lapse of a much longer time, they have the charm of the
rococo. Nothing is more curious than the charm that fashion has.
Fashion in women's dress, almost every fashion, is somehow delightful,
else it would never have been the fashion; but if any one will look
through a collection of old fashion plates, he must own that most
fashions have been ugly. A few, which could be readily instanced, have
been very pretty, and even beautiful, but it is doubtful if these have
pleased the greatest number of people. The ugly delights as well as the
beautiful, and not merely because the ugly in fashion is associated with
the young loveliness of the women who wear the ugly fashions, and wins a
grace from them, not because the vast majority of mankind are tasteless,
but for some cause that is not perhaps ascertainable. It is quite as
likely to return in the fashions of our clothes and houses and furniture,
and poetry and fiction and painting, as the beautiful, and it may be from
an instinctive or a reasoned sense of this that some of the extreme
naturalists have refused to make the old discrimination against it, or to
regard the ugly as any less worthy of celebration in art than the
beautiful; some of them, in fact, seem to regard it as rather more
worthy, if anything. Possibly there is no absolutely ugly, no absolutely
beautiful; or possibly the ugly contains always an element of the
beautiful better adapted to the general appreciation than the more
perfectly beautiful. This is a somewhat discouraging conjecture, but I
offer it for no more than it is worth; and I do not pin my faith to the
saying of one whom I heard denying, the other day, that a thing of beauty
was a joy forever. He contended that Keats's line should have read,
"Some things of beauty are sometimes joys forever," and that any
assertion beyond this was too hazardous.


I should, indeed, prefer another line of Keats's, if I were to profess
any formulated creed, and should feel much safer with his "Beauty is
Truth, Truth Beauty," than even with my friend's reformation of the more
quoted verse. It brings us back to the solid ground taken by Mr.
Symonds, which is not essentially different from that taken in the great
Mr. Burke's Essay on the Sublime and the Beautiful--a singularly modern
book, considering how long ago it was wrote (as the great Mr. Steele
would have written the participle a little longer ago), and full of a
certain well-mannered and agreeable instruction. In some things it is of
that droll little eighteenth-century world, when philosophy had got the
neat little universe into the hollow of its hand, and knew just what it
was, and what it was for; but it is quite without arrogance. "As for
those called critics," the author says, "they have generally sought
the rule of the arts in the wrong place; they have sought among poems,
pictures, engravings, statues, and buildings; but art can never give the
rules that make an art. This is, I believe, the reason why artists in
general, and poets principally, have been confined in so narrow a circle;
they have been rather imitators of one another than of nature. Critics
follow them, and therefore can do little as guides. I can judge but
poorly of anything while I measure it by no other standard than itself.
The true standard of the arts is in every man's power; and an easy
observation of the most common, sometimes of the meanest things, in
nature will give the truest lights, where the greatest sagacity and
industry that slights such observation must leave us in the dark, or,
what is worse, amuse and mislead us by false lights."

If this should happen to be true and it certainly commends itself to
acceptance--it might portend an immediate danger to the vested interests
of criticism, only that it was written a hundred years ago; and we shall
probably have the "sagacity and industry that slights the observation" of
nature long enough yet to allow most critics the time to learn some more
useful trade than criticism as they pursue it. Nevertheless, I am in
hopes that the communistic era in taste foreshadowed by Burke is
approaching, and that it will occur within the lives of men now overawed
by the foolish old superstition that literature and art are anything but
the expression of life, and are to be judged by any other test than that
of their fidelity to it. The time is coming, I hope, when each new
author, each new artist, will be considered, not in his proportion to any
other author or artist, but in his relation to the human nature, known to
us all, which it is his privilege, his high duty, to interpret. "The
true standard of the artist is in every man's power" already, as Burke
says; Michelangelo's "light of the piazza," the glance of the common eye,
is and always was the best light on a statue; Goethe's "boys and
blackbirds" have in all ages been the real connoisseurs of berries; but
hitherto the mass of common men have been afraid to apply their own
simplicity, naturalness, and honesty to the appreciation of the
beautiful. They have always cast about for the instruction of some one
who professed to know better, and who browbeat wholesome common-sense
into the self-distrust that ends in sophistication. They have fallen
generally to the worst of this bad species, and have been "amused and
misled" (how pretty that quaint old use of amuse is!) "by the false
lights" of critical vanity and self-righteousness. They have been taught
to compare what they see and what they read, not with the things that
they have observed and known, but with the things that some other artist
or writer has done. Especially if they have themselves the artistic
impulse in any direction they are taught to form themselves, not upon
life, but upon the masters who became masters only by forming themselves
upon life. The seeds of death are planted in them, and they can produce
only the still-born, the academic. They are not told to take their work
into the public square and see if it seems true to the chance passer, but
to test it by the work of the very men who refused and decried any other
test of their own work. The young writer who attempts to report the
phrase and carriage of every-day life, who tries to tell just how he has
heard men talk and seen them look, is made to feel guilty of something
low and unworthy by people who would like to have him show how
Shakespeare's men talked and looked, or Scott's, or Thackeray's, or
Balzac's, or Hawthorne's, or Dickens's; he is instructed to idealize his
personages, that is, to take the life-likeness out of them, and put the
book-likeness into them. He is approached in the spirit of the pedantry
into which learning, much or little, always decays when it withdraws
itself and stands apart from experience in an attitude of imagined
superiority, and which would say with the same confidence to the
scientist: "I see that you are looking at a grasshopper there which you
have found in the grass, and I suppose you intend to describe it. Now
don't waste your time and sin against culture in that way. I've got a
grasshopper here, which has been evolved at considerable pains and
expense out of the grasshopper in general; in fact, it's a type. It's
made up of wire and card-board, very prettily painted in a conventional
tint, and it's perfectly indestructible. It isn't very much like a real
grasshopper, but it's a great deal nicer, and it's served to represent
the notion of a grasshopper ever since man emerged from barbarism. You
may say that it's artificial. Well, it is artificial; but then it's
ideal too; and what you want to do is to cultivate the ideal. You'll
find the books full of my kind of grasshopper, and scarcely a trace of
yours in any of them. The thing that you are proposing to do is
commonplace; but if you say that it isn't commonplace, for the very
reason that it hasn't been done before, you'll have to admit that it's

As I said, I hope the time is coming when not only the artist, but the
common, average man, who always "has the standard of the arts in his
power," will have also the courage to apply it, and will reject the ideal
grasshopper wherever he finds it, in science, in literature, in art,
because it is not "simple, natural, and honest," because it is not like a
real grasshopper. But I will own that I think the time is yet far off,
and that the people who have been brought up on the ideal grasshopper,
the heroic grasshopper, the impassioned grasshopper, the self-devoted,
adventureful, good old romantic card-board grasshopper, must die out
before the simple, honest, and natural grasshopper can have a fair field.
I am in no haste to compass the end of these good people, whom I find in
the mean time very amusing. It is delightful to meet one of them, either
in print or out of it--some sweet elderly lady or excellent gentleman
whose youth was pastured on the literature of thirty or forty years ago
--and to witness the confidence with which they preach their favorite
authors as all the law and the prophets. They have commonly read little
or nothing since, or, if they have, they have judged it by a standard
taken from these authors, and never dreamed of judging it by nature; they
are destitute of the documents in the case of the later writers; they
suppose that Balzac was the beginning of realism, and that Zola is its
wicked end; they are quite ignorant, but they are ready to talk you down,
if you differ from them, with an assumption of knowledge sufficient for
any occasion. The horror, the resentment, with which they receive any
question of their literary saints is genuine; you descend at once very
far in the moral and social scale, and anything short of offensive
personality is too good for you; it is expressed to you that you are one
to be avoided, and put down even a little lower than you have naturally

These worthy persons are not to blame; it is part of their intellectual
mission to represent the petrifaction of taste, and to preserve an image
of a smaller and cruder and emptier world than we now live in, a world
which was feeling its way towards the simple, the natural, the honest,
but was a good deal "amused and misled" by lights now no longer
mistakable for heavenly luminaries. They belong to a time, just passing
away, when certain authors were considered authorities in certain kinds,
when they must be accepted entire and not questioned in any particular.
Now we are beginning to see and to say that no author is an authority
except in those moments when he held his ear close to Nature's lips and
caught her very accent. These moments are not continuous with any
authors in the past, and they are rare with all. Therefore I am not
afraid to say now that the greatest classics are sometimes not at all
great, and that we can profit by them only when we hold them, like our
meanest contemporaries, to a strict accounting, and verify their work by
the standard of the arts which we all have in our power, the simple, the
natural, and the honest.

Those good people must always have a hero, an idol of some sort, and it
is droll to find Balzac, who suffered from their sort such bitter scorn
and hate for his realism while he was alive, now become a fetich in his
turn, to be shaken in the faces of those who will not blindly worship
him. But it is no new thing in the history of literature: whatever is
established is sacred with those who do not think. At the beginning of
the century, when romance was making the same fight against effete
classicism which realism is making to-day against effete romanticism, the
Italian poet Monti declared that "the romantic was the cold grave of the
Beautiful," just as the realistic is now supposed to be. The romantic of
that day and the real of this are in certain degree the same.
Romanticism then sought, as realism seeks now, to widen the bounds of
sympathy, to level every barrier against aesthetic freedom, to escape
from the paralysis of tradition. It exhausted itself in this impulse;
and it remained for realism to assert that fidelity to experience and
probability of motive are essential conditions of a great imaginative
literature. It is not a new theory, but it has never before universally
characterized literary endeavor. When realism becomes false to itself,
when it heaps up facts merely, and maps life instead of picturing it,
realism will perish too. Every true realist instinctively knows this,
and it is perhaps the reason why he is careful of every fact, and feels
himself bound to express or to indicate its meaning at the risk of
overmoralizing. In life he finds nothing insignificant; all tells for
destiny and character; nothing that God has made is contemptible. He
cannot look upon human life and declare this thing or that thing unworthy
of notice, any more than the scientist can declare a fact of the material
world beneath the dignity of his inquiry. He feels in every nerve the
equality of things and the unity of men; his soul is exalted, not by vain
shows and shadows and ideals, but by realities, in which alone the truth
lives. In criticism it is his business to break the images of false gods
and misshapen heroes, to take away the poor silly, toys that many grown
people would still like to play with. He cannot keep terms with "Jack
the Giant-killer" or "Puss-in-Boots," under any name or in any place,
even when they reappear as the convict Vautrec, or the Marquis de
Montrivaut, or the Sworn Thirteen Noblemen. He must say to himself that
Balzac, when he imagined these monsters, was not Balzac, he was Dumas; he
was not realistic, he was romanticistic.


Such a critic will not respect Balzac's good work the less for contemning
his bad work. He will easily account for the bad work historically, and
when he has recognized it, will trouble himself no further with it. In
his view no living man is a type, but a character; now noble, now
ignoble; now grand, now little; complex, full of vicissitude. He will
not expect Balzac to be always Balzac, and will be perhaps even more
attracted to the study of him when he was trying to be Balzac than when
he had become so. In 'Cesar Birotteau,' for instance, he will be
interested to note how Balzac stood at the beginning of the great things
that have followed since in fiction. There is an interesting likeness
between his work in this and Nicolas Gogol's in 'Dead Souls,' which
serves to illustrate the simultaneity of the literary movement in men of
such widely separated civilizations and conditions. Both represent their
characters with the touch of exaggeration which typifies; but in bringing
his story to a close, Balzac employs a beneficence unknown to the
Russian, and almost as universal and as apt as that which smiles upon the
fortunes of the good in the Vicar of Wakefield. It is not enough to have
rehabilitated Birotteau pecuniarily and socially; he must make him die
triumphantly, spectacularly, of an opportune hemorrhage, in the midst of
the festivities which celebrate his restoration to his old home. Before
this happens, human nature has been laid under contribution right and
left for acts of generosity towards the righteous bankrupt; even the king
sends him six thousand francs. It is very pretty; it is touching, and
brings the lump into the reader's throat; but it is too much, and one
perceives that Balzac lived too soon to profit by Balzac. The later men,
especially the Russians, have known how to forbear the excesses of
analysis, to withhold the weakly recurring descriptive and caressing
epithets, to let the characters suffice for themselves. All this does
not mean that 'Cesar Birotteau' is not a beautiful and pathetic story,
full of shrewdly considered knowledge of men, and of a good art
struggling to free itself from self-consciousness. But it does mean that
Balzac, when he wrote it, was under the burden of the very traditions
which he has helped fiction to throw off. He felt obliged to construct a
mechanical plot, to surcharge his characters, to moralize openly and
baldly; he permitted himself to "sympathize" with certain of his people,
and to point out others for the abhorrence of his readers. This is not
so bad in him as it would be in a novelist of our day. It is simply
primitive and inevitable, and he is not to be judged by it.


In the beginning of any art even the most gifted worker must be crude in
his methods, and we ought to keep this fact always in mind when we turn,
say, from the purblind worshippers of Scott to Scott himself, and
recognize that he often wrote a style cumbrous and diffuse; that he was
tediously analytical where the modern novelist is dramatic, and evolved
his characters by means of long-winded explanation and commentary; that,
except in the case of his lower-class personages, he made them talk as
seldom man and never woman talked; that he was tiresomely descriptive;
that on the simplest occasions he went about half a mile to express a
thought that could be uttered in ten paces across lots; and that he
trusted his readers' intuitions so little that he was apt to rub in his
appeals to them. He was probably right: the generation which he wrote
for was duller than this; slower-witted, aesthetically untrained, and in
maturity not so apprehensive of an artistic intention as the children of
to-day. All this is not saying Scott was not a great man; he was a great
man, and a very great novelist as compared with the novelists who went
before him. He can still amuse young people, but they ought to be
instructed how false and how mistaken he often is, with his mediaeval
ideals, his blind Jacobitism, his intense devotion to aristocracy and
royalty; his acquiescence in the division of men into noble and ignoble,
patrician and plebeian, sovereign and subject, as if it were the law of
God; for all which, indeed, he is not to blame as he would be if he were
one of our contemporaries. Something of this is true of another master,
greater than Scott in being less romantic, and inferior in being more
German, namely, the great Goethe himself. He taught us, in novels
otherwise now antiquated, and always full of German clumsiness, that it
was false to good art--which is never anything but the reflection of
life--to pursue and round the career of the persons introduced, whom he
often allowed to appear and disappear in our knowledge as people in the
actual world do. This is a lesson which the writers able to profit by it
can never be too grateful for; and it is equally a benefaction to
readers; but there is very little else in the conduct of the Goethean
novels which is in advance of their time; this remains almost their sole
contribution to the science of fiction. They are very primitive in
certain characteristics, and unite with their calm, deep insight, an
amusing helplessness in dramatization. "Wilhelm retired to his room, and
indulged in the following reflections," is a mode of analysis which would
not be practised nowadays; and all that fancifulness of nomenclature in
Wilhelm Meister is very drolly sentimental and feeble. The adventures
with robbers seem as if dreamed out of books of chivalry, and the
tendency to allegorization affects one like an endeavor on the author's
part to escape from the unrealities which he must have felt harassingly,
German as he was. Mixed up with the shadows and illusions are honest,
wholesome, every-day people, who have the air of wandering homelessly
about among them, without definite direction; and the mists are full of a
luminosity which, in spite of them, we know for common-sense and poetry.
What is useful in any review of Goethe's methods is the recognition of
the fact, which it must bring, that the greatest master cannot produce a
masterpiece in a new kind. The novel was too recently invented in
Goethe's day not to be, even in his hands, full of the faults of
apprentice work.


In fact, a great master may sin against the "modesty of nature" in many
ways, and I have felt this painfully in reading Balzac's romance--it is
not worthy the name of novel--'Le Pere Goriot,' which is full of a
malarial restlessness, wholly alien to healthful art. After that
exquisitely careful and truthful setting of his story in the shabby
boarding-house, he fills the scene with figures jerked about by the
exaggerated passions and motives of the stage. We cannot have a cynic
reasonably wicked, disagreeable, egoistic; we must have a lurid villain
of melodrama, a disguised convict, with a vast criminal organization at
his command, and

        "So dyed double red"

in deed and purpose that he lights up the faces of the horrified
spectators with his glare. A father fond of unworthy children, and
leading a life of self-denial for their sake, as may probably and
pathetically be, is not enough; there must be an imbecile, trembling
dotard, willing to promote even the liaisons of his daughters to give
them happiness and to teach the sublimity of the paternal instinct.
The hero cannot sufficiently be a selfish young fellow, with alternating
impulses of greed and generosity; he must superfluously intend a career
of iniquitous splendor, and be swerved from it by nothing but the most
cataclysmal interpositions. It can be said that without such personages
the plot could not be transacted; but so much the worse for the plot.
Such a plot had no business to be; and while actions so unnatural are
imagined, no mastery can save fiction from contempt with those who really
think about it. To Balzac it can be forgiven, not only because in his
better mood he gave us such biographies as 'Eugenie Grandet,' but because
he wrote at a time when fiction was just beginning to verify the
externals of life, to portray faithfully the outside of men and things.
It was still held that in order to interest the reader the characters
must be moved by the old romantic ideals; we were to be taught that
"heroes" and "heroines" existed all around us, and that these abnormal
beings needed only to be discovered in their several humble disguises,
and then we should see every-day people actuated by the fine frenzy of
the creatures of the poets. How false that notion was, few but the
critics, who are apt to be rather belated, need now be told. Some of
these poor fellows, however, still contend that it ought to be done, and
that human feelings and motives, as God made them and as men know them,
are not good enough for novel-readers.

This is more explicable than would appear at first glance. The critics
--and in speaking of them one always modestly leaves one's self out of
the count, for some reason--when they are not elders ossified in
tradition, are apt to be young people, and young people are necessarily
conservative in their tastes and theories. They have the tastes and
theories of their instructors, who perhaps caught the truth of their day,
but whose routine life has been alien to any other truth. There is
probably no chair of literature in this country from which the principles
now shaping the literary expression of every civilized people are not
denounced and confounded with certain objectionable French novels, or
which teaches young men anything of the universal impulse which has given
us the work, not only of Zola, but of Tourguenief and Tolstoy in Russia,
of Bjornson and Ibsen in Norway, of Valdes and Galdos in Spain, of Verga
in Italy. Till these younger critics have learned to think as well as to
write for themselves they will persist in heaving a sigh, more and more
perfunctory, for the truth as it was in Sir Walter, and as it was in
Dickens and in Hawthorne. Presently all will have been changed; they
will have seen the new truth in larger and larger degree; and when it
shall have become the old truth, they will perhaps see it all.


In the mean time the average of criticism is not wholly bad with us.
To be sure, the critic sometimes appears in the panoply of the savages
whom we have supplanted on this continent; and it is hard to believe that
his use of the tomahawk and the scalping-knife is a form of conservative
surgery. It is still his conception of his office that he should assail
those who differ with him in matters of taste or opinion; that he must be
rude with those he does not like. It is too largely his superstition
that because he likes a thing it is good, and because he dislikes a thing
it is bad; the reverse is quite possibly the case, but he is yet
indefinitely far from knowing that in affairs of taste his personal
preference enters very little. Commonly he has no principles, but only
an assortment of prepossessions for and against; and this otherwise very
perfect character is sometimes uncandid to the verge of dishonesty. He
seems not to mind misstating the position of any one he supposes himself
to disagree with, and then attacking him for what he never said, or even
implied; he thinks this is droll, and appears not to suspect that it is
immoral. He is not tolerant; he thinks it a virtue to be intolerant; it
is hard for him to understand that the same thing may be admirable at one
time and deplorable at another; and that it is really his business to
classify and analyze the fruits of the human mind very much as the
naturalist classifies the objects of his study, rather than to praise or
blame them; that there is a measure of the same absurdity in his
trampling on a poem, a novel, or an essay that does not please him as in
the botanist's grinding a plant underfoot because he does not find it
pretty. He does not conceive that it is his business rather to identify
the species and then explain how and where the specimen is imperfect and
irregular. If he could once acquire this simple idea of his duty he
would be much more agreeable company than he now is, and a more useful
member of society; though considering the hard conditions under which he
works, his necessity of writing hurriedly from an imperfect examination
of far more books, on a greater variety of subjects, than he can even
hope to read, the average American critic--the ordinary critic of
commerce, so to speak--is even now very, well indeed. Collectively he is
more than this; for the joint effect of our criticism is the pretty
thorough appreciation of any book submitted to it.


The misfortune rather than the fault of our individual critic is that he
is the heir of the false theory and bad manners of the English school.
The theory of that school has apparently been that almost any person of
glib and lively expression is competent to write of almost any branch of
polite literature; its manners are what we know. The American, whom it
has largely formed, is by nature very glib and very lively, and commonly
his criticism, viewed as imaginative work, is more agreeable than that of
the Englishman; but it is, like the art of both countries, apt to be
amateurish. In some degree our authors have freed themselves from
English models; they have gained some notion of the more serious work of
the Continent: but it is still the ambition of the American critic to
write like the English critic, to show his wit if not his learning, to
strive to eclipse the author under review rather than illustrate him.
He has not yet caught on to the fact that it is really no part of his
business to display himself, but that it is altogether his duty to place
a book in such a light that the reader shall know its class, its
function, its character. The vast good-nature of our people preserves us
from the worst effects of this criticism without principles. Our critic,
at his lowest, is rarely malignant; and when he is rude or untruthful,
it is mostly without truculence; I suspect that he is often offensive
without knowing that he is so. Now and then he acts simply under
instruction from higher authority, and denounces because it is the
tradition of his publication to do so. In other cases the critic is
obliged to support his journal's repute for severity, or for wit, or for
morality, though he may himself be entirely amiable, dull, and wicked;
this necessity more or less warps his verdicts.

The worst is that he is personal, perhaps because it is so easy and so
natural to be personal, and so instantly attractive. In this respect our
criticism has not improved from the accession of numbers of ladies to its
ranks, though we still hope so much from women in our politics when they
shall come to vote. They have come to write, and with the effect to
increase the amount of little-digging, which rather superabounded in our
literary criticism before. They "know what they like"--that pernicious
maxim of those who do not know what they ought to like and they pass
readily from censuring an author's performance to censuring him. They
bring a stock of lively misapprehensions and prejudices to their work;
they would rather have heard about than known about a book; and they take
kindly to the public wish to be amused rather than edified. But neither
have they so much harm in them: they, too, are more ignorant than


Our criticism is disabled by the unwillingness of the critic to learn
from an author, and his readiness to mistrust him. A writer passes his
whole life in fitting himself for a certain kind of performance; the
critic does not ask why, or whether the performance is good or bad, but
if he does not like the kind, he instructs the writer to go off and do
some other sort of thing--usually the sort that has been done already,
and done sufficiently. If he could once understand that a man who has
written the book he dislikes, probably knows infinitely more about its
kind and his own fitness for doing it than any one else, the critic might
learn something, and might help the reader to learn; but by putting
himself in a false position, a position of superiority, he is of no use.
He is not to suppose that an author has committed an offence against him
by writing the kind of book he does not like; he will be far more
profitably employed on behalf of the reader in finding out whether they
had better not both like it. Let him conceive of an author as not in any
wise on trial before him, but as a reflection of this or that aspect of
life, and he will not be tempted to browbeat him or bully him.

The critic need not be impolite even to the youngest and weakest author.
A little courtesy, or a good deal, a constant perception of the fact that
a book is not a misdemeanor, a decent self-respect that must forbid the
civilized man the savage pleasure of wounding, are what I would ask for
our criticism, as something which will add sensibly to its present


I would have my fellow-critics consider what they are really in the world
for. The critic must perceive, if he will question himself more
carefully, that his office is mainly to ascertain facts and traits of
literature, not to invent or denounce them; to discover principles, not
to establish them; to report, not to create.

It is so much easier to say that you like this or dislike that, than to
tell why one thing is, or where another thing comes from, that many
flourishing critics will have to go out of business altogether if the
scientific method comes in, for then the critic will have to know
something besides his own mind. He will have to know something of the
laws of that mind, and of its generic history.

The history of all literature shows that even with the youngest and
weakest author criticism is quite powerless against his will to do his
own work in his own way; and if this is the case in the green wood, how
much more in the dry! It has been thought by the sentimentalist that
criticism, if it cannot cure, can at least kill, and Keats was long
alleged in proof of its efficacy in this sort. But criticism neither
cured nor killed Keats, as we all now very well know. It wounded, it
cruelly hurt him, no doubt; and it is always in the power of the critic
to give pain to the author--the meanest critic to the greatest author
--for no one can help feeling a rudeness. But every literary movement has
been violently opposed at the start, and yet never stayed in the least,
or arrested, by criticism; every author has been condemned for his
virtues, but in no wise changed by it. In the beginning he reads the
critics; but presently perceiving that he alone makes or mars himself,
and that they have no instruction for him, he mostly leaves off reading
them, though he is always glad of their kindness or grieved by their
harshness when he chances upon it. This, I believe, is the general
experience, modified, of course, by exceptions.

Then, are we critics of no use in the world? I should not like to think
that, though I am not quite ready to define our use. More than one sober
thinker is inclining at present to suspect that aesthetically or
specifically we are of no use, and that we are only useful historically;
that we may register laws, but not enact them. I am not quite prepared
to admit that aesthetic criticism is useless, though in view of its
futility in any given instance it is hard to deny that it is so.
It certainly seems as useless against a book that strikes the popular
fancy, and prospers on in spite of condemnation by the best critics,
as it is against a book which does not generally please, and which no
critical favor can make acceptable. This is so common a phenomenon that
I wonder it has never hitherto suggested to criticism that its point of
view was altogether mistaken, and that it was really necessary to judge
books not as dead things, but as living things--things which have an
influence and a power irrespective of beauty and wisdom, and merely as
expressions of actuality in thought and feeling. Perhaps criticism has a
cumulative and final effect; perhaps it does some good we do not know of.
It apparently does not affect the author directly, but it may reach him
through the reader. It may in some cases enlarge or diminish his
audience for a while, until he has thoroughly measured and tested his own
powers. If criticism is to affect literature at all, it must be through
the writers who have newly left the starting-point, and are reasonably
uncertain of the race, not with those who have won it again and again in
their own way.


Sometimes it has seemed to me that the crudest expression of any creative
art is better than the finest comment upon it. I have sometimes
suspected that more thinking, more feeling certainly, goes to the
creation of a poor novel than to the production of a brilliant criticism;
and if any novel of our time fails to live a hundred years, will any
censure of it live? Who can endure to read old reviews? One can hardly
read them if they are in praise of one's own books.

The author neglected or overlooked need not despair for that reason, if
he will reflect that criticism can neither make nor unmake authors; that
there have not been greater books since criticism became an art than
there were before; that in fact the greatest books seem to have come much

That which criticism seems most certainly to have done is to have put a
literary consciousness into books unfelt in the early masterpieces,
but unfelt now only in the books of men whose lives have been passed in
activities, who have been used to employing language as they would have
employed any implement, to effect an object, who have regarded a thing to
be said as in no wise different from a thing to be done. In this sort I
have seen no modern book so unconscious as General Grant's 'Personal
Memoirs.' The author's one end and aim is to get the facts out in words.
He does not cast about for phrases, but takes the word, whatever it is,
that will best give his meaning, as if it were a man or a force of men
for the accomplishment of a feat of arms. There is not a moment wasted
in preening and prettifying, after the fashion of literary men; there is
no thought of style, and so the style is good as it is in the 'Book of
Chronicles,' as it is in the 'Pilgrim's Progress,' with a peculiar,
almost plebeian, plainness at times. There is no more attempt at
dramatic effect than there is at ceremonious pose; things happen in that
tale of a mighty war as they happened in the mighty war itself, without
setting, without artificial reliefs one after another, as if they were
all of one quality and degree. Judgments are delivered with the same
unimposing quiet; no awe surrounds the tribunal except that which comes
from the weight and justice of the opinions; it is always an unaffected,
unpretentious man who is talking; and throughout he prefers to wear the
uniform of a private, with nothing of the general about him but the
shoulder-straps, which he sometimes forgets.


Canon Fairfax,'s opinions of literary criticism are very much to my
liking, perhaps because when I read them I found them so like my own,
already delivered in print. He tells the critics that "they are in no
sense the legislators of literature, barely even its judges and police";
and he reminds them of Mr. Ruskin's saying that "a bad critic is probably
the most mischievous person in the world," though a sense of their
relative proportion to the whole of life would perhaps acquit the worst
among them of this extreme of culpability. A bad critic is as bad a
thing as can be, but, after all, his mischief does not carry very far.
Otherwise it would be mainly the conventional books and not the original
books which would survive; for the censor who imagines himself a
law-giver can give law only to the imitative and never to the creative
mind. Criticism has condemned whatever was, from time to time, fresh and
vital in literature; it has always fought the new good thing in behalf of
the old good thing; it has invariably fostered and encouraged the tame,
the trite, the negative. Yet upon the whole it is the native, the novel,
the positive that has survived in literature. Whereas, if bad criticism
were the most mischievous thing in the world, in the full implication of
the words, it must have been the tame, the trite, the negative, that

Bad criticism is mischievous enough, however; and I think that much if
not most current criticism as practised among the English and Americans
is bad, is falsely principled, and is conditioned in evil. It is falsely
principled because it is unprincipled, or without principles; and it is
conditioned in evil because it is almost wholly anonymous. At the best
its opinions are not conclusions from certain easily verifiable
principles, but are effects from the worship of certain models. They are
in so far quite worthless, for it is the very nature of things that the
original mind cannot conform to models; it has its norm within itself; it
can work only in its own way, and by its self-given laws. Criticism does
not inquire whether a work is true to life, but tacitly or explicitly
compares it with models, and tests it by them. If literary art travelled
by any such road as criticism would have it go, it would travel in a
vicious circle, and would arrive only at the point of departure. Yet
this is the course that criticism must always prescribe when it attempts
to give laws. Being itself artificial, it cannot conceive of the
original except as the abnormal. It must altogether reconceive its
office before it can be of use to literature. It must reduce this to the
business of observing, recording, and comparing; to analyzing the
material before it, and then synthetizing its impressions. Even then, it
is not too much to say that literature as an art could get on perfectly
well without it. Just as many good novels, poems, plays, essays,
sketches, would be written if there were no such thing as criticism in
the literary world, and no more bad ones.

But it will be long before criticism ceases to imagine itself a
controlling force, to give itself airs of sovereignty, and to issue
decrees. As it exists it is mostly a mischief, though not the greatest
mischief; but it may be greatly ameliorated in character and softened in
manner by the total abolition of anonymity.

I think it would be safe to say that in no other relation of life is so
much brutality permitted by civilized society as in the criticism of
literature and the arts. Canon Farrar is quite right in reproaching
literary criticism with the uncandor of judging an author without
reference to his aims; with pursuing certain writers from spite and
prejudice, and mere habit; with misrepresenting a book by quoting a
phrase or passage apart from the context; with magnifying misprints and
careless expressions into important faults; with abusing an author for
his opinions; with base and personal motives.

Every writer of experience knows that certain critical journals will
condemn his work without regard to its quality, even if it has never been
his fortune to learn, as one author did from a repentent reviewer, that
in a journal pretending to literary taste his books were given out for
review with the caution, "Remember that the Clarion is opposed to Mr.
Blank's books."

The final conclusion appears to be that the man, or even the young lady,
who is given a gun, and told to shoot at some passer from behind a hedge,
is placed in circumstances of temptation almost too strong for human


As I have already intimated, I doubt the more lasting effects of unjust
criticism. It is no part of my belief that Keats's fame was long delayed
by it, or Wordsworth's, or Browning's. Something unwonted, unexpected,
in the quality of each delayed his recognition; each was not only a poet,
he was a revolution, a new order of things, to which the critical
perceptions and habitudes had painfully to adjust themselves: But I have
no question of the gross and stupid injustice with which these great men
were used, and of the barbarization of the public mind by the sight of
the wrong inflicted on them with impunity. This savage condition still
persists in the toleration of anonymous criticism, an abuse that ought to
be as extinct as the torture of witnesses. It is hard enough to treat a
fellow-author with respect even when one has to address him, name to
name, upon the same level, in plain day; swooping down upon him in the
dark, panoplied in the authority of a great journal, it is impossible.
Every now and then some idealist comes forward and declares that you
should say nothing in criticism of a man's book which you would not say
of it to his face. But I am afraid this is asking too much. I am afraid
it would put an end to all criticism; and that if it were practised
literature would be left to purify itself. I have no doubt literature
would do this; but in such a state of things there would be no provision
for the critics. We ought not to destroy critics, we ought to reform
them, or rather transform them, or turn them from the assumption of
authority to a realization of their true function in the civilized state.
They are no worse at heart, probably, than many others, and there are
probably good husbands and tender fathers, loving daughters and careful
mothers, among them.

It is evident to any student of human nature that the critic who is
obliged to sign his review will be more careful of an author's feelings
than he would if he could intangibly and invisibly deal with him as the
representative of a great journal. He will be loath to have his name
connected with those perversions and misstatements of an author's meaning
in which the critic now indulges without danger of being turned out of
honest company. He will be in some degree forced to be fair and just
with a book he dislikes; he will not wish to misrepresent it when his sin
can be traced directly to him in person; he will not be willing to voice
the prejudice of a journal which is "opposed to the books" of this or
that author; and the journal itself, when it is no longer responsible for
the behavior of its critic, may find it interesting and profitable to
give to an author his innings when he feels wronged by a reviewer and
desires to right himself; it may even be eager to offer him the
opportunity. We shall then, perhaps, frequently witness the spectacle of
authors turning upon their reviewers, and improving their manners and
morals by confronting them in public with the errors they may now commit
with impunity. Many an author smarts under injuries and indignities
which he might resent to the advantage of literature and civilization,
if he were not afraid of being browbeaten by the journal whose nameless
critic has outraged him.

The public is now of opinion that it involves loss of dignity to creative
talent to try to right itself if wronged, but here we are without the
requisite statistics. Creative talent may come off with all the dignity
it went in with, and it may accomplish a very good work in demolishing

In any other relation of life the man who thinks himself wronged tries to
right himself, violently, if he is a mistaken man, and lawfully if he is
a wise man or a rich one, which is practically the same thing. But the
author, dramatist, painter, sculptor, whose book, play, picture, statue,
has been unfairly dealt with, as he believes, must make no effort to
right himself with the public; he must bear his wrong in silence; he is
even expected to grin and bear it, as if it were funny. Every body
understands that it is not funny to him, not in the least funny, but
everybody says that he cannot make an effort to get the public to take
his point of view without loss of dignity. This is very odd, but it is
the fact, and I suppose that it comes from the feeling that the author,
dramatist, painter, sculptor, has already said the best he can for his
side in his book, play, picture, statue. This is partly true, and yet if
he wishes to add something more to prove the critic wrong, I do not see
how his attempt to do so should involve loss of dignity. The public,
which is so jealous for his dignity, does not otherwise use him as if he
were a very great and invaluable creature; if he fails, it lets him
starve like any one else. I should say that he lost dignity or not as he
behaved, in his effort to right himself, with petulance or with
principle. If he betrayed a wounded vanity, if he impugned the motives
and accused the lives of his critics, I should certainly feel that he was
losing dignity; but if he temperately examined their theories, and tried
to show where they were mistaken, I think he would not only gain dignity,
but would perform a very useful work.


I would beseech the literary critics of our country to disabuse
themselves of the mischievous notion that they are essential to the
progress of literature in the way critics have imagined. Canon Farrar
confesses that with the best will in the world to profit by the many
criticisms of his books, he has never profited in the least by any of
them; and this is almost the universal experience of authors. It is not
always the fault of the critics. They sometimes deal honestly and fairly
by a book, and not so often they deal adequately. But in making a book,
if it is at all a good book, the author has learned all that is knowable
about it, and every strong point and every weak point in it, far more
accurately than any one else can possibly learn them. He has learned to
do better than well for the future; but if his book is bad, he cannot be
taught anything about it from the outside. It will perish; and if he has
not the root of literature in him, he will perish as an author with it.
But what is it that gives tendency in art, then? What is it makes people
like this at one time, and that at another? Above all, what makes a
better fashion change for a worse; how can the ugly come to be preferred
to the beautiful; in other words, how can an art decay?

This question came up in my mind lately with regard to English fiction
and its form, or rather its formlessness. How, for instance, could
people who had once known the simple verity, the refined perfection of
Miss Austere, enjoy, anything less refined and less perfect?

With her example before them, why should not English novelists have gone
on writing simply, honestly, artistically, ever after? One would think
it must have been impossible for them to do otherwise, if one did not
remember, say, the lamentable behavior of the actors who support Mr.
Jefferson, and their theatricality in the very presence of his beautiful
naturalness. It is very difficult, that simplicity, and nothing is so
hard as to be honest, as the reader, if he has ever happened to try it,
must know. "The big bow-wow I can do myself, like anyone going," said
Scott, but he owned that the exquisite touch of Miss Austere was denied
him; and it seems certainly to have been denied in greater or less
measure to all her successors. But though reading and writing come by
nature, as Dogberry justly said, a taste in them may be cultivated, or
once cultivated, it may be preserved; and why was it not so among those
poor islanders? One does not ask such things in order to be at the pains
of answering them one's self, but with the hope that some one else will
take the trouble to do so, and I propose to be rather a silent partner in
the enterprise, which I shall leave mainly to Senor Armando Palacio
Valdes. This delightful author will, however, only be able to answer my
question indirectly from the essay on fiction with which he prefaces one
of his novels, the charming story of 'The Sister of San Sulpizio,' and I
shall have some little labor in fitting his saws to my instances. It is
an essay which I wish every one intending to read, or even to write, a
novel, might acquaint himself with; for it contains some of the best and
clearest things which have been said of the art of fiction in a time when
nearly all who practise it have turned to talk about it.

Senor Valdes is a realist, but a realist according to his own conception
of realism; and he has some words of just censure for the French
naturalists, whom he finds unnecessarily, and suspects of being sometimes
even mercenarily, nasty. He sees the wide difference that passes between
this naturalism and the realism of the English and Spanish; and he goes
somewhat further than I should go in condemning it. "The French
naturalism represents only a moment, and an insignificant part of life."
. . . It is characterized by sadness and narrowness. The prototype of
this literature is the 'Madame Bovary' of Flaubert. I am an admirer of
this novelist, and especially of this novel; but often in thinking of it
I have said, How dreary would literature be if it were no more than this!
There is something antipathetic and gloomy and limited in it, as there is
in modern French life; but this seems to me exactly the best possible
reason for its being. I believe with Senor Valdes that "no literature
can live long without joy," not because of its mistaken aesthetics,
however, but because no civilization can live long without joy. The
expression of French life will change when French life changes; and
French naturalism is better at its worst than French unnaturalism at its
best. "No one," as Senor Valdes truly says, "can rise from the perusal
of a naturalistic book . . . without a vivid desire to escape" from
the wretched world depicted in it, "and a purpose, more or less vague,
of helping to better the lot and morally elevate the abject beings who
figure in it. Naturalistic art, then, is not immoral in itself, for then
it would not merit the name of art; for though it is not the business of
art to preach morality, still I think that, resting on a divine and
spiritual principle, like the idea of the beautiful, it is perforce
moral. I hold much more immoral other books which, under a glamour of
something spiritual and beautiful and sublime, portray the vices in which
we are allied to the beasts. Such, for example, are the works of Octave
Feuillet, Arsene Houssaye, Georges Ohnet, and other contemporary
novelists much in vogue among the higher classes of society."

But what is this idea of the beautiful which art rests upon, and so
becomes moral? "The man of our time," says Senor Valdes, "wishes to know
everything and enjoy everything: he turns the objective of a powerful
equatorial towards the heavenly spaces where gravitates the infinitude of
the stars, just as he applies the microscope to the infinitude of the
smallest insects; for their laws are identical. His experience, united
with intuition, has convinced him that in nature there is neither great
nor small; all is equal. All is equally grand, all is equally just, all
is equally beautiful, because all is equally divine." But beauty, Senor
Valdes explains, exists in the human spirit, and is the beautiful effect
which it receives from the true meaning of things; it does not matter
what the things are, and it is the function of the artist who feels this
effect to impart it to others. I may add that there is no joy in art
except this perception of the meaning of things and its communication;
when you have felt it, and portrayed it in a poem, a symphony, a novel,
a statue, a picture, an edifice, you have fulfilled the purpose for which
you were born an artist.

The reflection of exterior nature in the individual spirit, Senor Valdes
believes to be the fundamental of art. "To say, then, that the artist
must not copy but create is nonsense, because he can in no wise copy, and
in no wise create. He who sets deliberately about modifying nature,
shows that he has not felt her beauty, and therefore cannot make others
feel it. The puerile desire which some artists without genius manifest
to go about selecting in nature, not what seems to them beautiful, but
what they think will seem beautiful to others, and rejecting what may
displease them, ordinarily produces cold and insipid works. For, instead
of exploring the illimitable fields of reality, they cling to the forms
invented by other artists who have succeeded, and they make statues of
statues, poems of poems, novels of novels. It is entirely false that the
great romantic, symbolic, or classic poets modified nature; such as they
have expressed her they felt her; and in this view they are as much
realists as ourselves. In like manner if in the realistic tide that now
bears us on there are some spirits who feel nature in another way, in the
romantic way, or the classic way, they would not falsify her in
expressing her so. Only those falsify her who, without feeling classic
wise or romantic wise, set about being classic or romantic, wearisomely
reproducing the models of former ages; and equally those who, without
sharing the sentiment of realism, which now prevails, force themselves to
be realists merely to follow the fashion."

The pseudo-realists, in fact, are the worse offenders, to my thinking,
for they sin against the living; whereas those who continue to celebrate
the heroic adventures of "Puss-in-Boots" and the hair-breadth escapes of
"Tom Thumb," under various aliases, only cast disrespect upon the
immortals who have passed beyond these noises.


"The principal cause," our Spaniard says, "of the decadence of
contemporary literature is found, to my thinking, in the vice which has
been very graphically called effectism, or the itch of awaking at all
cost in the reader vivid and violent emotions, which shall do credit to
the invention and originality of the writer. This vice has its roots in
human nature itself, and more particularly in that of the artist; he has
always some thing feminine in him, which tempts him to coquet with the
reader, and display qualities that he thinks will astonish him, as women
laugh for no reason, to show their teeth when they have them white and
small and even, or lift their dresses to show their feet when there is no
mud in the street . . . . What many writers nowadays wish, is to
produce an effect, grand and immediate, to play the part of geniuses.
For this they have learned that it is only necessary to write exaggerated
works in any sort, since the vulgar do not ask that they shall be quietly
made to think and feel, but that they shall be startled; and among the
vulgar, of course, I include the great part of those who write literary
criticism, and who constitute the worst vulgar, since they teach what
they do not know .. . . There are many persons who suppose that the
highest proof an artist can give of his fantasy is the invention of a
complicated plot, spiced with perils, surprises, and suspenses; and that
anything else is the sign of a poor and tepid imagination. And not only
people who seem cultivated, but are not so, suppose this, but there are
sensible persons, and even sagacious and intelligent critics, who
sometimes allow themselves to be hoodwinked by the dramatic mystery and
the surprising and fantastic scenes of a novel. They own it is all
false; but they admire the imagination, what they call the 'power' of the
author. Very well; all I have to say is that the 'power' to dazzle with
strange incidents, to entertain with complicated plots and impossible
characters, now belongs to some hundreds of writers in Europe; while
there are not much above a dozen who know how to interest with the
ordinary events of life, and by the portrayal of characters truly human.
If the former is a talent, it must be owned that it is much commoner than
the latter . . . . If we are to rate novelists according to their
fecundity, or the riches of their invention, we must put Alexander Dumas
above Cervantes. Cervantes wrote a novel with the simplest plot, without
belying much or little the natural and logical course of events. This
novel which was called 'Don Quixote,' is perhaps the greatest work of
human wit. Very well; the same Cervantes, mischievously influenced
afterwards by the ideas of the vulgar, who were then what they are now
and always will be, attempted to please them by a work giving a lively
proof of his inventive talent, and wrote the 'Persiles and Sigismunda,'
where the strange incidents, the vivid complications, the surprises, the
pathetic scenes, succeed one another so rapidly and constantly that it
really fatigues you . . . . But in spite of this flood of invention,
imagine," says Seflor Valdes, "the place that Cervantes would now occupy
in the heaven of art, if he had never written 'Don Quixote,'" but only
'Persiles and Sigismund!'

From the point of view of modern English criticism, which likes to be
melted, and horrified, and astonished, and blood-curdled, and goose-
fleshed, no less than to be "chippered up" in fiction, Senor Valdes were
indeed incorrigible. Not only does he despise the novel of complicated
plot, and everywhere prefer 'Don Quixote' to 'Persiles and Sigismunda,'
but he has a lively contempt for another class of novels much in favor
with the gentilities of all countries. He calls their writers "novelists
of the world," and he says that more than any others they have the rage
of effectism. "They do not seek to produce effect by novelty and
invention in plot . . . they seek it in character. For this end they
begin by deliberately falsifying human feelings, giving them a
paradoxical appearance completely inadmissible . . . . Love that
disguises itself as hate, incomparable energy under the cloak of
weakness, virginal innocence under the aspect of malice and impudence,
wit masquerading as folly, etc., etc. By this means they hope to make an
effect of which they are incapable through the direct, frank, and
conscientious study of character." He mentions Octave Feuillet as the
greatest offender in this sort among the French, and Bulwer among the
English; but Dickens is full of it (Boffin in 'Our Mutual Friend' will
suffice for all example), and most drama is witness of the result of this
effectism when allowed full play.

But what, then, if he is not pleased with Dumas, or with the effectists
who delight genteel people at all the theatres, and in most of the
romances, what, I ask, will satisfy this extremely difficult Spanish
gentleman? He would pretend, very little. Give him simple, lifelike
character; that is all he wants. "For me, the only condition of
character is that it be human, and that is enough. If I wished to know
what was human, I should study humanity."

But, Senor Valdes, Senor Valdes! Do not you know that this small
condition of yours implies in its fulfilment hardly less than the gift of
the whole earth? You merely ask that the character portrayed in fiction
be human; and you suggest that the novelist should study humanity if he
would know whether his personages are human. This appears to me the
cruelest irony, the most sarcastic affectation of humility. If you had
asked that character in fiction be superhuman, or subterhuman, or
preterhuman, or intrahuman, and had bidden the novelist go, not to
humanity, but the humanities, for the proof of his excellence, it would
have been all very easy. The books are full of those "creations," of
every pattern, of all ages, of both sexes; and it is so much handier to
get at books than to get at Men; and when you have portrayed "passion"
instead of feeling, and used "power" instead of common-sense, and shown
yourself a "genius" instead of an artist, the applause is so prompt and
the glory so cheap, that really anything else seems wickedly wasteful of
one's time. One may not make one's reader enjoy or suffer nobly, but one
may give him the kind of pleasure that arises from conjuring, or from a
puppet-show, or a modern stage-play, and leave him, if he is an old fool,
in the sort of stupor that comes from hitting the pipe; or if he is a
young fool, half crazed with the spectacle of qualities and impulses like
his own in an apotheosis of achievement and fruition far beyond any
earthly experience.

But apparently Senor Valdes would not think this any great artistic
result. "Things that appear ugliest in reality to the spectator who is
not an artist, are transformed into beauty and poetry when the spirit of
the artist possesses itself of them. We all take part every day in a
thousand domestic scenes, every day we see a thousand pictures in life,
that do not make any impression upon us, or if they make any it is one of
repugnance; but let the novelist come, and without betraying the truth,
but painting them as they appear to his vision, he produces a most
interesting work, whose perusal enchants us. That which in life left us
indifferent, or repelled us, in art delights us. Why? Simply because
the artist has made us see the idea that resides in it. Let not the
novelists, then, endeavor to add anything to reality, to turn it and
twist it, to restrict it. Since nature has endowed them with this
precious gift of discovering ideas in things, their work will be
beautiful if they paint these as they appear. But if the reality does
not impress them, in vain will they strive to make their work impress


Which brings us again, after this long way about, to Jane Austen and her
novels, and that troublesome question about them. She was great and they
were beautiful, because she and they were honest, and dealt with nature
nearly a hundred years ago as realism deals with it to-day. Realism is
nothing more and nothing less than the truthful treatment of material,
and Jane Austen was the first and the last of the English novelists to
treat material with entire truthfulness. Because she did this, she
remains the most artistic of the English novelists, and alone worthy to
be matched with the great Scandinavian and Slavic and Latin artists. It
is not a question of intellect, or not wholly that. The English have
mind enough; but they have not taste enough; or, rather, their taste has
been perverted by their false criticism, which is based upon personal
preference, and not upon, principle; which instructs a man to think that
what he likes is good, instead of teaching him first to distinguish what
is good before he likes it. The art of fiction, as Jane Austen knew it,
declined from her through Scott, and Bulwer, and Dickens, and Charlotte
Bronte, and Thackeray, and even George Eliot, because the mania of
romanticism had seized upon all Europe, and these great writers could not
escape the taint of their time; but it has shown few signs of recovery in
England, because English criticism, in the presence of the Continental
masterpieces, has continued provincial and special and personal, and has
expressed a love and a hate which had to do with the quality of the
artist rather than the character of his work. It was inevitable that in
their time the English romanticists should treat, as Senor Valdes says,
"the barbarous customs of the Middle Ages, softening and distorting them,
as Walter Scott and his kind did;" that they should "devote themselves to
falsifying nature, refining and subtilizing sentiment, and modifying
psychology after their own fancy," like Bulwer and Dickens, as well as
like Rousseau and Madame de Stael, not to mention Balzac, the worst of
all that sort at his worst. This was the natural course of the disease;
but it really seems as if it were their criticism that was to blame for
the rest: not, indeed, for the performance of this writer or that, for
criticism can never affect the actual doing of a thing; but for the
esteem in which this writer or that is held through the perpetuation of
false ideals. The only observer of English middle-class life since Jane
Austen worthy to be named with her was not George Eliot, who was first
ethical and then artistic, who transcended her in everything but the form
and method most essential to art, and there fell hopelessly below her.
It was Anthony Trollope who was most like her in simple honesty and
instinctive truth, as unphilosophized as the light of common day; but he
was so warped from a wholesome ideal as to wish at times to be like
Thackeray, and to stand about in his scene, talking it over with his
hands in his pockets, interrupting the action, and spoiling the illusion
in which alone the truth of art resides. Mainly, his instinct was too
much for his ideal, and with a low view of life in its civic relations
and a thoroughly bourgeois soul, he yet produced works whose beauty is
surpassed only by the effect of a more poetic writer in the novels of
Thomas Hardy. Yet if a vote of English criticism even at this late day,
when all Continental Europe has the light of aesthetic truth, could be
taken, the majority against these artists would be overwhelmingly in
favor of a writer who had so little artistic sensibility, that he never
hesitated on any occasion, great or small, to make a foray among his
characters, and catch them up to show them to the reader and tell him how
beautiful or ugly they were; and cry out over their amazing properties.

"How few materials," says Emerson, "are yet used by our arts! The mass of
creatures and of qualities are still hid and expectant," and to break new
ground is still one of the uncommonest and most heroic of the virtues.
The artists are not alone to blame for the timidity that keeps them in
the old furrows of the worn-out fields; most of those whom they live to
please, or live by pleasing, prefer to have them remain there; it wants
rare virtue to appreciate what is new, as well as to invent it; and the
"easy things to understand" are the conventional things. This is why the
ordinary English novel, with its hackneyed plot, scenes, and figures, is
more comfortable to the ordinary American than an American novel, which
deals, at its worst, with comparatively new interests and motives. To
adjust one's self to the enjoyment of these costs an intellectual effort,
and an intellectual effort is what no ordinary person likes to make. It
is only the extraordinary person who can say, with Emerson: "I ask not
for the great, the remote, the romantic . . . . I embrace the common;
I sit at the feet of the familiar and the low . . . . Man is
surprised to find that things near are not less beautiful and wondrous
than things remote . . . . The perception of the worth of the vulgar
is fruitful in discoveries . . . . The foolish man wonders at the
unusual, but the wise man at the usual . . . . To-day always looks
mean to the thoughtless; but to-day is a king in disguise . . . .
Banks and tariffs, the newspaper and caucus, Methodism and Unitarianism,
are flat and dull to dull people, but rest on the same foundations of
wonder as the town of Troy and the temple of Delphos."

Perhaps we ought not to deny their town of Troy and their temple of
Delphos to the dull people; but if we ought, and if we did, they would
still insist upon having them. An English novel, full of titles and
rank, is apparently essential to the happiness of such people; their weak
and childish imagination is at home in its familiar environment; they
know what they are reading; the fact that it is hash many times warmed
over reassures them; whereas a story of our own life, honestly studied
and faithfully represented, troubles them with varied misgiving. They
are not sure that it is literature; they do not feel that it is good
society; its characters, so like their own, strike them as commonplace;
they say they do not wish to know such people.

Everything in England is appreciable to the literary sense, while the
sense of the literary worth of things in America is still faint and weak
with most people, with the vast majority who "ask for the great, the
remote, the romantic," who cannot "embrace the common," cannot "sit at
the feet of the familiar and the low," in the good company of Emerson.
We are all, or nearly all, struggling to be distinguished from the mass,
and to be set apart in select circles and upper classes like the fine
people we have read about. We are really a mixture of the plebeian
ingredients of the whole world; but that is not bad; our vulgarity
consists in trying to ignore "the worth of the vulgar," in believing that
the superfine is better.


Another Spanish novelist of our day, whose books have given me great
pleasure, is so far from being of the same mind of Senor Valdes about
fiction that he boldly declares himself, in the preface to his 'Pepita
Ximenez,' "an advocate of art for art's sake." I heartily agree with him
that it is "in very bad taste, always impertinent and often pedantic, to
attempt to prove theses by writing stories," and yet if it is true that
"the object of a novel should be to charm through a faithful
representation of human actions and human passions, and to create by this
fidelity to nature a beautiful work," and if "the creation of the
beautiful" is solely "the object of art," it never was and never can be
solely its effect as long as men are men and women are women. If ever
the race is resolved into abstract qualities, perhaps this may happen;
but till then the finest effect of the "beautiful" will be ethical and
not aesthetic merely. Morality penetrates all things, it is the soul of
all things. Beauty may clothe it on, whether it is false morality and an
evil soul, or whether it is true and a good soul. In the one case the
beauty will corrupt, and in the other it will edify, and in either case
it will infallibly and inevitably have an ethical effect, now light, now
grave, according as the thing is light or grave. We cannot escape from
this; we are shut up to it by the very conditions of our being. For the
moment, it is charming to have a story end happily, but after one has
lived a certain number of years, and read a certain number of novels, it
is not the prosperous or adverse fortune of the characters that affects
one, but the good or bad faith of the novelist in dealing with them.
Will he play us false or will he be true in the operation of this or that
principle involved? I cannot hold him to less account than this: he must
be true to what life has taught me is the truth, and after that he may
let any fate betide his people; the novel ends well that ends faithfully.
The greater his power, the greater his responsibility before the human
conscience, which is God in us. But men come and go, and what they do in
their limited physical lives is of comparatively little moment; it is
what they say that really survives to bless or to ban; and it is the evil
which Wordsworth felt in Goethe, that must long sur vive him. There is a
kind of thing--a kind of metaphysical lie against righteousness and
common-sense which is called the Unmoral; and is supposed to be different
from the Immoral; and it is this which is supposed to cover many of the
faults of Goethe. His 'Wilhelm Meister,' for example, is so far removed
within the region of the "ideal" that its unprincipled, its evil
principled, tenor in regard to women is pronounced "unmorality," and is
therefore inferably harmless. But no study of Goethe is complete without
some recognition of the qualities which caused Wordsworth to hurl the
book across the room with an indignant perception of its sensuality.
For the sins of his life Goethe was perhaps sufficiently punished in his
life by his final marriage with Christiane; for the sins of his
literature many others must suffer. I do not despair, however, of the
day when the poor honest herd of man kind shall give universal utterance
to the universal instinct, and shall hold selfish power in politics, in
art, in religion, for the devil that it is; when neither its crazy pride
nor its amusing vanity shall be flattered by the puissance of the
"geniuses" who have forgotten their duty to the common weakness, and have
abused it to their own glory. In that day we shall shudder at many
monsters of passion, of self-indulgence, of heartlessness, whom we still
more or less openly adore for their "genius," and shall account no man
worshipful whom we do not feel and know to be good. The spectacle of
strenuous achievement will then not dazzle or mislead; it will not
sanctify or palliate iniquity; it will only render it the more hideous
and pitiable.

In fact, the whole belief in "genius" seems to me rather a mischievous
superstition, and if not mischievous always, still always a superstition.
From the account of those who talk about it, "genius" appears to be the
attribute of a sort of very potent and admirable prodigy which God has
created out of the common for the astonishment and confusion of the rest
of us poor human beings. But do they really believe it? Do they mean
anything more or less than the Mastery which comes to any man according
to his powers and diligence in any direction? If not, why not have an
end of the superstition which has caused our race to go on so long
writing and reading of the difference between talent and genius? It is
within the memory of middle-aged men that the Maelstrom existed in the
belief of the geographers, but we now get on perfectly well without it;
and why should we still suffer under the notion of "genius" which keeps
so many poor little authorlings trembling in question whether they have
it, or have only "talent"?

One of the greatest captains who ever lived [General U. S. Grant D.W.]
--a plain, taciturn, unaffected soul--has told the story of his wonderful
life as unconsciously as if it were all an every-day affair, not
different from other lives, except as a great exigency of the human race
gave it importance. So far as he knew, he had no natural aptitude for
arms, and certainly no love for the calling. But he went to West Point
because, as he quaintly tells us, his father "rather thought he would
go"; and he fought through one war with credit, but without glory. The
other war, which was to claim his powers and his science, found him
engaged in the most prosaic of peaceful occupations; he obeyed its call
because he loved his country, and not because he loved war. All the
world knows the rest, and all the world knows that greater military
mastery has not been shown than his campaigns illustrated. He does not
say this in his book, or hint it in any way; he gives you the facts, and
leaves them with you. But the Personal Memoirs of U. S. Grant, written
as simply and straightforwardly as his battles were fought, couched in
the most unpretentious phrase, with never a touch of grandiosity or
attitudinizing, familiar, homely in style, form a great piece of
literature, because great literature is nothing more nor less than the
clear expression of minds that have some thing great in them, whether
religion, or beauty, or deep experience. Probably Grant would have said
that he had no more vocation to literature than he had to war. He owns,
with something like contrition, that he used to read a great many novels;
but we think he would have denied the soft impeachment of literary power.
Nevertheless, he shows it, as he showed military power, unexpectedly,
almost miraculously. All the conditions here, then, are favorable to
supposing a case of "genius." Yet who would trifle with that great heir
of fame, that plain, grand, manly soul, by speaking of "genius" and him
together? Who calls Washington a genius? or Franklin, or Bismarck, or
Cavour, or Columbus, or Luther, or Darwin, or Lincoln? Were these men
second-rate in their way? Or is "genius" that indefinable, preternatural
quality, sacred to the musicians, the painters, the sculptors, the
actors, the poets, and above all, the poets? Or is it that the poets,
having most of the say in this world, abuse it to shameless
self-flattery, and would persuade the inarticulate classes that
they are on peculiar terms of confidence with the deity?


In General Grant's confession of novel-reading there is a sort of
inference that he had wasted his time, or else the guilty conscience of
the novelist in me imagines such an inference. But however this may be,
there is certainly no question concerning the intention of a
correspondent who once wrote to me after reading some rather bragging
claims I had made for fiction as a mental and moral means. "I have very
grave doubts," he said, "as to the whole list of magnificent things that
you seem to think novels have done for the race, and can witness in
myself many evil things which they have done for me. Whatever in my
mental make-up is wild and visionary, whatever is untrue, whatever is
injurious, I can trace to the perusal of some work of fiction. Worse
than that, they beget such high-strung and supersensitive ideas of life
that plain industry and plodding perseverance are despised, and matter-
of-fact poverty, or every-day, commonplace distress, meets with no
sympathy, if indeed noticed at all, by one who has wept over the
impossibly accumulated sufferings of some gaudy hero or heroine."

I am not sure that I had the controversy with this correspondent that he
seemed to suppose; but novels are now so fully accepted by every one
pretending to cultivated taste and they really form the whole
intellectual life of such immense numbers of people, without question of
their influence, good or bad, upon the mind that it is refreshing to have
them frankly denounced, and to be invited to revise one's ideas and
feelings in regard to them. A little honesty, or a great deal of
honesty, in this quest will do the novel, as we hope yet to have it, and
as we have already begun to have it, no harm; and for my own part I will
confess that I believe fiction in the past to have been largely
injurious, as I believe the stage-play to be still almost wholly
injurious, through its falsehood, its folly, its wantonness, and its
aimlessness. It may be safely assumed that most of the novel-reading
which people fancy an intellectual pastime is the emptiest dissipation,
hardly more related to thought or the wholesome exercise of the mental
faculties than opium-eating; in either case the brain is drugged, and
left weaker and crazier for the debauch. If this may be called the
negative result of the fiction habit, the positive injury that most
novels work is by no means so easily to be measured in the case of young
men whose character they help so much to form or deform, and the women of
all ages whom they keep so much in ignorance of the world they
misrepresent. Grown men have little harm from them, but in the other
cases, which are the vast majority, they hurt because they are not true
--not because they are malevolent, but because they are idle lies about
human nature and the social fabric, which it behooves us to know and to
understand, that we may deal justly with ourselves and with one another.
One need not go so far as our correspondent, and trace to the fiction
habit "whatever is wild and visionary, whatever is untrue, whatever is
injurious," in one's life; bad as the fiction habit is it is probably not
responsible for the whole sum of evil in its victims, and I believe that
if the reader will use care in choosing from this fungus-growth with
which the fields of literature teem every day, he may nourish himself as
with the true mushroom, at no risk from the poisonous species.

The tests are very plain and simple, and they are perfectly infallible.
If a novel flatters the passions, and exalts them above the principles,
it is poisonous; it may not kill, but it will certainly injure; and this
test will alone exclude an entire class of fiction, of which eminent
examples will occur to all. Then the whole spawn of so-called unmoral
romances, which imagine a world where the sins of sense are unvisited by
the penalties following, swift or slow, but inexorably sure, in the real
world, are deadly poison: these do kill. The novels that merely tickle
our prejudices and lull our judgment, or that coddle our sensibilities or
pamper our gross appetite for the marvellous, are not so fatal, but they
are innutritious, and clog the soul with unwholesome vapors of all kinds.
No doubt they too help to weaken the moral fibre, and make their readers
indifferent to "plodding perseverance and plain industry," and to
"matter-of-fact poverty and commonplace distress."

Without taking them too seriously, it still must be owned that the "gaudy
hero and heroine" are to blame for a great deal of harm in the world.
That heroine long taught by example, if not precept, that Love, or the
passion or fancy she mistook for it, was the chief interest of a life,
which is really concerned with a great many other things; that it was
lasting in the way she knew it; that it was worthy of every sacrifice,
and was altogether a finer thing than prudence, obedience, reason; that
love alone was glorious and beautiful, and these were mean and ugly in
comparison with it. More lately she has begun to idolize and illustrate
Duty, and she is hardly less mischievous in this new role, opposing duty,
as she did love, to prudence, obedience, and reason. The stock hero,
whom, if we met him, we could not fail to see was a most deplorable
person, has undoubtedly imposed himself upon the victims of the fiction
habit as admirable. With him, too, love was and is the great affair,
whether in its old romantic phase of chivalrous achievement or manifold
suffering for love's sake, or its more recent development of the
"virile," the bullying, and the brutal, or its still more recent agonies
of self-sacrifice, as idle and useless as the moral experiences of the
insane asylums. With his vain posturings and his ridiculous splendor he
is really a painted barbarian, the prey of his passions and his
delusions, full of obsolete ideals, and the motives and ethics of a
savage, which the guilty author of his being does his best--or his worst
--in spite of his own light and knowledge, to foist upon the reader as
something generous and noble. I am not merely bringing this charge
against that sort of fiction which is beneath literature and outside of
it, "the shoreless lakes of ditch-water," whose miasms fill the air below
the empyrean where the great ones sit; but I am accusing the work of some
of the most famous, who have, in this instance or in that, sinned against
the truth, which can alone exalt and purify men. I do not say that they
have constantly done so, or even commonly done so; but that they have
done so at all marks them as of the past, to be read with the due
historical allowance for their epoch and their conditions. For I believe
that, while inferior writers will and must continue to imitate them in
their foibles and their errors, no one here after will be able to achieve
greatness who is false to humanity, either in its facts or its duties.
The light of civilization has already broken even upon the novel, and no
conscientious man can now set about painting an image of life without
perpetual question of the verity of his work, and without feeling bound
to distinguish so clearly that no reader of his may be misled, between
what is right and what is wrong, what is noble and what is base, what is
health and what is perdition, in the actions and the characters he

The fiction that aims merely to entertain--the fiction that is to serious
fiction as the opera-bouffe, the ballet, and the pantomime are to the
true drama--need not feel the burden of this obligation so deeply; but
even such fiction will not be gay or trivial to any reader's hurt, and
criticism should hold it to account if it passes from painting to
teaching folly.

I confess that I do not care to judge any work of the imagination without
first of all applying this test to it. We must ask ourselves before we
ask anything else, Is it true?--true to the motives, the impulses, the
principles that shape the life of actual men and women? This truth,
which necessarily includes the highest morality and the highest artistry
--this truth given, the book cannot be wicked and cannot be weak; and
without it all graces of style and feats of invention and cunning of
construction are so many superfluities of naughtiness. It is well for
the truth to have all these, and shine in them, but for falsehood they
are merely meretricious, the bedizenment of the wanton; they atone for
nothing, they count for nothing. But in fact they come naturally of
truth, and grace it without solicitation; they are added unto it. In the
whole range of fiction I know of no true picture of life--that is, of
human nature--which is not also a masterpiece of literature, full of
divine and natural beauty. It may have no touch or tint of this special
civilization or of that; it had better have this local color well
ascertained; but the truth is deeper and finer than aspects, and if the
book is true to what men and women know of one another's souls it will be
true enough, and it will be great and beautiful. It is the conception of
literature as something apart from life, superfinely aloof, which makes
it really unimportant to the great mass of mankind, without a message or
a meaning for them; and it is the notion that a novel may be false in its
portrayal of causes and effects that makes literary art contemptible even
to those whom it amuses, that forbids them to regard the novelist as a
serious or right-minded person. If they do not in some moment of
indignation cry out against all novels, as my correspondent does, they
remain besotted in the fume of the delusions purveyed to them, with no
higher feeling for the author than such maudlin affection as the
frequenter of an opium-joint perhaps knows for the attendant who fills
his pipe with the drug.

Or, as in the case of another correspondent who writes that in his youth
he "read a great many novels, but always regarded it as an amusement,
like horse racing and card-playing," for which he had no time when he
entered upon the serious business of life, it renders them merely
contemptuous. His view of the matter may be commended to the brotherhood
and sisterhood of novelists as full of wholesome if bitter suggestion;
and I urge them not to dismiss it with high literary scorn as that of
some Boeotian dull to the beauty of art. Refuse it as we may, it is
still the feeling of the vast majority of people for whom life is
earnest, and who find only a distorted and misleading likeness of it in
our books. We may fold ourselves in our scholars' gowns, and close the
doors of our studies, and affect to despise this rude voice; but we
cannot shut it out. It comes to us from wherever men are at work, from
wherever they are truly living, and accuses us of unfaithfulness, of
triviality, of mere stage-play; and none of us can escape conviction
except he prove himself worthy of his time--a time in which the great
masters have brought literature back to life, and filled its ebbing veins
with the red tides of reality. We cannot all equal them; we need not
copy them; but we can all go to the sources of their inspiration and
their power; and to draw from these no one need go far--no one need
really go out of himself.

Fifty years ago, Carlyle, in whom the truth was always alive, but in whom
it was then unperverted by suffering, by celebrity, and by despair, wrote
in his study of Diderot: "Were it not reasonable to prophesy that this
exceeding great multitude of novel-writers and such like must, in a new
generation, gradually do one of two things: either retire into the
nurseries, and work for children, minors, and semi-fatuous persons of
both sexes, or else, what were far better, sweep their novel-fabric into
the dust-cart, and betake themselves with such faculty as they have to
understand and record what is true, of which surely there is, and will
forever be, a whole infinitude unknown to us of infinite importance to
us? Poetry, it will more and more come to be understood, is nothing but
higher knowledge; and the only genuine Romance (for grown persons),

If, after half a century, fiction still mainly works for "children,
minors, and semi-fatuous persons of both sexes," it is nevertheless one
of the hopefulest signs of the world's progress that it has begun to work
for "grown persons," and if not exactly in the way that Carlyle might
have solely intended in urging its writers to compile memoirs instead of
building the "novel-fabric," still it has, in the highest and widest
sense, already made Reality its Romance. I cannot judge it, I do not
even care for it, except as it has done this; and I can hardly conceive
of a literary self-respect in these days compatible with the old trade of
make-believe, with the production of the kind of fiction which is too
much honored by classification with card-playing and horse-racing. But
let fiction cease to lie about life; let it portray men and women as they
are, actuated by the motives and the passions in the measure we all know;
let it leave off painting dolls and working them by springs and wires;
let it show the different interests in their true proportions; let it
forbear to preach pride and revenge, folly and insanity, egotism and
prejudice, but frankly own these for what they are, in whatever figures
and occasions they appear; let it not put on fine literary airs; let it
speak the dialect, the language, that most Americans know--the language
of unaffected people everywhere--and there can be no doubt of an
unlimited future, not only of delightfulness but of usefulness, for it.


This is what I say in my severer moods, but at other times I know that,
of course, no one is going to hold all fiction to such strict account.
There is a great deal of it which may be very well left to amuse us, if
it can, when we are sick or when we are silly, and I am not inclined to
despise it in the performance of this office. Or, if people find
pleasure in having their blood curdled for the sake of having it
uncurdled again at the end of the book, I would not interfere with their
amusement, though I do not desire it.

There is a certain demand in primitive natures for the kind of fiction
that does this, and the author of it is usually very proud of it. The
kind of novels he likes, and likes to write, are intended to take his
reader's mind, or what that reader would probably call his mind, off
himself; they make one forget life and all its cares and duties; they are
not in the least like the novels which make you think of these, and shame
you into at least wishing to be a helpfuller and wholesomer creature than
you are. No sordid details of verity here, if you please; no wretched
being humbly and weakly struggling to do right and to be true, suffering
for his follies and his sins, tasting joy only through the mortification
of self, and in the help of others; nothing of all this, but a great,
whirling splendor of peril and achievement, a wild scene of heroic
adventure and of emotional ground and lofty tumbling, with a stage
"picture" at the fall of the curtain, and all the good characters in a
row, their left hands pressed upon their hearts, and kissing their right
hands to the audience, in the old way that has always charmed and always
will charm, Heaven bless it!

In a world which loves the spectacular drama and the practically
bloodless sports of the modern amphitheatre the author of this sort of
fiction has his place, and we must not seek to destroy him because he
fancies it the first place. In fact, it is a condition of his doing well
the kind of work he does that he should think it important, that he
should believe in himself; and I would not take away this faith of his,
even if I could. As I say, he has his place. The world often likes to
forget itself, and he brings on his heroes, his goblins, his feats, his
hair-breadth escapes, his imminent deadly breaches, and the poor,
foolish, childish old world renews the excitements of its nonage.
Perhaps this is a work of beneficence; and perhaps our brave conjurer in
his cabalistic robe is a philanthropist in disguise.

Within the last four or five years there has been throughout the whole
English-speaking world what Mr. Grant Allen happily calls the
"recrudescence" of taste in fiction. The effect is less noticeable in
America than in England, where effete Philistinism, conscious of the
dry-rot of its conventionality, is casting about for cure in anything
that is wild and strange and unlike itself. But the recrudescence has been
evident enough here, too; and a writer in one of our periodicals has put
into convenient shape some common errors concerning popularity as a test
of merit in a book. He seems to think, for instance, that the love of
the marvellous and impossible in fiction, which is shown not only by
"the unthinking multitude clamoring about the book counters" for fiction
of that sort, but by the "literary elect" also, is proof of some
principle in human nature which ought to be respected as well as
tolerated. He seems to believe that the ebullition of this passion forms
a sufficient answer to those who say that art should represent life, and
that the art which misrepresents life is feeble art and false art. But
it appears to me that a little carefuller reasoning from a little closer
inspection of the facts would not have brought him to these conclusions.
In the first place, I doubt very much whether the "literary elect" have
been fascinated in great numbers by the fiction in question; but if I
supposed them to have really fallen under that spell, I should still be
able to account for their fondness and that of the "unthinking multitude"
upon the same grounds, without honoring either very much. It is the
habit of hasty casuists to regard civilization as inclusive of all the
members of a civilized community; but this is a palpable error. Many
persons in every civilized community live in a state of more or less
evident savagery with respect to their habits, their morals, and their
propensities; and they are held in check only by the law. Many more yet
are savage in their tastes, as they show by the decoration of their
houses and persons, and by their choice of books and pictures; and these
are left to the restraints of public opinion. In fact, no man can be
said to be thoroughly civilized or always civilized; the most refined,
the most enlightened person has his moods, his moments of barbarism, in
which the best, or even the second best, shall not please him. At these
times the lettered and the unlettered are alike primitive and their
gratifications are of the same simple sort; the highly cultivated person
may then like melodrama, impossible fiction, and the trapeze as sincerely
and thoroughly as a boy of thirteen or a barbarian of any age.

I do not blame him for these moods; I find something instructive and
interesting in them; but if they lastingly established themselves in him,
I could not help deploring the state of that person. No one can really
think that the "literary elect," who are said to have joined the
"unthinking multitude" in clamoring about the book counters for the
romances of no-man's land, take the same kind of pleasure in them as they
do in a novel of Tolstoy, Tourguenief, George Eliot, Thackeray, Balzac,
Manzoni, Hawthorne, Mr. Henry James, Mr. Thomas Hardy, Senor Palacio
Valdes, or even Walter Scott. They have joined the "unthinking
multitude," perhaps because they are tired of thinking, and expect to
find relaxation in feeling--feeling crudely, grossly, merely. For once
in a way there is no great harm in this; perhaps no harm at all. It is
perfectly natural; let them have their innocent debauch. But let us
distinguish, for our own sake and guidance, between the different kinds
of things that please the same kind of people; between the things that
please them habitually and those that please them occasionally; between
the pleasures that edify them and those that amuse them. Otherwise we
shall be in danger of becoming permanently part of the "unthinking
multitude," and of remaining puerile, primitive, savage. We shall be so
in moods and at moments; but let us not fancy that those are high moods
or fortunate moments. If they are harmless, that is the most that can be
said for them. They are lapses from which we can perhaps go forward more
vigorously; but even this is not certain.

My own philosophy of the matter, however, would not bring me to
prohibition of such literary amusements as the writer quoted seems to
find significant of a growing indifference to truth and sanity in
fiction. Once more, I say, these amusements have their place, as the
circus has, and the burlesque and negro minstrelsy, and the ballet, and
prestidigitation. No one of these is to be despised in its place; but we
had better understand that it is not the highest place, and that it is
hardly an intellectual delight. The lapse of all the "literary elect"
in the world could not dignify unreality; and their present mood, if it
exists, is of no more weight against that beauty in literature which
comes from truth alone, and never can come from anything else, than the
permanent state of the "unthinking multitude."

Yet even as regards the "unthinking multitude," I believe I am not able
to take the attitude of the writer I have quoted. I am afraid that I
respect them more than he would like to have me, though I cannot always
respect their taste, any more than that of the "literary elect."
I respect them for their good sense in most practical matters; for their
laborious, honest lives; for their kindness, their good-will; for that
aspiration towards something better than themselves which seems to stir,
however dumbly, in every human breast not abandoned to literary pride or
other forms of self-righteousness. I find every man interesting, whether
he thinks or unthinks, whether he is savage or civilized; for this reason
I cannot thank the novelist who teaches us not to know but to unknow our
kind. Yet I should by no means hold him to such strict account as
Emerson, who felt the absence of the best motive, even in the greatest of
the masters, when he said of Shakespeare that, after all, he was only
master of the revels. The judgment is so severe, even with the praise
which precedes it, that one winces under it; and if one is still young,
with the world gay before him, and life full of joyous promise, one is
apt to ask, defiantly, Well, what is better than being such a master of
the revels as Shakespeare was? Let each judge for himself. To the heart
again of serious youth, uncontaminate and exigent of ideal good, it must
always be a grief that the great masters seem so often to have been
willing to amuse the leisure and vacancy of meaner men, and leave their
mission to the soul but partially fulfilled. This, perhaps, was what
Emerson had in mind; and if he had it in mind of Shakespeare, who gave
us, with his histories and comedies and problems, such a searching homily
as "Macbeth," one feels that he scarcely recognized the limitations of
the dramatist's art. Few consciences, at times, seem so enlightened as
that of this personally unknown person, so withdrawn into his work, and
so lost to the intensest curiosity of after-time; at other times he seems
merely Elizabethan in his coarseness, his courtliness, his imperfect


Of the finer kinds of romance, as distinguished from the novel, I would
even encourage the writing, though it is one of the hard conditions of
romance that its personages starting with a 'parti pris' can rarely be
characters with a living growth, but are apt to be types, limited to the
expression of one principle, simple, elemental, lacking the God-given
complexity of motive which we find in all the human beings we know.

Hawthorne, the great master of the romance, had the insight and the power
to create it anew as a kind in fiction; though I am not sure that 'The
Scarlet Letter' and the 'Blithedale Romance' are not, strictly speaking,
novels rather than romances. They, do not play with some old
superstition long outgrown, and they do not invent a new superstition to
play with, but deal with things vital in every one's pulse. I am not
saying that what may be called the fantastic romance--the romance that
descends from 'Frankenstein' rather than 'The Scarlet Letter'--ought not
to be. On the contrary, I should grieve to lose it, as I should grieve
to lose the pantomime or the comic opera, or many other graceful things
that amuse the passing hour, and help us to live agreeably in a world
where men actually sin, suffer, and die. But it belongs to the
decorative arts, and though it has a high place among them, it cannot be
ranked with the works of the imagination--the works that represent and
body forth human experience. Its ingenuity, can always afford a refined
pleasure, and it can often, at some risk to itself, convey a valuable

Perhaps the whole region of historical romance might be reopened with
advantage to readers and writers who cannot bear to be brought face to
face with human nature, but require the haze of distance or a far
perspective, in which all the disagreeable details shall be lost. There
is no good reason why these harmless people should not be amused, or
their little preferences indulged.

But here, again, I have my modest doubts, some recent instances are so
fatuous, as far as the portrayal of character goes, though I find them
admirably contrived in some respects. When I have owned the excellence
of the staging in every respect, and the conscience with which the
carpenter (as the theatrical folks say) has done his work, I am at the
end of my praises. The people affect me like persons of our generation
made up for the parts; well trained, well costumed, but actors, and
almost amateurs. They have the quality that makes the histrionics of
amateurs endurable; they are ladies and gentlemen; the worst, the
wickedest of them, is a lady or gentleman behind the scene.

Yet, no doubt it is well that there should be a reversion to the earlier
types of thinking and feeling, to earlier ways of looking at human
nature, and I will not altogether refuse the pleasure offered me by the
poetic romancer or the historical romancer because I find my pleasure
chiefly in Tolstoy and Valdes and Thomas Hardy and Tourguenief, and
Balzac at his best.


It used to be one of the disadvantages of the practice of romance in
America, which Hawthorne more or less whimsically lamented, that there
were so few shadows and inequalities in our broad level of prosperity;
and it is one of the reflections suggested by Dostoievsky's novel, 'The
Crime and the Punishment,' that whoever struck a note so profoundly
tragic in American fiction would do a false and mistaken thing--as false
and as mistaken in its way as dealing in American fiction with certain
nudities which the Latin peoples seem to find edifying. Whatever their
deserts, very few American novelists have been led out to be shot, or
finally exiled to the rigors of a winter at Duluth; and in a land where
journeymen carpenters and plumbers strike for four dollars a day the sum
of hunger and cold is comparatively small, and the wrong from class to
class has been almost inappreciable, though all this is changing for the
worse. Our novelists, therefore, concern themselves with the more
smiling aspects of life, which are the more American, and seek the
universal in the individual rather than the social interests. It is
worth while, even at the risk of being called commonplace, to be true to
our well-to-do actualities; the very passions themselves seem to be
softened and modified by conditions which formerly at least could not be
said to wrong any one, to cramp endeavor, or to cross lawful desire.
Sin and suffering and shame there must always be in the world, I suppose,
but I believe that in this new world of ours it is still mainly from one
to another one, and oftener still from one to one's self. We have death,
too, in America, and a great deal of disagreeable and painful disease,
which the multiplicity of our patent medicines does not seem to cure;
but this is tragedy that comes in the very nature of things, and is not
peculiarly American, as the large, cheerful average of health and success
and happy life is. It will not do to boast, but it is well to be true to
the facts, and to see that, apart from these purely mortal troubles,
the race here has enjoyed conditions in which most of the ills that have
darkened its annals might be averted by honest work and unselfish

Fine artists we have among us, and right-minded as far as they go; and we
must not forget this at evil moments when it seems as if all the women
had taken to writing hysterical improprieties, and some of the men were
trying to be at least as hysterical in despair of being as improper.
Other traits are much more characteristic of our life and our fiction.
In most American novels, vivid and graphic as the best of them are, the
people are segregated if not sequestered, and the scene is sparsely
populated. The effect may be in instinctive response to the vacancy of
our social life, and I shall not make haste to blame it. There are few
places, few occasions among us, in which a novelist can get a large
number of polite people together, or at least keep them together. Unless
he carries a snap-camera his picture of them has no probability; they
affect one like the figures perfunctorily associated in such deadly old
engravings as that of "Washington Irving and his Friends." Perhaps it is
for this reason that we excel in small pieces with three or four figures,
or in studies of rustic communities, where there is propinquity if not
society. Our grasp of more urbane life is feeble; most attempts to
assemble it in our pictures are failures, possibly because it is too
transitory, too intangible in its nature with us, to be truthfully
represented as really existent.

I am not sure that the Americans have not brought the short story nearer
perfection in the all-round sense that almost any other people, and for
reasons very simple and near at hand. It might be argued from the
national hurry and impatience that it was a literary form peculiarly
adapted to the American temperament, but I suspect that its extraordinary
development among us is owing much more to more tangible facts.
The success of American magazines, which is nothing less than prodigious,
is only commensurate with their excellence. Their sort of success is not
only from the courage to decide which ought to please, but from the
knowledge of what does please; and it is probable that, aside from the
pictures, it is the short stories which please the readers of our best
magazines. The serial novels they must have, of course; but rather more
of course they must have short stories, and by operation of the law of
supply and demand, the short stories, abundant in quantity and excellent
in quality, are forthcoming because they are wanted. By another
operation of the same law, which political economists have more recently
taken account of, the demand follows the supply, and short stories are
sought for because there is a proven ability to furnish them, and people
read them willingly because they are usually very good. The art of
writing them is now so disciplined and diffused with us that there is no
lack either for the magazines or for the newspaper "syndicates" which
deal in them almost to the exclusion of the serials.

An interesting fact in regard to the different varieties of the short
story among us is that the sketches and studies by the women seem
faithfuller and more realistic than those of the men, in proportion to
their number. Their tendency is more distinctly in that direction, and
there is a solidity, an honest observation, in the work of such women,
which often leaves little to be desired. I should, upon the whole,
be disposed to rank American short stories only below those of such
Russian writers as I have read, and I should praise rather than blame
their free use of our different local parlances, or "dialects," as people
call them. I like this because I hope that our inherited English may be
constantly freshened and revived from the native sources which our
literary decentralization will help to keep open, and I will own that as
I turn over novels coming from Philadelphia, from New Mexico, from
Boston, from Tennessee, from rural New England, from New York, every
local flavor of diction gives me courage and pleasure. Alphonse Daudet,
in a conversation with H. H. Boyesen said, speaking of Tourguenief,
"What a luxury it must be to have a great big untrodden barbaric language
to wade into! We poor fellows who work in the language of an old
civilization, we may sit and chisel our little verbal felicities, only to
find in the end that it is a borrowed jewel we are polishing. The crown-
jewels of our French tongue have passed through the hands of so many
generations of monarchs that it seems like presumption on the part of any
late-born pretender to attempt to wear them."

This grief is, of course, a little whimsical, yet it has a certain
measure of reason in it, and the same regret has been more seriously
expressed by the Italian poet Aleardi:

     "Muse of an aged people, in the eve
     Of fading civilization, I was born.
     . . . . . . Oh, fortunate,
     My sisters, who in the heroic dawn
     Of races sung! To them did destiny give
     The virgin fire and chaste ingenuousness
     Of their land's speech; and, reverenced, their hands
     Ran over potent strings."

It will never do to allow that we are at such a desperate pass in
English, but something of this divine despair we may feel too in thinking
of "the spacious times of great Elizabeth," when the poets were trying
the stops of the young language, and thrilling with the surprises of
their own music. We may comfort ourselves, however, unless we prefer a
luxury of grief, by remembering that no language is ever old on the lips
of those who speak it, no matter how decrepit it drops from the pen.
We have only to leave our studies, editorial and other, and go into the
shops and fields to find the "spacious times" again; and from the
beginning Realism, before she had put on her capital letter, had divined
this near-at-hand truth along with the rest. Lowell, almost the greatest
and finest realist who ever wrought in verse, showed us that Elizabeth
was still Queen where he heard Yankee farmers talk. One need not invite
slang into the company of its betters, though perhaps slang has been
dropping its "s" and becoming language ever since the world began, and is
certainly sometimes delightful and forcible beyond the reach of the
dictionary. I would not have any one go about for new words, but if one
of them came aptly, not to reject its help. For our novelists to try to
write Americanly, from any motive, would be a dismal error, but being
born Americans, I then use "Americanisms" whenever these serve their
turn; and when their characters speak, I should like to hear them speak
true American, with all the varying Tennesseean, Philadelphian,
Bostonian, and New York accents. If we bother ourselves to write what
the critics imagine to be "English," we shall be priggish and artificial,
and still more so if we make our Americans talk "English." There is also
this serious disadvantage about "English," that if we wrote the best
"English" in the world, probably the English themselves would not know
it, or, if they did, certainly would not own it. It has always been
supposed by grammarians and purists that a language can be kept as they
find it; but languages, while they live, are perpetually changing. God
apparently meant them for the common people; and the common people will
use them freely as they use other gifts of God. On their lips our
continental English will differ more and more from the insular English,
and I believe that this is not deplorable, but desirable.

In fine, I would have our American novelists be as American as they
unconsciously can. Matthew Arnold complained that he found no
"distinction" in our life, and I would gladly persuade all artists
intending greatness in any kind among us that the recognition of the fact
pointed out by Mr. Arnold ought to be a source of inspiration to them,
and not discouragement. We have been now some hundred years building up
a state on the affirmation of the essential equality of men in their
rights and duties, and whether we have been right or been wrong the gods
have taken us at our word, and have responded to us with a civilization
in which there is no "distinction" perceptible to the eye that loves and
values it. Such beauty and such grandeur as we have is common beauty,
common grandeur, or the beauty and grandeur in which the quality of
solidarity so prevails that neither distinguishes itself to the
disadvantage of anything else. It seems to me that these conditions
invite the artist to the study and the appreciation of the common, and to
the portrayal in every art of those finer and higher aspects which unite
rather than sever humanity, if he would thrive in our new order of
things. The talent that is robust enough to front the every-day world
and catch the charm of its work-worn, care-worn, brave, kindly face, need
not fear the encounter, though it seems terrible to the sort nurtured in
the superstition of the romantic, the bizarre, the heroic, the
distinguished, as the things alone worthy of painting or carving or
writing. The arts must become democratic, and then we shall have the
expression of America in art; and the reproach which Arnold was half
right in making us shall have no justice in it any longer; we shall be


In the mean time it has been said with a superficial justice that our
fiction is narrow; though in the same sense I suppose the present English
fiction is as narrow as our own; and most modern fiction is narrow in a
certain sense. In Italy the best men are writing novels as brief and
restricted in range as ours; in Spain the novels are intense and deep,
and not spacious; the French school, with the exception of Zola, is
narrow; the Norwegians are narrow; the Russians, except Tolstoy, are
narrow, and the next greatest after him, Tourguenief, is the narrowest
great novelist, as to mere dimensions, that ever lived, dealing nearly
always with small groups, isolated and analyzed in the most American
fashion. In fact, the charge of narrowness accuses the whole tendency of
modern fiction as much as the American school. But I do not by any means
allow that this narrowness is a defect, while denying that it is a
universal characteristic of our fiction; it is rather, for the present,
a virtue. Indeed, I should call the present American work, North and
South, thorough rather than narrow. In one sense it is as broad as life,
for each man is a microcosm, and the writer who is able to acquaint us
intimately with half a dozen people, or the conditions of a neighborhood
or a class, has done something which cannot in any, bad sense be called
narrow; his breadth is vertical instead of lateral, that is all; and this
depth is more desirable than horizontal expansion in a civilization like
ours, where the differences are not of classes, but of types, and not of
types either so much as of characters. A new method was necessary in
dealing with the new conditions, and the new method is worldwide, because
the whole world is more or less Americanized. Tolstoy is exceptionally
voluminous among modern writers, even Russian writers; and it might be
said that the forte of Tolstoy himself is not in his breadth sidewise,
but in his breadth upward and downward. 'The Death of Ivan Ilyitch'
leaves as vast an impression on the reader's soul as any episode of
'War and Peace,' which, indeed, can be recalled only in episodes, and not
as a whole. I think that our writers may be safely counselled to
continue their work in the modern way, because it is the best way yet
known. If they make it true, it will be large, no matter what its
superficies are; and it would be the greatest mistake to try to make it
big. A big book is necessarily a group of episodes more or less loosely
connected by a thread of narrative, and there seems no reason why this
thread must always be supplied. Each episode may be quite distinct, or
it may be one of a connected group; the final effect will be from the
truth of each episode, not from the size of the group.

The whole field of human experience as never so nearly covered by
imaginative literature in any age as in this; and American life
especially is getting represented with unexampled fulness. It is true
that no one writer, no one book, represents it, for that is not possible;
our social and political decentralization forbids this, and may forever
forbid it. But a great number of very good writers are instinctively
striving to make each part of the country and each phase of our
civilization known to all the other parts; and their work is not narrow
in any feeble or vicious sense. The world was once very little, and it
is now very large. Formerly, all science could be grasped by a single
mind; but now the man who hopes to become great or useful in science must
devote himself to a single department. It is so in everything--all arts,
all trades; and the novelist is not superior to the universal rule
against universality. He contributes his share to a thorough knowledge
of groups of the human race under conditions which are full of inspiring
novelty and interest. He works more fearlessly, frankly, and faithfully
than the novelist ever worked before; his work, or much of it, may be
destined never to be reprinted from the monthly magazines; but if he
turns to his book-shelf and regards the array of the British or other
classics, he knows that they, too, are for the most part dead; he knows
that the planet itself is destined to freeze up and drop into the sun at
last, with all its surviving literature upon it. The question is merely
one of time. He consoles himself, therefore, if he is wise, and works
on; and we may all take some comfort from the thought that most things
cannot be helped. Especially a movement in literature like that which
the world is now witnessing cannot be helped; and we could no more turn
back and be of the literary fashions of any age before this than we could
turn back and be of its social, economical, or political conditions.

If I were authorized to address any word directly to our novelists I
should say, Do not trouble yourselves about standards or ideals; but try
to be faithful and natural: remember that there is no greatness, no
beauty, which does not come from truth to your own knowledge of things;
and keep on working, even if your work is not long remembered.

At least three-fifths of the literature called classic, in all languages,
no more lives than the poems and stories that perish monthly in our
magazines. It is all printed and reprinted, generation after generation,
century after century; but it is not alive; it is as dead as the people
who wrote it and read it, and to whom it meant something, perhaps; with
whom it was a fashion, a caprice, a passing taste. A superstitious piety
preserves it, and pretends that it has aesthetic qualities which can
delight or edify; but nobody really enjoys it, except as a reflection of
the past moods and humors of the race, or a revelation of the author's
character; otherwise it is trash, and often very filthy trash, which the
present trash generally is not.


One of the great newspapers the other day invited the prominent American
authors to speak their minds upon a point in the theory and practice of
fiction which had already vexed some of them. It was the question of how
much or how little the American novel ought to deal with certain facts of
life which are not usually talked of before young people, and especially
young ladies. Of course the question was not decided, and I forget just
how far the balance inclined in favor of a larger freedom in the matter.
But it certainly inclined that way; one or two writers of the sex which
is somehow supposed to have purity in its keeping (as if purity were a
thing that did not practically concern the other sex, preoccupied with
serious affairs) gave it a rather vigorous tilt to that side. In view of
this fact it would not be the part of prudence to make an effort to dress
the balance; and indeed I do not know that I was going to make any such
effort. But there are some things to say, around and about the subject,
which I should like to have some one else say, and which I may myself
possibly be safe in suggesting.

One of the first of these is the fact, generally lost sight of by those
who censure the Anglo-Saxon novel for its prudishness, that it is really
not such a prude after all; and that if it is sometimes apparently
anxious to avoid those experiences of life not spoken of before young
people, this may be an appearance only. Sometimes a novel which has this
shuffling air, this effect of truckling to propriety, might defend
itself, if it could speak for itself, by saying that such experiences
happened not to come within its scheme, and that, so far from maiming or
mutilating itself in ignoring them, it was all the more faithfully
representative of the tone of modern life in dealing with love that was
chaste, and with passion so honest that it could be openly spoken of
before the tenderest society bud at dinner. It might say that the guilty
intrigue, the betrayal, the extreme flirtation even, was the exceptional
thing in life, and unless the scheme of the story necessarily involved
it, that it would be bad art to lug it in, and as bad taste as to
introduce such topics in a mixed company. It could say very justly that
the novel in our civilization now always addresses a mixed company, and
that the vast majority of the company are ladies, and that very many, if
not most, of these ladies are young girls. If the novel were written for
men and for married women alone, as in continental Europe, it might be
altogether different. But the simple fact is that it is not written for
them alone among us, and it is a question of writing, under cover of our
universal acceptance, things for young girls to read which you would be
put out-of-doors for saying to them, or of frankly giving notice of your
intention, and so cutting yourself off from the pleasure--and it is a
very high and sweet one of appealing to these vivid, responsive
intelligences, which are none the less brilliant and admirable because
they are innocent.

One day a novelist who liked, after the manner of other men, to repine at
his hard fate, complained to his friend, a critic, that he was tired of
the restriction he had put upon himself in this regard; for it is a
mistake, as can be readily shown, to suppose that others impose it. "See
how free those French fellows are!" he rebelled. "Shall we always be
shut up to our tradition of decency?"

"Do you think it's much worse than being shut up to their tradition of
indecency?" said his friend.

Then that novelist began to reflect, and he remembered how sick the
invariable motive of the French novel made him. He perceived finally
that, convention for convention, ours was not only more tolerable, but on
the whole was truer to life, not only to its complexion, but also to its
texture. No one will pretend that there is not vicious love beneath the
surface of our society; if he did, the fetid explosions of the divorce
trials would refute him; but if he pretended that it was in any just
sense characteristic of our society, he could be still more easily
refuted. Yet it exists, and it is unquestionably the material of
tragedy, the stuff from which intense effects are wrought. The question,
after owning this fact, is whether these intense effects are not rather
cheap effects. I incline to think they are, and I will try to say why I
think so, if I may do so without offence. The material itself, the mere
mention of it, has an instant fascination; it arrests, it detains, till
the last word is said, and while there is anything to be hinted. This is
what makes a love intrigue of some sort all but essential to the
popularity of any fiction. Without such an intrigue the intellectual
equipment of the author must be of the highest, and then he will succeed
only with the highest class of readers. But any author who will deal
with a guilty love intrigue holds all readers in his hand, the highest
with the lowest, as long as he hints the slightest hope of the smallest
potential naughtiness. He need not at all be a great author; he may be a
very shabby wretch, if he has but the courage or the trick of that sort
of thing. The critics will call him "virile" and "passionate"; decent
people will be ashamed to have been limed by him; but the low average
will only ask another chance of flocking into his net. If he happens to
be an able writer, his really fine and costly work will be unheeded, and
the lure to the appetite will be chiefly remembered. There may be other
qualities which make reputations for other men, but in his case they will
count for nothing. He pays this penalty for his success in that kind;
and every one pays some such penalty who deals with some such material.

But I do not mean to imply that his case covers the whole ground. So far
as it goes, though, it ought to stop the mouths of those who complain
that fiction is enslaved to propriety among us. It appears that of a
certain kind of impropriety it is free to give us all it will, and more.
But this is not what serious men and women writing fiction mean when they
rebel against the limitations of their art in our civilization. They
have no desire to deal with nakedness, as painters and sculptors freely
do in the worship of beauty; or with certain facts of life, as the stage
does, in the service of sensation. But they ask why, when the
conventions of the plastic and histrionic arts liberate their followers
to the portrayal of almost any phase of the physical or of the emotional
nature, an American novelist may not write a story on the lines of 'Anna
Karenina' or 'Madame Bovary.' They wish to touch one of the most serious
and sorrowful problems of life in the spirit of Tolstoy and Flaubert, and
they ask why they may not. At one time, they remind us, the Anglo-Saxon
novelist did deal with such problems--De Foe in his spirit, Richardson in
his, Goldsmith in his. At what moment did our fiction lose this
privilege? In what fatal hour did the Young Girl arise and seal the lips
of Fiction, with a touch of her finger, to some of the most vital
interests of life?

Whether I wished to oppose them in their aspiration for greater freedom,
or whether I wished to encourage them, I should begin to answer them by
saying that the Young Girl has never done anything of the kind. The
manners of the novel have been improving with those of its readers; that
is all. Gentlemen no longer swear or fall drunk under the table, or
abduct young ladies and shut them up in lonely country-houses, or so
habitually set about the ruin of their neighbors' wives, as they once
did. Generally, people now call a spade an agricultural implement; they
have not grown decent without having also grown a little squeamish, but
they have grown comparatively decent; there is no doubt about that. They
require of a novelist whom they respect unquestionable proof of his
seriousness, if he proposes to deal with certain phases of life; they
require a sort of scientific decorum. He can no longer expect to be
received on the ground of entertainment only; he assumes a higher
function, something like that of a physician or a priest, and they expect
him to be bound by laws as sacred as those of such professions; they hold
him solemnly pledged not to betray them or abuse their confidence. If he
will accept the conditions, they give him their confidence, and he may
then treat to his greater honor, and not at all to his disadvantage, of
such experiences, such relations of men and women as George Eliot treats
in 'Adam Bede,' in 'Daniel Deronda,' in 'Romola,' in almost all her
books; such as Hawthorne treats in 'The Scarlet Letter;' such as Dickens
treats in 'David Copperfield;' such as Thackeray treats in 'Pendennis,'
and glances at in every one of his fictions; such as most of the masters
of English fiction have at same time treated more or less openly. It is
quite false or quite mistaken to suppose that our novels have left
untouched these most important realities of life. They have only not
made them their stock in trade; they have kept a true perspective in
regard to them; they have relegated them in their pictures of life to the
space and place they occupy in life itself, as we know it in England and
America. They have kept a correct proportion, knowing perfectly well
that unless the novel is to be a map, with everything scrupulously laid
down in it, a faithful record of life in far the greater extent could be
made to the exclusion of guilty love and all its circumstances and

I justify them in this view not only because I hate what is cheap and
meretricious, and hold in peculiar loathing the cant of the critics who
require "passion" as something in itself admirable and desirable in a
novel, but because I prize fidelity in the historian of feeling and
character. Most of these critics who demand "passion" would seem to have
no conception of any passion but one. Yet there are several other
passions: the passion of grief, the passion of avarice, the passion of
pity, the passion of ambition, the passion of hate, the passion of envy,
the passion of devotion, the passion of friendship; and all these have a
greater part in the drama of life than the passion of love, and
infinitely greater than the passion of guilty love. Wittingly or
unwittingly, English fiction and American fiction have recognized this
truth, not fully, not in the measure it merits, but in greater degree
than most other fiction.


Who can deny that fiction would be incomparably stronger, incomparably
truer, if once it could tear off the habit which enslaves it to the
celebration chiefly of a single passion, in one phase or another, and
could frankly dedicate itself to the service of all the passions, all the
interests, all the facts? Every novelist who has thought about his art
knows that it would, and I think that upon reflection he must doubt
whether his sphere would be greatly enlarged if he were allowed to treat
freely the darker aspects of the favorite passion. But, as I have shown,
the privilege, the right to do this, is already perfectly recognized.
This is proved again by the fact that serious criticism recognizes as
master-works (I will not push the question of supremacy) the two great
novels which above all others have, moved the world by their study of
guilty love. If by any chance, if by some prodigious miracle, any
American should now arise to treat it on the level of 'Anna Karenina' and
'Madame Bovary,' he would be absolutely sure of success, and of fame and
gratitude as great as those books have won for their authors.

But what editor of what American magazine would print such a story?

Certainly I do not think any one would; and here our novelist must again
submit to conditions. If he wishes to publish such a story (supposing
him to have once written it), he must publish it as a book. A book is
something by itself, responsible for its character, which becomes quickly
known, and it does not necessarily penetrate to every member of the
household. The father or the mother may say to the child, "I would
rather you wouldn't read that book"; if the child cannot be trusted, the
book may be locked up. But with the magazine and its serial the affair
is different. Between the editor of a reputable English or American
magazine and the families which receive it there is a tacit agreement
that he will print nothing which a father may not read to his daughter,
or safely leave her to read herself.

After all, it is a matter of business; and the insurgent novelist should
consider the situation with coolness and common-sense. The editor did
not create the situation; but it exists, and he could not even attempt to
change it without many sorts of disaster. He respects it, therefore,
with the good faith of an honest man. Even when he is himself a
novelist, with ardor for his art and impatience of the limitations put
upon it, he interposes his veto, as Thackeray did in the case of Trollope
when a contributor approaches forbidden ground.

It does not avail to say that the daily papers teem with facts far fouler
and deadlier than any which fiction could imagine. That is true, but it
is true also that the sex which reads the most novels reads the fewest
newspapers; and, besides, the reporter does not command the novelist's
skill to fix impressions in a young girl's mind or to suggest conjecture.
The magazine is a little despotic, a little arbitrary; but unquestionably
its favor is essential to success, and its conditions are not such narrow
ones. You cannot deal with Tolstoy's and Flaubert's subjects in the
absolute artistic freedom of Tolstoy and Flaubert; since De Foe, that is
unknown among us; but if you deal with them in the manner of George
Eliot, of Thackeray, of Dickens, of society, you may deal with them even
in the magazines. There is no other restriction upon you. All the
horrors and miseries and tortures are open to you; your pages may drop
blood; sometimes it may happen that the editor will even exact such
strong material from you. But probably he will require nothing but the
observance of the convention in question; and if you do not yourself
prefer bloodshed he will leave you free to use all sweet and peaceable
means of interesting his readers.

It is no narrow field he throws open to you, with that little sign to
keep off the grass up at one point only. Its vastness is still almost
unexplored, and whole regions in it are unknown to the fictionist. Dig
anywhere, and do but dig deep enough, and you strike riches; or, if you
are of the mind to range, the gentler climes, the softer temperatures,
the serener skies, are all free to you, and are so little visited that
the chance of novelty is greater among them.


While the Americans have greatly excelled in the short story generally,
they have almost created a species of it in the Thanksgiving story.
We have transplanted the Christmas story from England, while the
Thanksgiving story is native to our air; but both are of Anglo-Saxon
growth. Their difference is from a difference of environment; and the
Christmas story when naturalized among us becomes almost identical in
motive, incident, and treatment with the Thanksgiving story. If I were
to generalize a distinction between them, I should say that the one dealt
more with marvels and the other more with morals; and yet the critic
should beware of speaking too confidently on this point. It is certain,
however, that the Christmas season is meteorologically more favorable to
the effective return of persons long supposed lost at sea, or from a
prodigal life, or from a darkened mind. The longer, darker, and colder
nights are better adapted to the apparition of ghosts, and to all manner
of signs and portents; while they seem to present a wider field for the
intervention of angels in behalf of orphans and outcasts. The dreams of
elderly sleepers at this time are apt to be such as will effect a lasting
change in them when they awake, turning them from the hard, cruel, and
grasping habits of a lifetime, and reconciling them to their sons,
daughters, and nephews, who have thwarted them in marriage; or softening
them to their meek, uncomplaining wives, whose hearts they have trampled
upon in their reckless pursuit of wealth; and generally disposing them to
a distribution of hampers among the sick and poor, and to a friendly
reception of gentlemen with charity subscription papers.

Ships readily drive upon rocks in the early twilight, and offer exciting
difficulties of salvage; and the heavy snows gather quickly round the
steps of wanderers who lie down to die in them, preparatory to their
discovery and rescue by immediate relatives. The midnight weather is
also very suitable for encounter with murderers and burglars; and the
contrast of its freezing gloom with the light and cheer in-doors promotes
the gayeties which merge, at all well-regulated country-houses, in love
and marriage. In the region of pure character no moment could be so
available for flinging off the mask of frivolity, or imbecility, or
savagery, which one has worn for ten or twenty long years, say, for the
purpose of foiling some villain, and surprising the reader, and helping
the author out with his plot. Persons abroad in the Alps, or Apennines,
or Pyrenees, or anywhere seeking shelter in the huts of shepherds or the
dens of smugglers, find no time like it for lying in a feigned slumber,
and listening to the whispered machinations of their suspicious looking
entertainers, and then suddenly starting up and fighting their way out;
or else springing from the real sleep into which they have sunk
exhausted, and finding it broad day and the good peasants whom they had
so unjustly doubted, waiting breakfast for them.

We need not point out the superior advantages of the Christmas season for
anything one has a mind to do with the French Revolution, of the Arctic
explorations, or the Indian Mutiny, or the horrors of Siberian exile;
there is no time so good for the use of this material; and ghosts on
shipboard are notoriously fond of Christmas Eve. In our own logging
camps the man who has gone into the woods for the winter, after
quarrelling with his wife, then hears her sad appealing voice, and is
moved to good resolutions as at no other period of the year; and in the
mining regions, first in California and later in Colorado, the hardened
reprobate, dying in his boots, smells his mother's doughnuts, and
breathes his last in a soliloquized vision of the old home, and the
little brother, or sister, or the old father coming to meet him from
heaven; while his rude companions listen round him, and dry their eyes on
the butts of their revolvers.

It has to be very grim, all that, to be truly effective; and here,
already, we have a touch in the Americanized Christmas story of the
moralistic quality of the American Thanksgiving story. This was seldom
written, at first, for the mere entertainment of the reader; it was meant
to entertain him, of course; but it was meant to edify him, too, and to
improve him; and some such intention is still present in it. I rather
think that it deals more probably with character to this end than its
English cousin, the Christmas story, does. It is not so improbable that
a man should leave off being a drunkard on Thanksgiving, as that he
should leave off being a curmudgeon on Christmas; that he should conquer
his appetite as that he should instantly change his nature, by good
resolutions. He would be very likely, indeed, to break his resolutions
in either case, but not so likely in the one as in the other.

Generically, the Thanksgiving story is cheerfuller in its drama and
simpler in its persons than the Christmas story. Rarely has it dealt
with the supernatural, either the apparition of ghosts or the
intervention of angels. The weather being so much milder at the close of
November than it is a month later, very little can be done with the
elements; though on the coast a northeasterly storm has been, and can be,
very usefully employed. The Thanksgiving story is more restricted in its
range; the scene is still mostly in New England, and the characters are
of New England extraction, who come home from the West usually, or New
York, for the event of the little drama, whatever it may be. It may be
the reconciliation of kinsfolk who have quarrelled; or the union of
lovers long estranged; or husbands and wives who have had hard words and
parted; or mothers who had thought their sons dead in California and find
themselves agreeably disappointed in their return; or fathers who for old
time's sake receive back their erring and conveniently dying daughters.
The notes are not many which this simple music sounds, but they have a
Sabbath tone, mostly, and win the listener to kindlier thoughts and
better moods. The art is at its highest in some strong sketch of Rose
Terry Cooke's, or some perfectly satisfying study of Miss Jewett's, or
some graphic situation of Miss Wilkins's; and then it is a very fine art.
But mostly it is poor and rude enough, and makes openly, shamelessly, for
the reader's emotions, as well as his morals. It is inclined to be
rather descriptive. The turkey, the pumpkin, the corn-field, figure
throughout; and the leafless woods are blue and cold against the evening
sky behind the low hip-roofed, old-fashioned homestead. The parlance is
usually the Yankee dialect and its Western modifications.

The Thanksgiving story is mostly confined in scene to the country; it
does not seem possible to do much with it in town; and it is a serious
question whether with its geographical and topical limitations it can
hold its own against the Christmas story; and whether it would not be
well for authors to consider a combination with its elder rival.

The two feasts are so near together in point of time that they could be
easily covered by the sentiment of even a brief narrative. Under the
agglutinated style of 'A Thanksgiving-Christmas Story,' fiction
appropriate to both could be produced, and both could be employed
naturally and probably in the transaction of its affairs and the
development of its characters. The plot for such a story could easily be
made to include a total-abstinence pledge and family reunion at
Thanksgiving, and an apparition and spiritual regeneration over a bowl of
punch at Christmas.


It would be interesting to know the far beginnings of holiday literature,
and I commend the quest to the scientific spirit which now specializes
research in every branch of history. In the mean time, without being too
confident of the facts, I venture to suggest that it came in with the
romantic movement about the beginning of this century, when mountains
ceased to be horrid and became picturesque; when ruins of all sorts, but
particularly abbeys and castles, became habitable to the most delicate
constitutions; when the despised Gothick of Addison dropped its "k," and
arose the chivalrous and religious Gothic of Scott; when ghosts were
redeemed from the contempt into which they had fallen, and resumed their
place in polite society; in fact, the politer the society; the welcomer
the ghosts, and whatever else was out of the common. In that day the
Annual flourished, and this artificial flower was probably the first
literary blossom on the Christmas Tree which has since borne so much
tinsel foliage and painted fruit. But the Annual was extremely Oriental;
it was much preoccupied with, Haidees and Gulnares and Zuleikas, with
Hindas and Nourmahals, owing to the distinction which Byron and Moore had
given such ladies; and when it began to concern itself with the
actualities of British beauty, the daughters of Albion, though inscribed
with the names of real countesses and duchesses, betrayed their descent
from the well-known Eastern odalisques. It was possibly through an
American that holiday literature became distinctively English in
material, and Washington Irving, with his New World love of the past, may
have given the impulse to the literary worship of Christmas which has
since so widely established itself. A festival revived in popular
interest by a New-Yorker to whom Dutch associations with New-year's had
endeared the German ideal of Christmas, and whom the robust gayeties of
the season in old-fashioned country-houses had charmed, would be one of
those roundabout results which destiny likes, and "would at least be
Early English."

If we cannot claim with all the patriotic confidence we should like to
feel that it was Irving who set Christmas in that light in which Dickens
saw its aesthetic capabilities, it is perhaps because all origins are
obscure. For anything that we positively know to the contrary, the
Druidic rites from which English Christmas borrowed the inviting
mistletoe, if not the decorative holly, may have been accompanied by the
recitations of holiday triads. But it is certain that several plays of
Shakespeare were produced, if not written, for the celebration of the
holidays, and that then the black tide of Puritanism which swept over
men's souls blotted out all such observance of Christmas with the
festival itself. It came in again, by a natural reaction, with the
returning Stuarts, and throughout the period of the Restoration it
enjoyed a perfunctory favor. There is mention of it; often enough in the
eighteenth-century essayists, in the Spectators and Idlers and Tatlers;
but the world about the middle of the last century laments the neglect
into which it had fallen. Irving seems to have been the first to observe
its surviving rites lovingly, and Dickens divined its immense advantage
as a literary occasion. He made it in some sort entirely his for a time,
and there can be no question but it was he who again endeared it to the
whole English-speaking world, and gave it a wider and deeper hold than it
had ever had before upon the fancies and affections of our race.

The might of that great talent no one can gainsay, though in the light of
the truer work which has since been done his literary principles seem
almost as grotesque as his theories of political economy. In no one
direction was his erring force more felt than in the creation of holiday
literature as we have known it for the last half-century. Creation, of
course, is the wrong word; it says too much; but in default of a better
word, it may stand. He did not make something out of nothing; the
material was there before him; the mood and even the need of his time
contributed immensely to his success, as the volition of the subject
helps on the mesmerist; but it is within bounds to say that he was the
chief agency in the development of holiday literature as we have known
it, as he was the chief agency in universalizing the great Christian
holiday as we now have it. Other agencies wrought with him and after
him; but it was he who rescued Christmas from Puritan distrust, and
humanized it and consecrated it to the hearts and homes of all.

Very rough magic, as it now seems, he used in working his miracle, but
there is no doubt about his working it. One opens his Christmas stories
in this later day--'The Carol, The Chimes, The Haunted Man, The Cricket
on the Hearth,' and all the rest--and with "a heart high-sorrowful and
cloyed," asks himself for the preternatural virtue that they once had.
The pathos appears false and strained; the humor largely horseplay; the
character theatrical; the joviality pumped; the psychology commonplace;
the sociology alone funny. It is a world of real clothes, earth, air,
water, and the rest; the people often speak the language of life, but
their motives are as disproportioned and improbable, and their passions
and purposes as overcharged, as those of the worst of Balzac's people.
Yet all these monstrosities, as they now appear, seem to have once had
symmetry and verity; they moved the most cultivated intelligences of the
time; they touched true hearts; they made everybody laugh and cry.

This was perhaps because the imagination, from having been fed mostly
upon gross unrealities, always responds readily to fantastic appeals.
There has been an amusing sort of awe of it, as if it were the channel of
inspired thought, and were somehow sacred. The most preposterous
inventions of its activity have been regarded in their time as the
greatest feats of the human mind, and in its receptive form it has been
nursed into an imbecility to which the truth is repugnant, and the fact
that the beautiful resides nowhere else is inconceivable. It has been
flattered out of all sufferance in its toyings with the mere elements of
character, and its attempts to present these in combinations foreign to
experience are still praised by the poorer sort of critics as
masterpieces of creative work.

In the day of Dickens's early Christmas stories it was thought admirable
for the author to take types of humanity which everybody knew, and to add
to them from his imagination till they were as strange as beasts and
birds talking. Now we begin to feel that human nature is quite enough,
and that the best an author can do is to show it as it is. But in those
stories of his Dickens said to his readers, Let us make believe so-and-
so; and the result was a joint juggle, a child's-play, in which the
wholesome allegiance to life was lost. Artistically, therefore, the
scheme was false, and artistically, therefore, it must perish. It did
not perish, however, before it had propagated itself in a whole school of
unrealities so ghastly that one can hardly recall without a shudder those
sentimentalities at secondhand to which holiday literature was abandoned
long after the original conjurer had wearied of his performance.

Under his own eye and of conscious purpose a circle of imitators grew up
in the fabrication of Christmas stories. They obviously formed
themselves upon his sobered ideals; they collaborated with him, and it
was often hard to know whether it was Dickens or Sala or Collins who was
writing. The Christmas book had by that time lost its direct application
to Christmas. It dealt with shipwrecks a good deal, and with perilous
adventures of all kinds, and with unmerited suffering, and with ghosts
and mysteries, because human nature, secure from storm and danger in a
well-lighted room before a cheerful fire, likes to have these things
imaged for it, and its long-puerilized fancy will bear an endless
repetition of them. The wizards who wrought their spells with them
contented themselves with the lasting efficacy of these simple means;
and the apprentice-wizards and journeyman-wizards who have succeeded them
practise the same arts at the old stand; but the ethical intention which
gave dignity to Dickens's Christmas stories of still earlier date has
almost wholly disappeared. It was a quality which could not be worked so
long as the phantoms and hair-breadth escapes. People always knew that
character is not changed by a dream in a series of tableaux; that a ghost
cannot do much towards reforming an inordinately selfish person; that a
life cannot be turned white, like a head of hair, in a single night, by
the most allegorical apparition; that want and sin and shame cannot be
cured by kettles singing on the hob; and gradually they ceased to make
believe that there was virtue in these devices and appliances. Yet the
ethical intention was not fruitless, crude as it now appears.

It was well once a year, if not oftener, to remind men by parable of the
old, simple truths; to teach them that forgiveness, and charity, and the
endeavor for life better and purer than each has lived, are the
principles upon which alone the world holds together and gets forward.
It was well for the comfortable and the refined to be put in mind of the
savagery and suffering all round them, and to be taught, as Dickens was
always teaching, that certain feelings which grace human nature, as
tenderness for the sick and helpless, self-sacrifice and generosity,
self-respect and manliness and womanliness, are the common heritage of
the race; the direct gift of Heaven, shared equally by the rich and poor.
It did not necessarily detract from the value of the lesson that, with
the imperfect art of the time, he made his paupers and porters not only
human, but superhuman, and too altogether virtuous; and it remained true
that home life may be lovely under the lowliest roof, although he liked
to paint it without a shadow on its beauty there. It is still a fact
that the sick are very often saintly, although he put no peevishness into
their patience with their ills. His ethical intention told for manhood
and fraternity and tolerance, and when this intention disappeared from
the better holiday literature, that literature was sensibly the poorer
for the loss.


But if the humanitarian impulse has mostly disappeared from Christmas
fiction, I think it has never so generally characterized all fiction.
One may refuse to recognize this impulse; one may deny that it is in any
greater degree shaping life than ever before, but no one who has the
current of literature under his eye can fail to note it there. People
are thinking and feeling generously, if not living justly, in our time;
it is a day of anxiety to be saved from the curse that is on selfishness,
of eager question how others shall be helped, of bold denial that the
conditions in which we would fain have rested are sacred or immutable.
Especially in America, where the race has gained a height never reached
before, the eminence enables more men than ever before to see how even
here vast masses of men are sunk in misery that must grow every day more
hopeless, or embroiled in a struggle for mere life that must end in
enslaving and imbruting them.

Art, indeed, is beginning to find out that if it does not make friends
with Need it must perish. It perceives that to take itself from the many
and leave them no joy in their work, and to give itself to the few whom
it can bring no joy in their idleness, is an error that kills. The men
and women who do the hard work of the world have learned that they have a
right to pleasure in their toil, and that when justice is done them they
will have it. In all ages poetry has affirmed something of this sort,
but it remained for ours to perceive it and express it somehow in every
form of literature. But this is only one phase of the devotion of the
best literature of our time to the service of humanity. No book written
with a low or cynical motive could succeed now, no matter how brilliantly
written; and the work done in the past to the glorification of mere
passion and power, to the deification of self, appears monstrous and
hideous. The romantic spirit worshipped genius, worshipped heroism, but
at its best, in such a man as Victor Hugo, this spirit recognized the
supreme claim of the lowest humanity. Its error was to idealize the
victims of society, to paint them impossibly virtuous and beautiful; but
truth, which has succeeded to the highest mission of romance, paints
these victims as they are, and bids the world consider them not because
they are beautiful and virtuous, but because they are ugly and vicious,
cruel, filthy, and only not altogether loathsome because the divine can
never wholly die out of the human. The truth does not find these victims
among the poor alone, among the hungry, the houseless, the ragged; but it
also finds them among the rich, cursed with the aimlessness, the satiety,
the despair of wealth, wasting their lives in a fool's paradise of shows
and semblances, with nothing real but the misery that comes of
insincerity and selfishness.

I do not think the fiction of our own time even always equal to this
work, or perhaps more than seldom so. But as I once expressed, to the
long-reverberating discontent of two continents, fiction is now a finer
art than it, has been hitherto, and more nearly meets the requirements of
the infallible standard. I have hopes of real usefulness in it, because
it is at last building on the only sure foundation; but I am by no means
certain that it will be the ultimate literary form, or will remain as
important as we believe it is destined to become. On the contrary, it is
quite imaginable that when the great mass of readers, now sunk in the
foolish joys of mere fable, shall be lifted to an interest in the meaning
of things through the faithful portrayal of life in fiction, then fiction
the most faithful may be superseded by a still more faithful form of
contemporaneous history. I willingly leave the precise character of this
form to the more robust imagination of readers whose minds have been
nurtured upon romantic novels, and who really have an imagination worth
speaking of, and confine myself, as usual, to the hither side of the
regions of conjecture.

The art which in the mean time disdains the office of teacher is one of
the last refuges of the aristocratic spirit which is disappearing from
politics and society, and is now seeking to shelter itself in aesthetics.
The pride of caste is becoming the pride of taste; but as before, it is
averse to the mass of men; it consents to know them only in some
conventionalized and artificial guise. It seeks to withdraw itself, to
stand aloof; to be distinguished, and not to be identified. Democracy in
literature is the reverse of all this. It wishes to know and to tell the
truth, confident that consolation and delight are there; it does not care
to paint the marvellous and impossible for the vulgar many, or to
sentimentalize and falsify the actual for the vulgar few. Men are more
like than unlike one another: let us make them know one another better,
that they may be all humbled and strengthened with a sense of their
fraternity. Neither arts, nor letters, nor sciences, except as they
somehow, clearly or obscurely, tend to make the race better and kinder,
are to be regarded as serious interests; they are all lower than the
rudest crafts that feed and house and clothe, for except they do this
office they are idle; and they cannot do this except from and through the


    Absence of distinction
    Aim at nothing higher than the amusement of your readers
    Ambitious to be of ugly modern patterns
    An artistic atmosphere does not create artists
    Anise-seed bag
    Any man's country could get on without him
    Any sort of work that is slighted becomes drudgery
    Artist has seasons, as trees, when he cannot blossom
    As soon as she has got a thing she wants, begins to hate it
    Begun to fight with want from their cradles
    Blasts of frigid wind swept the streets
    Book that they are content to know at second hand
    Business to take advantage of his necessity
    Clemens is said to have said of bicycling
    Competition has deformed human nature
    Conditions of hucksters imposed upon poets
    Could not, as the saying is, find a stone to throw at a dog
    Disbeliever in punishments of all sorts
    Do not want to know about such squalid lives
    Early self-helpfulness of children is very remarkable
    Encounter of old friends after the lapse of years
    Even a day's rest is more than most people can bear
    Eyes fixed steadfastly upon the future
    Face that expresses care, even to the point of anxiety
    Fate of a book is in the hands of the women
    For most people choice is a curse
    General worsening of things, familiar after middle life
    God of chance leads them into temptation and adversity
    Happy in the indifference which ignorance breeds in us
    Hard to think up anything new
    Heart of youth aching for their stoical sorrows
    Heighten our suffering by anticipation
    Here and there an impassioned maple confesses the autumn
    Historian, who is a kind of inferior realist
    Houses are of almost terrifying cleanliness
    I do not think any man ought to live by an art
    If he has not enjoyed writing no one will enjoy reading
    If one were poor, one ought to be deserving
    Impropriety if not indecency promises literary success
    Ladies make up the pomps which they (the men) forego
    Lascivious and immodest as possible
    Leading part cats may play in society
    Leaven, but not for so large a lump
    Literary spirit is the true world-citizen
    Literature beautiful only through the intelligence
    Literature has no objective value
    Literature is Business as well as Art
    Look of challenge, of interrogation, almost of reproof
    Malevolent agitators
    Man is strange to himself as long as he lives
    Mark Twain
    Meet here to the purpose of a common ostentation
    Men read the newspapers, but our women read the books
    More zeal than knowledge in it
    Most journalists would have been literary men if they could
    Neatness that brings despair
    Never quite sure of life unless I find literature in it
    No man ought to live by any art
    No rose blooms right along
    Noble uselessness
    Not lack of quality but quantity of the quality
    Openly depraved by shows of wealth
    Our deeply incorporated civilization
    Our huckstering civilization
    People have never had ideals, but only moods and fashions
    People might oftener trust themselves to Providence
    People of wealth and fashion always dissemble their joy
    Picturesqueness which we should prize if we saw it abroad
    Plagiarism carries inevitable detection with it
    Public whose taste is so crude that they cannot enjoy the best
    Pure accident and by its own contributory negligence
    Put aside all anxiety about style
    Refused to see us as we see ourselves
    Results of art should be free to all
    Reward is in the serial and not in the book--19th Century
    Rogues in every walk of life
    Should be very sorry to do good, as people called it
    Should sin a little more on the side of candid severity
    So many millionaires and so many tramps
    So touching that it brought the lump into my own throat
    Solution of the problem how and where to spend the summer
    Some of it's good, and most of it isn't
    Some of us may be toys and playthings without reproach
    Summer folks have no idea how pleasant it is when they are gone
    Superiority one likes to feel towards the rich and great
    Take our pleasures ungraciously
    The old and ugly are fastidious as to the looks of others
    Their consciences needed no bossing in the performance
    There is small love of pure literature
    They are so many and I am so few
    Those who decide their fate are always rebelling against it
    Those who work too much and those who rest too much
    Trouble with success is that it is apt to leave life behind
    Two branches of the novelist's trade: Novelist and Historian
    Unfailing American kindness
    Visitors of the more inquisitive sex
    Wald with the lurch and the sway of the deck in it
    Warner's Backlog Studies
    We cannot all be hard-working donkeys
    We who have neither youth nor beauty should always expect it
    Whatever choice you make, you are pretty sure to regret it
    Work not truly priced in money cannot be truly paid in money
    Work would be twice as good if it were done twice

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