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Title: Inquiries and Opinions
Author: Matthews, Brander, 1852-1929
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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  Copyright, 1907, by

  _Published September, 1907_




     I _Literature in the New Century_                     1

    II _The Supreme Leaders_                              27

   III _An Apology for Technic_                           49

    IV _Old Friends with New Faces_                       73

     V _Invention and Imagination_                        95

    VI _Poe and the Detective-story_                     111

   VII _Mark Twain_                                      137

  VIII _A Note on Maupassant_                            167

    IX _The Modern Novel and the Modern Play_            179

     X _The Literary Merit of our Latter-day Drama_      205

    XI _Ibsen the Playwright_                            227

   XII _The Art of the Stage-manager_                    281


[This paper was read on September 24th, 1904, in the section of
Belles-lettres of the International Congress of the Arts and Sciences,
held at St. Louis.]

There is no disguising the difficulty of any attempt to survey the whole
field of literature as it is disclosed before us now at the opening of a
new century; and there is no denying the danger of any effort to declare
the outlook in the actual present and the prospect in the immediate
future. How is it possible to project our vision, to foresee whither the
current is bearing us, to anticipate the rocks ahead and the shallows
whereon our bark may be beached?

But one reflection is as obvious as it is helpful. The problems of
literature are not often merely I literary; and, in so far as literature
is an honest attempt to express life,--as it always has been at the
moments of highest achievement,--the problems of literature must have an
intimate relation to the problems which confront us insistently in life.
If we turn from the disputations of the schools and look out on the
world, we may discover forces at work in society which are exerting also
a potent influence upon the future of literature.

Now that the century in which we were born and bred is receding swiftly
into the past, we can perceive in the perspective more clearly than ever
before its larger movements and its main endeavor. We are at last
beginning to be able to estimate the heritage it has left us, and to see
for ourselves what our portion is, what our possessions are, and what
our obligations. While it is for us to make the twentieth century, no
doubt, we need to remember that it was the nineteenth century which made
us; and we do not know ourselves if we fail to understand the years in
which we were molded to the work that lies before us. It is for us to
single out the salient characteristics of the nineteenth century. It is
for us to seize the significance of the striking advance in scientific
method, for example, and of the wide-spread acceptance of the scientific
attitude. It is for us, again, to recognize the meaning of that
extension of the democratic movement, which is the most obvious
characteristic of the past sixscore years. It is for us, once more, to
weigh the importance of the intensifying of national spirit and of the
sharpening of racial pride. And, finally, it is for us to take account
also of the growth of what must be called "cosmopolitanism," that
breaking down of the hostile barriers keeping one people apart from the
others, ignorant of them, and often contemptuous.

Here, then, are four legacies from the nineteenth century to the
twentieth:--first, the scientific spirit; second, the spread of
democracy; third, the assertion of nationality; and, fourth, that
stepping across the confines of language and race, for which we have no
more accurate name than "cosmopolitanism."


"The scientific spirit," so an acute American critic defined it recently
in an essay on Carlyle,--who was devoid of it and detested it,--"the
scientific spirit signifies poise between hypothesis and verification,
between statement and proof, between appearance and reality. It is
inspired by the impulse of investigation, tempered with distrust and
edged with curiosity. It is at once avid of certainty and skeptical of
seeming. It is enthusiastically patient, nobly literal, candid,
tolerant, hospitable." This is the statement of a man of letters, who
had found in science "a tonic force" stimulating to all the arts.

By the side of this, it may be well to set also the statement of a man
of science. In his address delivered in St. Louis in December, 1903, the
President of the American Association for the Advancement of
Science,--who is also the president of one of the foremost of American
universities,--declared that "the fundamental characteristic of the
scientific method is honesty.... The sole object is to learn the truth
and to be guided by the truth. Absolute accuracy, absolute fidelity,
absolute honesty are the prime conditions of scientific progress." And
then Dr. Remsen went on to make the significant assertion that "the
constant use of the scientific method must in the end leave its impress
upon him who uses it. A life spent in accord with scientific teaching
would be of a high order. It would practically conform to the teachings
of the highest type of religion."

This "use of the scientific method" is as remote as may be from that
barren adoption of scientific phrases and that sterile application of
scientific formulas, which may be dismissed as an aspect of "science
falsely so called." It is of deeper import also than any mere
utilization by art of the discoveries of science, however helpful this
may be. The painter has been aided by science to perceive more precisely
the effect of the vibrations of light and to analize more sharply the
successive stages of animal movement; and the poet also has found his
profit in the wider knowledge brought to us by later investigations.
Longfellow, for example, drew upon astronomy for the figure with which
he once made plain his moral:

  Were a star quenched on high,
    For ages would its light,
  Still travelling downward from the sky,
    Shine on our mortal sight.

  So, when a great man dies,
    For years beyond our ken
  The light he leaves behind him lies
    Upon the paths of men.

Wordsworth, a hundred years ago, warmly welcomed "the remotest
discoveries of the chemist, the botanist and mineralogist," as "proper
objects of the poet's art," declaring that "if the time should ever come
when what is now called 'science,' thus familiarized to men, shall be
ready to put on, as it were, a form of flesh and blood, the poet will
lend his divine spirit to aid the transfiguration, and will welcome the
being thus produced as a dear and genuine inmate of the household of

Again, the "use of the scientific method" is not equivalent to the
application in the arts of scientific theories, altho here once more the
man of letters is free to take these for his own and to bend them to his
purpose. Ibsen has found in the doctrine of heredity a modern analog of
the ancient Greek idea of fate; and altho he may not "see life steadily
and see it whole," he has been enabled to invest his somber 'Ghosts'
with not a little of the inerrable inevitability which we feel to be so
appalling in the master work of Sophocles. Criticism, no less than
creation, has been stimulated by scientific hypothesis; and for one
thing, the conception of literary history has been wholly transformed
since the theory of evolution was declared. To M. Brunetière we owe the
application of this doctrine to the development of the drama in his own
language. He has shown us most convincingly how the several literary
forms,--the lyric, the oration, the epic, with its illegitimate
descendant, the modern novel in prose,--may cross-fertilize each other
from time to time, and also how the casual hybrids that result are ever
struggling to revert each to its own species.

Science is thus seen to be stimulating to art; but the "use of the
scientific method" would seem to be more than stimulation only. It leads
the practitioners of the several arts to set up an ideal of
disinterestedness, inspired by a lofty curiosity, which shall scorn
nothing as insignificant, and which is ever eager after knowledge
ascertained for its own sake. As it abhors the abnormal and the
freakish, the superficial and the extravagant, it helps the creative
artist to strive for a more classic directness and simplicity; and it
guides the critic toward passionless proportion and moderation. Altho it
tends toward intellectual freedom, it forces us always to recognize the
reign of law. It establishes the strength of the social bond, and
thereby, for example, it aids us to see that, altho romance is ever
young and ever true, what is known as "neo-romanticism," with its
reckless assertion of individual whim, is anti-social, and therefore
probably immoral.

The "use of the scientific method" will surely strengthen the conscience
of the novelist and of the dramatist; and it will train them to a
sterner veracity in dealing with human character. It will inhibit that
pitiful tendency toward a falsification of the facts of life, which
asserts the reform of a character in the twinkling of an eye just before
the final fall of the curtain. It will lead to a renunciation of the
feeble and summary psychology which permits a man of indurated habits of
weakness or of wickedness to transform himself by a single and sudden
effort of will. And, on the other hand, it may tempt certain students of
life, subtler than their fellow-craftsmen and more inquisitive, to dwell
unduly on the mere machinery of human motive and to aim not at a rich
portrayal of the actions of men and women, but at an arid analysis of
the mechanism of their impulses. More than one novelist of the twentieth
century has already yielded to this tendency. No doubt, this is only the
negative defect accompanying a positive quality,--yet it indicates an
imperfect appreciation of the artist's duty. "In every art," so Taine
reminded us, "it is necessary to linger long over the true in order to
attain the beautiful. The eye, fixing itself on an object, begins by
noting details with an excess of precision and fulness; it is only
later, when the inventory is complete, that the mind, master of its
wealth, rises higher, in order to take or to neglect what suits it."

The attitude of the literary critic will be modified by the constant use
of the scientific method, quite as much as the attitude of the literary
creator. He will seek to relate a work of art, whether it is an epic or
a tragedy, a novel or a play, to its environment, weighing all the
circumstances of its creation. He will strive to estimate it as it is,
of course, but also as a contribution to the evolution of its species
made by a given people at a given period. He will endeavor to keep
himself free from lip-service and from ancestor-worship, holding himself
derelict to his duty if he should fail to admit frankly that in every
masterpiece of the past, however transcendent its merits, there must
needs be much that is temporary admixt with more that is
permanent,--many things which pleased its author's countrymen in his own
time and which do not appeal to us, even tho we can perceive also what
is eternal and universal, even tho we read into every masterpiece much
that the author's contemporaries had not our eyes to perceive. All the
works of Shakspere and of Molière are not of equal value,--and even the
finest of them is not impeccable; and a literary critic who has a
scientific sincerity will not gloss over the minor defects, whatever his
desire to concentrate attention on the nobler qualities by which
Shakspere and Molière achieved their mighty fame. Indeed, the scientific
spirit will make it plain that an unwavering admiration for all the
works of a great writer, unequal as these must be of necessity, is proof
in itself of an obvious inability to perceive wherein lies his real

Whatever the service the scientific spirit is likely to render in the
future, we need to be on our guard against the obsession of science
itself. There is danger that an exclusive devotion to science may starve
out all interest in the arts, to the impoverishment of the soul. Already
there are examples of men who hold science to be all-sufficient and who
insist that it has superseded art. Already is it necessary to recall
Lowell's setting off of "art, whose concern is with the ideal and the
potential, from science which is limited by the actual and the
positive." Science bids us go so far and no farther, despite the fact
that man longs to peer beyond the confines. Vistas closed to science are
opened for us by art; and science fails us if we ask too much; for it
can provide no satisfactory explanation of the enigmas of existence.
Above all, it tempts us to a hard and fast acceptance of its own
formulas, an acceptance as deadening to progress as it is false to the
scientific spirit itself. "History warns us," so Huxley declared, "that
it is the customary fate of new truths to begin as heresies, and to end
as superstitions."


The growth of the scientific spirit is not more evident in the
nineteenth century than the spread of the democratic movement. Democracy
in its inner essence means not only the slow broadening down of
government until it rests upon the assured foundation of the people as a
whole, it signifies also the final disappearance of the feudal
organization, of the system of caste, of the privileges which are not
founded on justice, of the belief in any superiority conferred by the
accident of birth. It starts with the assertion of the equality of all
men before the law; and it ends with the right of every man to do his
own thinking. Accepting the dignity of human nature, the democratic
spirit, in its finer manifestations, is free from intolerance and rich
in sympathy, rejoicing to learn how the other half lives. It is
increasingly interested in human personality, in spite of the fact that
humanity no longer bulks as big in the universe as it did before
scientific discovery shattered the ancient assumption that the world had
been made for man alone.

Perhaps, indeed, it is the perception of our own insignificance which is
making us cling together more closely and seek to understand each other
at least, even if we must ever fail to grasp the full import of the
cosmic scheme. Whatever the reason, there is no gainsaying the growth of
fellow-feeling and of a curiosity founded on friendly interest,--both of
which are revealed far more abundantly in our later literatures than in
the earlier classics. In the austere masterpieces of the Greek drama,
for example, we may discover a lack of this warmth of sympathy; and we
can not but suspect a certain aloofness, which is akin to callousness.
The cultivated citizens of Athens were supported by slave-labor; but
their great dramatic poets cast little light on the life of the slaves
or on the sad conditions of their servitude. Something of this narrow
chilliness is to be detected also in the literature of the court of
Louis XIV; Corneille and Racine prefer to ignore not only the peasant
but also the burgher; and it is partly because Molière's outlook on life
is broader that the master of comedy appears to us now so much greater
than his tragic contemporaries. Even of late the Latin races have seemed
perhaps a little less susceptible to this appeal than the Teutonic or
the Slavonic, and the impassive contempt of Flaubert and of Maupassant
toward the creatures of their imaginative observation is more
characteristic of the French attitude than the genial compassion of
Daudet. In Hawthorne and in George Eliot there is no aristocratic
remoteness; and Turgenieff and Tolstoi are innocent of haughty
condescension. Everywhere now in the new century can we perceive the
working of the democratic spirit, making literature more clear-sighted,
more tolerant, more pitying.

In his uplifting discussion of democracy, Lowell sought to encourage the
timid souls who dreaded the danger that it might "reduce all mankind to
a dead level of mediocrity" and that it might "lessen the respect due to
eminence whether in station, virtue, or genius;" and he explained that,
in fact, democracy meant a career open to talent, an opportunity equal
to all, and therefore in reality a larger likelihood that genius would
be set free. Here in America we have discovered by more than a century
of experience that democracy levels up and not down; and that it is not
jealous of a commanding personality even in public life, revealing a
swift shrewdness of its own in gaging character, and showing both
respect and regard for the independent leaders strong enough to
withstand what may seem at the moment to be the popular will.

Nor is democracy hostile to original genius, or slow to recognize it.
The people as a whole may throw careless and liberal rewards to the
jesters and to the sycophants who are seeking its favor, as their
forerunners sought to gain the ear of the monarch of old, but the
authors of substantial popularity are never those who abase themselves
or who scheme to cajole. At the beginning of the twentieth century there
were only two writers whose new books appeared simultaneously in half a
dozen different tongues; and what man has ever been so foolish as to
call Ibsen and Tolstoi flatterers of humanity? The sturdy independence
of these masters, their sincerity, their obstinate reiteration each of
his own message,--these are main reasons for the esteem in which they
are held. And in our own language, the two writers of widest renown are
Mark Twain and Rudyard Kipling, known wherever English is spoken, in
every remote corner of the seven seas, one an American of the Americans
and the other the spokesman of the British Empire. They are not only
conscientious craftsmen, each in his own way, but moralists also and
even preachers; and they go forward in the path they have marked out,
each for himself, with no swervings aside to curry favor or to avoid

The fear has been exprest freely that the position of literature is made
more precarious by the recent immense increase in the reading public,
deficient in standards of taste and anxious to be amused. It is in the
hope of hitting the fancy of this motley body that there is now a
tumultuous multiplication of books of every degree of merit; and amid
all this din there must be redoubled difficulty of choice. Yet the
selection gets itself made somehow, and not unsatisfactorily. Unworthy
books may have vogue for a while, and even adulation; but their fame is
fleeting. The books which the last generation transmitted to us were,
after all, the books best worth our consideration; and we may be
confident that the books we shall pass along to the next generation will
be as wisely selected. Out of the wasteful overproduction only those
works emerge which have in them something that the world will not
willingly let die.

Those books that survive are always chosen from out the books that have
been popular, and never from those that failed to catch the ear of their
contemporaries. The poet who scorns the men of his own time and who
retires into an ivory tower to inlay rimes for the sole enjoyment of his
fellow mandarins, the poet who writes for posterity, will wait in vain
for his audience. Never has posterity reversed the unfavorable verdict
of an artist's own century. As Cicero said--and Cicero was both an
aristocrat and an artist in letters,--"given time and opportunity, the
recognition of the many is as necessary a test of excellence in an
artist as that of the few." Verse, however exquisite, is almost
valueless if its appeal is merely technical or merely academic, if it
pleases only the sophisticated palate of the dilettant, if it fails to
touch the heart of the plain people. That which vauntingly styles itself
the _écriture artiste_ must reap its reward promptly in praise from the
_précieuses ridicules_ of the hour. It may please those who pretend to
culture without possessing even education; but this aristocratic
affectation has no roots and it is doomed to wither swiftly, as one fad
is ever fading away before another, as Asianism, euphuism, and Gongorism
have withered in the past.

Fictitious reputations may be inflated for a little space; but all the
while the public is slowly making up its mind; and the judgment of the
main body is as trustworthy as it is enduring. 'Robinson Crusoe' and
'Pilgrim's Progress' hold their own generation after generation, altho
the cultivated class did not discover their merits until long after the
plain people had taken them to heart. Cervantes and Shakspere were
widely popular from the start; and appreciative criticism limped lamely
after the approval of the mob. Whatever blunders in belauding, the plain
people may make now and again, in time they come unfailingly to a hearty
appreciation of work that is honest, genuine, and broad in its appeal;
and when once they have laid hold of the real thing they hold fast with
abiding loyalty.


As significant as the spread of democracy in the nineteenth century is
the success with which the abstract idea of nationality has exprest
itself in concrete form. Within less than twoscore years Italy has
ceased to be only a geographical expression; and Germany has given
itself boundaries more sharply defined than those claimed for the
fatherland by the martial lyric of a century ago. Hungary has asserted
itself against the Austrians, and Norway against the Swedes; and each by
the stiffening of racial pride has insisted on the recognition of its
national integrity. This is but the accomplishment of an ideal toward
which the western world has been tending since it emerged from the Dark
Ages into the Renascence and since it began to suspect that the Holy
Roman Empire was only the empty shadow of a disestablished realm. In the
long centuries the heptarchy in England had been followed by a monarchy
with London for its capital; and in like manner the seven kingdoms of
Spain had been united under monarchs who dwelt in Madrid. Normandy and
Gascony, Burgundy and Provence had been incorporated finally with the
France of which the chief city was Paris.

Latin had been the tongue of every man who was entitled to claim benefit
of clergy; but slowly the modern languages compacted themselves out of
the warring dialects when race after race came to a consciousness of its
unity and when the speech of a capital was set up at last as the
standard to which all were expected to conform. In Latin Dante discust
the vulgar tongue, tho he wrote the 'Divine Comedy' in his provincial
Tuscan; yet Petrarch, who came after, was afraid that his poems in
Italian were, by that fact, fated to be transitory. Chaucer made choice
of the dialect of London, performing for it the service Dante had
rendered to the speech of the Florentines; yet Bacon and Newton went
back to Latin as the language still common to men of science. Milton
practised his pen in Latin verse, but never hesitated to compose his
epic in English. Latin served Descartes and Spinoza, men of science
again; and it was not until the nineteenth century that the invading
vernaculars finally ousted the language of the learned which had once
been in universal use. And even now Latin is retained by the church
which still styles itself Catholic.

It was as fortunate as it was necessary that the single language of the
learned should give way before the vulgar tongues, the speech of the
people, each in its own region best fitted to phrase the feelings and
the aspirations of races dissimilar in their characteristics and in
their ideals. No one tongue could voice the opposite desires of the
northern peoples and of the southern; and we see the several modern
languages revealing by their structure as well as by their vocabularies
the essential qualities of the races that fashioned them, each for its
own use. Indeed, these racial characteristics are so distinct and so
evident to us now that we fancy we can detect them even tho they are
disguised in the language of Rome; and we find significance in the fact
that Seneca, the grandiloquent rhetorician, was by birth a Spaniard, and
that Petronius, the robust realist, was probably born in what is now

The segregation of nationality has been accompanied by an increasing
interest in the several states out of which the nation has made itself,
and sometimes even by an effort to raise the dialects of these provinces
up to the literary standard of the national language. In this there is
no disloyalty to the national ideal,--rather is it to be taken as a
tribute to the nation, since it seeks to call attention again to the
several strands twined in the single bond. In literature this tendency
is reflected in a wider liking for local color and in an intenser relish
for the flavor of the soil. We find Verga painting the violent passions
of the Sicilians, and Reuter depicting the calmer joys of the
Platt-Deutsch. We see Maupassant etching the canny and cautious Normans,
while Daudet brushed in broadly the expansive exuberance of the
Provençals. We delight alike in the Wessex-folk of Mr. Hardy and in the
humorous Scots of Mr. Barrie. We extend an equal welcome to the patient
figures of New England spinsterhood as drawn by Miss Jewett and Miss
Wilkins, and to the virile Westerners set boldly on their feet by Mr.
Wister and Mr. Garland.

What we wish to have explored for us are not only the nooks and corners
of our own nation; those of other races appeal also to our sympathetic
curiosity. These inquiries help us to understand the larger peoples, of
whom the smaller communities are constituent elements. They serve to
sharpen our insight into the differences which divide one race from
another; and the contrast of Daudet and Maupassant on the one hand with
Mark Twain and Kipling on the other brings out the width of the gap that
yawns between the Latins (with their solidarity of the family and their
reliance on the social instinct) and the Teutons (with their energetic
independence and their aggressive individuality). With increase of
knowledge there is less likelihood of mutual misunderstandings; and here
literature performs a most useful service to the cause of civilization.
As Tennyson once said: "It is the authors, more than the diplomats, who
make nations love one another." Fortunately, no high tariff can keep out
the masterpieces of foreign literature which freely cross the frontier,
bearing messages of good-will and broadening our understanding of our


The deeper interest in the expression of national qualities and in the
representation of provincial peculiarities is to-day accompanied by an
increasing cosmopolitanism which seems to be casting down the barriers
of race and of language. More than fourscore years ago, Goethe said that
even then national literature was "rather an unmeaning term" as "the
epoch of world-literature was at hand." With all his wisdom Goethe
failed to perceive that cosmopolitanism is a sorry thing when it is not
the final expression of patriotism. An artist without a country and with
no roots in the soil of his nativity is not likely to bring forth flower
and fruit. As an American critic aptly put it, "a true cosmopolitan is
at home,--even in his own country." A Russian novelist set forth the
same thought; and it was the wisest character in Turgenieff's 'Dimitri
Roudine' who asserted that the great misfortune of the hero was his
ignorance of his native land:--"Russia can get along without any of us,
but we cannot do without Russia. Wo betide him who does not understand
her, and still more him who really forgets the manners and the ideas of
his fatherland! Cosmopolitanism is an absurdity and a zero,--less than a
zero; outside of nationality, there is no art, no truth, no life

Perhaps it may be feasible to attempt a reconciliation of Turgenieff and
Goethe, by pointing out that the cosmopolitanism of this growing century
is revealed mainly in a similarity of the external forms of literature,
while it is the national spirit which supplies the essential inspiration
that gives life. For example, it is a fact that the 'Demi-monde' of
Dumas, the 'Pillars of Society' of Ibsen, the 'Magda' of Sudermann, the
'Grand Galeoto' of Echegaray, the 'Second Mrs. Tanqueray' of Pinero, the
'Gioconda' of d'Annunzio are all of them cast in the same dramatic mold;
but it is also a fact that the metal of which each is made was smelted
in the native land of its author. Similar as they are in structure, in
their artistic formula, they are radically dissimilar in their essence,
in the motives that move the characters and in their outlook on life;
and this dissimilarity is due not alone to the individuality of the
several authors,--it is to be credited chiefly to the nationality of

Of course, international borrowings have always been profitable to the
arts,--not merely the taking over of raw material, but the more
stimulating absorption of methods and processes and even of artistic
ideals. The Sicilian Gorgias had for a pupil the Attic Isocrates; and
the style of the Athenian was imitated by the Roman Cicero, thus helping
to sustain the standard of oratory in every modern language. The 'Matron
of Ephesus' of Petronius was the great-grandmother of the 'Yvette' of
Maupassant; and the dialogs of Herondas and of Theocritus serve as
models for many a vignette of modern life. The 'Golden Ass' went before
'Gil Blas' and made a path for him; and 'Gil Blas' pointed the way for
'Huckleberry Finn.' It is easy to detect the influence of Richardson on
Rousseau, of Rousseau on George Sand, of George Sand on Turgenieff, of
Turgenieff on Mr. Henry James, of Mr. James on M. Paul Bourget, of M.
Bourget on Signor d'Annunzio; and yet there is no denying that
Richardson is radically English, that Turgenieff is thoroly Russian, and
that d'Annunzio is unquestionably Italian.

In like manner we may recognize the striking similarity--but only in so
far as the external form is concerned--discoverable in those
short-stories which are as abundant as they are important in every
modern literature; and yet much of our delight in these brief studies
from life is due to the pungency of their local flavor, whether they
were written by Kjelland or by Sacher-Masoch, by Auerbach or by Daudet,
by Barrie or by Bret Harte. "All can grow the flower now, for all have
got the seed"; but the blossoms are rich with the strength of the soil
in which each of them is rooted.

This racial individuality is our immediate hope; it is our safeguard
against mere craftsmanship, against dilettant dexterity, against
cleverness for its own sake, against the danger that our cosmopolitanism
may degenerate into Alexandrianism and that our century may come to be
like the age of the Antonines, when a "cloud of critics, of compilers,
of commentators darkened the face of learning," so Gibbon tells us, and
"the decline of genius was soon followed by the corruption of taste." It
is the spirit of nationality which will help to supply needful idealism.
It will allow a man of letters to frequent the past without becoming
archaic and to travel abroad without becoming exotic, because it will
supply him always with a good reason for remaining a citizen of his own



In the fading annals of French Romanticism it is recorded that at the
first performance of an early play of the elder Dumas at the Odéon, a
band of enthusiasts, as misguided as they were youthful, were so
completely carried away that they formed a ring and danced in derision
around a bust of Racine which adorned that theater, declaring
boisterously that the elder dramatist was disgraced and disestablished:
_'Enfoncé Racine!'_

This puerile exploit took place not fourscore years ago, and already has
this play of Dumas disappeared beneath the wave of oblivion, its very
name being recalled only by special students of the history of the
French stage, while the Comédie-Française continues, year in and year
out, to act the best of Racine's tragedies, now nearly two centuries and
a half since they were first performed.

Again, in the records of the British theater of the eighteenth century,
we find mention of a countryman of John Home, who attended the first
performance of the reverend author's 'Douglas.' The play so worked upon
the feelings of this perfervid Scot that he was forced to cry out
triumphantly: "Whaur's your Wully Shakspere noo?"

And yet this Scottish masterpiece failed to establish itself finally on
the stage; and it has long since past out of men's memories, leaving
behind it only a quotation or two and a speech for boys to spout. So in
every age the disinterested observer can take note of the rise and fall
of some unlucky author or artist, painter or poet, widely and loudly
proclaimed as a genius, only to be soon forgotten, often in his own
generation. He may have soared aloft for a brief moment with starry
scintillations, like a rocket, only at last to come down like the stick,
empty and unnoticed.

The echoes of the old battle of the Ancients and Moderns have not died
away, even yet; and there is never a time when some ardent disciple is
not insisting that his immediate master must be admitted as one of the
immortals, and when some shrill youth is not ready to make room for the
new-comer by ousting any number of the consecrated chiefs of art. Now
and again, of course, the claim is allowed; the late arrival is made
welcome in the Pantheon; and there is a new planet on high. But most of
those who are urged for this celestial promotion prove to be mere
shooting-stars at best, vanishing into space before there is opportunity
to examine their spectrum and to compare it with that of the older orbs
which have made the sky glorious thru the long centuries.

It is only by comparison with these fixt stars that we can measure the
light of any new luminary which aspires to their lofty elevation. It is
only by keeping our gaze full upon them that we may hope to come to an
understanding of their immeasurable preëminence. Taine has told us that
"there are four men in the world of art and of literature exalted above
all others, and to such a degree as to seem to belong to another
race--namely, Dante, Shakspere, Beethoven, and Michelangelo. No profound
knowledge, no full possession of all the resources of art, no fertility
of imagination, no originality of intellect, sufficed to secure them
this position, for these they all had. These, moreover, are of secondary
importance; that which elevated them to this rank is their soul."

Here we have four great lights for us to steer by when we are
storm-driven on the changing sea of contemporary opinion and
contemporary prejudice; and by their aid we may hope to win safety in a
harbor of refuge.

Perhaps it is a praiseworthy striving for a permanent standard of value
which accounts for the many attempts to draw up lists of the Hundred
Best Books and of the Hundred Best Pictures. It may be admitted at once
that these lists, however inadequate they must be, and however
unsatisfactory in themselves, may have a humble utility of their own as
a first aid to the ignorant. At least, they may serve to remind a man
lost in a maze amid the clatter and the clutter of our own time, that
after all this century of ours is the heir of the ages, and that it is
for us to profit by the best that the past has bequeathed to us. Even
the most expertly selected list could do little more than this.

Nevertheless these attempts, after all, cannot fail to be more or less
misleading, since the best books and the best pictures do not number
exactly a hundred. Nor can there be any assured certainty in the
selection, since no two of those most competent to make the choice would
be likely to agree on more than half of the masterpieces they would

The final and fatal defect in all these lists is that they seek to
single out an arbitrary number of works of the highest distinction,
instead of trying to find out the few men of supreme genius who were
actually the makers of acknowledged masterpieces. It is of no
consequence whether we hold that 'Hamlet' or 'Macbeth' is the most
splendid example of Shakspere's surpassing endowment, or whether we
consider the 'Fourth Symphony' or the 'Seventh' the completest
expression of Beethoven's mastery of music. What it is of consequence
for us to recognize and to grasp effectually is that Shakspere and
Beethoven are two of the indisputable chiefs, each in his own sphere.
What it imports us to realize is that there is in every art a little
group of supreme leaders; they may be two or three only; they may be
half a dozen, or, at the most, half a score; but they stand in the
forefront, and their supremacy is inexpugnable for all time.

Every one recognizes to-day that "certain poets like Dante and
Shakspere, certain composers like Beethoven and Mozart, hold the
foremost place in their art." So Taine insisted, adding that this
foremost place is also "accorded to Goethe, among the writers of our
century; to Rembrandt among the Dutch painters; to Titian among the
Venetians." And then Taine asserted also that "three artists of the
Italian renascence, Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Raphael, rise,
by unanimous consent, far above all others."

No doubt this list of supreme leaders in the arts is unduly scanted; but
there is wisdom in Taine's parsimony of praise. The great names he has
here selected for signal eulogy are those whose appeal is universal and
whose fame far transcends the boundaries of any single race.

It may have been from Sainte-Beuve that Taine inherited his catholicity
of taste and his elevation of judgment; and it was due to the influence
of Sainte-Beuve also that Matthew Arnold attained to a breadth of vision
denied to most other British critics. Arnold invited us to "conceive of
the whole group of civilized nations as being, for intellectual and
spiritual purposes, one great confederation whose members have a due
knowledge both of the past out of which they all proceed, and of one
another." He went on to suggest that for any artist or poet "to be
recognized by the verdict of such a confederation as a master is indeed
glory, a glory which it would be difficult to rate too highly. For what
could be more beneficent, more salutary? The world is forwarded by
having its attention fixt on the best things; and here is a tribunal,
free from all suspicion of national and provincial partiality, putting a
stamp on the best things and recommending them for general honor and
acceptance." Then he added the shrewd suggestion that there would be
direct advantage to each race in seeing which of its own great men had
been promoted to the little group of supreme leaders, since "a nation is
furthered by recognition of its real gifts and successes; it is
encouraged to develop them further."

Who, then, are the supreme leaders in the several departments of human
endeavor? By common consent of mankind who are the supreme soldiers, the
supreme painters, the supreme poets? To attempt to name them is as
difficult as it is dangerous; but the effort itself may be profitable,
even if the ultimate result is not wholly satisfactory. To undertake
this is not to revive the puerile debate as to whether Washington or
Napoleon was the greater man; rather it is a frank admission that both
were preëminent, with the further inquiry as to those others who may
have achieved a supremacy commensurate with theirs. To seek out these
indisputable masters is not to imitate the vain desire of the pedagog to
give marks to the several geniuses, and to grade the greatest of men as
if they were school-boys. There is no pedantry in striving to ascertain
the list of the lonely few whom the assembled nations are all willing
now to greet as the assured masters of the several arts.

The selection made by a single race or by a single century is not likely
to be widely or permanently acceptable. Long years ago the Italians were
wont to speak of the Four Poets, _quattro poete_, meaning thereby Dante,
Petrarch, Ariosto, and Tasso. But this was a choice far too local and
far too narrow. Of these four Italian poets perhaps only the severe
Florentine has won his way outside of the boundaries of the language he
did so much to ennoble,--altho it may be admitted that the gentle
Petrarch had also for a century a wide influence on the lyrists of other

Lowell had a more cosmopolitan outlook on literature, when he discust
'The Five Indispensable Authors'--Homer, Dante, Cervantes, Shakspere,
and Goethe. "Their universal and perennial application to our
consciousness and our experience accounts for their permanence and
insures their immortality." We may admit that all five of the authors
designated by Lowell are truly indispensable, just as we must accept
also the incomparable position of the four leaders in the several arts
whom Taine set apart in lonely elevation. But both Taine's list and
Lowell's we feel to be too brief. The French critic had ranged thru
every realm of art to discover finally that the incontestable masters
were four and four only. The American critic, altho he limited himself
to the single art of literature, dealt with it at large, not
distinguishing between the poets and the masters of prose.

If we strike out of Lowell's list the single name of Cervantes, who was
a poet only in a special and arbitrary sense, we shall have left the
names of the four poets whose fame is world-wide--Homer, Dante,
Shakspere, Goethe--the only poets whose supremacy is admitted thruout
our modern civilization.

To these Matthew Arnold insisted on adjoining a fifth, Milton; and we
who speak the same tongue would gladly enroll the blind singer with the
other four. Indeed, we might even hold Milton to be securer in this
place than Goethe, who has not yet been a hundred years in his grave.
But if we ask the verdict of "the whole group of civilized nations,"
which Matthew Arnold himself impaneled as "free from all suspicion of
national and provincial partiality," we are met with the doubt whether
Milton has established himself among the races that inherit the Latin
tradition as securely as Dante has been accepted by the peoples of
Teutonic stock. However high our own appreciation of Milton may be, the
cosmopolitan verdict might not include him among the supreme poets.
Indeed, we may doubt whether Vergil might not have more votes than
Milton, when the struck jury is polled.

Here, perhaps, we may find our profit in applying a test suggested by
Lowell--the test of imitability. "No poet of the first class has ever
left a school, because his imagination is incommunicable," whereas "the
secondary intellect seeks for excitement in expression, and stimulates
itself into mannerism." The greater geniuses may have influenced those
who came after them by their thoughts, by what they have contributed to
the sum of human knowledge; but "they have not infected contemporaries
or followers with mannerism." Then Lowell points out that "Dante,
Shakspere, and Goethe, left no heirs either to the form or mode of their

It was in his lecture on Emerson that Matthew Arnold asked: "Who are the
great men of letters?"--meaning thereby the masters of prose. "They are
men like Cicero, Plato, Bacon, Pascal, Swift, Voltaire--writers with, in
the first place, a genius and instinct for style, writers whose prose is
by a kind of native necessity true and sound." The British critic added
that: "It is a curious thing, that quality of style, which marks the
great writer, the born man of letters. It resides in the whole tissue of
his work, and of his work regarded as a composition for literary
purposes." The six masters of prose whom Arnold chose have all of them
this quality of style; and their prose is true and sound. Altho this
list of six was selected by an Englishman, and altho it contains the
names of two Englishmen, it would be acceptable, one may venture to
believe, to the cosmopolitan tribunal, to the heirs of the Latin
tradition and to the peoples of the Teutonic stock. It may lack the
completeness and the finality of the limitation of the supreme poets to
four; but it must be taken as a not unsuccessful attempt to select the
supreme prose-writers.

Arnold excluded Emerson from the class of "great men of letters" because
the American philosopher had not the instinct for style, and because
his prose was not always true and sound. Lowell, in a letter to a
friend, protested against this, suggesting that the Oxford critic was
like Renan in that he was apt to think "the _super_fine as good as the
fine, or better even than that." Yet we may agree with the lecturer in
holding that Emerson was rather to be ranked with Marcus Aurelius as
"the friend of those who would live in the spirit," than to be classed
with Cicero and with Swift, obviously inferior in elevation and in aim,
but both of them born men of letters.

In like manner we must strike out the name of Burke from among the great
orators. A political philosopher he was of keenest insight and of
unfailing eloquence; but he was a poor speaker, and he did not often
rivet the attention of the audiences he addrest. This is why he cannot
establish a claim to inclusion among the supreme orators. Perhaps such a
claim could be made good before the cosmopolitan tribunal by two
speakers only, both belonging far back in the history of our
civilization--Demosthenes and Cicero. Both revealed the needful double
qualifications of the real orator, who shall hold his hearers in the
hollow of his hand while he is speaking, bending them to his will and
swaying them to the course he advocates, while the words he spoke then
must survive now for our delight in their style and in their substance,
a delight independent of the occasion of their utterance.

Others there are, no doubt, who were also possest of this double gift.
The French, for instance, might well urge the claim of Bossuet to be
raised to the same pinnacle; but the English and the Germans have not
yielded to the spell of his majestic periods. Perhaps we here in the
United States should not be extravagant if we set up also a claim for
Daniel Webster; but, however firm our faith, and however solid our
justification, we should be met with a silent stare from the French and
the Italians and the Spaniards, who might fail even to recognize
Webster's name. Demosthenes and Cicero alone would be hailed as the
supreme orators thruout the whole group of civilized nations.

There is close kinship between oratory and history; and as the supreme
orators are only two, one a Greek and the other a Roman, so the supreme
historians, however tightly we may restrict the selection, will include
a Greek, Thucydides, and a Roman, Tacitus. With them, and not inferior,
stands Gibbon; and perhaps these three, Thucydides, Tacitus, and Gibbon,
are all about whom there would be nowhere any dispute. But there is need
to note that Taine held Macaulay to be in no wise inferior to Gibbon.
Again, it may be well to mention also that an American authority insists
on elevating Voltaire also, as the earliest of the modern masters of

So we find that the supreme historians are three at the least, and at
most four or five, just as the supreme poets are four, the supreme
masters of prose are perhaps six, and the supreme orators are only two.
And if we apply the same standards, if we disregard personal and
provincial and national predilections and preferences, if we try to take
the verdict of the cosmopolitan tribunal, we should find that the
supreme dramatists are but three--Sophocles, Shakspere, and Molière.
These three only were at once playwrights of contemporary popularity,
masters of dramaturgic craftsmanship, creators of character independent
of their own personality, makers of plays which deal with themes of an
import at once permanent and universal, and poets also, each with his
own philosophy of life.

Others there are who unite some of these qualifications, but none who
can make good a right to be ranked with the mighty three. It is true
that the power of Æschylus is as undeniable as the pathos of Euripides;
but it is always the clear-eyed Sophocles whom Aristotle accepted as the
master of all who strive for distinction in the theater. And
Aristophanes, with all his exuberance of humor and all his lyric
elevation, is, after all, too local and too temporary to be ranked with
the broad-minded Molière. So also Calderon, whom the polemic Schlegel
wisht to promote to an equality with the very greatest of dramatic
poets, is too careless of form and too medieval in spirit. Promotion
must also be denied, for one reason or another, to Ben Jonson, to
Corneille and Racine, to Schiller, to Alfieri, and to Victor Hugo.
However ardently their claims may be urged by their compatriots, the
international tribunal would refuse to admit any one of them to an
equality with Sophocles, Shakspere, and Molière, the greatest of the
Greeks, the greatest of the English, the greatest of the French, the
three races that have excelled in the arts of the theater.

Even tho no German can sustain a claim to supremacy in the drama, it is
to the Germans that the consent of the whole world now awards the
incontestable supremacy in the sister art of music. To the race that
gave birth to Bach and Beethoven, to Mozart and Schubert and Wagner, it
matters little whether the chiefs of music number two only, or whether
they may be so many as four or five. Indeed, it may be admitted at once
that the list would need to be widely extended before it would include
the name of any composer who was not a scion of the Teutonic stock.

There is a certain significance, also, in the probability that the
outsider who could best justify a claim for inclusion would be a Russian
rather than an Italian or a Frenchman. And this estimate, it may be well
to confess, is not personal to the present writer, who has no skill in
music and scant acquaintance with its intricacies; it is the outcome of
a disinterested endeavor to discover the consensus of expert opinion,
free from any racial bias.

But the northern races who excel in the art of the musician seem to be
inferior to the southern in the arts of the painter and of the
sculptor,--more particularly in the latter. The supreme sculptors are
apparently two or three: Phidias and Michelangelo, beyond all question,
and with them probably we ought also to place Donatello. Of Praxiteles
we know too little. Of most other artists in marble and in bronze we
know too much, however fine their occasional achievements,--Verrocchio's
'Colleoni,' for example. They do not sustain themselves at the lofty
level on which Michelangelo moves with certainty and ease--"the greatest
of known artists," so Mr. Lafarge has ventured to acclaim him; and just
as Shakspere is unsurpassed as a poet and also as a playwright, just as
Cicero takes a foremost place as an orator and also as a writer of
prose, so Michelangelo is mighty as a sculptor, as an architect, and as
a painter.

As a painter he has more rivals than as a sculptor. We may limit the
supreme masters of the plastic art to two, or to three at the most; but
the supreme masters of the pictorial art are twice three, at the very
least. By the side of Michelangelo there is Raphael, also an Italian;
and has any one really a right to exclude Titian from their fellowship?
Then there are Velasquez, the Spaniard, and Dürer, the German. And
farther north in the Netherlands, there are Rembrandt and Rubens; and
ought not Vandyke to be allowed to stand aloft with them? Six, at the
lowest count, and eight by the more liberal estimate, are the men who
have gone to the forefront in the art of the brush, half of them from
the north and half of them from the south; and among them all not one
who had English for his native speech, and not one whose mother-tongue
was French. Indeed, at least one German, Holbein, and two or three more
Italians would be admitted within the sacred enclosure before any
Frenchman or any Englishman could have free entry.

Those who speak French and those who speak English fare no better when
we turn from the arts of peace to the art of war. Every race takes pride
in the renown of the far-sighted and swift-striking commanders who have
led it to victory, and every race is prone to over-estimate the military
genius of its own successful soldiers. Here in the United States we
seek to set up Washington and Grant and Lee as the rivals of the most
gifted warriors that the old world has to show in all the long centuries
of its incessant warfare; and in Great Britain our kin across the sea
are led by local loyalty to do the same disservice to Marlborough and
Wellington. But if we were to search the countless treatises on battles
and campaigns written in every modern language, we should soon be forced
to record that there were five men, and only five, whom the experts of
every race united in singling out. In any list of the ten greatest
soldiers, prepared in any country in the world, these five names would
surely appear, even tho the other names on the several lists might be
those of merely national heroes. The five international masters of war
are Alexander, Hannibal, Cæsar, Frederick, and Napoleon.

Napoleon, altho he rose to be Emperor of the French, was a Corsican by
birth and an Italian by descent. The French have ever battled bravely
for military glory; but they have not brought forth one of the supreme
soldiers. The race that speaks English has done its full share of
fighting on land and on sea, but it is on the blue water that it can
give the best account of itself. The supreme leaders in war at sea
worthy to be set by the side of the five supreme leaders in war on land
are two at the very utmost; and probably an international tribunal
would hold that Nelson alone was to be classed with Alexander, Hannibal,
Cæsar, Frederick, and Napoleon. But it is the opinion of the foremost
living expert on sea-power that Farragut deserves to be placed not far
distant from Nelson, and that the gap which separates the American
sailor from the British is smaller than that which stretches between
Farragut and the third claimant, whoever he may be and of whatever

Turning from the art of war and from the arts of peace to the sciences
whereon all the arts are based, we find that the English and the French
are richly represented. The supreme leaders in science, the men whose
discoveries have been fecundating and fundamental, seem to be at least
seven--Euclid, Archimedes, Copernicus, Newton, Laplace, Lavoisier, and
Darwin. This list might well be larger; it could not be less; and no
matter how it might be extended it would include these seven. None of
them was merely an inventor of specific devices; all of them were
discoverers of essential principles, and thereby contributors to the
advancement of civilization and to man's mastery of knowledge.

It would be interesting, as it would be instructive, if we could also
enumerate the supreme leaders in religion; but this is a field in which
prejudice is too violent ever to permit a serene view, and there is no
hoping for an international verdict. Nor would it be possible to find
any agreement as to the supreme statesmen, leaders of men and makers of
nations. That Washington could not be excluded from any choice, however
limited, we may rest assured; but who or how many might really deserve
to be set beside him, we can only guess. National pride is as potent as
religious feeling, and there is no likelihood that rival patriotisms can
ever be reconciled.

A comparison of the several lists will serve to show the field in which
each of the great races of the world has revealed its native qualities;
and, as Matthew Arnold suggested, this is most useful, since a nation is
benefitted "by recognition of its real gifts and successes; it is
encouraged to develop them further."

And a consideration also of the character of each of the men whose names
have here been set on high as the supreme leaders of humanity will make
clear once more what is often clouded and obscured--the fact that the
true genius is never an erratic creature, irregular and irresponsible,
clamoring for indulgence and appealing for pity. He is always strong and
sane and wholesome. Clear-eyed and broad-minded, he has self-control and



If the chief end of all art is delight, there is small blame to be
attached to most of us in that we are glad to take our pleasure
carelessly and to give little thought to the means whereby we have been
moved. Properly enough, the enjoyment of most of us is unthinking; and
in the appreciation of the masterpieces of the several arts few of us
are wont to consider curiously the craftsmanship of the men who wrought
these marvels, their skill of hand, their familiarity with the mechanics
of their art, their consummate knowledge of technic. Our regard is
centered rather on the larger aspects of the masterwork, on its meaning
and on its veracity, on its intellectual elevation, and on its moral
appeal. No doubt this is best, for it is only by its possession of these
nobler qualities that a work of art endures. On the other hand, these
nobler qualities by themselves will not suffice to confer immortality,
unless they are sustained by the devices of the adroit craftsman. As
Massinger asserted long ago:

                      No fair colors
  Can fortify a building faintly joined.

Technic is most successful when its existence is least suspected, and
this is one reason why it is often overlooked and neglected in the very
achievements which owe to its aid their vitality. Perhaps this happens
the more frequently because it is the affectation of many an artist to
hurry his tools out of sight as swiftly as he can, and to sweep up the
chips of his workshop as soon as may be, so that the result of his
effort shall seem almost as if it were the sudden effect of the
inspiration that is believed to visit a genius now and again. He may
have toiled at it unceasingly for months, joying in the labor and
finding keen pleasure in every workmanlike artifice he had used to
attain his end; and yet he refrains from confessing his many struggles
with his rebellious material, wisely preferring to let what he has done
speak for itself, simply and without commentary. But the artists know
that the pathway to achievement is never along the line of least
resistance; and they smile when they hear Mascarille, in Molière's
little comedy, tell the affected young ladies whom he is seeking to
impress that all he did "was done without effort." By this the artists
at once perceive the fellow to be a pretender, who had never
accomplished anything and who never would. They know, as no others can
know, that there is no cable-road to the tops of the twin-peaks of
Parnassus, and that he who would climb to these remote heights must
trudge afoot,--even if he is lucky enough now and again to get a lift on

What the artists do not care to parade, it is the duty of the
commentators to point out; and an understanding of the technic of any
art, of its possibilities and of its limitations, is as necessary for
the critics as for the creators. Perhaps it is not pedantic to suggest
that the critic who seeks to be of service ought to be able to see in
every masterpiece the result of the combined action of three forces,
without any one of which that work of art could not have come into
being. First, there is the temperament of the artist himself, his native
endowment for the practise of that special art, his gift of
story-telling or of play-making, as the case may be. Second, there is
the training of the artist, his preparation for his work, his slowly
acquired mastery of the processes of his craft, his technical
accomplishments. And, thirdly, there is the man's own character, his
intelligence, and energy, and determination, his moral sense, his
attitude toward life and its insistent problems. Now, of these three
necessary factors--first, his native gift; second, his technic; and,
third, his character--only the second is improvable by taking thought.
The native gift must remain ever what it is, neither more nor less; and
it cannot be enlarged by any effort of will. So also the character,
which is conditioned by much that is beyond a man's control,--which can
be bettered, perhaps, but only as the man himself climbs upward.

Technic, however, can be had for the asking. Any man can acquire it if
he will but pay the price,--the needful study and experiment. Any man
can make himself a master of his craft, if he will but serve his
apprenticeship loyally. The beginner in painting, for example, can go
into the studio of an older practitioner to get grounded in the grammar
of his art, and to learn slowly how to speak its language, not
eloquently at first, but so as to make his meaning clear. In that
workshop he soon awakens to the fact that permanent success is never won
by any audacity of ignorance, and that the most famous artists are those
who acquainted themselves with every artifice of their craft and with
every trick of their trade. They went to school to certain of their
elders to acquire that tradition of technic, past along from hand to
hand, enriched by the devices of one after another of the strong men who
had practised the art, following each in the other's footsteps and
broadening the trail blazed by those who went first.

Every generation is privileged to stand on the shoulders of its
predecessors, and it is taller by what they accomplished. The art of
fiction, for example, is a finer art to-day than it was yesterday; and
so is every other art, even tho the artists themselves are no greater
now than then, and even tho genius is no more frequent than it was
formerly. Ghirlandajo and Marlowe and Cervantes were men of genius; but
their technic is seen to-day to be as primitive as their native talent
is indisputable. We can perceive them doubtfully feeling for a formula,
fumbling in the dark, for want of the model which they themselves were
to aid in establishing and which every novice nowadays has ready to his
hand, even tho he may lack the temperament to profit by what is set
before him.

It is significant that not a few of the masters, in the days when they
were but novices, found so much satisfaction in this mere acquiring of
the secrets of the craft, that they chose to linger in the
apprentice-stage longer than might seem necessary. In their earlier work
they were content modestly to put in practise the technical principles
they had just been acquiring; and for a little while they sought
scarcely more than mere technical adroitness. Consider the firstlings of
Shakspere's art and of Molière's; and observe how they reveal these
prentice playwrights at work, each seeking to display his cleverness
and each satisfied when he had done this. In 'Love's Labor's Lost,'
Shakspere is trying to amuse by inventive wit and youthful gaiety and
ingenuity of device, just as Molière in the 'Étourdi' is enjoying his
own complicating of comic imbroglios, not yet having anything of
importance to say on the stage, but practising against the time when he
should want to say something. Neither in the English comedy nor in the
French is there any purpose other than the desire to please by the
devices of the theater.

There is so little hint of a deeper meaning in either 'Love's Labor's
Lost' or the 'Étourdi,' of a moral, so to speak, of a message of
ulterior significance, that, if Shakspere and Molière had died after
these plays were produced, nobody would ever have suspected that either
youthful playwright had it in him to develop into a philosophic observer
of the deeper realities of life. Of course, neither of them was long
satisfied with this dexterous display of technical adroitness alone;
and, as they grew in years, we find their plays getting richer in
meaning and dealing more seriously with the larger problems of
existence. But technic was never despised; and, if it was not always the
chief end of the playwright, it remained the means whereby he was
enabled to erect the solid framework of masterpieces like 'Othello' and
'Tartuffe,' in which the craftsmanship is overshadowed by the nobler
qualities, no doubt, but in which the stark technical skill is really
more abundant than in the earlier and emptier plays.

As Shakspere and Molière matured mentally and morally, so also did they
grow in facility of accomplishment, in the ease with which they could
handle the ever-present problems of exposition and construction. The
student of dramaturgy notes with increasing delight the ingenuity with
which the first appearance of Tartuffe is prepared; and he finds an
almost equal joy in the bolder beginnings of 'Romeo and Juliet' and of
'Hamlet,' where the difficulty was less, it may be, but where the
interest of the craftsman in the excellence of his device is quite as
obvious. Shakspere was the greatest of dramatic poets and Molière was
the greatest of comic dramatists; and both of them were good workmen,
taking an honest pride in the neatness with which they finished a job.
In his later years, Shakspere seems to have relaxed a little his
interest in technic, and the value of his work is at once seen to
suffer. Altho his mind is as powerful as ever up to the last years of
his stay in London, 'Cymbeline' and 'A Winter's Tale' are far inferior
to 'Hamlet' and to 'Macbeth'; and the cause is apparently little more
than a carelessness of technic, an unwillingness to take the trouble
needful to master his material and to present it in due proportion.

If Shakspere and Molière ever meet in that other world which was so much
in the mind of the one and so little in the thought of the other, and if
they chance to fall into chat--Shakspere spoke French, pretty certainly,
even if Molière knew no English--we may rest assured that they will not
surprize each other by idle questions about the meaning of this play or
that, its moral purpose or its symbolic significance. We may be
confident that their talk would turn promptly to technic; and, perhaps,
Shakspere would congratulate Molière on his advantage in coming later,
when the half-open, semi-medieval playhouse, with which the English
dramatist had perforce to be contented, had been superseded by a more
modern theater, roofed and lighted and set with scenery. And, in his
turn, Molière might be curious to inquire how the English playwright was
able to produce upon the spectators the effect of a change of scene
when, in fact, there was no actual scenery to change.

To suggest that these two masters of the dramatic art would probably
confine their conversation to matters of mere technic is not so vain or
adventurous as it may seem, since technic is the one theme the
dramatists from Lope de Vega to Legouvé have always chosen to discuss,
whenever they have been emboldened to talk about their art in public.
Lope's 'New Art of Writing Plays' is in verse, and it has taken for its
remote model Horace's 'Art of Poetry,' but none the less does it contain
the practical counsels of a practical playwright, advising his
fellow-craftsmen how best to succeed on the stage; and it is just as
technical in its precepts as Mr. Pinero's acute lecture on the probable
success of Robert Louis Stevenson as a dramatist, if only the Scots
romancer had taken the trouble to learn the rules of the game, as it is
played in the theater of to-day.

In thus centering the interest of their public utterance upon the
necessities of craftsmanship, the dramatists are in accord with the
customs of the practitioners of all the other arts. Consider the
criticism of poetry by the poets themselves, for example,--how narrowly
it is limited to questions of vocabulary or of versification, whether
the poet-critic is Dryden or Wordsworth or Poe. Consider the criticism
of painting by the painters themselves,--how frankly it is concerned
with the processes of the art, whether the painter-critic is Fromentin
or La Farge. It is La Farge who records that Rembrandt was a "workman
following his trade of painting to live by it," and who reminds us that
"these very great artists"--Rembrandt and his fellows--"are primarily
workmen, without any pose or assumption of doing more than a daily
task." What they did was all in the day's work. One of the most
distinguished of American sculptors was once standing before a
photograph of the Panathenaic frieze, and a critical friend by his side
exprest a wonder as to "what those old Greeks were thinking of when they
did work like that?" The professional artist smiled and responded: "I
guess that, like the rest of us, they were thinking how they could pull
it off!"

The method, the tricks of the trade, the ingenious devices of one kind
or another, these are what artists of all sorts like to discuss with
fellow-practitioners of the art; and it is by this interchange of
experiences that the means of expression are multiplied. The inner
meaning of what they have wrought, its message, its morality, its
subtler spirit, the artists do not care ever to talk over, even with
each other. This is intangible and incommunicable; and it is too
personal, too intimate, to be vulgarized in words; it is to be felt
rather than phrased. Above all, it must speak for itself, for it is
there because it had to be there, and not because the artist put it
there deliberately. If he has not builded better than he knew, then is
the result of his labor limited and narrow. A story is told of
Thorwaldsen in his old age, when a friend found him disconsolate before
a finished statue and inquired if he was despondent because he had not
been able to realize his ideal. And the sculptor responded that, on the
contrary, he had realized his ideal, and therefore he was downcast; for
the first time his hand had been able to accomplish all that his mind
had planned.

"Neither in life, nor even in literature and in art, can we always do
what we intend to do," M. Brunetière once asserted, adding that, "in
compensation, we have not always intended to do all that we have
actually accomplished." Often no one is more astonished than the artist
himself--be he poet or painter--at what the critics sometimes find in
his work; and he is frankly unaware of any intention on his part to do
all the fine things which he is told that he has done. But the critics
may be justified, despite the disclaimer of the artist; and the fine
things are, of a truth, to be discovered even tho they get into the work
by accident, as it were, and even tho they may be the result of an
intention which was either unconscious on the artist's part, or

We cannot help feeling the sublimity so obvious in the frescos of the
Sistine Chapel; and yet it is equally obvious--if we care to look for
the evidence--that while he was at this work the mind of Michelangelo
was absorbed by the conquest of a host of technical difficulties. Of
course, it would be going too far to assert that the great artist did
not actually intend the sublimity that we admire and wonder at; but we
may be sure that this sublimity is not something deliberately planned
and achieved by him. It is there because the theme evoked it, and
because Michelangelo was himself a man of the noblest character and of
the loftiest imagination. It was inherent and latent in him, and it had
to come out, inevitably and mightily, when he was engaged on a piece of
work that tasked all his powers.

An ideal, a significance, a moral, that has to be inserted into a work
of art and that might have been omitted, is not likely to be firmly
joined; and it is liable to fall apart sooner or later. Morality, for
example, is not something to be put in or left out, at the caprice of
the creator; it is, as Mr. Henry James once called it, "a part of the
essential richness of inspiration." Therefore the artist need not give
thought to it. If his own soul is as clean as may be, and if his vision
is clear, the moral of his work may be left to take care of itself.
Nearly always when an artist has been over-anxious to charge his work
with a moral message, written so plain that all who run may read, he has
failed to attain either of his ends, the ethical or the esthetic. There
is a purpose plainly exprest in Miss Edgeworth's 'Moral Tales' and in
her 'Parent's Assistant'; and the result is that healthy girls and
wholesome boys are revolted. There was no moral intent in her
ever-delightful 'Castle Rackrent'; and yet it has an ethical
significance which few of its readers can have failed to feel.

Perhaps 'Castle Rackrent' is the finest of Miss Edgeworth's stories,
because it is the only one in which she had set herself a technical
problem of exceeding difficulty. She chose to use the faithful old
retainer to tell the tale of the family's downfall in consequence of its
weakness, its violence, and its vice. Thady has never a word of blame
for any son of the house he has served generation after generation.
Indeed, he is forever praising his succession of masters; but so
artfully does the author utilize the device of transparency that the
reader is put in possession of the damning facts, one by one, and is
soon able to see the truth of the matter which Thady himself has no
thought of revealing,--which, indeed, he would probably deny indignantly
if it was suggested by any one else.

The chief reason why the novel is still held to be inferior to the drama
is to be found in its looseness of form. The novel is not strictly
limited, as the play must be by the practical necessities of the
theater; and the practitioners of the art of fiction permit themselves a
license of structure which cannot but be enfeebling to the artists
themselves. Few of the novelists have ever gone about a whole winter
with a knot in their foreheads, such as Hawthorne carried there while he
was thinking out the 'Scarlet Letter.' And only by strenuous grappling
with his obstacles was he able to attain the masterly simplicity of that
Puritan tragedy. A resolute wrestling with difficulty is good not only
for the muscles but also for the soul; and it may be because they know
this, that artists are inclined to go afield in search of difficulties
to be overthrown, that they set themselves problems, that they accept
limitations. Herein we may see a cause for the long popularity of the
sonnet, with its restricted scheme of rimes. Herein, again, we may see a
reason for the desire of the novelist to try his fate as a dramatist.
"To work successfully beneath a few grave, rigid laws," so Mr. James
once declared, "is always a strong man's highest ideal of success." The
novelist often fails as a dramatist, because he has the gift of the
story-teller only, and not that of the play-maker, but more often still
because the writing of fiction has provided him with no experience in
working beneath any law other than his own caprice.

The modern sculptor, by the mere fact that he may now order marble of
any shape and of any size, finds his work far easier and, therefore,
far less invigorating than it was long ago, when the artist needed to
have an alerter imagination to perceive in a given piece of marble the
beautiful figure he had to cut out of that particular block and no
other. Professor Mahaffy has suggested that the decay of genius may be
traced to the enfeebling facilities of our complex civilization. "In
art," he maintained, "it is often the conventional shackles,--the
necessities of rime and meter, the triangle of a gable, the circular top
of a barrel--which has led the poet, the sculptor, or the painter, to
strike out the most original and perfect products of their art.
Obstacles, if they are extrinsic and not intrinsic, only help to feed
the flame." Professor Butcher has declared that genius "wins its most
signal triumphs from the very limitations within which it works." And
this is what Gautier meant when he declared that the greater the
difficulty the more beautiful the work; or, as Mr. Austin Dobson has
paraphrased it:

  Yes; when the ways oppose--
    When the hard means rebel,
  Fairer the work outgrows,--
    More potent far the spell.

Not only has a useful addition to the accepted devices of the craft been
the guerdon of a victorious grapple with a difficulty, but the
successful effort to solve a purely technical problem has often led to
an ennobling enlargement of the original suggestion, with which the
artist might have rested content if he had not been forced to the
struggle. From the history of sculpture and of architecture here in the
United States during the last years of the nineteenth century, it is
easy to select two instances of this enrichment of the fundamental idea,
as the direct consequence of an unexpected obstacle which the artist
refused to consider a stumbling-block, preferring to make it a
stepping-stone to a loftier achievement.

When the city of New York was making ready to welcome the men of the
navy on their return from Manila and Santiago, the Architectural League
offered to design a triumphal arch. The site assigned, in front of
Madison Square, just where Broadway slants across Fifth Avenue, forced
the architect to face a difficulty seemingly unsurmountable. The line of
march was to be along Fifth Avenue, and, therefore, the stately monument
was set astride that street. But the line of approach, for most of the
multitude certain to come to gaze on the temporary addition to civic
beauty, was along Broadway; and the arch built squarely across the
avenue would seem askew to all who first caught sight of it from the
other street. To avoid this unfortunate effect the designer devised a
colonnade, extending north and south, up and down the avenue. Thus he
corrected the apparent slant by emphasizing the fact that it was the
avenue in which the arch was placed and not the more popular highway
that chanced to cut across it. But this colonnade, invented solely to
solve a difficulty, lent itself readily to rich adornment. It became at
once an integral element of the architectural scheme, to which it gave
breadth as well as variety. It was accepted instantly as a welcome
modification of the tradition,--as an amplification not to be wantonly
disregarded by any architect hereafter called upon to design a triumphal

To this illustration from architecture may be added another from
sculpture, as suggestive and as useful in showing how a conquest of
technical difficulty is likely ever to increase the resources of the
art. The sculptor of the statue of Lincoln, which ennobles a park of
Chicago, was instructed that the work of his hands was to stand upon a
knoll, visible from all sides, stark against the sky, unprotected by any
background of entablature or canopy. The gaunt figure of Lincoln is not
a thing of beauty to be gazed at from all the points of the compass; and
the stern veracity of the artist would not permit him to disguise the
ill-fitting coat and trousers by any arbitrary draperies, mendaciously
cloaking the clothes which were intensely characteristic of the man to
be modeled. To shield the awkwardness of the effigy when seen from the
rear, a chair was placed behind it; and so the sculptor was led to
present Lincoln as the Chief Magistrate of the Republic, arisen from the
chair of state, to address the people from whom he had received his
authority. And thus, at that late day, at the end of the nineteenth
century, Mr. Saint-Gaudens did a new thing; altho there had been
standing statues and seated statues, no sculptor had ever before
designed a figure just rising from his seat.

It is by victories like these over technical difficulties that the arts
advance; and it is in combats like these that the true artist finds his
pleasure. The delight of battle is his, as he returns to the attack,
again and again, until at last he wins the day and comes home laden with
the spoil. The true artist hungers after technic for its own sake, well
knowing the nourishment it affords. He even needlessly puts on fetters
now and again, that he may find sharper zest in his effort. This
ravenous appetite for technic leads many an artist to go outside his own
art in search of unforeseen but fascinating difficulties. The painter is
tempted to stretch his muscles by a tussle with the unknown obstacles of
the sculptor; and the sculptor in his turn contends with the limitations
of the painter. Michelangelo called himself a sculptor and pretended to
be no more; but in time he took up the craft of the architect, of the
painter and of the poet. And this interchange of field in search of new
worlds to conquer seems to be characteristic of the great periods of
artistic activity and achievement. In all such periods, the more
accomplished craftsmen have never wearied of technical experiment to the
constant enrichment of the processes of their art.

It is the uncreative critics, it is never the creative craftsmen, who
dwell on the danger of taking too much interest in technic. The critics
may think that the more attention the artist pays to his manner, the
less he has for his matter, and that he is in peril of sacrificing
content to form. But the craftsmen themselves know better; they know
that no one may surely separate manner and matter, form and content,
Siamese twins often, coming into being at a single birth. Furthermore,
the artist knows that technic is the one quality he can control, every
man for himself, every man improving himself as best he can. His native
gift, his temperament,--this is what it is; and what it is it must be;
and no man can better it by any effort. His character, also, the
personality of the artist, that which gives a large meaning to his
work,--how little can any man control this result of heredity and

If an artist has anything to say it will out, sooner or later, however
absorbed he may be in finding the best way of saying it. If he has
nothing to say, if he has no message for the heart of man, he may at
least give some pleasure to his contemporaries by the sheer dexterity of
his craftsmanship. There would have been no more meaning in Poe's verse,
if there had been less melody, if the poet had less devotedly studied
the "book of iambs and pentameters." There would have been no larger
significance in the painted epigrams of Gérôme, if that master of line
had cared less for draftsmanship. There would have been no more solid
value in the often amusing plays of Sardou, if he had not delighted in
the ingenuity of his dramaturgical devices. At bottom, Sardou, Gérôme,
and Poe, had little or nothing to say; that is their misfortune, no
doubt; but it is not their fault, for, apparently, each one of them made
the best of his native gift.

In his time Milton was the most careful and conscientious of artists in
verse-making, and so, in his turn, was Pope, whose ideals were
different, but whose skill was no less in its kind. So, again, was
Tennyson untiring in seeking to attain ultimate perfection of phrase,
consciously employing every artifice of alliteration, assonance and
rime. But, if Milton's verse seems to us now noble and lofty, while
Pope's appears to us as rather petty and merely clever, surely this is
because Milton himself was noble and his native endowment lofty, and
because Pope himself was petty and his gift only cleverness; surely it
is not because they were both of them as much interested in the
mechanics of their art as was Tennyson after them.

One of the wittiest critics of our modern civilization, the late
Clarence King, remarked, some ten years ago, that the trouble with
American fiction just then lay in the fact that it had the most
elaborate machinery,--and no boiler. But the fault of our fiction at
that time was to be sought in the absence of steam,--and not in the
machinery itself which stood ready to do its work, to the best advantage
and with the utmost economy of effort, just so soon as the power might
be applied.



Thackeray was frequent in praise of Fenimore Cooper, hailing
Leatherstocking as better than any of "Scott's lot"; and this laudation
appeared in the 'Roundabout Papers' long after the British novelist had
paid to the American romancer the sincere flattery of borrowing from the
last words of Natty Bumppo the suggestion, at least, of the last words
of Colonel Newcome. Cooper's backwoodsman, hearing an inaudible
roll-call had responded "Here!" a score of years before Thackeray's old
soldier had become again a child to answer "Adsum!" Not less than a
score of years later an old sailor in one of the stories of Sir Walter
Besant made his final exit from this world with a kindred phrase, "Come
on board, sir!" And then, once more, in one of Mr. Kipling's 'Plain
Tales from the Hills,' we find the last dying speech and confession of a
certain McIntosh who had been a scholar and a gentleman in days gone by,
and who had sunk into irredeemable degradation in India. When his hour
came, he rose in bed and said, as loudly as slowly, "Not guilty, my
Lord!" Then he fell back, and the stupor held him till he died.

There are criticasters not a few who would denounce Thackeray and Besant
and Mr. Kipling as arrant plagiarists; but critics of a more delicate
perception of the principles of art would rather praise these authors
for the ingenuity with which they had successively made use of Cooper's
original device. Indeed, the more delicate the perceptions of the critic
the less likely would he be to assert positively that all four authors
had not hit on the same effect independently. Thackeray may have taken
it over from Cooper, consciously or unconsciously; Besant may have
borrowed it from either his British or his American predecessor; and
Kipling may have been familiar with it in the pages of Cooper, of
Thackeray, and of Besant, and still have found amusement in giving a new
twist to an old trick. But it is perfectly possible that we have here an
instance of purely accidental similarity, such as keen-eyed readers can
discover abundantly in the highways and byways of literary history.

The theme of M. Paul Bourget's 'André Cornélis' is that of 'Hamlet,' but
in all probability the French novelist was not aware that he was
treading in the footsteps of the English dramatist until his own plot
had taken shape in his mind. A situation in 'Vanity Fair'--that of
Dobbin in love with the widowed Amelia and yet unwilling to break down
her belief in her dead husband's fidelity--was utilized in the
'Henrietta' of Mr. Bronson Howard, who was characteristically scrupulous
in recording on the playbill his indebtedness to Thackeray's novel; and
this same situation at about the same time had been utilized also in a
little one-act play, 'This Picture and That,' by an author who had never
doubted it to be of his own invention (altho he had read 'Vanity Fair'
more than once), and who did not discover how he had exposed himself to
the accusation of plagiarism until he happened to see the 'Henrietta'
acted, and to perceive the full significance of Mr. Howard's memorandum.

It deserves to be noted also that when Colonel Esmond broke his sword
before the unworthy prince whom he had served so long and so loyally, he
was only following an example which had been set by the noble Athos, who
had snapt his weapon asunder before Louis XIV because that inhuman
monarch had taken for himself Mlle. de la Vallière, the young lady
beloved by the Vicomte de Bragelonne, the son of Athos. And the same
effect is to be found also in the opera of 'La Favorite.' The book of
Donizetti's opera bears the names of Alphonse Royer and Gustave Vaëz;
but it is said to have been revised by Scribe. It was derived from a
forgotten play called the 'Comte de Comminges,' written by one
Baculard-D'Arnaud, and this in turn had been taken from a novel written
by the notorious Mme. de Tencin, the callous mother of D'Alembert. The
scene of the sword-breaking is not in the novel or the play; and quite
possibly it may have been introduced into the book of the opera by the
fertile and ingenious Scribe. 'La Favorite' was produced in 1840, when
Thackeray was in Paris preparing the 'Paris Sketch Book.' It was in 1850
that Dumas published the 'Vicomte de Bragelonne'; and it was in 1852
that Thackeray put forth 'Henry Esmond.' But it was back in 1829 that
the commandant Hulot in Balzac's 'Chouans' had broken his sword across
his knee rather than carry out an order that seemed to him unworthy.
This is not quite the same effect that we find in 'La Favorite'; but
none the less Scribe may have been indebted to Balzac for the

There is no denying that the striking situation which Thackeray used
with so much skill in his novel had already been utilized in the
stirring romance of Durras and in the pathetic libretto of Royer, Vaëz,
and Scribe. Did Thackeray borrow it from the romance or from the
libretto? Or did he reinvent it for himself, forgetting that it had
already served? He was in Paris when Donizetti's tuneful music was
first heard; and he was going to the opera as often as he could. He was
fond of Dumas's interminable tales of adventure; and he had a special
liking for Athos. It is in one of the 'Roundabout Papers'--'On a Peal of
Bells'--that he declared his preference. "Of your heroic heroes, I think
our friend, Monseigneur Athos, Comte de la Fère, is my favorite." Is
this a case of conveyance, such as is often carelessly called
plagiarism? or is it a case of unconscious reminiscence? That Dumas knew
what he was doing when he lifted the situation out of 'La Favorite' is
very likely, for it was not his custom to be overscrupulous in taking
what he could make his own. But Thackeray had been careful to credit the
suggestion of one or two of his earlier French sketches to the Parisian
story-tellers he had put under contribution. Besides he was a man of
transparent honesty; and it is therefore highly probable that he had no
consciousness that the scene was not original with him.

In one of his conversations with Eckermann, Goethe declared that Byron
had not known how to meet the charge of levying on the earlier poets.
The German sage asserted that the English bard should have been far
bolder in his own defence, and far franker also. Byron should have said:
"What is there, is mine; and whether I got it from a book or from life,
is of no consequence; the only point is, whether I have made a right use
of it." And then Goethe added that in one of the Waverley novels Scott
had appropriated a scene from 'Egmont'; "and he had a right to do so;
and because he did it well, he deserves praise." Goethe seemed to think
that the privilege of using again what had been invented by another was
justified only when the later author improved on the earlier, or at
least attained to an equal level. He noted that Scott had taken Mignon
in 'Wilhelm Meister' as the model of Fenella in 'Peveril of the
Peak'--"but whether with equal judgment is another question."

Goethe was wise enough to know that human invention is finite and that
the number of possible effects is limited. He once told Eckermann and
Soret that the Italian playwright, Gozzi, had asserted the existence of
only thirty-six possible tragic situations, and that Schiller had taken
much trouble in trying to prove that there were more, only in the end to
find himself unable to gather even so many as Gozzi had collected. "It
is almost impossible, in the present day," commented Goethe, "to find a
situation which is thoroly new. Only the manner of looking at it can be
new, and the art of treating it and representing it."

Unfortunately, we have not Gozzi's list of the three dozen situations,
nor Schiller's smaller catalog to compare with it. Gérard de
Nerval--that strangest figure of a strange period--considered the matter
anew in the fervid days of French romanticism, and decided that there
were in reality only twenty-four typical situations available for the
theater; but his classification has also failed to come down to us.
However, in the last decade of the nineteenth century an ingenious
Frenchman, M. Georges Polti, accepting the number originally proposed by
Gozzi, examined the plots of several thousand plays, classified the
result of his arduous investigation, and published a little book of two
hundred pages on the '36 Situations Dramatiques.'

Highly interesting as is M. Polti's book, there is not a little
difficulty in grasping the theory upon which he has assorted his immense
collection into exactly three dozen divisions. The logic of his grouping
is not immediately apparent, as it would have been had he taken the
passions, for instance, as the several foundations. His first situation,
for example, is that which we find in one of the earliest of Greek
plays, the 'Suppliants.' M. Polti entitles it 'To Implore,' and he
indicates varying possible subdivisions: (A1) Fugitives imploring
shelter against their enemies, as in the tragedy of Æschylus, the second
act of Shakspere's 'King John,' and repeatedly in 'Uncle Tom's Cabin';
(B1) the ship-wrecked imploring hospitality, as in more than one ancient
drama. But this first situation of his M. Polti finds to be infrequent
on the modern stage, altho often met with in the Greek theater. His
second situation, which we may call 'To Rescue from Imminent Danger,'
has been widely popular alike with the ancients and the moderns, so we
have in subdivision (A) a condemned person rescued by a hero, as in the
myth of Andromeda, the folk-tale of Bluebeard, and the first act of
'Lohengrin'; and in subdivision (B2) a condemned person rescued by a
guest of the house, as in the 'Alcestis' of Euripides.

These two situations, however, are far less effective in evoking the
special pleasure proper to the theater than the nineteenth on M. Polti's
list, "To kill unknowingly one of your own blood." The full force of the
theatric effect of this situation is dependent on the spectators'
complete knowledge of the relationship of slayer and slain, unsuspected
by the victims themselves; and the strength of the situation resides not
in the mere killing, which may indeed be averted at the last moment, but
in the steadily gathering dread which ought to accompany the
preparations for the evil deed. This situation in one or another of its
subdivisions we find in 'Nicholas Nickleby,' as well as in 'OEdipus
the King' and in 'Lady Inger of Ostraat'; in Sophocles it is a son who
murders his unknown father, and in Ibsen it is a mother who murders her
unknown son. It is to be found in the 'Semiramis' of Voltaire, in the
'Merope' of Alfieri, in the 'Ion' of Euripides, and again and again in
Victor Hugo's dramas. M. Polti points out that this single situation is
utilized as the culminating point at the very end of four of Hugo's
plays--the 'Burgraves,' 'Marie Tudor,' 'Lucrèce Borgia' and 'Le Roi
s'amuse' (which supplied the plot for the opera of 'Rigoletto') and he
insists further that one or another subdivision of this situation has
been employed by Hugo at least five times in the single drama of
'Lucrèce Borgia.' If there are still any who hold that Hugo as a
dramatist was "of the race and lineage of Shakspere," they may find
instruction in the fact that this highly artificial situation, which the
superb French lyrist was seemingly unable to leave out of his
arbitrarily complicated plots, was not employed even once by the great
English dramatist.

Probably nothing would have more disagreeably surprized Hugo--who held
himself to be extraordinarily prolific and various, and who indeed had
abundant reason for this belief--than the disclosure of the fact that he
had made use so often of a single situation. And this is evidence, if
any was needed, that the repetition of the same situation by the same
author, or even by a succession of authors down thru the ages, is more
often than not wholly unconscious, and that it is the result, not so
much of any poverty of invention, as of the absolute limitation of the
number of possible situations. The utmost of novelty that any plot-maker
may hope to attain now in the twentieth century is only the result of
his own shuffling of the same pack with which all the plot-makers of the
past have been playing. A new principle he can scarcely hope to invent
for himself; and all that he can safely claim for his most original
sequence of scenes is a patent on the combination.

M. Polti, indeed, has bravely offered to supply ten thousand new plots,
put together by combining and recombining the manifold subdivisions of
his thirty-six situations, some of which he has ascertained to have been
sadly neglected by the playwrights of our time. One may venture to doubt
whether there would be profit in taking advantage of this generous
offer, for if certain situations essayed in the past have not been
popular of late, there is warrant for wondering whether this neglect is
not due to an instinctive feeling on the part of the playwright of the
present that these situations would fail to excite the interest of the
playgoers of our own time and to evoke an emotional response. To insure
the success of a play, it is not enough that the author should combine
an ingenious sequence of striking scenes; he has always the spectators
to reckon with also, their likes and dislikes. The practical playwright
knows only too well, and often by sad experience, that the audience of
to-day does not relish certain situations which run counter to its
prejudices and its predilections, however pleasing these same situations
may have been to audiences of the past. The duty of personal vengeance,
for example--which was at the center of the tragedy-of-blood, ever
delightful to Tudor theatergoers--has been disestablished by the advance
of civilization; and it is therefore no longer acceptable as the
dominant motive of a drama of modern life.

There is not a little significance, however, in another of M. Polti's
suggestions--that perhaps a portion of the beauty and power we discern
in the great plays of the Greeks was directly due to the accepted
limitation of the themes which a tragic writer held himself authorized
to treat. The restriction of the number of available legends forced the
successive dramatists of Athens to handle again, each in his turn, the
dark stories already dealt with by his predecessors. The fateful lives
of OEdipus, for example, and of his family, of Agamemnon, and of his
unhappy offspring--these were shown in action in the orchestra of the
theater of Dionysus again and again, by Æschylus, by Sophocles, by
Euripides, and by many another poet-playwright of that splendid epoch
whose works have not descended to us. Of necessity, the dramatist was
nerved to keenest endeavor by the knowledge that his play had to
withstand a comparison with other plays presenting the same characters
in the same situations, and by the certainty that his personal
contribution would stand out sharply. A similar ordeal was undergone by
the great painters of the Italian Renascence, who tried their hands,
almost all of them, on the Madonna with the Holy Child, on the Descent
from the Cross, and on every other of the score of stock subjects then
in favor for the appropriate decoration of altar and alcove and dome.
There is wisdom in M. Brunetière's assertion that "just as obedience is
the apprenticeship of command, so is imitation the novitiate of

We may be assured that this narrow limiting of the number of themes
likely to be treated by the painters of Italy and by the playwrights of
Greece at once diminished the demand on them for mere invention and left
them free to put forth the utmost strength of their imagination, so that
the artist could express himself fully and interpret in his own fashion
a subject certain to be handled sooner or later by the chief of his
fellow-crafts-men. And if the descent from the sublime is not too
sudden, attention might here be called to the similar method of
measuring the skill of the individual performer which we perceive in a
later and more scientific development of what was once almost a game of
chance. In "duplicate whist," as it is called, identical hands are
played in turn by a succession of players, who are thus put to the test
sharply, each withstanding comparison with every one of his rivals.

A strange fascination there is in the wish that it might be possible to
apply to the art of fiction--which is often little more than a game of
chance--the comparative method of duplicate whist. It would be possible
for us to weigh the merits of the novelists far more exactly, if we
could only impose upon all of them, once in a way, the treatment of the
same theme, every successive story-teller making it his own for the
moment, assimilating it, handling it as he pleased, in accordance with
his own instincts and his own principles. It would enable us to note how
adroitly the artist in narrative could deal with a topic which he did
not feel to be sympathetic or stimulating; and on the other hand, it
would show us how much this author or that has been sustained by the
signal good fortune which put into his hands once at least the one
subject best suited to his method and his temperament. In time, it
would train the critical reader in the habit of distinguishing between
theme and treatment; and it would encourage him to face the task of
weighing the merits of each of these separately.

Altho we cannot insist that the novelists of the twentieth century shall
undergo this ordeal, we may amuse ourselves by guessing at the result if
the test had been applied to the novelists of the centuries that have
gone before. There is no difficulty in picking out a plot familiar to
all of us now and universal in its appeal--a plot which any story-teller
of any age might have chosen to develop in his own fashion. And perhaps
no story is better fitted for this experiment than the heart-rending
tale which Shakspere took from the Italian and transfigured by his
genius into the immortal tragedy of 'Romeo and Juliet.' Quarrels between
rival families have been frequent enough, and young couples there have
always been who loved wilfully in spite of a heritage of hate. There is
a never-fading enchantment in the story of their struggles, whatever the
country where they lived and died, and whatever their station in

How would this tale have been told in the eighteenth century by the
author of 'Robinson Crusoe'? by the author of 'Clarissa Harlowe'? by the
author of 'Tom Jones'? by the author of 'Tristram Shandy'? How would it
have fared in the nineteenth century if Dickens had been attracted to
it, or Thackeray? How would it be presented now in the twentieth century
if it should be chosen again by Mr. Howells or by Mr. James? We need not
ask what Mark Twain would do with it, because he has shown us in the
Shepardson-Grangerford episode of 'Huckleberry Finn' that he could bring
out its inherent romance, even tho he intrusted the telling to the
humorous realist who was the son of the town drunkard. Nor have we to
inquire how it would have presented itself to Erckmann-Chatrian, because
the Alsatian collaborators made it their own in the somber pages of the

It is not rash to assume that Defoe would have set up rival shopkeepers,
one with a son and the other with a daughter; and he would have
delighted in accumulating the minutest details of the daily life of the
competing tradesmen. The fathers would have been sturdy Englishmen, both
of them, obstinate and pious; and the preaching of a sound morality
would never have been neglected. The narrative would purport to be
truth; and probably it would be credited to the pen of one of the
partisans, setting down in the first person a conscientious record of
what he had seen with his own eyes. But if Richardson had wisht to make
our ancestors weep at the woes of Romeo and the sad trials of Juliet, he
would have abandoned the autobiographic form characteristic of Defoe's
method of approach, for the epistolary, in which the author of 'Pamela'
felt himself more at ease; and he would have spared us none of the
letters of Romeo to Juliet, and of Juliet to Romeo, and of Romeo to
Mercutio, and of Juliet to her nurse. The tenser the tragic gloom, the
more voluminous these letters would become, the more self-analytical,
and at the same time, the more pathetic. If Fielding had selected this
story as the basis of a prose-epic we should have a masterly structure,
perhaps distorted by an undue insistence upon Romeo's youthful intrigue
with Rosaline. And if Sterne had pretended to play with this tragic
tale, he would have given us the married life of Juliet's parents, with
all the humorous whims of old Capulet; and after unending digressions
the author might die himself before his heroine was fairly out of the
arms of the nurse.

To declare how Dickens might have presented the same theme is not
difficult. The tragedy would sink to tortuous melodrama, and there would
be much mystery-mongering, with a careful covering up of dark secrets to
be revealed only at an opportune moment. The large simplicity of the
theme would be frittered away, and every opportunity for deliberate
pathos would be insisted upon. Probably Juliet would die in blank verse,
disguised as prose. But Mercutio, altho he would certainly cease to be a
gentleman, would be a most amusing personality whose whimsical behavior
would seem highly laughable; and the nurse might become another Mrs.
Gamp, with a host of peculiarities realized with riotous humor. And it
is possible also to make a guess at the treatment which would have been
accorded to the pitiful tale if Thackeray had undertaken it. The tragedy
would have softened into a tragi-comedy with a happy ending probably,
the loving couple being reprieved somehow in the final chapters just
before the kindly author put his puppets away, after preaching a last
gentle sermon on the vanity of life. The background would be the British
society of the middle of the nineteenth century; and some Lady Kew,
delightfully clever and selfishly arrogant, might be the chief of one
clan, and some Lord Steyne, bitter and masterful, might head the rival
house. And not improbably the narrator would be Mr. Arthur Pendennis

Perhaps Mr. and Mrs. March might constitute the chorus, if Mr. Howells
were to lay the scene here in New York, bringing one family from the
West, endowed somehow with a certain elemental largeness of mold, and
importing the other from that New England which could be held
responsible for the sensitiveness of their self-torturing consciences.
There would be no blinking of the minor selfishnesses of humanity; and
neither hero nor heroine would stand forth flawless. Their failures
would be very human; and the author would withhold all comment, leaving
the veracity of the portrayal to speak for itself. There would be
unrolled before the reader the broad panorama of the cosmopolitan
metropolis, infinitely variegated, often harsh in color, but forever
fascinating in the intensity of its vitality. The modern tragedy with
its catastrophe internal rather than external, would be laid before us
in a narrative containing endless miracles of delicate observation and
countless felicities of delicate phrasing.

Like many another distinguished painter, Mr. Henry James has at least
three manners, following one another in the order of time; and there is
no certainty at which stage of his career he might be tempted to the
telling of this tale. Early in his evolution as a novelist, he might
have seized upon it as the promising foundation for an international
complication, altho even then he would have attenuated the more violent
crudities of the original story. Later, he might have been lured into
essaying the analysis of Juliet's sentiments, as she was swayed by her
growing attachment for Romeo, and as she was restrained by her
indurated fidelity to the family tradition. More recently still, Mr.
James might have perceived the possibility of puzzling us by letting us
only dimly surmise what had past behind the closed doors that shut in
the ill-fated lovers, and of leaving us in a maze of uncertainty and a
mist of doubt, peering pitifully, and groping blindly for a clew to
tangled and broken motives.

Perhaps it is idle thus to wonder how any one of a dozen novelists of
distinctive talent would have treated this alluring theme had he taken
it for his own. But of this we may be certain, that any novelist of
individuality who had chosen it would have made it his own, and would
have sent it forth stamped with his own image and superscription.
Indeed, the same tale told by Richardson and by Sterne, altho they were
contemporary sentimentalists, would have had so little in common that
the careless reader might fail to see any similarity whatsoever; and
probably even the pettiest of criticasters would feel no call to bring
an accusation of plagiarism against either of them.



Probably not a few readers of Prof. Barrett Wendell's suggestive
lectures on the 'Temper of the Seventeenth Century in English
Literature' were surprized to be told that a chief peculiarity of the
greatest of dramatic poets "was a somewhat sluggish avoidance of
needless invention. When anyone else had done a popular thing, Shakspere
was pretty sure to imitate him and to do it better. But he hardly ever
did anything first." In other words, Shakspere was seeking, above all
else, to please the contemporary playgoers; and he was prompt to
undertake any special type of piece they had shown a liking for; so we
can see him borrowing, one after another, the outer form of the
chronicle-play from Marlowe, of the tragedy-of-blood from Kyd, of
romantic-comedy from Greene, and of dramatic-romance from Beaumont and
Fletcher. And in like manner Molière was content to return again and
again to the type of play which he had taken over from the Italian

This "sluggish avoidance of needless invention," which is
characteristic of Shakspere--and of Molière also, altho in a less
degree--is evidenced not only by their eager adoption of an accepted
type of play, an outer form of approved popularity, it is obvious also
in their plots, wherein we find situations, episodes, incidents drawn
from all sorts of sources. In all the twoscore of Shakspere's plays,
comic and tragic and historic, there are very few, indeed, the stories
of which are wholly of his own making. The invention of Molière is not
quite so sluggish; and there are probably three or four of his plays the
plots of which seem to be more or less his own; but even in building up
these scant exceptions he never hesitated to levy on the material
available in the two hundred volumes of uncatalogued French and Spanish
and Italian plays, set down in the inventory of his goods drawn up at
his death. Apparently Shakspere and Molière accepted in advance Goethe's
theory that much time may be lost in mere invention, whereas, "with a
given material all goes easier and better. Facts and characters being
provided, the poet has only the task of animating the whole. He
preserves his own fulness ... since he has only the trouble of

It has long been a commonplace of criticism that great poets seldom
invent their myths; and it may in time become a commonplace of
criticism that they seldom invent their forms. But in default of the
lesser invention, they have the larger imagination; and there is no
pedantry in seeking to emphasize the distinction between these two
qualities, often carelessly confused. Invention is external and
imagination is internal. The poets, by the mere fact that they are
poets, possess the power of imagination, which alone gives vitality and
significance to the ready-made plots they are willing to run into
ready-made molds. Invention can do no more than devise; imagination can
interpret. The details of 'Romeo and Juliet' may be more or less
contained in the tale of the Italian novelist; but the inner meaning of
that ideal tragedy of youthful love is seized and set forth only by the
English dramatist.

Imagination in its fullest meaning must be held to include invention;
but invention is only one of the less important elements of imagination;
and it is the element which seems to be more or less negligible when the
other elements are amply developed. La Fontaine, one of the most
individual of French poets, devised only a few--and not the best--of the
delightful fables he related with unfailing felicity. Calderon, who was
the most imaginative of the dramatists of Spain, was perhaps the least
inventive of them all, contentedly availing himself of the situations,
and even of the complete plots of his more fertile fellow-playwrights;
and two of his most characteristic dramas, for example, two in which he
has most adequately exprest himself, the 'Alcalde of Zalamea' and the
'Physician of His Own Honor,' are borrowed almost bodily from his fecund
contemporary Lope de Vega. Racine seems to have found a special pleasure
in treating anew the themes Euripides had already dealt with almost a
score of centuries earlier. Tennyson, to take another example, displayed
not a little of this "sluggish avoidance of needless invention," often
preferring to apply his imagination to the transfiguring of what Malory
or Miss Mitford, Froude or Freeman had made ready for his hand. This
eschewing of overt originality fitted him all the more to be spokesman
of his time, and to voice the ideals of his race and of his day.
Tennyson, so Sir Leslie Stephen told us, "could express what occurred to
everybody in language that could be approached by nobody." Browning, on
the other hand, made his own plots, and on the whole made them none too
well, especially in his dramatic poems, in the structure of which he was
entirely neglectful of the accepted forms of the theater of his own
time--accepted forms of which Shakspere and Molière would have availed
themselves instinctively. It was not Browning, but Whitman--and Whitman
in 1855, when the bard of Manhattan had not yet shown the stuff that
was in him--that Lowell had in mind in the letter where he says "when a
man aims at originality he acknowledges himself consciously
unoriginal.... The great fellows have always let the stream of their
activity flow quietly."

What is true of the poets is true also of the painters; and Lowell, who
did not lose his Yankee shrewdness in the galleries of Italy, saw this
also and phrased it happily in another of his letters. "The great merit,
it seems to me, of the old painters was that they did not try to be
original." The old painters were following in the footsteps of painters
still older, from whom they received the accepted formulas for
representing the subjects most likely to be ordered by customers. These
accepted formulas representing the Annunciation, for instance, the
Disputing in the Temple, the Crucifixion even, were passed down from one
generation of artists to another; and in each successive generation the
greatest painter was generally he who had no strong desire to be
different from his fellows, and who was quite willing to express himself
in the patterns which were then accepted traditions of his craft. To a
student of the work of the generation that went before, there is often
little or no invention in some of the mightiest masterpieces of
painting, however much imagination there may be. The painters who
wrought these masterpieces were only doing what their immediate
predecessors had been doing, the same thing more or less in the same
way--but with infinitely more insight, power, and inspiration. As
Professor Butcher has put it tersely, "the creative art of genius does
not consist in bringing something out of nothing, but in taking
possession of material that exists, in appropriating it, interpreting it

In the very ingenious and highly original tale called the 'Murders in
the Rue Morgue,' the earliest of all detective-stories, Poe displayed
his remarkable gift of invention; but he revealed his share of
penetrative imagination far more richly in the simpler story of the
'Fall of the House of Usher.' Wilkie Collins had more invention than
Dickens, as Dickens had more than Thackeray. Indeed, Thackeray, indolent
as he was by temperament, was not infrequently "sluggish in his
avoidance of needless invention." He kept his eye intent on the lurking
inconsistencies of human nature, and did not give his best thought to
the more mechanical element of the novelist's art. Cooper and Dumas were
far more fertile in the invention of situations than was Thackeray; and
even Scott, careless as he was in his easy habit of narration, gave more
of his thought to the constructing of unexpected scenes.

Three centuries ago Sidney asserted that "it is not riming and versing
that maketh a poet, no more than a long gown maketh an advocate"; and
to-day we know that it is not skill in plot-making or ingenuity in
devising unforeseen situations which proves the story-teller's
possession of imagination. It is scarcely needful now to repeat that
'Called Back' and 'She'--good enough stories, both of them, each in its
kind--did not demand a larger imaginative effort on the part of their
several authors than was required to write the 'Rise of Silas Lapham' or
'Daisy Miller.' More invention there may be in the late Hugh Conway's
tale and in Mr. Haggard's startling narrative of the phenix-female; but
it is invention that we discover in their strange stories rather than
imagination. Indeed, he is an ill-equipt critic who does not recognize
the fact that it calls for less imagination to put together a sequence
of unexpected happenings such as we enjoy in the fictions of the
neo-romanticists than is needed to vitalize and make significant the
less exciting portrayals of character which we find in the finer
narratives of the true realists.

It was Dr. Johnson who declared, rather ponderously, it is true, but
none the less shrewdly, that "the irregular combinations of fanciful
invention may delight a while by that novelty of which the common
satiety of life sends us all in quest; but the pleasures of sudden
wonder are soon exhausted and the many can only repose on the stability
of truth." Johnson was speaking here from the point of view of the
reader only; but he might have noted also that the "irregular
combinations of fanciful invention" tend to lose their interest even for
the very writers who have been successful in supplying their readers
with the "pleasures of sudden wonder." For example, in the opening years
of this twentieth century the witty historian of the kingdom of
Zenda--that land of irresponsible adventure which lies seemingly between
the Forest of Arden and the unexplored empire of Weissnichtwo--this
historian, after regaling us with brisk and brilliant chronicles of that
strange country and of the adjacent territory, apparently wearied of
these pleasant inventions of his and wisht to come to a closer grapple
with the realities of life and character. But he soon found that this
task was not so easy as it appeared--not so easy, indeed, as the earlier
writing had been; and 'Quisanté,' for all its cleverness, did not prove
its author's possession of the informing imagination which alone can
give life and meaning to a novel dealing with men and women as they are
in the real world.

Not unlike is the case of the narrator of the manifold and varied
deductions of Mr. Sherlock Holmes, that British reincarnation of Poe's
M. Dupin. There is danger of unfairness in accepting the authenticity
of words put into a man's mouth by any interviewer, however well
intentioned; and there is, therefore, a possibility that the biographer
of the Brigadier Gerard did not confess his own slight esteem for the
many tales of invented adventure which had given him his wide-spread
popularity. But there is an accent of veracity in the reported assertion
of the author of 'A Duet with an Occasional Chorus' that this is the
book closest to his heart, because it is an honest attempt to deal with
the facts of life as they stare us in the face to-day. And yet 'A Duet'
is unknown to a tithe of the countless readers who have devoured its
writer's other volumes with avidity. And what is more to the point, it
does not--favorite of its author tho it is--it does not deserve to be
known so widely. This is because it is not so good as the other books of
the same writer, not so good in its kind as they are in theirs. The
tales that dealt with Sherlock Holmes and Brigadier Gerard and the White
Company are works of invention mainly; and the writer had proved himself
capable of adroit and ingenious invention. 'A Duet,' dealing with the
commonplaces of life, needed not invention, which would indeed almost be
out of place in a humdrum chronicle; it demanded imagination to
interpret the commonplace and to transfigure the humdrum, revealing
their essential significance. And this imagination the author had not
at his call, in spite of his command over the more showy invention.

It may not be without interest to consider how another writer of our
time, not seeking for originality, happened to find it, and how his
acceptance of certain literary patterns, so to call them--patterns
inherited from the remote and shadowy past of our race--led him to an
unforeseen effort of illuminative imagination, which suddenly elevated
what he had done and gave it a significance far wider and far deeper
than the author had foreseen. In the two successive volumes of the
'Jungle Book' (as it was originally published) there are two sets of
stories commingled and yet sharply distinct. One group deals with the
boyhood of Mowgli among the beasts of the forest; and to many of us
these linked tales represent the highest achievement of Mr. Kipling's
genius; they seem as assured of survival as anything which the
nineteenth century has transmitted to the twentieth. The other stories,
the 'White Seal' and the 'Undertakers' and their companions, stand on a
lower level; they are good stories, no doubt,--very good, indeed, one or
two of them. But they have an added importance in that they seem to have
been the needful accompaniment of the Mowgli tales; they may be
considered as the underbrush that at first protected the growth of the
loftier tree.

They are modern examples of the beast-fable, latter-day amplifications
of the simple tale of animals credited with human cunning, such as
primitive man told to his naked children as they huddled around the
embers in the cave, which was then their only home. The beast-fable is a
literary pattern of an undiscoverable antiquity, as alluring to-day as
ever before, since the child in us fortunately never dies. It is a
pattern which Mr. Kipling has handled with a constant affection and with
a large freedom. His earlier animal tales dealt with wild beasts, or at
least with the creatures of the forests and of the ocean beyond the
influence of man and remote from his haunts. Soon he availed himself of
the same pattern to tell stories of animals domesticated and in close
contact with man; and thus he gave us the 'Walking Delegate' and the
'Maltese Cat.' In time betook a further step and applied to the iron
horse of the railroad the method which had enabled him to set before us
the talk of the polo pony and of the blooded trotter; and thus he was
led to compose '007,' in which we see the pattern of the primitive
beast-fable so stretched as to enable us to overhear the intimate
conversation of humanized locomotives, the steeds of steel that puff and
pant in and out of the roundhouse in an American railroad yard. Yet one
more extension of the pattern enabled him to take a final step; after
having given a human soul to separate engines, he proceeded then to
animate the several parts of a single machine. And thus we have 'How the
Ship Found Herself' and the later 'Below the Mill-dam.' But altho these
are successive stages of the primitive beast-fable as it has been
modified in Mr. Kipling's restless hands, there is little flagrant
originality, even at the end, since 'How the Ship Found Herself' is seen
to be only an up-to-date version of one of the earliest fables, the
'Belly and the Members.'

Interesting as it may be to clamber up into the spreading family-tree of
fiction, it is not here that we must seek for the stem from which the
Mowgli stories ultimately flowered. These stories are not directly
derived from the beast-fable, altho his mastery of that literary pattern
may have helped the author to find his final form. They are a
development from one of his own tales, 'In the Rukh,' included at first
in 'Many Inventions,' and now transferred to its proper place at the end
of the book in which the adventures of Mowgli are recorded. In that
first tale, which is now the last, we have set before us the impression
Mowgli and his little brothers, the wolves, made upon two white men in
the Indian service; and incidentally we are permitted to snatch a
glimpse or two of Mowgli's youth in the jungle. But the story is told
from the point of view of these white men; and it is small wonder that
when the author came to look again at what he had written he saw how
rich it was in its possibilities. He was moved to go back to narrate the
whole series of Mowgli's adventures from the very beginning, with Mowgli
himself as the center of the narrative and with little obtrusion of the
white man's civilization.

There was invention in this early story, and imagination also, altho not
so abundant. But as the author brooded over the incidents of Mowgli's
babyhood there in the thick of the forest, in the midst of the beasts,
whose blood-brother he became, suddenly his imagination revealed to him
that the jungle and all its inhabitants must be governed by law, or else
it was a realm of chaos. It is this portrayal of wild life subject to an
immitigable code which gives its sustaining moral to the narrative of
Mowgli's career. As Mr. Kipling said to me once, "When I had found the
Law of the Jungle the rest was easy!" For him it may have been easy,
since his invention is ever fresh and fertile; but the finding of the
Law of the Jungle--that transcended mere invention with all its
multiplied ingenuities--that was a stroke of imagination.

This distinction between imagination and invention may not be as
important as that between imagination and fancy urged by Wordsworth a
century ago; and no doubt there is always danger in any undue
insistence upon catchwords, which are often empty of meaning, and which
are sometimes employed to convey a misleading suggestion. This
distinction has its own importance, however, and it is not empty or
misleading. It needs to be accepted in art as it has been accepted in
science, in which domain a fertile discovery is recognized as possible
only to the imagination, while a specific device is spoken of as an
invention. Newton and Darwin were discoverers by their possession of
imagination; whereas the telegraph and the telephone are to be credited
to humbler inventors, making application of principles already

This opening century of ours is an era of extraordinary dexterity and of
wide-spread cleverness, and we need to be put on our guard against the
risk of mistaking the products of our abundant invention for the rarer
gifts of inspiring imagination. It is well for us to be reminded now and
again that the great masters, painters and poets alike, novelists and
dramatists, have often displayed "a sluggish avoidance of needless
invention" at the very minute when their robust imagination was putting
forth its full strength.




In one of those essays which were often as speculative and suggestive as
he claimed, the late John Addington Symonds called attention to three
successive phases of criticism, pointing out that the critics had first
set up as judges, delivering opinions from the bench and never
hesitating to put on the black cap; that then they had changed into
showmen, dwelling chiefly on the beauties of the masterpieces they were
exhibiting; and that finally, and only very recently, they had become
natural historians, studying "each object in relation to its antecedents
and its consequences" and making themselves acquainted "with the
conditions under which the artist grew, the habits of his race, the
opinions of his age, his physiological and psychological peculiarities."
And Symonds might have added that it is only in this latest phase, when
the critics have availed themselves of the methods of the comparative
biologists, that they are concerned with the interesting problems
connected with the origin of the several literary species.

All over the world to-day devoted students are working at the hidden
history of the lyric, for example, and of certain subdivisions of this
species, such as the elegy, as it flowered long ago in Greece and as it
has flourished in most of the literatures of modern Europe. To the
"natural historian" of literary art, these subdivisions of a species are
becoming more and more interesting, as he perceives more clearly how
prone the poets have always been to work in accord with the pattern
popular in their own time and to express themselves freely in the form
they found ready to their hands. The student of the English drama is
delighted when he can seize firmly the rise and fall of the
tragedy-of-blood for one example, of the comedy-of-humors for another,
and of sentimental-comedy for a third; just as the investigator into the
annals of fiction is pleased to be able to trace the transformations of
the pastoral, of the picaresque romance, and of the later short-story.

The beginnings of a species, or of a subspecies, are obscure more often
than not; and they are rarely to be declared with certainty. "Nothing is
more difficult than to discover who have been in literature the first
inventors" of a new form, so M. Jules Lemaître once asserted, adding
that innovations have generally been attempted by writers of no great
value, and not infrequently by those who failed in those first efforts,
unable to profit by their own originality. And it is natural enough that
a good many sighting shots should be wasted on a new target before even
an accomplished marksman could plump his bullet in the bull's-eye. The
historical novel as we know it now must be credited to Scott, who
preluded by the rather feeble 'Waverley,' before attaining the more
boldly planned 'Rob Roy' and 'Guy Mannering.' The sea-tale is to be
ascribed to Cooper, whose wavering faith in its successful
accomplishment is reflected in the shifting of the successive episodes
of the 'Pilot' from land to water and back again to land; and it was
only when he came to write the 'Red Rover' that Cooper displayed full
confidence in the form he had been the first to experiment with. But the
history of the detective-story begins with the publication of the
'Murders in the Rue Morgue,' a masterpiece of its kind, which even its
author was unable to surpass; and Poe, unlike most other originators,
rang the bell the very first time he took aim.


The detective-story which Poe invented sharply differentiates itself
from the earlier tales of mystery, and also from the later narratives
in which actual detectives figure incidentally. Perhaps the first of
these tales of mystery is Walpole's 'Castle of Otranto,' which appears
to us now clumsy enough, with its puerile attempts to excite terror. The
romances of Mrs. Radcliffe are scarcely more solidly built--indeed, the
fatigue of the sophisticated reader of to-day when he undertakes the
perusal of these old-fashioned and long-winded chronicles may be
ascribed partly to the flimsiness of the foundation which is supposed to
support the awe-inspiring super-structure. Godwin's 'Caleb Williams' is
far more firmly put together; and its artful planning called for
imagination as well as mere invention. In the 'Edgar Huntley' of Charles
Brockden Brown the veil of doubt skilfully shrouds the unsuspected and
the unsuspecting murderer who did the evil deed in his
sleep--anticipating the somnambulist hero of Wilkie Collins's

The disadvantages of this mystery-mongering have been pointed out by Poe
with his wonted acuteness in his criticism of 'Barnaby Rudge.' After
retelling the plot of Dickens's contorted narrative, and after putting
the successive episodes into their true sequence, Poe asserted that "the
thesis of the novel may thus be regarded as based upon curiosity," and
he declared that "every point is so arranged as to perplex the reader
and whet his desire for elucidation." He insisted "that the secret be
well kept is obviously necessary," because if it leaks out "against the
author's will, his purposes are immediately at odds and ends." Then he
remarked that altho "there can be no question that ... many points ...
which would have been comparatively insipid even if given in full detail
in a natural sequence, are endued with the interest of mystery; but
neither can it be denied that a vast many more points are at the same
time deprived of all effect, and become null, through the impossibility
of comprehending them without the key." In other words, the novelist has
chosen to sacrifice to the fleeting interest which is evoked only by
wonder the more abiding interest which is aroused by the clear
perception of the inter-play of character and motive. Poe suggested that
even 'Barnaby Rudge'--in spite of its author's efforts to keep secret
the real springs of action which controlled the characters--if taken up
a second time by a reader put into possession of all that had been
concealed, would be found to possess quadruple brilliance, "a brilliance
unprofitably sacrificed at the shrine of the keenest interest of mere

Dickens was not the last novelist of note to be tempted and to fall
into this snare. In the 'Disciple,' and again in 'André Cornélis' M.
Paul Bourget was lured from the path of psychologic analysis into the
maze of mystery-mongering; but he had the tact to employ his secrets to
excite interest only in the beginning of what were, after all, studies
from life, each of them setting forth the struggle of a man with the
memory of his crime. In the 'Wreckers' Stevenson and his young
collaborator attempted that "form of police novel or mystery-story which
consisted in beginning your yarn anywhere but at the beginning, and
finishing it anywhere but at the end." They were attracted by its
"peculiar interest when done, and the peculiar difficulties that attend
its execution." They were "repelled by that appearance of insincerity
and shallowness of tone which seems its inevitable drawback," because
"the mind of the reader always bent to pick up clews receives no
impression of reality or life, rather of an airless, elaborate
mechanism; and the book remains enthralling, but insignificant, like a
game of chess, not a work of human art." They hoped to find a new way of
handling the old tale of mystery, so that they might get the profit
without paying the price. But already in his criticism of 'Barnaby
Rudge' had Poe showed why disappointment was unavoidable, because the
more artfully the dark intimations of horror are held out, the more
certain it is that the anticipation must surpass the reality. No matter
how terrific the circumstances may be which shall appear to have
occasioned the mystery, "still they will not be able to satisfy the mind
of the reader. He will surely be disappointed."

Even Balzac, with all his mastery of the novelist's art, lost more than
he gained when he strove to arouse the interest of his readers by an
appeal to their curiosity. His mystery-mongering is sometimes perilously
close to blatant sensationalism and overt charlatanry; and he seems to
be seeking the bald effect for its own sake. In the 'Chouans,' and again
in the 'Ténébreuse Affaire,' he has complicated plots and counterplots
entangled almost to confusion, but the reader "receives no impression of
reality or life" even if these novels cannot be dismist as empty
examples of "airless, elaborate mechanism."

The members of the secret police appearing in these stories have all a
vague likeness to Vidocq, whose alleged memoirs were published in 1828,
a few years before the author of the 'Human Comedy' began to deal with
the scheming of the underworld. Balzac's spies and his detectives are
not convincing, despite his utmost effort; and we do not believe in
their preternatural acuteness. Even in the conduct of their intrigues
we are lost in a murky mistiness. Balzac is at his best when he is
arousing the emotions of recognition; and he is at his worst when he
sinks to evoking the emotions of surprize.


In the true detective-story as Poe conceived it in the 'Murders of the
Rue Morgue,' it is not in the mystery itself that the author seeks to
interest the reader, but rather in the successive steps whereby his
analytic observer is enabled to solve a problem that might well be
dismist as beyond human elucidation. Attention is centered on the
unraveling of the tangled skein rather than on the knot itself. The
emotion aroused is not mere surprize, it is recognition of the
unsuspected capabilities of the human brain; it is not a wondering
curiosity as to an airless mechanism, but a heightening admiration for
the analytic acumen capable of working out an acceptable answer to the
puzzle propounded. In other words, Poe, while he availed himself of the
obvious advantages of keeping a secret from his readers and of leaving
them guessing as long as he pleased, shifted the point of attack and
succeeded in giving a human interest to his tale of wonder.

And by this shift Poe transported the detective-story from the group of
tales of adventure into the group of portrayals of character. By
bestowing upon it a human interest, he raised it in the literary scale.
There is no need now to exaggerate the merits of this feat or to suggest
that Poe himself was not capable of loftier efforts. Of course the 'Fall
of the House of Usher,' which is of imagination all compact, is more
valid evidence of his genius than the 'Murders in the Rue Morgue,' which
is the product rather of his invention, supremely ingenious as it is.
Even tho the detective-story as Poe produced it is elevated far above
the barren tale of mystery which preceded it and which has been revived
in our own day, it is not one of the loftiest of literary forms, and its
possibilities are severely limited. It suffers to-day from the fact that
in the half century and more since Poe set the pattern it has been
vulgarized, debased, degraded by a swarm of imitators who lacked his
certainty of touch, his instinctive tact, his intellectual
individuality. In their hands it has been bereft of its distinction and
despoiled of its atmosphere.

Even at its best, in the simple perfection of form that Poe bestowed on
it, there is no denying that it demanded from its creator no depth of
sentiment, no warmth of emotion, and no large understanding of human
desire. There are those who would dismiss it carelessly, as making an
appeal not far removed from that of the riddle and of the conundrum.
There are those again who would liken it rather to the adroit trick of a
clever conjurer. No doubt, it gratifies in us chiefly that delight in
difficulty conquered, which is a part of the primitive play-impulse
potent in us all, but tending to die out as we grow older, as we lessen
in energy, and as we feel more deeply the tragi-comedy of existence. But
inexpensive as it may seem to those of us who look to literature for
enlightenment, for solace in the hour of need, for stimulus to stiffen
the will in the never-ending struggle of life, the detective tale, as
Poe contrived it, has merits of its own as distinct and as undeniable,
as those of the historical novel, for example, or of the sea-tale. It
may please the young rather than the old, but the pleasure it can give
is ever innocent; and the young are always in the majority.


In so far as Poe had any predecessor in the composing of a narrative,
the interest of which should reside in the application of human
intelligence to the solution of a mystery, this was not Balzac,--altho
the American romancer was sufficiently familiar with the 'Human Comedy'
to venture quotation from it. Nor was this predecessor Cooper, whom
Balzac admired and even imitated, altho Leatherstocking in tracking his
redskin enemies revealed the tense observation and the faculty of
deduction with which Poe was to endow his Dupin. The only predecessor
with a good claim to be considered a progenitor is Voltaire, in whose
'Zadig' we can find the method which Poe was to apply more elaborately.
The Goncourts perceived this descent of Poe from Voltaire when they
recorded in their 'Journal' that the strange tales of the American poet
seemed to them to belong to "a new literature, the literature of the
twentieth century, scientifically miraculous story-telling by A + B, a
literature at once monomaniac and mathematical, Zadig as
district-attorney, Cyrano de Bergerac as a pupil of Arago."

Voltaire tells us that Zadig by study gained "a sagacity which
discovered to him a thousand differences where other men saw only
uniformity"; and he describes a misadventure which befell Zadig when he
was living in the kingdom of Babylon. One day the chief eunuch asked if
he had seen the queen's dog. "It's a female, isn't it?" returned Zadig;
"a spaniel, and very small; she littered not long ago; she is lame of
the left forefoot; and she has very long ears." "So you have seen her?"
cried the eunuch. "No," Zadig answered; "I have never seen her; and I
never even knew that the queen had a dog."

About the same time the handsomest horse in the king's stables escaped;
and the chief huntsman, meeting Zadig, inquired if he had not seen the
animal. And Zadig responded: "It is the horse that gallops the best; he
is five feet high; his shoe is very small; his tail is three and a half
feet long; the knobs of his bit are of twenty-three-carat gold; and he
is shod with eleven-penny silver." And the chief huntsman asked, "Which
way did he go?" To which Zadig replied: "I have not seen him; and I have
never heard anything about him."

The chief eunuch and the chief huntsman naturally believed that Zadig
had stolen the queen's dog and the king's horse; so they had him
arrested and condemned, first to the knout, and afterward to exile for
life in Siberia. And then both the missing animals were recovered; so
Zadig was allowed to plead his case. He swore that he had never seen
either the dog of the queen or the horse of the king. This is what had
happened: He had been walking toward a little wood and he had seen on
the sand the track of an animal, and he judged that it had been a dog.
Little furrows scratched in the low hillocks of sand between the
footprints showed him that it was a female whose teats were pendent, and
who therefore must have littered recently. As the sand was less deeply
marked by one foot than by the three others, he had perceived the
queen's dog to be lame.

As for the larger quadruped, Zadig, while walking in a narrow path in
the wood, had seen the prints of a horse's shoes, all at an equal
distance; and he had said to himself that here was a steed with a
perfect stride. The path was narrow, being only seven feet wide, and
here and there the dust had been flicked from the trees on either hand,
and so Zadig had made sure that the horse had a tail three and a half
feet long. The branches crossed over the path at the height of five
feet, and as leaves had been broken off, the observer had decided that
the horse was just five feet high. As to the bit, this must be of gold,
since the horse had rubbed it against a stone, which Zadig had
recognized as a touchstone and on which he had assayed the trace of
precious metal. And from the marks left by the horse's shoes on another
kind of stone Zadig had felt certain that they were made of eleven-penny

Huxley has pointed out that the method of Zadig is the method which has
made possible the incessant scientific discovery of the last century. It
is the method of Wellington at Assaye, assuming that there must be a
ford at a certain place on the river, because there was a village on
each side. It is the method of Grant at Vicksburg, examining the
knapsacks of the Confederate soldiers slain in a sortie to see if these
contained rations, which would show that the garrison was seeking to
break out because the place was untenable. It is also the method of Poe
in the 'Gold-Bug' and in the 'Murders of the Rue Morgue.' In all
probability Poe borrowed it directly from Voltaire, who had taken it
over from Oriental folklore.

In his application of this method, not casually, playfully, and with
satiric intent, as Voltaire had applied it, but seriously and taking it
as the mainspring of his story, Poe added an ingenious improvement of
his own devising. Upon the preternaturally acute observer who was to
control the machinery of the tale, the American poet bestowed a
companion of only an average alertness and keenness; and to this
commonplace companion the romancer confided the telling of the story. By
this seemingly simple device Poe doubled the effectiveness of his work,
because this unobservant and unimaginative narrator of the unraveling of
a tangled skein by an observant and imaginative analyst naturally
recorded his own admiration and astonishment as the wonder was wrought
before his eyes, so that the admiration and astonishment were
transmitted directly and suggestively, to the readers of the narrative.

In the 'Gold-Bug' the wonder-worker is Legrand, and in both the 'Murders
in the Rue Morgue' and the 'Purloined Letter' he is M. Dupin; and in all
three tales the telling of the story is entrusted to an anonymous
narrator, serving not only as a sort of Greek chorus to hint to the
spectators the emotions they ought to feel, but also as the describer of
the personality and peculiarities of Legrand and Dupin, who are thus
individualized, humanized, and related to the real world. If they had
not been accepted by the narrator as actual beings of flesh and blood,
they might otherwise retain the thinness and the dryness of disembodied
intelligences working in a vacuum.

This device of the transmitting narrator is indisputably valuable; and,
properly enough, it reappears in the one series of detective tales which
may be thought by some to rival Poe's. The alluring record of the
investigations of Mr. Sherlock Holmes is the work of a certain Dr.
Watson, a human being but little more clearly characterized than the
anonymous narrators who have preserved for us the memory of Legrand and
Dupin. But Poe here again exhibited a more artistic reserve than any of
his imitators, in so far as he refrained from the undue laudation of the
strange intellectual feats which are the central interest of these
three tales. In the 'Gold-Bug' he even heightens his suspense by
allowing the narrator to suggest that Legrand might be of unsound mind;
and in the 'Murders in the Rue Morgue' the narrator, altho lost in
astonishment at the acuteness of Dupin, never permits his admiration to
become fulsome; he holds himself in, as tho fearing that overpraise
might provoke a denial. Moreover, Poe refrained from all exhibitions of
Dupin's skill merely for its own sake--exhibitions only dazzling the
spectators and not furthering his immediate purpose.

Nothing could be franker than Sir Conan Doyle's acknowledgment of his
indebtedness. "Edgar Allen Poe, who, in his carelessly prodigal fashion,
threw out the seeds from which so many of our present forms of
literature have sprung, was the father of the detective tale, and
covered its limits so completely that I fail to see how his followers
can find any fresh ground which they can confidently call their own. For
the secret of the thinness and also of the intensity of the
detective-story is that the writer is left with only one quality, that
of intellectual acuteness, with which to endow his hero. Everything else
is outside the picture and weakens the effect. The problem and its
solution must form the theme, and the character drawing is limited and
subordinate. On this narrow path the writer must walk, and he sees the
footmarks of Poe always in front of him. He is happy if he ever finds
the means of breaking away and striking out on some little side-track of
his own."

The deviser of the adventures of Sherlock Holmes hit on a happy phrase
when he declared that "the problem and its solution must form the
theme." This principle was violated by Dumas, in the 'Vicomte de
Bragelonne,' giving us the solution before the problem, when he showed
how d'Artagnan used the method of Zadig to deduce all the details of the
duel on horseback, after the author had himself described to us the
incidents of that fight. But when he was thus discounting his effect
Dumas probably had in mind, not Poe, but Cooper, whose observant
redskins he mightily admired and whom he frankly imitated in the
'Mohicans of Paris.'


Altho Poe tells these three stories in the first person, as if he was
himself only the recorder of the marvelous deeds of another, both
Legrand and Dupin are projections of his own personality; they are
characters created by him to be endowed with certain of his own
qualifications and peculiarities. They were called into being to be
possest of the inventive and analytical powers of Poe himself. "To be
an artist, first and always, requires a turn for induction and
analysis"--so Mr. Stedman has aptly put it; and this turn for induction
and analysis Poe had far more obviously than most artists. When he was a
student he excelled in mathematics; in all his other tales he displays
the same power of logical construction; and he delighted in the exercise
of his own acumen, vaunting his ability to translate any cipher that
might be sent to him and succeeding in making good his boast. In the
criticism of 'Barnaby Rudge,' and again in the explanation of the
Maelzel chess-player, Poe used for himself the same faculty of
divination, the same power of seizing the one clue needful, however
tangled amid other threads, which he had bestowed upon Legrand and

If we may exclude the 'Marie Roget' narrative in which Poe was working
over an actual case of murder, we find him only three times undertaking
the "tale of ratiocination," to use his own term; and in all three
stories he was singularly happy in the problem he invented for solution.
For each of the three he found a fit theme, wholly different from that
employed in either of the others. He adroitly adjusted the proper
accessories, and he created an appropriate atmosphere. With no sense of
strain, and no awkwardness of manner, he dealt with episodes strange
indeed, but so simply treated as to seem natural, at least for the
moment. There is no violence of intrigue or conjecture; indeed Poe
strives to suggest a background of the commonplace against which his
marvels may seem the more marvelous. In none of his stories is Poe's
consummate mastery of the narrative art, his ultimate craftsmanship, his
certain control of all the devices of the most accomplished
story-teller, more evident than in these three.

And yet they are but detective-stories, after all; and Poe himself,
never prone to underestimate what he had written, spoke of them lightly
and even hinted that they had been overpraised. Probably they were easy
writing--for him--and therefore they were not so close to his heart as
certain other of his tales over which he had toiled long and
laboriously. Probably also he felt the detective-story to be an inferior
form. However superior his stories in this kind might be, he knew them
to be unworthy of comparison with his more imaginative tales, which he
had filled with a thrilling weirdness and which attained a soaring
elevation far above any height to be achieved by ingenious narratives
setting forth the solving of a puzzle.

It is in a letter to Philip Pendleton Cooke, written in 1846, that Poe
disparaged his detective-stories and declared that they "owe most of
their popularity to being something in a new key. I do not mean to say
that they are not ingenious--but people think them more ingenious than
they are--on account of their method and _air_ of method. In the
'Murders in the Rue Morgue,' for instance, where is the ingenuity of
unraveling a web which you yourself (the author) have woven for the
express purpose of unraveling? The reader is made to confound the
ingenuity of the supposititious Dupin with that of the writer of the
story." Here, surely, Poe is over-modest; at least he over-states the
case against himself. The ingenuity of the author obviously lies in his
invention of a web which seemingly cannot be unraveled and which
nevertheless one of the characters of the tale, Legrand or Dupin,
succeeds in unraveling at last. This ingenuity may be, in one way, less
than that required to solve an actual problem in real life; but it is
also, in another way, more, for it had to invent its own puzzle and to
put this together so that the secret seemed to be absolutely hidden,
altho all the facts needed to solve it were plainly presented to the

In the same letter to Cooke, Poe remarked on the "wide diversity and
variety" of his tales when contrasted one with another; and he asserted
that he did not consider any one better than another. "There is a vast
variety of kinds, and in degree of value these kinds vary--but each tale
is equally good _of its kind_." He added that "the loftiest kind is that
of the highest imagination." For this reason only he considered that
'Ligeia' might be called the best of his stories. Now, after a lapse of
threescore years, the 'Fall of the House of Usher,' with its "serene and
somber beauty," would seem to deserve the first place of all. And among
the detective-stories, standing on a lower plane as they do, because
they were wrought by invention rather than by the interpreting
imagination, the foremost position may be given to the 'Murders in the
Rue Morgue.' In this tale Poe's invention is most ingenious and his
subject is selected with the fullest understanding of the utmost
possibilities of the detective-story. At the core of it is a strange,
mysterious, monstrous crime; and M. Anatole France was never wiser than
when he declared the unfailing interest of mankind in a gigantic misdeed
"because we find in all crimes that fund of hunger and desire on which
we all live, the good as well as the bad." Before a crime such as this
we seem to find ourselves peering into the contorted visage of primitive
man, obeying no law but his own caprice.

The superiority of the poet who wrote the first detective-story over all
those who have striven to tread in the trail he blazed is obvious
enough. It resides not only in his finer workmanship, his more delicate
art, his surer certainty of execution, his more absolute knowledge of
what it was best to do and of the way best to do this; it is to be seen
not only in his command of verisimilitude, in his plausibility, in his
faculty of enwrapping the figures of his narrative in the atmosphere
most fit for them; it is not in any of these things or in all of them
that Poe's supremacy is founded. The reason of that supremacy must be
sought in the fact that, after all, Poe was a poet, and that he had the
informing imagination of a poet, even tho it was only the more prosaic
side of the faculty divine which he chose to employ in these tales of

It is by their possession of poetry, however slight their portion might
be, that Fitzjames O'Brien and M. Jean Richepin and Mr. Rudyard Kipling
were kept from frank failure when they followed in Poe's footsteps and
sought to imitate, or at least to emulate his more largely imaginative
tales in the 'Diamond Lens' of the Irish-American, in the 'Morts
Bizarres' of the Frenchman, and in half a dozen tales of the
Anglo-Indian. But what tincture of poesy, what sweep of vision, what
magic of style, is there in the attempts of the most of the others who
have taken pattern by Poe's detective-stories? None, and less than
none. Ingenuity of a kind there is in Gaboriau's longer fictions, and
in those of Fortuné du Boisgobey, and in those of Wilkie Collins; but
this ingenuity is never so simply employed, and it is often artificial
and violent and mechanical. It exists for its own sake, with little
relation to the admitted characteristics of our common humanity. It
stands alone, and it is never accompanied by the apparent ease which
adds charm to Poe's handling of his puzzles.

Consider how often Gaboriau puts us off with a broken-backed narrative,
taking up his curtain on a promising problem, presenting it to us in
aspects of increasing difficulty, only at last to confess his impotence
by starting afresh and slowly detailing the explanatory episodes which
happened before the curtain rose. Consider how frequently Fortuné du
Boisgobey failed to play fair. Consider how juiceless was the
documentary method of Wilkie Collins, how mechanical and how arid, how
futilely complicated, how prolonged, and how fatiguing. Consider all the
minor members of the sorry brood hatched out of the same egg, how cheap
and how childish the most of them are. Consider all these; and we are
forced to the conclusion that if the writing of a good detective-story
is so rare and so difficult, if only one of Poe's imitators has been
able really to rival his achievement, if this single success has been
the result of an acceptance of Poe's formula and of a close adherence to
Poe's practise, then, what Poe wrought is really unique; and we must
give him the guerdon of praise due to an artist who has accomplished the
first time of trying that which others have failed to achieve even after
he had shown them how.



[This biographical criticism was written to serve as an introduction to
the complete edition of Mark Twain's Works.]

It is a common delusion of those who discuss contemporary literature
that there is such an entity as the "reading public," possest of a
certain uniformity of taste. There is not one public; there are many
publics,--as many in fact as there are different kinds of taste; and the
extent of an author's popularity is in proportion to the number of these
separate publics he may chance to please. Scott, for example, appealed
not only to those who relished romance and enjoyed excitement, but also
to those who appreciated his honest portrayal of sturdy characters.
Thackeray is preferred by ambitious youths who are insidiously flattered
by his tacit compliments to their knowledge of the world, by the
disenchanted who cannot help seeing the petty meannesses of society, and
by the less sophisticated in whom sentiment has not gone to seed in
sentimentality. Dickens in his own day bid for the approval of those who
liked broad caricature (and were, therefore, pleased with Stiggins and
Chadband), of those who fed greedily on plentiful pathos (and were,
therefore, delighted with the deathbeds of Smike and Paul Dombey and
Little Nell) and also of those who asked for unexpected adventure (and
were, therefore, glad to disentangle the melodramatic intrigues of Ralph

In like manner the American author who has chosen to call himself Mark
Twain has attained to an immense popularity because the qualities he
possesses in a high degree appeal to so many and so widely varied
publics,--first of all, no doubt, to the public that revels in hearty
and robust fun, but also to the public which is glad to be swept along
by the full current of adventure, which is sincerely touched by manly
pathos, which is satisfied by vigorous and exact portrayal of character,
which respects shrewdness and wisdom and sanity and which appreciates a
healthy hatred of pretense and affectation and sham. Perhaps no one book
of Mark Twain's--with the possible exception of 'Huckleberry Finn'--is
equally a favorite with all his readers; and perhaps some of his best
characteristics are absent from his earlier books or but doubtfully
latent in them. Mark Twain is many-sided; and he has ripened in
knowledge and in power since he first attracted attention as a wild
Western funny man. As he has grown older he has reflected more; he has
both broadened and deepened. The writer of "comic copy" for a
mining-camp newspaper has developed into a liberal humorist, handling
life seriously and making his readers think as he makes them laugh,
until to-day Mark Twain has perhaps the largest audience of any author
now using the English language. To trace the stages of this evolution
and to count the steps whereby the sage-brush reporter has risen to the
rank of a writer of world-wide celebrity, is as interesting as it is


SAMUEL LANGHORNE CLEMENS was born November 30, 1835, at
Florida, Missouri. His father was a merchant who had come from Tennessee
and who removed soon after his son's birth to Hannibal, a little town on
the Mississippi. What Hannibal was like and what were the circumstances
of Mr. Clemens's boyhood we can see for ourselves in the convincing
pages of 'Tom Sawyer.' Mr. Howells has called Hannibal "a loafing,
out-at-elbows, down-at-the-heels, slave-holding Mississippi town"; and
the elder Clemens was himself a slave-owner, who silently abhorred

When the future author was but twelve his father died, and the son had
to get his education as best he could. Of actual schooling he got little
and of book-learning still less; but life itself is not a bad teacher
for a boy who wants to study, and young Clemens did not waste his
chances. He spent three years in the printing office of the little local
paper,--for, like not a few others on the list of American authors that
stretches from Benjamin Franklin to William Dean Howells, he began his
connection with literature by setting type. As a journeyman printer the
lad wandered from town to town and rambled even as far east as New York.

When he was seventeen he went back to the home of his boyhood resolved
to become a pilot on the Mississippi. How he learnt the river he has
told us in 'Life on the Mississippi,' wherein his adventures, his
experiences, and his impressions while he was a cub-pilot are recorded
with a combination of precise veracity and abundant humor which makes
the earlier chapters of that marvelous book a most masterly fragment of
autobiography. The life of a pilot was full of interest and excitement
and opportunity, and what young Clemens saw and heard and divined during
the years when he was going up and down the mighty river we may read in
the pages of 'Huckleberry Finn' and 'Pudd'nhead Wilson.' But toward the
end of the fifties the railroads began to rob the river of its supremacy
as a carrier; and in the beginning of the sixties the Civil War broke
out and the Mississippi no longer went unvext to the sea. The skill,
slowly and laboriously acquired, was suddenly rendered useless, and at
twenty-five the young man found himself bereft of his calling. As a
border state, Missouri was sending her sons into the armies of the Union
and into the armies of the Confederacy, while many a man stood doubting,
not knowing which way to turn. The ex-pilot has given us the record of
his very brief and inglorious service as a soldier of the South. When
this escapade was swiftly ended, he went to the northwest with his
brother, who had been appointed lieutenant-governor of Nevada. Thus the
man who had been born on the borderland of North and South, who had gone
East as a jour printer, who had been again and again up and down the
Mississippi, now went West while he was still plastic and
impressionable; and he had thus another chance to increase that intimate
knowledge of American life and American character which is one of the
most precious of his possessions.

While still on the river he had written a satiric letter or two signed
"Mark Twain"--taking the name from a call of the man who heaves the lead
and who cries "By the mark, three," "Mark twain," and so on. In Nevada
he went to the mines and lived the life he has described in 'Roughing
It,' but when he failed to "strike it rich," he naturally drifted into
journalism and back into a newspaper office again. The 'Virginia City
Enterprise' was not overmanned, and the new-comer did all sorts of odd
jobs, finding time now and then to write a sketch which seemed important
enough to permit of his signature. The name of Mark Twain soon began to
be known to those who were curious in newspaper humor. After a while he
was drawn across the mountains to San Francisco, where he found casual
employment on the 'Morning Call,' and where he joined himself to a
little group of aspiring literators which included Bret Harte, Noah
Brooks, Charles Henry Webb, and Mr. Charles Warren Stoddart.

It was in 1867 that Webb published Mark Twain's first book, the
'Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras'; and it was in 1867 that the
proprietors of the 'Alta California' supplied him with the funds
necessary to enable him to become one of the passengers on the steamer
_Quaker City_, which had been chartered to take a select party on what
is now known as the Mediterranean trip. The weekly letters, in which he
set forth what befell him on this journey, were printed in the 'Alta'
Sunday after Sunday, and were copied freely by the other Californian
papers. These letters served as the foundation of a book published in
1869 and called the 'Innocents Abroad,' a book which instantly brought
to the author celebrity and cash.

Both of these valuable aids to ambition were increased by his next step,
his appearance on the lecture platform. Noah Brooks, who was present at
his first attempt, has recorded that Mark Twain's "method as a lecturer
was distinctly unique and novel. His slow, deliberate drawl, the anxious
and perturbed expression of his visage, the apparently painful effort
with which he framed his sentences, the surprize that spread over his
face when the audience roared with delight or rapturously applauded the
finer passages of his word-painting, were unlike anything of the kind
they had ever known." In the many years since that first appearance the
method has not changed, altho it has probably matured. Mark Twain is one
of the most effective of platform-speakers and one of the most artistic,
with an art of his own which is very individual and very elaborate in
spite of its seeming simplicity.

Altho he succeeded abundantly as a lecturer, and altho he was the author
of the most widely-circulated book of the decade, Mark Twain still
thought of himself only as a journalist; and when he gave up the West
for the East, he became an editor of the 'Buffalo Express,' in which he
had bought an interest. In 1870 he married; and it is perhaps not
indiscreet to remark that his was another of those happy unions of which
there have been so many in the annals of American authorship. In 1871 he
removed to Hartford, which was to be his home for thirty years; and at
the same time he gave up newspaper work.

In 1872 he wrote 'Roughing It,' and in the following year came his first
sustained attempt at fiction, the 'Gilded Age,' written in collaboration
with Charles Dudley Warner. The character of Colonel Mulberry Sellers
Mark Twain soon took out of this book to make it the central figure of a
play, which the late John T. Raymond acted hundreds of times thruout the
United States, the playgoing public pardoning the inexpertness of the
dramatist in favor of the delicious humor and the compelling veracity
with which the chief character was presented. So universal was this type
and so broadly recognizable its traits that there were many towns in
which someone accosted the actor who impersonated the ever-hopeful
schemer with the declaration: "I'm the original of _Sellers_! Didn't
Mark ever tell you? Well, he took the _Colonel_ from me!"

Encouraged by the welcome accorded to this first attempt at fiction,
Mark Twain turned to the days of his boyhood and wrote 'Tom Sawyer,'
published in 1875. He also collected his sketches, scattered here and
there in newspapers and magazines. Toward the end of the seventies he
went to Europe again with his family; and the result of this journey is
recorded in 'A Tramp Abroad,' published in 1880. Another volume of
sketches, the 'Stolen White Elephant,' was put forth in 1882; and in the
same year Mark Twain first came forward as a historical novelist--if the
'Prince and the Pauper' can fairly be called a historical novel. The
year after he sent forth the volume describing his 'Life on the
Mississippi'; and in 1884 he followed this with the story in which that
life has been crystallized forever, 'Huckleberry Finn,' the finest of
his books, the deepest in its insight, and the widest in its appeal.

This Odyssey of the Mississippi was published by a new firm, in which
the author was a chief partner, just as Sir Walter Scott had been an
associate of Ballantyne and Constable. There was at first a period of
prosperity in which the house issued the 'Personal Memoirs' of Grant,
giving his widow checks for $350,000 in 1886, and in which Mark Twain
himself published 'A Connecticut Yankee at King Arthur's Court,' a
volume of 'Merry Tales,' and a story called the 'American Claimant,'
wherein Colonel Sellers reappears. Then there came a succession of hard
years; and at last the publishing-house in which Mark Twain was a
partner failed, as the publishing-house in which Walter Scott was a
partner had formerly failed. The author of 'Huckleberry Finn' was past
sixty when he found himself suddenly saddled with a load of debt, just
as the author of 'Waverley' had been burdened full threescore years
earlier; and Mark Twain stood up stoutly under it as Scott had done
before him. More fortunate than the Scotchman, the American lived to pay
the debt in full.

Since the disheartening crash came, he has given to the public a third
Mississippi River tale, 'Pudd'nhead Wilson,' issued in 1894; and a third
historical novel, 'Joan of Arc,' a reverent and sympathetic study of the
bravest figure in all French history, printed anonymously in 'Harper's
Magazine' and then in a volume acknowledged by the author in 1896. As
one of the results of a lecturing tour around the world he prepared
another volume of travels, 'Following the Equator,' published toward the
end of 1897. Mention must also be made of a fantastic tale called 'Tom
Sawyer Abroad,' sent forth in 1894, of a volume of sketches, the
'Million Pound Bank-Note,' assembled in 1893, and also of a collection
of literary essays, 'How to Tell a Story,' published in 1897.

This is but the barest outline of Mark Twain's life,--such a brief
summary as we must have before us if we wish to consider the conditions
under which the author has developed and the stages of his growth. It
will serve, however, to show how various have been his forms of
activity,--printer, pilot, miner, journalist, traveler, lecturer,
novelist, publisher,--and to suggest the width of his experience of


A humorist is often without honor in his own country. Perhaps
this is partly because humor is likely to be familiar, and familiarity
breeds contempt. Perhaps it is partly because (for some strange reason)
we tend to despise those who make us laugh, while we respect those who
make us weep--forgetting that there are formulas for forcing tears quite
as facile as the formulas for forcing smiles. Whatever the reason, the
fact is indisputable that the humorist must pay the penalty of his
humor, he must run the risk of being tolerated as a mere fun-maker, not
to be taken seriously, and not worthy of critical consideration. This
penalty has been paid by Mark Twain. In many of the discussions of
American literature he has been dismist as tho he were only a competitor
of his predecessors, Artemus Ward and John Phoenix, instead of being,
what he is really, a writer who is to be classed--at whatever interval
only time may decide--rather with Cervantes and Molière.

Like the heroines of the problem-plays of the modern theater, Mark
Twain has had to live down his past. His earlier writing gave but little
promise of the enduring qualities obvious enough in his later works.
Noah Brooks has told us how he was advised if he wisht to "see genuine
specimens of American humor, frolicsome, extravagant, and audacious," to
look up the sketches which the then almost unknown Mark Twain was
printing in a Nevada newspaper. The humor of Mark Twain is still
American, still frolicsome, extravagant, and audacious; but it is riper
now and richer, and it has taken unto itself other qualities existing
only in germ in these firstlings of his muse. The sketches in the
'Jumping Frog' and the letters which made up the 'Innocents Abroad' are
"comic copy," as the phrase is in newspaper offices--comic copy not
altogether unlike what John Phoenix had written and Artemus
Ward,--better indeed than the work of these newspaper humorists (for
Mark Twain had it in him to develop as they did not), but not
essentially dissimilar.

And in the eyes of many who do not think for themselves, Mark Twain was
only the author of these genuine specimens of American humor. For when
the public has once made up its mind about any man's work, it does not
relish any attempt to force it to unmake this opinion and to remake it.
Like other juries, it does not like to be ordered to reconsider its
verdict as contrary to the facts of the case. It is always sluggish in
beginning the necessary readjustment, and not only sluggish, but
somewhat grudging. Naturally it cannot help seeing the later works of a
popular writer from the point of view it had to take to enjoy his
earlier writings. And thus the author of 'Huckleberry Finn' and 'Joan of
Arc' was forced to pay a high price for the early and abundant
popularity of the 'Innocents Abroad.'

No doubt, a few of his earlier sketches were inexpensive in their
elements; made of materials worn threadbare by generations of earlier
funny men, they were sometimes cut in the pattern of his predecessors.
No doubt, some of the earliest of all were crude and highly colored, and
may even be called forced, not to say violent. No doubt, also, they did
not suggest the seriousness and the melancholy which always must
underlie the deepest humor, as we find it in Cervantes and Molière, in
Swift and in Lowell. But even a careless reader, skipping thru the book
in idle amusement, ought to have been able to see in the 'Innocents
Abroad,' that the writer of this liveliest of books of travel was no
mere merry-andrew, grinning thru a horse-collar to make sport for the
groundlings; but a sincere observer of life, seeing thru his own eyes
and setting down what he saw with abundant humor, of course, but also
with profound respect for the eternal verities.

George Eliot in one of her essays calls those who parody lofty themes
"debasers of the moral currency." Mark Twain is always an advocate of
the sterling ethical standard. He is ready to overwhelm an affectation
with irresistible laughter, but he never lacks reverence for the things
that really deserve reverence. It is not at the Old Masters that he
scoffs in Italy, but rather at those who pay lip-service to things which
they neither enjoy nor understand. For a ruin or a painting or a legend
that does not seem to him to deserve the appreciation in which it is
held he refuses to affect an admiration he does not feel; he cannot help
being honest--he was born so. For meanness of all kinds he has a burning
contempt; and on Abelard he pours out the vials of his wrath. He has a
quick eye for all humbugs and a scorching scorn for them; but there is
no attempt at being funny in the manner of the cockney comedians when he
stands in the awful presence of the Sphinx. He is not taken in by the
glamor of Palestine; he does not lose his head there; he keeps his feet;
but he knows that he is standing on holy ground; and there is never a
hint of irreverence in his attitude.

'A Tramp Abroad' is a better book than the 'Innocents Abroad'; it is
quite as laughter-provoking, and its manner is far more restrained. Mark
Twain was then master of his method, sure of himself, secure of his
popularity; and he could do his best and spare no pains to be certain
that it was his best. Perhaps there is a slight falling off in
'Following the Equator'; a trace of fatigue, of weariness, of
disenchantment. But the last book of travels has passages as broadly
humorous as any of the first; and it proves the author's possession of a
pithy shrewdness not to be suspected from a perusal of its earliest
predecessor. The first book was the work of a young fellow rejoicing in
his own fun and resolved to make his readers laugh with him or at him;
the latest book is the work of an older man, who has found that life is
not all laughter, but whose eye is as clear as ever and whose tongue is
as plain-spoken.

These three books of travel are like all other books of travel in that
they relate in the first person what the author went forth to see.
Autobiographic also are 'Roughing It' and 'Life on the Mississippi,' and
they have always seemed to me better books than the more widely
circulated travels. They are better because they are the result of a
more intimate knowledge of the material dealt with. Every traveler is of
necessity but a bird of passage; he is a mere carpet-bagger; his
acquaintance with the countries he visits is external only; and this
acquaintanceship is made only when he is a full-grown man. But Mark
Twain's knowledge of the Mississippi was acquired in his youth; it was
not purchased with a price; it was his birthright; and it was internal
and complete. And his knowledge of the mining-camp was achieved in early
manhood when the mind is open and sensitive to every new impression.
There is in both these books a fidelity to the inner truth, a certainty
of touch, a sweep of vision, not to be found in the three books of
travels. For my own part I have long thought that Mark Twain could
securely rest his right to survive as an author on those opening
chapters in 'Life on the Mississippi' in which he makes clear the
difficulties, the seeming impossibilities, that fronted those who wisht
to learn the river. These chapters are bold and brilliant; and they
picture for us forever a period and a set of conditions, singularly
interesting and splendidly varied, that otherwise would have had to
forego all adequate record.


It is highly probable that when an author reveals the power of evoking
views of places and of calling up portraits of people such as Mark
Twain showed in 'Life on the Mississippi,' and when he has the masculine
grasp of reality Mark Twain made evident in 'Roughing It,' he must needs
sooner or later turn from mere fact to avowed fiction and become a
story-teller. The long stories which Mark Twain has written fall into
two divisions,--first, those of which the scene is laid in the present,
in reality, and mostly in the Mississippi Valley, and second, those of
which the scene is laid in the past, in fantasy mostly, and in Europe.

As my own liking is a little less for the latter group, there is no need
for me now to linger over them. In writing these tales of the past Mark
Twain was making up stories in his head; personally I prefer the tales
of his in which he has his foot firm on reality. The 'Prince and the
Pauper' has the essence of boyhood in it; it has variety and vigor; it
has abundant humor and plentiful pathos; and yet I for one would give
the whole of it for the single chapter in which Tom Sawyer lets the
contract for white-washing his aunt's fence.

Mr. Howells has declared that there are two kinds of fiction he likes
almost equally well,--"a real novel and a pure romance"; and he joyfully
accepts 'A Connecticut Yankee at King Arthur's Court' as "one of the
greatest romances ever imagined." It is a humorous romance overflowing
with stalwart fun; and it is not irreverent but iconoclastic, in that it
breaks not a few disestablished idols. It is intensely American and
intensely nineteenth century and intensely democratic--in the best sense
of that abused adjective. The British critics were greatly displeased
with the book:--and we are reminded of the fact that the Spanish still
somewhat resent 'Don Quixote' because it brings out too truthfully the
fatal gap in the Spanish character between the ideal and the real. So
much of the feudal still survives in British society that Mark Twain's
merry and elucidating assault on the past seemed to some almost an
insult to the present.

But no critic, British or American, has ventured to discover any
irreverence in 'Joan of Arc,' wherein indeed the tone is almost devout
and the humor almost too much subdued. Perhaps it is my own distrust of
the so-called historical novel, my own disbelief that it can ever be
anything but an inferior form of art, which makes me care less for this
worthy effort to honor a noble figure. And elevated and dignified as is
the 'Joan of Arc,' I do not think that it shows us Mark Twain at his
best; altho it has many a passage that only he could have written, it is
perhaps the least characteristic of his works. Yet it may well be that
the certain measure of success he has achieved in handling a subject so
lofty and so serious, helped to open the eyes of the public to see the
solid merits of his other stories, in which his humor has fuller play
and in which his natural gifts are more abundantly displayed.

Of these other stories three are "real novels," to use Mr. Howells's
phrase; they are novels as real as any in any literature. 'Tom Sawyer'
and 'Huckleberry Finn' and 'Pudd'nhead Wilson' are invaluable
contributions to American literature--for American literature is nothing
if it is not a true picture of American life and if it does not help us
to understand ourselves. 'Huckleberry Finn' is a very amusing volume,
and a generation has read its pages and laughed over it immoderately;
but it is very much more than a funny book; it is a marvelously accurate
portrayal of a whole civilization. Mr. Ormsby, in an essay which
accompanies his translation of 'Don Quixote,' has pointed out that for a
full century after its publication that greatest of novels was enjoyed
chiefly as a tale of humorous misadventure, and that three generations
had laughed over it before anybody suspected that it was more than a
mere funny book. It is perhaps rather with the picaresque romances of
Spain that 'Huckleberry Finn' is to be compared than with the
masterpiece of Cervantes; but I do not think that it will be a century
or that it will take three generations before we Americans generally
discover how great a book 'Huckleberry Finn' really is, how keen its
vision of character, how close its observation of life, how sound its
philosophy, and how it records for us once and for all certain phases of
southwestern society which it is most important for us to perceive and
to understand. The influence of slavery, the prevalence of feuds, the
conditions and the circumstances that make lynching possible--all these
things are set before us clearly and without comment. It is for us to
draw our own moral, each for himself, as we do when we see Shakspere

'Huckleberry Finn,' in its art, for one thing, and also in its broader
range, is superior to 'Tom Sawyer' and to 'Pudd'nhead Wilson,' fine as
both these are in their several ways. In no book in our language, to my
mind, has the boy, simply as a boy, been better realized than in 'Tom
Sawyer.' In some respects 'Pudd'nhead Wilson' is the most dramatic of
Mark Twain's longer stories, and also the most ingenious; like 'Tom
Sawyer' and 'Huckleberry Finn,' it has the full flavor of the
Mississippi River, on which its author spent his own boyhood, and from
contact with the soil of which he has always risen reinvigorated.

It is by these three stories, and especially by 'Huckleberry Finn,' that
Mark Twain is likely to live longest. Nowhere else is the life of the
Mississippi Valley so truthfully recorded. Nowhere else can we find a
gallery of southwestern characters as varied and as veracious as those
Huck Finn met in his wanderings. The histories of literature all praise
the 'Gil Blas' of Le Sage for its amusing adventures, its natural
characters, its pleasant humor, and its insight into human frailty; and
the praise is deserved. But in every one of these qualities 'Huckleberry
Finn' is superior to 'Gil Blas.' Le Sage set the model of the picaresque
novel, and Mark Twain followed his example; but the American book is
richer than the French--deeper, finer, stronger. It would be hard to
find in any language better specimens of pure narrative, better examples
of the power of telling a story and of calling up action so that the
reader cannot help but see it, than Mark Twain's account of the
Shepardson-Grangerford feud, and his description of the shooting of
Boggs by Sherbourn and of the foiled attempt to lynch Sherbourn

These scenes, fine as they are, vivid, powerful, and most artistic in
their restraint, can be matched in the two other books. In 'Tom Sawyer'
they can be paralleled by the chapter in which the boy and the girl are
lost in the cave, and Tom, seeing a gleam of light in the distance,
discovers that it is a candle carried by Indian Joe, the one enemy he
has in the world. In 'Pudd'nhead Wilson' the great passages of
'Huckleberry Finn' are rivaled by that most pathetic account of the weak
son willing to sell his own mother as a slave "down the river." Altho no
one of the books is sustained thruout on this high level, and altho, in
truth, there are in each of them passages here and there that we could
wish away (because they are not worthy of the association in which we
find them), I have no hesitation in expressing here my own conviction
that the man who has given us four scenes like these is to be compared
with the masters of literature; and that he can abide the comparison
with equanimity.


Perhaps I myself prefer these three Mississippi Valley books above all
Mark Twain's other writings (altho with no lack of affection for those
also) partly because these have the most of the flavor of the soil about
them. After veracity and the sense of the universal, what I best relish
in literature is this native aroma, pungent, homely, and abiding. Yet I
feel sure that I should not rate him so high if he were the author of
these three books only. They are the best of him, but the others are
good also, and good in a different way. Other writers have given us
this local color more or less artistically, more or less convincingly:
one New England and another New York, a third Virginia, and a fourth
Georgia, and a fifth Wisconsin; but who so well as Mark Twain has given
us the full spectrum of the Union? With all his exactness in reproducing
the Mississippi Valley, Mark Twain is not sectional in his outlook; he
is national always. He is not narrow; he is not western or eastern; he
is American with a certain largeness and boldness and freedom and
certainty that we like to think of as befitting a country so vast as
ours and a people so independent.

In Mark Twain we have "the national spirit as seen with our own eyes,"
declared Mr. Howells; and, from more points of view than one, Mark Twain
seems to me to be the very embodiment of Americanism. Self-educated in
the hard school of life, he has gone on broadening his outlook as he has
grown older. Spending many years abroad, he has come to understand other
nationalities, without enfeebling his own native faith. Combining a
mastery of the commonplace with an imaginative faculty, he is a
practical idealist. No respecter of persons, he has a tender regard for
his fellowman. Irreverent toward all outworn superstitions, he has ever
revealed the deepest respect for all things truly worthy of reverence.
Unwilling to take pay in words, he is impatient always to get at the
root of the matter, to pierce to the center, to see the thing as it is.
He has a habit of standing upright, of thinking for himself, and of
hitting hard at whatsoever seems to him hateful and mean; but at the
core of him there is genuine gentleness and honest sympathy, brave
humanity and sweet kindliness. Perhaps it is boastful for us to think
that these characteristics which we see in Mark Twain are
characteristics also of the American people as a whole; but it is
pleasant to think so.

Mark Twain has the very marrow of Americanism. He is as intensely and as
typically American as Franklin or Emerson or Hawthorne. He has not a
little of the shrewd common-sense and the homely and unliterary
directness of Franklin. He is not without a share of the aspiration and
the elevation of Emerson; and he has a philosophy of his own as
optimistic as Emerson's. He possesses also somewhat of Hawthorne's
interest in ethical problems, with something of the same power of
getting at the heart of them; he, too, has written his parables and
apologs wherein the moral is obvious and unobtruded. He is
uncompromisingly honest; and his conscience is as rugged as his style
sometimes is.

No American author has to-day at his command a style more nervous, more
varied, more flexible, or more direct than Mark Twain's. His colloquial
ease should not hide from us his mastery of all the devices of rhetoric.
He may seem to disobey the letter of the law sometimes, but he is always
obedient to the spirit. He never speaks unless he has something to say;
and then he says it tersely, sharply, with a freshness of epithet and an
individuality of phrase always accurate, however unacademic. His
vocabulary is enormous, and it is deficient only in the dead words; his
language is alive always, and actually tingling with vitality. He
rejoices in the daring noun and in the audacious adjective. His instinct
for the exact word is not always assured, and now and again he has
failed to exercise it; but we do not find in his prose the flatting and
sharping he censured in Fenimore Cooper's. His style has none of the
cold perfection of an antique statue; it is too modern and too American
for that, and too completely the expression of the man himself, sincere
and straightforward. It is not free from slang, altho this is far less
frequent than one might expect; but it does its work swiftly and
cleanly. And it is capable of immense variety. Consider the tale of the
Blue Jay in 'A Tramp Abroad,' wherein the humor is sustained by unstated
pathos; what could be better told than this, with every word the right
word and in the right place? And take Huck Finn's description of the
storm when he was alone on the island, which is in dialect, which will
not parse, which bristles with double negatives, but which none the less
is one of the finest passages of descriptive prose in all American


After all, it is as a humorist pure and simple that Mark Twain is best
known and best beloved. In the preceding pages I have tried to point out
the several ways in which he transcends humor, as the word is commonly
restricted, and to show that he is no mere fun-maker. But he is a
fun-maker beyond all question, and he has made millions laugh as no
other man of our century has done. The laughter he has aroused is
wholesome and self-respecting; it clears the atmosphere. For this we
cannot but be grateful. As Lowell said, "let us not be ashamed to
confess that, if we find the tragedy a bore, we take the profoundest
satisfaction in the farce. It is a mark of sanity." There is no laughter
in Don Quixote, the noble enthusiast whose wits are unsettled; and there
is little on the lips of _Alceste_, the misanthrope of Molière; but for
both of them life would have been easier had they known how to laugh.
Cervantes himself, and Molière also, found relief in laughter for their
melancholy; and it was the sense of humor which kept them tolerantly
interested in the spectacle of humanity, altho life had prest hardly on
them both. On Mark Twain also life has left its scars; but he has bound
up his wounds and battled forward with a stout heart, as Cervantes did,
and Molière. It was Molière who declared that it was a strange business
to undertake to make people laugh; but even now, after two centuries,
when the best of Molière's plays are acted, mirth breaks out again and
laughter overflows.

It would be doing Mark Twain a disservice to compare him to Molière, the
greatest comic dramatist of all time; and yet there is more than one
point of similarity. Just as Mark Twain began by writing comic copy
which contained no prophesy of a masterpiece like 'Huckleberry Finn,' so
Molière was at first the author only of semi-acrobatic farces on the
Italian model in no wise presaging 'Tartuffe' and the 'Misanthrope.'
Just as Molière succeeded first of all in pleasing the broad public that
likes robust fun, and then slowly and step by step developed into a
dramatist who set on the stage enduring figures plucked out of the
abounding life about him, so also has Mark Twain grown, ascending from
the 'Jumping Frog' to 'Huckleberry Finn,' as comic as its elder brother
and as laughter-provoking, but charged also with meaning and with
philosophy. And like Molière again, Mark Twain has kept solid hold of
the material world; his doctrine is not of the earth earthy, but it is
never sublimated into sentimentality. He sympathizes with the spiritual
side of humanity, while never ignoring the sensual. Like Molière, Mark
Twain takes his stand on common-sense and thinks scorn of affectation of
every sort. He understands sinners and strugglers and weaklings; and he
is not harsh with them, reserving his scorching hatred for hypocrites
and pretenders and frauds.

At how long an interval Mark Twain shall be rated after Molière and
Cervantes it is for the future to declare. All that we can see clearly
now is that it is with them that he is to be classed,--with Molière and
Cervantes, with Chaucer and Fielding, humorists all of them, and all of
them manly men.



A student of the literature of our own time who has only recently
completed his first half century of life cannot help feeling suddenly
aged and almost antiquated when he awakes to the fact that he has been
privileged to see the completed literary career of two such accomplished
craftsmen as Robert Louis Stevenson and Guy de Maupassant. In youth they
were full of promise, and in maturity they were rich in performance; and
all too soon the lives of both came to an end, when their powers were
still growing, when their outlook on life was still broadening, and when
they bid fair, both of them, to bring forth many another book riper and
wiser than any they had already given us.

The points of contrast between the two men thus untimely taken away are
as striking as the points of similarity. Both were artists ardently in
love with the technic of their craft, delighting in their own skill, and
ever on the alert to find new occasion for the display of their mastery
of the methods of fiction. Stevenson was a Scotchman; and his
pseudo-friend has told us that there was in him something of "the
shorter catechist." Maupassant was a Norman, and he had never given a
thought to the glorifying of God. The man who wrote in English found the
theme of his minor masterpieces in the conflict of which the
battle-ground is the human heart. The man who wrote in French began by
caring little or nothing for the heart or the soul or the mind, and by
concentrating all his skill upon a record of the deeds of the human
body. The one has left us 'Markheim' and the 'Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll
and Mr. Hyde,' while the other made his first bid for fame with 'Boule
de suif.'

In the preface of 'Pierre et Jean,' Maupassant has recorded how he
acquired from Louis Bouilhet the belief that a single lyric, a scant
hundred lines, would give immortality to a poet if only the work were
fine enough, and that for the author who sought to escape oblivion there
was only one course to pursue--to learn his trade thoroly, to master
every secret of the craft, to do his best always, in the hope that some
fortunate day the Muse would reward his unfailing devotion. And from
Flaubert, the author of that merciless masterpiece 'Madame Bovary,' the
young man learned the importance of individuality, of originality, of
the personal note which should be all his own, and which should never
suggest or recall any one else's. Flaubert was kindly and encouraging,
but he was a desperately severe taskmaster. At Flaubert's dictation
Maupassant gave up verse for prose; and for seven years he wrote
incessantly and published nothing. The stories and tales and verses and
dramas of those seven years of apprenticeship were ruthlessly criticized
by the author of 'Salammbô,' and then they were destroyed unprinted. In
all the long history of literature there is no record of any other
author who served so severe a novitiate.

Douglas Jerrold once said of a certain British author who had begun to
publish very young that "he had taken down the shutters before he had
anything to put up in the shop window." From being transfixt by such a
jibe Maupassant was preserved by Flaubert. When he was thirty he
contributed that masterpiece of ironic humor 'Boule de suif,' to the
'Soirées de Médan,' a volume of short-stories put forth by the late
Émile Zola, with the collaboration of a little group of his friends and
followers. On this first appearance in the arena of letters Maupassant
stept at once to a foremost place. That was in 1880; and in 1892 his
mind gave way and he was taken to the asylum, where he soon died. In
those twelve years he had published a dozen volumes of short-stories
and half a dozen novels. Of the novel he might have made himself master
in time; of the short-story he proved himself a master with the very
earliest of all his tales.

It must be admitted at once that many of Maupassant's earlier
short-stories have to do with the lower aspects of man's merely animal
activity. Maupassant had an abundance of what the French themselves
called "Gallic salt." His humor was not squeamish; it delighted in
dealing with themes that our Anglo-Saxon prudery prefers not to touch.
But even at the beginning this liking of his for the sort of thing that
we who speak English prefer to avoid in print never led him to put dirt
where dirt was not a necessary element of his narrative. Dirty many of
these tales were, no doubt; but many of them were perfectly clean. He
never went out of his way to offend, as not a few of his compatriots
seem to enjoy doing. He handled whatever subject he took with the same
absolute understanding of its value, of the precise treatment best
suited to it. If it was a dirty theme he had chosen--and he had no
prejudice against such a theme--he did whatever was needful to get the
most out of his subject. If it was not a dirty theme, then there was
never any touch of the tar-brush. Whenever the subject itself was
inoffensive his treatment was also immaculate. There is never any
difficulty in making a choice out of his hundred or two brief tales;
and it is easy to pick out a dozen or a score of his short-stories
needing absolutely no expurgation, because they are wholly free from any
phrase or any suggestion likely to bring the blush of shame to the cheek
of innocence. In matters of taste, as we Anglo-Saxons regard them,
Maupassant was a man without prejudices. But he was a man also of
immitigable veracity in his dealing with the material of his art, in his
handling of life itself. He told the truth as it was given to him to see
the truth; not the whole truth, of course, for it is given to no man to
see that. His artistic standard was lofty; and he did his best not to
lie about life. And in some ways this veracity of his may be accepted,
if not as an equivalent for morality, at least as a not wholly unworthy

The most of Maupassant's earlier tales were not a little hard and stern
and unsympathetic; and here again Maupassant was the disciple of
Flaubert. His manner was not only unemotional at first, it was icily
impassive. These first stories of his were cold and they were
contemptuous;--at least they made the reader feel that the author
heartily despised the pitiable and pitiful creatures he was depicting.
They dealt mainly with the externals of life,--with outward actions; and
the internal motives of the several actors were not always adequately
implied. But in time the mind came to interest Maupassant as much as the
body. In the beginning he seems to have considered solely what his
characters did, and he cared little to tell us what they felt and what
they thought; probably he did not know himself and did not try to know.

The inquirers who should read his stories in the strict sequence of
their production could not fail to be struck with the first awakening of
his curiosity about human feeling; and they might easily trace the
steady growth of his interest in psychologic states. Telling us at first
bluntly and barely what his characters did, he came in time to find his
chief pleasure in suggesting to us not only what they felt, but
especially what they vaguely feared. Toward the end of his brief career
the thought of death and the dread of mental disease seemed to possess
him more and more with a haunting horror that kept recurring with a
pathetic persistence. He came to have a close terror of death, almost an
obsession of the grave; and to find a parallel to this we should have to
go back four hundred years, to Villon, also a realist and a humorist
with a profound relish for the outward appearances of life. But
Maupassant went far beyond the earlier poet, and he even developed a
fondness for the morbid and the abnormal. This is revealed in 'Le
Horla,' the appalling story in which he took for his own Fitzjames
O'Brien's uncanny monster, invisible, and yet tangible. In the hands of
the clever Irish-American this tale had been gruesome enough; but the
Frenchman was able to give it an added touch of terror by making the
unfortunate victim discover that the creature he feared had a stronger
will than his own and that he was being hypnotized to his doom by a
being whom he could not see, but whose presence he could feel. There is
more than one of these later tales in which we seem to perceive the
premonition of the madness which came upon Maupassant before his death.

At first he was an observer only, a recorder of the outward facts of
average humanity. He had no theories about life, or even about art. He
had no ideas of his own, no general ideas, no interest in ideas. He did
not care to talk about technic or even about his own writings. He put on
paper what he had seen, the peasants of Normandy, the episodes of the
war, the nether-world of the newspaper. He cared nothing for morality,
but he was unfailingly veracious, never falsifying the facts of
existence as he had seen it himself. Then, at the end, it is not what
his characters do that most interested him, not what they are, not what
they think, but what they feel, and, above all, what they fear.

In every work of art there are at least four elements, which we may
separate if we wish to consider each of them in turn. First of all,
there is the technic of the author, his craftsmanship, his mastery of
the tools of his trade; and by almost universal consent Maupassant is
held to be one of the master craftsmen of the short-story. Second, there
is the amount of observation of life which the author reveals; and here
again Maupassant takes rank among the leaders, altho the sphere in which
he observed had its marked limitations and its obvious exclusions.
Thirdly, there is the underlying and informing imagination which invents
and relates and sustains; and there is no disputing the vigor of
Maupassant's imagination, altho it was not lofty and altho it lacked
variety. Finally, there is always to be taken into account what one may
term the author's philosophy of life, his attitude toward the common
problems of humanity; and here it is that Maupassant is most
lacking,--for his opinions are negligible and his attempts at
intellectual speculation are of slight value.

Technic can be acquired; and Maupassant had studied at the feet of that
master technician Flaubert. Observation can be trained; and Maupassant
had deliberately developed his power of vision. Imagination may be
stimulated by constant endeavor to a higher achievement; and
Maupassant's ambitions were ever tending upward. Philosophy, however, is
dependent upon the sum total of a man's faculties, upon his training,
upon his temperament, upon the essential elements of his character; and
Maupassant was not a sound thinker, and his attitude toward life is not
that by which he can best withstand the adverse criticism of posterity.
Primarily, he was not a thinker any more than Hugo was a thinker, or
Dickens. He was only an artist--an artist in fiction; and an artist is
not called upon to be a thinker, altho the supreme artists seem nearly
all of them to have been men of real intellectual force.



As we glance down the long history of literature, we cannot but remark
that certain literary forms, the novel at one time and the drama at
another, have achieved a sweeping popularity, seemingly out of all
proportion to their actual merit at the moment when they were
flourishing most luxuriantly. In these periods of undue expansion, the
prevalent form absorbed many talents not naturally attracted toward it.
In the beginning of the sixteenth century in England, for instance, the
drama was more profitable, and, therefore, more alluring, than any other
field of literary endeavor; and so it was that many a young fellow of
poetic temperament adventured himself in the rude theater of those
spacious days, even tho his native gift was only doubtfully dramatic. No
reader of Peele's plays and of Greene's can fail to feel that these two
gentle poets were, neither of them, born play-makers called to the stage
by irresistible vocation. Two hundred years later, after Steele and
Addison had set the pattern of the eighteenth-century essay, the drama
was comparatively neglected, and every man of letters was found striving
for the unattainable ease and charm of the 'Tatler' and the 'Spectator.'
Even the elephantine Johnson, congenitally incapable of airy nothings
and prone always to "make little fishes talk like whales," disported
ponderously in the 'Idler' and the 'Rambler.' The vogue of the essay was
fleeting also; and a century later it was followed by the vogue of the
novel,--a vogue which has already endured longer than that of the essay,
and which has not yet shown any signs of abating. Yet the history of
literature reminds us that the literary form most in favor in one
century is very likely to drop out of fashion in the next; and we are
justified in asking ourselves whether the novel is to be supreme in the
twentieth century as it was in the nineteenth, or whether its popularity
must surely wane like that of the essay.

Altho the art of fiction must be almost as old as mankind itself, the
prose novel, as we know it now, is a thing of yesterday only. It is not
yet a hundred years since it established itself and claimed equality
with the other forms of literature. Novelists there had been, no doubt,
and of the highest rank; but it was not until after 'Waverley' and its
successors swept across Europe triumphant and overwhelming that a
fiction in prose was admitted to full citizenship in the republic of
letters. Nowadays, we are so accustomed to the novel and so familiar
with its luxuriance in every modern language that we often forget its
comparative youth. Yet we know that no one of the muses of old was
assigned to the fostering of prose-fiction, a form of literary endeavor
which the elder Greeks did not foresee. If we accept Fielding's
contention that the history of 'Tom Jones' must be considered as a
prose-epic, we are justified in the belief that the muse of the
epic-poetry is not now without fit occupation.

Indeed, the modern novel is not only the heir of the epic, it has also
despoiled the drama, the lyric and the oration of part of their
inheritance. The 'Scarlet Letter,' for example, has not a little of the
lofty largeness and of the stately movement of true tragedy; 'Paul and
Virginia,' again, abounds in a passionate self-revelation which is
essentially lyric; and many a novel-with-a-purpose, needless to name
here, displays its author's readiness to avail himself of all the
devices of the orator. In fact, the novel is now so various and so
many-sided that its hospitality is limitless. It welcomes alike the
exotic eroticism of M. Pierre Loti and the cryptic cleverness of Mr.
Henry James, the accumulated adventure of Dumas and the inexorable
veracity of Tolstoi. It has tempted many a man who had no native
endowment for it; Motley and Parkman and Froude risked themselves in
imaginative fiction, as well as in the sterner history which was their
real birthright. And so did Brougham, far more unfitted for
prose-fiction than Johnson was for the graceful eighteenth-century essay
or than Peele and Greene were for the acted drama. Perhaps it is a
consequence of this variety of method, which lets prose-fiction proffer
itself to every passer-by, that we recognize in the Victorian novel the
plasticity of form and the laxity of structure which we have discovered
to be characteristic of the Elizabethan drama.

In her encroaching on the domain of the other muses, the prose-epic has
annexed far more from her comic and tragic sisters than from any of the
other six. An opportunity for a most interesting inquiry awaits the
alert scholar who shall undertake to tell the rivalry of the novel and
the play, tracing their influence on each other and making a catalog of
their mutual borrowings. Altho the record has no special significance,
it may be noted that they have never hesitated to filch plots from each
other, the playwrights appropriating the inventions of the novelists and
the novelists levying on the works of the playwrights,--Shakspere, the
dramatist, finding the action of his 'As You Like It' ready to his hand
in a tale of Lodge's, and Le Sage, the story-teller, in his 'Gil Blas'
availing himself of scenes from Spanish comedies.

Far deeper, however, than any purloining of material are other
interrelations of the novel and the play, which have been continually
influencing one another, even when there was no hint of any plagiarism
of subject-matter. The older of the two, the drama, long served as the
model of prose-fiction; and not a few of the earlier practitioners of
the later art began their literary careers as writers for the
theater,--Le Sage for one, and, for another, Fielding. It is not to be
wondered at that they were inclined to approach the novel a little as
tho it were a play, and to set their characters in motion with only a
bare and summary indication of the appropriate environment. They were
inclined to follow the swift methods proper enough on the stage, if not
absolutely necessary there, instead of developing for themselves the
more leisurely movement appropriate to prose-fiction. Both Fielding and
Le Sage, it may be well to note, had profited greatly by their careful
study of Molière and of his logical method of presenting character. In
the 'Princess of Cleves,'--perhaps the first effort at feminine
psychology in fiction,--we discover the obvious impress of both
Corneille and Racine on Madame de Lafayette,--the stiffening of the will
to resolute self-sacrifice of the elder dramatist and the subtler
analysis of motive dexterously attempted by the younger and more tender
tragic poet.

Just as Beaumarchais in the eighteenth century found his profit in a
study of Le Sage's satiric attitude, so Augier in the nineteenth
century, and still more, Dumas _fils_, responded to the sharp stimulus
of Balzac. The richer and far more complicated presentation of character
which delights and amazes us in the 'Human Comedy' was most suggestive
to the younger generation of French dramatists; and no one can fail to
see the reflection of Balzac in the 'Maître Guérin' of Augier and in the
'Ami des femmes' of Dumas. And, in their turn, these plays and their
fellows supplied a pattern to the novelist--to Daudet especially. A
certain lack of largeness, a certain artificiality of action in Daudet's
'Fromont jeune et Risler aîné,' is probably to be ascribed to the fact
that the story was first conceived in the form of a play, altho it was
actually written as a novel.

The British novelist with whom this French novelist is often compared,
and with whom he had much in common, was also impressed profoundly by
the theater of his own time and of his own country. But Dickens was less
fortunate than Daudet, in that the contemporary English stage did not
afford a model as worthy of imitation as the contemporary French stage.
Of course, the native genius of Dickens is indisputable, but his
artistic ideals are painfully unsatisfactory. His letters show him
forever straining after effects for their own sake only, and striving to
put just so much humor and just so much pathos into each one of the
successive monthly parts into which his stories were chopped up. Very
fond of the theater from his early youth, Dickens had come near going on
the stage as an actor; and, in his search for effects, he borrowed
inexpensive mysteries from contemporary melodrama, and he took from it
the implacable and inexplicable villain ever involved in dark plottings.
It is significant that 'No Thoroughfare,' the one play of his invention
which was actually produced, was performed at the Adelphi, and was
discovered then not to differ widely from the other robust and
high-colored melodramas ordinarily acted at that hopelessly unliterary
playhouse. Daudet, altho he was not gifted with the splendid creative
force of Dickens, inherited the Latin tradition of restraint and harmony
and proportion; and he had before his eyes on the French stage the
adroitly contrived comedies of Augier and of Dumas _fils_, models far
more profitable to a novelist than the violent crudities of the Adelphi.

Perhaps there is more than a hint of ingratitude in Daudet's later
disgust with the inherent limitations of the drama,--a disgust more
forcibly phrased by his friends, Zola and Goncourt and Flaubert,
realists all of them, eager to capture the theater also and to rule it
in their own way. In their hands, the novel was an invading conqueror;
and they had the arrogance that comes from an unforeseen success. They
were all eager to take possession of the playhouse, and to repeat in
that new field of art the profitable victories they had gained in the
library. But they declined to admit that the drama was a special art,
with a method of its own. They resented bitterly the failures that
followed when they refused to accept the conditions of the actual
theater; and they protested shrilly against these conditions when they
vainly essayed to fulfil them. "What a horrible manner of writing is
that which suits the stage!" Flaubert complained to George Sand. "The
ellipses, the suspensions, the interrogations must be lavished, if one
wishes to have liveliness; and all these things, in themselves, are very
ugly." In other words, Flaubert was concerned with the rhetoric of the
written word, and he had no relish for the rhythm of spoken dialog.

These French novelists refused to perceive that the drama is, of
necessity, the most democratic of the arts, since it depends, and has
always depended, and must ever depend, absolutely upon the public as a
whole. The strength of the drama, its immense advantage over other forms
of literature, lies in this, that it must appeal to the mass of men,
not to the intelligent more than to the unintelligent, not to the
educated more than to the uneducated, not to any sect or clique, or
cotery, but to men as men. The laws of the drama may be deduced, all of
them, from this principle, that in the theater the play-maker has to
interest a gathering of his own contemporaries, all sorts and conditions
of men. If he cannot hold their attention, move them, sway them, control
them, then he has failed frankly to do what he set out to do. And he can
do this, he can make them laugh, and make them weep, make them feel, and
make them think, only by accepting the conditions of the theater itself.
Daudet and Zola had more of the needful understanding of their fellow
creatures than Flaubert and Goncourt, more of the necessary sympathy;
but they had all of them not a little of the conceit of the self-made
man and they assumed the egotistic attitude of the cultivated
aristocrat. It would have been well if they could have taken to heart
what George Sand once wrote to Flaubert: "It seems to me that your
school does not consider enough the substance of things, and that it
lingers too much on the surface. By dint of seeking for form, it lets go
of the fact. It addresses itself to men of cultivation. But there are,
strictly speaking, no men of cultivation, for we are, first of all,

Because the drama was popular, these artistic aristocrats despised it.
Altho they pined to succeed as play-makers, they scorned the trouble of
mastering the methods of the theater. Because the drama, at its highest,
attained to the loftier levels of literature, they assumed that a man of
letters had no need to spy out the secrets of the stage. If they could
not apply in the play the methods they had been applying skilfully and
successfully in the novel, so much the worse for the play. Evidently,
the drama was not literature, and the theater was no place for a
literary man. The fault was not in them; it could not be, since they had
regenerated the novel. It must be in the stage itself, and in the
stupidity of the public.

In one of his most vigorous essays, Brunetière joined issue with this
little group of French novelists, and told them sharply that they had
better consider anew the theatrical practises and prejudices which
seemed to them absurdly out-worn, and which they disdained as born of
mere chance and surviving only by tradition. He bade them ask themselves
if these tricks of the trade, so to style them, were not due to the fact
that the dramatist's art is a special art, having its own laws, its own
conditions, its own conventions, inherent in the nature of the art
itself. When they exprest their conviction that the method of the novel
ought to be applicable to the play, Brunetière retorted that, if the
novel was the play and if the play was the novel, then in all accuracy
there would be neither novel nor play, but only a single and undivided
form; and he insisted that, if as a matter of fact this single form did
not actually exist, if it had divided itself, if there was such a thing
as a novel and such a thing as a play, then that could be only because
we go to the theater to get a specific pleasure which we cannot get in
the library. The practical critic gave them the sound advice that, if
they sought to succeed in the theater as they had succeeded in the
library, they should study the art of the playwright, endeavoring to
perceive wherein it differs from the art of the story-teller.

The points of agreement between the novel and the play are so obvious
that there is some excuse for overlooking the fact that the points of
disagreement are almost as numerous. It is true that, in the play as in
the novel, a story is developed by means of characters whose
conversation is reproduced. So the game of golf is like the game of
lawn-tennis, in so far as there are in both of them balls to be placed
by the aid of certain implements. But as the balls are different and as
the implements are different, the two games are really not at all alike;
and it is when they are played most skilfully and most strictly
according to the rules that they are most unlike.

The play is least dramatic when it most closely resembles the novel, as
it did in the days of Peele and Greene, whose dramas are little more
than narratives presented in dialog. In the three centuries since Peele
and Greene, the play and the novel have been getting further and further
away from each other. Each has been steadily specializing, seeking its
true self, casting out the extraneous elements proved to be useless. The
novel in its highest development is now a single narrative, no longer
distended and delayed by intercalated tales, such as we find in 'Don
Quixote' and 'Tom Jones,' in 'Wilhelm Meister' and in 'Pickwick,'
inserted for no artistic reason, but merely because the author happened
to have them on hand. The play in its highest development is now a
single action, swiftly presented, and kept free from lyrical and
oratorical digressions existing for their own sake and not aiding in the
main purpose of the drama.

The practitioners of each art conceive their stories in accordance with
the necessities of that art, the novelist thinking in terms of the
printed page and the dramatist thinking in terms of the actual theater,
with its actors and with its spectators. Here, indeed, is a chief reason
why the perspective of the play is different from the perspective of
the novel, in that the playwright must perforce take account of his
audience, of its likes and its dislikes, of its traditions and its
desires. The novelist need not give a thought to his readers, assured
that those in sympathy with his attitude and his mood will find him out
sooner or later. To the story-teller, readers may come singly and at
intervals; but the play-maker has to attract his audience in a mass.
Much of the merely literary merit of a drama may be enjoyed by a lone
reader under the library lamp; but its essential dramatic quality is
completely and satisfactorily revealed only in front of the footlights
when the theater is filled with spectators.

It is this consciousness that his appeal is not to any individual man,
but to man in the mass, that makes the dramatist what he is. To
scattered readers, each sitting alone, an author may whisper many things
which he would not dare blurt out before a crowd. The playwright knows
that he can never whisper slyly; he must always speak out boldly so that
all may hear him; and he must phrase what he has to say so as to please
the boys in the gallery without insulting the women in the stage-boxes.
To the silent pressure of these unrelated spectators he responds by
seeking the broadest basis for his play, by appealing to elemental human
sympathy, by attempting themes with more or less of universality. It is
because the drama is the most democratic of the arts that the dramatist
cannot narrow himself as the novelist may, if he chooses; and it is
because this breadth of appeal is inherent in the acted play that
Aristotle held the drama to be a nobler form than the epic. "The
dramatic poem," said Mr. Henry James some thirty years ago, when he was
dealing with Tennyson's 'Queen Mary,' "seems to me of all literary forms
the very noblest.... More than any other work of literary art, it needs
a masterly structure."

Whether nobler or not, the dramatic form has always had a powerful
fascination for the novelists, who are forever casting longing eyes on
the stage. Mr. James himself has tried it, and Mr. Howells and Mark
Twain also. Balzac believed that he was destined to make his fortune in
the theater; and one of Thackeray's stories was made over out of a
comedy, acted only by amateurs. Charles Reade called himself a dramatist
forced to be a novelist by bad laws. Flaubert and the Goncourts, Zola
and Daudet wrote original plays, without ever achieving the success
which befell their efforts in prose-fiction. And now, in the opening
years of the twentieth century, we see Mr. Barrie in London and M.
Hervieu in Paris abandoning the novel in which they have triumphed for
the far more precarious drama. Mr. Thomas Hardy also appears to have
wearied of the novel and to be seeking relief, if not in real drama, at
least in a form borrowed from it, a sort of epic in dialog. Nor is it
without significance that the professional playwrights seem to feel
little or no temptation to turn story-tellers. Apparently the dramatic
form is the more attractive and the more satisfactory, in spite of its
greater difficulty and its greater danger.

Perhaps, indeed, we may discover in this difficulty and danger one
reason why the drama is more interesting than prose-fiction. A true
artist cannot but tire of a form that is too facile; and he is ever
yearning for a grapple with stubborn resistance. He delights in technic
for its own sake, girding himself joyfully to vanquish its necessities.
He is aware that an art which does not demand a severe apprenticeship
for the slow mastery of its secrets will fail to call forth his full
strength. He knows that it is bad for the art and unwholesome for the
artist himself, when the conditions are so relaxed that he can take it

It was a saying of the old bard of Brittany that "he who will not answer
to the rudder must answer to the rocks"; and not a few writers of
prose-fiction have made shipwreck because they gave no heed to this
warning. Many a novelist is a sloven in the telling of his tale,
beginning it anywhere and ending it somehow, distracting attention on
characters of slight importance, huddling his incidents, confusing his
narrative, simply because he has never troubled himself with the
principles of construction and proportion with which every playwright
must needs make himself familiar. Just as the architectural students at
the Beaux Arts in Paris are required to develop at the same time the
elevation and the ground-plan and the cross-section of the edifice they
are designing, so the playwright, while he is working out his plot, must
be continually solving problems of exposition and of construction, of
contrast and of climax. These are questions with which the ordinary
novelist feels no need to concern himself, for the reading public makes
no demand on him and there is nothing urging him to attain a high
standard. It is worthy of remark that the newspaper reviewers of current
fiction very rarely comment on the construction of the novels they are

In other words, the novel is too easy to be wholly satisfactory to an
artist in literature. It is a loose form of hybrid ancestry; it may be
of any length; and it may be told in any manner,--in letters, as an
autobiography or as a narrative. It may win praise by its possession of
the mere externals of literature, by sheer style. It may seek to please
by description of scenery, or by dissection of motive. It may be empty
of action and filled with philosophy. It may be humorously perverse in
its license of digression,--as it was in Sterne's hands, for example. It
may be all things to all men: it is a very chameleon-weathercock. And it
is too varied, too negligent, too lax, to spur its writer to his utmost
effort, to that stern wrestle with technic which is a true artist's
never-failing tonic.

On the other hand, the drama is a rigid form, limited to the two hours'
traffic of the stage. Just as the decorative artist has to fill the
space assigned to him and must respect the dispositions of the
architect, so the playwright must work his will within the requirements
of the theater, turning to advantage the restrictions which he should
not evade. He must always appeal to the eye as well as to the ear, never
forgetting that the drama, while it is in one aspect a department of
literature, in another is a branch of the show-business. He must devise
stage-settings at once novel, ingenious and plausible; and he must
invent reasons for bringing together naturally the personages of his
play in the single place where each of his acts passes. He must set his
characters firm on their feet, each speaking for himself and revealing
himself as he speaks; for they need to have internal vitality as they
cannot be painted from the outside. He must see his creatures as well
as hear them; and he must know always what they are doing and how they
are looking when they are speaking. He cannot comment on them or explain
them, or palliate their misdeeds. He must project them outside of
himself; and he cannot be his own lecturer to point out their motives.
He must get on without any attempt to point out the morality of his
work, which remains implicit altho it ought to be obvious. He must work
easily within many bonds, seeming always to be free and unhampered; and
he must turn to account these restrictions and find his profit in them,
for they are the very qualities which differentiate the drama and make
it what it is.

This essential unlikeness of the drama to the novel is so keenly
appreciated by every novelist who happens also to be a dramatist, that
he is rarely tempted to treat the same theme in both forms, feeling
instinctively that it belongs either to the stage or to the library.
Often, of course, he writes a novel rather than a play, because he knows
that a certain theme, adequate as it may be for a novel, lacks that
essential struggle, that naked assertion of the human will, that clash
of contending desires, which must be visible in a play if this is to
sustain the interest of an audience. Many a tale, pleasing to thousands
of readers because it abounds in brisk adventure, will not lend itself
to successful dramatization because its many episodes are not related to
a single straight-forward conflict of forces.

When Mr. Gillette undertook to make a play out of the Sherlock Holmes
stories, which were not really dramatic, however ingeniously packed with
thrilling surprizes, he seized at once on the sinister figure of
Professor Moriarty, glimpsed only for a moment in a single tale, and he
set this portentous villain up against his hero,--thereby displaying his
mastery of a major principle of play-making. Many a novel has seemed
vulgarized on the stage, because the adapter had to wrench its structure
in seeking a struggle strong enough to sustain the framework of a play.
Many a story has been cheapened pitifully by the theatrical adapter,
simply because he was incapable of seeing in it more than a series of
striking scenes which could be hewn into dialog for rough and ready
representation on the stage, and because he had seized only his raw
material, the bare skeleton of intrigue, without possessing the skill or
the taste needed to convey across the footlights the subtle psychology
which vitalized the original tale, or the evanescent atmosphere which
enveloped it in charm. Mr. Bliss Perry phrased it most felicitously when
he asserted that "a novel is typically as far removed from a play as a
bird is from a fish," and that "the attempt to transform one into the
other is apt to result in a sort of flying-fish, a betwixt-and-between

We all know that the ultimate value of certain accepted works of fiction
is to be found, not in the story itself or even in the characters, but
rather in the interpretative comment with which the novelist has
encompassed people and happenings commonplace enough; and we all can see
that, when one of these stories is set on the stage, the comment must be
stript off, the incidents and the characters standing naked in their
triteness. But this betrayal is not to be charged against dramatic form,
for all that the dramatization did was to uncover brutally an inherent
weakness which the novelist had hoped to hide.

The novelist has privileges denied to the playwright; and, chief among
them, of course, is the right to explain his characters, to analize
their motives, to set forth every fleeting phase of emotion to which
they are subject. Sidney Lanier asserted that the novel was a finer form
than the drama because there were subtleties of feeling which Shakspere
could not make plain and George Eliot could. Unfortunately for Lanier,
his admiration for George Eliot is felt now to be excessive; and few of
us are ready to accept Gwendolen Harleth as a more successful attempt at
portraiture than any one of half a score of Shakspere's heroines, so
convincingly feminine. But there is truth, no doubt, in the contention
that the novel is freer, more fluid, more flexible than the play; and
that there are themes and subjects unsuited to the stage and wholly
within the compass of the story-teller. To say this is but to repeat
again that the drama is not prose-fiction and prose-fiction is not the
drama,--just as painting is not sculpture and sculpture not painting.

But to emphasize this distinction is not to confess that the drama
cannot do at all certain things which the novel does with unconscious
ease. Is there no rich variety of self-analysis in 'Macbeth,' one may
ask, and in 'Hamlet'? Did any novelist of the seventeenth century lay
bare the palpitations of the female heart more delicately than Racine?
Did any novelist of the eighteenth century reveal a subtler insight into
the hidden recesses of feminine psychology than Marivaux? It may be true
enough that, in the nineteenth century, prose-fiction has been more
fortunate than the drama and that the novelists have achieved triumphs
of insight and of subtlety denied to the dramatists. But who shall say
that this immediate inferiority of the play to the novel is inherent in
the form itself? Who will deny that it may be merely the defect of the
playwrights of our time? Who will assert that a more accomplished
dramatist may not come forward in the twentieth century to prove that
the drama is a fit instrument for emotional dissection?

No one has more clearly indicated the limitations of the dramatic medium
than Mr. A.B. Walkley, who once declared that the future career of the
drama "is likely to be hampered by its inability to tell cultivated and
curious people of to-day a tithe of the things they want to know. What
the drama can tell, it can tell more emphatically than any other art.
The novel, for instance, is but a report; the drama makes you an
eyewitness of the thing in the doing. But then there is a whole world of
things which cannot be done, of thoughts and moods and subconscious
states which cannot be exprest on the stage and which can be exprest in
the novel. In earlier ages, which could do with a narrow range of vivid
sensations, the drama sufficed; it will not suffice for an age which
wants an illimitable range of sensations, and, being quick in the
uptake, can dispense with vividness." And then the brilliant critic of
the London _Times_ dwelt on the meagerness of Ibsen's 'Master-Builder'
when contrasted with "the extraordinarily complicated texture of subtle
thoughts and minute sensations" in Mr. James's 'Wings of the Dove.'

It may as well be confest frankly that, even in the twenty-first
century, the playhouse is unlikely to be hospitable to an
"extraordinarily complicated texture of subtle thoughts and minute
sensations"; but we may ask also if the playhouse will really be very
much poorer by this inhospitality. Even tho a small subdivision of the
public shall find a keen pleasure in them, there are other things in
life than subtle thoughts and minute sensations; there are larger
aspects of existence than those we find registered either in the 'Wings
of the Dove' or in the 'Master-Builder.' The texture of Mr. James's book
may be more complicated than that of Ibsen's play; but this is not
entirely because one is a novel and the other a drama. Both works fail
in breadth of appeal; they are narrow in their outlook on life, however
skilful in craftsmanship they may be, each in its own way; they are
devised for the dilettants, for the men of cultivation, and for these
mainly; and that way danger lies. Taine dwelt on the disintegration
impending when artists tended to appeal to the expert rather than to the
public as a whole. "The sculptor," so he declared, "no longer addresses
himself to a religious, civic community, but to a group of isolated
lovers of the art." In the future as in the past, the appeal of the
playwright must be to the main body of his contemporaries, even tho this
may be at the risk of not fully satisfying one group or another.

The art of the dramatist is not yet at its richest; but it bristles with
obstacles such as a strong man joys in overcoming. In this sharper
difficulty is its most obvious advantage over the art of the novelist;
and here is its chief attraction for the story-teller, weary of a method
almost too easy to be worth while. Here is a reason why one may venture
a doubt whether the novel, which has been dominant, not to say
domineering, in the second half of the nineteenth century, may not have
to face a more acute rivalry of the drama in the first half of the
twentieth century. The vogue of the novel is not likely to wane
speedily; but its supremacy may be challenged by the drama more swiftly
than now seems likely.



In trying to present our own opinions upon a question at issue, we can
often find an advantage in getting first of all a clear statement of the
other side. This must serve as an excuse for here quoting a paragraph
(from a British magazine) which chanced to get itself copied in an
American newspaper:

     The truth is, our dramatists have long since forgotten that the
     English language is still the medium of the English drama, and that
     no branch of literary art is worth a word of praise that wantonly
     divorces itself from literature. The foolish dramatist who was once
     loquacious concerning what he was pleased to call "the literary
     drama" condemned his own craft in a single phrase. No doubt,
     prosperity being essential, the audience of our theaters must share
     the blame with their favorites. Too idle to listen to exquisite
     prose or splendid verse, they prefer the quick antics of comedians,
     and in their ear, as in Mr. Pinero's, "theatrical," has a far more
     splendid sound than "dramatic." To sum the matter up, that poets
     have failed upon the stage is no compliment to the professional
     playwrights, who believe themselves the vessels of an esoteric
     inspiration. It merely means that literature and the drama travel
     by different roads, and they will continue to travel by those roads
     so long as the actor is master of the dramatist, so

     long as the merits of a drama are judged by the standard of
     material prosperity. After all, to get your puppets on and off the
     stage is not the sole end of drama, and modesty might suggest that
     it is better to fail with Tennyson than to succeed with the gifted
     author who is at this moment engaged in whitewashing Julia.

Inexpensive in wit as this paragraph is, it serves the purpose of
showing us that there are still those who believe the drama of our own
time to be a thing of naught. Brief as this quotation is, it is long
enough to reveal that the writer of it had the arrogance of ignorance,
and that he was expressing what he conceived to be opinions, without
taking the trouble to learn anything about the history of the theater or
about the principles of the dramatic art.

The full measure of his ignorance it would be a waste of time to point
out, but it can be estimated by his two remarks, that it was better to
fail with Tennyson than to succeed with Mr. Henry Arthur Jones, and that
there is likely to be no change for the better so long as the merits of
a drama are judged by "the standard of material prosperity." Taking
these assertions in turn, we may note, first, that Tennyson ardently
longed to write a play which should please the playgoers of his own
time; second, that he desired to be judged by these very standards of
material prosperity,--just as Mr. Jones does. Mr. Jones has more than
once succeeded in pleasing the playgoers of his own time, and Tennyson
failed to achieve the particular kind of success he was aiming at. His
failure may have been due to his lack of the native dramatic faculty; it
may have been due to his following of outworn models no longer adjusted
to the conditions of the modern theater; but whatever the reason, there
is no doubt as to the fact itself. He did not attain the goal he was
striving for any more than Browning was able to do so; and it is not for
their eulogists now to say that their goal was unworthy. The test of
"material prosperity" was the very test by which the poets wisht to be
tried, and by this test they both failed--and Mr. Henry Arthur Jones
more than once has succeeded. Tennyson and Mr. Jones were aiming at the
same target--popular success in the theater. Even if Mr. Jones has not
always made a bull's-eye, he has often put his bullet on the target--the
very target which Tennyson mist completely, even if his ball happened to
make a hit on another.

Tennyson desired to meet the conditions which all the great dramatists
have ever been willing to meet. He did not follow their example and
study carefully the circumstances of theatrical representation as they
had done, nor did he make himself master of the secrets of the
dramaturgic art. And this is a chief reason why he was unable to
produce any impression upon the drama of his day; while the dramatic
poets of the past, the masters whom he respected--Sophocles and
Shakspere and Molière--each of them, accepting the formula of the
theater as this had been elaborated by his immediate predecessors,
enlarged this formula, modified it, made it over to suit his own ampler
outlook on life, and thus stamped his own individuality upon the drama
of succeeding generations.

Shakspere and Molière are accepted by us now as the greatest of dramatic
poets; but to their own contemporaries they were known rather as
ingenious playwrights up to every trick of the trade, finding their
profit in every new device of their fellow-craftsmen, and emerging
triumphant from a judgment by "the standard of material prosperity." And
by this same standard, unworthy as it may seem to some, Lope de Vega and
Calderon were judged in their own day. Corneille and Racine also,
Beaumarchais and Sheridan, Hugo and Augier and Rostand. The standard of
material prosperity is not the only test,--indeed, it is not the final
test,--but it is the first and the most imperative, because a dramatist
who fails to please the play-going public of his own time will never
have another chance. There is no known instance of a poet unsuccessful
on the stage in his own country and winning recognition in the theater
after his death. Posterity never reverses the unfavorable verdict of an
author's contemporaries; it has no time to waste on this, for it is too
busy reversing the favorable verdicts which seem to it to be in
disaccord with the real merits of the case.

It was Mark Twain who pithily summed up a prevailing opinion when he
said that "the classics are the books everybody praises--and nobody
reads." Let us hope that this is an overstatement and not the exact
truth; but whatever the proportion of verity in Mark Twain's saying,
there is no doubt that we are running no great risk if we reverse it and
say that when they were first produced the classics were books that
everybody read--and that nobody praised. Shakspere to-day is the prey of
the commentators and of the criticasters, but in his own time Shakspere
was the most popular of the Elizabethan playwrights--so popular that his
name was tagged to plays he had not written, in order that the public
might be tempted to take them into favor. Yet it was years before the
discovery was made that this popular playwright was also the greatest
poet and the profoundest psychologist of all time. Cervantes lived long
enough to be pleased by the widespread enjoyment of his careless
masterpiece; but it was a century at least before the first suspicion
arose that 'Don Quixote' was more than a "funny book." Molière was very
lucky in filling his theater when his own pieces were performed; but
contemporary opinion held that his plays owed their attraction not so
much to their literary merit as to the humorous force of his own acting.
Molière was acknowledged to be the foremost of comic actors, but only
Boileau was sure of his genius as a dramatist; and Boileau's colleagues
in the French Academy never recognized Molière's superiority over all
his immediate rivals.

The very fact that Molière and Shakspere were pleasing the plain people,
that they were able to attract the main body of the unlearned populace,
that they sought frankly to be judged by "the standard of material
prosperity"--this very fact seems to have prevented their contemporaries
from perceiving the literary merit of their plays. Indeed, it is not
unfair to suggest that the cultivated critics of the past--like some
cultivated critics of our own time--are predisposed to deny literary
merit to anything which is broadly popular. They think of literary merit
as something upon which they alone are competent to decide, as something
to be tried by the touchstones they keep in their studies, under lock
and key. The scholarly contemporaries of Shakspere saw that he did not
conform to the classic traditions they revered, and they could not
guess he was establishing a classic tradition of his own. They were so
full of the past that they could not see the present right before their
eyes. They mist in Shakspere's work what they had been trained to
consider as the chief essential of dramatic art; and they were not acute
enough to inquire whether there were not good reasons why he was so
attractive to the vulgar mob whom they despised.

To most critics of the drama "literary merit" is something external,
something added to the play, something adjusted to the structure. They
blame modern playwrights for not putting it in. They take an attitude
toward the drama of their own day like that of the New England farmer,
when he was asked who had been the architect of his house. "Oh, I built
that house myself," was the answer; "but there's a man coming down from
Boston next week to put the architecture on." To this New England
farmer, architecture was not in the planning and the proportion and the
structure; to him it seemed to mean only some sort of jig-saw fretwork
added as an afterthought. To most of those who amuse themselves by
writing about the drama, "literary merit" is chiefly a matter of pretty
speeches, of phrase-making, of simile and metaphor--in short, of

It seems absurd that at this late day it should be needful to repeat
once more that literature is not a matter of rhetoric; that it is not
external and detachable, but internal and essential. It has to do with
motive and character, with form and philosophy; it is a criticism of
life itself, or else it is mere vanity and vexation. If literature is no
more than a stringing of flowers of speech, then is 'Lucile' a greater
book than 'Robinson Crusoe,' or then is the 'Forest Lovers' a finer book
than 'Huckleberry Finn'; then is Pater a better writer than Benjamin
Franklin or Abraham Lincoln. Books are not made by style alone. Even
lyric poetry is estimated by its fervor and by its sincerity rather than
by the dulcet phrases in which the lyrist has voiced his emotion of the
moment. If verbal felicity alone is all that the poet needs, if he is to
be judged only by the compelling melody of the words he has chosen to
set in array, then is Poe the foremost of lyrists. Even the essay, the
most narrowly literary of all prose-forms, is valued for its wisdom
rather than for its phrasing. The essays of Stevenson, for example, will
survive not because of their style alone, polished as that is and
unexpectedly happy in its phrasing, but because the man who wrote them,
artist as he was in words, had something to say--something which was his
own, the result of his own observation of life from his own angle of
vision. Style is the great antiseptic, no doubt; but style cannot bestow
life on the still-born.

Not only do such critics as the anonymous writer from whom quotation has
been made, persist in thinking of the literary merit of the drama as
"exquisite prose" and "splendid verse,"--in other words as an added
grace, applied externally,--but they also seem to believe that all plays
possessing what they would regard as "literary merit" stand in a class
apart. They are looking for a literary drama which shall be different
from the popular drama. Apparently they expect to be able to recognize a
literary play at first sight--and probably by its excess of applied
ornament. And this attitude is quite as absurd as the other. In no one
of the greater periods of the poetic drama have the plays which we now
revere as masterpieces differed in form from the mass of the other plays
of that epoch. They were better, no doubt, excelling in power, in
elevation, in insight, in skill. But they bore a striking resemblance in
structure and in intent to the host of contemporary plays which we now
perceive to be hopelessly inferior to them.

So far as their outward appearance goes the great plays of Sophocles, of
Shakspere, and of Molière are closely akin to the plays of their
undistinguished contemporaries. It is in their content that they are
immeasurably superior. They differ in degree only, never in kind.
Shakspere early availed himself of the framework of the tragedy-of-blood
that Kyd had made popular; and later he borrowed from Beaumont and
Fletcher the flexible formula of the dramatic-romance. His genius
towered above theirs, but he was content to appropriate their patterns.
Molière modeled many of his earlier plays upon the loosely-knit
comedy-of-masks of the Italian comedians, and the difference between his
work and theirs is not external but internal; it is the difference
between adroitness and cleverness on their part, and supreme comic
genius on his. Probably it was this apparent similarity of Shakspere's
work and Molière's to the uninspired efforts of their competitors which
prevented their contemporaries from discovering their preëminence--the
preëminence which is so obvious to us now that the plays of their
fellow-craftsmen have fallen out of memory.

The blindness of the contemporary critic of Shakspere and of Molière,
inexplicable as it may appear nowadays, has its parallel in the
blindness of the contemporary critic in regard to 'Don Quixote' and 'Gil
Blas,' 'Robinson Crusoe' and the 'Pilgrim's Progress.' He had not the
insight to see in these comparatively commonplace narratives the
essential truth of the enduring masterpiece. He was seeking an outward
and visible sign; he saw nothing unusual, abnormal, eccentric, in these
books, nothing novel, nothing that cried aloud for recognition; and so
he past by on the other side. These books seemed to him in nowise raised
above the common; they were to be enjoyed in some measure, but they
evoked no high commendation; and the contemporary critic never suspected
that these unpretending volumes, unlike the most of their competitors in
public favor, contained the vital spark which alone bestows enduring
life. He failed wholly to guess that these books had in them the
elements of the universal and the permanent--just as he was unable to
perceive that the more obviously literary, rhetorical, academic works he
was ready enough to commend highly, lacked these elements and therefore
were doomed soon to sink into deserved oblivion.

This is precisely the attitude of many a critic of our own time. He is
looking for a literary drama which shall be different in kind from the
popular play; and as he fails to find this to-day--as he would have
failed to find it in every period of the theater's most splendid
achievement--he asserts that the literary drama is nowadays nonexistent.
He does not care to inquire into the genuine qualities of the plays that
happen to be able to attain "the standard of material prosperity." He is
quick to perceive the attempt to be literary in the plays of Mr.
Stephen Phillips, because this promising dramatic poet has so far tended
rather to construct his decoration than to decorate his construction:
and, therefore, the literary merit in Mr. Phillips's acted pieces seems
sometimes to be somewhat external, so to speak, or at least more
ostentatiously paraded. He is forced to credit 'Quality Street' with a
certain literary merit, because Mr. Barrie has published novels which
have an undeniable literary flavor.

Considering literary merit as something applied on the outside, too
obvious to be mistaken, the critic of this type disdains to give to
certain of the plays of Mr. Pinero the discussion they deserve. In the
'Benefit of the Doubt,' in the 'Second Mrs. Tanqueray,' in 'Iris,' Mr.
Pinero has used all his mastery of stage-craft, not for its own sake,
but as the instrument of his searching analysis of life as he sees it.
All three plays bring out the eternal truth of George Eliot's saying
that "Consequences are unpitying." In all three plays the inevitable and
inexorable catastrophe is brought about, not by "the long arm of
coincidence," but rather by the finger of fate itself. In 'Iris' more
particularly we have put before us the figure of a gentle and kindly
creature of compelling personal charm, but weak of will and moving thru
life along the line of least resistance--a feminine counterpart of the
Tito Melema etched with such appalling veracity in 'Romola.' And Mr.
Pinero has the same sincerity in his portrayal of the gradual
disintegration of character under the stress of recurring temptation,
until the woman is driven forth at last stript of all things that she
held desirable, and bare of the last shred of self-respect. The play may
be unpleasant, but it is profoundly moral. It is not spoon-meat for
babes, but it is poignant and vital. The picture of human character
betrayed by its own weakness is so true, so transparently sincere, that
the spectator, however quick he may be to discuss the theme, remains
unconscious of the art by which the wonder has been wrought; he gives
scarcely a thought to the logic of the construction, and to the honesty
with which character is presented--literary merits both of them, if
literature is in fact a criticism of life.

The shrewd remark of M. Jules Lemaître must ever be borne in mind,--that
criticism of our contemporaries is not criticism, it is only
conversation. Yet there is sufficient self-revelation in the fact that
those who have been ready enough to praise the 'Lady of Lyons,' with its
tawdry rhetoric and its shabby morality, have not seen the superiority
of Mr. Pinero over Lord Lytton even as a stylist, as a master of
English, tense, nervous, and flexible, adjusting itself to the thought,
never protruding itself on our vision, and yet withstanding verbal
criticism when we take time afterward to subject it to that test also.

Just as the Elizabethan critics thought little of Shakespeare because he
failed to follow in the footsteps of the great Greeks, so some modern
critics care naught for the best work of the dramatists of our own time,
because this is not cast in the Shakespearean mold. The Elizabethan
critics could not know the difference between the theater of Dionysius
in Athens and the bare cockpit of the Globe in London; and there are
their kin to-day who cannot perceive the difference between the
half-roofed playhouse for which Shakespeare wrote and the
electric-lighted place of amusement to which we are now accustomed.
These latter-day critics do not see why the haphazard structure which
was good enough for Tudor times is not good enough for us; and they have
so little sense of form that they are unaware how the change in the
circumstances of performance has forced a more compact presentation of
the theme than was necessary in the days of "Eliza and our James."

As Mr. John Morley has pointed out, "the prodigy of such amazing results
from such glorious carelessness as Shakespeare's has plunged hundreds of
men of talent into a carelessness most inglorious." The history of
English literature is strewed with wrecked tragedies, lofty enough in
aspiration, but pitifully lacking in inspiration. The same tragedies,
slovenly as they might be in structure and empty of dramatic energy,
were cased in the traditional trappings; they were divided into five
acts and they were bedecked with blank verse; and contemporary critics
made haste to credit them with the literary merit these same critics do
not even look for in 'Iris' and in the 'Second Mrs. Tanqueray,'
tragedies, both of them, of a purifying pathos that Aristotle would have
understood. In fact, there would be no great difficulty in showing how
near Aristotle came to an explicit assertion that in the drama "literary
merit" is almost a by-product--valuable, no doubt, like many another
by-product, but not the chief thing to be sought.

Mr. Pinero has discust Robert Louis Stevenson as a dramatist, and his
lecture contained passages which every man of letters should ponder. He
showed that Stevenson had in him the true dramatic stuff, but that he
refused to serve the severe apprenticeship to play-making that he gladly
gave to novel-writing. Mr. Pinero made plain the further fact that
Stevenson, who was ever a sedulous ape of the masters he admired, had
here set himself a bad pattern to copy. This was not the loose and
rambling Elizabethan model which had led Tennyson and Browning astray;
it was the model of the cheap melodrama of the early years of the
nineteenth century. "Stevenson with all his genius failed to realize
that the art of drama is not stationary, but progressive," said Mr.
Pinero. "By this I do not mean that it is always improving; what I do
mean is that its conditions are always changing and that every dramatist
whose ambition it is to produce live plays is absolutely bound to study
carefully ... the conditions that hold good for its own age and

This is what every great dramatist has done; it is what Shakespeare did
and Molière also; it is what Stevenson did not care to do, because he
did not understand the necessity of it. He did not borrow the formula of
the most successful of the plays which chanced to be pleasing the public
just then. If he had done this, he could have put into this formula all
the fine writing he so much enjoyed; he might have given to his plays
the utmost polish of style. Instead of trying to write dramas externally
like those popular in the theater of his own time, and making them
internally whatsoever he chose, he went back half a century and tried to
revive a poor formula already defunct. The game was lost before the
cards were dealt. He had refused to consider the conditions of the
problem he was handling--"the problem of how to tell a dramatic story
truly, convincingly, and effectively, on the modern stage"; as Mr.
Pinero described it, "the problem of disclosing the workings of the
human heart by methods which shall not destroy the illusion which a
modern audience expects to enjoy in the modern theater."

Stevenson was here making the mistake which so many men of letters make
when they turn to the theater. He was going upon the theory that the
drama is made literary, not from within, by observation and imagination
and sincerity, but from without, by the application of fine speeches.
His speeches were fine, no doubt, even tho they were not in keeping with
that special kind of play when it had been alive. But as it happened,
that kind of play was dead and gone, and no injection of oratory would
bring it to life again. And here the Scotch story-teller failed to
profit by the example of the French poet whose romances he had so
sympathetically studied. Hugo had also a gift for oratory and a talent
for fine speeches; but when he yearned for theatrical success he went to
the most popular playhouses where the plain people gathered, and he
adopted as his own the formula of play-making which was proving its
value in these boulevard theaters. This was not in itself much better
than the formula Stevenson borrowed and did not trouble to
understand--indeed, the two are not unlike. But Hugo had made his
choice half a century before Stevenson; and when he made it he was
taking possession of the very latest fashion.

Hugo's formula is now fallen out of mode, yet his plays have
accomplished their threescore years and ten. It was Hugo who declared
that there are three classes of theater-goers whom the playwright must
please: the crowd that demands action, the women who wish for emotion,
and the thinkers who seek for character. And it was Hugo's early rival
as a play-maker, the elder Dumas, who asserted that the only rules he
knew for success upon the stage were to make the first act clear, the
last act short, and all the acts interesting. A dramatist who shall
accept the formula which has been found satisfactory by his immediate
contemporaries, and who shall succeed in making all the acts of his play
interesting alike to the crowd, to the women, and to the thinkers, will
be very likely to achieve literary merit without striving for it

For we cannot repeat too often that in the drama "literary merit" is a
by-product,--as it is in oratory also. And we cannot assert too
emphatically that the drama has an independent existence--that it does
not lie wholly within the domain of literature. "The art of the drama,"
so M. Emile Faguet has assured us, "touches all the other arts and
includes them." The drama is not intended primarily to be read in the
study; it is devised to be performed on the stage by actors before
spectators. It has a right, therefore, to avail itself of the aid of all
other arts and to enlist them all in its service. This is one of the
reasons why those who have studied the secrets of this art are inclined
to esteem it as the noblest and most powerful of them all. As M. Faguet
has declared, with that sympathetic understanding of the essential
principles of the drama which is common enough in France and only too
rare elsewhere--"it is not contradictory to the definition of dramatic
art that it can synthesize in space like painting, that it can
synthesize in time like poetry, that it can synthesize outside of time
and space like music, that it can unite all the arts without forcing
them to interfere the one with the other, and, therefore, without taking
from any one aught of its force or aught of its dignity; that it can
unite them all in a vast, powerful, and harmonious synthesis embracing
the whole of life and the whole of art."




One indisputable service has Ibsen rendered to the drama: he has
revealed again that it may be an incomparable instrument in the hands of
a poet-philosopher who wishes to make people think, to awaken them from
an ethical lethargy, to shock them into asking questions for which the
complacent morality of the moment can provide no adequate answer. In the
final decades of the nineteenth century,--when the novel was despotic in
its overwhelming triumph over all the other forms of literary
expression, and when arrogant writers of fiction like Edmond de Goncourt
did not hesitate to declare that the drama was outworn at last, that it
was unfitted to convey the ideas interesting to the modern world, and
that it had fallen to be no more than a toy to amuse the idle after
dinner,--Ibsen brought forth a succession of social dramas as tho to
prove that the playhouse of our own time could supply a platform whereon
a man might free his soul and boldly deliver his message, if only he
had first mastered the special conditions of the playwright's art. Of
course, Ibsen has solved none of the problems he has propounded; nor was
it his business as a dramatist to provide solutions of the strange
enigmas of life, but rather to force us to exert ourselves to find each
of us the best answer we could.

No one who has followed the history of the theater for the past quarter
of a century can fail to acknowledge that these social plays of Ibsen
have exerted a direct, an immediate and a powerful influence on the
development of the contemporary drama. It is easy to dislike them;
indeed, it is not hard even to detest them; but it is impossible to deny
that they have been a stimulus to the dramatists of every modern
language--and not least to playwrights of various nationalities wholly
out of sympathy with Ibsen's own philosophy. The fascination of these
social dramas may be charmless, as Mr. Henry James once asserted; but
there is no gainsaying the fascination itself. As M. Maeterlinck has
declared, Ibsen is "perhaps the only writer for the stage who has caught
sight of and set in motion, a new, tho still disagreeable, poetry, which
he has succeeded in investing with a kind of savage, gloomy beauty"; and
M. Maeterlinck then questions whether this beauty is not too savage and
too gloomy to become general or definitive. But, none the less, it is
at least beauty, a quality long banished from the stage, when Ibsen
showed how it might be made to bloom there again.

Nor is there any dispute as to the variety and the veracity of the
characters that people these studies from life. Indeed, as Mr. Archer
once pointed out, "habitually and instinctively men pay to Ibsen the
compliment (so often paid to Shakspere) of discussing certain of his
female characters as tho they were real women, living lives apart from
the poet's creative intelligence." And in yet another way is Ibsen
treated like Shakspere, in that there is superabundant discussion not
only of his characters, male and female, but also of his moral aim, of
his sociological intention, of his philosophy of life, while very little
attention is paid to his dramaturgic craftsmanship, to his command of
structural beauty, to his surpassing skill in the difficult art of the
play-maker. Yet Shakspere and Ibsen are professional playwrights, both
of them, each making plays adjusted exactly to the conditions of the
theater of his own time; and if the author of 'Othello' can prove
himself (when the spirit moves him) to be a master-technician, so also
can the author of 'Ghosts.'

There is ample recognition of Ibsen as the ardent reformer seeking to
blow away the mists of sentimentality, and of Ibsen, the symbolist,
suggesting dimly a host of things unseen and strangely beautiful; but
there is little consideration of Ibsen's solid workmanship, of his sure
knowledge of all the secrets of the stage, of his marvelous dexterity of
exposition, construction and climax. No doubt, it is as a poet, in the
largest meaning of the word, that Ibsen is most interesting; but he is a
playwright also,--indeed, he is a playwright, first and foremost; and in
that aspect also he is unfailingly interesting. For those who insist
that a poet must be a philosopher, Ibsen is to be ranked with Browning
as affording endless themes for debate; but for those who demand that a
dramatic poet shall be a playwright, Ibsen is a rival of Scribe and of
the younger Dumas and of all the school of accomplished craftsmen in
France who have made Paris the capital of the dramatic art. Ibsen's
skill as a playwright is so consummate that his art is never obtruded.
In fact, it was so adroitly hidden that when he first loomed on the
horizon, careless theatrical critics were tempted rather to deny its
existence. He is such a master of all the tricks of the trade that he
can improve upon them or do without them, as occasion serves; and
perhaps it is only those thoroly familiar with the practises of the
accomplished French playwrights of the nineteenth century who perceive
clearly the superiority of Ibsen in the mere mechanism of the
dramaturgical art.


Altho it is possible to consider his stage-technic apart from his
teaching, it needs to be noted at the outset that Ibsen the playwright
owes a large portion of his power and effectiveness to Ibsen the
poet-philosopher. As it happens, the doctrine of individual
responsibility, which is the core of Ibsen's code, is a doctrine most
helpful to the dramatist. The drama, indeed, differentiates itself from
all other literary forms in that it must deal with a struggle, with a
clash of contending desires, with the naked assertion of the human will.
This is the mainspring of that action without which a drama is a thing
of naught; and perhaps the most obvious backbone for a play is the tense
contest of two human beings, each knowing clearly what he wants and each
straining to attain it, at whatever cost to his adversary, to all
others, and even to himself. Rivals fighting to the death, a hero at war
with the world, a single soul striving to wrench itself free from the
fell clutch of fate,--such is the stuff out of which the serious drama
must be compounded.

Now, as it happens, no philosopher has ever reiterated more often than
Ibsen his abhorrence of smug and complacent compromise, his belief in
the unimpeded independence of the individual, his conviction that every
creature here below owes it as a duty to himself to live his own life in
his own way. Just as _Brand_ stiffens himself once more and makes the
implacable declaration:

  Beggar or rich,--with all my soul
  I _will_; and that one thing's the whole!

So _Dr. Stockman_ announces his discovery that "the strongest man upon
earth is he who stands most alone"; and in every play we find characters
animated by this unhesitating determination and this unfaltering energy.
Even Ibsen's women, so subtly feminine in so many ways, are forever
revealing themselves virile in their self-assertion, in their claim to
self-ownership. His plays move us strangely in the performance, they
grip at the outset and firmly hold us to the relentless end, because his
dramaturgic skill is exerted upon themes essentially dramatic in that
they deal with this stark exhibition of the human will and with the
bitter struggle that must ensue when the human will is in revolt against
the course of nature or against the social bond.

When the poet-philosopher has suggested to the playwright one of these
essentially dramatic themes, Ibsen handles it with a directness which
intensifies its force and which is in itself evidence of his poetic
power. As Professor Butcher has pointed out, "we are perhaps inclined to
rate too low the genius which is displayed in the general structure of
an artistic work; we set it down merely as the hard-won result of labor,
and we find inspiration only in isolated splendors, in the
lightning-flash of passion, in the revealing power of poetic imagery."
In these last gifts Ibsen may seem to many, if not deficient, at least,
less abundant than some other dramatic poets; but he can attain "the
supreme result which Greek thought and imagination achieve by their
harmonious coöperation"; he can present "the organic union of parts." He
has the sense of form which we feel to be the final guerdon of Greek

A play of Ibsen's is always compact and symmetrical. It has a beginning,
a middle, and an end; it never straggles, but ever moves straightforward
to its conclusion. It has unity; and often it conforms even to the
pseudo-unities proclaimed by the superingenious critics of the Italian
renascence. Sometimes a play of Ibsen's has another likeness to a
tragedy of the Greeks, in that it presents in action before the
assembled spectators only the culminating scenes of the story. 'Ghosts'
recalls 'OEdipus the King,' not only in the horror at the heart of it
and the poignancy of the emotion it evokes, but also in its being a
fifth act only, the culmination of a long and complex concatenation of
events, which took place before the point at which Sophocles and Ibsen
saw fit to begin their plays. In the Greek tragedy, as in the
Scandinavian social drama, the poet has chosen to deal with the result
of the action, rather than with the visible struggle itself; it is not
the present doings of the characters, but their past deeds, which
determine their fate.

Altho no other play of Ibsen's attains the extraordinary compactness and
swiftness of 'Ghosts,' several of them approach closely to this
standard, the 'Master-Builder,' for example, 'Little Eyolf' and more
especially 'Rosmersholm,'--in which the author did not display on the
stage itself more than a half of the strong series of situations he had
devised to sustain the interest of the spectator and to elucidate his
underlying thesis. But Ibsen does not hold himself restricted to any one
formula; and sometimes he prefers, as in the 'Enemy of the People,' to
let the whole story unroll itself before the audience. Only slowly did
Ibsen come to a mastery of his own methods; and he had begun, in the
'League of Youth' and in the 'Pillars of Society' by doing what every
great dramatist had done before him,--by accepting the form worked out
by his immediate predecessors and adjusted to the actual theater of his
own time. Just as Shakspere followed the patterns set by Kyd and
Marlowe, by Lyly and Greene, just as Molière copied the model ready to
his hand in the Italian comedy-of-masks, so Ibsen began by assimilating
the formulas which had approved themselves in France, the land where the
drama was flourishing most luxuriantly in the middle of the nineteenth
century, formulas devised by Scribe and only a little modified by Augier
and the younger Dumas.


For threescore years, at least, Scribe was the salient figure in the
French theater; and his influence endured more than twoscore years after
his death. He can be considered from discordant standpoints; to the men
of letters Scribe seems wholly unimportant, since his merits were in
great measure outside of literature; to the men of the theater Scribe is
a personality of abiding interest, since he put his mark on the drama of
his own day in almost every one of its departments. In the course of his
active career as a playwright he made over farce, first of all, then the
comedy-of-intrigue, and finally the comedy-of-manners; he tried his hand
at the historical play; and he was the chief librettist of the leading
French composers of opera, both grand and comic. He might lack style;
he might be barren of poetry; he might be void of philosophy; his
psychology might be pitifully inadequate; his outlook on life might be
petty;--but he was pastmaster of the theater, and from him were hidden
none of the secrets of that special art.

It was in Scribe's hands that there was worked out the formula of the
"well-made play,--" _la pièce bien faite_,--in which the exposition was
leisurely and careful, in which the interest of expectancy was aroused
early and sustained to the end, in which the vital scenes of the
essential struggle,--the _scènes à faire_,--were shown on the stage at
the very moment of the story when they would be most effective, and in
which a logical conclusion dimly foreseen, but ardently desired, was
happily brought about by devices of unexpected ingenuity. In perfecting
the formula of the "well-made play" Scribe may have taken hints from
Beaumarchais, especially from the final act of the 'Marriage of Figaro';
and he had found his profit also in a study of the methods of the
melodrama, which had been elaborated in the theaters of the Parisian
boulevards at the beginning of the nineteenth century, and which had
been imitated already by Hugo and the elder Dumas. At its best, the
"well-made play" was an amusing piece of mechanism, a clockwork toy
which had a mere semblance of life, but which did precisely what its
maker had constructed it to do.

The piece put together according to this formula was sufficient to
itself, with its wheels within wheels; and its maker had no need of
style or of poetry, of psychology or of philosophy. So long as the
playwright was content to be a playwright only and did not aspire to be
a dramatist with his own views of life, the formula was satisfactory
enough; but when the younger Dumas and Augier came on the stage they
wanted to put a broader humanity into their plays, and they could make
room for this only by simplifying the machinery. Yet, while they were
delivering each his own message, they accepted the model of the
"well-made play"; and it is to this that we may ascribe the
artificiality we begin to discern even in such masterpieces of
dramaturgic craftsmanship as the 'Gendre de M. Poirier' and the

Upon Ibsen also the influence of Scribe is as obvious as it is upon
Augier and Dumas _fils_. The earliest of his social dramas, the 'League
of Youth' and the 'Pillars of Society' are composed according to the
formula of the "well-made play," with its leisurely exposition, its
intricate complications of recoiling intrigue, its ingeniously contrived
conclusion. If we compare the 'League of Youth' with Scribe's 'Bertrand
et Raton,' or with Sardou's 'Rabagas'; if we compare the 'Pillars of
Society' with Dumas's 'Étrangère,' or Augier's 'Effrontés' we cannot
fail to find a striking similarity of structure. Set even 'A Doll's
House' by the side of any one of a dozen contemporary French comedies,
and it is easy to understand why Sarcey declared that play to be
Parisian in its construction,--up to the moment of _Nora's_ revolt and
self-assertion, so contrary to the social instinct of the French. And
this explains also why it was that Ibsen, as Herr Lindau has told us,
made little or no impression on the German dramatists until after the
appearance of 'Ghosts,' altho the preceding plays had been acted
frequently in the German theaters. The scenes of these early plays are
laid in Norway, it is true, and the characters are all Norwegian, and
altho it is easy enough for us, to-day, with our knowledge of what Ibsen
has become, to find in them the personal equation of the author, still
he was then frankly continuing the French tradition of stage-craft, with
a willing acceptance of the formula of the "well-made play" and with no
effort after novelty in his dramaturgic method. Not until he brought
forth the 'Ghosts' is there any overt assertion of his stalwart and
aggressive personality.

In the beginning Ibsen was no innovator. So far at least as its
external form is concerned, the kind of play he proffered at first was
very much what actors and audiences alike had been accustomed to,--a
kind of play perfectly adjusted to the existing customs of the stage.
What he did was to take over the theater as a going concern, holding
himself free to modify the accepted formula only after he had mastered
it satisfactorily. Considering Ibsen's inexperience as a writer of
prose-plays dealing with contemporary life, the 'League of Youth' is
really very remarkable as a first attempt. Indeed, its defects are those
of its models; and it errs chiefly in its excess of ingenuity and in the
manufactured symmetry of the contrivance whereby the tables are turned
on _Stensgard_, and whereby he loses all three of the women he has

As Lowell has said: "It is of less consequence where a man buys his
tools than what use he makes of them"; but it so happened that Ibsen
acquired his stage-craft in the place where it is most easily attained,
in the place where Shakspere and Molière had acquired it,--in the
theater itself. In 1851, when he was only twenty-three, he had been
appointed "theater-poet" to the newly opened playhouse in Bergen; and
after five years there he had gone to Christiania to be director of a
new theater, where he was to remain yet another five years. In this
decade of his impressionable and plastic youth Ibsen had taken part in
the production of several score plays, some of them his own, others also
original in his native tongue by Holberg and Öhlenschläger, and many
more translated from Scribe, from Scribe's collaborators and from
Scribe's contemporaries. In his vacation travels, to Copenhagen and to
Dresden, he had opportunity to observe a wider variety of plays; but
even in these larger cities the influence of Scribe was dominant, as it
was all over the civilized world in the mid-years of the century.

As Fenimore Cooper, when he determined to tell the fresh story of the
backwoods and the prairies, found a pattern ready to his hand in the
Waverley novels, so Ibsen availed himself of the "well-made play" of
Scribe when he wrote the 'League of Youth,' which is his earliest piece
in prose presenting contemporary life and character in Norway. There is
obvious significance in the fact that of all Ibsen's dramas, those which
have won widest popularity in the theater itself are those which most
frankly accept the Gallic framework,--the 'Pillars of Society,' the
'Doll's House,' and 'Hedda Gabler.' Yet it is significant, also, that
even in the least individual of Ibsen's earlier pieces, the action is
expressive of character; and we cannot fail to see that Ibsen's
personages control the plot; whereas, in the dramas of Scribe, the
situations may be said almost to create the characters, which, indeed,
exist only for the purposes of that particular story.


In spite of Ibsen's ten years of apprenticeship in two theaters, in
daily contact with the practical business of the stage, it was not with
prose-dramas of contemporary life that he first came forward as a
dramatist. In fact, his juvenile 'Katilina' (1850) was written when he
was but just of age, before he was attached to the theater
professionally, before he had read any dramatists except Holberg and
Öhlenschläger, and before he had had the chance to see much real acting
on the stage itself. It was while he was engaged in producing the plays
of others that he brought out also his own 'Mistress Inger at Ostraat'
(1855), and the 'Vikings at Helgeland' (1858), both of them actable and
often acted. They are romanticist in temper, suggesting now Schiller and
now Hugo.

'Mistress Inger' is a historical melodrama, with a gloomy castle,
spectral pictures and secret passages, with shifting conspiracies,
constant mystery-mongering and contorted characters. The inexpert
playwright uses soliloquy not merely to unveil the soul of the speaker
(its eternally legitimate use), but also to convey information to the
audience as to the facts of the intrigue (an outworn expedient Ibsen
never condescended to use in the later social dramas). The plot of
'Mistress Inger' is not veracious or convincing or even plausible; and
the play lacks the broad simplicity of story to be found in the later
'Vikings,' a saga-like drama, a tale of blood and fate, which recalls
Wagnerian opera in its primitive massiveness, in the vigor of its
legend, in its tragic pathos, and in its full-blooded characters larger
than life and yet pitifully human. Power again there is in a third drama
dealing with the historic past of Norway, the 'Pretenders' (1864), which
has a savage nobility of spirit. It is true that the masterful figure of
_Bishop Nicholas_ is enigmatic enough to have stalked out of one of
Hugo's lyrical melodramas, but to counterbalance this there is a pithy
wisdom in the talk of the _Skald_ which one would seek in vain in the
French romanticist drama.

Nowadays many of us are inclined to regard the historical drama as a
bastard form and to agree with Maeterlinck in dismissing even the most
meritorious attempts as "artificial poems that arise from the impossible
marriage of past and present." Already between the 'Vikings' and the
'Pretenders' had Ibsen undertaken a play dealing with contemporary
social usages. 'Love's Comedy' (1862) made its way on the stage; and it
has found an English translator. But in this rendering it reveals itself
as an attempt to commingle romance and satire; it appears to us as
hopelessly unfunny; and there is an artistic inconsistency between a
stern realism seeking to handle actual life with rigorous tensity and a
soaring idealism which keeps obtruding itself.

'Love's Comedy' is in verse, irregular and rimed, well-nigh impossible
to render satisfactorily into another tongue. Ibsen never again
undertook to use rime or even meter in handling the manners of his own
time. "I cannot believe that meter will be employed to any considerable
extent in the drama of the near future, for the poetic intentions of the
future cannot be reconciled with it," so Ibsen declared in 1883, thus
passing judgment on 'Love's Comedy.' And he added that he had written
scarcely any verse for years but "had exclusively cultivated the
incomparably more difficult art of writing in the even, beautiful idiom
of real life."

It was in 1857 that Björnson had put forth 'Synnöve Solbakken,' a mere
novelet, it is true, but still the firstling of a native Norwegian
literature, reproducing the very accent of the soil; and here we have
once more an example of the way in which the novel is now continually
affecting the development of the drama, as the play has in the past
influenced the evolution of prose-fiction. For more than ten years Ibsen
failed to see how much it would profit him to follow Björnson's lead.
Between 'Love's Comedy' and the 'League of Youth' he put forth his two
great dramatic poems, 'Brand' (1866) and 'Peer Gynt' (1867); and even
after the 'League of Youth' (1869) had opened the series of modern
social dramas, he published 'Emperor and Galilean' (1873) before
resuming his incisive study of the life that lay around him.

The career of Julian the Apostate is sketched in what must be termed a
chronicle-play, in two parts and in ten acts, a broadly brushed panorama
of antique life, displaying Ibsen's abundant invention, his ability to
handle boldly a large theme, his gift of putting characters erect on
their feet with a few swift strokes. Altho 'Emperor and Galilean,' like
'Brand' and like 'Peer Gynt' was intended for the closet only, and not
for the stage itself, it proves its author to be a true dramatist,
centering the interest of his story on an essential struggle and keeping
in view always the pictorial aspects of his action.

In this chronicle-play, as in his two greater dramatic poems, Ibsen
reveals his perfect understanding of the practical necessities of the
playhouse, even tho he did not choose always to conform to them. Then
he turned his back on antiquity and faced the present in the series of
prose-plays by which he is most widely known to actual playgoers. He
found his characters and his themes in modern life and in his native
land; and the social dramas followed one another in steady
succession,--'Pillars of Society' (1877), 'A Doll's House' (1879),
'Ghosts' (1881), 'An Enemy of the People' (1882), the 'Wild Duck'
(1884), 'Rosmersholm' (1886), the 'Lady from the Sea' (1888), 'Hedda
Gabler' (1890), the 'Master-Builder' (1892), 'Little Eyolf' (1894),
'John Gabriel Borkman' (1896) and 'When We Dead Awaken' (1899).

As we look down this list, we see that it is perhaps unfair to class all
the later plays as social dramas. Some of them, more especially the
latest of them all, 'When We Dead Awaken,' seem to be symbolical rather
than social, allegorical in intent even if they remain realistic in
treatment. Brandes long ago declared that Ibsen had had a Pegasus killed
under him; but when we consider the 'Lady from the Sea' and 'When We
Dead Awaken' and perhaps one or two other of their later companions, we
may well believe that the winged steed was not actually slain. Wounded
it may have been, only to recover its strength again and to proffer its
back once more for the poet to bestride.


These more poetic of Ibsen's plays in prose seem at times almost
surcharged with a meaning which is nevertheless often so mockingly
intangible and evasive, that we dare to wonder at last whether the
secret they persist in hiding in this tantalizing fashion would really
reward our efforts to grasp it; and we find comfort in Lowell's apt
saying that "to be misty is not to be mystic." Ibsen is mystic, no
doubt, but on occasion he can be misty also. And not only the plays that
are merely misty but even those that are truly mystic, are less likely
than the plainer-spoken social dramas to hold our attention in the
theater itself, where the appeal is to the assembled multitude, and
where all things need to be clearly defined so that the spectators can
follow understandingly every phase of the changing action.

In the most of his social dramas Ibsen makes his meaning transparently
clear; and there is never any undue strain on the attention of the
average playgoer. Especially is he a master of the difficult art of
exposition. It is the plain duty of the playwright to acquaint the
audience with the antecedent circumstances upon which the plot is
based,--to inform the spectators fully as to that part of the story
which has gone before and which is not to be displayed in action on the
stage,--to explain the relation of the several characters to each
other,--and to arouse interest in what is about to happen. Scribe, than
whom no one ever had a wider knowledge of the necessities of the
theater, held the exposition to be so important that he often sacrificed
to it the whole of his first act, introducing his characters one by one,
setting forth clearly what had happened before the play, and sometimes
postponing the actual beginning of the action to the end of the first
act, if not to the earlier scenes of the second. Scribe seems to have
believed that it did not matter much how dull the first act might be,
since the spectators had paid their money and would not abandon hope
until they had seen at least the second act, in which he sought always
to grip their interest.

In the 'League of Youth,' the earliest of his social dramas, Ibsen
follows in Scribe's footsteps; and the first act is little more than a
preparatory prolog. In this play the whole story is set forth in action
in the play itself; but in the following dramas, 'Pillars of Society'
and 'A Doll's House' Ibsen reveals his tendency to deal with the results
of deeds which took place before he begins the play itself. In other
words, he suppresses his prolog, preferring to plunge at once into his
action; and this forces him to modify Scribe's leisurely method. He does
not mass his explanations all in the earlier scenes; he scatters them
thruout the first act, and sometimes he even postpones them to the
later acts. But he is careful to supply information before it is needed,
adroitly letting out in the first scene what is required for the
understanding of the second scene, and artfully revealing in the second
scene what must be known before the third scene can be appreciated.

This method is less simple than Scribe's; it is not only more difficult,
it may be dangerous; but when it is managed successfully it lends to the
drama a swift directness delightful to all who relish a mastery of form.
In 'Ghosts,' for example, the play which is acted before us is little
more than a long fifth act, in three tense scenes; and the knowledge of
what had happened in the past is ingeniously communicated to the
audience at the very moment when the information is felt to be most
significant. But in 'Rosmersholm,' strong as the drama is and fine as
its technic is, Ibsen's method seems to be at fault in that we learn too
late what it would have interested us greatly to know earlier. It is
only at the end almost that we are allowed to perceive what were
_Rebecca West's_ real intentions in coming to Rosmersholm and how the
influence of the house itself has transformed her. When the curtain
rises she is presented to us already a changed woman; and we are at a
loss to understand her motives for the evil deeds she has wrought, until
we are told at last that she once was far different from what she now
is. Here Ibsen loses more than he gains by abandoning the simpler method
of massing his exposition in the earlier scenes of the play. Anything
which confuses the spectator, which leaves him in doubt, which keeps him
guessing, is contrary to Spencer's principle of "economy of attention,"
as important in the other arts as it is in rhetoric.

Altho he is ever seeking to awaken curiosity, to arouse the interest of
expectancy, and to excite in the spectators a desire to see the thing
through, Ibsen refrains from any mere mystery-mongering for its own
sake. He wishes his audience to give attention not so much to the bare
happenings of his story, however startling they may be in themselves, as
to the effect which these happenings are certain to have on the
characters. He is abundant in inventive ingenuity and in devising
effective situations; and the complications of the plot of the 'Pillars
of Society' would probably have hugely pleased Scribe. But he has also
the larger imagination which can people situation with character and
which can make situation significant as an opportunity for character to
express itself. Ingenious as he is in plot-building, with him character
always dominates situation. To Ibsen character is destiny, and the
persons of his plays seem to have created, by their own natural
proceeding, the predicaments in which they are immeshed.

Ibsen is particularly happy in the subordinate devices by which he
reveals character,--for example, _Maia's_ taking off the green shade
when the _Master-Builder_ enters the room. And another device, that of
the catchword, which he took over from Scribe and the younger Dumas, and
which, even in his hands, remains a mere trick in the early 'League of
Youth,' is so delicately utilized in certain of the later
plays--witness, the "vine-leaves in his hair" of 'Hedda Gabler' and the
"white horses" in 'Rosmersholm'--that these recurrent phrases are
transformed into a prose equivalent of Wagner's leading-motives. So,
too, Ibsen does without the _raisonneur_ of Dumas and Augier, that
condensation of the Greek chorus into a single person, who is only the
mouthpiece of the author himself and who exists chiefly to point the
moral, even tho he may sometimes also adorn the tale. Ibsen so handles
his story that it points its own moral; his theme is so powerfully
presented in action that it speaks for itself.

It must also be noted that Ibsen, like all born playwrights, like Scribe
and Dumas and Augier, like Sophocles and Shakspere and Molière, is well
aware of the double aspect of the theater, in that the stage can rise to
the loftiest heights of philosophic poetry and that it can fall also to
the lowest depths of the show-business. An audience has ears, but the
spectators who compose it have eyes also; and the born playwright never
fails to provide the picturesqueness and the visible movement which
satisfy the senses, whatever may be the more serious appeal to the mind.
In the modern theater the stage is withdrawn behind a picture-frame; and
it is the duty of the dramatist to satisfy our demand for a
stage-setting pictorially adequate. The sets of Ibsen's plays have
evidently been sharply visualized by him; they are elaborately
described; and they lend themselves effectively to the art of the
scene-painter. Sometimes they are beautiful in themselves, novel and
suggestive; always are they characteristic of the persons and of the
underlying idea of the play.


When we examine carefully the earlier of his social dramas we discover
Ibsen to be a playwright of surpassing technical dexterity, whose work
is sustained and stiffened and made more valuable and more vital by the
coöperation of the philosopher that Ibsen also is, a philosopher who is
a poet as well and who helps the playwright to find the stuff he
handles, the raw material of his art, in the naked human soul, in its
doubts and its perplexities, in its blind gropings and in its
ineffectual strivings. But in considering the later plays we are forced
to wonder whether the philosopher has not gained the upper hand and
reduced the playwright to slavery.

It was of Ibsen, no doubt, that M. Maeterlinck was thinking when he
asserted that "the first thing which strikes us in the drama of the day
is the decay, one might almost say, the creeping paralysis, of external
action. Next, we note a very pronounced desire to penetrate deeper into
human consciousness, and to place moral problems on a high pedestal."
And there is no denying that Ibsen's interest in moral problems has
grown steadily in intensity, and that he has sought to penetrate deeper
and deeper into human consciousness. His latest play, 'When We Dead
Awaken,' altho adjusted to the conditions of the modern theater and
altho perfectly actable, seems to be intended rather more for the reader
than for the spectator. Essentially dramatic as it is, its theatric
realization is less satisfactory--as tho Ibsen was chafing against the
restraints of the actual theater, restraints which are an integral
element of its power as a form of expression.

In the same suggestive essay, M. Maeterlinck remarked on the steady
decline of the taste for bald theatrical anecdotes,--the taste which
Scribe and Sardou were content to gratify; and he declared that "mere
adventures fail to interest us because they no longer correspond to a
living and actual reality." And yet no one has more sharply proclaimed
the sovran law of the stage than the Belgian critic-poet; no one has
more sympathetically asserted that "its essential demand will always be
_action_. With the rise of the curtain, the high intellectual desire
within us undergoes transformation; and in place of the thinker,
psychologist, mystic, or moralist, there stands the mere instinctive
spectator, the man electrified negatively by the crowd, the man whose
one desire is to see something happen." In his later and more poetic
plays Ibsen seems to be appealing more especially to the mystic and the
moralist; whereas in the earlier social dramas he was able to grip the
attention of the mere instinctive spectator, while also satisfying the
unexprest desires of the thinker.

The sheer symbolism of the poet-philosopher is powerfully suggestive,
and these later plays have an interest of their own, no doubt; but it is
in the earlier social dramas that Ibsen most clearly reveals his
dramaturgic genius,--in the 'Pillars of Society,' and the 'Doll's
House,' in 'Ghosts' and in 'Hedda Gabler.' Dennery might envy the
ingenuity with which _Consul Bernick_ is tempted to insist on the fatal
order that seems for a season to be the death-sentence of his own son;
and Sardou would appreciate the irony of _Nora's_ frantic dance at the
very moment when she was tortured by deadly fear. But these theatric
devices, in Dennery's hands or in Sardou's, would have existed for their
own sake solely; but in Ibsen's, effective as they are, they have a
deeper significance. He is able to avail himself of the complicated
machinery of the "well-made play," to flash a piercing light into the
darker recesses of human nature. However clever he may be in his
handling of these scenes, his cleverness is a means only; it is not an
end in itself. He never gives over "his habit of dealing essentially
with the individual caught in the fact,"--to borrow an apt phrase from
Mr. Henry James. The mechanism may be almost as elaborate as it is in a
play of Scribe's, wherein there is ultimately nothing but ingenuity of
invention and adroitness of construction; but it is never allowed to
crush or to keep out human nature.

_Consul Bernick_ is one of Ibsen's most veracious characters, with his
cloaking morality, his unconscious egotism, and his unfaltering
selfishness, disclosed so naïvely and so naturally. Less boldly drawn
but not the less truthful is _Helmer_, that inexpugnable prig, with his
shallow selfishness, his complacent conceit, and his morality for
external use only. Ibsen is never happier, and never is his scalpel more
skilful, than when he is laying bare the hollowness of shams like these.
Never is his touch more delicate or more caressing than when he is
delineating a character like _Bernick's_ sister _Martha_, with her
tender devotion and her self-effacing simplicity. Not even _Helmer's_
wife, _Nora_, is more truthfully conceived. _Nora_ is veraciously
feminine in never fathoming _Dr. Rank's_ love for her, or at least in
her refusal to formulate it, content to take his friendship and ask
herself no questions. Truly womanly again is her attitude when he speaks
out at last and thrusts upon her the knowledge of his passion,--her
shrinking withdrawal, her instant ordering in of the lights, and her
firm refusal then, in her hour of need, to profit by the affection he
has just declared.

It must be regretted that Ibsen does not dismiss either _Nora_ or
_Bernick_ with the final fidelity that might have been expected.
_Bernick's_ unexpected proclamation of his change of heart, so contrary
to his habits, is a little too like one of those fantastic wrenchings of
veracity of which Dickens was so often guilty in the finishing chapters
of his stories. Character is never made over in the twinkling of an eye;
and this is why the end of the 'Doll's House' seems unconvincing.
_Nora_, the morally irresponsible, is suddenly endowed with clearness
of vision and directness of speech. The squirrel who munches macaroons,
the song-bird who is happy in her cage, all at once becomes a raging
lioness. And this is not so much an awakening or a revelation, as it is
a transformation; and the _Nora_ of the final scenes of the final act is
not the _Nora_ of the beginning of the play. The swift unexpectedness of
this substitution is theatrically effective, no doubt; but we may doubt
if it is dramatically sound. Ibsen has rooted _Nora's_ fascination, felt
by every spectator, in her essential femininity, only at the end to send
her forth from her home, because she seemed to be deficient in the most
permanent and most overpowering of woman's characteristics--the maternal
instinct. It may be that she did right in leaving her children; it may
even be that she would have left them; but up to the moment when she
declared her intention to go, nothing in the play has prepared the
spectator for this strange move. Ibsen has failed to make us feel when
the unexpected happened that this, however unforeseen, was exactly what
we ought to have expected.

No fault of this kind can be found with 'Ghosts,' that drastic tragedy
of a house built on the quicksands of falsehood, that appalling modern
play with the overwhelming austerity of an ancient tragic drama, that
extraordinarily compact and moving piece, in which the Norwegian
playwright accomplished his avowed purpose of evoking "the sensation of
having lived thru a passage of actual life." A few years only before
Ibsen brought forth his 'Ghosts,' Lowell had asserted that "That Fate
which the Greeks made to operate from without, we recognize at work
within, in some vice of character or hereditary disposition"; and Greek
this play of Ibsen's is in its massive simplicity, in the economy of its
bare structure with five characters only, with no change of scene, with
no lapse of time, and with an action that rolls forward irresistibly
with inevitable inexorability. As there was something Æschylean in
'Brand' so there is something Sophoclean in 'Ghosts'; altho Ibsen lacks
the serenity of the great Greek and Sophocles had a loftier aim than
that of evoking "the sensation of having lived thru a passage of actual
life." There is no echo in 'OEdipus' of the cry of revolt which rings
thru 'Ghosts,' and yet there was a strange similarity in the impression
made on at least one spectator of the actual performances of these
tragedies, the ancient and the modern, the one after the other, at a few
days' interval here in New York,--an impression of deepening horror that
graspt the throat and gript the heart with fingers of ice.

The most obvious resemblance between the Greek tragedy and the
Scandinavian social drama is in their technic, in that the two austere
playwrights have set before us the consequences of an action, rather
than the action itself. Here Ibsen has thrown aside the formula of the
"well-made play," using the skill acquired by the study of Scribe in
achieving a finer form than the French playwright was capable of, a form
seemingly simple but very solidly put together. The structure of
'Ghosts' recalls Voltaire's criticism of one of Molière's plays that it
seemed to be in action, altho it was almost altogether in narrative.
Ibsen has here shown a skill like Molière's in making narrative vitally
dramatic. Ibsen has none of Molière's breadth of humor, none of his
large laughter, none of his robust fun; indeed, Ibsen's humor is rarely
genial; grim and almost grotesque, it is scarcely ever playful; and
there is sadly little laughter released by his satiric portrayals of
character. But the Scandinavian playwright has not a little of the great
Frenchman's feeling for reality, and even more of his detestation of
affectation and his hatred of sham. The creator of _Tartuffe_ would have
appreciated _Pastor Manders_, an incomparable prig, with self-esteem
seven times heated, engrossed with appearances only and ingrained with
parochial hypocrisy.

But we may be assured that Molière, governed by the social instinct as
he was, would never have shared Ibsen's sympathy for the combatant hero
of his next play, that 'Enemy of the People,' with the chief figure of
which the dramatist has seemed willing for once to be identified. We may
even incline to the belief that Molière would have dismist _Dr.
Stockman_ as lacking in common-sense, and in the sense of humor, and
also as a creature both conceited and self-righteous, pitiably
impractical and painfully intolerant. And we are quite at a loss even to
guess what the French playwright-psychologist, who has left us the
unforgetable figure of _Célimène_ would have thought of _Hedda Gabler_,
that strangest creation of the end of the century, anatomically
virtuous, but empty of heart and avid of sensation.

In 'Hedda Gabler' as in the 'Enemy of the People' Ibsen gives up the
Sophoclean form which was exactly appropriate for the theme of 'Ghosts.'
With admirable artistic instinct the playwright returns to the framework
of the "well-made play" or at least to that modification of the Scribe
formula which Augier and Dumas _fils_ had devised for their own use. The
action has not happened before the curtain rises on the first act; it
takes place in the play itself, in front of the spectators, just as it
does in the 'Demi-monde.' The exposition is contained in the first act,
clearly and completely; the characters are all set in motion before us,
_Hedda_ and her husband, _Mrs. Elvsted_ and _Eilert_, and the sinister
figure of _Inspector Brack_ in the background. This first act, even to
its note of interrogation hung in the air at the end, might have been
constructed by Augier,--just as the scene in the second act between
_Hedda_ and _Brack_ recalls the manner of the younger Dumas, even in its
lightness and its wit. Yet we may doubt whether any of the modern French
playwrights could have lent the same curt significance to this
commonplace interview between a married _demi-vierge_ and an
_homme-à-femmes_;--of their own accord these French terms come to the
end of the pen to describe these French types.

Interesting as 'Hedda Gabler' is on the stage and in the study,
suggestive as it is, it cannot be called one of Ibsen's best-built
plays. Technically considered it falls below his higher level; it does
not sustain itself even at the elevation of the 'Demi-monde' or of the
'Effrontés.' It does not compel us to accept its characters and its
situations without question. It leaves us inquiring, and, if not
actually protesting, at least unconvinced. We might accept the heroine
herself as an incarnate spirit of cruel curiosity, inflicting
purposeless pain, and to be explained, even if not to be justified, only
by her impending maternity,--which she recoils from and is unworthy of.
But I, for one, cannot help finding _Hedda_ inconsistent artistically,
as tho she was a composite photograph of irreconcilable figures. For
example, she shrinks from scandal, yet she burns _Eilert's_ manuscript,
she gives him one of her pistols, and finally she commits suicide
herself, than which nothing could more certainly provoke talk. The
pistols themselves seem lugged in solely because the playwright needed
to have them handy for two suicides,--just as _Brack_ walks into
_Hedda's_ house in the early morning, not of his own volition, but
because the playwright insisted on it. So at the end _Mrs. Elvsted_
could not have had with her all the notes of _Eilert's_ bulky book, tho
she might have had a rough draft; and she would never have sat down
calmly to look over these notes instead of rushing madly to the hospital
to _Eilert's_ bedside. Again, _Inspector Brack_, when he hears of
_Eilert's_ death, has really little or no warrant in jumping to the
conclusion that _Hedda_ is an accessory before the fact; and even if she
was, this would not give him the hold on her which she admits too
easily. More than once, we find a summary swiftness in the motives
alleged, for things done before the spectators have time to grasp the
reasons for these deeds, which therefore appear to be arbitrary. There
is a hectic flush of romanticism in this play, not discernible in any
other of Ibsen's social dramas, a perfervidness, an artificiality,
which may not interfere with the interest of the story but which must
detract from its plausibility at least and from its ultimate value.


Whatever inconsistencies may be detected now and again by a minute
analysis of motive,--and after all these inconsistencies are slight and
infrequent,--the characters that Ibsen has brought upon the stage have
one unfailing characteristic: they are intensely interesting. They are
not mere puppets moved here and there by the visible hand of the
playwright; they are human beings, alive in every nerve, and obeying
their own volition. The breath of life has been breathed into them; they
may be foolish or morbid, headstrong or perverse, illogical or fanatic,
none the less are they real, vital, actual. And this is the reason why
actors are ever eager for the chance to act them. Where Scribe and
Sardou and the manufacturers of the "well-made play" give the performers
only effective parts, to be presented as skilfully as might be, Ibsen
has proffered to them genuine characters to get inside of as best they
could,--characters not easy to personate, indeed, often obscure and
dangerous. Because of this danger and this doubt, they are all the more
tempting to the true artist, who is ever on the alert for a tussle with
technical difficulty. The men and women who people Ibsen's plays are
never what the slang of the stage terms "straight parts"; they are never
the traditional "leading man" and "leading woman"; in a sense they are
all of them, male and female, young and old, "character parts," complex,
illusive, alluring. They are not readily mastered, for they keep on
revealing fresh possibilities the more searchingly they are studied; and
this is why the reward is rich, when the actor has been able at last to
get inside of them.

Even when he has done this, when he has put himself into "the skin of
the personage" (to borrow the illuminating French phrase), the actor
cannot be certain that his personation is finally right. No one of
Ibsen's characters is presented in profile only, imposing its sole
interpretation on the baffled performer. Every one of them is rounded
and various, like a man in real life, to be seen from contradictory
angles and to be approached from all sides. No one is a silhouette; and
every one is a chameleon, changing color even while we are looking at
it. Every part is a problem to the actors who undertake it, a problem
with many a solution, no one of which can be proved, however assured the
performer may be that he has hit on the right one. To the actor the
privilege of an artistic adventure like this comes but rarely; and it is
prized accordingly. Not often does he find under his hand material at
once fresh and solid. He feels the fascination of this chance and he
lays hold of it firmly, even tho he has a haunting fear of failure,
absent from the easy, daily exercise of his professional skill. He
relishes the opportunity to speak Ibsen's wonderful prose, that dialog
which seems to the mere reader direct and nervous, and which impresses
the actual auditor in the theater as incomparable in its veracity, its
vivacity, its flexibility, its subtlety, and its certainty; but which
only the actor who delivers it on the stage can praise adequately, since
he alone is aware of its full force, of its surcharged meaning, and of
its carrying power.

To act Ibsen is worth while, so the actors themselves think; and it is
significant that it is to the actors, rather than to the regular
managers, that we owe the most of our chances for seeing his plays
presented on the stage. That Ibsen offers opportunities not provided in
the pieces of any other modern dramatist is the belief of many an actor
and of many an actress longing for a chance to rival the great
performers who have gone before, leaving only their fame behind them. So
it is that the 'Pillars of Society' is set up in our theaters now and
_again_, and that 'Ghosts' may revisit our stage from time to time. So
it is that the ambitious leading lady, abandoning the _Camille_ and the
_Pauline_ of a generation or two ago, yearns now to show what she can do
as _Nora_ and as _Hedda Gabler_, unable to resist the temptation to try
her luck also in impersonating these women of the North, essentially
feminine even when they are fatally enigmatic.


The actors and actresses do get their chance now and again to appear in
an Ibsen part, in spite of the reluctance of the regular managers to
risk the production of Ibsen's plays in their theaters. This reluctance
is not caused solely by an inability to appreciate his real merits; it
is magnified by a healthy distrust for the cranks and the freaks who are
most vociferous and least intelligent in praise of him,--for Ibsen, like
Browning and like Maeterlinck, has suffered severely from the fulsome
adulation of the short-haired women and the long-haired men, who are
ever exuberantly uncritical. Perhaps the unwillingness of managers to
venture their money in staging these Scandinavian social dramas is due
also to a well-founded belief that "there is no money in them,"--that
they are not likely to attract American playgoers in remunerative
multitudes,--that they cannot be forced to the long runs to which the
theater is now unfortunately committed.

Ibsen is like all other great dramatists in that he has intended his
plays to be performed in the theater, by actors, before an audience;
and, therefore has he adjusted them most adroitly to the picture-frame
stage of the modern playhouse and filled them with characters amply
rewarding the utmost endeavor of ambitious players. But the influence of
the actor and of the circumstances of the theater is only upon the
outward form of the play, while the influence of the spectator is upon
its content solely. This influence has been potent upon every true
dramatist, who has had ever in mind the special audience for whom his
plays were intended, and at whom they were aimed. Sophocles composed his
stately tragedies for the cultivated citizens of Athens, seated on the
curving hillside under the shadow of the Acropolis; Shakspere prepared
his histories and his comedies to hold the interest of the turbulent
throng which stood about the jutting platform in the yard of the
half-roofed Tudor theater; and Molière, even when he was writing to
order for Louis XIV, never forgot the likings of the fun-loving burghers
of Paris. No one of the three ever lookt beyond his own time or wasted a
thought upon any other than the contemporary audience in his own city.
Even tho their plays have proved to possess universality and permanence,
they were in the beginning frankly local in their appeal.

But who are the spectators that Ibsen saw in his mind's eye when he
imagined his plays bodied forth in the actual theater? He was not a
citizen of a great state, as Molière was, and Shakspere; he did not
dwell in a great city, exercising his art in close contact with the
abounding life of a metropolis. He was a native of a small country, not
even independent, and without large towns; he was born in a petty
village and there he grew to manhood; in his maturity he wandered abroad
and for years abode in exile, an alien, if not a recluse.

Are not the memories of youth abiding? and can any one of us free
himself wholly from the bonds of early environment? The audience that
Ibsen has ever had in view when he was making his most searching
tragedies of modern life, the audience he has always wisht to move and
to rouse, morally and intellectually, was such a group of spectators as
might gather in the tiny and isolated village where he had spent his
boyhood. Ibsen himself may not have been conscious that this was the
audience he was seeking to stimulate; indeed, he may never have
suspected it; and he might even deny it in good faith. But the fact
remains, nevertheless, obvious and indisputable; and it helps to explain
not a little that might otherwise remain obscure. It enables us to
suggest a reason for a certain closeness of atmosphere sometimes felt in
this play or that, and for a certain lack of largeness of outlook, in
spite of the depth of insight. It makes us more tolerant toward a
certain narrowness, which is often provincial and sometimes almost

It is not merely that Ibsen's social dramas are all of them intensely
Norwegian, peopled solely with natives and having the fiords ever
present in the background. It is not merely that he has shrunk from all
international contrasts, and from all cosmopolitanism;--and here, no
doubt, he has chosen the better part. It is not that he himself has not
shaken off the pettiness of the little village where he received his
first impression of his fellow-man. It is that altho he has seen the
world outside and altho he is thereby enabled to measure the smallness
of what he left behind, he cannot forget the inhabitants of Grimstad,
individually and collectively. They supply the constituent elements of
the audience which he is ever addressing, consciously or unconsciously.
It is their limited horizon he wants to enlarge; and it is their
lethargy he is longing to shatter.


Perhaps there is no injustice in holding that much of Ibsen's arrogant
and aggressive individualism and self-assertion, is the result of his
own youthful solitude and struggle in the little village where the
druggist's ambitious apprentice who wrote poetry and who had opinions of
his own, soon managed to get on a war-footing with most of his
neighbors,--as the late Professor Boyesen recorded from his own
observations at the time, explaining that "a small town, where everybody
is interested in what his neighbor has for dinner, is invariably more
intolerant of dissent, more tyrannical toward social rebels, than a city
of metropolitan rank." And even when Ibsen removed to Christiania he did
not get out of this atmosphere of pettiness. As Professor Boyesen
remarked, again from personal experience, "One hundred thousand village
souls do not make a city." And the same compatriot of the dramatist, in
dealing with the 'Enemy of the People' declared that "each trait bears
the indelible mark of a small society, which stunts and cripples the
sons of men, making them crabbed and crooked, when in a richer soil many
of them might have shot boldly up in the sunlight."

Norway seems to be a land of villages, with a people not yet enlarged
and awakened from stifling bigotry. Its social organization still
presses painfully on those who wish to do their own thinking; and half a
century ago in Ibsen's impressionable youth, the pressure must have been
tragic. There is no call for wonder that he should have reacted
violently against these fettering restrictions. There is no need to
speculate on the reasons why he has failed to feel the extraordinary
delicacy of the problem of the equilibrium between the opposing forces,
which have a cramping socialism on the one side and an exuberant anarchy
on the other. His choice was swift and he exerted his strength
unhesitatingly against the chains which had clanked on his limbs in his
early manhood. He knew only too well and by bitter experience the
hardness of the crust that encased the Norwegian community and he felt
the need of blows still harder to break thru and let in a little light.
And this is why he is so emphatic in his individualism; this is why he
is so fiercely violent in his assertion of the right of every man to own
himself and to obey his own will, contemptuous of the social bond which
alone holds civilization together.

It is Boyesen, a fellow Norwegian and an ardent admirer of Ibsen's, who
has most clearly stated Ibsen's position: "He seems to be in ill humor
with humanity and the plan of creation in general (if, indeed, he
recognized such a plan), and he devotes himself, with ruthless
satisfaction, to showing what a paltry contemptible lot men are, and how
aimless, futile, and irrational their existence is on this earth, with
its chaotic strivings and bewildered endeavors." ... "Furthermore, he
utterly undervalues what we call civilization, which he regards
primarily as an ignominious compromise--a surrender and curtailment of
our natural rights and liberties, in return for a paltry security for
life and limb." ... "He has apparently no appreciation of the tremendous
struggle, the immense suffering, the deluge of blood and tears, it has
cost to redeem the world from that predatory liberty which he admires,
and to build up gradually the safeguards of organized society which he
so detests."

In other words, Ibsen is not what is called "an advanced thinker"; he is
really the most extreme of reactionaries, because he wants to go back to
the beginnings of civilization. He is willing to give up the chronometer
and to return to the sun-dial.

It would be unfair, of course, to sustain what is here alleged by
quoting speeches from his plays, since Ibsen is too completely a
dramatist to use any one character merely as a mask thru the mouth of
which he might voice his private opinion. But when we consider the whole
group of the social dramas and when we disengage the philosophy
underlying them and sustaining them, we may venture to deduce the
private opinion of the author. And in his letters to Georg Brandes we
find this opinion fearlessly exprest: "I have really never had any
strong feeling of solidarity; in fact, I have only in a way accepted it
as a traditional tenet of faith,--and if one had the courage to leave it
out of consideration altogether, one would perhaps be rid of the worst
ballast with which one's personality is burdened." In another letter he
wrote: "I may as well say the one thing I love in freedom is the
struggle for its attainment. Its possession does not greatly concern

As Brandes points out, this attitude of Ibsen's is partly a reminiscence
of romanticism; and in Ibsen as in Balzac the romanticist is forever
wrestling with the realist. There is in Ibsen's writing an echo of that
note of revolt, which rings thruout all the romanticist clamor, a tocsin
of anarchy, and which justified the remark of Thiers that the
Romanticists of 1830 were the forerunners of the Communists of 1871. And
the Communists were only putting into practise what Ibsen was preaching
almost simultaneously in his correspondence with Brandes: "The state
must be abolished.... Undermine the idea of the commonwealth; set up
spontaneity and spiritual kinship as the sole determining points in a
union; and there will be attained the beginning of a freedom that is of
some value." This sounds very like a return to Rousseau, almost a
century after the futility of Rousseau's theories had been made manifest
to all.

There is no denying, however, that Ibsen's doctrine is most appealing to
a dramatist, whose business it is to set on the stage the strivings of
the individual. Perhaps the drama would be the one surviving art if
anarchy should come,--just as it would be certain to die slowly if
socialism should succeed. The self-subordination of socialism would be
as deadening as the self-surrender of fatalism to that will-power which
must ever be the mainspring of a play to move the multitude. Altho it
cannot formulate what it feels, the multitude has no relish for extreme
measures; it may be making up its mind to turn toward either anarchy or
socialism; but it means to move very slowly and it refuses to be

Here is a reason why Ibsen's plays are never likely to be broadly
popular in the theater. The anarchistic element they contain helps to
make them more dramatic, no doubt, more vigorous and more vital; but it
is dimly perceived by the plain people who form the crowd of
theater-goers, and by them it is dumbly resented. The excessive
individualism which gives to Ibsen's best plays their tensity of
interest is also the cause of their inacceptability to the multitude
shrinking from any surrender of the hard won conquests of civilization.
There is significance in the fact that Ibsen's plays have totally failed
to establish themselves permanently in France, where the esthetic
appreciation of his mastery of his art has been keenest and most
competent, but where also the value of the social compact is most
clearly understood. Not only in France, but in all other countries
governed by the Latin tradition of solidarity, Ibsen's doctrine was
certain to be unwelcome--even if it might be wholesome. Outside of
Scandinavia it is only in Germany that Ibsen has succeeded in winning
acceptance as a popular dramatist, perhaps because it was there that the
doctrine of individualism was most needed. In Great Britain, and in the
United States, where the individual has his rights, altho with no
relaxing of the social bond, the performances of Ibsen's plays have been
surprisingly infrequent when we consider their delightful craftsmanship,
their indisputable power and their unfailing interest.


After all, it is not as a philosopher that Ibsen demands attention, but
as a dramatist, as a playwright who is also a poet. If it is his
weakness that his theory of life is overstrenuous, one-sided and out of
date, it is his strength that he has opinions of his own and that he is
willing to face the problems that insistently confront us to-day. As Mr.
Archer has put it tersely and conclusively, Ibsen is "not pessimist or
optimist or primarily a moralist, tho he keeps thinking about morals. He
is simply a dramatist, looking with piercing eyes at the world of men
and women, and translating into poetry this episode and that from the
inexhaustible pageant."

A moralist he must be, if his work is to have any far-reaching
significance, any final value. Morality is not something a poet can put
into his work deliberately; but it can be left out only at the poet's
peril, since few works of art are likely to be worth while if they are
ethically empty. Ibsen's inspiration is too rich for it to be void of
moral purport, even tho the playwright may not have intended all that we
read into his work. There is a moral in 'Ghosts' as there is in
'OEdipus,' in the 'Scarlet Letter,' and in 'Anna Karénina,'--a moral,
austere and dispassionate. It contains much that is unpleasant and even
painful, but--to quote Arnold's praise of 'Anna Karénina'--nothing "of a
nature to trouble the senses or to please those who wish their senses
troubled." Ibsen's play, like the tragedy of Sophocles, like the severe
stories of Hawthorne and Tolstoi, is not spoon-meat for babes; it is not
for young men and maidens; but as Goethe asked nearly a century ago,
"What business have our young girls at the theater? They do not belong
to it;--they belong to the convent; and the theater is only for men and
women who know something of human affairs." It is for these men and
these women that Ibsen, with stern self-control, has written his social
dramas, that he may force them to look into matters they are willing
enough to ignore and to front the facts of life, ugly as these may be.

More than once in the course of this essay has there been occasion to
evoke the names of Sophocles, of Shakspere and of Molière, the supreme
masters of the dramatic art. To venture upon any comparison with them is
to measure Ibsen by the loftiest standard. In his technic alone can he
withstand the comparison, for he is the latest and he has profited by
all the experiments and achievements of the strong men who came before
him; in mere craftsmanship he is beyond question the foremost of all the
moderns. It must be said also that in his intellectual honesty, in his
respect for the immitigable laws of character, he rarely falls short. He
lacks the clear serenity of Sophocles, the depth and the breadth of the
myriad-minded Shakspere, the humorous toleration of Molière. The great
Greek, the great Englishman, and the great Frenchman, are, all of them,
liberal and sane and wholesome, whatever their subject-matter may be;
and here it is that the Scandinavian is felt to be inferior. There are
few of his social dramas in which we cannot find more than a hint of
abnormal eccentricity or of morbid perversity; and this is the reason
why the most of them fail to attain the dignity of true and lofty

Perhaps it is with Wagner that Ibsen should be grouped, rather than with
Sophocles and Shakspere and Molière. They are the two master-spirits of
the stage in the nineteenth century. They are both of them consummate
craftsmen, having assimilated every profitable device of their
predecessors and having made themselves chiefs, each in his own art. And
yet with all their witchery and all their power, we may doubt whether
their work will resist the criticism of the twentieth century, because
there is at the core of it an exaggeration or disproportion which the
future is likely to perceive more and more clearly in the receding
perspective of time.



As civilization becomes more and more complex, we can find more frequent
instances of "specialization of function," as the scientists term it.
Only a few years ago, engineering succeeded in getting itself recognized
as one of the professions; and it has already split up into half a dozen
branches, at least, and there are now not only civil engineers and
mechanical engineers and mining engineers, but also electrical
engineers--and even chemical engineers. The invention of the steel-frame
building has brought into existence a special class of artizans known as
"housesmiths," a word probably unintelligible to our British cousins.
Sir Leslie Stephen, in his delightful 'Studies of a Biographer,' has a
scholarly yet playful paper on the 'Evolution of the Editor'; and Mr.
W.J. Henderson, in his interesting book on the 'Orchestra and Orchestral
Music,' traces the development of the conductor--the musician whose
duties are as important as they are novel, and who is not now expected
to be able himself to play upon any particular instrument.

"It is impossible to tell when the conductor made his appearance in
music," Mr. Henderson asserts. "At the beginning of the seventeenth
century, the conductor was at first nothing more than a leader; he was
one of the performers whom the rest followed." An inscription in verse
on an engraving of a conductor, published in Nuremberg, early in the
eighteenth century, declares that "silent myself, I cause the music I
control." In the nineteenth century, the conductor had won full
recognition as an instrumentalist of a new type, who, without any
instrument of his own, played on the whole body of musicians under his
command. Of late, he has become so prominent in the eyes of the public,
and his personality has been so insisted upon, that there is danger
often lest he may distract attention from the music to himself. As Mr.
Henderson records calmly: "We have beheld the curious spectacle of
people going, to hear not Beethoven or Wagner, but Nikisch or Seidl."

What the conductor is to a performance of orchestral music, the
stage-manager is to the performance of a play in the theater. (And in
this paper the term "stage-manager" is to be understood as meaning the
"producer" of a drama.) His art is as special, as necessary, as novel,
and as difficult; and, if it is as yet scarcely recognized and rarely
appreciated, this is due in part to the conditions under which his work
must be done. The conductor is not only visible but conspicuous; the
audience is likely to watch him rather than any one of the musicians he
is guiding; whereas the stage-manager must ever be invisible, and is,
indeed, most successful if his existence is unsuspected. When the
conductor brings a concert to a close, he bows to the applause and then
lays down his wand; and all is over. The stage-manager has wrought his
wonders, and his labors are practically concluded, before the curtain
rises on the first act at the first performance. In this respect, he is
like the trainer of a college-crew, who cannot go into the boat with
them when the pistol is fired for the race to begin. But everybody is
now well aware what it is that the trainer has done for the crew; his
portrait appears with theirs in the newspapers and he shares in their

Only the expert ever thinks of giving due meed of praise to the hidden
stage-manager who is responsible for a more arduous victory in the
theater than any ever won on the river. His face is not familiar on the
posters; and his name is not in large type on the playbill. All the
credit he gets is contained in the single line which records that the
play has been "produced" by him. Yet he has been responsible for the
entire performance--for the acting and for the costumes, for the
scenery and for the properties, for the lighting and for the incidental
music; not so much indeed for any one of these things as for the harmony
of the whole. If there has been a perfect coördination of all these
elements, if there have been no jarring notes, if the spirit of the play
has been brought out completely, if everything has gone right from
beginning to end, if the whole performance has moved so smoothly as to
seem spontaneous, the stage-manager deserves the highest praise for what
he has wrought unseen. Yet his sole reward is his own consciousness of
work well done, and the chance appreciation of the scanty few who may be
competent to estimate the worth of his achievement.

The "producer" of the play, the person who assumes the responsibility
for the performance in all its details, may be the dramatist himself; M.
Sardou and Mr. Belasco have shown surpassing skill in bringing forth all
that lies latent in the inert manuscripts of their plays. He may be the
actual manager of the theater; the late Augustin Daly was a
stage-manager of striking individuality. He may be the actor of the
chief part in the play; Mr. Willard and Mr. Sothern have revealed
another aspect of their talent by the artistic manner in which they have
staged both new plays and old. He may be at once author and actor and
manager, like Mr. Gillette, a past-master of this new and difficult
art. Or he may be simply a stage-manager and nothing else, a craftsman
of a new calling, not author, not actor, yet able on occasion to give
hints to playwright and to player. Here, again, is another resemblance
to the conductor, who can impose his own will on the orchestra, altho he
may not be able to play one of the instruments in it, and altho he may
be quite incapable of composing.

That the task of the stage-manager is more difficult than that of the
conductor is due to the fact that the composer has prescribed exactly
what share each instrument shall take, the conductor having this full
score in his possession; whereas the stage-manager receives from the
author only the spoken words of the play, with but summary indications
as to the gestures, the movements, the scenery, and so forth. He has not
a full score, but only a sequence of themes incompletely orchestrated,
and with the missing passages to be supplied at his own discretion. And
as the richness of the harmony depends largely upon his ability to
amplify properly the hints of the author, the stage-manager is, in fact,
almost a collaborator of the playwright; he is forced into a more
intimate relation with the dramatist than that which the conductor bears
toward the composer. To a collaboration of this sort, ordinary playgoers
never give a thought, content to take the performance as they see it,
and ready often to credit the actor, not only with the inventions of the
stage-manager, but even with those of the author also. They accept the
play as it is presented to them, just as tho it had happened, with no
suspicion of the forethought by which the performance has been made

George Henry Lewes, in his stimulating essays, 'On Actors and the Art of
Acting,' has told us that audiences are inclined to overestimate the
genius of an actor and to underestimate his trained skill. We are prone
to accept the fallacy of the "inspiration of the moment," and to give
little credit to the careful preliminary rehearsing which is at once a
humble substitute for inspiration, should this fail to appear, and its
solid support, should it happen to present itself. For the thoroness of
this preliminary preparation the stage-manager is responsible; and it is
at rehearsal that he seeks to bring about the perfect "team-play" which
is absolutely necessary,--the subordination of individual display to the
larger advantage of the whole performance. The reason why the so-called
"all-star revivals" of old plays are often sadly disappointing, is to be
found in the absence of this team-play, in the exaggerated
self-assertion of the individual actors, whom the stage-manager has been
unable to control. Few members of an "all-star" company can be relied
upon for the "sacrifice-hits," which the best team-play may now and then
demand. And this is why a wise dramatist, if he were put to the choice,
would prefer to have his piece performed by a company of average merit
directed by a stage-manager of skill and authority, than by far better
actors under lax and inefficient stage-management. One of the varied
qualifications needed by stage-managers is the insight to estimate the
personality of the actors, so that the play may profit by what each of
them can do best, while the exuberance of an aggressive individuality is
restrained from interfering with the due proportion of the performance.

While it is the duty of the stage-manager to handle all the elements in
his control so as to make the performance as perfect as possible, his
most important function is to direct the actors themselves, to see that
they read their lines intelligently, with just the emphasis requisite at
that given moment in the unfolding of the story of the play, and to
advise them as to the gestures and movements which should tell this
story almost as plainly as the words themselves. Some actors scarcely
ever need a hint at rehearsal, reading their speeches naturally the
first time and finding for themselves the appropriate
byplay,--"business," as technical phrase terms it. Other actors, in no
wise inferior in power of personation, need to be guided and stimulated
by advice; even if not inventive themselves, they may be swift to take a
hint and to wring from it all its effectiveness. Rachel, probably the
greatest actress of the last century, felt herself lost without the
tuition of Samson, a comic actor himself, but a teacher of force,
originality and taste. Mrs. Siddons, again, owed some of her most
striking effects to her brother, John Philip Kemble. It was Kemble who
devised for her, and for himself, the new reading and the business now
traditional in the trial scene of 'Henry VIII,' where the _Queen_ at bay
lashes _Wolsey_ with the lines beginning:

     Lord Cardinal, to you I  speak--

Kemble suggested that the _Queen_ should pause, after the first two
words, as tho making up her mind what she should say. While she
hesitates, the other cardinal, _Campeius_, thinking himself addrest by a
lady, steps forward. The _Queen_, seeing this, waves him aside with an
imperious gesture, which sweeps forward to _Wolsey_, at whom she hurls
the next words,

     To _you_ I speak!

and then the rest of the fiery speech pours forth like scorching lava.

If the older plays, either tragedies or comedies, seem to us sometimes
richer in detail than the more modern pieces, we shall do well to
remember that these earlier dramas have profited by the accretions of
business and of unexpected readings due to the unceasing endeavor of
several generations of actors and of stage-managers. The plays of
Shakspere that are most frequently performed, the comedies of Molière
also, have accumulated a mass of traditions, of one kind or another,
some of these being of hoary antiquity. In 'Hamlet,' for example, in the
graveyard scene, it was the habit of the _Second Grave-digger_ to take
off his coat before beginning his work, and then to proceed to divest
himself of an indeterminate number of waistcoats, to the increasing
disgust of the _First Grave-digger_. Oddly enough, this same business is
traditional in the 'Précieuses Ridicules,' the less important of the two
comedians going through exactly the same mirth-provoking disrobing.
Probably the business was elaborated for some medieval farce long before
Molière was born, or Shakspere either. Of late, it has been omitted from
'Hamlet,' but it is still religiously preserved in the performances of
the 'Précieuses' by the Comédie-Française, the company of actors that
Molière founded.

Many another tradition is also cherished at the Français, the origin of
which is lost in the mists of antiquity. In the 'Malade Imaginaire,' for
example, _Thomas Diafoirius_ is always provided with an absurdly high
child's chair, apparently the property of _Louison_; and in the 'Avare,'
after the miser has blown out a candle twice and finally pocketed it,
the custom is for his servant to sneak behind him and to light the
candle once again as it sticks out of his coat. Regnier, the cultivated
and brilliant comedian (whose pupil M. Coquelin was in his
'prentice-days), published a text of Molière's most powerful play, which
he called 'Le Tartuffe des Comédiens' because he had recorded in it all
this traditional business. M. Coquelin has told me that he hopes to be
able some day to edit other of Molière's masterpieces on this principle.
And it is greatly to be wisht that some stage-manager of scholarly
tastes would provide us with a record of the customary effects to be
obtained in the performance of most of Shakspere's plays, as these have
been accumulated in the theater itself. Perhaps this book might be able
to tell us why it is that tradition warrants the same rather trivial
practical joke in the performance of the 'Merchant of Venice,' and in
the performance of 'Romeo and Juliet,'--the business of embarrassing a
servant by repeated bows of mock courtesy and protracted farewell.

In preparing for a revival of one of the masterpieces of Shakspere, the
accomplished stage-manager of to-day considers all these traditions
inherited from the past, discarding some of them and selecting those
which appear to him worthy of preservation, and which will accommodate
themselves to the general scheme of the whole performance as he has
conceived it in his mind's eye. He makes such arrangements as he deems
necessary, devising wholly new effects to fit the more modern methods of
presentation, which are less purely rhetorical than they were in the
eighteenth century, and more pictorial. When Herr Barnay impersonated
_Mark Antony_ in the Meiningen revival of 'Julius Cæsar,' the novel
stage-management gave freshness to the Forum scene and greatly increased
its force. As _Mark Antony_ ascended the rostrum, after _Brutus_ had
asked the mob to listen to him, the crowd was too highly wrought up over
the speech they had just heard to pay heed to the next speaker. They
gathered in knots praising _Brutus_; and the murmur of their chatter was
all the greeting that _Mark Antony_ received. Herr Barnay stood for a
moment silent and then he began his appeal for their attention:
"Friends--Romans--countrymen--!" but scarcely a citizen listened to him.

"Lend me your _ears_," he begged, "I come to bury Cæsar not to praise

And then the nearest group or two grudgingly turned toward the rostrum;
and to these the adroit speaker addrest himself, coaxing, cajoling,
flattering,--making frequent pauses, in every one of which the audience
could see another band of citizens drawn under the spell of his
eloquence. When he had them all attentive, he played on their feelings
and aroused their enthusiasm; then, after a swift and piercing glance
around to see if they were ripe for it, he brought forth _Cæsar's_ will;
and after that _Brutus_ was forgotten, and _Mark Antony_ held the mob in
the hollow of his hand to sway it at his will. It matters little whether
the credit of this most ingenious rearrangement was due to Herr Barnay
himself, or to the unseen stage-manager; the spectator could not but
recognize that a great play had received new illumination by it, and
that a certain richness of texture had been disclosed which had hitherto
lain concealed and unsuspected.

Sometimes, it must be confest, this craving after pictorial novelty
overreaches itself. Perhaps the allowable limit was not overstept when
Sir Henry Irving gave _Ophelia_ a fan of peacock-feathers, in order that
_Hamlet_ might play with it and have it in his hand when he has to say,
"Ay, a very peacock!"

But it may be doubted whether the boundary of the justifiable was not
crost, when the same stage-manager had the duel-scene of 'Romeo and
Juliet' take place in an open square, with its raised fountain not far
from the porch of the cathedral, so that _Mercutio_ might be able to
point right and left when he declared that his wound would serve, altho
it was not "as deep as a well or as wide as a church-door." Pretty as
this is and clever, it seems a little petty. To suggest that _Mercutio_
was in need of visible promptings for his fancy, is to diminish the
quick-wittedness of Shakspere's wittiest character.

Yet, either of these instances will serve to show the searching
thoroness with which the stage-manager seeks to project the whole
performance in all its minor details, having combined in advance the
gestures of the several actors, the movements of each in relation to
those of the others, the properties they make use of, and the scenery in
the midst of which they play their parts. Altho the scenery, the
properties and the costumes are designed by different artists, it is the
duty of the stage-manager to control them all, to see that they are
harmonious with each other, and that they are subdued to the atmosphere
of the "production" as a whole. He subordinates now one and now another,
that he may attain the more fitting contrast. Mr. Bronson Howard was one
of the authors of 'Peter Stuyvesant, Governor of New Amsterdam,' and to
his skilful direction the "production" of the play was committed. The
first act took place in a Dutch garden ablaze with autumn sunshine; and,
therefore, all the costumes seen in that act were grays and greens and
drabs of a proper Dutch sobriety. The second act presented the
New-Year's reception at night in the _Governor's_ house, and then the
costumes were rich and varied, so that they might stand out against the
somber oak of the spacious hall.

To the first rehearsal of a play, new or old, the stage-manager
sometimes comes with all the salient details of the future performance
visualized in advance, knowing just where every character ought to place
himself at every moment of the action, and having decided where every
piece of furniture shall stand, and how the actors will avail themselves
of its assistance. One accomplished stage-manager of my acquaintance, an
actor himself, works out with a set of chess-men the intricate problem
of moving his characters naturally about the stage. Another, a
playwright this one, has a toy theater in which to manoeuver the
personages of the play into exactly the most effective positions. In one
of M. Sardou's pieces, the manuscript of which I once had occasion to
study, the chairs stand at the beginning of the first act in very
different positions from those in which they are required to be at the
end of the act; and the manuscript contained full directions indicating
just when and exactly how one or another of the characters should seem
accidentally to push a chair into the needed position.

Since modern science has revealed the influence of environment on
character, and since modern fiction, following the example set by
Balzac, has brought out the significance of the background before which
an individual lives, moves and has his being, the stage-manager has a
more difficult duty than ever before. He has to see to it that the
scenery and all the fittings of the set are congruous, and that they are
significant, not merely of the place itself, but of the people also. The
late John Clayton showed me the model for the scene of the first act of
'Margery's Lovers,' remarking with a smile of satisfaction that, when
the curtain should go up, and before a word had been uttered, everybody
in the house would know that the story was laid in Southern France. When
the late James A. Herne brought out a play in which husband and wife
took opposite sides on the slavery question, the curiously stiff and
old-fashioned furniture used in the first act seemed to strike the
key-note of the drama; the spectators could not but feel that those who
lived amid such surroundings were precisely the persons who would behave
in that way.

The stage-manager is encouraged to try for these pictorial effects,
because the stage is now withdrawn behind a picture-frame in which the
curtain rises and falls. It is no longer thrust out into the midst of
the spectators, as it was in Shakspere's time; nor does it now project
beyond the line of the curtain, curving out alongside the stage-boxes,
as it did until the third quarter of the nineteenth century. It is now
separated from the audience by the straight row of footlights, within
the lower border of the frame; and the electric light which reaches
every corner of the stage, has put it into the power of the
stage-manager to modify his illumination at will, and to be confident
that no gesture will be lost no matter how he may arrange his groups
against his background. He can darken the whole stage, slowly or
suddenly, as he sees fit. Much of the intense effect attained by Sir
Henry Irving in the trial-scene of the 'Bells' was due to the very
adroit handling of the single ray of light that illumined the haunted
burgomaster, while the persons who peopled his fatal dream were left in
the shadow, indistinct and doubtful. Perhaps the most moving moment in
Mrs. Fiske's production of Paul Heyse's 'Mary of Magdala' was after
night had fallen, and when the betrayer knocked at the door of
_Caiaphas_, who came forth with a lantern and cast its rays full on the
contorted face of the villain,--that face being the sole object visible
on the darkened stage, as the _High Priest_ hissed forth the single
word, "Judas!"

The expert playwright of every period when the drama has flourished
abundantly, has always adjusted the structure of his play to conform to
the conditions of the theater of his own time; and the more adroit of
the dramatists of to-day have been swift to perceive the necessity for a
change of method, since the thrust-out platform has been succeeded by
the stage behind the picture-frame. They are relinquishing the
rhetorical devices which were proper enough on the platform-stage, and
which now seem out of place on the picture-stage. They find their profit
in accepting as a principle the old saying that "actions speak louder
than words." They are abandoning the confidential soliloquy, for
example, which was quite in keeping with the position of an actor in
close proximity to the spectators,--in the midst of them, in fact,--and
which strikes us as artificial and unnatural now that the actor is
behind the mystic line of the curtain. They are giving up the
explanatory "aside,"--lines spoken directly to the audience, and
supposed to be unheard by the other characters on the stage.

In Mr. Henry Arthur Jones's artfully articulated play, 'Mrs. Dane's
Defence,' a most ingenious specimen of story-telling on the stage, the
harassed heroine, left alone at a crucial moment, did not express her
emotion in a soliloquy, as she would have done even fifty years ago. She
revealed her agitation solely by the sudden change of her expression and
by her feverish movements, which not only betrayed her anxiety, but were
really more eloquent than any mere words were likely to be. Even more
remarkable examples of the skill with which significant action may be
substituted for speech, can be found in 'Secret Service'; and Mr.
Gillette has explained that, in the performance of his own plays, he is
"in the habit of resorting largely to the effects of natural pauses,
intervals of silence,--moments when few words are spoken and much mental
struggle is supposed to take place," finding these methods "especially
effective at critical junctures." Perhaps no other modern dramatist
relies so frankly upon sheer pantomime as Mr. Gillette does; and,
certainly, no other has ever made a more skilful use of it. But the
tendency can be observed in all our later playwrights, and it will
surely increase as the possibilities of the picture-stage come to be
better understood.

What the stage-manager is forever striving to attain, in addition to
these salient effects, is variety of impression. He seeks to achieve a
harmony of tone and to create an intangible atmosphere, in which the
spirit of the play shall be revealed. To secure this, he often calls in
the aid of music. When Sir Henry Irving produced 'Much Ado about
Nothing,' the note of joyous comedy that echoed and reëchoed thruout the
performance, was sustained by sparkling rhythms, old English
dance-tunes, most of them, that frolicked gaily thru the evening. In Mr.
Belasco's production of the 'Darling of the Gods,' the accompanying
music was almost incessant, but so subdued, so artfully modulated, so
delicately adjusted to the action, that perhaps a majority of the
audience was wholly unconscious of the three Japanese themes which had
been insisted upon again and again. To evoke the atmosphere of Japan as
soon as possible, Mr. Belasco also had a special curtain designed for
the play, which co-operated with the exotic music to bring about a
feeling of vague remoteness and of brooding mystery.

But all these effects, audible or visible, may be resented as mere
stage-tricks, unless they really belong where they are put, unless they
are intimately related to the main theme of the play, and unless they
are really helpful in evoking and sustaining the current of sympathy.
They are excrescences if they exist for their own sake only; they are
still worse if they interfere with this current of sympathy, if they
distract attention to themselves. The stage-manager must ever be on his
guard against the danger of sacrificing the major to the minor, and of
letting some little effect of slight value in itself interfere with the
true interest of the play as a whole. At the first performance of Mr.
Bronson Howard's 'Shenandoah,' the opening act of which ends with the
firing of the shot on Sumter, there was a wide window at the back of the
set, so that the spectators could see the curving flight of the bomb and
its final explosion above the doomed fort. This scenic marvel had cost
time and money to devise; but it was never visible after the first
performance, because it drew attention to itself, as a mechanical
effect, and so took off the minds of the audience from the Northern
lover and the Southern girl, the Southern lover and the Northern girl,
whose loves were suddenly sundered by the bursting of that fatal shell.

At the second performance, the spectators did not see the shot, they
only heard the dread report; and they were free to let their sympathy go
forth to the young couples. Here, once more, as so often in the art of
the stage, suggestion was far more potent than any attempt to exhibit
the visible object. The truth of this axiom was shown in the third act
of the same play, during its earlier performances, when the playwright
with the aid of a scant dozen soldiers was able to suggest all the
turmoil and all the hazards of a battle only a little removed. At later
performances, the author allowed the attempt to be made actually to
represent certain phases of a retreat, with horse, foot and artillery on
the stage all at once; and altho the stage-management was excellent in
every way, perhaps the total effect was less than when the far larger
possibilities of a great battle had been merely suggested to the
spectators, their own imaginations evoking the possibilities of war more
completely than any stage-manager could set it before them.

So in the 'Tosca' of M. Sardou, the torture of the hero, if we were to
see it, might be received with incredulity, but we are far more likely
to accept it as real when we perceive it only thru the sufferings of the
heroine at the sight of it. So again, in the 'Darling of the Gods,' the
destruction of the little band of loyal Samurai is far more effectively
conveyed to us by the faint voices which call and answer once and again
in the Red Bamboo Forest, than it would be by any actual presentation of
combat and carnage. So, in 'L'Aiglon,' the specters on the battle-field
of Wagram are much more impressive, if they are merely imagined by the
poor little prince, and if there is no vain attempt to realize them
concretely. So, in 'Macbeth,' there is a loss of interest if the ghost
of _Banquo_ struts in upon the banquet. Our modern incredulity doubts
the existence of returning spirits, altho it is willing enough to accept
the reality of _Macbeth's_ belief in them; but when the play was
originally produced, the superstitious groundlings would have felt
themselves cheated of an alluring spectacle if the sheeted ghost had not
stalked out on the stage to shake his gory locks.

In the spacious days of Elizabeth, the half-roofed theaters were only a
little less medieval than the pageants of the mysteries had been; and
the task of the stage-manager must have been very simple indeed. There
was no scenery, and the performance took place by daylight, so that all
the producer of a new play had to do was to arrange such elementary
business as was possible on a platform encumbered with an indefinite
number of spectators. Like all stage-managers, then and now, he had of
course to direct the actors themselves; and _Hamlet's_ speech to the
_Players_ gives us good reason to believe that Shakspere must have been
an excellent trainer, however modest may have been his own native gifts
as an actor. Molière, like Shakspere in so many ways, was like him in
being author and actor and manager; and in the 'Impromptu de Versailles'
he has left us a most instructive record of his own methods of
rehearsing his own company.

But, altho the playhouse in which Molière performed was roofed and
lighted, and altho he had some scenery, yet there were spectators
sitting on his stage as on Shakspere's, and the conditions were those of
the platform and not of the picture. Oddly enough, the most pictorial of
all the theaters that have preceded our own time is the theater of the
Athenians. Few spectacles can ever have excelled in beauty an outdoor
performance in the theater of Dionysius, when the richly-appareled
chorus circled into the orchestra, to the sound of music, in the spring
sunshine, with the breeze from the Bay of Salamis blowing back their
floating draperies, that could not but fall into lines of unexpected
delight and ineffable grace. Stage-management, which was necessarily
neglected by the great Elizabethans, owing to the rudeness of their
playhouses, was studied as an art by the great Greeks and held by them
in high esteem. The dramatic poet was himself the producer, training the
three actors, arranging the evolutions of the chorus, and accepting full
responsibility for the perfection of the complete work of art. Silent
himself, he caused the music he controlled.


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