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Title: A Book of Prefaces
Author: Mencken, H. L. (Henry Louis), 1880-1956
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
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.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "A Book of Prefaces" ***






_Published September, 1917_
_Second edition, 1918_
_Third edition, August, 1920_
_Reprinted, January, 1922_

_Set up, electrotyped and printed by Vail-Ballou Co., Binghamton, N. Y.
Paper (Warren's) furnished by Henry Lindenmeyr & Sons, New York, N. Y.
Bound by the Plimpton Press, Norwood, Mass._



  _With R. R. La Monte_
  [_The above books are out of print_]

_New York: Alfred A Knopf_


This fourth printing of "A Book of Prefaces" offers me temptation, as
the third did, to revise the whole book, and particularly the chapters
on Conrad, Dreiser and Huneker, all of whom have printed important new
books since the text was completed. In addition, Huneker has died. But
the changes that I'd make, after all, would be very slight, and so it
seems better not to make them at all. From Conrad have come "The Arrow
of Gold" and "The Rescue," not to mention a large number of sumptuous
reprints of old magazine articles, evidently put between covers for the
sole purpose of entertaining collectors. From Dreiser have come "Free,"
"Twelve Men," "Hey, Rub-a-Dub-Dub" and some chapters of autobiography.
From Huneker, before and after his death, have come "Unicorns,"
"Bedouins," "Steeple-Jack," "Painted Veils" and "Variations." But not
one of these books materially modifies the position of its author. "The
Arrow of Gold," I suppose, has puzzled a good many of Conrad's admirers,
but certainly "The Rescue" has offered ample proof that his old powers
are not diminished. The Dreiser books, like their predecessors that I
discuss here, reveal the curious unevenness of the author. Parts of
"Free" are hollow and irritating, and nearly all of "Hey, Rub-a-Dub-Dub"
is feeble, but in "Twelve Men" there are some chapters that rank with
the very best of "The Titan" and "Jennie Gerhardt." The place of Dreiser
in our literature is frequently challenged, and often violently, but
never successfully. As the years pass his solid dignity as an artist
becomes more and more evident. Huneker's last five works changed his
position very little. "Bedouins," "Unicorns" and "Variations" belong
mainly to his journalism, but into "Steeple-Jack," and above all into
"Painted Veils" he put his genuine self. I have discussed all of these
books in other places, and paid my small tribute to the man himself, a
light burning brightly through a dark night, and snuffed out only at the

I should add that the prices of Conrad first editions given on page 56
have been greatly exceeded during the past year or two. I should add
also that the Comstockian imbecilities described in Chapter IV are still
going on, and that the general trend of American legislation and
jurisprudence is toward their indefinite continuance.

                                                           H. L. M.
    Baltimore, January 1, 1922.


  I. Joseph Conrad                         11

 II. Theodore Dreiser                      67

III. James Huneker                        151

 IV. Puritanism as a Literary Force       197

     Index                                285




§ 1

"Under all his stories there ebbs and flows a kind of tempered
melancholy, a sense of seeking and not finding...." I take the words
from a little book on Joseph Conrad by Wilson Follett, privately
printed, and now, I believe, out of print.[1] They define both the mood
of the stories as works of art and their burden and direction as
criticisms of life. Like Dreiser, Conrad is forever fascinated by the
"immense indifference of things," the tragic vanity of the blind groping
that we call aspiration, the profound meaninglessness of
life--fascinated, and left wondering. One looks in vain for an attempt
at a solution of the riddle in the whole canon of his work. Dreiser,
more than once, seems ready to take refuge behind an indeterminate sort
of mysticism, even a facile supernaturalism, but Conrad, from first to
last, faces squarely the massive and intolerable fact. His stories are
not chronicles of men who conquer fate, nor of men who are unbent and
undaunted by fate, but of men who are conquered and undone. Each
protagonist is a new Prometheus, with a sardonic ignominy piled upon his
helplessness. Each goes down a Greek route to defeat and disaster,
leaving nothing behind him save an unanswered question. I can scarcely
recall an exception. Kurtz, Lord Jim, Razumov, Nostromo, Captain
Whalley, Yanko Goorall, Verloc, Heyst, Gaspar Ruiz, Almayer: one and all
they are destroyed and made a mock of by the blind, incomprehensible
forces that beset them.

Even in "Youth," "Typhoon," and "The Shadow Line," superficially stories
of the indomitable, that same consuming melancholy, that same pressing
sense of the irresistible and inexplicable, is always just beneath the
surface. Captain Mac Whirr gets the _Nan-Shan_ to port at last, but it
is a victory that stands quite outside the man himself; he is no more
than a marker in the unfathomable game; the elemental forces, fighting
one another, almost disregard him; the view of him that we get is one
of disdain, almost one of contempt. So, too, in "Youth." A tale of the
spirit's triumph, of youth besting destiny? I do not see it so. To me
its significance, like that of "The Shadow Line," is all subjective; it
is an aging man's elegy upon the hope and high resolution that the years
have blown away, a sentimental reminiscence of what the enigmatical gods
have had their jest with, leaving only its gallant memory behind. The
whole Conradean system sums itself up in the title of "Victory," an
incomparable piece of irony. Imagine a better label for that tragic
record of heroic and yet bootless effort, that matchless picture, in
microcosm, of the relentlessly cruel revolutions in the macrocosm!

Mr. Follett, perhaps with too much critical facility, finds the cause of
Conrad's unyielding pessimism in the circumstances of his own life--his
double exile, first from Poland, and then from the sea. But this is
surely stretching the facts to fit an hypothesis. Neither exile, it must
be plain, was enforced, nor is either irrevocable. Conrad has been back
to Poland, and he is free to return to the ships whenever the spirit
moves him. I see no reason for looking in such directions for his view
of the world, nor even in the direction of his nationality. We detect
certain curious qualities in every Slav simply because he is more given
than we are to revealing the qualities that are in all of us.
Introspection and self-revelation are his habit; he carries the study of
man and fate to a point that seems morbid to westerners; he is forever
gabbling about what he finds in his own soul. But in the last analysis
his verdicts are the immemorial and almost universal ones. Surely his
resignationism is not a Slavic copyright; all human philosophies and
religions seem doomed to come to it at last. Once it takes shape as the
concept of Nirvana, the desire for nothingness, the will to not-will.
Again, it is fatalism in this form or that--Mohammedanism, Agnosticism
... Calvinism! Yet again, it is the "Out, out, brief candle!" of
Shakespeare, the "_Eheu fugaces_" of Horace, the "_Vanitas vanitatum;
omnia vanitas!_" of the Preacher. Or, to make an end, it is
millenarianism, the theory that the world is going to blow up tomorrow,
or the day after, or two weeks hence, and that all sweating and striving
are thus useless. Search where you will, near or far, in ancient or
modern times, and you will never find a first-rate race or an
enlightened age, in its moments of highest reflection, that ever gave
more than a passing bow to optimism. Even Christianity, starting out as
"glad tidings," has had to take on protective coloration to survive, and
today its chief professors moan and blubber like Johann in Herod's
rain-barrel. The sanctified are few and far between. The vast majority
of us must suffer in hell, just as we suffer on earth. The divine grace,
so omnipotent to save, is withheld from us. Why? There, alas, is your
insoluble mystery, your riddle of the universe!...

This conviction that human life is a seeking without a finding, that its
purpose is impenetrable, that joy and sorrow are alike meaningless, you
will see written largely in the work of most great creative artists. It
is obviously the final message, if any message is genuinely to be found
there, of the nine symphonies of Ludwig van Beethoven, or, at any rate,
of the three which show any intellectual content at all. Mark Twain,
superficially a humourist and hence an optimist, was haunted by it in
secret, as Nietzsche was by the idea of eternal recurrence: it forced
itself through his guard in "The Mysterious Stranger" and "What is Man?"
In Shakespeare, as Shaw has demonstrated, it amounts to a veritable
obsession. And what else is there in Balzac, Goethe, Swift, Molière,
Turgenev, Ibsen, Dostoyevsky, Romain Rolland, Anatole France? Or in the
Zola of "L'Assomoir," "Germinal," "La Débâcle," the whole
Rougon-Macquart series? (The Zola of "Les Quatres Evangiles," and
particularly of "Fécondité," turned meliorist and idealist, and became
ludicrous.) Or in the Hauptmann of "Fuhrmann Henschel," or in Hardy, or
in Sudermann? (I mean, of course, Sudermann the novelist. Sudermann the
dramatist is a mere mechanician.)... The younger men in all countries,
in so far as they challenge the current sentimentality at all, seem to
move irresistibly toward the same disdainful skepticism. Consider the
last words of "Riders to the Sea." Or Gorky's "Nachtasyl." Or Frank
Norris' "McTeague." Or Stephen Crane's "The Blue Hotel." Or the ironical
fables of Dunsany. Or Dreiser's "Jennie Gerhardt." Or George Moore's
"Sister Teresa."

Conrad, more than any of the other men I have mentioned, grounds his
work firmly upon this sense of cosmic implacability, this confession of
unintelligibility. The exact point of the story of Kurtz, in "Heart of
Darkness," is that it is pointless, that Kurtz's death is as meaningless
as his life, that the moral of such a sordid tragedy is a wholesale
negation of all morals. And this, no less, is the point of the story of
Falk, and of that of Almayer, and of that of Jim. Mr. Follett (he must
be a forward-looker in his heart!) finds himself, in the end, unable to
accept so profound a determinism unadulterated, and so he injects a
gratuitous and mythical romanticism into it, and hymns Conrad "as a
comrade, one of a company gathered under the ensign of hope for common
war on despair." With even greater error, William Lyon Phelps argues
that his books "are based on the axiom of the moral law."[2] The one
notion is as unsound as the other. Conrad makes war on nothing; he is
pre-eminently _not_ a moralist. He swings, indeed, as far from revolt
and moralizing as is possible, for he does not even criticize God. His
undoubted comradeship, his plain kindliness toward the soul he
vivisects, is not the fruit of moral certainty, but of moral
agnosticism. He neither protests nor punishes; he merely smiles and
pities. Like Mark Twain he might well say: "The more I see of men, the
more they amuse me--and the more I pity them." He is _simpatico_
precisely because of this ironical commiseration, this infinite
disillusionment, this sharp understanding of the narrow limits of human
volition and responsibility.... I have said that he does not criticize
God. One may even imagine him pitying God....

§ 2

But in this pity, I need not add, there is no touch of sentimentality.
No man could be less the romantic, blubbering over the sorrows of his
own Werthers. No novelist could have smaller likeness to the brummagem
emotion-squeezers of the Kipling type, with their playhouse fustian and
their naïve ethical cocksureness. The thing that sets off Conrad from
these facile fellows, and from the shallow pseudo-realists who so often
coalesce with them and become indistinguishable from them, is precisely
his quality of irony, and that irony is no more than a proof of the
greater maturity of his personal culture, his essential superiority as a
civilized man. It is the old difference between a Huxley and a
Gladstone, a philosophy that is profound and a philosophy that is merely
comfortable, "_Quid est veritas?_" and "Thus saith the Lord!" He brings
into the English fiction of the day, not only an artistry that is vastly
more fluent and delicate than the general, but also a highly unusual
sophistication, a quite extraordinary detachment from all petty rages
and puerile certainties. The winds of doctrine, howling all about him,
leave him absolutely unmoved. He belongs to no party and has nothing to
teach, save only a mystery as old as man. In the midst of the hysterical
splutterings and battle-cries of the Kiplings and Chestertons, the
booming pedagogics of the Wellses and Shaws, and the smirking at
key-holes of the Bennetts and de Morgans, he stands apart and almost
alone, observing the sardonic comedy of man with an eye that sees every
point and significance of it, but vouchsafing none of that sophomoric
indignation, that Hyde Park wisdom, that flabby moralizing which freight
and swamp the modern English novel. "At the centre of his web," says
Arthur Symons, "sits an elemental sarcasm discussing human affairs with
a calm and cynical ferocity.... He calls up all the dreams and illusions
by which men have been destroyed and saved, and lays them mockingly
naked.... He shows the bare side of every virtue, the hidden heroism of
every vice and crime. He summons before him all the injustices that have
come to birth out of ignorance and self-love.... And in all this there
is no judgment, only an implacable comprehension, as of one outside
nature, to whom joy and sorrow, right and wrong, savagery and
civilization, are equal and indifferent...."[3]

Obviously, no Englishman! No need to explain (with something akin to
apology) that his name is really not Joseph Conrad at all, but Teodor
Josef Konrad Karzeniowski, and that he is a Pole of noble lineage, with
a vague touch of the Asiatic in him. The Anglo-Saxon mind, in these
later days, becomes increasingly incapable of his whole point of view.
Put into plain language, his doctrine can only fill it with wonder and
fury. That mind is essentially moral in cut; it is believing, certain,
indignant; it is as incapable of skepticism, save as a passing coryza of
the spirit, as it is of wit, which is skepticism's daughter. Time was
when this was not true, as Congreve, Pope, Wycherley and even Thackeray
show, but that time was before the Reform Bill of 1832, the great
intellectual levelling, the emancipation of the _chandala_. In these our
days the Englishman is an incurable foe of distinction, and being so he
must needs take in with his mother's milk the delusions which go with
that enmity, and particularly the master delusion that all human
problems, in the last analysis, are readily soluble, and that all that
is required for their solution is to take counsel freely, to listen to
wizards, to count votes, to agree upon legislation. This is the prime
and immovable doctrine of the _mobile vulgus_ set free; it is the
loveliest of all the fruits of its defective powers of observation and
reasoning, and above all, of its defective knowledge of demonstrated
facts, especially in history. Take away this notion that there is some
mysterious infallibility in the sense of the majority, this theory that
the consensus of opinion is inspired, and the idea of equality begins to
wither; in fact, it ceases to have any intelligibility at all. But the
notion is not taken away; it is nourished; it flourishes on its own
effluvia. And out of it spring the two rules which give direction to all
popular thinking, the first being that no concept in politics or conduct
is valid (or more accurately respectable), which rises above the
comprehension of the great masses of men, or which violates any of their
inherent prejudices or superstitions, and the second being that the
articulate individual in the mob takes on some of the authority and
inspiration of the mob itself, and that he is thus free to set himself
up as a soothsayer, so long as he does not venture beyond the aforesaid
bounds--in brief, that one man's opinion, provided it observe the
current decorum, is as good as any other man's.

Practically, of course, this is simply an invitation to quackery. The
man of genuine ideas is hedged in by taboos; the quack finds an audience
already agape. The reply to the invitation, in the domain of applied
ethics, is the revived and reinforced _Sklavenmoral_ that besets all of
us of English speech--the huggermugger morality of timorous, whining,
unintelligent and unimaginative men--envy turned into law, cowardice
sanctified, stupidity made noble, Puritanism. And in the theoretical
field there is an even more luxuriant crop of bosh. Mountebanks almost
innumerable tell us what we should believe and practice, in politics,
religion, philosophy and the arts. England and the United States,
between them, house more creeds than all the rest of the world together,
and they are more absurd. They rise, they flame, they fall and go out,
but always there are new ones, always the latest is worse than the last.
What modern civilization save this of ours could have produced Christian
Science, or the New Thought, or Billy Sundayism? What other could have
yielded up the mawkish bumptiousness of the Uplift? What other could
accept gravely the astounding imbecilities of English philanthropy and
American law? The native output of fallacy and sentimentality, in fact,
is not enough to satisfy the stupendous craving of the mob unleashed;
there must needs be a constant importation of the aberrant fancies of
other peoples. Let a new messiah leap up with a new message in any part
of the world, and at once there is a response from the two great free
nations. Once it was Tolstoi with a mouldy asceticism made of catacomb
Christianity and senile soul-sickness; again it was Bergson, with a
perfumed quasi-philosophy for the boudoirs of the faubourgs; yet again
came Rudolf Eucken and Pastor Wagner, with their middle-class beeriness
and banality. The list need go no further. It begins with preposterous
Indian swamis and yoghis (most of them, to do them justice, diligent
Jews from Grand street or the bagnios of Constantinople), and it ends
with the fabulous Ibsen of the symbols (no more the real Ibsen than
Christ was a prohibitionist), the Ellen Key of the new gyneolatry and
the Signorina Montessori of the magical Method. It was a sure instinct
that brought Eusapia Palladino to New York. It was the same sure
instinct that brought Hall Caine.

I have mentioned Ibsen. A glance at the literature he has spawned in the
vulgate is enough to show how much his falser aspects have intrigued the
American mind and how little it has reacted to his shining skill as a
dramatic craftsman--his one authentic claim upon fame. Read Jennette
Lee's "The Ibsen Secret,"[4] perhaps the most successful of all the
Ibsen gemaras in English, if you would know the virulence of the
national appetite for bogus revelation. And so in all the arts.
Whatever is profound and penetrating we stand off from; whatever is
facile and shallow, particularly if it reveal a moral or mystical color,
we embrace. Ibsen the first-rate dramatist was rejected with indignation
precisely because of his merits--his sharp observation, his sardonic
realism, his unsentimental logic. But the moment a meretricious and
platitudinous ethical purpose began to be read into him--how he
protested against it!--he was straightway adopted into our flabby
culture. Compare Hauptmann and Brieux, the one a great artist, the other
no more than a raucous journalist. Brieux's elaborate proofs that two
and two are four have been hailed as epoch-making; one of his worst
plays, indeed, has been presented with all the solemn hocus-pocus of a
religious rite. But Hauptmann remains almost unknown; even the Nobel
Prize did not give him a vogue. Run the roll: Maeterlinck and his
languishing supernaturalism, Tagore and his Asiatic wind music, Selma
Lagerlöf and her old maid's mooniness, Bernstein, Molnar and company and
their out-worn tricks--but I pile up no more names. Consider one fact:
the civilization that kissed Maeterlinck on both cheeks, and Tagore
perhaps even more intimately, has yet to shake hands with Anatole

This bemusement by superficial ideas, this neck-bending to quacks, this
endless appetite for sesames and apocalypses, is depressingly visible in
our native literature, as it is in our native theology, philosophy and
politics. "The British and American mind," says W. L. George,[5] "has
been long honey-combed with moral impulse, at any rate since the
Reformation; it is very much what the German mind was up to the middle
of the Nineteenth Century." The artist, facing an audience which seems
incapable of differentiating between æsthetic and ethical values, tends
to become a preacher of sonorous nothings, and the actual
moralist-propagandist finds his way into art well greased. No other
people in Christendom produces so vast a crop of tin-horn haruspices. We
have so many Orison Swett Mardens, Martin Tuppers, Edwin Markhams,
Gerald Stanley Lees, Dr. Frank Cranes and Dr. Sylvanus Stalls that their
output is enough to supply the whole planet. We see, too, constantly,
how thin is the barrier separating the chief Anglo-Saxon novelists and
playwrights from the pasture of the platitudinarian. Jones and Pinero
both made their first strikes, not as the artists they undoubtedly are,
but as pinchbeck moralists, moaning over the sad fact that girls are
seduced. Shaw, a highly dexterous dramaturgist, smothers his dramaturgy
in a pifflish iconoclasm that is no more than a disguise for Puritanism.
Bennett and Wells, competent novelists, turn easily from the novel to
the volume of shoddy philosophizing. Kipling, with "Kim" behind him,
becomes a vociferous leader-writer of the _Daily Mail_ school, whooping
a pothouse patriotism, hurling hysterical objurgations at the foe. Even
W. L. George, potentially a novelist of sound consideration, drops his
craft for the jehad of the suffragettes. Doyle, Barrie, Caine, Locke,
Barker, Mrs. Ward, Beresford, Hewlett, Watson, Quiller-Couch--one and
all, high and low, they are tempted by the public demand for sophistry,
the ready market for pills. A Henry Bordeaux, in France, is an
exception; in England he is the rule. The endless thirst to be soothed
with cocksure asseverations, the great mob yearning to be dosed and
comforted, is the undoing, over there, of three imaginative talents out
of five.

And, in America, of nearly five out of five. Winston Churchill may serve
as an example. He is a literary workman of very decent skill; the native
critics speak of him with invariable respect; his standing within the
craft was shown when he was unanimously chosen first president of the
Authors' League of America. Examine his books in order. They proceed
steadily from studies of human character and destiny, the proper
business of the novelist, to mere outpourings of social and economic
panaceas, the proper business of leader writers, chautauquas
rabble-rousers and hedge politicians. "The Celebrity" and "Richard
Carvel," within their limits, are works of art; "The Inside of the Cup"
is no more than a compendium of paralogy, as silly and smattering as a
speech by William Jennings Bryan or a shocker by Jane Addams. Churchill,
with the late Jack London to bear him company, may stand for a large
class; in its lower ranks are such men as Reginald Wright Kauffman and
Will Levington Comfort. Still more typical of the national taste for
moral purpose and quack philosophy are the professional optimists and
eye-dimmers, with their two grand divisions, the boarding-school
romantics and the Christian Endeavor Society sentimentalists. Of the
former I give you George Barr McCutcheon, Owen Wister, the late Richard
Harding Davis, and a horde of women--most of them now humanely
translated to the moving pictures. Of the latter I give you the fair
authors of the "glad" books, so gigantically popular, so lavishly
praised in the newspapers--with the wraith of the later Howells, the
virtuous, kittenish Howells, floating about in the air above them. No
other country can parallel this literature, either in its copiousness or
in its banality. It is native and peculiar to a civilization which
erects the unshakable certainties of the misinformed and quack-ridden
into a national way of life....

§ 3

My business, however, is not with the culture of Anglo-Saxondom, but
only with Conrad's place therein. That place is isolated and remote; he
is neither of it nor quite in it. In the midst of a futile meliorism
which deceives the more, the more it soothes, he stands out like some
sinister skeleton at the feast, regarding the festivities with a
flickering and impenetrable grin. "To read him," says Arthur Symons, "is
to shudder on the edge of a gulf, in a silent darkness." There is no
need to be told that he is there almost by accident, that he came in a
chance passerby, a bit uncertain of the door. It was not an artistic
choice that made him write English instead of French; it was a choice
with its roots in considerations far afield. But once made, it concerned
him no further. In his first book he was plainly a stranger, and all
himself; in his last he is a stranger still--strange in his manner of
speech, strange in his view of life, strange, above all, in his glowing
and gorgeous artistry, his enthusiasm for beauty _per se_, his absolute
detachment from that heresy which would make it no more than a servant
to some bald and depressing theory of conduct, some axiom of the
uncomprehending. He is, like Dunsany, a pure artist. His work, as he
once explained, is not to edify, to console, to improve or to encourage,
but simply to get upon paper some shadow of his own eager sense of the
wonder and prodigality of life as men live it in the world, and of its
unfathomable romance and mystery. "My task," he went on, "is, by the
power of the written word, to make you hear, to make you feel--it is,
before all, to make you _see_. That--and no more, and it is

This detachment from all infra-and-ultra-artistic purpose, this
repudiation of the rôle of propagandist, this avowal of what Nietzsche
was fond of calling innocence, explains the failure of Conrad to fit
into the pigeon-holes so laboriously prepared for him by critics who
must shelve and label or be damned. He is too big for any of them, and
of a shape too strange. He stands clear, not only of all the schools and
factions that obtain in latter-day English fiction, but also of the
whole stream of English literature since the Restoration. He is as
isolated a figure as George Moore, and for much the same reason. Both
are exotics, and both, in a very real sense, are public enemies, for
both war upon the philosophies that caress the herd. Is Conrad the
beyond-Kipling, as the early criticism of him sought to make him?
Nonsense! As well speak of Mark Twain as the beyond-Petroleum V. Nasby
(as, indeed, was actually done). He is not only a finer artist than
Kipling; he is a quite different kind of artist. Kipling, within his
limits, shows a talent of a very high order. He is a craftsman of the
utmost deftness. He gets his effects with almost perfect assurance.
Moreover, there is a poet in him; he knows how to reach the emotions.
But once his stories are stripped down to the bare carcass their
emptiness becomes immediately apparent. The ideas in them are not the
ideas of a reflective and perspicacious man, but simply the ideas of a
mob-orator, a mouther of inanities, a bugler, a school-girl. Reduce any
of them to a simple proposition, and that proposition, in so far as it
is intelligible at all, will be ridiculous. It is precisely here that
Conrad leaps immeasurably ahead. His ideas are not only sound; they are
acute and unusual. They plough down into the sub-strata of human motive
and act. They unearth conditions and considerations that lie concealed
from the superficial glance. They get at the primary reactions. In
particular and above all, they combat the conception of man as a pet and
privy councillor of the gods, working out his own destiny in a sort of
vacuum and constantly illumined by infallible revelations of his duty,
and expose him as he is in fact: an organism infinitely more sensitive
and responsive than other organisms, but still a mere organism in the
end, a brother to the wild things and the protozoa, swayed by the same
inscrutable fortunes, condemned to the same inchoate errors and
irresolutions, and surrounded by the same terror and darkness....

But is the Conrad I here describe simply a new variety of moralist,
differing from the general only in the drift of the doctrine he
preaches? Surely not. He is no more a moralist than an atheist is a
theologian. His attitude toward all moral systems and axioms is that of
a skeptic who rejects them unanimously, even including, and perhaps
especially including, those to which, in moments of æsthetic detachment,
he seems to give a formal and resigned sort of assent. It is this
constant falling back upon "I do not know," this incessant conversion of
the easy logic of romance into the harsh and dismaying logic of fact,
that explains his failure to succeed as a popular novelist, despite his
skill at evoking emotion, his towering artistic passion, his power to
tell a thumping tale. He is talked of, he brings forth a mass of
punditic criticism, he becomes in a sense the fashion; but it would be
absurd to say that he has made the same profound impression upon the
great class of normal novel-readers that Arnold Bennett once made, or H.
G. Wells, or William de Morgan in his brief day, or even such
cheap-jacks as Anthony Hope Hawkins and William J. Locke. His show
fascinates, but his philosophy, in the last analysis, is unbearable. And
in particular it is unbearable to women. One rarely meets a woman who,
stripped of affection, shows any genuine enthusiasm for a Conrad book,
or, indeed, any genuine comprehension of it. The feminine mind, which
rules in English fiction, both as producer and as consumer, craves
inevitably a more confident and comforting view of the world than Conrad
has to offer. It seeks, not disillusion, but illusion. It protects
itself against the disquieting questioning of life by pretending that
all the riddles have been solved, that each new sage answers them
afresh, that a few simple principles suffice to dispose of them. Women,
one may say, have to subscribe to absurdities in order to account for
themselves at all; it is the instinct of self-preservation which sends
them to priests, as to other quacks. This is not because they are
unintelligent, but rather because they have that sharp and sure sort of
intelligence which is instinctive, and which passes under the name of
intuition. It teaches them that the taboos which surround them, however
absurd at bottom, nevertheless penalize their courage and curiosity with
unescapable dudgeon, and so they become partisans of the existing order,
and, per corollary, of the existing ethic. They may be menaced by
phantoms, but at all events these phantoms really menace them. A woman
who reacted otherwise than with distrust to such a book as "Victory"
would be as abnormal as a woman who embraced "Jenseits von Gut und Böse"
or "The Inestimable Life of the Great Gargantua."

As for Conrad, he retaliates by approaching the sex somewhat gingerly.
His women, in the main, are no more than soiled and tattered cards in a
game played by the gods. The effort to erect them into the customary
"sympathetic" heroines of fiction always breaks down under the drum fire
of the plain facts. He sees quite accurately, it seems to me, how
vastly the rôle of women has been exaggerated, how little they amount to
in the authentic struggle of man. His heroes are moved by avarice, by
ambition, by rebellion, by fear, by that "obscure inner necessity" which
passes for nobility or the sense of duty--never by that puerile passion
which is the mainspring of all masculine acts and aspirations in popular
novels and on the stage. If they yield to amour at all, it is only at
the urging of some more powerful and characteristic impulse, _e.g._, a
fantastic notion of chivalry, as in the case of Heyst, or the thirst for
dominion, as in the case of Kurtz. The one exception is offered by
Razumov--and Razumov is Conrad's picture of a flabby fool, of a
sentimentalist destroyed by his sentimentality. Dreiser has shown much
the same process in Witla and Cowperwood, but he is less free from the
conventional obsession than Conrad; he takes a love affair far more
naïvely, and hence far more seriously.

I used to wonder why Conrad never tackled a straight-out story of
adultery under Christianity, the standard matter of all our more
pretentious fiction and drama. I was curious to see what his ethical
agnosticism would make of it. The conclusion I came to at first was that
his failure marked the limitations of his courage--in brief, that he
hesitated to go against the orthodox axioms and assumptions in the
department where they were most powerfully maintained. But it seems to
me now that his abstinence has not been the fruit of timidity, but of
disdain. He has shied at the hypothesis, not at its implications. His
whole work, in truth, is a destructive criticism of the prevailing
notion that such a story is momentous and worth telling. The current
gyneolatry is as far outside his scheme of things as the current program
of rewards and punishments, sins and virtues, causes and effects. He not
only sees clearly that the destiny and soul of man are not moulded by
petty jousts of sex, as the prophets of romantic love would have us
believe; he is so impatient of the fallacy that he puts it as far behind
him as possible, and sets his conflicts amid scenes that it cannot
penetrate, save as a palpable absurdity. Love, in his stories, is either
a feeble phosphorescence or a gigantic grotesquerie. In "Heart of
Darkness," perhaps, we get his typical view of it. Over all the frenzy
and horror of the tale itself floats the irony of the trusting heart
back in Brussels. Here we have his measure of the master sentimentality
of them all....

§ 4

As for Conrad the literary craftsman, opposing him for the moment to
Conrad the showman of the human comedy, the quality that all who write
about him seem chiefly to mark in him is his scorn of conventional form,
his tendency to approach his story from two directions at once, his
frequent involvement in apparently inextricable snarls of narrative,
sub-narrative and sub-sub-narrative. "Lord Jim," for example, starts out
in the third person, presently swings into an exhaustive psychological
discussion by the mythical Marlow, then goes into a brisk narrative at
second (and sometimes at third) hand, and finally comes to a halt upon
an unresolved dissonance, a half-heard chord of the ninth: "And that's
the end. He passes away under a cloud, inscrutable at heart, forgotten,
unforgiven, and excessively romantic." "Falk" is also a story within a
story; this time the narrator is "one who had not spoken before, a man
over fifty." In "Amy Foster" romance is filtered through the prosaic
soul of a country doctor; it is almost as if a statistician told the
tale of Horatius at the bridge. In "Under Western Eyes" the obfuscation
is achieved by "a teacher of languages," endlessly lamenting his lack of
the "high gifts of imagination and expression." In "Youth" and "Heart
of Darkness" the chronicler and speculator is the shadowy Marlow, a
"cloak to goe inbisabell" for Conrad himself. In "Chance" there are two
separate stories, imperfectly welded together. Elsewhere there are
hesitations, goings back, interpolations, interludes in the Socratic
manner. And almost always there is heaviness in the getting under weigh.
In "Heart of Darkness" we are on the twentieth page before we see the
mouth of the great river, and in "Falk" we are on the twenty-fourth
before we get a glimpse of Falk. "Chance" is nearly half done before the
drift of the action is clearly apparent. In "Almayer's Folly" we are
thrown into the middle of a story, and do not discover its beginning
until we come to "An Outcast of the Islands," a later book. As in
structure, so in detail. Conrad pauses to explain, to speculate, to look
about. Whole chapters concern themselves with detailed discussions of
motives, with exchanges of views, with generalizations abandoned as soon
as they are made. Even the author's own story, "A Personal Record" (in
the English edition, "Some Reminiscences") starts near the end, and then
goes back, halting tortuously, to the beginning.

In the eyes of orthodox criticism, of course, this is a grave fault.
The Kipling-Wells style of swift, shouldering, button-holing writing has
accustomed readers and critics alike to a straight course and a rapid
tempo. Moreover, it has accustomed them to a forthright certainty and
directness of statement; they expect an author to account for his
characters at once, and on grounds instantly comprehensible. This
omniscience is a part of the prodigality of moral theory that I have
been discussing. An author who knows just what is the matter with the
world may be quite reasonably expected to know just what is the matter
with his hero. Neither sort of assurance, I need not say, is to be found
in Conrad. He is an inquirer, not a law-giver; an experimentalist, not a
doctor. One constantly derives from his stories the notion that he is as
much puzzled by his characters as the reader is--that he, too, is
feeling his way among shadowy evidences. The discoveries that we make,
about Lord Jim, about Nostromo or about Kurtz, come as fortuitously and
as unexpectedly as the discoveries we make about the real figures of our
world. The picture is built up bit by bit; it is never flashed suddenly
and completely as by best-seller calciums; it remains a bit dim at the
end. But in that very dimness, so tantalizing and yet so revealing, lies
two-thirds of Conrad's art, or his craft, or his trick, or whatever you
choose to call it. What he shows us is blurred at the edges, but so is
life itself blurred at the edges. We see least clearly precisely what is
nearest to us, and is hence most real to us. A man may profess to
understand the President of the United States, but he seldom alleges,
even to himself, that he understands his own wife.

In the character and in its reactions, in the act and in the motive:
always that tremulousness, that groping, that confession of final
bewilderment. "He passes away under a cloud, inscrutable at heart...."
And the cloud enshrouds the inner man as well as the outer, the secret
springs of his being as well as the overt events of his life. "His
meanest creatures," says Arthur Symons, "have in them a touch of honour,
of honesty, or of heroism; his heroes have always some error, weakness,
or mistake, some sin or crime, to redeem." What is Lord Jim, scoundrel
and poltroon or gallant knight? What is Captain MacWhirr, hero or simply
ass? What is Falk, beast or idealist? One leaves "Heart of Darkness" in
that palpitating confusion which is shot through with intense curiosity.
Kurtz is at once the most abominable of rogues and the most fantastic of
dreamers. It is impossible to differentiate between his vision and his
crimes, though all that we look upon as order in the universe stands
between them. In Dreiser's novels there is the same anarchy of
valuations, and it is chiefly responsible for the rage he excites in the
unintelligent. The essential thing about Cowperwood is that he is two
diverse beings at once; a puerile chaser of women and a great artist, a
guinea pig and half a god. The essential thing about Carrie Meeber is
that she remains innocent in the midst of her contaminations, that the
virgin lives on in the kept woman. This is not the art of fiction as it
is conventionally practised and understood. It is not explanation,
labelling, assurance, moralizing. In the cant of newspaper criticism, it
does not "satisfy." But the great artist is never one who satisfies in
that feeble sense; he leaves the business to mountebanks who do it
better. "My purpose," said Ibsen, "is not to answer questions; it is to
ask them." The spectator must bring something with him beyond the mere
faculty of attention. If, coming to Conrad, he cannot, he is at the
wrong door.

§ 5

Conrad's predilection for barbarous scenes and the more bald and
shocking sort of drama has an obviously autobiographical basis. His own
road ran into strange places in the days of his youth. He moved among
men who were menaced by all the terrestrial cruelties, and by the almost
unchecked rivalry and rapacity of their fellow men, without any
appreciable barriers, whether of law, of convention or of
sentimentality, to shield them. The struggle for existence, as he saw
it, was well nigh as purely physical among human beings as among the
carnivora of the jungle. Some of his stories, and among them his very
best, are plainly little more than transcripts of his own experience. He
himself is the enchanted boy of "Youth"; he is the ship-master of "Heart
of Darkness"; he hovers in the background of all the island books and is
visibly present in most of the tales of the sea.

And what he got out of that early experience was more than a mere body
of reminiscence; it was a scheme of valuations. He came to his writing
years with a sailor's disdain for the trifling hazards and emprises of
market places and drawing rooms, and it shows itself whenever he sets
pen to paper. A conflict, it would seem, can make no impression upon him
save it be colossal. When his men combat, not nature, but other men,
they carry over into the business the gigantic method of sailors
battling with a tempest. "The Secret Agent" and "Under Western Eyes"
fill the dull back streets of London and Geneva with pursuits, homicides
and dynamitings. "Nostromo" is a long record of treacheries, butcheries
and carnalities. "A Point of Honor" is coloured by the senseless,
insatiable ferocity of Gobineau's "Renaissance." "Victory" ends with a
massacre of all the chief personages, a veritable catastrophe of blood.
Whenever he turns from the starker lusts to the pale passions of man
under civilization, Conrad fails. "The Return" is a thoroughly infirm
piece of writing--a second rate magazine story. One concludes at once
that the author himself does not believe in it. "The Inheritors" is
worse; it becomes, after the first few pages, a flaccid artificiality, a
bore. It is impossible to imagine the chief characters of the Conrad
gallery in such scenes. Think of Captain MacWhirr reacting to social
tradition, Lord Jim immersed in the class war, Lena Hermann seduced by
the fashions, Almayer a candidate for office! As well think of
Huckleberry Finn at Harvard, or Tom Jones practising law.

These things do not interest Conrad, chiefly, I suppose, because he does
not understand them. His concern, one may say, is with the gross anatomy
of passion, not with its histology. He seeks to depict emotion, not in
its ultimate attenuation, but in its fundamental innocence and fury.
Inevitably, his materials are those of what we call melodrama; he is at
one, in the bare substance of his tales, with the manufacturers of the
baldest shockers. But with a difference!--a difference, to wit, of
approach and comprehension, a difference abysmal and revolutionary. He
lifts melodrama to the dignity of an important business, and makes it a
means to an end that the mere shock-monger never dreams of. In itself,
remember, all this up-roar and blood-letting is not incredible, nor even
improbable. The world, for all the pressure of order, is still full of
savage and stupendous conflicts, of murders and debaucheries, of crimes
indescribable and adventures almost unimaginable. One cannot reasonably
ask a novelist to deny them or to gloss over them; all one may demand of
him is that, if he make artistic use of them, he render them
understandable--that he logically account for them, that he give them
plausibility by showing their genesis in intelligible motives and
colourable events.

The objection to the conventional melodramatist is that he fails to do
this. It is not that his efforts are too florid, but that his causes are
too puny. For all his exuberance of fancy, he seldom shows us a
downright impossible event; what he does constantly show us is an
inadequate and hence unconvincing motive. In a cheap theatre we see a
bad actor, imperfectly disguised as a viscount, bind a shrieking young
woman to the railroad tracks, with an express train approaching. Why
does he do it? The melodramatist offers a double-headed reason, the
first part being that the viscount is an amalgam of Satan and Don Juan
and the second being that the young woman prefers death to dishonour.
Both parts are absurd. Our eyes show us at once that the fellow is far
more the floorwalker, the head barber, the Knight of Pythias than either
the Satan or the Don Juan, and our experience of life tells us that
young women in yellow wigs do not actually rate their virginity so
dearly. But women are undoubtedly done to death in this way--not every
day, perhaps, but now and then. Men bind them, trains run over them, the
newspapers discuss the crime, the pursuit of the felon, the ensuing
jousting of the jurisconsults. Why, then? The true answer, when it is
forthcoming at all, is always much more complex than the melodramatist's
answer. It may be so enormously complex, indeed, as to transcend all the
normal laws of cause and effect. It may be an answer made up largely, or
even wholly, of the fantastic, the astounding, the unearthly reasons of
lunacy. That is the chief, if not the only difference between melodrama
and reality. The events of the two may be, and often are identical. It
is only in their underlying network of causes that they are dissimilar
and incommensurate.

Here, in brief, you have the point of essential distinction between the
stories of Conrad, a supreme artist in fiction, and the trashy
confections of the literary artisans--_e.g._, Sienkiewicz, Dumas, Lew
Wallace, and their kind. Conrad's materials, at bottom, are almost
identical with those of the artisans. He, too, has his chariot races,
his castaways, his carnivals of blood in the arena. He, too, takes us
through shipwrecks, revolutions, assassinations, gaudy heroisms,
abominable treacheries. But always he illuminates the nude and amazing
event with shafts of light which reveal not only the last detail of its
workings, but also the complex of origins and inducements behind it.
Always, he throws about it a probability which, in the end, becomes
almost inevitability. His "Nostromo," for example, in its externals, is
a mere tale of South American turmoil; its materials are those of
"Soldiers of Fortune." But what a difference in method, in point of
approach, in inner content! Davis was content to show the overt act,
scarcely accounting for it at all, and then only in terms of
conventional romance. Conrad penetrates to the motive concealed in it,
the psychological spring and basis of it, the whole fabric of weakness,
habit and aberration underlying it. The one achieved an agreeable
romance, and an agreeable romance only. The other achieves an
extraordinarily brilliant and incisive study of the Latin-American
temperament--a full length exposure of the perverse passions and
incomprehensible ideals which provoke presumably sane men to pursue one
another like wolves, and of the reactions of that incessant pursuit upon
the men themselves, and upon their primary ideas, and upon the
institutions under which they live. I do not say that Conrad is always
exhaustive in his explanations, or that he is accurate. In the first
case I know that he often is not, in the second case I do not know
whether he is or he isn't. But I do say that, within the scope of his
vision, he is wholly convincing; that the men and women he sets into his
scene show ineluctably vivid and persuasive personality; that the
theories he brings forward to account for their acts are intelligible;
that the effects of those acts, upon actors and immediate spectators
alike, are such as might be reasonably expected to issue; that the final
impression is one of searching and indubitable veracity. One leaves
"Nostromo" with a memory as intense and lucid as that of a real
experience. The thing is not mere photography. It is interpretative
painting at its highest.

In all his stories you will find this same concern with the inextricable
movement of phenomena and noumena between event and event, this same
curiosity as to first causes and ultimate effects. Sometimes, as in "The
Point of Honor" and "The End of the Tether," he attempts to work out the
obscure genesis, in some chance emotion or experience, of an
extraordinary series of transactions. At other times, as in "Typhoon,"
"Youth," "Falk" and "The Shadow Line," his endeavour is to determine the
effect of some gigantic and fortuitous event upon the mind and soul of a
given man. At yet other times, as in "Almayer's Folly," "Lord Jim" and
"Under Western Eyes," it is his aim to show how cause and effect are
intricately commingled, so that it is difficult to separate motive from
consequence, and consequence from motive. But always it is the process
of mind rather than the actual act that interests him. Always he is
trying to penetrate the actor's mask and interpret the actor's frenzy.
It is this concern with the profounder aspects of human nature, this
bold grappling with the deeper and more recondite problems of his art,
that gives him consideration as a first-rate artist. He differs from
the common novelists of his time as a Beethoven differs from a
Mendelssohn. Some of them are quite his equals in technical skill, and a
few of them, notably Bennett and Wells, often show an actual
superiority, but when it comes to that graver business which underlies
all mere virtuosity, he is unmistakably the superior of the whole corps
of them.

This superiority is only the more vividly revealed by the shop-worn
shoddiness of most of his materials. He takes whatever is nearest to
hand, out of his own rich experience or out of the common store of
romance. He seems to disdain the petty advantages which go with the
invention of novel plots, extravagant characters and unprecedented
snarls of circumstance. All the classical doings of anarchists are to be
found in "The Secret Agent"; one has heard them copiously credited, of
late, to so-called Reds. "Youth," as a story, is no more than an
orthodox sea story, and W. Clark Russell contrived better ones. In
"Chance" we have a stern father at his immemorial tricks. In "Victory"
there are villains worthy of Jack B. Yeats' melodramas of the Spanish
Main. In "Nostromo" we encounter the whole stock company of Richard
Harding Davis and O. Henry. And in "Under Western Eyes" the protagonist
is one who finds his love among the women of his enemies--a situation
at the heart of all the military melodramas ever written.

But what Conrad makes of that ancient and fly-blown stuff, that rubbish
from the lumber room of the imagination! Consider, for example, "Under
Western Eyes," by no means the best of his stories. The plot is that of
"Shenandoah" and "Held by the Enemy"--but how brilliantly it is endowed
with a new significance, how penetratingly its remotest currents are
followed out, how magnificently it is made to fit into that colossal
panorama of Holy Russia! It is always this background, this complex of
obscure and baffling influences, this drama under the drama, that Conrad
spends his skill upon, and not the obvious commerce of the actual stage.
It is not the special effect that he seeks, but the general effect. It
is not so much man the individual that interests him, as the shadowy
accumulation of traditions, instincts and blind chances which shapes the
individual's destiny. Here, true enough, we have a full-length portrait
of Razumov, glowing with life. But here, far more importantly, we also
have an amazingly meticulous and illuminating study of the Russian
character, with all its confused mingling of Western realism and
Oriental fogginess, its crazy tendency to go shooting off into the
spaces of an incomprehensible metaphysic, its general transcendence of
all that we Celts and Saxons and Latins hold to be true of human motive
and human act. Russia is a world apart: that is the sum and substance of
the tale. In the island stories we have the same elaborate projection of
the East, of its fantastic barbarism, of brooding Asia. And in the sea
stories we have, perhaps for the first time in English fiction, a vast
and adequate picture of the sea, the symbol at once of man's eternal
striving and of his eternal impotence. Here, at last, the colossus has
found its interpreter. There is in "Typhoon" and "The Nigger of the
Narcissus," and, above all, in "The Mirror of the Sea," a poetic
evocation of the sea's stupendous majesty that is unparalleled outside
the ancient sagas. Conrad describes it with a degree of graphic skill
that is superb and incomparable. He challenges at once the pictorial
vigour of Hugo and the aesthetic sensitiveness of Lafcadio Hearn, and
surpasses them both. And beyond this mere dazzling visualization, he
gets into his pictures an overwhelming sense of that vast drama of which
they are no more than the flat, lifeless representation--of that
inexorable and uncompassionate struggle which is life itself. The sea to
him is a living thing, an omnipotent and unfathomable thing, almost a
god. He sees it as the Eternal Enemy, deceitful in its caresses, sudden
in its rages, relentless in its enmities, and forever a mystery.

§ 6

Conrad's first novel, "Almayer's Folly," was printed in 1895. He tells
us in "A Personal Record" that it took him seven years to write
it--seven years of pertinacious effort, of trial and error, of learning
how to write. He was, at this time thirty-eight years old. Seventeen
years before, landing in England to fit himself for the British merchant
service, he had made his first acquaintance with the English language.
The interval had been spent almost continuously at sea--in the Eastern
islands, along the China coast, on the Congo and in the South Atlantic.
That he hesitated between French and English is a story often told, but
he himself is authority for the statement that it is more symbolical
than true. Flaubert, in those days, was his idol, as we know, but the
speech of his daily business won, and English literature reaped the
greatest of all its usufructs from English sea power. To this day there
are marks of his origins in his style. His periods, more than once, have
an inept and foreign smack. In fishing for the right phrase one
sometimes feels that he finds a French phrase, or even a Polish phrase,
and that it loses something by being done into English.

The credit for discovering "Almayer's Folly," as the publishers say,
belongs to Edward Garnett, then a reader for T. Fisher Unwin. The book
was brought out modestly and seems to have received little attention.
The first edition, it would appear, ran to no more than a thousand
copies; at all events, specimens of it are now very hard to find, and
collectors pay high prices for them. When "An Outcast of the Islands"
followed, a year later, a few alert readers began to take notice of the
author, and one of them was Sir (then Mr.) Hugh Clifford, a former
Governor of the Federated Malay States and himself the author of several
excellent books upon the Malay. Clifford gave Conrad encouragement
privately and talked him up in literary circles, but the majority of
English critics remained unaware of him. After an interval of two years,
during which he struggled between his desire to write and the temptation
to return to the sea, he published "The Nigger of the Narcissus."[7] It
made a fair success of esteem, but still there was no recognition of the
author's true stature. Then followed "Tales of Unrest" and "Lord Jim,"
and after them the feeblest of all the Conrad books, "The Inheritors,"
written in collaboration with Ford Madox Hueffer. It is easy to see in
this collaboration, and no less in the character of the book, an
indication of irresolution, and perhaps even of downright loss of hope.
But success, in fact, was just around the corner. In 1902 came "Youth,"
and straightway Conrad was the lion of literary London. The chorus of
approval that greeted it was almost a roar; all sorts of critics and
reviewers, from H. G. Wells to W. L. Courtney, and from John Galsworthy
to W. Robertson Nicoll, took a hand. Writing home to the _New York
Times_, W. L. Alden reported that he had "not heard one dissenting voice
in regard to the book," but that the praise it received "was unanimous,"
and that the newspapers and literary weeklies rivalled one another "in
their efforts to express their admiration for it."

This benign whooping, however, failed to awaken the enthusiasm of the
mass of novel-readers and brought but meagre orders from the circulating
libraries. "Typhoon" came upon the heels of "Youth," but still the sales
of the Conrad books continued small and the author remained in very
uncomfortable circumstances. Even after four or five years he was still
so poor that he was glad to accept a modest pension from the British
Civil List. This official recognition of his genius, when it came at
last, seems to have impressed the public, characteristically enough, far
more than his books themselves had done, and the foundations were thus
laid for that wider recognition of his genius which now prevails. But
getting him on his legs was slow work, and such friends as Hueffer,
Clifford and Galsworthy had to do a lot of arduous log-rolling. Even
after the splash made by "Youth" his publishing arrangements seem to
have remained somewhat insecure. His first eleven books show six
different imprints; it was not until his twelfth that he settled down to
a publisher. His American editions tell an even stranger story. The
first six of them were brought out by six different publishers; the
first eight by no less than seven. But today he has a regular American
publisher at last, and in England a complete edition of his works is in

Thanks to the indefatigable efforts of that American publisher (who
labours for Gene Stratton-Porter and Gerald Stanley Lee in the same
manner) Conrad has been forced upon the public notice in the United
States, and it is the fashion among all who pretend to aesthetic
consciousness to read him, or, at all events, to talk about him. His
books have been brought together in a uniform edition for the newly
intellectual, bound in blue leather, like the "complete library sets" of
Kipling, O. Henry, Guy de Maupassant and Paul de Kock. The more literary
newspapers print his praises; he is hymned by professorial critics as a
prophet of virtue; his genius is certificated by such diverse
authorities as Hildegarde Hawthorne and Louis Joseph Vance; I myself
lately sat on a Conrad Committee, along with Booth Tarkington, David
Belasco, Irvin Cobb, Walter Pritchard Eaton and Hamlin Garland--surely
an astounding posse of _literati_! Moreover, Conrad himself shows a
disposition to reach out for a wider audience. His "Victory," first
published in _Munsey's Magazine_, revealed obvious efforts to be
intelligible to the general. A few more turns of the screw and it might
have gone into the _Saturday Evening Post_, between serials by Harris
Dickson and Rex Beach.

Meanwhile, in the shadow of this painfully growing celebrity as a
novelist, Conrad takes on consideration as a bibelot, and the dealers in
first editions probably make more profit out of some of his books than
ever he has made himself. His manuscripts are cornered, I believe, by an
eminent collector of literary curiosities in New York, who seems to have
a contract with the novelist to take them as fast as they are
produced--perhaps the only arrangement of the sort in literary history.
His first editions begin to bring higher premiums than those of any
other living author. Considering the fact that the oldest of them is
less than twenty-five years old, they probably set new records for the
trade. Even the latest in date are eagerly sought, and it is not
uncommon to see an English edition of a Conrad book sold at an advance
in New York within a month of its publication.[8]

As I hint, however, there is not much reason to believe that this
somewhat extravagant fashion is based upon any genuine liking, or any
very widespread understanding. The truth is that, for all the adept
tub-thumping of publishers, Conrad's sales still fall a good deal behind
those of even the most modest of best-seller manufacturers, and that the
respect with which his successive volumes are received is accompanied by
enthusiasm in a relatively narrow circle only. A clan of Conrad fanatics
exists, and surrounding it there is a body of readers who read him
because it is the intellectual thing to do, and who talk of him because
talking of him is expected. But beyond that he seems to make little
impression. When "Victory" was printed in _Munsey's Magazine_ it was a
failure; no other single novel, indeed, contributed more toward the
abandonment of the policy of printing a complete novel in each issue.
The other popular magazines show but small inclination for Conrad
manuscripts. Some time ago his account of a visit to Poland in war-time
was offered on the American market by an English author's agent. At the
start a price of $2,500 was put upon it, but after vainly inviting
buyers for a couple of months it was finally disposed of to a literary
newspaper which seldom spends so much as $2,500, I daresay, for a whole
month's supply of copy.

In the United States, at least, novelists are made and unmade, not by
critical majorities, but by women, male and female. The art of fiction
among us, as Henry James once said, "is almost exclusively feminine." In
the books of such a man as William Dean Howells it is difficult to find
a single line that is typically and exclusively masculine. One could
easily imagine Edith Wharton, or Mrs. Watts, or even Agnes Repplier,
writing all of them. When a first-rate novelist emerges from obscurity
it is almost always by some fortuitous plucking of the dexter string.
"Sister Carrie," for example, has made a belated commercial success, not
because its dignity as a human document is understood, but because it is
mistaken for a sad tale of amour, not unrelated to "The Woman Thou
Gavest Me" and "Dora Thorne." In Conrad there is no such sweet bait for
the fair and sentimental. The sedentary multipara, curled up in her
boudoir on a rainy afternoon, finds nothing to her taste in his grim
tales. The Conrad philosophy is harsh, unyielding, repellent. The Conrad
heroes are nearly all boors and ruffians. Their very love-making has
something sinister and abhorrent in it; one cannot imagine them in the
moving pictures, played by tailored beauties with long eye-lashes. More,
I venture that the censors would object to them, even disguised as
floor-walkers. Surely that would be a besotted board which would pass
the irregular amours of Lord Jim, the domestic brawls of Almayer, the
revolting devil's mass of Kurtz, Falk's disgusting feeding in the
Southern Ocean, or the butchery on Heyst's island. Stevenson's "Treasure
Island" has been put upon the stage, but "An Outcast of the Islands"
would be as impossible there as "Barry Lyndon" or "La Terre." The world
fails to breed actors for such rôles, or stage managers to penetrate
such travails of the spirit, or audiences for the revelation thereof.

With the Conrad cult, so discreetly nurtured out of a Barabbasian silo,
there arises a considerable Conrad literature, most of it quite
valueless. Huneker's essay, in "Ivory, Apes and Peacocks,"[9] gets
little beyond the obvious; William Lyon Phelps, in "The Advance of the
English Novel," achieves only a meagre judgment;[10] Frederic Taber
Cooper tries to estimate such things as "The Secret Agent" and "Under
Western Eyes" in terms of the Harvard enlightenment;[11] John Galsworthy
wastes himself upon futile comparisons;[12] even Sir Hugh Clifford, for
all his quick insight, makes irrelevant objections to Conrad's
principles of Malay psychology.[13] Who cares? Conrad is his own God,
and creates his own Malay! The best of the existing studies of Conrad,
despite certain sentimentalities arising out of youth and schooling, is
in the book of Wilson Follett, before mentioned. The worst is in the
official biography by Richard Curle,[14] for which Conrad himself
obtained a publisher and upon which his _imprimatur_ may be thus assumed
to lie. If it does, then its absurdities are nothing new, for we all
know what a botch Ibsen made of accounting for himself. But, even so,
the assumption stretches the probabilities more than once. Surely it is
hard to think of Conrad putting "Lord Jim" below "Chance" and "The
Secret Agent" on the ground that it "raises a fierce moral issue."
Nothing, indeed, could be worse nonsense--save it be an American
critic's doctrine that "Conrad denounces pessimism." "Lord Jim" no more
raises a moral issue than "The Titan." It is, if anything, a devastating
exposure of a moral issue. Its villain is almost heroic; its hero,
judged by his peers, is a scoundrel....

Hugh Walpole, himself a competent novelist, does far better in his
little volume, "Joseph Conrad."[15] In its brief space he is unable to
examine all of the books in detail, but he at least manages to get
through a careful study of Conrad's method, and his professional skill
and interest make it valuable.

§ 7

There is a notion that judgments of living artists are impossible. They
are bound to be corrupted, we are told, by prejudice, false perspective,
mob emotion, error. The question whether this or that man is great or
small is one which only posterity can answer. A silly begging of the
question, for doesn't posterity also make mistakes? Shakespeare's ghost
has seen two or three posterities, beautifully at odds. Even today, it
must notice a difference in flitting from London to Berlin. The shade of
Milton has been tricked in the same way. So, also, has Johann Sebastian
Bach's. It needed a Mendelssohn to rescue it from Coventry--and now
Mendelssohn himself, once so shining a light, is condemned to the
shadows in his turn. We are not dead yet; we are here, and it is now.
Therefore, let us at least venture, guess, opine.

My own conviction, sweeping all those reaches of living fiction that I
know, is that Conrad's figure stands out from the field like the Alps
from the Piedmont plain. He not only has no masters in the novel; he has
scarcely a colourable peer. Perhaps Thomas Hardy and Anatole France--old
men both, their work behind them. But who else? James is dead. Meredith
is dead. So is George Moore, though he lingers on. So are all the
Russians of the first rank; Andrieff, Gorki and their like are light
cavalry. In Sudermann, Germany has a writer of short stories of very
high calibre, but where is the German novelist to match Conrad? Clara
Viebig? Thomas Mann? Gustav Frenssen? Arthur Schnitzler? Surely not! As
for the Italians, they are either absurd tear-squeezers or more absurd
harlequins. As for the Spaniards and the Scandinavians, they would pass
for geniuses only in Suburbia. In America, setting aside an odd volume
here and there, one can discern only Dreiser--and of Dreiser's
limitations I shall discourse anon. There remains England. England has
the best second-raters in the world; nowhere else is the general level
of novel writing so high; nowhere else is there a corps of journeyman
novelists comparable to Wells, Bennett, Benson, Walpole, Beresford,
George, Galsworthy, Hichens, De Morgan, Miss Sinclair, Hewlett and
company. They have a prodigious facility; they know how to write; even
the least of them is, at all events, a more competent artisan than, say,
Dickens, or Bulwer-Lytton, or Sienkiewicz, or Zola. But the literary
_grande passion_ is simply not in them. They get nowhere with their
suave and interminable volumes. Their view of the world and its wonders
is narrow and superficial. They are, at bottom, no more than clever

As Galsworthy has said, Conrad lifts himself immeasurably above them
all. One might well call him, if the term had not been cheapened into
cant, a cosmic artist. His mind works upon a colossal scale; he conjures
up the general out of the particular. What he sees and describes in his
books is not merely this man's aspiration or that woman's destiny, but
the overwhelming sweep and devastation of universal forces, the great
central drama that is at the heart of all other dramas, the tragic
struggles of the soul of man under the gross stupidity and obscene
joking of the gods. "In the novels of Conrad," says Galsworthy, "nature
is first, man is second." But not a mute, a docile second! He may think,
as Walpole argues, that "life is too strong, too clever and too
remorseless for the sons of men," but he does not think that they are
too weak and poor in spirit to challenge it. It is the challenging that
engrosses him, and enchants him, and raises up the magic of his wonder.
It is as futile, in the end, as Hamlet's or Faust's--but still a gallant
and a gorgeous adventure, a game uproariously worth the playing, an
enterprise "inscrutable ... and excessively romantic."...

If you want to get his measure, read "Youth" or "Falk" or "Heart of
Darkness," and then try to read the best of Kipling. I think you will
come to some understanding, by that simple experiment, of the difference
between an adroit artisan's bag of tricks and the lofty sincerity and
passion of a first-rate artist.


[1] Joseph Conrad: A short study of his intellectual and emotional
attitude toward his work and of the chief characteristics of his novels,
by Wilson Follett; New York, Doubleday, Page & Co. (1915).

[2] The Advance of the English Novel. New York, Dodd, Mead & Co., 1916,
p. 215.

[3] Conrad, in the _Forum_, May, 1915.

[4] New York and London. G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1907.

[5] The Intelligence of Woman. Boston, Little, Brown & Co., 1916, p.

[6] In _The New Review_, Dec., 1897.

[7] Printed in the United States as Children of the Sea, but now
restored to its original title.

[8] Here are some actual prices from booksellers' catalogues:

                                    1914    1916    1920

Almayer's Folly (1895)             $12.    $24.    $40.
An Outcast of the Islands (1896)    11.50   20.     35.
The Nigger of the Narcissus (1898)   7.50   20.     35.
Tales of Unrest (1898)              12.50   20.     35.
Lord Jim (1900)                      7.50   22.50   25.
The Inheritors (1901)               12.     20.     30.
Youth (1902)                         5.      7.50   25.
Typhoon (1903)                       4.      5.50   16.
Romance (1903)                       5.      7.50    9.
Nostromo (1904)                      2.50    4.50    7.50
The Mirror of the Sea (1906)         5.      11.    15.
A Set of Six (1908)                  3.       7.50  10.
Under Western Eyes (1911)            4.50     4.50   6.
Some Reminiscences (1912)            4.50     9.    15.
Chance (1913)                        2.       5.    15.
Victory (1915)                       2.       2.50   4.25

[9] New York, Chas. Scribner's Sons, 1915, pp. 1-21.

[10] New York, Dodd, Mead & Co., 1916, pp. 192-217.

[11] Some English Story Tellers: A Book of the Younger Novelists; New
York, Henry Holt & Co., 1912, pp. 1-30.

[12] A Disquisition on Conrad, _Fortnightly Review_, April, 1908.

[13] The Genius of Mr. Joseph Conrad, _North American Review_, June,

[14] Joseph Conrad: A Study; New York, Doubleday, Page & Co., 1914.

[15] Joseph Conrad; London, Nisbet & Co. (1916).



§ 1

Out of the desert of American fictioneering, so populous and yet so
dreary, Dreiser stands up--a phenomenon unescapably visible, but
disconcertingly hard to explain. What forces combined to produce him in
the first place, and how has he managed to hold out so long against the
prevailing blasts--of disheartening misunderstanding and
misrepresentation, of Puritan suspicion and opposition, of artistic
isolation, of commercial seduction? There is something downright heroic
in the way the man has held his narrow and perilous ground, disdaining
all compromise, unmoved by the cheap success that lies so inviting
around the corner. He has faced, in his day, almost every form of attack
that a serious artist can conceivably encounter, and yet all of them
together have scarcely budged him an inch. He still plods along in the
laborious, cheerless way he first marked out for himself; he is quite as
undaunted by baited praise as by bludgeoning, malignant abuse; his later
novels are, if anything, more unyieldingly dreiserian than his
earliest. As one who has long sought to entice him in this direction or
that, fatuously presuming to instruct him in what would improve him and
profit him, I may well bear a reluctant and resigned sort of testimony
to his gigantic steadfastness. It is almost as if any change in his
manner, any concession to what is usual and esteemed, any amelioration
of his blind, relentless exercises of _force majeure_, were a physical
impossibility. One feels him at last to be authentically no more than a
helpless instrument (or victim) of that inchoate flow of forces which he
himself is so fond of depicting as at once the answer to the riddle of
life, and a riddle ten times more vexing and accursed.

And his origins, as I say, are quite as mysterious as his motive power.
To fit him into the unrolling chart of American, or even of English
fiction is extremely difficult. Save one thinks of H. B. Fuller (whose
"With the Procession" and "The Cliff-Dwellers" are still remembered by
Huneker, but by whom else?[16]), he seems to have had no fore-runner
among us, and for all the discussion of him that goes on, he has few
avowed disciples, and none of them gets within miles of him. One catches
echoes of him, perhaps, in Willa Sibert Cather, in Mary S. Watts, in
David Graham Phillips, in Sherwood Anderson and in Joseph Medill
Patterson, but, after all, they are no more than echoes. In Robert
Herrick the thing descends to a feeble parody; in imitators further
removed to sheer burlesque. All the latter-day American novelists of
consideration are vastly more facile than Dreiser in their philosophy,
as they are in their style. In the fact, perhaps, lies the measure of
their difference. What they lack, great and small, is the gesture of
pity, the note of awe, the profound sense of wonder--in a phrase, that
"soberness of mind" which William Lyon Phelps sees as the hallmark of
Conrad and Hardy, and which even the most stupid cannot escape in
Dreiser. The normal American novel, even in its most serious forms,
takes colour from the national cocksureness and superficiality. It runs
monotonously to ready explanations, a somewhat infantile smugness and
hopefulness, a habit of reducing the unknowable to terms of the not
worth knowing. What it cannot explain away with ready formulae, as in
the later Winston Churchill, it snickers over as scarcely worth
explaining at all, as in the later Howells. Such a brave and tragic
book as "Ethan Frome" is so rare as to be almost singular, even with
Mrs. Wharton. There is, I daresay, not much market for that sort of
thing. In the arts, as in the concerns of everyday, the American seeks
escape from the insoluble by pretending that it is solved. A comfortable
phrase is what he craves beyond all things--and comfortable phrases are
surely not to be sought in Dreiser's stock.

I have heard argument that he is a follower of Frank Norris, and two or
three facts lend it a specious probability. "McTeague" was printed in
1899; "Sister Carrie" a year later. Moreover, Norris was the first to
see the merit of the latter book, and he fought a gallant fight, as
literary advisor to Doubleday, Page & Co., against its suppression after
it was in type. But this theory runs aground upon two circumstances, the
first being that Dreiser did not actually read "McTeague," nor, indeed,
grow aware of Norris, until after "Sister Carrie" was completed, and the
other being that his development, once he began to write other books,
was along paths far distant from those pursued by Norris himself.
Dreiser, in truth, was a bigger man than Norris from the start; it is to
the latter's unending honour that he recognized the fact instanter, and
yet did all he could to help his rival. It is imaginable, of course,
that Norris, living fifteen years longer, might have overtaken Dreiser,
and even surpassed him; one finds an arrow pointing that way in
"Vandover and the Brute" (not printed until 1914). But it swings sharply
around in "The Epic of the Wheat." In the second volume of that
incomplete trilogy, "The Pit," there is an obvious concession to the
popular taste in romance; the thing is so frankly written down, indeed,
that a play has been made of it, and Broadway has applauded it. And in
"The Octopus," despite some excellent writing, there is a descent to a
mysticism so fantastic and preposterous that it quickly passes beyond
serious consideration. Norris, in his day, swung even lower--for
example, in "A Man's Woman" and in some of his short stories. He was a
pioneer, perhaps only half sure of the way he wanted to go, and the evil
lures of popular success lay all about him. It is no wonder that he
sometimes seemed to lose his direction.

Émile Zola is another literary father whose paternity grows dubious on
examination. I once printed an article exposing what seemed to me to be
a Zolaesque attitude of mind, and even some trace of the actual Zola
manner, in "Jennie Gerhardt"; there came from Dreiser the news that he
had never read a line of Zola, and knew nothing about his novels. Not a
complete answer, of course; the influence might have been exerted at
second hand. But through whom? I confess that I am unable to name a
likely medium. The effects of Zola upon Anglo-Saxon fiction have been
almost _nil_; his only avowed disciple, George Moore, has long since
recanted and reformed; he has scarcely rippled the prevailing
romanticism.... Thomas Hardy? Here, I daresay, we strike a better scent.
There are many obvious likenesses between "Tess of the D'Urbervilles"
and "Jennie Gerhardt" and again between "Jude the Obscure" and "Sister
Carrie." All four stories deal penetratingly and poignantly with the
essential tragedy of women; all disdain the petty, specious explanations
of popular fiction; in each one finds a poetical and melancholy beauty.
Moreover, Dreiser himself confesses to an enchanted discovery of Hardy
in 1896, three years before "Sister Carrie" was begun. But it is easy to
push such a fact too hard, and to search for likenesses and parallels
that are really not there. The truth is that Dreiser's points of contact
with Hardy might be easily matched by many striking points of
difference, and that the fundamental ideas in their novels, despite a
common sympathy, are anything but identical. Nor does one apprehend any
ponderable result of Dreiser's youthful enthusiasm for Balzac, which
antedated his discovery of Hardy by two years. He got from both men a
sense of the scope and dignity of the novel; they taught him that a
story might be a good one, and yet considerably more than a story; they
showed him the essential drama of the commonplace. But that they had
more influence in forming his point of view, or even in shaping his
technique, than any one of half a dozen other gods of those young
days--this I scarcely find. In the structure of his novels, and in their
manner of approach to life no less, they call up the work of Dostoyevsky
and Turgenev far more than the work of either of these men--but of all
the Russians save Tolstoi (as of Flaubert) Dreiser himself tells us that
he was ignorant until ten years after "Sister Carrie." In his days of
preparation, indeed, his reading was so copious and so disorderly that
antagonistic influences must have well-nigh neutralized one another, and
so left the curious youngster to work out his own method and his own
philosophy. Stevenson went down with Balzac, Poe with Hardy, Dumas
_fils_ with Tolstoi. There were even months of delight in Sienkiewicz,
Lew Wallace and E. P. Roe! The whole repertory of the pedagogues had
been fought through in school and college: Dickens, Thackeray,
Hawthorne, Washington Irving, Kingsley, Scott. Only Irving and
Hawthorne seem to have made deep impressions. "I used to lie under a
tree," says Dreiser, "and read 'Twice Told Tales' by the hour. I thought
'The Alhambra' was a perfect creation, and I still have a lingering
affection for it." Add Bret Harte, George Ebers, William Dean Howells,
Oliver Wendell Holmes, and you have a literary stew indeed!... But for
all its bubbling I see a far more potent influence in the chance
discovery of Spencer and Huxley at twenty-three--the year of choosing!
Who, indeed, will ever measure the effect of those two giants upon the
young men of that era--Spencer with his inordinate meticulousness, his
relentless pursuit of facts, his overpowering syllogisms, and Huxley
with his devastating agnosticism, his insatiable questionings of the old
axioms, above all, his brilliant style? Huxley, it would appear, has
been condemned to the scientific hulks, along with bores innumerable and
unspeakable; one looks in vain for any appreciation of him in treatises
on beautiful letters.[17] And yet the man was a superb artist in works,
a master-writer even more than a master-biologist, one of the few truly
great stylists that England has produced since the time of Anne. One can
easily imagine the effect of two such vigorous and intriguing minds upon
a youth groping about for self-understanding and self-expression. They
swept him clean, he tells us, of the lingering faith of his boyhood--a
mediaeval, Rhenish Catholicism;--more, they filled him with a new and
eager curiosity, an intense interest in the life that lay about him, a
desire to seek out its hidden workings and underlying causes. A young
man set afire by Huxley might perhaps make a very bad novelist, but it
is a certainty that he could never make a sentimental and superficial
one. There is no need to go further than this single moving adventure to
find the genesis of Dreiser's disdain of the current platitudes, his
sense of life as a complex biological phenomenon, only dimly
comprehended, and his tenacious way of thinking things out, and of
holding to what he finds good. Ah, that he had learned from Huxley, not
only how to inquire, but also how to report! That he had picked up a
talent for that dazzling style, so sweet to the ear, so damnably
persuasive, so crystal-clear!

But the more one examines Dreiser, either as writer or as theorist of
man, the more his essential isolation becomes apparent. He got a habit
of mind from Huxley, but he completely missed Huxley's habit of writing.
He got a view of woman from Hardy, but he soon changed it out of all
resemblance. He got a certain fine ambition and gusto out of Balzac, but
all that was French and characteristic he left behind. So with Zola,
Howells, Tolstoi and the rest. The tracing of likenesses quickly becomes
rabbinism, almost cabalism. The differences are huge and sprout up in
all directions. Nor do I see anything save a flaming up of colonial
passion in the current efforts to fit him into a German frame, and make
him an agent of Prussian frightfulness in letters. Such childish gabble
one looks for in the New York _Times_, and there is where one actually
finds it. Even the literary monthlies have stood clear of it; it is
important only as material for that treatise upon the patrioteer and his
bawling which remains to be written. The name of the man, true enough,
is obviously Germanic, and he has told us himself, in "A Traveler at
Forty," how he sought out and found the tombs of his ancestors in some
little town of the Rhine country. There are more of these genealogical
revelations in "A Hoosier Holiday," but they show a Rhenish strain that
was already running thin in boyhood. No one, indeed, who reads a
Dreiser novel can fail to see the gap separating the author from these
half-forgotten forbears. He shows even less of German influence than of
English influence.

There is, as a matter of fact, little in modern German fiction that is
intelligibly comparable to "Jennie Gerhardt" and "The Titan," either as
a study of man or as a work of art. The naturalistic movement of the
eighties was launched by men whose eyes were upon the theatre, and it is
in that field that nine-tenths of its force has been spent. "German
naturalism," says George Madison Priest, quoting Gotthold Klee's
"Grunzüge der deutschen Literaturgeschichte" "created a new type only in
the drama."[18] True enough, it has also produced occasional novels, and
some of them are respectable. Gustav Frenssen's "Jörn Uhl" is a
specimen: it has been done into English. Another is Clara Viebig's "Das
tägliche Brot," which Ludwig Lewisohn compares to George Moore's "Esther
Waters." Yet another is Thomas Mann's "Buddenbrooks." But it would be
absurd to cite these works as evidences of a national quality, and
doubly absurd to think of them as inspiring such books as "Jennie
Gerhardt" and "The Titan," which excel them in everything save
workmanship. The case of Mann reveals a tendency that is visible in
nearly all of his contemporaries. Starting out as an agnostic realist
not unlike the Arnold Bennett of "The Old Wives' Tale," he has gradually
taken on a hesitating sort of romanticism, and in one of his later
books, "Königliche Hoheit" (in English, "Royal Highness") he ends upon a
note of sentimentalism borrowed from Wagner's "Ring." Fräulein Viebig
has also succumbed to banal and extra-artistic purposes. Her "Die Wacht
am Rhein," for all its merits in detail, is, at bottom, no more than an
eloquent hymn to patriotism--a theme which almost always baffles
novelists. As for Frenssen, he is a parson by trade, and carries over
into the novel a good deal of the windy moralizing of the pulpit. All of
these German naturalists--and they are the only German novelists worth
considering--share the weakness of Zola, their _Stammvater_. They, too,
fall into the morass that engulfed "Fécondité," and make sentimental

I go into this matter in detail, not because it is intrinsically of any
moment, but because the effort to depict Dreiser as a secret agent of
the Wilhelmstrasse, told off to inject subtle doses of _Kultur_ into a
naïve and pious people, has taken on the proportions of an organized
movement. The same critical imbecility which detects naught save a Tom
cat in Frank Cowperwood can find naught save an abhorrent foreigner in
Cowperwood's creator. The truth is that the trembling patriots of
letters, male and female, are simply at their old game of seeing a man
under the bed. Dreiser, in fact, is densely ignorant of German
literature, as he is of the better part of French literature, and of
much of English literature. He did not even read Hauptmann until after
"Jennie Gerhardt" had been written, and such typical German moderns as
Ludwig Thoma, Otto Julius Bierbaum and Richard Dehmel remain as strange
to him as Heliogabalus.

§ 2

In his manner, as opposed to his matter, he is more the Teuton, for he
shows all of the racial patience and pertinacity and all of the racial
lack of humour. Writing a novel is as solemn a business to him as
trimming a beard is to a German barber. He blasts his way through his
interminable stories by something not unlike main strength; his writing,
one feels, often takes on the character of an actual siege operation,
with tunnellings, drum fire, assaults in close order and hand-to-hand
fighting. Once, seeking an analogy, I called him the Hindenburg of the
novel. If it holds, then "The 'Genius'" is his Poland. The field of
action bears the aspect, at the end, of a hostile province meticulously
brought under the yoke, with every road and lane explored to its
beginning, and every crossroads village laboriously taken, inventoried
and policed. Here is the very negation of Gallic lightness and
intuition, and of all other forms of impressionism as well. Here is no
series of illuminating flashes, but a gradual bathing of the whole scene
with white light, so that every detail stands out.

And many of those details, of course, are trivial; even irritating. They
do not help the picture; they muddle and obscure it; one wonders
impatiently what their meaning is, and what the purpose may be of
revealing them with such a precise, portentous air.... Turn to page 703
of "The 'Genius.'" By the time one gets there, one has hewn and hacked
one's way through 702 large pages of fine print--97 long chapters, more
than 250,000 words. And yet, at this hurried and impatient point, with
the _coda_ already begun, Dreiser halts the whole narrative to explain
the origin, nature and inner meaning of Christian Science, and to make
us privy to a lot of chatty stuff about Mrs. Althea Jones, a
professional healer, and to supply us with detailed plans and
specifications of the apartment house in which she lives, works her
tawdry miracles, and has her being. Here, in sober summary, are the

     1. That the house is "of conventional design."

     2. That there is "a spacious areaway" between its two wings.

     3. That these wings are "of cream-coloured pressed brick."

     4. That the entrance between them is "protected by a handsome
     wrought-iron door."

     5. That to either side of this door is "an electric lamp support of
     handsome design."

     6. That in each of these lamp supports there are "lovely
     cream-coloured globes, shedding a soft lustre."

     7. That inside is "the usual lobby."

     8. That in the lobby is "the usual elevator."

     9. That in the elevator is the usual "uniformed negro elevator

     10. That this negro elevator man (name not given) is "indifferent
     and impertinent."

     11. That a telephone switchboard is also in the lobby.

     12. That the building is seven stories in height.

In "The Financier" there is the same exasperating rolling up of
irrelevant facts. The court proceedings in the trial of Cowperwood are
given with all the exactness of a parliamentary report in the London
_Times_. The speeches of the opposing counsel are set down nearly in
full, and with them the remarks of the judge, and after that the opinion
of the Appellate Court on appeal, with the dissenting opinions as a sort
of appendix. In "Sister Carrie" the thing is less savagely carried out,
but that is not Dreiser's fault, for the manuscript was revised by some
anonymous hand, and the printed version is but little more than half the
length of the original. In "The Titan" and "Jennie Gerhardt" no such
brake upon exuberance is visible; both books are crammed with details
that serve no purpose, and are as flat as ditch-water. Even in the two
volumes of personal record, "A Traveler at Forty" and "A Hoosier
Holiday," there is the same furious accumulation of trivialities.
Consider the former. It is without structure, without selection, without
reticence. One arises from it as from a great babbling, half drunken. On
the one hand the author fills a long and gloomy chapter with the story
of the Borgias, apparently under the impression that it is news, and on
the other hand he enters into intimate and inconsequential confidences
about all the persons he meets en route, sparing neither the innocent
nor the obscure. The children of his English host at Bridgely Level
strike him as fantastic little creatures, even as a bit uncanny--and he
duly sets it down. He meets an Englishman on a French train who pleases
him much, and the two become good friends and see Rome together, but the
fellow's wife is "obstreperous" and "haughty in her manner" and so
"loud-spoken in her opinions" that she is "really offensive"--and down
it goes. He makes an impression on a Mlle. Marcelle in Paris, and she
accompanies him from Monte Carlo to Ventimiglia, and there gives him a
parting kiss and whispers, "_Avril-Fontainebleau_"--and lo, this sweet
one is duly spread upon the minutes. He permits himself to be arrested
by a fair privateer in Piccadilly, and goes with her to one of the dens
of sin that suffragettes see in their nightmares, and cross-examines her
at length regarding her ancestry, her professional ethics and ideals,
and her earnings at her dismal craft--and into the book goes a full
report of the proceedings. He is entertained by an eminent Dutch jurist
in Amsterdam--and upon the pages of the chronicle it appears that the
gentleman is "waxy" and "a little pedantic," and that he is probably the
sort of "thin, delicate, well barbered" professor that Ibsen had in mind
when he cast about for a husband for the daughter of General Gabler.

Such is the art of writing as Dreiser understands it and practises
it--an endless piling up of minutiae, an almost ferocious tracking down
of ions, electrons and molecules, an unshakable determination to tell it
all. One is amazed by the mole-like diligence of the man, and no less by
his exasperating disregard for the ease of his readers. A Dreiser novel,
at least of the later canon, cannot be read as other novels are read--on
a winter evening or summer afternoon, between meal and meal, travelling
from New York to Boston. It demands the attention for almost a week, and
uses up the faculties for a month. If, reading "The 'Genius,'" one were
to become engrossed in the fabulous manner described in the publishers'
advertisements, and so find oneself unable to put it down and go to bed
before the end, one would get no sleep for three days and three nights.

Worse, there are no charms of style to mitigate the rigours of these
vast steppes and pampas of narration. Joseph Joubert's saying that
"words should stand out well from the paper" is quite incomprehensible
to Dreiser; he never imitates Flaubert by writing for "_la respiration
et l'oreille_." There is no painful groping for the inevitable word, or
for what Walter Pater called "the gipsy phrase"; the common, even the
commonplace, coin of speech is good enough. On the first page of "Jennie
Gerhardt" one encounters "frank, open countenance," "diffident manner,"
"helpless poor," "untutored mind," "honest necessity," and half a dozen
other stand-bys of the second-rate newspaper reporter. In "Sister
Carrie" one finds "high noon," "hurrying throng," "unassuming
restaurant," "dainty slippers," "high-strung nature," and "cool,
calculating world"--all on a few pages. Carrie's sister, Minnie Hanson,
"gets" the supper. Hanson himself is "wrapped up" in his child. Carrie
decides to enter Storm and King's office, "no matter what." In "The
Titan" the word "trig" is worked to death; it takes on, toward the end,
the character of a banal and preposterous refrain. In the other books
one encounters mates for it--words made to do duty in as many senses as
the American verb "to fix" or the journalistic "to secure."...

I often wonder if Dreiser gets anything properly describable as pleasure
out of this dogged accumulation of threadbare, undistinguished,
uninspiring nouns, adjectives, verbs, adverbs, pronouns, participles and
conjunctions. To the man with an ear for verbal delicacies--the man who
searches painfully for the perfect word, and puts the way of saying a
thing above the thing said--there is in writing the constant joy of
sudden discovery, of happy accident. A phrase springs up full blown,
sweet and caressing. But what joy can there be in rolling up sentences
that have no more life and beauty in them, intrinsically, than so many
election bulletins? Where is the thrill in the manufacture of such a
paragraph as that in which Mrs. Althea Jones' sordid habitat is
described with such inexorable particularity? Or in the laborious
confection of such stuff as this, from Book I, Chapter IV, of "The

     The city of Chicago--who shall portray it! This vast ruck of life
     that had sprung suddenly into existence upon the dank marshes of a
     lake shore!

Or this from the epilogue to "The Financier":

     There is a certain fish whose scientific name is _Mycteroperca
     Bonaci_, and whose common name is Black Grouper, which is of
     considerable value as an afterthought in this connection, and which
     deserves much to be better known. It is a healthy creature, growing
     quite regularly to a weight of two hundred and fifty pounds, and
     living a comfortable, lengthy existence because of its very
     remarkable ability to adapt itself to conditions....

Or this from his pamphlet, "Life, Art and America":[19]

     Alas, alas! for art in America. It has a hard stubby row to hoe.

But I offer no more examples. Every reader of the Dreiser novels must
cherish astounding specimens--of awkward, platitudinous marginalia, of
whole scenes spoiled by bad writing, of phrases as brackish as so many
lumps of sodium hyposulphite. Here and there, as in parts of "The Titan"
and again in parts of "A Hoosier Holiday," an evil conscience seems to
haunt him and he gives hard striving to his manner, and more than once
there emerges something that is almost graceful. But a backsliding
always follows this phosphorescence of reform. "The 'Genius,'" coming
after "The Titan," marks the high tide of his bad writing. There are
passages in it so clumsy, so inept, so irritating that they seem almost
unbelievable; nothing worse is to be found in the newspapers. Nor is
there any compensatory deftness in structure, or solidity of design, to
make up for this carelessness in detail. The well-made novel, of course,
can be as hollow as the well-made play of Scribe--but let us at least
have a beginning, a middle and an end! Such a story as "The 'Genius'" is
as gross and shapeless as Brünnhilde. It billows and bulges out like a
cloud of smoke, and its internal organization is almost as vague. There
are episodes that, with a few chapters added, would make very
respectable novels. There are chapters that need but a touch or two to
be excellent short stories. The thing rambles, staggers, trips, heaves,
pitches, struggles, totters, wavers, halts, turns aside, trembles on the
edge of collapse. More than once it seems to be foundering, both in the
equine and in the maritime senses. The tale has been heard of a tree so
tall that it took two men to see to the top of it. Here is a novel so
brobdingnagian that a single reader can scarcely read his way through

§ 3

Of the general ideas which lie at the bottom of all of Dreiser's work it
is impossible to be in ignorance, for he has exposed them at length in
"A Hoosier Holiday" and summarized them in "Life, Art and America." In
their main outlines they are not unlike the fundamental assumptions of
Joseph Conrad. Both novelists see human existence as a seeking without a
finding; both reject the prevailing interpretations of its meaning and
mechanism; both take refuge in "I do not know." Put "A Hoosier Holiday"
beside Conrad's "A Personal Record," and you will come upon parallels
from end to end. Or better still, put it beside Hugh Walpole's "Joseph
Conrad," in which the Conradean metaphysic is condensed from the novels
even better than Conrad has done it himself: at once you will see how
the two novelists, each a worker in the elemental emotions, each a rebel
against the current assurance and superficiality, each an alien to his
place and time, touch each other in a hundred ways.

"Conrad," says Walpole, "is of the firm and resolute conviction that
life is too strong, too clever and too remorseless for the sons of
men." And then, in amplification: "It is as though, from some high
window, looking down, he were able to watch some shore, from whose
security men were forever launching little cockleshell boats upon a
limitless and angry sea.... From his height he can follow their
fortunes, their brave struggles, their fortitude to the very end. He
admires their courage, the simplicity of their faith, but his irony
springs from his knowledge of the inevitable end."...

Substitute the name of Dreiser for that of Conrad, and you will have to
change scarcely a word. Perhaps one, to wit, "clever." I suspect that
Dreiser, writing so of his own creed, would be tempted to make it
"stupid," or, at all events, "unintelligible." The struggle of man, as
he sees it, is more than impotent; it is gratuitous and purposeless.
There is, to his eye, no grand ingenuity, no skilful adaptation of means
to end, no moral (or even dramatic) plan in the order of the universe.
He can get out of it only a sense of profound and inexplicable disorder.
The waves which batter the cockleshells change their direction at every
instant. Their navigation is a vast adventure, but intolerably
fortuitous and inept--a voyage without chart, compass, sun or stars....

So at bottom. But to look into the blackness steadily, of course, is
almost beyond the endurance of man. In the very moment that its
impenetrability is grasped the imagination begins attacking it with pale
beams of false light. All religions, I daresay, are thus projected from
the questioning soul of man, and not only all religious, but also all
great agnosticisms. Nietzsche, shrinking from the horror of that abyss
of negation, revived the Pythagorean concept of _der ewigen
Wiederkunft_--a vain and blood-curdling sort of comfort. To it, after a
while, he added explanations almost Christian--a whole repertoire of
whys and wherefores, aims and goals, aspirations and significances. The
late Mark Twain, in an unpublished work, toyed with an equally daring
idea: that men are to some unimaginably vast and incomprehensible Being
what the unicellular organisms of his body are to man, and so on _ad
infinitum_. Dreiser occasionally inclines to much the same hypothesis;
he likens the endless reactions going on in the world we know, the
myriadal creation, collision and destruction of entities, to the slow
accumulation and organization of cells _in utero_. He would make us
specks in the insentient embryo of some gigantic Presence whose form is
still unimaginable and whose birth must wait for Eons and Eons. Again,
he turns to something not easily distinguishable from philosophical
idealism, whether out of Berkeley or Fichte it is hard to make out--that
is, he would interpret the whole phenomenon of life as no more than an
appearance, a nightmare of some unseen sleeper or of men themselves, an
"uncanny blur of nothingness"--in Euripides' phrase, "a song sung by an
idiot, dancing down the wind." Yet again, he talks vaguely of the
intricate polyphony of a cosmic orchestra, cacophonous to our dull ears.
Finally, he puts the observed into the ordered, reading a purpose in the
displayed event: "life was intended to sting and hurt".... But these are
only gropings, and not to be read too critically. From speculations and
explanations he always returns, Conrad-like, to the bald fact: to "the
spectacle and stress of life." All he can make out clearly is "a vast
compulsion which has nothing to do with the individual desires or tastes
or impulses of individuals." That compulsion springs "from the settling
processes of forces which we do not in the least understand, over which
we have no control, and in whose grip we are as grains of dust or sand,
blown hither and thither, for what purpose we cannot even suspect."[20]
Man is not only doomed to defeat, but denied any glimpse or
understanding of his antagonist. Here we come upon an agnosticism that
has almost got beyond curiosity. What good would it do us, asks Dreiser,
to know? In our ignorance and helplessness, we may at least get a
slave's consolation out of cursing the unknown gods. Suppose we saw them
striving blindly, too, and pitied them?...

But, as I say, this scepticism is often tempered by guesses at a
possibly hidden truth, and the confession that this truth may exist
reveals the practical unworkableness of the unconditioned system, at
least for Dreiser. Conrad is far more resolute, and it is easy to see
why. He is, by birth and training, an aristocrat. He has the gift of
emotional detachment. The lures of facile doctrine do not move him. In
his irony there is a disdain which plays about even the ironist himself.
Dreiser is a product of far different forces and traditions, and is
capable of no such escapement. Struggle as he may, and fume and protest
as he may, he can no more shake off the chains of his intellectual and
cultural heritage than he can change the shape of his nose. What that
heritage is you may find out in detail by reading "A Hoosier Holiday,"
or in summary by glancing at the first few pages of "Life, Art and
America." Briefly described, it is the burden of a believing mind, a
moral attitude, a lingering superstition. One-half of the man's brain,
so to speak, wars with the other half. He is intelligent, he is
thoughtful, he is a sound artist--but there come moments when a dead
hand falls upon him, and he is once more the Indiana peasant, snuffing
absurdly over imbecile sentimentalities, giving a grave ear to
quackeries, snorting and eye-rolling with the best of them. One
generation spans too short a time to free the soul of man. Nietzsche, to
the end of his days, remained a Prussian pastor's son, and hence
two-thirds a Puritan; he erected his war upon holiness, toward the end,
into a sort of holy war. Kipling, the grandson of a Methodist preacher,
reveals the tin-pot evangelist with increasing clarity as youth and its
ribaldries pass away and he falls back upon his fundamentals. And that
other English novelist who springs from the servants' hall--let us not
be surprised or blame him if he sometimes writes like a bounder.

The truth about Dreiser is that he is still in the transition stage
between Christian Endeavour and civilization, between Warsaw, Indiana
and the Socratic grove, between being a good American and being a free
man, and so he sometimes vacillates perilously between a moral
sentimentalism and a somewhat extravagant revolt. "The 'Genius,'" on
the one hand, is almost a tract for rectitude, a Warning to the Young;
its motto might be _Scheut die Dirnen_! And on the other hand, it is
full of a laborious truculence that can only be explained by imagining
the author as heroically determined to prove that he is a plain-spoken
fellow and his own man, let the chips fall where they may. So, in spots,
in "The Financier" and "The Titan," both of them far better books. There
is an almost moral frenzy to expose and riddle what passes for morality
among the stupid. The isolation of irony is never reached; the man is
still evangelical; his ideas are still novelties to him; he is as
solemnly absurd in some of his floutings of the Code Américain as he is
in his respect for Bouguereau, or in his flirtings with the New Thought,
or in his naïve belief in the importance of novel-writing. Somewhere or
other I have called all this the Greenwich Village complex. It is not
genuine artists, serving beauty reverently and proudly, who herd in
those cockroached cellars and bawl for art; it is a mob of half-educated
yokels and cockneys to whom the very idea of art is still novel, and
intoxicating--and more than a little bawdy.

Not that Dreiser actually belongs to this ragamuffin company. Far from
it, indeed. There is in him, hidden deep-down, a great instinctive
artist, and hence the makings of an aristocrat. In his muddled way,
held back by the manacles of his race and time, and his steps made
uncertain by a guiding theory which too often eludes his own
comprehension, he yet manages to produce works of art of unquestionable
beauty and authority, and to interpret life in a manner that is poignant
and illuminating. There is vastly more intuition in him than
intellectualism; his talent is essentially feminine, as Conrad's is
masculine; his ideas always seem to be deduced from his feelings. The
view of life that got into "Sister Carrie," his first book, was not the
product of a conscious thinking out of Carrie's problems. It simply got
itself there by the force of the artistic passion behind it; its
coherent statement had to wait for other and more reflective days. The
thing began as a vision, not as a syllogism. Here the name of Franz
Schubert inevitably comes up. Schubert was an ignoramus, even in music;
he knew less about polyphony, which is the mother of harmony, which is
the mother of music, than the average conservatory professor. But
nevertheless he had such a vast instinctive sensitiveness to musical
values, such a profound and accurate feeling for beauty in tone, that he
not only arrived at the truth in tonal relations, but even went beyond
what, in his day, was known to be the truth, and so led an advance.
Likewise, Giorgione da Castelfranco and Masaccio come to mind: painters
of the first rank, but untutored, unsophisticated, uncouth. Dreiser,
within his limits, belongs to this sabot-shod company of the elect. One
thinks of Conrad, not as artist first, but as savant. There is something
of the icy aloofness of the laboratory in him, even when the images he
conjures up pulsate with the very glow of life. He is almost as
self-conscious as the Beethoven of the last quartets. In Dreiser the
thing is more intimate, more disorderly, more a matter of pure feeling.
He gets his effects, one might almost say, not by designing them, but by
living them.

But whatever the process, the power of the image evoked is not to be
gainsaid. It is not only brilliant on the surface, but mysterious and
appealing in its depths. One swiftly forgets his intolerable writing,
his mirthless, sedulous, repellent manner, in the face of the Athenian
tragedy he instils into his seduced and soul-sick servant girls, his
barbaric pirates of finances, his conquered and hamstrung supermen, his
wives who sit and wait. He has, like Conrad, a sure talent for depicting
the spirit in disintegration. Old Gerhardt, in "Jennie Gerhardt," is
alone worth all the _dramatis personae_ of popular American fiction
since the days of "Rob o' the Bowl"; Howells could no more have created
him, in his Rodinesque impudence of outline, than he could have created
Tartuffe or Gargantua. Such a novel as "Sister Carrie" stands quite
outside the brief traffic of the customary stage. It leaves behind it an
unescapable impression of bigness, of epic sweep and dignity. It is not
a mere story, not a novel in the customary American meaning of the word;
it is at once a psalm of life and a criticism of life--and that
criticism loses nothing by the fact that its burden is despair. Here,
precisely, is the point of Dreiser's departure from his fellows. He puts
into his novels a touch of the eternal _Weltschmerz_. They get below the
drama that is of the moment and reveal the greater drama that is without
end. They arouse those deep and lasting emotions which grow out of the
recognition of elemental and universal tragedy. His aim is not merely to
tell a tale; his aim is to show the vast ebb and flow of forces which
sway and condition human destiny. One cannot imagine him consenting to
Conan Doyle's statement of the purpose of fiction, quoted with
characteristic approval by the New York _Times_: "to amuse mankind, to
help the sick and the dull and the weary." Nor is his purpose to
instruct; if he is a pedagogue it is only incidentally and as a
weakness. The thing he seeks to do is to stir, to awaken, to move. One
does not arise from such a book as "Sister Carrie" with a smirk of
satisfaction; one leaves it infinitely touched.

§ 4

It is, indeed, a truly amazing first book, and one marvels to hear that
it was begun lightly. Dreiser in those days (_circa_ 1899), had seven or
eight years of newspaper work behind him, in Chicago, St. Louis, Toledo,
Cleveland, Buffalo, Pittsburgh and New York, and was beginning to feel
that reaction of disgust which attacks all newspaper men when the
enthusiasm of youth wears out. He had been successful, but he saw how
hollow that success was, and how little surety it held out for the
future. The theatre was what chiefly lured him; he had written plays in
his nonage, and he now proposed to do them on a large scale, and so get
some of the easy dollars of Broadway. It was an old friend from Toledo,
Arthur Henry, who turned him toward story-writing. The two had met while
Henry was city editor of the _Blade_, and Dreiser a reporter looking for
a job.[21] A firm friendship sprang up, and Henry conceived a high
opinion of Dreiser's ability, and urged him to try a short story.
Dreiser was distrustful of his own skill, but Henry kept at him, and
finally, during a holiday the two spent together at Maumee, Ohio, he
made the attempt. Henry had the manuscript typewritten and sent it to
_Ainslee's Magazine_. A week or so later there came a cheque for $75.

This was in 1898. Dreiser wrote four more stories during the year
following, and sold them all. Henry now urged him to attempt a novel,
but again his distrust of himself held him back. Henry finally tried a
rather unusual argument: he had a novel of his own on the stocks,[22]
and he represented that he was in difficulties with it and in need of
company. One day, in September, 1899, Dreiser took a sheet of yellow
paper and wrote a title at random. That title was "Sister Carrie," and
with no more definite plan than the mere name offered the book began. It
went ahead steadily enough until the middle of October, and had come by
then to the place where Carrie meets Hurstwood. At that point Dreiser
left it in disgust. It seemed pitifully dull and inconsequential, and
for two months he put the manuscript away. Then, under renewed urgings
by Henry, he resumed the writing, and kept on to the place where
Hurstwood steals the money. Here he went aground upon a comparatively
simple problem; he couldn't devise a way to manage the robbery. Late in
January he gave it up. But the faithful Henry kept urging him, and in
March he resumed work, and soon had the story finished. The latter part,
despite many distractions, went quickly. Once the manuscript was
complete, Henry suggested various cuts, and in all about 40,000 words
came out. The fair copy went to the Harpers. They refused it without
ceremony and soon afterward Dreiser carried the manuscript to Doubleday,
Page & Co. He left it with Frank Doubleday, and before long there came
notice of its acceptance, and, what is more, a contract. But after the
story was in type it fell into the hands of the wife of one of the
members of the firm, and she conceived so strong a notion of its
immorality that she soon convinced her husband and his associates. There
followed a series of acrimonious negotiations, with Dreiser holding
resolutely to the letter of his contract. It was at this point that
Frank Norris entered the combat--bravely but in vain. The pious
Barabbases, confronted by their signature, found it impossible to throw
up the book entirely, but there was no nomination in the bond regarding
either the style of binding or the number of copies to be issued, and
so they evaded further dispute by bringing out the book in a very small
edition and with modest unstamped covers. Copies of this edition are now
eagerly sought by book-collectors, and one in good condition fetches $25
or more in the auction rooms. Even the second edition (1907), bearing
the imprint of B. W. Dodge & Co., carries an increasing premium.

The passing years work strange farces. The Harpers, who had refused
"Sister Carrie" with a spirit bordering upon indignation in 1900, took
over the rights of publication from B. W. Dodge & Co., in 1912, and
reissued the book in a new (and extremely hideous) format, with a
publisher's note containing smug quotations from the encomiums of the
_Fortnightly Review_, the _Athenaeum_, the _Spectator_, the _Academy_
and other London critical journals. More, they contrived humorously to
push the date of their copyright back to 1900. But this new enthusiasm
for artistic freedom did not last long. They had published "Jennie
Gerhardt" in 1911 and they did "The Financier" in 1912, but when "The
Titan" followed, in 1914, they were seized with qualms, and suppressed
the book after it had got into type. In this emergency the English firm
of John Lane came to the rescue, only to seek cover itself when the
Comstocks attacked "The 'Genius,'" two years later.... For his high
services to American letters, Walter H. Page, of Doubleday, Page & Co.,
was made ambassador to England, where "Sister Carrie" is regarded
(according to the Harpers), as "the best story, on the whole, that has
yet come out of America." A curious series of episodes. Another proof,
perhaps, of that cosmic imbecility upon which Dreiser is so fond of

But of all this I shall say more later on, when I come to discuss the
critical reception of the Dreiser novels, and the efforts made by the
New York Society for the Suppression of Vice to stop their sale. The
thing to notice here is that the author's difficulties with "Sister
Carrie" came within an ace of turning him from novel-writing completely.
Stray copies of the suppressed first edition, true enough, fell into the
hands of critics who saw the story's value, and during the first year or
two of the century it enjoyed a sort of esoteric vogue, and
encouragement came from unexpected sources. Moreover, a somewhat
bowdlerized English edition, published by William Heinemann in 1901,
made a fair success, and even provoked a certain mild controversy. But
the author's income from the book remained almost _nil_, and so he was
forced to seek a livelihood in other directions. His history during the
next ten years belongs to the tragicomedy of letters. For five of them
he was a Grub Street hack, turning his hand to any literary job that
offered. He wrote short stories for the popular magazines, or special
articles, or poems, according as their needs varied. He concocted
fabulous tales for the illustrated supplements of the Sunday newspapers.
He rewrote the bad stuff of other men. He returned to reporting. He did
odd pieces of editing. He tried his hand at one-act plays. He even
ventured upon advertisement writing. And all the while, the best that he
could get out of his industry was a meagre living.

In 1905, tiring of the uncertainties of this life, he accepted a post on
the staff of Street & Smith, the millionaire publishers of cheap
magazines, servant-girl romances and dime-novels, and here, in the very
slums of letters, he laboured with tongue in cheek until the next year.
The tale of his duties will fill, I daresay, a volume or two in the
autobiography on which he is said to be working; it is a chronicle full
of achieved impossibilities. One of his jobs, for example, was to reduce
a whole series of dime-novels, each 60,000 words in length, to 30,000
words apiece. He accomplished it by cutting each one into halves, and
writing a new ending for the first half and a new beginning for the
second, with new titles for both. This doubling of their property
aroused the admiration of his employers; they promised him an assured
and easy future in the dime-novel business. But he tired of it, despite
this revelation of a gift for it, and in 1906 he became managing editor
of the _Broadway Magazine_, then struggling into public notice. A year
later he transferred his flag to the Butterick Building, and became
chief editor of the _Delineator_, the _Designer_ and other such gospels
for the fair. Here, of course, he was as much out of water as in the
dime-novel foundry of Street & Smith, but at all events the pay was
good, and there was a certain leisure at the end of the day's work. In
1907, as part of his duties, he organized the National Child Rescue
Campaign, which still rages as the _Delineator's_ contribution to the
Uplift. At about the same time he began "Jennie Gerhardt." It is curious
to note that, during these same years, Arnold Bennett was slaving in
London as the editor of _Woman_.

Dreiser left the _Delineator_ in 1910, and for the next half year or so
endeavoured to pump vitality into the _Bohemian Magazine_, in which he
had acquired a proprietary interest. But the _Bohemian_ soon departed
this life, carrying some of his savings with it, and he gave over his
enforced leisure to "Jennie Gerhardt," completing the book in 1911. Its
publication by the Harpers during the same year worked his final
emancipation from the editorial desk. It was praised, and what is more,
it sold, and royalties began to come in. A new edition of "Sister
Carrie" followed in 1912, with "The Financier" hard upon its heels.
Since then Dreiser has devoted himself wholly to serious work. "The
Financier" was put forth as the first volume of "a trilogy of desire";
the second volume, "The Titan," was published in 1914; the third is yet
to come. "The 'Genius'" appeared in 1915; "The Bulwark" is just
announced. In 1912, accompanied by Grant Richards, the London publisher,
Dreiser made his first trip abroad, visiting England, France, Italy and
Germany. His impressions were recorded in "A Traveler at Forty,"
published in 1913. In the summer of 1915, accompanied by Franklin Booth,
the illustrator, he made an automobile journey to his old haunts in
Indiana, and the record is in "A Hoosier Holiday," published in 1916.
His other writings include a volume of "Plays of the Natural and the
Supernatural" (1916); "Life, Art and America," a pamphlet against
Puritanism in letters (1917); a dozen or more short stories and
novelettes, a few poems, and a three-act drama, "The Hand of the

Dreiser was born at Terre Haute, Indiana, on August 27, 1871, and, like
most of us, is of mongrel blood, with the German, perhaps,
predominating. He is a tall man, awkward in movement and nervous in
habit; the boon of beauty has been denied him. The history of his youth
is set forth in full in "A Hoosier Holiday." It is curious to note that
he is a brother to the late Paul Dresser, author of "The Banks of the
Wabash" and other popular songs, and that he himself, helping Paul over
a hard place, wrote the affecting chorus:

    Oh, the moon is fair tonight along the Wabash,
    From the fields there comes the breath of new-mown hay;
    Through the sycamores the candle lights are gleaming ...

But no doubt you know it.

§ 5

The work of Dreiser, considered as craftsmanship pure and simple, is
extremely uneven, and the distance separating his best from his worst is
almost infinite. It is difficult to believe that the novelist who wrote
certain extraordinarily vivid chapters in "Jennie Gerhardt," and "A
Hoosier Holiday," and, above all, in "The Titan," is the same who
achieved the unescapable dulness of parts of "The Financier" and the
general stupidity and stodginess of "The 'Genius.'" Moreover, the tide
of his writing does not rise or fall with any regularity; he neither
improves steadily nor grows worse steadily. Only half an eye is needed
to see the superiority of "Jennie Gerhardt," as a sheer piece of
writing, to "Sister Carrie," but on turning to "The Financier," which
followed "Jennie Gerhardt" by an interval of but one year, one observes
a falling off which, at its greatest, is almost indistinguishable from a
collapse. "Jennie Gerhardt" is suave, persuasive, well-ordered, solid in
structure, instinct with life. "The Financier," for all its merits in
detail, is loose, tedious, vapid, exasperating. But had any critic, in
the autumn of 1912, argued thereby that Dreiser was finished, that he
had shot his bolt, his discomfiture would have come swiftly, for "The
Titan," which followed in 1914, was almost as well done as "The
Financier" had been ill done, and there are parts of it which remain, to
this day, the very best writing that Dreiser has ever achieved. But "The
'Genius'"? Ay, in "The 'Genius'" the pendulum swings back again! It is
flaccid, elephantine, doltish, coarse, dismal, flatulent, sophomoric,
ignorant, unconvincing, wearisome. One pities the jurisconsult who is
condemned, by Comstockian clamour, to plough through such a novel. In it
there is a sort of humourless _reductio ad absurdum_, not only of the
Dreiser manner, but even of certain salient tenets of the Dreiser
philosophy. At its best it has a moral flavour. At its worst it is
almost maudlin....

The most successful of the Dreiser novels, judged by sales, is "Sister
Carrie," and the causes thereof are not far to seek. On the one hand,
its suppression in 1900 gave it a whispered fame that was converted into
a public celebrity when it was republished in 1907, and on the other
hand it shares with "Jennie Gerhardt" the capital advantage of having a
young and appealing woman for its chief figure. The sentimentalists thus
have a heroine to cry over, and to put into a familiar pigeon-hole;
Carrie becomes a sort of Pollyanna. More, it is, at bottom, a tale of
love--the one theme of permanent interest to the average American
novel-reader, the chief stuffing of all our best-selling romances. True
enough, it is vastly more than this--there is in it, for example, the
astounding portrait of Hurstwood--, but it seems to me plain that its
relative popularity is by no means a test of its relative merit, and
that the causes of that popularity must be sought in other directions.
Its defect, as a work of art, is a defect of structure. Like Norris'
"McTeague" it has a broken back. In the midst of the story of Carrie,
Dreiser pauses to tell the story of Hurstwood--a memorably vivid and
tragic story, to be sure, but still one that, considering artistic form
and organization, does damage to the main business of the book. Its
outstanding merit is its simplicity, its unaffected seriousness and
fervour, the spirit of youth that is in it. One feels that it was
written, not by a novelist conscious of his tricks, but by a novice
carried away by his own flaming eagerness, his own high sense of the
interest of what he was doing. In this aspect, it is perhaps more
typically Dreiserian than any of its successors. And maybe we may seek
here for a good deal of its popular appeal, for there is a contagion in
naïveté as in enthusiasm, and the simple novel-reader may recognize the
kinship of a simple mind in the novelist.

But it is in "Jennie Gerhardt" that Dreiser first shows his true
mettle.... "The power to tell the same story in two forms," said George
Moore, "is the sign of the true artist." Here Dreiser sets himself that
difficult task, and here he carries it off with almost complete success.
Reduce the story to a hundred words, and the same words would also
describe "Sister Carrie." Jennie, like Carrie, is a rose grown from
turnip-seed. Over each, at the start, hangs poverty, ignorance, the dumb
helplessness of the Shudra, and yet in each there is that indescribable
something, that element of essential gentleness, that innate inward
beauty which levels all barriers of caste, and makes Esther a fit queen
for Ahasuerus. Some Frenchman has put it into a phrase: "_Une âme grande
dans un petit destin_"--a great soul in a small destiny. Jennie has some
touch of that greatness; Dreiser is forever calling her "a big woman";
it is a refrain almost as irritating as the "trig" of "The Titan."
Carrie, one feels, is of baser metal; her dignity never rises to
anything approaching nobility. But the history of each is the history of
the other. Jennie, like Carrie, escapes from the physical miseries of
the struggle for existence only to taste the worse miseries of the
struggle for happiness. Don't mistake me; we have here no maudlin tales
of seduced maidens. Seduction, in truth, is far from tragedy for either
Jennie or Carrie. The gain of each, until the actual event has been left
behind and obliterated by experiences more salient and poignant, is
greater than her loss, and that gain is to the soul as well as to the
creature. With the rise from want to security, from fear to ease, comes
an awakening of the finer perceptions, a widening of the sympathies, a
gradual unfolding of the delicate flower called personality, an
increased capacity for loving and living. But with all this, and as a
part of it, there comes, too, an increased capacity for suffering--and
so in the end, when love slips away and the empty years stretch before,
it is the awakened and supersentient woman that pays for the folly of
the groping, bewildered girl. The tragedy of Carrie and Jennie, in
brief, is not that they are degraded, but that they are lifted up, not
that they go to the gutter, but that they escape the gutter and glimpse
the stars.

But if the two stories are thus variations upon the same sombre theme,
if each starts from the same place and arrives at the same dark goal, if
each shows a woman heartened by the same hopes and tortured by the same
agonies, there is still a vast difference between them, and that
difference is the measure of the author's progress in his craft during
the eleven years between 1900 and 1911. "Sister Carrie," at bottom, is
no more than a first sketch, a rough piling up of observations and
ideas, disordered and often incoherent. In the midst of the story, as I
have said, the author forgets it, and starts off upon another. In
"Jennie Gerhardt" there is no such flaccidity of structure, no such
vacillation in aim, no such proliferation of episode. Considering that
it is by Dreiser, it is extraordinarily adept and intelligent in design;
only in "The Titan" has he ever done so well. From beginning to end the
narrative flows logically, steadily, congruously. Episodes there are, of
course, but they keep their proper place and bulk. It is always Jennie
that stands at the centre of the traffic; it is in Jennie's soul that
every scene is ultimately played out. Her father and mother; Senator
Brander, the god of her first worship; her daughter Vesta, and Lester
Kane, the man who makes and mars her--all these are drawn with infinite
painstaking, and in every one of them there is the blood of life. But it
is Jennie that dominates the drama from curtain to curtain. Not an event
is unrelated to her; not a climax fails to make clearer the struggles
going on in her mind and heart.

It is in "Jennie Gerhardt" that Dreiser's view of life begins to take on
coherence and to show a general tendency. In "Sister Carrie" the thing
is still chiefly representation and no more; the image is undoubtedly
vivid, but its significance, in the main, is left undisplayed. In
"Jennie Gerhardt" this pictorial achievement is reinforced by
interpretation; one carries away an impression that something has been
said; it is not so much a visual image of Jennie that remains as a sense
of the implacable tragedy that engulfs her. The book is full of artistic
passion. It lives and glows. It awakens recognition and feeling. Its
lucid ideational structure, even more than the artless gusto of "Sister
Carrie," produces a penetrating and powerful effect. Jennie is no mere
individual; she is a type of the national character, almost the
archetype of the muddled, aspiring, tragic, fate-flogged mass. And the
scene in which she is set is brilliantly national too. The Chicago of
those great days of feverish money-grabbing and crazy aspiration may
well stand as the epitome of America, and it is made clearer here than
in any other American novel--clearer than in "The Pit" or "The
Cliff-Dwellers"--clearer than in any book by an Easterner--almost as
clear as the Paris of Balzac and Zola. Finally, the style of the story
is indissolubly wedded to its matter. The narrative, in places, has an
almost scriptural solemnity; in its very harshness and baldness there is
something subtly meet and fitting. One cannot imagine such a history
done in the strained phrases of Meredith or the fugal manner of Henry
James. One cannot imagine that stark, stenographic dialogue adorned with
the tinsel of pretty words. The thing, to reach the heights it touches,
could have been done only in the way it has been done. As it stands, I
would not take anything away from it, not even its journalistic
banalities, its lack of humour, its incessant returns to C major. A
primitive and touching poetry is in it. It is a novel, I am convinced,
of the first consideration....

In "The Financier" this poetry is almost absent, and that fact is
largely to blame for the book's lack of charm. By the time we see him in
"The Titan" Frank Cowperwood has taken on heroic proportions and the
romance of great adventure is in him, but in "The Financier" he is still
little more than an extra-pertinacious money-grubber, and not unrelated
to the average stock broker or corner grocer. True enough, Dreiser says
specifically that he is more, that the thing he craves is not money but
power--power to force lesser men to execute his commands, power to
surround himself with beautiful and splendid things, power to amuse
himself with women, power to defy and nullify the laws made for the
timorous and unimaginative. But the intent of the author never really
gets into his picture. His Cowperwood in this first stage is hard,
commonplace, unimaginative. In "The Titan" he flowers out as a blend of
revolutionist and voluptuary, a highly civilized Lorenzo the
Magnificent, an immoralist who would not hesitate two minutes about
seducing a saint, but would turn sick at the thought of harming a child.
But in "The Financier" he is still in the larval state, and a repellent
sordidness hangs about him.

Moreover, the story of his rise is burdened by two defects which still
further corrupt its effect. One lies in the fact that Dreiser is quite
unable to get the feel, so to speak, of Philadelphia, just as he is
unable to get the feel of New York in "The 'Genius.'" The other is that
the style of the writing in the book reduces the dreiserian manner to
absurdity, and almost to impossibility. The incredibly lazy, involved
and unintelligent description of the trial of Cowperwood I have already
mentioned. We get, in this lumbering chronicle, not a cohesive and
luminous picture, but a dull, photographic representation of the whole
tedious process, beginning with an account of the political obligations
of the judge and district attorney, proceeding to a consideration of the
habits of mind of each of the twelve jurymen, and ending with a summary
of the majority and minority opinions of the court of appeals, and a
discussion of the motives, ideals, traditions, prejudices, sympathies
and chicaneries behind them, each and severally. When Cowperwood goes
into the market, his operations are set forth in their last detail; we
are told how many shares he buys, how much he pays for them, what the
commission is, what his profit comes to. When he comes into chance
contact with a politician, we hear all about that politician, including
his family affairs. When he builds and furnishes a house, the chief
rooms in it are inventoried with such care that not a chair or a rug or
a picture on the wall is overlooked. The endless piling up of such
non-essentials cripples and incommodes the story; its drama is too
copiously swathed in words to achieve a sting; the Dreiser manner
devours and defeats itself.

But none the less the book has compensatory merits. Its character
sketches, for all the cloud of words, are lucid and vigorous. Out of
that enormous complex of crooked politics and crookeder finance,
Cowperwood himself stands out in the round, comprehensible and alive.
And all the others, in their lesser measures, are done almost as
well--Cowperwood's pale wife, whimpering in her empty house; Aileen
Butler, his mistress; his doddering and eternally amazed old father; his
old-fashioned, stupid, sentimental mother; Stener, the City Treasurer, a
dish-rag in the face of danger; old Edward Malia Butler, that barbarian
in a boiled shirt, with his Homeric hatred and his broken heart.
Particularly old Butler. The years pass and he must be killed and put
away, but not many readers of the book, I take it, will soon forget
him. Dreiser is at his best, indeed, when he deals with old men. In
their tragic helplessness they stand as symbols of that unfathomable
cosmic cruelty which he sees as the motive power of life itself. More,
even, than his women, he makes them poignant, vivid, memorable. The
picture of old Gerhardt is full of a subtle brightness, though he is
always in the background, as cautious and penny-wise as an ancient crow,
trotting to his Lutheran church, pathetically ill-used by the world he
never understands. Butler is another such, different in externals, but
at bottom the same dismayed, questioning, pathetic old man....

In "The Titan" there is a tightening of the screws, a clarifying of the
action, an infinite improvement in the manner. The book, in truth, has
the air of a new and clearer thinking out of "The Financier," as "Jennie
Gerhardt" is a new thinking out of "Sister Carrie." With almost the same
materials, the thing is given a new harmony and unity, a new
plausibility, a new passion and purpose. In "The Financier" the artistic
voluptuary is almost completely overshadowed by the dollar-chaser; in
"The Titan" we begin to see clearly that grand battle between artist and
man of money, idealist and materialist, spirit and flesh, which is the
informing theme of the whole trilogy. The conflict that makes the drama,
once chiefly external, now becomes more and more internal; it is played
out within the soul of the man himself. The result is a character sketch
of the highest colour and brilliance, a superb portrait of a complex and
extremely fascinating man. Of all the personages in the Dreiser books,
the Cowperwood of "The Titan" is perhaps the most radiantly real. He is
accounted for in every detail, and yet, in the end, he is not accounted
for at all; there hangs about him, to the last, that baffling
mysteriousness which hangs about those we know most intimately. There is
in him a complete and indubitable masculinity, as the eternal feminine
is in Jennie. His struggle with the inexorable forces that urge him on
as with whips, and lure him with false lights, and bring him to
disillusion and dismay, is as typical as hers is, and as tragic. In his
ultimate disaster, so plainly foreshadowed at the close, there is the
clearest of all projections of the ideas that lie at the bottom of all
Dreiser's work. Cowperwood, above any of them, is his protagonist.

The story, in its plan, is as transparent as in its burden. It has an
austere simplicity in the telling that fits the directness of the thing
told. Dreiser, as if to clear decks, throws over all the immemorial
baggage of the novelist, making short shrift of "heart interest,"
conventional "sympathy," and even what ordinarily passes for romance. In
"Sister Carrie," as I have pointed out, there is still a sweet dish for
the sentimentalists; if they don't like the history of Carrie as a work
of art they may still wallow in it as a sad, sad love story. Carrie is
appealing, melting; she moves, like Marguerite Gautier, in an atmosphere
of romantic depression. And Jennie Gerhardt, in this aspect, is merely
Carrie done over--a Carrie more carefully and objectively drawn,
perhaps, but still conceivably to be mistaken for a "sympathetic"
heroine in a best-seller. A lady eating chocolates might jump from
"Laddie" to "Jennie Gerhardt" without knowing that she was jumping ten
thousand miles. The tear jugs are there to cry into. Even in "The
Financier" there is still a hint of familiar things. The first Mrs.
Cowperwood is sorely put upon; old Butler has the markings of an irate
father; Cowperwood himself suffers the orthodox injustice and languishes
in a cell. But no one, I venture, will ever fall into any such mistake
in identity in approaching "The Titan." Not a single appeal to facile
sentiment is in it. It proceeds from beginning to end in a forthright,
uncompromising, confident manner. It is an almost purely objective
account, as devoid of cheap heroics as a death certificate, of a strong
man's contest with incontestable powers without and no less
incontestable powers within. There is nothing of the conventional outlaw
about him; he does not wear a red sash and bellow for liberty; fate
wrings from him no melodramatic defiances. In the midst of the battle he
views it with a sort of ironical detachment, as if lifted above himself
by the sheer aesthetic spectacle. Even in disaster he asks for no
quarter, no generosity, no compassion. Up or down, he keeps his zest for
the game that is being played, and is sufficient unto himself.

Such a man as this Cowperwood of the Chicago days, described
romantically, would be indistinguishable from the wicked earls and
seven-foot guardsmen of Ouida, Robert W. Chambers and The Duchess. But
described realistically and coldbloodedly, with all that wealth of
minute and apparently inconsequential detail which Dreiser piles up so
amazingly, he becomes a figure astonishingly vivid, lifelike and
engrossing. He fits into no _a priori_ theory of conduct or scheme of
rewards and punishments; he proves nothing and teaches nothing; the
forces which move him are never obvious and frequently unintelligible.
But in the end he seems genuinely a man--a man of the sort we see about
us in the real world--not a patent and automatic fellow, reacting
docilely and according to a formula, but a bundle of complexities and
contradictions, a creature oscillating between the light and the
shadow--at bottom, for all his typical representation of a race and a
civilization, a unique and inexplicable personality. More, he is a man
of the first class, an Achilles of his world; and here the achievement
of Dreiser is most striking, for he succeeds where all fore-runners
failed. It is easy enough to explain how John Smith courted his wife,
and even how William Brown fought and died for his country, but it is
inordinately difficult to give plausibility to the motives, feelings and
processes of mind of a man whose salient character is that they
transcend all ordinary experience. Too often, even when made by the
highest creative and interpretative talent, the effort has resolved
itself into a begging of the question. Shakespeare made Hamlet
comprehensible to the groundlings by diluting that half of him which was
Shakespeare with a half which was a college sophomore. In the same way
he saved Lear by making him, in large part, a tedious and obscene old
donkey--the blood brother of any average ancient of any average English
tap-room. Tackling Caesar, he was rescued by Brutus' knife. George
Bernard Shaw, facing the same difficulty, resolved it by drawing a
composite portrait of two or three London actor-managers and half a
dozen English politicians. But Dreiser makes no such compromise. He
bangs into the difficulties of his problem head on, and if he does not
solve it absolutely, he at least makes an extraordinarily close approach
to a solution. In "The Financier" a certain incredulity still hangs
about Cowperwood; in "The Titan" he suddenly comes unquestionably real.
If you want to get the true measure of this feat, put it beside the
failure of Frank Norris with Curtis Jadwin in "The Pit."...

"The 'Genius,'" which interrupted the "trilogy of desire," marks the
nadir of Dreiser's accomplishment, as "The Titan" marks its apogee. The
plan of it, of course, is simple enough, and it is one that Dreiser, at
his best, might have carried out with undoubted success. What he is
trying to show, in brief, is the battle that goes on in the soul of
every man of active mind between the desire for self-expression and the
desire for safety, for public respect, for emotional equanimity. It is,
in a sense, the story of Cowperwood told over again, but with an
important difference, for Eugene Witla is a much less self-reliant and
powerful fellow than Cowperwood, and so he is unable to muster up the
vast resolution of spirits that he needs to attain happiness. "The
Titan" is the history of a strong man. "The 'Genius'" is the history of
a man essentially weak. Eugene Witla can never quite choose his route in
life. He goes on sacrificing ease to aspiration and aspiration to ease
to the end of the chapter. He vacillates abominably and forever between
two irreconcilable desires. Even when, at the close, he sinks into a
whining sort of resignation, the proud courage of Cowperwood is not in
him; he is always a bit despicable in his pathos.

As I say, a story of simple outlines, and well adapted to the dreiserian
pen. But it is spoiled and made a mock of by a donkeyish solemnity of
attack which leaves it, on the one hand, diffuse, spineless and
shapeless, and on the other hand, a compendium of platitudes. It is as
if Dreiser, suddenly discovering himself a sage, put off the high
passion of the artist and took to pounding a pulpit. It is almost as if
he deliberately essayed upon a burlesque of himself. The book is an
endless emission of the obvious, with touches of the scandalous to light
up its killing monotony. It runs to 736 pages of small type; its reading
is an unbearable weariness to the flesh; in the midst of it one has
forgotten the beginning and is unconcerned about the end. Mingled with
all the folderol, of course, there is stuff of nobler quality. Certain
chapters stick in the memory; whole episodes lift themselves to the
fervid luminosity of "Jennie Gerhardt"; there are character sketches
that deserve all praise; one often pulls up with a reminder that the
thing is the work of a proficient craftsman. But in the main it lumbers
and jolts, wabbles and bores. A sort of ponderous imbecility gets into
it. Both in its elaborate devices to shake up the pious and its imposing
demonstrations of what every one knows, it somehow suggests the advanced
thinking of Greenwich Village. I suspect, indeed, that the _vin rouge_
was in Dreiser's arteries as he concocted it. He was at the intellectual
menopause, and looking back somewhat wistfully and attitudinizingly
toward the goatish days that were no more.

But let it go! A novelist capable of "Jennie Gerhardt" has rights,
privileges, prerogatives. He may, if he will, go on a spiritual drunk
now and then, and empty the stale bilges of his soul. Thackeray, having
finished "Vanity Fair" and "Pendennis," bathed himself in the sheep's
milk of "The Newcomes," and after "The Virginians" he did "The
Adventures of Philip." Zola, with "Germinal," "La Débâcle" and "La
Terre" behind him, recreated himself horribly with "Fécondité." Tolstoi,
after "Anna Karenina," wrote "What Is Art?" Ibsen, after "Et Dukkehjem"
and "Gengangere," wrote "Vildanden." The good God himself, after all
the magnificence of Kings and Chronicles, turned Dr. Frank Crane and so
botched his Writ with Proverbs.... A weakness that we must allow for.
Whenever Dreiser, abandoning his fundamental scepticism, yields to the
irrepressible human (and perhaps also divine) itch to label, to
moralize, to teach, he becomes a bit absurd. Observe "The 'Genius,'" and
parts of "A Hoosier Holiday" and of "A Traveler at Forty," and of "Plays
of the Natural and the Supernatural." But in this very absurdity, it
seems to me, there is a subtle proof that his fundamental scepticism is

I mention the "Plays of the Natural and the Supernatural." They are
ingenious and sometimes extremely effective, but their significance is
not great. The two that are "of the natural" are "The Girl in the
Coffin" and "Old Ragpicker," the first a laborious evocation of the
gruesome, too long by half, and the other an experiment in photographic
realism, with a pair of policemen as its protagonists. All five plays
"of the supernatural" follow a single plan. In the foreground, as it
were, we see a sordid drama played out on the human plane, and in the
background (or in the empyrean above, as you choose) we see the
operation of the god-like imbecilities which sway and flay us all. The
technical trick is well managed. It would be easy for such
four-dimensional pieces to fall into burlesque, but in at least two
cases, to wit, in "The Blue Sphere" and "In the Dark," they go off with
an air. Superficially, these plays "of the supernatural" seem to show an
abandonment to the wheezy, black bombazine mysticism which crops up
toward the end of "The 'Genius.'" But that mysticism, at bottom, is no
more than the dreiserian scepticism made visible. "For myself," says
Dreiser somewhere, "I do not know what truth is, what beauty is, what
love is, what hope is." And in another place: "I admit a vast compulsion
which has nothing to do with the individual desires or tastes or
impulses." The jokers behind the arras pull the strings. It is pretty,
but what is it all about?... The criticism which deals only with
externals sees "Sister Carrie" as no more than a deft adventure into
realism. Dreiser is praised, when he is praised at all, for making
Carrie so clear, for understanding her so well. But the truth is, of
course, that his achievement consists precisely in making patent the
impenetrable mystery of her, and of the tangled complex of striving and
aspiration of which she is so helplessly a part. It is in this sense
that "Sister Carrie" is a profound work. It is not a book of glib
explanations, of ready formulae; it is, above all else, a book of

Of "A Traveler at Forty" I have spoken briefly. It is heavy with the
obvious; the most interesting thing in it is the fact that Dreiser had
never seen St. Peter's or Piccadilly Circus until he was too old for
either reverence or romance. "A Hoosier Holiday" is far more
illuminating, despite its platitudinizing. Slow in tempo, discursive,
reflective, intimate, the book covers a vast territory, and lingers in
pleasant fields. One finds in it an almost complete confession of faith,
artistic, religious, even political. And not infrequently that
confession takes the form of ingenuous confidences--about the fortunes
of the house of Dreiser, the dispersed Dreiser clan, the old neighbours
in Indiana, new friends made along the way. In "A Traveler at Forty"
Dreiser is surely frank enough in his vivisections; he seldom forgets a
vanity or a wart. In "A Hoosier Holiday" he goes even further; he
speculates heavily about all his _dramatis personae_, prodding into the
motives behind their acts, wondering what they would do in this or that
situation, forcing them painfully into laboratory jars. They become, in
the end, not unlike characters in a novel; one misses only the neatness
of a plot. Strangely enough, the one personage of the chronicle who
remains dim throughout is the artist, Franklin Booth, Dreiser's host
and companion on the long motor ride from New York to Indiana, and the
maker of the book's excellent pictures. One gets a brilliant etching of
Booth's father, and scarcely less vivid portraits of Speed, the
chauffeur; of various persons encountered on the way, and of friends and
relatives dredged up out of the abyss of the past. But of Booth one
learns little save that he is a Christian Scientist and a fine figure of
a man. There must have been much talk during those two weeks of
careening along the high-road, and Booth must have borne some part in
it, but what he said is very meagrely reported, and so he is still
somewhat vague at the end--a personality sensed but scarcely

However, it is Dreiser himself who is the chief character of the story,
and who stands out from it most brilliantly. One sees in the man all the
special marks of the novelist: his capacity for photographic and
relentless observation, his insatiable curiosity, his keen zest in life
as a spectacle, his comprehension of and sympathy for the poor striving
of humble folks, his endless mulling of insoluble problems, his
recurrent Philistinism, his impatience of restraints, his fascinated
suspicion of messiahs, his passion for physical beauty, his relish for
the gaudy drama of big cities; his incurable Americanism. The panorama
that he enrols runs the whole scale of the colours; it is a series of
extraordinarily vivid pictures. The sombre gloom of the Pennsylvania
hills, with Wilkes-Barre lying among them like a gem; the procession of
little country towns, sleepy and a bit hoggish; the flash of Buffalo,
Cleveland, Indianapolis; the gargantuan coal-pockets and ore-docks along
the Erie shore; the tinsel summer resorts; the lush Indiana farmlands,
with their stodgy, bovine people--all of these things are sketched in
simply, and yet almost magnificently. I know, indeed, of no book which
better describes the American hinterland. Here we have no idle spying by
a stranger, but a full-length representation by one who knows the thing
he describes intimately, and is himself a part of it. Almost every mile
of the road travelled has been Dreiser's own road in life. He knew those
unkempt Indiana towns in boyhood; he wandered in the Indiana woods; he
came to Toledo, Cleveland, Buffalo as a young man; all the roots of his
existence are out there. And so he does his chronicle _con amore_, with
many a sentimental dredging up of old memories, old hopes and old

Save for passages in "The Titan," "A Hoosier Holiday" marks the high
tide of Dreiser's writing--that is, as sheer writing. His old faults
are in it, and plentifully. There are empty, brackish phrases enough,
God knows--"high noon" among them. But for all that, there is an
undeniable glow in it; it shows, in more than one place, an approach to
style; the mere wholesaler of words has become, in some sense a
connoisseur, even a voluptuary. The picture of Wilkes-Barre girt in by
her hills is simply done, and yet there is imagination in it, and
touches of brilliance. The sombre beauty of the Pennsylvania mountains
is vividly transferred to the page. The towns by the wayside are
differentiated, swiftly drawn, made to live. There are excellent
sketches of people--a courtly hotelkeeper in some God-forsaken hamlet,
his self-respect triumphing over his wallow; a group of babbling Civil
War veterans, endlessly mouthing incomprehensible jests; the half-grown
beaux and belles of the summer resorts, enchanted and yet a bit
staggered by the awakening of sex; Booth _père_ and his sinister
politics; broken and forgotten men in the Indiana towns; policemen,
waitresses, farmers, country characters; Dreiser's own people--the boys
and girls of his youth; his brother Paul, the Indiana Schneckenburger
and Francis Scott Key; his sisters and brothers; his beaten, hopeless,
pious father; his brave and noble mother. The book is dedicated to this
mother, now long dead, and in a way it is a memorial to her, a monument
to affection. Life bore upon her cruelly; she knew poverty at its lowest
ebb and despair at its bitterest; and yet there was in her a touch of
fineness that never yielded, a gallant spirit that faced and fought
things through. One thinks, somehow, of the mother of Gounod.... Her son
has not forgotten her. His book is her epitaph. He enters into her
presence with love and with reverence and with something not far from

As for the rest of the Dreiser compositions, I leave them to your

§ 6

Dr. William Lyon Phelps, the Lampson professor of English language and
literature at Yale, opens his chapter on Mark Twain in his "Essays on
Modern Novelists" with a humorous account of the critical imbecility
which pursued Mark in his own country down to his last years. The
favourite national critics of that era (and it extended to 1895, at the
least) were wholly blind to the fact that he was a great artist. They
admitted him, somewhat grudgingly, a certain low dexterity as a clown,
but that he was an imaginative writer of the first rank, or even of the
fifth rank, was something that, in their insanest moments, never so much
as occurred to them. Phelps cites, in particular, an ass named Professor
Richardson, whose "American Literature," it appears, "is still a
standard work" and "a deservedly high authority"--apparently in
colleges. In the 1892 edition of this _magnum opus_, Mark is dismissed
with less than four lines, and ranked below Irving, Holmes and
Lowell--nay, actually below Artemus Ward, Josh Billings and Petroleum V.
Nasby! The thing is fabulous, fantastic, _unglaublich_--but nevertheless
true. Lacking the "higher artistic or moral purpose of the greater
humourists" (_exempli gratia_, Rabelais, Molière, Aristophanes!!), Mark
is dismissed by this Professor Balderdash as a hollow buffoon.... But
stay! Do not laugh yet! Phelps himself, indignant at the stupidity, now
proceeds to credit Mark with a moral purpose!... Turn to "The Mysterious
Stranger," or "What is Man?"...

College professors, alas, never learn anything. The identical gentleman
who achieved this discovery about old Mark in 1910, now seeks to dispose
of Dreiser in the exact manner of Richardson. That is to say, he essays
to finish him by putting him into Coventry, by loftily passing over
him. "Do not speak of him," said Kingsley of Heine; "he was a wicked
man!" Search the latest volume of the Phelps revelation, "The Advance of
the English Novel," and you will find that Dreiser is not once mentioned
in it. The late O. Henry is hailed as a genius who will have "abiding
fame"; Henry Sydnor Harrison is hymned as "more than a clever novelist,"
nay, "a valuable ally of the angels" (the right-thinker complex! art as
a form of snuffling!), and an obscure Pagliaccio named Charles D.
Stewart is brought forward as "the American novelist most worthy to fill
the particular vacancy caused by the death of Mark Twain"--but Dreiser
is not even listed in the index. And where Phelps leads with his baton
of birch most of the other drovers of rah-rah boys follow. I turn, for
example, to "An Introduction to American Literature," by Henry S.
Pancoast, A.M., L.H.D., dated 1912. There are kind words for Richard
Harding Davis, for Amélie Rives, and even for Will N. Harben, but not a
syllable for Dreiser. Again, there is a "A History of American
Literature," by Reuben Post Halleck, A.M., LL.D., dated 1911. Lew
Wallace, Marietta Holley, Owen Wister and Augusta Evans Wilson have
their hearings, but not Dreiser. Yet again, there is "A History of
American Literature Since 1870," by Prof. Fred Lewis Pattee,[23]
instructor in "the English language and literature" somewhere in
Pennsylvania. Pattee has praises for Marion Crawford, Margaret Deland
and F. Hopkinson Smith, and polite bows for Richard Harding Davis and
Robert W. Chambers, but from end to end of his fat tome I am unable to
find the slightest mention of Dreiser.

So much for one group of heroes of the new Dunciad. That it includes
most of the acknowledged heavyweights of the craft--the Babbitts, Mores,
Brownells and so on--goes without saying; as Van Wyck Brooks has pointed
out,[24] these magnificoes are austerely above any consideration of the
literature that is in being. The other group, more courageous and more
honest, proceeds by direct attack; Dreiser is to be disposed of by a
moral _attentat_. Its leaders are two more professors, Stuart P. Sherman
and H. W. Boynton, and in its ranks march the lady critics of the
newspapers, with much shrill, falsetto clamour. Sherman is the only one
of them who shows any intelligible reasoning. Boynton, as always, is a
mere parroter of conventional phrases, and the objections of the ladies
fade imperceptibly into a pious indignation which is indistinguishable
from that of the professional suppressors of vice.

What, then, is Sherman's complaint? In brief, that Dreiser is a liar
when he calls himself a realist; that he is actually a naturalist, and
hence accursed. That "he has evaded the enterprise of representing human
conduct, and confined himself to a representation of animal behaviour."
That he "imposes his own naturalistic philosophy" upon his characters,
making them do what they ought not to do, and think what they ought not
to think. That "he has just two things to tell us about Frank
Cowperwood: that he has a rapacious appetite for money, and a rapacious
appetite for women." That this alleged "theory of animal behaviour" is
not only incorrect but downright immoral, and that "when one-half the
world attempts to assert it, the other half rises in battle."[25]

Only a glance is needed to show the vacuity of all this _brutum fulmen_.
Dreiser, in point of fact, is scarcely more the realist or the
naturalist, in any true sense, than H. G. Wells or the later George
Moore, nor has he ever announced himself in either the one character or
the other--if there be, in fact, any difference between them that any
one save a pigeon-holding pedagogue can discern. He is really something
quite different, and, in his moments, something far more stately. His
aim is not merely to record, but to translate and understand; the thing
he exposes is not the empty event and act, but the endless mystery out
of which it springs; his pictures have a passionate compassion in them
that it is hard to separate from poetry. If this sense of the universal
and inexplicable tragedy, if this vision of life as a seeking without a
finding, if this adept summoning up of moving images, is mistaken by
college professors for the empty, meticulous nastiness of Zola in
"Pot-Bouille"--in Nietzsche's phrase, for "the delight to stink"--then
surely the folly of college professors, as vast as it seems, has been
underestimated. What is the fact? The fact is that Dreiser's attitude of
mind, his manner of reaction to the phenomena he represents, the whole
of his alleged "naturalistic philosophy," stems directly, not from Zola,
Flaubert, Augier and the younger Dumas, but from the Greeks. In the
midst of democratic cocksureness and Christian sentimentalism, of
doctrinaire shallowness and professorial smugness, he stands for a point
of view which at least has something honest and courageous about it;
here, at all events, he is a realist. Let him put a motto to his books,
and it might be:


_Iô geneai brotôn,
Hôs umas isa chai to mêden
Zôsas enarithmô._


If you protest against that as too harsh for Christians and college
professors, right-thinkers and forward-lookers, then you protest against
"Oedipus Rex."[26]

As for the animal behaviour prattle of the learned head-master, it
reveals, on the one hand, only the academic fondness for seizing upon
high-sounding but empty phrases and using them to alarm the populace,
and on the other hand, only the academic incapacity for observing facts
correctly and reporting them honestly. The truth is, of course, that the
behaviour of such men as Cowperwood and Witla and of such women as
Carrie and Jennie, as Dreiser describes it, is no more merely animal
than the behaviour of such acknowledged and undoubted human beings as
Woodrow Wilson and Jane Addams. The whole point of the story of Witla,
to take the example which seems to concern the horrified watchmen most,
is this: that his life is a bitter conflict between the animal in him
and the aspiring soul, between the flesh and the spirit, between what
is weak in him and what is strong, between what is base and what is
noble. Moreover, the good, in the end, gets its hooks into the bad: as
we part from Witla he is actually bathed in the tears of remorse, and
resolved to be a correct and godfearing man. And what have we in "The
Financier" and "The Titan"? A conflict, in the ego of Cowperwood,
between aspiration and ambition, between the passion for beauty and the
passion for power. Is either passion animal? To ask the question is to
answer it.

I single out Dr. Sherman, not because his pompous syllogisms have any
plausibility in fact or logic, but simply because he may well stand as
archetype of the booming, indignant corrupter of criteria, the moralist
turned critic. A glance at his paean to Arnold Bennett[27] at once
reveals the true gravamen of his objection to Dreiser. What offends him
is not actually Dreiser's shortcoming as an artist, but Dreiser's
shortcoming as a Christian and an American. In Bennett's volumes of
pseudo-philosophy--_e.g._, "The Plain Man and His Wife" and "The Feast
of St. Friend"--he finds the intellectual victuals that are to his
taste. Here we have a sweet commingling of virtuous conformity and
complacent optimism, of sonorous platitude and easy certainty--here, in
brief, we have the philosophy of the English middle classes--and here,
by the same token, we have the sort of guff that the half-educated of
our own country can understand. It is the calm, superior num-skullery
that was Victorian; it is by Samuel Smiles out of Hannah More. The
offence of Dreiser is that he has disdained this revelation and gone
back to the Greeks. Lo, he reads poetry into "the appetite for
women"--he rejects the Pauline doctrine that all love is below the
diaphragm! He thinks of Ulysses, not as a mere heretic and criminal, but
as a great artist. He sees the life of man, not as a simple theorem in
Calvinism, but as a vast adventure, an enchantment, a mystery. It is no
wonder that respectable school-teachers are against him....

The comstockian attack upon "The 'Genius'" seems to have sprung out of
the same muddled sense of Dreiser's essential hostility to all that is
safe and regular--of the danger in him to that mellowed Methodism which
has become the national ethic. The book, in a way, was a direct
challenge, for though it came to an end upon a note which even a
Methodist might hear as sweet, there were undoubted provocations in
detail. Dreiser, in fact, allowed his scorn to make off with his
taste--and _es ist nichts fürchterlicher als Einbildungskraft ohne
Geschmack_. The Comstocks arose to the bait a bit slowly, but none the
less surely. Going through the volume with the terrible industry of a
Sunday-school boy dredging up pearls of smut from the Old Testament,
they achieved a list of no less than 89 alleged floutings of the
code--75 described as lewd and 14 as profane. An inspection of these
specifications affords mirth of a rare and lofty variety; nothing could
more cruelly expose the inner chambers of the moral mind. When young
Witla, fastening his best girl's skate, is so overcome by the carnality
of youth that he hugs her, it is set down as lewd. On page 51, having
become an art student, he is fired by "a great, warm-tinted nude of
Bouguereau"--lewd again. On page 70 he begins to draw from the figure,
and his instructor cautions him that the female breast is round, not
square--more lewdness. On page 151 he kisses a girl on mouth and neck
and she cautions him: "Be careful! Mamma may come in"--still more. On
page 161, having got rid of mamma, she yields "herself to him gladly,
joyously" and he is greatly shocked when she argues that an artist (she
is by way of being a singer) had better not marry--lewdness doubly
damned. On page 245 he and his bride, being ignorant, neglect the
principles laid down by Dr. Sylvanus Stall in his great works on sex
hygiene--lewdness most horrible! But there is no need to proceed
further. Every kiss, hug and tickle of the chin in the chronicle is
laboriously snouted out, empanelled, exhibited. Every hint that Witla is
no vestal, that he indulges his unchristian fleshliness, that he burns
in the manner of I Corinthians, VII, 9, is uncovered to the moral

On the side of profanity there is a less ardent pursuit of evidences,
chiefly, I daresay, because their unearthing is less stimulating.
(Beside, there is no law prohibiting profanity in books: the whole
inquiry here is but so much _lagniappe_.) On page 408, in describing a
character called Daniel C. Summerfield, Dreiser says that the fellow is
"very much given to swearing, more as a matter of habit than of foul
intention," and then goes on to explain somewhat lamely that "no picture
of him would be complete without the interpolation of his various
expressions." They turn out to be _God damn_ and _Jesus Christ_--three
of the latter and five or six of the former. All go down; the pure in
heart must be shielded from the knowledge of them. (But what of the
immoral French? They call the English _Goddams_.) Also, three plain
_damns_, eight _hells_, one _my God_, five _by Gods_, one _go to the
devil_, one _God Almighty_ and one plain _God_. Altogether, 31 specimens
are listed. "The 'Genius'" runs to 350,000 words. The profanity thus
works out to somewhat less than one word in 10,000.... Alas, the
comstockian proboscis, feeling for such offendings, is not as alert as
when uncovering more savoury delicacies. On page 191 I find an
overlooked _by God_. On page 372 there are _Oh God, God curse her_, and
_God strike her dead_. On page 373 there are _Ah God, Oh God_ and three
other invocations of God. On page 617 there is _God help me_. On page
720 there is _as God is my judge_. On page 723 there is _I'm no damned
good_.... But I begin to blush.

When the Comstock Society began proceedings against "The 'Genius,'" a
group of English novelists, including Arnold Bennett, H. G. Wells, W. L.
George and Hugh Walpole, cabled an indignant caveat. This bestirred the
Author's League of America to activity, and its executive committee
issued a minute denouncing the business. Later on a protest of American
_literati_ was circulated, and more than 400 signed, including such
highly respectable authors as Winston Churchill, Percy MacKaye, Booth
Tarkington and James Lane Allen, and such critics as Lawrence Gilman,
Clayton Hamilton and James Huneker, and the editors of such journals as
the _Century_, the _Atlantic Monthly_ and the _New Republic_. Among my
literary lumber is all the correspondence relating to this protest, not
forgetting the letters of those who refused to sign, and some day I hope
to publish it, that posterity may not lose the joy of an extremely
diverting episode. The case attracted wide attention and was the theme
of an extraordinarily violent discussion, but the resultant benefits to
Dreiser were more than counterbalanced, I daresay, by the withdrawal of
"The 'Genius'" itself.[28]

§ 7

Dreiser, like Mark Twain and Emerson before him, has been far more
hospitably greeted in his first stage, now drawing to a close, in
England than in his own country. The cause of this, I daresay, lies
partly in the fact that "Sister Carrie" was in general circulation over
there during the seven years that it remained suppressed on this side.
It was during these years that such men as Arnold Bennett, Theodore
Watts-Dunton, Frank Harris and H. G. Wells, and such critical journals
as the _Spectator_, the _Saturday Review_ and the _Athenaeum_ became
aware of him, and so laid the foundations of a sound appreciation of his
subsequent work. Since the beginning of the war, certain English
newspapers have echoed the alarmed American discovery that he is a
literary agent of the Wilhelmstrasse, but it is to the honour of the
English that this imbecility has got no countenance from reputable
authority and has not injured his position.

At home, as I have shown, he is less fortunate. When criticism is not
merely an absurd effort to chase him out of court because his ideas are
not orthodox, as the Victorians tried to chase out Darwin and Swinburne,
and their predecessors pursued Shelley and Byron, it is too often
designed to identify him with some branch or other of "radical"
poppycock, and so credit him with purposes he has never imagined. Thus
Chautauqua pulls and Greenwich Village pushes. In the middle ground
there proceeds the pedantic effort to dispose of him by labelling him.
One faction maintains that he is a realist; another calls him a
naturalist; a third argues that he is really a disguised romanticist.
This debate is all sound and fury, signifying nothing, but out of it has
come a valuation by Lawrence Gilman[29] which perhaps strikes very close
to the truth. He is, says Mr. Gilman, "a sentimental mystic who employs
the mimetic gestures of the realist." This judgment is apt in particular
and sound in general. No such thing as a pure method is possible in the
novel. Plain realism, as in Gorky's "Nachtasyl" and the war stories of
Ambrose Bierce, simply wearies us by its vacuity; plain romance, if we
ever get beyond our nonage, makes us laugh. It is their artistic
combination, as in life itself, that fetches us--the subtle projection
of the concrete muddle that is living against the ideal orderliness that
we reach out for--the eternal war of experience and aspiration--the
contrast between the world as it is and the world as it might be or
ought to be. Dreiser describes the thing that he sees, laboriously and
relentlessly, but he never forgets the dream that is behind it. "He
gives you," continues Mr. Gilman, "a sense of actuality; but he gives
you more than that: out of the vast welter and surge, the plethoric
irrelevancies, ... emerges a sense of the infinite sadness and mystery
of human life."...[30]

"To see truly," said Renan, "is to see dimly." Dimness or mystery, call
it what you will: it is in all these overgrown and formless, but
profoundly moving books. Just what do they mean? Just what is Dreiser
driving at? That such questions should be asked is only a proof of the
straits to which pedagogy has brought criticism. The answer is simple:
he is driving at nothing, he is merely trying to represent what he sees
and feels. His moving impulse is no flabby yearning to teach, to
expound, to make simple; it is that "obscure inner necessity" of which
Conrad tells us, the irresistible creative passion of a genuine artist,
standing spell-bound before the impenetrable enigma that is life,
enamoured by the strange beauty that plays over its sordidness,
challenged to a wondering and half-terrified sort of representation of
what passes understanding. And _jenseits von Gut und Böse_. "For
myself," says Dreiser, "I do not know what truth is, what beauty is,
what love is, what hope is. I do not believe any one absolutely and I do
not doubt any one absolutely. I think people are both evil and
well-intentioned." The hatching of the Dreiser bugaboo is here; it is
the flat rejection of the rubber-stamp formulae that outrages petty
minds; not being "good," he must be "evil"--as William Blake said of
Milton, a true poet is always "of the devil's party." But in that very
groping toward a light but dimly seen there is a measure, it seems to
me, of Dreiser's rank and consideration as an artist. "Now comes the
public," says Hermann Bahr, "and demands that we explain what the poet
is trying to say. The answer is this: If we knew exactly he would not be
a poet...."


[16] Fuller's comparative obscurity is one of the strangest phenomena of
American letters. Despite his high achievement, he is seldom discussed,
or even mentioned. Back in 1899 he was already so far forgotten that
William Archer mistook his name, calling him Henry Y. Puller. _Vide_
Archer's pamphlet, The American Language; New York, 1899.

[17] For example, in The Cambridge History of English Literature, which
runs to fourteen large volumes and a total of nearly 10,000 pages,
Huxley receives but a page and a quarter of notice, and his remarkable
mastery of English is barely mentioned in passing. His two debates with
Gladstone, in which he did some of the best writing of the century, are
not noticed at all.

[18] A Brief History of German Literature; New York, Chas. Scribner's
Sons, 1909.

[19] New York, 1917; reprinted from _The Seven Arts_ for Feb., 1917.

[20] Life, Art and America, p. 5.

[21] The episode is related in A Hoosier Holiday.

[22] A Princess of Arcady, published in 1900.

[23] New York, The Century Co., 1916.

[24] In _The Seven Arts_, May, 1917.

[25] The _Nation_, Dec. 2, 1915.

[26] 1186-1189. So translated by Floyd Dell: "O ye deathward-going
tribes of man, what do your lives mean except that they go to

[27] The New York _Evening Post_, Dec. 31, 1915.

[28] Despite the comstockian attack, Dreiser is still fairly well
represented on the shelves of American public libraries. A canvas of the
libraries of the 25 principal cities gives the following result, an X
indicating that the corresponding book is catalogued, and a - that is

               Sister Carrie
               | Jennie Gerhardt
               | | The Financier
               | | | The Titan
               | | | | A Traveler at Forty
               | | | | | The "Genius"
               | | | | | | Plays of the Natural
               | | | | | | | A Hoosier Holiday
               | | | | | | | |
New York       X - - X X X X X
Boston         - - - - X - X -
Chicago        X X X X X X X X
Philadelphia   X X X X X X X X
Washington     - - - - X - X -
Baltimore      - - - - X - - -
Pittsburgh     - - X X X X - X
New Orleans    - - - - - - - -
Denver         X X X X X X X X
San Francisco  X X X X X - - X
St. Louis      X X X X X - X -
Cleveland      X X X X - X X -
Providence     - - - - - - - -
Los Angeles    X X X X X X X X
Indianapolis   X X X - X - X X
Louisville     X X - X X X X X
St. Paul       X X - - X - X X
Minneapolis    X X X - X - X -
Cincinnati     X X X - X - X X
Kansas City    X X X X X X X X
Milwaukee      - - - - X - X X
Newark         X X X X X X X X
Detroit        X X X - X X X X
Seattle        X X - - X - X X
Hartford       - - - - - - - X

This table shows that but two libraries, those of Providence and New
Orleans, bar Dreiser altogether. The effect of alarms from newspaper
reviewers is indicated by the scant distribution of The "Genius,"
which is barred by 14 of the 25. It should be noted that some of these
libraries issue certain of the books only under restrictions. This I
know to be the case in Louisville, Los Angeles, Newark and Cleveland.
The Newark librarian informs me that Jennie Gerhardt is to be removed
altogether, presumably in response to some protest from local Comstocks.
In Chicago The "Genius" has been stolen, and on account of the
withdrawal of the book the Public Library has been unable to get another

[29] The _North American Review_, Feb., 1916.

[30] Another competent valuation, by Randolph Bourne, is in _The Dial_,
June 14, 1917.



§ 1

Edgar Allan Poe, I am fond of believing, earned as a critic a good deal
of the excess of praise that he gets as a romancer and a poet, and
another over-estimated American dithyrambist, Sidney Lanier, wrote the
best textbook of prosody in English;[31] but in general the critical
writing done in the United States has been of a low order, and most
American writers of any genuine distinction, like most American painters
and musicians, have had to wait for understanding until it appeared
abroad. The case of Emerson is typical. At thirty, he was known in New
England as a heretical young clergyman and no more, and his fame
threatened to halt at the tea-tables of the Boston Brahmins. It remained
for Landor and Carlyle, in a strange land, to discern his higher
potentialities, and to encourage him to his real life-work. Mark Twain,
as I have hitherto shown, suffered from the same lack of critical
perception at home. He was quickly recognized as a funny fellow, true
enough, but his actual stature was not even faintly apprehended, and
even after "Huckleberry Finn" he was still bracketed with such laborious
farceurs as Artemus Ward. It was Sir Walter Besant, an Englishman, who
first ventured to put him on his right shelf, along with Swift,
Cervantes and Molière. As for Poe and Whitman, the native recognition of
their genius was so greatly conditioned by a characteristic horror of
their immorality that it would be absurd to say that their own country
understood them. Both were better and more quickly apprehended in
France, and it was in France, not in America, that each founded a
school. What they had to teach we have since got back at second
hand--the tale of mystery, which was Poe's contribution, through
Gaboriau and Boisgobey; and _vers libre_, which was Whitman's, through
the French _imagistes_.

The cause of this profound and almost unbroken lack of critical insight
and enterprise, this puerile Philistinism and distrust of ideas among
us, is partly to be found, it seems to me, in the fact that the typical
American critic is quite without any adequate cultural equipment for the
office he presumes to fill. Dr. John Dewey, in some late remarks upon
the American universities, has perhaps shown the cause thereof. The
trouble with our educational method, he argues, is that it falls between
the two stools of English humanism and German relentlessness--that it
produces neither a man who intelligently feels nor a man who thoroughly
knows. Criticism, in America, is a function of this half-educated and
conceited class; it is not a popular art, but an esoteric one; even in
its crassest journalistic manifestations it presumes to a certain
academic remoteness from the concerns and carnalities of everyday. In
every aspect it shows the defects of its practitioners. The American
critic of beautiful letters, in his common incarnation, is no more than
a talented sophomore, or, at best, a somewhat absurd professor. He
suffers from a palpable lack of solid preparation; he has no background
of moving and illuminating experience behind him; his soul has not
sufficiently adventured among masterpieces, nor among men. Imagine a
Taine or a Sainte-Beuve or a Macaulay--man of the world, veteran of
philosophies, "lord of life"--and you imagine his complete antithesis.
Even on the side of mere professional knowledge, the primary material of
his craft, he always appears incompletely outfitted. The grand sweep and
direction of the literary currents elude him; he is eternally on the
surface, chasing bits of driftwood. The literature he knows is the
fossil literature taught in colleges--worse, in high schools. It must be
dead before he is aware of it. And in particular he appears ignorant of
what is going forward in other lands. An exotic idea, to penetrate his
consciousness, must first become stale, and even then he is apt to purge
it of all its remaining validity and significance before adopting it.

This has been true since the earliest days. Emerson himself, though a
man of unusual discernment and a diligent drinker from German spigots,
nevertheless remained a _dilettante_ in both aesthetics and metaphysics
to the end of his days, and the incompleteness of his equipment never
showed more plainly than in his criticism of books. Lowell, if anything,
was even worse; his aesthetic theory, first and last, was nebulous and
superficial, and all that remains of his pleasant essays today is their
somewhat smoky pleasantness. He was a Charles Dudley Warner in nobler
trappings, but still, at bottom, a Charles Dudley Warner. As for Poe,
though he was by nature a far more original and penetrating critic than
either Emerson or Lowell, he was enormously ignorant of good books, and
moreover, he could never quite throw off a congenital vulgarity of
taste, so painfully visible in the strutting of his style. The man, for
all his grand dreams, had a shoddy soul; he belonged authentically to
the era of cuspidors, "females" and Sons of Temperance. His occasional
affectation of scholarship has deceived no one. It was no more than
Yankee bluster; he constantly referred to books that he had never read.
Beside, the typical American critic of those days was not Poe, but his
arch-enemy, Rufus Wilmot Griswold, that almost fabulous ass--a Baptist
preacher turned taster of the beautiful. Imagine a Baptist valuing
Balzac, or Molière, or Shakespeare, or Goethe--or Rabelais!

Coming down to our own time, one finds the same endless amateurishness,
so characteristic of everything American, from politics to cookery--the
same astounding lack of training and vocation. Consider the solemn
ponderosities of the pious old maids, male and female, who write book
reviews for the newspapers. Here we have a heavy pretension to culture,
a campus cocksureness, a laborious righteousness--but of sound aesthetic
understanding, of alertness and hospitality to ideas, not a trace. The
normal American book reviewer, indeed, is an elderly virgin, a
superstitious bluestocking, an apostle of Vassar _Kultur_; and her
customary attitude of mind is one of fascinated horror. (The Hamilton
Wright Mabie complex! The "white list" of novels!) William Dean
Howells, despite a certain jauntiness and even kittenishness of manner,
was spiritually of that company. For all his phosphorescent heresies, he
was what the up-lifters call a right-thinker at heart, and soaked in the
national tradition. He was easiest intrigued, not by force and
originality, but by a sickly, _Ladies' Home Journal_ sort of piquancy;
it was this that made him see a genius in the Philadelphia Zola, W. B.
Trites, and that led him to hymn an abusive business letter by Frank A.
Munsey, author of "The Boy Broker" and "Afloat in a Great City," as a
significant human document. Moreover Howells ran true to type in another
way, for he long reigned as the leading Anglo-Saxon authority on the
Russian novelists without knowing, so far as I can make out, more than
ten words of Russian. In the same manner, we have had enthusiasts for
D'Annunzio and Mathilde Serao who knew no Italian, and celebrants of
Maeterlinck and Verhaeren whose French was of the finishing school, and
Ibsen authorities without a single word of Dano-Norwegian--I met one
once who failed to recognize "Et Dukkehjem" as the original title of "A
Doll's House,"--and performers upon Hauptmann who could no more read
"Die Weber" than they could decipher a tablet of Tiglath-Pileser III.

Here and there, of course, a more competent critic of beautiful letters
flings out his banner--for example, John Macy, Ludwig Lewisohn, André
Tridon, Francis Hackett, Van Wyck Brooks, Burton Rascoe, E. A. Boyd,
Llewellyn Jones, Otto Heller, J. E. Spingarn, Lawrence Gilman, the late
J. Percival Pollard. Well-informed, intelligent, wide-eyed men--but only
four of them even Americans, and not one of them with a wide audience,
or any appreciable influence upon the main stream of American criticism.
Pollard's best work is buried in the perfumed pages of _Town Topics_;
his book on the Munich wits and dramatists[32] is almost unknown. Heller
and Lewisohn make their way slowly; a patriotic wariness, I daresay,
mixes itself up with their acceptance. Gilman disperses his talents; he
is quite as much musician as critic of the arts. As for Macy, I recently
found his "The Spirit of American Literature,"[33] by long odds the
soundest, wisest book on its subject, selling for fifty cents on a Fifth
avenue remainder counter.

How many remain? A few competent reviewers who are primarily something
else--Harvey, Aikin, Untermeyer and company. A few youngsters on the
newspapers, struggling against the business office. And then a leap to
the Victorians, the crêpe-clad pundits, the bombastic word-mongers of
the campus school--H. W. Boynton, W. C. Brownell, Paul Elmer More,
William Lyon Phelps, Frederick Taber Cooper _et al._ Here, undoubtedly,
we have learning of a sort. More, it appears, once taught Sanskrit to
the adolescent suffragettes of Bryn Mawr--an enterprise as stimulating
(and as intelligible) as that of setting off fire-works in a blind
asylum. Phelps sits in a chair at Yale. Boynton is a master of arts in
English literature, whatever that may mean. Brownell is both L.H.D. and
Litt.D., thus surpassing Samuel Johnson by one point, and Hazlitt,
Coleridge and Malone by two. But the learning of these august
_umbilicarii_, for all its pretensions, is precisely the sterile,
foppish sort one looks for in second-rate college professors. The
appearance is there, but not the substance. One ingests a horse-doctor's
dose of words, but fails to acquire any illumination. Read More on
Nietzsche[34] if you want to find out just how stupid criticism can be,
and yet show the outward forms of sense. Read Phelps' "The Advance of
the English Novel"[35] if you would see a fine art treated as a moral
matter, and great works tested by the criteria of a small-town
Sunday-school, and all sorts of childish sentimentality whooped up. And
plough through Brownell's "Standards,"[36] if you have the patience, and
then try to reduce its sonorous platitudes to straight-forward and
defensible propositions.

§ 2

Now for the exception. He is, of course, James Gibbons Huneker, the
solitary Iokanaan in this tragic aesthetic wilderness, the only critic
among us whose vision sweeps the whole field of beauty, and whose
reports of what he sees there show any genuine gusto. That gusto of his,
I fancy, is two-thirds of his story. It is unquenchable, contagious,
inflammatory; he is the only performer in the commissioned troupe who
knows how to arouse his audience to anything approaching enthusiasm. The
rest, even including Howells, are pedants lecturing to the pure in
heart, but Huneker makes a joyous story of it; his exposition,
transcending the merely expository, takes on the quality of an
adventure hospitably shared. One feels, reading him, that he is charmed
by the men and women he writes about, and that their ideas, even when he
rejects them, give him an agreeable stimulation. And to the charm that
he thus finds and exhibits in others, he adds the very positive charm of
his own personality. He seems a man who has found the world fascinating,
if perhaps not perfect; a friendly and good-humoured fellow; no frigid
scholiast, but something of an epicure; in brief, the reverse of the
customary maker of books about books. Compare his two essays on Ibsen,
in "Egoists" and "Iconoclasts," to the general body of American writing
upon the great Norwegian. The difference is that between a portrait and
a Bertillon photograph, Richard Strauss and Czerny, a wedding and an
autopsy. Huneker displays Ibsen, not as a petty mystifier of the women's
clubs, but as a literary artist of large skill and exalted passion, and
withal a quite human and understandable man. These essays were written
at the height of the symbolism madness; in their own way, they even show
some reflection of it; but taking them in their entirety, how clearly
they stand above the ignorant obscurantism of the prevailing criticism
of the time--how immeasurably superior they are, for example, to that
favourite hymn-book of the Ibsenites, "The Ibsen Secret" by Jennette
Lee! For the causes of this difference one need not seek far. They are
to be found in the difference between the bombastic half-knowledge of a
school teacher and the discreet and complete knowledge of a man of
culture. Huneker is that man of culture. He has reported more of
interest and value than any other American critic, living or dead, but
the essence of his criticism does not lie so much in what he
specifically reports as in the civilized point of view from which he
reports it. He is a true cosmopolitan, not only in the actual range of
his adventurings, but also and more especially in his attitude of mind.
His world is not America, nor Europe, nor Christendom, but the whole
universe of beauty. As Jules Simon said of Taine: "_Aucun écrivain de
nos jours n'a ... découvert plus d'horizons variés et immenses_."

Need anything else be said in praise of a critic? And does an
extravagance or an error here and there lie validly against the saying
of it? I think not. I could be a professor if I would and show you slips
enough--certain ponderous nothings in the Ibsen essays, already
mentioned; a too easy bemusement at the hands of Shaw; a vacillating
over Wagner; a habit of yielding to the hocus-pocus of the mystics,
particularly Maeterlinck. On the side of painting, I am told, there are
even worse aberrations; I know too little about painting to judge for
myself. But the list, made complete, would still not be over-long, and
few of its items would be important. Huneker, like the rest of us, has
sinned his sins, but his judgments, in the overwhelming main, hold
water. He has resisted the lure of all the wild movements of the
generation; the tornadoes of doctrine have never knocked him over. Nine
times out of ten, in estimating a new man in music or letters, he has
come curiously close to the truth at the first attempt. And he has
always announced it in good time; his solo has always preceded the
chorus. He was, I believe, the first American (not forgetting William
Morton Payne and Hjalmar Hjorth Boyesen, the pioneers) to write about
Ibsen with any understanding of the artist behind the prophet's mask; he
was the first to see the rising star of Nietzsche (this was back in
1888); he was beating a drum for Shaw the critic before ever Shaw the
dramatist and mob philosopher was born (_circa_ 1886-1890); he was
writing about Hauptmann and Maeterlinck before they had got well set on
their legs in their own countries; his estimate of Sudermann, bearing
date of 1905, may stand with scarcely the change of a word today; he did
a lot of valiant pioneering for Strindberg, Hervieu, Stirner and Gorki,
and later on helped in the pioneering for Conrad; he was in the van of
the MacDowell enthusiasts; he fought for the ideas of such painters as
Davies, Lawson, Luks, Sloan and Prendergest (Americans all, by the way:
an answer to the hollow charge of exotic obsession) at a time when even
Manet, Monet and Degas were laughed at; he was among the first to give a
hand to Frank Norris, Theodore Dreiser, Stephen Crane and H. B. Fuller.
In sum, he gave some semblance of reality in the United States, after
other men had tried and failed, to that great but ill-starred revolt
against Victorian pedantry, formalism and sentimentality which began in
the early 90's. It would be difficult, indeed, to overestimate the
practical value to all the arts in America of his intellectual
alertness, his catholic hospitality to ideas, his artistic courage, and
above all, his powers of persuasion. It was not alone that he saw
clearly what was sound and significant; it was that he managed, by the
sheer charm of his writings, to make a few others see and understand it.
If the United States is in any sort of contact today, however remotely,
with what is aesthetically going on in the more civilized countries--if
the Puritan tradition, for all its firm entrenchment, has eager and
resourceful enemies besetting it--if the pall of Harvard quasiculture,
by the Oxford manner out of Calvinism, has been lifted ever so
little--there is surely no man who can claim a larger share of credit
for preparing the way....

§ 3

Huneker comes out of Philadelphia, that depressing intellectual slum,
and his first writing was for the Philadelphia _Evening Bulletin_. He is
purely Irish in blood, and is of very respectable ancestry, his maternal
grandfather and godfather having been James Gibbons, the Irish poet and
patriot, and president of the Fenian Brotherhood in America. Once, in a
review of "The Pathos of Distance," I ventured the guess that there was
a German strain in him somewhere, and based it upon the beery melancholy
visible in parts of that book. Who but a German sheds tears over the
empty bottles of day before yesterday, the Adelaide Neilson of 1877? Who
but a German goes into woollen undershirts at 45, and makes his will,
and begins to call his wife "Mamma"? The green-sickness of youth is
endemic from pole to pole, as much so as measles; but what race save the
wicked one is floored by a blue distemper in middle age, with
sentimental burblings _a cappella_, hallucinations of lost loves, and
an unquenchable lacrymorrhea?... I made out a good case, but I was
wrong, and the penalty came swiftly and doubly, for on the one hand the
Boston _Transcript_ sounded an alarm against both Huneker and me as
German spies, and on the other hand Huneker himself proclaimed that,
even spiritually, he was less German than Magyar, less "Hun" than Hun.
"I am," he said, "a Celto-Magyar: Pilsner at Donneybrook Fair. Even the
German beer and cuisine are not in it with the Austro-Hungarian." Here,
I suspect, he meant to say Czech instead of Magyar, for isn't Pilsen in
Bohemia? Moreover, turn to the chapter on Prague in "New Cosmopolis,"
and you will find out in what highland his heart really is. In this
book, indeed, is a vast hymn to all things Czechic--the Pilsen
_Urquell_, the muffins stuffed with poppy-seed jam, the spiced chicken
liver _en casserole_, the pretty Bohemian girls, the rose and golden
glory of Hradschin Hill.... One thinks of other strange infatuations:
the Polish Conrad's for England, the Scotch Mackay's for Germany, the
Low German Brahms' for Italy. Huneker, I daresay, is the first
Celto-Czech--or Celto-Magyar, as you choose. (Maybe the name suggests
something. It is not to be debased to _Hoon_-eker, remember, but kept at
_Hun_-eker, rhyming initially with _nun_ and _gun_.) An unearthly
marriage of elements, by all the gods! but there are pretty children of

Philadelphia humanely disgorged Huneker in 1878. His father designed him
for the law, and he studied the institutes at the Philadelphia Law
Academy, but like Schumann, he was spoiled for briefs by the stronger
pull of music and the _cacoëthes scribendi_. (Grandpa John Huneker had
been a composer of church music, and organist at St. Mary's.) In the
year mentioned he set out for Paris to see Liszt; his aim was to make
himself a piano virtuoso. His name does not appear on his own exhaustive
list of Liszt pupils, but he managed to quaff of the Pierian spring at
second-hand, for he had lessons from Theodore Ritter (_né_ Bennet), a
genuine pupil of the old walrus, and he was also taught by the venerable
Georges Mathias, a pupil of Chopin. These days laid the foundations for
two subsequent books, the "Chopin: the Man and His Music" of 1900, and
the "Franz Liszt" of 1911. More, they prepared the excavations for all
of the others, for Huneker began sending home letters to the
Philadelphia _Bulletin_ on the pictures that he saw, the books that he
read and the music that he heard in Paris, and out of them gradually
grew a body of doctrine that was to be developed into full-length
criticism on his return to the United States. He stayed in Paris until
the middle 80's, and then settled in New York.

All the while his piano studies continued, and in New York he became a
pupil of Rafael Joseffy. He even became a teacher himself and was for
ten years on the staff of the National Conservatory, and showed himself
at all the annual meetings of the Music Teachers' Association. But bit
by bit criticism elbowed out music-making, as music-making had elbowed
out criticism with Schumann and Berlioz. In 1886 or thereabout he joined
the _Musical Courier_; then he went, in succession, to the old
_Recorder_, to the _Morning Advertiser_, to the _Sun_, to the _Times_,
and finally to the Philadelphia _Press_ and the New York _World_.
Various weeklies and monthlies have also enlisted him: _Mlle. New York_,
the _Atlantic Monthly_, the _Smart Set_, the _North American Review_ and
_Scribner's_. He has even stooped to _Puck_, vainly trying to make an
American _Simplicissimus_ of that dull offspring of synagogue and
barbershop. He has been, in brief, an extremely busy and not too
fastidious journalist, writing first about one of the arts, and then
about another, and then about all seven together. But music has been the
steadiest of all his loves; his first three books dealt almost wholly
with it; of his complete canon more than half have to do with it.

§ 4

His first book, "Mezzotints in Modern Music," published in 1899,
revealed his predilections clearly, and what is more, his critical
insight and sagacity. One reads it today without the slightest feeling
that it is an old story; some of the chapters, obviously reworkings of
articles for the papers, must go back to the middle 90's, and yet the
judgments they proclaim scarcely call for the change of a word. The
single noticeable weakness is a too easy acquiescence in the empty
showiness of Saint-Saëns, a tendency to bow to the celebrated French
parlour magician too often. Here, I daresay, is an echo of old Paris
days, for Camille was a hero on the Seine in 1880, and there was even
talk of pitting him against Wagner. The estimates of other men are
judiciously arrived at and persuasively stated. Tschaikowsky is
correctly put down as a highly talented but essentially shallow
fellow--a blubberer in the regalia of a philosopher. Brahms, then still
under attack by Henry T. Finck, of the _Evening Post_ (the press-agent
of Massenet: ye gods, what Harvard can do, even to a Würtemberger!) is
subjected to a long, an intelligent and an extremely friendly analysis;
no better has got into English since, despite too much stress on the
piano music. And Richard Strauss, yet a nine days' wonder, is described
clearly and accurately, and his true stature indicated. The rest of the
book is less noteworthy; Huneker says the proper things about Chopin,
Liszt and Wagner, and adds a chapter on piano methods, the plain fruit
of his late pedagogy. But the three chapters I have mentioned are
enough; they fell, in their time, into a desert of stupidity; they set a
standard in musical criticism in America that only Huneker himself has
ever exceeded.

The most popular of his music books, of course, is the "Chopin" (1900).
Next to "Iconoclasts," it is the best seller of them all. More, it has
been done into German, French and Italian, and is chiefly responsible
for Huneker's celebrity abroad as the only critic of music that America
has ever produced. Superficially, it seems to be a monument of pedantry,
a meticulous piling up of learning, but a study of it shows that it is
very much more than that. Compare it to Sir George Grove's staggering
tome on the Beethoven symphonies if you want to understand the
difference between mere scholastic diligence and authentic criticism.
The one is simply a top-heavy mass of disorderly facts and worshipping
enthusiasm; the other is an analysis that searches out every nook and
corner of the subject, and brings it into coherence and intelligibility.
The Chopin rhapsodist is always held in check by the sound musician;
there is a snouting into dark places as well as a touching up of high
lights. I myself am surely no disciple of the Polish tuberose--his
sweetness, in fact, gags me, and I turn even to Moszkowski for
relief--but I have read and re-read this volume with endless interest,
and I find it more bethumbed than any other Huneker book in my library,
saving only "Iconoclasts" and "Old Fogy." Here, indeed, Huneker is on
his own ground. One often feels, in his discussions of orchestral music,
that he only thinks orchestrally, like Schumann, with an effort--that
all music, in his mind, gets itself translated into terms of piano
music. In dealing with Chopin no such transvaluation of values is
necessary; the raw materials are ready for his uses without preparation;
he is wholly at home among the black keys and white.

His "Liszt" is a far less noteworthy book. It is, in truth, scarcely a
book at all, but merely a collection of notes for a book, some of them
considerably elaborated, but others set down in the altogether. One
reads it because it is about Liszt, the most fantastic figure that ever
came out of Hungary, half devil and half clown; not because there is any
conflagration of ideas in it. The chapter that reveals most of Huneker
is the appendix on latter-day piano virtuosi, with its estimates of such
men as de Pachmann, Rosenthal, Paderewski and Hofmann. Much better stuff
is to be found in "Overtones," "The Pathos of Distance" and "Ivory, Apes
and Peacocks"--brilliant, if not always profound studies of Strauss,
Wagner, Schoenberg, Moussorgsky, and even Verdi. But if I had my choice
of the whole shelf, it would rest, barring the "Chopin," on "Old
Fogy"--the _scherzo_ of the Hunekeran symphony, the critic taking a
holiday, the Devil's Mass in the tonal sanctuary. In it Huneker is at
his very choicest, making high-jinks with his Davidsbund of one,
rattling the skeletons in all the musical closets of the world. Here,
throwing off his critic's black gown, his lays about him right and left,
knocking the reigning idols off their perches; resurrecting the old, old
dead and trying to pump the breath into them; lambasting on one page and
lauding on the next; lampooning his fellow critics and burlesquing their
rubber stamp fustian; extolling Dussek and damning Wagner; swearing
mighty oaths by Mozart, and after him, Strauss--not Richard, but Johann!
The Old Fogy, of course, is the thinnest of disguises, a mere veil of
gossamer for "Editor" Huneker. That Huneker in false whiskers is
inimitable, incomparable, almost indescribable. On the one hand, he is a
prodigy of learning, a veritable warehouse of musical information, true,
half-true and apocryphal; on the other hand, he is a jester who delights
in reducing all learning to absurdity. Reading him somehow suggests
hearing a Bach mass rescored for two fifes, a tambourine in B, a wind
machine, two tenor harps, a contrabass oboe, two banjos, eight tubas and
the usual clergy and strings. The substance is there; every note is
struck exactly in the middle--but what outlandish tone colours, what
strange, unearthly sounds! It is not Bach, however, who first comes to
mind when Huneker is at his tricks, but Papa Haydn--the Haydn of the
Surprise symphony and the Farewell. There is the same gargantuan gaiety,
the same magnificent irreverence. Haydn did more for the symphony than
any other man, but he also got more fun out of it than any other man.

"Old Fogy," of course, is not to be taken seriously: it is frankly a
piece of fooling. But all the same a serious idea runs through the book
from end to end, and that is the idea that music is getting too
subjective to be comfortable. The makers of symphonies tend to forget
beauty altogether; their one effort is to put all their own petty trials
and tribulations, their empty theories and speculations into cacophony.
Even so far back as Beethoven's day that autobiographical habit had
begun. "Beethoven," says Old Fogy, is "dramatic, powerful, a maker of
storms, a subduer of tempests; but his speech is the speech of a
self-centred egotist. He is the father of all the modern melomaniacs,
who, looking into their own souls, write what they see therein--misery,
corruption, slighting selfishness and ugliness." Old Ludwig's groans, of
course, we can stand. He was not only a great musician, but also a great
man. It is just as interesting to hear him sigh and complain as it would
be to hear the private prayers of Julius Caesar. But what of
Tschaikowsky, with his childish Slavic whining? What of Liszt, with his
cheap playacting, his incurable lasciviousness, his plebeian warts? What
of Wagner, with his delight in imbecile fables, his popinjay vanity, his
soul of a _Schnorrer_? What of Richard Strauss, with his warmed-over
Nietzscheism, his flair for the merely horrible? Old Fogy sweeps them
all into his ragbag. If art is to be defined as beauty seen through a
temperament, then give us more beauty and cleaner temperaments! Back to
the old gods, Mozart and Bach, with a polite bow to Brahms and a
sentimental tear for Chopin! Beethoven tried to tell his troubles in his
music; Mozart was content to ravish the angels of their harps. And as
for Johann Sebastian, "there was more real musical feeling, uplifting
and sincerity in the old Thomas-kirche in Leipzig ... than in all your
modern symphony and oratorio machine-made concerts put together."

All this is argued, to be sure, in extravagant terms. Wagner is a mere
ghoul and impostor: "The Flying Dutchman" is no more than a parody on
Weber, and "Parsifal" is "an outrage against religion, morals and
music." Daddy Liszt is "the inventor of the Liszt pupil, a bad piano
player, a venerable man with a purple nose--a Cyrano de Cognac nose."
Tschaikowsky is the Slav gone crazy on vodka. He transformed Hamlet into
"a yelling man" and Romeo and Juliet into "two monstrous Cossacks, who
gibber and squeak at each other while reading some obscene volume." "His
Manfred is a libel on Byron, who was a libel on God." And even Schumann
is a vanishing star, a literary man turned composer, a pathological
case. But, as I have said, a serious idea runs through all this
concerto for slapstick and seltzer siphon, and to me, at least, that
idea has a plentiful reasonableness. We are getting too much melodrama,
too much vivisection, too much rebellion--and too little music. Turn
from Tschaikowsky's Pathétique or from any of his wailing tone-poems to
Schubert's C major, or to Mozart's Jupiter, or to Beethoven's _kleine
Sinfonie in F dur_: it is like coming out of a _Kaffeeklatsch_ into the
open air, almost like escaping from a lunatic asylum. The one
unmistakable emotion that much of this modern music from the steppes and
morgues and _Biertische_ engenders is a longing for form, clarity,
coherence, a self-respecting tune. The snorts and moans of the pothouse
Werthers are as irritating, in the long run, as the bawling of a child,
the squeak of a pig under a gate. One yearns unspeakably for a composer
who gives out his pair of honest themes, and then develops them with
both ears open, and then recapitulates them unashamed, and then hangs a
brisk coda to them, and then shuts up.

§ 5

So much for "Old Fogy" and the musical books. They constitute, not only
the best body of work that Huneker himself has done, but the best body
of musical criticism that any American has done. Musical criticism, in
our great Calvinist republic, confines itself almost entirely to
transient reviewing, and even when it gets between covers, it keeps its
trivial quality. Consider, for example, the published work of Henry
Edward Krehbiel, for long the _doyen_ of the New York critics. I pick up
his latest book, "A Second Book of Operas,"[37] open it at random, and
find this:

     On January 31, 1893, the Philadelphia singers, aided by the New
     York Symphony Society, gave a performance of the opera, under the
     auspices of the Young Men's Hebrew Association, for the benefit of
     its charities, at the Carnegie Music Hall, New York. Mr. Walter
     Damrosch was to have conducted, but was detained in Washington by
     the funeral of Mr. Blaine, and Mr. Hinrichs took his place.

O Doctor _admirabilis, acutus et illuminatissimus_! Needless to say the
universities have not overlooked this geyser of buttermilk: he is an
honourary A.M. of Yale. His most respectable volume, that on negro
folksong, impresses one principally by its incompleteness. It may be
praised as a sketch, but surely not as a book. The trouble with
Krehbiel, of course, is that he mistakes a newspaper morgue for
Parnassus. He has all of the third-rate German's capacity for
unearthing facts, but he doesn't know how either to think or to write,
and so his criticism is mere pretence and pishposh. W. J. Henderson, of
the _Sun_, doesn't carry that handicap. He is as full of learning as
Krehbiel, as his books on singing and on the early Italian opera show,
but he also wields a slippery and intriguing pen, and he could be hugely
entertaining if he would. Instead, he devotes himself to manufacturing
primers for the newly intellectual. I can find little of the charm of
his _Sun_ articles in his books. Lawrence Gilman? A sound musician but
one who of late years has often neglected music for the other arts.
Philip H. Goepp? His three volumes on the symphonic repertoire leave
twice as much to be said as they say. Carl Van Vechten? A very promising
novice, but not yet at full growth. Philip Hale? His gigantic
annotations scarcely belong to criticism at all; they are musical
talmudism. Beside, they are buried in the program books of the Boston
Symphony Orchestra, and might as well be inscribed on the temple walls
of Baalbec. As for Upton and other such fellows, they are merely musical
chautauquans, and their tedious commentaries have little more value than
the literary criticisms in the religious weeklies. One of them, a
Harvard _maestro_, has published a book on the orchestra in which, on
separate pages, the reader is solemnly presented with pictures of first
and second violins!

It seems to me that Huneker stands on a higher level than any of these
industrious gentlemen, and that his writings on music are of much more
value, despite his divided allegiance among the _beaux arts_. Whatever
may be said against him, it must at least be admitted that he knows
Chopin, and that he has written the best volumes upon the tuberculous
Pole in English. Vladimir de Pachmann, that king of all Chopin players,
once bore characteristic testimony to the fact--I think it was in
London. The program was heavy with the études and ballades, and Huneker
sat in the front row of fanatics. After a storm of applause de Pachmann
rose from the piano stool, levelled a bony claw at Huneker, and
pronounced his dictum: "_He_ knows more than _all_ of you." Joseffy
seems to have had the same opinion, for he sought the aid of his old
pupil in preparing his new edition of Chopin, the first volume of which
is all he lived to see in print.... And, beyond all the others, Huneker
disdains writing for the kindergarten. There is no stooping in his
discourse; he frankly addresses himself to an audience that has gone
through the forms, and so he avoids the tediousness of the A B C
expositors. He is the only American musical critic, save Van Vechten,
who thus assumes invariably that a musical audience exists, and the only
one who constantly measures up to its probable interests, supposing it
to be there. Such a book as "Old Fogy," for all its buffoonery, is
conceivable only as the work of a sound musician. Its background is one
of the utmost sophistication; in the midst of its wildest extravagances
there is always a profound knowledge of music on tap, and a profound
love of it to boot. Here, perhaps, more than anywhere else, Huneker's
delight in the things he deals with is obvious. It is not a seminary
that he keeps, but a sort of club of tone enthusiasts, and membership in
it is infinitely charming.

§ 6

This capacity for making the thing described seem important and
delightful, this quality of infectious gusto, this father-talent of all
the talents that a critic needs, sets off his literary criticism no less
than his discourse on music and musicians. Such a book as "Iconoclasts"
or "Egoists" is full of useful information, but it is even more full of
agreeable adventure. The style is the book, as it is the man. It is
arch, staccato, ironical, witty, galloping, playful, polyglot,
allusive--sometimes, alas, so allusive as to reduce the Drama Leaguer
and women's clubber to wonderment and ire. In writing of plays or of
books, as in writing of cities, tone-poems or philosophies, Huneker
always assumes that the elements are already well-grounded, that he is
dealing with the initiated, that a pause to explain would be an affront.
Sad work for the Philistines--but a joy to the elect! All this
polyphonic allusiveness, this intricate fuguing of ideas, is not to be
confused, remember, with the hollow showiness of the academic
soothsayer. It is as natural to the man, as much a part of him as the
clanging Latin of Johnson, or, to leap from art to art Huneker-wise, the
damnable cross-rhythms of Brahms. He could no more write without his
stock company of heretic sages than he could write without his ration of
malt. And, on examination, all of them turned out to be real. They are
far up dark alleys, but they are there!... And one finds them, at last,
to be as pleasant company as the multilingual puns of Nietzsche or
Debussy's chords of the second.

As for the origin of that style, it seems to have a complex ancestry.
Huneker's first love was Poe, and even today he still casts affectionate
glances in that direction, but there is surely nothing of Poe's
elephantine labouring in his skipping, _pizzicato_ sentences. Then came
Carlyle--the Carlyle of "Sartor Resartus"--a god long forgotten.
Huneker's mother was a woman of taste; on reading his first scribblings,
she gave him Cardinal Newman, and bade him consider the Queen's English.
Newman achieved a useful purging; the style that remained was ready for
Flaubert. From the author of "L'Education Sentimentale," I daresay, came
the deciding influence, with Nietzsche's staggering brilliance offering
suggestions later on. Thus Huneker, as stylist, owes nearly all to
France, for Nietzsche, too, learned how to write there, and to the end
of his days he always wrote more like a Frenchman than a German. His
greatest service to his own country, indeed, was not as anarch, but as
teacher of writing. He taught the Germans that their language had a snap
in it as well as sighs and gargles--that it was possible to write German
and yet not wander in a wood. There are whole pages of Nietzsche that
suggest such things, say, as the essay on Maurice Barrès in "Egoists,"
with its bold tropes, its rapid gait, its sharp _sforzandos_. And you
will find old Friedrich at his tricks from end to end of "Old Fogy."

Of the actual contents of such books as "Egoists" and "Iconoclasts" it
is unnecessary to say anything. One no longer reads them for their
matter, but for their manner. Every flapper now knows all that is worth
knowing about Ibsen, Strindberg, Maeterlinck and Shaw, and a great deal
that is not worth knowing. We have disentangled Hauptmann from
Sudermann, and, thanks to Dr. Lewisohn, may read all his plays in
English. Even Henry Becque has got into the vulgate and is familiar to
the Drama League. As for Anatole France, his "Revolt of the Angels" is
on the shelves of the Carnegie Libraries, and the Comstocks have let it
pass. New gods whoop and rage in Valhalla: Verhaeren, Artzibashef,
Przybyszewski. Huneker, alas, seems to drop behind the procession. He
writes nothing about these second-hand third-raters. He has come to
Wedekind, Schnitzler, Schoenberg, Korngold and Moussorgsky, and he has
discharged a few rounds of shrapnel at the Gallo-Asiatic petti-coat
philosopher, Henri Bergson, but here he has stopped, as he has stopped
at Matisse, Picasso, Epstein and Augustus John in painting. As he says
himself, "one must get off somewhere."...

Particularly if one grows weary of criticism--and in Huneker, of late, I
detect more than one sign of weariness. Youth is behind him, and with it
some of its zest for exploration and combat. "The pathos of distance" is
a phrase that haunts him as poignantly as it haunted Nietzsche, its
maker. Not so long ago I tried to induce him to write some new Old Fogy
sketches, nominating Puccini, Strawinsky, Schoenberg, Korngold, Elgar.
He protested that the mood was gone from him forever, that he could not
turn the clock back twenty years. His late work in _Puck_, the _Times_
and the _Sun_, shows an unaccustomed acquiescence in current valuations.
He praises such one-day masterpieces as McFee's "Casuals of the Sea"; he
is polite to the gaudy heroines of the opera-house; he gags a bit at
Wright's "Modern Painting"; he actually makes a gingery curtsy to Frank
Jewett Mather, a Princeton professor.... The pressure in the gauges
can't keep up to 250 pounds forever. Man must tire of fighting after
awhile, and seek his ease in his inn....

Perhaps the post-bellum transvaluation of all values will bring Huneker
to his feet again, and with something of the old glow and gusto in him.
And if the new men do not stir up, then assuredly the wrecks of the
ancient cities will: the Paris of his youth; Munich, Dresden, Vienna,
Brussels, London; above all, Prague. Go to "New Cosmopolis" and you will
find where his heart lies, or, if not his heart, then at all events his
oesophagus and pylorus.... Here, indeed, the thread of his meditations
is a thread of nutriment. However diverted by the fragrance of the Dutch
woods, the church bells of Belgium, the music of Stuttgart, the bad
pictures of Dublin, the plays of Paris, the musty romance of old Wien,
he always comes back anon to such ease as a man may find in his inn.
"The stomach of Vienna," he says, "first interested me, not its soul."
And so, after a dutiful genuflexion to St. Stephen's ("Old Steffel," as
the Viennese call it), he proceeds to investigate the paprika-chicken,
the _Gulyas_, the _Risi-bisi_, the _Apfelstrudel_, the _Kaiserschmarrn_
and the native and authentic _Wienerschnitzel_. And from food to
drink--specifically, to the haunts of Pilsner, to "certain semi-sacred
houses where the ritual of beer-drinking is observed," to the shrines at
which beer maniacs meet, to "a little old house near a Greek church"
where "the best-kept Pilsner in Vienna may be found."

The best-kept Pilsner in Vienna! The phrase enchants like an entrance of
the horns. The best caviare in Russia, the worst actor on Broadway, the
most virtuous angel in Heaven! Such superlatives are transcendental. And
yet,--so rare is perfection in this world!--the news swiftly follows,
unexpected, disconcerting, that the best Pilsner in Vienna is far short
of the ideal. For some undetermined reason--the influence of the
American tourist? the decay of the Austrian national character?--the
Vienna _Bierwirte_ freeze and paralyze it with too much ice, so that it
chills the nerves it should caress, and fills the heart below with
heaviness and repining. Avoid Vienna, says Huneker, if you are one who
understands and venerates the great Bohemian brew! And if, deluded, you
find yourself there, take the first _D-zug_ for Prague, that lovely
city, for in it you will find the Pilsen _Urquell_, and in the Pilsen
_Urquell_ you will find the best Pilsner in Christendom--its colour a
phosphorescent, translucent, golden yellow, its foam like whipped cream,
its temperature exactly and invariably right. Not even at Pilsen itself
(which the Bohemians call Plezen) is the emperor of malt liquors more
stupendously grateful to the palate. Write it down before you forget:
the Pilsen _Urquell_, Prague, Bohemia, 120 miles S. S. E. of Dresden, on
the river Moldau (which the natives call the Vitava). Ask for Fräulein
Ottilie. Mention the name of Herr Huneker, the American

Of all the eminent and noble cities between the Alleghenies and the
Balkans, Prague seems to be Huneker's favourite. He calls it poetic,
precious, delectable, original, dramatic--a long string of adjectives,
each argued for with eloquence that is unmistakably sincere. He stands
fascinated before the towers and pinnacles of the Hradschin, "a miracle
of tender rose and marble white with golden spots of sunshine that would
have made Claude Monet envious." He pays his devotions to the Chapel of
St. Wenceslaus, "crammed with the bones of buried kings," or, at any
rate, to the shrine of St. John Nepomucane, "composed of nearly two tons
of silver." He is charmed by the beauty of the stout, black-haired,
red-cheeked Bohemian girls, and hopes that enough of them will emigrate
to the United States to improve the fading pulchritude of our own
houris. But most of all, he has praises for the Bohemian cuisine, with
its incomparable apple tarts, and its dumplings of cream cheese, and for
the magnificent, the overpowering, the ineffable Pilsner of Prague. This
Pilsner motive runs through the book from cover to cover. In the midst
of Dutch tulip-beds, Dublin cobblestones, Madrid sunlight and Atlantic
City leg-shows, one hears it insistently, deep down in the orchestra.
The cellos weave it into the polyphony, sometimes clearly, sometimes in
scarcely recognizable augmentation. It is heard again in the wood-wind;
the bassoons grunt it thirstily; it slides around in the violas; it
rises to a stately choral in the brass. And chiefly it is in minor.
Chiefly it is sounded by one who longs for the Pilsen _Urquell_ in a far
land, and among a barbarous and teetotaling people, and in an atmosphere
as hostile to the recreations of the palate as it is to the recreations
of the intellect.

As I say, this Huneker is a foreigner and hence accursed. There is
something about him as exotic as a samovar, as essentially un-American
as a bashi-bazouk, a nose-ring or a fugue. He is filled to the throttle
with strange and unnational heresies. He ranks Beethoven miles above the
native gods, and not only Beethoven, but also Bach and Brahms, and not
only Bach and Brahms, but also Berlioz, Bizet, Bruch and Bülow and
perhaps even Balakirew, Bellini, Balfe, Borodin and Boïeldieu. He
regards Budapest as a more civilized city than his native Philadelphia,
Stendhal as a greater literary artist than Washington Irving, "Künstler
Leben" as better music than "There is Sunlight in My Soul." Irish? I
still doubt it, despite the _Stammbaum_. Who ever heard of an Irish
epicure, an Irish _flâneur_, or, for that matter, an Irish
contrapuntist? The arts of the voluptuous category are unknown west of
Cherbourg; one leaves them behind with the French pilot. Even the
Czech-Irish hypothesis (or is it Magyar-Irish?) has a smell of the
lamp. Perhaps it should be Irish-Czech....

§ 7

There remain the books of stories, "Visionaries" and "Melomaniacs." It
is not surprising to hear that both are better liked in France and
Germany than in England and the United States. ("Visionaries" has even
appeared in Bohemian.) Both are made up of what the Germans call
_Kultur-Novellen_--that is, stories dealing, not with the emotions
common to all men, but with the clash of ideas among the civilized and
godless minority. In some of them, _e.g._, "Rebels of the Moon," what
one finds is really not a story at all, but a static discussion, half
aesthetic and half lunatic. In others, _e.g._, "Isolde's Mother," the
whole action revolves around an assumption incomprehensible to the
general. One can scarcely imagine most of these tales in the magazines.
They would puzzle and outrage the readers of Gouverneur Morris and
Gertrude Atherton, and the readers of Howells and Mrs. Wharton no less.
Their point of view is essentially the aesthetic one; the overwhelming
importance of beauty is never in any doubt. And the beauty thus
vivisected and fashioned into new designs is never the simple
Wordsworthian article, of fleecy clouds and primroses all compact; on
the contrary, it is the highly artificial beauty of pigments and
tone-colours, of Cézanne landscapes and the second act of "Tristan and
Isolde," of Dunsanyan dragons and Paracelsian mysteries. Here, indeed,
Huneker riots in the aesthetic occultism that he loves. Music slides
over into diabolism; the Pobloff symphony rends the firmament of Heaven;
the ghost of Chopin drives Mychowski to drink; a single drum-beat
finishes the estimable consort of the composer of the Tympani symphony.
In "The Eighth Deadly Sin" we have a paean to perfume--the only one, so
far as I know, in English. In "The Hall of the Missing Footsteps" we
behold the reaction of hasheesh upon Chopin's ballade in F major....
Strangely-flavoured, unearthly, perhaps unhealthy stuff. I doubt that it
will ever be studied for its style in our new Schools of Literature; a
devilish cunning if often there, but it leaves a smack of the
pharmacopoeia. However, as George Gissing used to say, "the artist
should be free from everything like moral prepossession." This lets in
the Antichrist....

Huneker himself seems to esteem these fantastic tales above all his
other work. Story-writing, indeed, was his first love, and his Opus 1 a
bad imitation of Poe, by name "The Comet," was done in Philadelphia so
long ago as July 4, 1876. (Temperature, 105 degrees Fahrenheit.) One
rather marvels that he has never attempted a novel. It would have been
as bad, perhaps, as "Love Among the Artists," but certainly no bore. He
might have given George Moore useful help with "Evelyn Innes" and
"Sister Teresa": they are about music, but not by a musician. As for me,
I see no great talent for fiction _qua_ fiction in these two volumes of
exotic tales. They are interesting simply because Huneker the story
teller so often yields place to Huneker the playboy of the arts. Such
things as "Antichrist" and "The Woman Who Loved Chopin" are no more, at
bottom, than second-rate anecdotes; it is the filling, the sauce, the
embroidery that counts. But what filling! What sauce! What
embroidery!... One never sees more of Huneker....

§ 8

He must stand or fall, however, as critic. It is what he has written
about other men, not what he has concocted himself, that makes a figure
of him, and gives him his unique place in the sterile literature of the
republic's second century. He stands for a _Weltanschauung_ that is not
only un-national, but anti-national; he is the chief of all the curbers
and correctors of the American Philistine; in praising the arts he has
also criticized a civilization. In the large sense, of course, he has
had but small influence. After twenty years of earnest labour, he finds
himself almost as alone as a Methodist in Bavaria. The body of native
criticism remains as I have described it; an endless piling up of
platitudes, an homeric mass of false assumptions and jejune conclusions,
an insane madness to reduce beauty to terms of a petty and pornographic
morality. One might throw a thousand bricks in any American city without
striking a single man who could give an intelligible account of either
Hauptmann or Cézanne, or of the reasons for holding Schumann to have
been a better composer than Mendelssohn. The boys in our colleges are
still taught that Whittier was a great poet and Fennimore Cooper a great
novelist. Nine-tenths of our people--perhaps ninety-nine hundredths of
our native-born--have yet to see their first good picture, or to hear
their first symphony. Our Chamberses and Richard Harding Davises are
national figures; our Norrises and Dreisers are scarcely tolerated. Of
the two undoubted world figures that we have contributed to letters, one
was allowed to die like a stray cat up an alley and the other was
mistaken for a cheap buffoon. Criticism, as the average American
"intellectual" understands it, is what a Frenchman, a German or a
Russian would call donkeyism. In all the arts we still cling to the
ideals of the dissenting pulpit, the public cemetery, the electric sign,
the bordello parlour.

But for all that, I hang to a somewhat battered optimism, and one of the
chief causes of that optimism is the fact that Huneker, after all these
years, yet remains unhanged. A picturesque and rakish fellow, a believer
in joy and beauty, a disdainer of petty bombast and moralizing, a sworn
friend of all honest purpose and earnest striving, he has given his life
to a work that must needs bear fruit hereafter. While the college
pedagogues of the Brander Matthews type still worshipped the dead bones
of Scribe and Sardou, Robertson and Bulwer-Lytton, he preached the new
and revolutionary gospel of Ibsen. In the golden age of Rosa Bonheur's
"The Horse Fair," he was expounding the principles of the
post-impressionists. In the midst of the Sousa marches he whooped for
Richard Strauss. Before the rev. professors had come to Schopenhauer, or
even to Spencer, he was hauling ashore the devil-fish, Nietzsche. No
stranger poisons have ever passed through the customs than those he has
brought in his baggage. No man among us has ever urged more ardently, or
with sounder knowledge or greater persuasiveness, that catholicity of
taste and sympathy which stands in such direct opposition to the booming
certainty and snarling narrowness of Little Bethel.

If he bears a simple label, indeed, it is that of anti-Philistine. And
the Philistine he attacks is not so much the vacant and harmless fellow
who belongs to the Odd Fellows and recreates himself with _Life_ and
_Leslie's Weekly_ in the barber shop, as that more belligerent and
pretentious donkey who presumes to do battle for "honest" thought and a
"sound" ethic--the "forward looking" man, the university ignoramus, the
conservator of orthodoxy, the rattler of ancient phrases--what Nietzsche
called "the Philistine of culture." It is against this fat milch cow of
wisdom that Huneker has brandished a spear since first there was a
Huneker. He is a sworn foe to "the traps that snare the attention from
poor or mediocre workmanship--the traps of sentimentalism, of false
feeling, of cheap pathos, of the cheap moral." He is on the trail of
those pious mountebanks who "clutter the marketplaces with their booths,
mischievous half-art and tubs of tripe and soft soap." Superficially, as
I say, he seems to have made little progress in this benign _pogrom_.
But under the surface, concealed from a first glance, he has undoubtedly
left a mark--faint, perhaps, but still a mark. To be a civilized man in
America is measurably less difficult, despite the war, than it used to
be, say, in 1890. One may at least speak of "Die Walküre" without being
laughed at as a half-wit, and read Stirner without being confused with
Castro and Raisuli, and argue that Huxley got the better of Gladstone
without being challenged at the polls. I know of no man who pushed in
that direction harder than James Huneker.


[31] The Science of English Verse; New York, Scribner, 1880.

[32] Masks and Minstrels of New Germany; Boston, John W. Luce & Co.,

[33] New York, Doubleday, Page & Co., 1913.

[34] The Drift of Romanticism; Boston, Houghton Mifflin Co., 1913.

[35] New York, Dodd, Mead & Co., 1916.

[36] New York, Chas. Scribner's Sons, 1917.

[37] New York, The Macmillan Co., 1917.



§ 1

"Calvinism," says Dr. Leon Kellner, in his excellent little history of
American literature,[38] "is the natural theology of the disinherited;
it never flourished, therefore, anywhere as it did in the barren hills
of Scotland and in the wilds of North America." The learned doctor is
here speaking of theology in what may be called its narrow technical
sense--that is, as a theory of God. Under Calvinism, in the New World as
well as in the Old, it became no more than a luxuriant demonology; even
God himself was transformed into a superior sort of devil, ever wary and
wholly merciless. That primitive demonology still survives in the
barbaric doctrines of the Methodists and Baptists, particularly in the
South; but it has been ameliorated, even there, by a growing sense of
the divine grace, and so the old God of Plymouth Rock, as practically
conceived, is now scarcely worse than the average jail warden or
Italian padrone. On the ethical side, however, Calvinism is dying a much
harder death, and we are still a long way from the enlightenment. Save
where Continental influences have measurably corrupted the Puritan
idea--_e.g._, in such cities as New York, San Francisco and New
Orleans,--the prevailing American view of the world and its mysteries is
still a moral one, and no other human concern gets half the attention
that is endlessly lavished upon the problem of conduct, particularly of
the other fellow. It needed no official announcement to define the
function and office of the republic as that of an international expert
in morals, and the mentor and exemplar of the more backward nations.
Within, as well as without, the eternal rapping of knuckles and
proclaiming of new austerities goes on. The American, save in moments of
conscious and swiftly lamented deviltry, casts up all ponderable values,
including even the values of beauty, in terms of right and wrong. He is
beyond all things else, a judge and a policeman; he believes firmly that
there is a mysterious power in law; he supports and embellishes its
operation with a fanatical vigilance.

Naturally enough, this moral obsession has given a strong colour to
American literature. In truth, it has coloured it so brilliantly that
American literature is set off sharply from all other literatures. In
none other will you find so wholesale and ecstatic a sacrifice of
aesthetic ideas, of all the fine gusto of passion and beauty, to notions
of what is meet, proper and nice. From the books of grisly sermons that
were the first American contribution to letters down to that amazing
literature of "inspiration" which now flowers so prodigiously, with two
literary ex-Presidents among its chief virtuosi, one observes no
relaxation of the moral pressure. In the history of every other
literature there have been periods of what might be called moral
innocence--periods in which a naif _joie de vivre_ has broken through
all concepts of duty and responsibility, and the wonder and glory of the
universe have been hymned with unashamed zest. The age of Shakespeare
comes to mind at once: the violence of the Puritan reaction offers a
measure of the pendulum's wild swing. But in America no such general
rising of the blood has ever been seen. The literature of the nation,
even the literature of the enlightened minority, has been under harsh
Puritan restraints from the beginning, and despite a few stealthy
efforts at revolt--usually quite without artistic value or even common
honesty, as in the case of the cheap fiction magazines and that of
smutty plays on Broadway, and always very short-lived--it shows not the
slightest sign of emancipating itself today. The American, try as he
will, can never imagine any work of the imagination as wholly devoid of
moral content. It must either tend toward the promotion of virtue, or be
suspect and abominable.

If any doubt of this is in your mind, turn to the critical articles in
the newspapers and literary weeklies; you will encounter enough proofs
in a month's explorations to convince you forever. A novel or a play is
judged among us, not by its dignity of conception, its artistic honesty,
its perfection of workmanship, but almost entirely by its orthodoxy of
doctrine, its platitudinousness, its usefulness as a moral tract. A
digest of the reviews of such a book as David Graham Phillips' "Susan
Lenox" or of such a play as Ibsen's "Hedda Gabler" would make astounding
reading for a Continental European. Not only the childish incompetents
who write for the daily press, but also most of our critics of
experience and reputation, seem quite unable to estimate a piece of
writing as a piece of writing, a work of art as a work of art; they
almost inevitably drag in irrelevant gabble as to whether this or that
personage in it is respectable, or this or that situation in accordance
with the national notions of what is edifying and nice. Fully
nine-tenths of the reviews of Dreiser's "The Titan," without question
the best American novel of its year, were devoted chiefly to indignant
denunciations of the morals of Frank Cowperwood, its central character.
That the man was superbly imagined and magnificently depicted, that he
stood out from the book in all the flashing vigour of life, that his
creation was an artistic achievement of a very high and difficult
order--these facts seem to have made no impression upon the reviewers
whatever. They were Puritans writing for Puritans, and all they could
see in Cowperwood was an anti-Puritan, and in his creator another. It
will remain for Europeans, I daresay, to discover the true stature of
"The Titan," as it remained for Europeans to discover the true stature
of "Sister Carrie."

Just how deeply this corrective knife has cut you may find plainly
displayed in Dr. Kellner's little book. He sees the throttling influence
of an ever alert and bellicose Puritanism, not only in our grand
literature, but also in our petit literature, our minor poetry, even in
our humour. The Puritan's utter lack of aesthetic sense, his distrust of
all romantic emotion, his unmatchable intolerance of opposition, his
unbreakable belief in his own bleak and narrow views, his savage
cruelty of attack, his lust for relentless and barbarous
persecution--these things have put an almost unbearable burden upon the
exchange of ideas in the United States, and particularly upon that form
of it which involves playing with them for the mere game's sake. On the
one hand, the writer who would deal seriously and honestly with the
larger problems of life, particularly in the rigidly-partitioned ethical
field, is restrained by laws that would have kept a Balzac or a Zola in
prison from year's end to year's end; and on the other hand the writer
who would proceed against the reigning superstitions by mockery has been
silenced by taboos that are quite as stringent, and by an indifference
that is even worse. For all our professed delight in and capacity for
jocosity, we have produced so far but one genuine wit--Ambrose
Bierce--and, save to a small circle, he remains unknown today. Our great
humourists, including even Mark Twain, have had to take protective
colouration, whether willingly or unwillingly, from the prevailing
ethical foliage, and so one finds them levelling their darts, not at the
stupidities of the Puritan majority, but at the evidences of lessening
stupidity in the anti-Puritan minority. In other words, they have done
battle, not against, but _for_ Philistinism--and Philistinism is no
more than another name for Puritanism. Both wage a ceaseless warfare
upon beauty in its every form, from painting to religious ritual, and
from the drama to the dance--the first because it holds beauty to be a
mean and stupid thing, and the second because it holds beauty to be
distracting and corrupting.

Mark Twain, without question, was a great artist; there was in him
something of that prodigality of imagination, that aloof engrossment in
the human comedy, that penetrating cynicism, which one associates with
the great artists of the Renaissance. But his nationality hung around
his neck like a millstone; he could never throw off his native
Philistinism. One ploughs through "The Innocents Abroad" and through
parts of "A Tramp Abroad" with incredulous amazement. Is such coarse and
ignorant clowning to be accepted as humour, as great humour, as the best
humour that the most humorous of peoples has produced? Is it really the
mark of a smart fellow to lift a peasant's cackle over "Lohengrin"? Is
Titian's chromo of Moses in the bullrushes seriously to be regarded as
the noblest picture in Europe? Is there nothing in Latin Christianity,
after all, save petty grafting, monastic scandals and the worship of the
knuckles and shin-bones of dubious saints? May not a civilized man,
disbelieving in it, still find himself profoundly moved by its dazzling
history, the lingering remnants of its old magnificence, the charm of
its gorgeous and melancholy loveliness? In the presence of all beauty of
man's creation--in brief, of what we roughly call art, whatever its
form--the voice of Mark Twain was the voice of the Philistine. A
literary artist of very high rank himself, with instinctive gifts that
lifted him, in "Huckleberry Finn" to kinship with Cervantes and
Aristophanes, he was yet so far the victim of his nationality that he
seems to have had no capacity for distinguishing between the good and
the bad in the work of other men of his own craft. The literary
criticism that one occasionally finds in his writings is chiefly trivial
and ignorant; his private inclination appears to have been toward such
romantic sentimentality as entrances school-boys; the thing that
interested him in Shakespeare was not the man's colossal genius, but the
absurd theory that Bacon wrote his plays. Had he been born in France
(the country of his chief abomination!) instead of in a Puritan village
of the American hinterland, I venture that he would have conquered the
world. But try as he would, being what he was, he could not get rid of
the Puritan smugness and cocksureness, the Puritan distrust of new
ideas, the Puritan incapacity for seeing beauty as a thing in itself,
and the full peer of the true and the good.

It is, indeed, precisely in the works of such men as Mark Twain that one
finds the best proofs of the Puritan influence in American letters, for
it is there that it is least expected and hence most significant. Our
native critics, unanimously Puritans themselves, are anaesthetic to the
flavour, but to Dr. Kellner, with his half-European, half-Oriental
culture, it is always distinctly perceptible. He senses it, not only in
the harsh Calvinistic fables of Hawthorne and the pious gurglings of
Longfellow, but also in the poetry of Bryant, the tea-party niceness of
Howells, the "maiden-like reserve" of James Lane Allen, and even in the
work of Joel Chandler Harris. What! A Southern Puritan? Well, why not?
What could be more erroneous than the common assumption that Puritanism
is exclusively a Northern, a New England, madness? The truth is that it
is as thoroughly national as the kindred belief in the devil, and runs
almost unobstructed from Portland to Portland and from the Lakes to the
Gulf. It is in the South, indeed, and not in the North, that it takes on
its most bellicose and extravagant forms. Between the upper tier of New
England and the Potomac river there was not a single prohibition
state--but thereafter, alas, they came in huge blocks! And behind that
infinitely prosperous Puritanism there is a long and unbroken tradition.
Berkeley, the last of the Cavaliers, was kicked out of power in Virginia
so long ago as 1650. Lord Baltimore, the Proprietor of Maryland, was
brought to terms by the Puritans of the Severn in 1657. The Scotch
Covenanter, the most uncompromising and unenlightened of all Puritans,
flourished in the Carolinas from the start, and in 1698, or thereabout,
he was reinforced from New England. In 1757 a band of Puritans invaded
what is now Georgia--and Georgia has been a Puritan barbarism ever
since. Even while the early (and half-mythical) Cavaliers were still in
nominal control of all these Southern plantations, they clung to the
sea-coast. The population that moved down the chain of the Appalachians
during the latter part of the eighteenth century, and then swept over
them into the Mississippi valley, was composed almost entirely of
Puritans--chiefly intransigeants from New England (where Unitarianism
was getting on its legs), kirk-crazy Scotch, and that plupious
beauty-hating folk, the Scotch-Irish. "In the South today," said John
Fiske a generation ago, "there is more Puritanism surviving than in New
England." In that whole region, an area three times as large as France
or Germany, there is not a single orchestra capable of playing
Beethoven's C minor symphony, or a single painting worth looking at, or
a single public building or monument of any genuine distinction, or a
single factory devoted to the making of beautiful things, or a single
poet, novelist, historian, musician, painter or sculptor whose
reputation extends beyond his own country. Between the Mason and Dixon
line and the mouth of the Mississippi there is but one opera-house, and
that one was built by a Frenchman, and is now, I believe, closed. The
only domestic art this huge and opulent empire knows is in the hands of
Mexican greasers; its only native music it owes to the despised negro;
its only genuine poet was permitted to die up an alley like a stray dog.

§ 2

In studying the anatomy and physiology of American Puritanism, and its
effects upon the national literature, one quickly discerns two main
streams of influence. On the one hand, there is the influence of the
original Puritans--whether of New England or of the South--, who came to
the New World with a ready-made philosophy of the utmost clarity,
positiveness and inclusiveness of scope, and who attained to such a
position of political and intellectual leadership that they were able
to force it almost unchanged upon the whole population, and to endow it
with such vitality that it successfully resisted alien opposition later
on. And on the other hand, one sees a complex of social and economic
conditions which worked in countless irresistible ways against the rise
of that dionysian spirit, that joyful acquiescence in life, that
philosophy of the _Ja-sager_, which offers to Puritanism, today as in
times past, its chief and perhaps only effective antagonism. In other
words, the American of the days since the Revolution has had Puritanism
diligently pressed upon him from without, and at the same time he has
led, in the main, a life that has engendered a chronic hospitality to
it, or at all events to its salient principles, within.

Dr. Kellner accurately describes the process whereby the aesthetic
spirit, and its concomitant spirit of joy, were squeezed out of the
original New Englanders, so that no trace of it showed in their
literature, or even in their lives, for a century and a half after the
first settlements. "Absorption in God," he says, "seems incompatible
with the presentation (_i.e._, aesthetically) of mankind. The God of the
Puritans was in this respect a jealous God who brooked no sort of
creative rivalry. The inspired moments of the loftiest souls were filled
with the thought of God and His designs; spiritual life was wholly
dominated by solicitude regarding salvation, the hereafter, grace; how
could such petty concerns as personal experience of a lyric nature, the
transports or the pangs of love, find utterance? What did a lyric
occurrence like the first call of the cuckoo, elsewhere so welcome, or
the first sight of the snowdrop, signify compared with the last Sunday's
sermon and the new interpretation of the old riddle of evil in the
world? And apart from the fact that everything of a personal nature must
have appeared so trivial, all the sources of secular lyric poetry were
offensive and impious to Puritan theology.... One thing is an
established fact: up to the close of the eighteenth century America had
no belletristic literature."

This Puritan bedevilment by the idea of personal sin, this reign of the
God-crazy, gave way in later years, as we shall see, to other and
somewhat milder forms of pious enthusiasm. At the time of the
Revolution, indeed, the importation of French political ideas was
accompanied by an importation of French theological ideas, and such men
as Franklin and Jefferson dallied with what, in those days at least, was
regarded as downright atheism. Even in New England this influence made
itself felt; there was a gradual letting down of Calvinism to the
softness of Unitarianism, and that change was presently to flower in the
vague temporizing of Transcendentalism. But as Puritanism, in the strict
sense, declined in virulence and took deceptive new forms, there was a
compensating growth of its brother, Philistinism, and by the first
quarter of the nineteenth century, the distrust of beauty, and of the
joy that is its object, was as firmly established throughout the land as
it had ever been in New England. The original Puritans had at least been
men of a certain education, and even of a certain austere culture. They
were inordinately hostile to beauty in all its forms, but one somehow
suspects that much of their hostility was due to a sense of their
weakness before it, a realization of its disarming psychical pull. But
the American of the new republic was of a different kidney. He was not
so much hostile to beauty as devoid of any consciousness of it; he stood
as unmoved before its phenomena as a savage before a table of
logarithms. What he had set up on this continent, in brief, was a
commonwealth of peasants and small traders, a paradise of the
third-rate, and its national philosophy, almost wholly unchecked by the
more sophisticated and civilized ideas of an aristocracy, was precisely
the philosophy that one finds among peasants and small traders at all
times and everywhere. The difference between the United States and any
other nation did not lie in any essential difference between American
peasants and other peasants, but simply in the fact that here, alone,
the voice of the peasant was the single voice of the nation--that here,
alone, the only way to eminence and public influence was the way of
acquiescence in the opinions and prejudices of the untutored and
Philistine mob. Jackson was the _Stammvater_ of the new statesmen and
philosophers; he carried the mob's distrust of good taste even into the
field of conduct; he was the first to put the rewards of conformity
above the dictates of common decency; he founded a whole hierarchy of
Philistine messiahs, the roaring of which still belabours the ear.

Once established, this culture of the intellectually disinherited tended
to defend and perpetuate itself. On the one hand, there was no
appearance of a challenge from within, for the exigent problems of
existence in a country that was yet but half settled and organized left
its people with no energy for questioning what at least satisfied their
gross needs, and so met the pragmatic test. And on the other hand, there
was no critical pressure from without, for the English culture which
alone reached over the sea was itself entering upon its Victorian
decline, and the influence of the native aristocracy--the degenerating
_Junkers_ of the great estates and the boorish magnates of the city
_bourgeoisie_--was quite without any cultural direction at all. The
chief concern of the American people, even above the bread-and-butter
question, was politics. They were incessantly hag-ridden by political
difficulties, both internal and external, of an inordinate complexity,
and these occupied all the leisure they could steal from the sordid work
of everyday. More, their new and troubled political ideas tended to
absorb all the rancorous certainty of their fading religious ideas, so
that devotion to a theory or a candidate became translated into devotion
to a revelation, and the game of politics turned itself into a holy war.
The custom of connecting purely political doctrines with pietistic
concepts of an inflammable nature, then firmly set up by skilful
persuaders of the mob, has never quite died out in the United States.
There has not been a presidential contest since Jackson's day without
its Armageddons, its marching of Christian soldiers, its crosses of
gold, its crowns of thorns. The most successful American politicians,
beginning with the anti-slavery agitators, have been those most adept at
twisting the ancient gauds and shibboleths of Puritanism to partisan
uses. Every campaign that we have seen for eighty years has been, on
each side, a pursuit of bugaboos, a denunciation of heresies, a snouting
up of immoralities.

But it was during the long contest against slavery, beginning with the
appearance of William Lloyd Garrison's _Liberator_ in 1831 and ending at
Appomattox, that this gigantic supernaturalization of politics reached
its most astounding heights. In those days, indeed, politics and
religion coalesced in a manner not seen in the world since the Middle
Ages, and the combined pull of the two was so powerful that none could
quite resist it. All men of any ability and ambition turned to political
activity for self-expression. It engaged the press to the exclusion of
everything else; it conquered the pulpit; it even laid its hand upon
industry and trade. Drawing the best imaginative talent into its
service--Jefferson and Lincoln may well stand as examples--it left the
cultivation of belles lettres, and of all the other arts no less, to
women and admittedly second-rate men. And when, breaking through this
taboo, some chance first-rate man gave himself over to purely aesthetic
expression, his reward was not only neglect, but even a sort of
ignominy, as if such enterprises were not fitting for males with hair on
their chests. I need not point to Poe and Whitman, both disdained as
dreamers and wasters, and both proceeded against with the utmost rigours
of outraged Philistinism.

In brief, the literature of that whole period, as Algernon Tassin shows
in "The Magazine in America,"[39] was almost completely disassociated
from life as men were then living it. Save one counts in such crude
politico-puritan tracts as "Uncle Tom's Cabin," it is difficult to find
a single contemporaneous work that interprets the culture of the time,
or even accurately represents it. Later on, it found historians and
anatomists, and in one work, at least, to wit, "Huckleberry Finn," it
was studied and projected with the highest art, but no such impulse to
make imaginative use of it showed itself contemporaneously, and there
was not even the crude sentimentalization of here and now that one finds
in the popular novels of today. Fenimore Cooper filled his romances, not
with the people about him, but with the Indians beyond the sky-line, and
made them half-fabulous to boot. Irving told fairy tales about the
forgotten Knickerbockers; Hawthorne turned backward to the Puritans of
Plymouth Rock; Longfellow to the Acadians and the prehistoric Indians;
Emerson took flight from earth altogether; even Poe sought refuge in a
land of fantasy. It was only the frank second-raters--_e.g._, Whittier
and Lowell--who ventured to turn to the life around them, and the
banality of the result is a sufficient indication of the crudeness of
the current taste, and the mean position assigned to the art of letters.
This was pre-eminently the era of the moral tale, the Sunday-school
book. Literature was conceived, not as a thing in itself, but merely as
a hand-maiden to politics or religion. The great celebrity of Emerson in
New England was not the celebrity of a literary artist, but that of a
theologian and metaphysician; he was esteemed in much the same way that
Jonathan Edwards had been esteemed. Even down to our own time, indeed,
his vague and empty philosophizing has been put above his undeniable
capacity for graceful utterance, and it remained for Dr. Kellner to
consider him purely as a literary artist, and to give him due praise for
his skill.

The Civil War brought that era of sterility to an end. As I shall show
later on, the shock of it completely reorganized the American scheme of
things, and even made certain important changes in the national
Puritanism, or, at all events, in its machinery. Whitman, whose career
straddled, so to speak, the four years of the war, was the leader--and
for a long while, the only trooper--of a double revolt. On the one hand
he offered a courageous challenge to the intolerable prudishness and
dirty-mindedness of Puritanism, and on the other hand he boldly sought
the themes and even the modes of expression of his poetry in the
arduous, contentious and highly melodramatic life that lay all about
him. Whitman, however, was clearly before his time. His countrymen could
see him only as immoralist; save for a pitiful few of them, they were
dead to any understanding of his stature as artist, and even unaware
that such a category of men existed. He was put down as an invader of
the public decencies, a disturber of the public peace; even his eloquent
war poems, surely the best of all his work, were insufficient to get him
a hearing; the sentimental rubbish of "The Blue and the Gray" and the
ecstatic supernaturalism of "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" were far
more to the public taste. Where Whitman failed, indeed, all subsequent
explorers of the same field have failed with him, and the great war has
left no more mark upon American letters than if it had never been
fought. Nothing remotely approaching the bulk and beam of Tolstoi's "War
and Peace," or, to descend to a smaller scale, Zola's "The Attack on the
Mill," has come out of it. Its appeal to the national imagination was
undoubtedly of the most profound character; it coloured politics for
fifty years, and is today a dominating influence in the thought of whole
sections of the American people. But in all that stirring up there was
no upheaval of artistic consciousness, for the plain reason that there
was no artistic consciousness there to heave up, and all we have in the
way of Civil War literature is a few conventional melodramas, a few
half-forgotten short stories by Ambrose Bierce and Stephen Crane, and a
half dozen idiotic popular songs in the manner of Randall's "Maryland,
My Maryland."

In the seventies and eighties, with the appearance of such men as Henry
James, William Dean Howells, Mark Twain and Bret Harte, a better day
seemed to be dawning. Here, after a full century of infantile
romanticizing, were four writers who at least deserved respectful
consideration as literary artists, and what is more, three of them
turned from the conventionalized themes of the past to the teeming and
colourful life that lay under their noses. But this promise of better
things was soon found to be no more than a promise. Mark Twain, after
"The Gilded Age," slipped back into romanticism tempered by
Philistinism, and was presently in the era before the Civil War, and
finally in the Middle Ages, and even beyond. Harte, a brilliant
technician, had displayed his whole stock when he had displayed his
technique: his stories were not even superficially true to the life they
presumed to depict; one searched them in vain for an interpretation of
it; they were simply idle tales. As for Howells and James, both quickly
showed that timorousness and reticence which are the distinguishing
marks of the Puritan, even in his most intellectual incarnations. The
American scene that they depicted with such meticulous care was chiefly
peopled with marionettes. They shrunk, characteristically, from those
larger, harsher clashes of will and purpose which one finds in all truly
first-rate literature. In particular, they shrunk from any
interpretation of life which grounded itself upon an acknowledgment of
its inexorable and inexplicable tragedy. In the vast combat of instincts
and aspirations about them they saw only a feeble jousting of comedians,
unserious and insignificant. Of the great questions that have agitated
the minds of men in Howells' time one gets no more than a faint and
far-away echo in his novels. His investigations, one may say, are
carried on _in vacuo_; his discoveries are not expressed in terms of
passion, but in terms of giggles.

In the followers of Howells and James one finds little save an empty
imitation of their emptiness, a somewhat puerile parodying of their
highly artful but essentially personal technique. To wade through the
books of such characteristic American fictioneers as Frances Hodgson
Burnett, Mary E. Wilkins Freeman, F. Hopkinson Smith, Alice Brown, James
Lane Allen, Winston Churchill, Ellen Glasgow, Gertrude Atherton and
Sarah Orne Jewett is to undergo an experience that is almost terrible.
The flow of words is completely purged of ideas; in place of them one
finds no more than a romantic restatement of all the old platitudes and
formulae. To call such an emission of graceful poppycock a literature,
of course, is to mouth an absurdity, and yet, if the college professors
who write treatises on letters are to be believed, it is the best we
have to show. Turn, for example, to "A History of American Literature
Since 1870," by Prof. Fred Lewis Pattee, one of the latest and
undoubtedly one of the least unintelligent of these books. In it the
gifted pedagogue gives extended notice to no less than six of the nine
writers I have mentioned, and upon all of them his verdicts are
flattering. He bestows high praises, direct and indirect, upon Mrs.
Freeman's "grim and austere" manner, her "repression," her entire lack
of poetical illumination. He compares Miss Jewett to both Howells and
Hawthorne, not to mention Mrs. Gaskell--and Addison! He grows
enthusiastic over a hollow piece of fine writing by Miss Brown. And he
forgets altogether to mention Dreiser, or Sinclair, or Medill Patterson,
or Harry Leon Wilson, or George Ade!...

So much for the best. The worst is beyond description. France has her
Brieux and her Henry Bordeaux; Germany has her Mühlbach, her stars of
the _Gartenlaube_; England contributes Caine, Corelli, Oppenheim and
company. But it is in our country alone that banality in letters takes
on the proportions of a national movement; it is only here that a work
of the imagination is habitually judged by its sheer emptiness of ideas,
its fundamental platitudinousness, its correspondence with the
imbecility of mob thinking; it is only here that "glad" books run up
sales of hundreds of thousands. Richard Harding Davis, with his ideals
of a floor-walker; Gene Stratton-Porter, with her snuffling
sentimentality; Robert W. Chambers, with his "society" romances for
shop-girls; Irvin Cobb, with his laboured, _Ayers' Almanac_ jocosity;
the authors of the _Saturday Evening Post_ school, with their heroic
drummers and stockbrokers, their ecstatic celebration of the stupid, the
sordid, the ignoble--these, after all, are our typical _literati_. The
Puritan fear of ideas is the master of them all. Some of them, in
truth, most of them, have undeniable talent; in a more favourable
environment not a few of them might be doing sound work. But they see
how small the ring is, and they make their tricks small to fit it. Not
many of them ever venture a leg outside. The lash of the ringmaster is
swift, and it stings damnably....

I say not many; I surely do not mean none at all. As a matter of fact,
there have been intermittent rebellions against the prevailing
pecksniffery and sentimentality ever since the days of Irving and
Hawthorne. Poe led one of them--as critic more than as creative artist.
His scathing attacks upon the Gerald Stanley Lees, the Hamilton Wright
Mabies and the George E. Woodberrys of his time keep a liveliness and
appositeness that the years have not staled; his criticism deserves to
be better remembered. Poe sensed the Philistine pull of a Puritan
civilization as none had before him, and combated it with his whole
artillery of rhetoric. Another rebel, of course, was Whitman; how he
came to grief is too well known to need recalling. What is less familiar
is the fact that both the _Atlantic Monthly_ and the _Century_ (first
called _Scribner's_) were set up by men in revolt against the reign of
mush, as _Putnam's_ and the _Dial_ had been before them. The salutatory
of the _Dial_, dated 1840, stated the case against the national
mugginess clearly. The aim of the magazine, it said, was to oppose "that
rigour of our conventions of religion and education which is turning us
to stone" and to give expression to "new views and the dreams of youth."
Alas, for these brave _révoltés_! _Putnam's_ succumbed to the
circumambient rigours and duly turned to stone, and is now no more. The
_Atlantic_, once so heretical, has become as respectable as the New York
_Evening Post_. As for the _Dial_, it was until lately the very pope of
orthodoxy and jealously guarded the college professors who read it from
the pollution of ideas. Only the _Century_ has kept the faith
unbrokenly. It is, indeed, the one first-class American magazine that
has always welcomed newcomers, and that maintains an intelligent contact
with the literature that is in being, and that consistently tries to
make the best terms possible with the dominant Philistinism. It cannot
go the whole way without running into danger; let it be said to the
credit of its editors that they have more than once braved that danger.

The tale might be lengthened. Mark Twain, in his day, felt the stirrings
of revolt, and not all his Philistinism was sufficient to hold him
altogether in check. If you want to find out about the struggle that
went on within him, read the biography by Albert Bigelow Paine, or,
better still, "The Mysterious Stranger" and "What is Man?" Alive, he had
his position to consider; dead, he now speaks out. In the preface to
"What is Man?" dated 1905, there is a curious confession of his
incapacity for defying the taboos which surrounded him. The studies for
the book, he says, were begun "twenty-five or twenty-seven years
ago"--the period of "A Tramp Abroad" and "The Prince and the Pauper." It
was actually written "seven years ago"--that is, just after "Following
the Equator" and "Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc." And why did it
lie so long in manuscript, and finally go out stealthily, under a
private imprint?[40] Simply because, as Mark frankly confesses, he
"dreaded (_and could not bear_) the disapproval of the people around"
him. He knew how hard his fight for recognition had been; he knew what
direful penalties outraged orthodoxy could inflict; he had in him the
somewhat pathetic discretion of a respectable family man. But, dead, he
is safely beyond reprisal, and so, after a prudent interval, the
faithful Paine begins printing books in which, writing knowingly behind
six feet of earth, he could set down his true ideas without fear. Some
day, perhaps, we shall have his microbe story, and maybe even his
picture of the court of Elizabeth.

A sneer in Prof. Pattee's history, before mentioned, recalls the fact
that Hamlin Garland was also a rebel in his day and bawled for the Truth
with a capital T. That was in 1893. Two years later the guardians of the
national rectitude fell afoul of "Rose of Dutchers' Coolly" and Garland
began to think it over; today he devotes himself to the safer enterprise
of chasing spooks; his name is conspicuously absent from the Dreiser
Protest. Nine years before his brief offending John Hay had set off a
discreet bomb in "The Bread-Winners"--anonymously because "my standing
would be seriously compromised" by an avowal. Six years later Frank
Norris shook up the Phelpses and Mores of the time with "McTeague."
Since then there have been assaults timorous and assaults head-long--by
Bierce, by Dreiser, by Phillips, by Fuller--by Mary MacLanes and by
Upton Sinclairs--by ploughboy poets from the Middle West and by jitney
geniuses in Greenwich Village--assaults gradually tapering off to a mere
sophomoric brashness and deviltry. And all of them like snow-ballings of
Verdun. All of them petered out and ineffectual. The normal, the typical
American book of today is as fully a remouthing of old husks as the
normal book of Griswold's day. The whole atmosphere of our literature,
in William James' phrase, is "mawkish and dishwatery." Books are still
judged among us, not by their form and organization as works of art,
their accuracy and vividness as representations of life, their validity
and perspicacity as interpretations of it, but by their conformity to
the national prejudices, their accordance with set standards of niceness
and propriety. The thing irrevocably demanded is a "sane" book; the
ideal is a "clean," an "inspiring," a "glad" book.

§ 3

All this may be called the Puritan impulse from within. It is, indeed,
but a single manifestation of one of the deepest prejudices of a
religious and half-cultured people--the prejudice against beauty as a
form of debauchery and corruption--the distrust of all ideas that do not
fit readily into certain accepted axioms--the belief in the eternal
validity of moral concepts--in brief, the whole mental sluggishness of
the lower orders of men. But in addition to this internal resistance,
there has been laid upon American letters the heavy hand of a Puritan
authority from without, and no examination of the history and present
condition of our literature could be of any value which did not take it
constantly into account, and work out the means of its influence and
operation. That authority, as I shall show, transcends both in power and
in alertness the natural reactions of the national mind, and is
incomparably more potent in combating ideas. It is supported by a body
of law that is unmatched in any other country of Christendom, and it is
exercised with a fanatical harshness and vigilance that make escape from
its operations well nigh impossible. Some of its effects, both direct
and indirect, I shall describe later, but before doing so it may be well
to trace its genesis and development.

At bottom, of course, it rests upon the inherent Puritanism of the
people; it could not survive a year if they were opposed to the
principle visible in it. That deep-seated and uncorrupted Puritanism,
that conviction of the pervasiveness of sin, of the supreme importance
of moral correctness, of the need of savage and inquisitorial laws, has
been a dominating force in American life since the very beginning. There
has never been any question before the nation, whether political or
economic, religious or military, diplomatic or sociological, which did
not resolve itself, soon or late, into a purely moral question. Nor has
there ever been any surcease of the spiritual eagerness which lay at the
bottom of the original Puritan's moral obsession: the American has been,
from the very start, a man genuinely interested in the eternal
mysteries, and fearful of missing their correct solution. The frank
theocracy of the New England colonies had scarcely succumbed to the
libertarianism of a godless Crown before there came the Great Awakening
of 1734, with its orgies of homiletics and its restoration of talmudism
to the first place among polite sciences. The Revolution, of course,
brought a set-back: the colonists faced so urgent a need of unity in
politics that they declared a sort of _Treuga Dei_ in religion, and that
truce, armed though it was, left its imprint upon the First Amendment to
the Constitution. But immediately the young Republic emerged from the
stresses of adolescence, a missionary army took to the field again, and
before long the Asbury revival was paling that of Whitefield, Wesley and
Jonathan Edwards, not only in its hortatory violence but also in the
length of its lists of slain.

Thereafter, down to the outbreak of the Civil War, the country was
rocked again and again by furious attacks upon the devil. On the one
hand, this great campaign took a purely theological form, with a
hundred new and fantastic creeds as its fruits; on the other hand, it
crystallized into the hysterical temperance movement of the 30's and
40's, which penetrated to the very floor of Congress and put "dry" laws
upon the statute-books of ten States; and on the third hand, as it were,
it established a prudery in speech and thought from which we are yet but
half delivered. Such ancient and innocent words as "bitch" and "bastard"
disappeared from the American language; Bartlett tells us, indeed, in
his "Dictionary of Americanisms,"[41] that even "bull" was softened to
"male cow." This was the Golden Age of euphemism, as it was of euphuism;
the worst inventions of the English mid-Victorians were adopted and
improved. The word "woman" became a term of opprobrium, verging close
upon downright libel; legs became the inimitable "limbs"; the stomach
began to run from the "bosom" to the pelvic arch; pantaloons faded into
"unmentionables"; the newspapers spun their parts of speech into such
gossamer webs as "a statutory offence," "a house of questionable repute"
and "an interesting condition." And meanwhile the Good Templars and Sons
of Temperance swarmed in the land like a plague of celestial locusts.
There was not a hamlet without its uniformed phalanx, its affecting
exhibit of reformed drunkards. The Kentucky Legislature succumbed to a
travelling recruiting officer, and two-thirds of the members signed the
pledge. The National House of Representatives took recess after recess
to hear eminent excoriators of the Rum Demon, and more than a dozen of
its members forsook their duties to carry the new gospel to the bucolic
heathen--the vanguard, one may note in passing, of the innumerable
Chautauquan caravan of later years.

Beneath all this bubbling on the surface, of course, ran the deep and
swift undercurrent of anti-slavery feeling--a tide of passion which
historians now attempt to account for on economic grounds, but which
showed no trace of economic origin while it lasted. Its true quality was
moral, devout, ecstatic; it culminated, to change the figure, in a
supreme discharge of moral electricity, almost fatal to the nation. The
crack of that great spark emptied the jar; the American people forgot
all about their pledges and pruderies during the four years of Civil
War. The Good Templars, indeed, were never heard of again, and with them
into memory went many other singular virtuosi of virtue--for example,
the Millerites. But almost before the last smoke of battle cleared away,
a renaissance of Puritan ardour began, and by the middle of the 70's it
was in full flower. Its high points and flashing lighthouses halt the
backward-looking eye; the Moody and Sankey uproar, the triumphal entry
of the Salvation Army, the recrudescence of the temperance agitation and
its culmination in prohibition, the rise of the Young Men's Christian
Association and of the Sunday-school, the almost miraculous growth of
the Christian Endeavour movement, the beginnings of the vice crusade,
the renewed injection of moral conceptions and rages into party politics
(the "crime" of 1873!), the furious preaching of baroque Utopias, the
invention of muckraking, the mad, glad war of extermination upon the
Mormons, the hysteria over the Breckenridge-Pollard case and other like
causes, the enormous multiplication of moral and religious associations,
the spread of zoöphilia, the attack upon Mammon, the dawn of the uplift,
and last but far from least, comstockery.

In comstockery, if I do not err, the new Puritanism gave a sign of its
formal departure from the old, and moral endeavour suffered a general
overhauling and tightening of the screws. The difference between the two
forms is very well represented by the difference between the program of
the half-forgotten Good Templars and the program set forth in the Webb
Law of 1913, or by that between the somewhat diffident prudery of the
40's and the astoundingly ferocious and uncompromising vice-crusading of
today. In brief, a difference between the _re_nunciation and
_de_nunciation, asceticism and Mohammedanism, the hair shirt and the
flaming sword. The distinguishing mark of the elder Puritanism, at least
after it had attained to the stature of a national philosophy, was its
appeal to the individual conscience, its exclusive concern with the
elect, its strong flavour of self-accusing. Even the rage against
slavery was, in large measure, an emotion of the mourners' bench. The
thing that worried the more ecstatic Abolitionists was their sneaking
sense of responsibility, the fear that they themselves were flouting the
fire by letting slavery go on. The thirst to punish the concrete
slave-owner, as an end in itself, did not appear until opposition had
added exasperation to fervour. In most of the earlier harangues against
his practice, indeed, you will find a perfect willingness to grant that
slave-owner's good faith, and even to compensate him for his property.
But the new Puritanism--or, perhaps more accurately, considering the
shades of prefixes, the neo-Puritanism--is a frank harking back to the
primitive spirit. The original Puritan of the bleak New England coast
was not content to flay his own wayward carcass: full satisfaction did
not sit upon him until he had jailed a Quaker. That is to say, the
sinner who excited his highest zeal and passion was not so much himself
as his neighbour; to borrow a term from psychopathology, he was less the
masochist than the sadist. And it is that very peculiarity which sets
off his descendant of today from the ameliorated Puritan of the era
between the Revolution and the Civil War. The new Puritanism is not
ascetic, but militant. Its aim is not to lift up saints but to knock
down sinners. Its supreme manifestation is the vice crusade, an armed
pursuit of helpless outcasts by the whole military and naval forces of
the Republic. Its supreme hero is Comstock Himself, with his pious boast
that the sinners he jailed during his astounding career, if gathered
into one penitential party, would have filled a train of sixty-one
coaches, allowing sixty to the coach.

So much for the general trend and tenor of the movement. At the bottom
of it, it is plain, there lies that insistent presentation of the idea
of sin, that enchantment by concepts of carnality, which has engaged a
certain type of man, to the exclusion of all other notions, since the
dawn of history. The remote ancestors of our Puritan-Philistines of
today are to be met with in the Old Testament and the New, and their
nearer grandfathers clamoured against the snares of the flesh in all
the councils of the Early Church. Not only Western Christianity has had
to reckon with them: they have brothers today among the Mohammedan Sufi
and in obscure Buddhist sects, and they were the chief preachers of the
Russian Raskol, or Reformation. "The Ironsides of Cromwell and the
Puritans of New England," says Heard, in his book on the Russian church,
"bear a strong resemblance to the Old Believers." But here, in the main,
we have asceticism more than Puritanism, as it is now visible; here the
sinner combated is chiefly the one within. How are we to account for the
wholesale transvaluation of values that came after the Civil War, the
transfer of ire from the Old Adam to the happy rascal across the street,
the sinister rise of a new Inquisition in the midst of a growing luxury
that even the Puritans themselves succumbed to? The answer is to be
sought, it seems to me, in the direction of the Golden Calf--in the
direction of the fat fields of our Midlands, the full nets of our lakes
and coasts, the factory smoke of our cities--even in the direction of
Wall Street, that devil's chasm. In brief, Puritanism has become
bellicose and tyrannical by becoming rich. The will to power has been
aroused to a high flame by an increase in the available draught and
fuel, as militarism is engendered and nourished by the presence of men
and materials. Wealth, discovering its power, has reached out its long
arms to grab the distant and innumerable sinner; it has gone down into
its deep pockets to pay for his costly pursuit and flaying; it has
created the Puritan _entrepreneur_, the daring and imaginative organizer
of Puritanism, the baron of moral endeavour, the invincible prophet of
new austerities. And, by the same token, it has issued its letters of
marque to the Puritan mercenary, the professional hound of heaven, the
moral _Junker_, the Comstock, and out of his skill at his trade there
has arisen the whole machinery, so complicated and so effective, of the
new Holy Office.

Poverty is a soft pedal upon all branches of human activity, not
excepting the spiritual, and even the original Puritans, for all their
fire, felt its throttling caress. I think it is Bill Nye who has
humorously pictured their arduous life: how they had to dig clams all
winter that they would have strength enough to plant corn, and how they
had to hoe corn all summer that they would have strength enough to dig
clams. That low ebb of fortune worked against the full satisfaction of
their zeal in two distinct ways. On the one hand, it kept them but
ill-prepared for the cost of offensive enterprise: even their occasional
missionarying raids upon the Indians took too much productive energy
from their business with the corn and the clams. And on the other hand,
it kept a certain restraining humility in their hearts, so that for
every Quaker they hanged, they let a dozen go. Poverty, of course, is no
discredit, but at all events, it is a subtle criticism. The man
oppressed by material wants is not in the best of moods for the more
ambitious forms of moral adventure. He not only lacks the means; he is
also deficient in the self-assurance, the sense of superiority, the
secure and lofty point of departure. If he is haunted by notions of the
sinfulness of his neighbours, he is apt to see some of its worst
manifestations within himself, and that disquieting discovery will tend
to take his thoughts from the other fellow. It is by no arbitrary fiat,
indeed, that the brothers of all the expiatory orders are vowed to
poverty. History teaches us that wealth, whenever it has come to them by
chance, has put an end to their soul-searching. The Puritans of the
elder generations, with few exceptions, were poor. Nearly all Americans,
down to the Civil War, were poor. And being poor, they subscribed to a
_Sklavenmoral_. That is to say, they were spiritually humble. Their eyes
were fixed, not upon the abyss below them, but upon the long and rocky
road ahead of them. Their moral passion spent most of its force in
self-accusing, self-denial and self-scourging. They began by howling
their sins from the mourners' bench; they came to their end, many of
them, in the supreme immolation of battle.

But out of the War came prosperity, and out of prosperity came a new
morality, to wit, the _Herrenmoral_. Many great fortunes were made in
the War itself; an uncountable number got started during the two decades
following. What is more, this material prosperity was generally
dispersed through all classes: it affected the common workman and the
remote farmer quite as much as the actual merchant and manufacturer. Its
first effect, as we all know, was a universal cockiness, a rise in
pretensions, a comforting feeling that the Republic was a success, and
with it, its every citizen. This change made itself quickly obvious, and
even odious, in all the secular relations of life. The American became a
sort of braggart playboy of the western world, enormously sure of
himself and ludicrously contemptuous of all other men. And on the
ghostly side there appeared the same accession of confidence, the same
sure assumption of authority, though at first less self-evidently and
offensively. The religion of the American thus began to lose its inward
direction; it became less and less a scheme of personal salvation and
more and more a scheme of pious derring-do. The revivals of the 70's had
all the bounce and fervour of those of half a century before, but the
mourners' bench began to lose its standing as their symbol, and in its
place appeared the collection basket. Instead of accusing himself, the
convert volunteered to track down and bring in the other fellow. His
enthusiasm was not for repentance, but for what he began to call
service. In brief, the national sense of energy and fitness gradually
superimposed itself upon the national Puritanism, and from that marriage
sprung a keen _Wille zur Macht_, a lusty will to power.[42] The American
Puritan, by now, was not content with the rescue of his own soul; he
felt an irresistible impulse to hand salvation on, to disperse and
multiply it, to ram it down reluctant throats, to make it free,
universal and compulsory. He had the men, he had the guns and he had the
money too. All that was needed was organization. The rescue of the
unsaved could be converted into a wholesale business, unsentimentally
and economically conducted, and with all the usual aids to efficiency,
from skilful sales management to seductive advertising, and from
rigorous accounting to the diligent shutting off of competition.

Out of that new will to power came many enterprises more or less futile
and harmless, with the "institutional" church at their head. Piety was
cunningly disguised as basketball, billiards and squash; the sinner was
lured to grace with Turkish baths, lectures on foreign travel, and free
instructions in stenography, rhetoric and double-entry book-keeping.
Religion lost all its old contemplative and esoteric character, and
became a frankly worldly enterprise, a thing of balance-sheets and
ponderable profits, heavily capitalized and astutely manned. There was
no longer any room for the spiritual type of leader, with his white
choker and his interminable fourthlies. He was displaced by a brisk
gentleman in a "business suit" who looked, talked and thought like a
seller of Mexican mine stock. Scheme after scheme for the swift
evangelization of the nation was launched, some of them of truly
astonishing sweep and daring. They kept pace, step by step, with the
mushroom growth of enterprise in the commercial field. The Y. M. C. A.
swelled to the proportions of a Standard Oil Company, a United States
Steel Corporation. Its huge buildings began to rise in every city; it
developed a swarm of specialists in new and fantastic moral and social
sciences; it enlisted the same gargantuan talent which managed the
railroads, the big banks and the larger national industries. And beside
it rose the Young People's Society of Christian Endeavour, the
Sunday-school associations and a score of other such grandiose
organizations, each with its seductive baits for recruits and money.
Even the enterprises that had come down from an elder and less expansive
day were pumped up and put on a Wall Street basis: the American Bible
Society, for example, began to give away Bibles by the million instead
of by the thousand, and the venerable Tract Society took on the feverish
ardour of a daily newspaper, even of a yellow journal. Down into our own
day this trustification of pious endeavour has gone on. The Men and
Religion Forward Movement proposed to convert the whole country by 12
o'clock noon of such and such a day; the Order of Gideons plans to make
every traveller read the Bible (American Revised Version!) whether he
will or not; in a score of cities there are committees of opulent
devotees who take half-pages in the newspapers, and advertise the
Decalogue and the Beatitudes as if they were commodities of trade.

Thus the national energy which created the Beef Trust and the Oil Trust
achieved equal marvels in the field of religious organization and by
exactly the same methods. One needs be no psychologist to perceive in
all this a good deal less actual religious zeal than mere lust for
staggering accomplishment, for empty bigness, for the unprecedented and
the prodigious. Many of these great religious enterprises, indeed, soon
lost all save the faintest flavour of devotion--for example, the Y. M.
C. A., which is now no more than a sort of national club system, with
its doors open to any one not palpably felonious. (I have drunk
cocktails in Y. M. C. A. lamaseries, and helped fallen lamas to bed.)
But while the war upon godlessness thus degenerated into a secular sport
in one direction, it maintained all its pristine quality, and even took
on a new ferocity in another direction. Here it was that the lamp of
American Puritanism kept on burning; here, it was, indeed, that the lamp
became converted into a huge bonfire, or rather a blast-furnace, with
flames mounting to the very heavens, and sinners stacked like cordwood
at the hand of an eager black gang. In brief, the new will to power,
working in the true Puritan as in the mere religious sportsman,
stimulated him to a campaign of repression and punishment perhaps
unequalled in the history of the world, and developed an art of militant
morality as complex in technique and as rich in professors as the elder
art of iniquity.

If we take the passage of the Comstock Postal Act, on March 3, 1873, as
a starting point, the legislative stakes of this new Puritan movement
sweep upward in a grand curve to the passage of the Mann and Webb Acts,
in 1910 and 1913, the first of which ratifies the Seventh Commandment
with a salvo of artillery, and the second of which put the overwhelming
power of the Federal Government behind the enforcement of the
prohibition laws in the so-called "dry" States. The mind at once recalls
the salient campaigns of this war of a generation: first the attack upon
"vicious" literature, begun by Comstock and the New York Society for the
Suppression of Vice, but quickly extending to every city in the land;
then the long fight upon the open gambling house, culminating in its
practical disappearance; then the recrudesence of prohibition, abandoned
at the outbreak of the Civil War, and the attempt to enforce it in a
rapidly growing list of States; then the successful onslaught upon the
Louisiana lottery, and upon its swarm of rivals and successors; then the
gradual stamping-out of horse-racing, until finally but two or three
States permitted it, and the consequent attack upon the pool-room; then
the rise of a theatre-censorship in most of the large cities, and of a
moving picture censorship following it; then the revival of
Sabbatarianism, with the Lord's Day Alliance, a Canadian invention, in
the van; then the gradual tightening of the laws against sexual
irregularity, with the unenforceable New York Adultery Act as a typical
product; and lastly, the general ploughing up and emotional discussion
of sexual matters, with compulsory instruction in "sex hygiene" as its
mildest manifestation and the mediaeval fury of the vice crusade as its
worst. Differing widely in their targets, these various Puritan
enterprises had one character in common: they were all efforts to combat
immorality with the weapons designed for crime. In each of them there
was a visible effort to erect the individual's offence against himself
into an offence against society. Beneath all of them there was the
dubious principle--the very determining principle, indeed, of
Puritanism--that it is competent for the community to limit and
condition the private acts of its members, and with it the inevitable
corollary that there are some members of the community who have a
special talent for such legislation, and that their arbitrary fiats are,
and of a right ought to be, binding upon all.

§ 4

This is the essential fact of the new Puritanism; its recognition of the
moral expert, the professional sinhound, the virtuoso of virtue. Under
the original Puritan theocracy, as in Scotland, for example, the chase
and punishment of sinners was a purely ecclesiastical function, and
during the slow disintegration of the theocracy the only change
introduced was the extension of that function to lay helpers, and
finally to the whole body of laymen. This change, however, did not
materially corrupt the ecclesiastical quality of the enterprise: the
leader in the so-called militant field still remained the same man who
led in the spiritual field. But with the capitalization of Puritan
effort there came a radical overhauling of method. The secular arm, as
it were, conquered as it helped. That is to say, the special business of
forcing sinners to be good was taken away from the preachers and put
into the hands of laymen trained in its technique and mystery, and there
it remains. The new Puritanism has created an army of gladiators who are
not only distinct from the hierarchy, but who, in many instances,
actually command and intimidate the hierarchy. This is conspicuously
evident in the case of the Anti-Saloon League, an enormously effective
fighting organization, with a large staff of highly accomplished experts
in its service. These experts do not wait for ecclesiastical support,
nor even ask for it; they force it. The clergyman who presumes to
protest against their war upon the saloon, even upon the quite virtuous
ground that it is not effective enough, runs a risk of condign and
merciless punishment. So plainly is this understood, indeed, that in
more than one State the clergy of the Puritan denominations openly take
orders from these specialists in excoriation, and court their favour
without shame. Here a single moral enterprise, heavily capitalized and
carefully officered, has engulfed the entire Puritan movement, and a
part has become more than the whole.[43]

In a dozen other directions this tendency to transform a religious
business into a purely secular business, with lay backers and lay
officers, is plainly visible. The increasing wealth of Puritanism has
not only augmented its scope and its daring, but it has also had the
effect of attracting clever men, of no particular spiritual enthusiasm,
to its service. Moral endeavour, in brief, has become a recognized
trade, or rather a profession, and there have appeared men who pretend
to a special and enormous knowledge of it, and who show enough truth in
their pretension to gain the unlimited support of Puritan capitalists.
The vice crusade, to mention one example, has produced a large crop of
such self-constituted experts, and some of them are in such demand that
they are overwhelmed with engagements. The majority of these men have
wholly lost the flavour of sacerdotalism. They are not pastors, but
detectives, statisticians and mob orators, and not infrequently their
secularity becomes distressingly evident. Their aim, as they say, is to
do things. Assuming that "moral sentiment" is behind them, they override
all criticism and opposition without argument, and proceed to the
business of dispersing prostitutes, of browbeating and terrorizing weak
officials, and of forcing legislation of their own invention through
City Councils and State Legislatures. Their very cocksureness is their
chief source of strength. They combat objection with such violence and
with such a devastating cynicism that it quickly fades away. The more
astute politicians, in the face of so ruthless a fire, commonly profess
conversion and join the colours, just as their brethren went over to
prohibition in the "dry" States, and the newspapers seldom hold out much
longer. The result is that the "investigation" of the social evil
becomes an orgy, and that the ensuing "report" of the inevitable "vice
commission" is made up of two parts sensational fiction and three parts
platitude. Of all the vice commissions that have sat of late in the
United States, not one has done its work without the aid of these
singularly confident experts, and not one has contributed an original
and sagacious idea, nor even an idea of ordinary common sense, to the
solution of the problem.

I need not go on piling up examples of this new form of Puritan
activity, with its definite departure from a religious foundation and
its elaborate development as an everyday business. The impulse behind it
I have called a _Wille zur Macht_, a will to power. In terms more
homely, it was described by John Fiske as "the disposition to domineer,"
and in his usual unerring way, he saw its dependence on the gratuitous
assumption of infallibility. But even stronger than the Puritan's belief
in his own inspiration is his yearning to make some one jump. In other
words, he has an ineradicable liking for cruelty in him: he is a
sportsman even before he is a moralist, and very often his blood-lust
leads him into lamentable excesses. The various vice crusades afford
innumerable cases in point. In one city, if the press dispatches are to
be believed, the proscribed women of the Tenderloin were pursued with
such ferocity that seven of them were driven to suicide. And in another
city, after a campaign of repression so unfortunate in its effects that
there were actually protests against it by clergymen elsewhere, a
distinguished (and very friendly) connoisseur of such affairs referred
to it ingenuously as more fun "than a fleet of aeroplanes." Such
disorderly combats with evil, of course, produce no permanent good. It
is a commonplace, indeed, that a city is usually in worse condition
after it has been "cleaned up" than it was before, and I need not point
to New York, Los Angeles and Des Moines for the evidence as to the
social evil, and to any large city, East, West, North, South, for the
evidence as to the saloon. But the Puritans who finance such enterprises
get their thrills, not out of any possible obliteration of vice, but out
of the galloping pursuit of the vicious. The new Puritan gives no more
serious thought to the rights and feelings of his quarry than the gunner
gives to the rights and feelings of his birds. From the beginning of the
prohibition campaign, for example, the principle of compensation has
been violently opposed, despite its obvious justice, and a complaisant
judiciary has ratified the Puritan position. In England and on the
Continent that principle is safeguarded by the fundamental laws, and
during the early days of the anti-slavery agitation in this country it
was accepted as incontrovertible, but if any American statesman were to
propose today that it be applied to the license-holder whose lawful
franchise has been taken away from him arbitrarily, or to the brewer or
distiller whose costly plant has been rendered useless and valueless, he
would see the days of his statesmanship brought to a quick and violent

But does all this argue a total lack of justice in the American
character, or even a lack of common decency? I doubt that it would be
well to go so far in accusation. What it does argue is a tendency to put
moral considerations above all other considerations, and to define
morality in the narrow Puritan sense. The American, in other words,
thinks that the sinner has no rights that any one is bound to respect,
and he is prone to mistake an unsupported charge of sinning, provided it
be made violently enough, for actual proof and confession. What is more,
he takes an intense joy in the mere chase: he has the true Puritan taste
for an _auto da fé_ in him. "I am ag'inst capital punishment," said Mr.
Dooley, "but we won't get rid av it so long as the people enjie it so
much." But though he is thus an eager spectator, and may even be lured
into taking part in the pursuit, the average American is not disposed to
initiate it, nor to pay for it. The larger Puritan enterprises of today
are not popular in the sense of originating in the bleachers, but only
in the sense of being applauded from the bleachers. The burdens of the
fray, both of toil and of expense, are always upon a relatively small
number of men. In a State rocked and racked by a war upon the saloon, it
was recently shown, for example, that but five per cent. of the members
of the Puritan denominations contributed to the war-chest. And yet the
Anti-Saloon League of that State was so sure of support from below that
it presumed to stand as the spokesman of the whole Christian community,
and even ventured to launch excommunications upon contumacious
Christians, both lay and clerical, who objected to its methods.
Moreover, the great majority of the persons included in the contributing
five per cent. gave no more than a few cents a year. The whole support
of the League devolved upon a dozen men, all of them rich and all of
them Puritans of purest ray serene. These men supported a costly
organization for their private entertainment and stimulation. It was
their means of recreation, their sporting club. They were willing to
spend a lot of money to procure good sport for themselves--_i.e._, to
procure the best crusading talent available--and they were so successful
in that endeavour that they enchanted the populace too, and so shook the

Naturally enough, this organization of Puritanism upon a business and
sporting basis has had a tendency to attract and create a type of
"expert" crusader whose determination to give his employers a good show
is uncontaminated by any consideration for the public welfare. The
result has been a steady increase of scandals, a constant collapse of
moral organizations, a frequent unveiling of whited sepulchres. Various
observers have sought to direct the public attention to this significant
corruption of the new Puritanism. The New York _Sun_, for example, in
the course of a protest against the appointment of a vice commission for
New York, has denounced the paid agents of private reform organizations
as "notoriously corrupt, undependable and dishonest," and the Rev. Dr.
W. S. Rainsford, supporting the charge, has borne testimony out of his
own wide experience to their lawlessness, their absurd pretensions to
special knowledge, their habit of manufacturing evidence, and their
devious methods of shutting off criticism. But so far, at all events,
no organized war upon them has been undertaken, and they seem to
flourish more luxuriantly year after year. The individual whose common
rights are invaded by such persons has little chance of getting justice,
and less of getting redress. When he attempts to defend himself he finds
that he is opposed, not only by a financial power that is ample for all
purposes of the combat and that does not shrink at intimidating juries,
prosecuting officers and judges, but also by a shrewdness which shapes
the laws to its own uses, and takes full advantage of the miserable
cowardice of legislatures. The moral gladiators, in brief, know the
game. They come before a legislature with a bill ostensibly designed to
cure some great and admitted evil, they procure its enactment by
scarcely veiled insinuations that all who stand against it must be
apologists for the evil itself, and then they proceed to extend its aims
by bold inferences, and to dragoon the courts into ratifying those
inferences, and to employ it as a means of persecution, terrorism and
blackmail. The history of the Mann Act offers a shining example of this
purpose. It was carried through Congress, over the veto of President
Taft, who discerned its extravagance, on the plea that it was needed to
put down the traffic in prostitutes; it is enforced today against men
who are no more engaged in the traffic in prostitutes than you or I.
Naturally enough, the effect of this extension of its purposes, against
which its author has publicly protested, has been to make it a truly
deadly weapon in the hands of professional Puritans and of denouncers of
delinquency even less honest. "Blackmailers of both sexes have arisen,"
says Mr. Justice McKenna, "using the terrors of the construction now
sanctioned by the [Supreme] Court as a help--indeed, the means--for
their brigandage. The result is grave and should give us pause."[44]

But that is as far as objection has yet gone; the majority of the
learned jurist's colleagues swallowed both the statute and its
consequences.[45] There is, indeed, no sign as yet of any organized war
upon the alliance between the blackmailing Puritan and the
pseudo-Puritan blackmailer. It must wait until a sense of reason and
justice shows itself in the American people, strong enough to overcome
their prejudice in favour of the moralist on the one hand, and their
delight in barbarous pursuits and punishments on the other. I see but
faint promise of that change today.

§ 5

I have gone into the anatomy and physiology of militant Puritanism
because, so far as I know, the inquiry has not been attempted before,
and because a somewhat detailed acquaintance with the forces behind so
grotesque a manifestation as comstockery, the particular business of the
present essay, is necessary to an understanding of its workings, and of
its prosperity, and of its influence upon the arts. Save one turn to
England or to the British colonies, it is impossible to find a parallel
for the astounding absolutism of Comstock and his imitators in any
civilized country. No other nation has laws which oppress the arts so
ignorantly and so abominably as ours do, nor has any other nation handed
over the enforcement of the statutes which exist to agencies so openly
pledged to reduce all aesthetic expression to the service of a stupid
and unworkable scheme of rectitude. I have before me as I write a
pamphlet in explanation of his aims and principles, prepared by Comstock
himself and presented to me by his successor. Its very title is a
sufficient statement of the Puritan position: "MORALS, Not Art or
Literature."[46] The capitals are in the original. And within, as a
sort of general text, the idea is amplified: "It is a question of peace,
good order and morals, and not art, literature or science." Here we have
a statement of principle that, at all events, is at least quite frank.
There is not the slightest effort to beg the question; there is no
hypocritical pretension to a desire to purify or safeguard the arts;
they are dismissed at once as trivial and degrading. And jury after jury
has acquiesced in this; it was old Anthony's boast, in his last days,
that his percentage of convictions, in 40 years, had run to 98.5.[47]

Comstockery is thus grounded firmly upon that profound national
suspicion of the arts, that truculent and almost unanimous Philistinism,
which I have described. It would be absurd to dismiss it as an
excrescence, and untypical of the American mind. But it is typical, too,
in the manner in which it has gone beyond that mere partiality to the
accumulation of a definite power, and made that power irresponsible and
almost irresistible. It was Comstock himself, in fact, who invented the
process whereby his followers in other fields of moral endeavour have
forced laws into the statute books upon the pretence of putting down
John Doe, an acknowledged malefactor, and then turned them savagely upon
Richard Roe, a peaceable, well-meaning and hitherto law-abiding man. And
it was Comstock who first capitalized moral endeavour like baseball or
the soap business, and made himself the first of its kept professors,
and erected about himself a rampart of legal and financial immunity
which rid him of all fear of mistakes and their consequences, and so
enabled him to pursue his jehad with all the advantages in his favour.
He was, in brief, more than the greatest Puritan gladiator of his time;
he was the Copernicus of a quite new art and science, and he devised a
technique and handed down a professional ethic that no rival has been
able to better.

The whole story is naïvely told in "Anthony Comstock, Fighter,"[48] a
work which passed under the approving eye of the old war horse himself
and is full of his characteristic pecksniffery.[49] His beginnings, it
appears, were very modest. When he arrived in New York from the
Connecticut hinterland, he was a penniless and uneducated clod-hopper,
just out of the Union army, and his first job was that of a porter in a
wholesale dry-goods house. But he had in him several qualities of the
traditional Yankee which almost always insure success, and it was not
long before he began to make his way. One of these qualities was a
talent for bold and ingratiating address; another was a vast appetite
for thrusting himself into affairs, a yearning to run things--what the
Puritan calls public spirit. The two constituted his fortune. The second
brought him into intimate relations with the newly-organized Young Men's
Christian Association, and led him to the discovery of a form of moral
endeavour that was at once novel and fascinating--the unearthing and
denunciation of "immoral" literature. The first, once he had attracted
attention thereby, got him the favourable notice, and finally the
unlimited support, of the late Morris K. Jesup, one of the earliest and
perhaps the greatest of the moral _entrepreneurs_ that I have described.
Jesup was very rich, and very eager to bring the whole nation up to
grace by _force majeure_. He was the banker of at least a dozen
grandiose programs of purification in the seventies and eighties. In
Comstock he found precisely the sort of field agent that he was looking
for, and the two presently constituted the most formidable team of
professional reformers that the country had ever seen.

The story of the passage of the Act of Congress of March 3, 1873,[50]
under cover of which the Comstock Society still carries on its campaigns
of snouting and suppression, is a classical tale of Puritan impudence
and chicanery. Comstock, with Jesup and other rich men backing him
financially and politically,[51] managed the business. First, a number
of spectacular raids were made on the publishers of such pornographic
books as "The Memoirs of Fanny Hill" and "Only a Boy." Then the
newspapers were filled with inflammatory matter about the wide dispersal
of such stuff, and its demoralizing effects upon the youth of the
republic. Then a committee of self-advertising clergymen and "Christian
millionaires" was organized to launch a definite "movement." And then a
direct attack was made upon Congress, and, to the tune of fiery moral
indignation, the bill prepared by Comstock himself was forced through
both houses. All opposition, if only the opposition of inquiry, was
overborne in the usual manner. That is to say, every Congressman who
presumed to ask what it was all about, or to point out obvious defects
in the bill, was disposed of by the insinuation, or even the direct
charge, that he was a covert defender of obscene books, and, by
inference, of the carnal recreations described in them. We have grown
familiar of late with this process: it was displayed at full length in
the passage of the Mann Act, and again when the Webb Act and the
Prohibition Amendment were before Congress. In 1873 its effectiveness
was helped out by its novelty, and so the Comstock bill was rushed
through both houses in the closing days of a busy session, and President
Grant accommodatingly signed it.

Once it was upon the books, Comstock made further use of the prevailing
uproar to have himself appointed a special agent of the Postoffice
Department to enforce it, and with characteristic cunning refused to
take any salary. Had his job carried a salary, it would have excited the
acquisitiveness of other virtuosi; as it was, he was secure. As for the
necessary sinews of war, he knew well that he could get them from Jesup.
Within a few weeks, indeed, the latter had perfected a special
organization for the enforcement of the new statute, and it still
flourishes as the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice; or, as
it is better known, the Comstock Society. The new Federal Act, dealing
only with the mails, left certain loopholes; they were plugged up by
fastening drastic amendments upon the New York Code of Criminal
Procedure--amendments forced through the legislature precisely as the
Federal Act had been forced through Congress.[52] With these laws in his
hands Comstock was ready for his career. It was his part of the
arrangement to supply the thrills of the chase; it was Jesup's part to
find the money. The partnership kept up until the death of Jesup, in
1908, and after that Comstock readily found new backers. Even his own
death, in 1915, did not materially alter a scheme of things which
offered such admirable opportunities for the exercise of the Puritan
love of spectacular and relentless pursuit, the Puritan delusion of
moral grandeur and infallibility, the Puritan will to power.

Ostensibly, as I have said, the new laws were designed to put down the
traffic in frankly pornographic books and pictures--a traffic which, of
course, found no defenders--but Comstock had so drawn them that their
actual sweep was vastly wider, and once he was firmly in the saddle his
enterprises scarcely knew limits. Having disposed of "The Confessions of
Maria Monk" and "Night Life in Paris," he turned to Rabelais and the
Decameron, and having driven these ancients under the book-counters, he
pounced upon Zola, Balzac and Daudet, and having disposed of these too,
he began a _pogrom_ which, in other hands, eventually brought down such
astounding victims as Thomas Hardy's "Jude the Obscure" and Harold
Frederic's "The Damnation of Theron Ware." All through the eighties and
nineties this ecstatic campaign continued, always increasing in violence
and effectiveness. Comstock became a national celebrity; his doings were
as copiously reported by the newspapers as those of P. T. Barnum or John
L. Sullivan. Imitators sprang up in all the larger cities: there was
hardly a public library in the land that did not begin feverishly
expurgating its shelves; the publication of fiction, and particularly of
foreign fiction, took on the character of an extra hazardous enterprise.
Not, of course, that the reign of terror was not challenged, and
Comstock himself denounced. So early as 1876 a national organization
demanding a reasonable amendment of the postal laws got on its legs; in
the late eighties "Citizen" George Francis Train defied the whirlwind by
printing the Old Testament as a serial; many indignant victims,
acquitted by some chance in the courts, brought suit against Comstock
for damages. Moreover, an occasional judge, standing out boldly against
the usual intimidation, denounced him from the bench; one of them, Judge
Jenkins, accused him specifically of "fraud and lying" and other
"dishonest practices."[53] But the spirit of American Puritanism was on
his side. His very extravagances at once stimulated and satisfied the
national yearning for a hot chase, a good show--and in the complaints of
his victims, that the art of letters was being degraded, that the
country was made ridiculous, the newspaper-reading populace could see no
more than an affectation. The reform organization of 1876 lasted but
five years; and then disbanded without having accomplished anything;
Train was put on trial for "debauching the young" with an "obscene"
serial;[54] juries refused to bring in punitive verdicts against the
master showman.

In carrying on this way of extermination upon all ideas that violated
their private notions of virtue and decorum, Comstock and his followers
were very greatly aided by the vagueness of the law. It prohibited the
use of the mails for transporting all matter of an "obscene, lewd,
lascivious ... or filthy" character, but conveniently failed to define
these adjectives. As a result, of course, it was possible to bring an
accusation against practically _any_ publication that aroused the
comstockian blood-lust, however innocently, and to subject the persons
responsible for it to costly, embarrassing and often dangerous
persecution. No man, said Dr. Johnson, would care to go on trial for his
life once a week, even if possessed of absolute proofs of his innocence.
By the same token, no man wants to be arraigned in a criminal court,
and displayed in the sensational newspapers, as a purveyor of indecency,
however strong his assurance of innocence. Comstock made use of this
fact in an adroit and characteristically unconscionable manner. He held
the menace of prosecution over all who presumed to dispute his tyranny,
and when he could not prevail by a mere threat, he did not hesitate to
begin proceedings, and to carry them forward with the aid of florid
proclamations to the newspapers and ill concealed intimidations of
judges and juries.

The last-named business succeeded as it always does in this country,
where the judiciary is quite as sensitive to the suspicion of sinfulness
as the legislative arm. A glance at the decisions handed down during the
forty years of Comstock's chief activity shows a truly amazing
willingness to accommodate him in his pious enterprises. On the one
hand, there was gradually built up a court-made definition of obscenity
which eventually embraced almost every conceivable violation of Puritan
prudery, and on the other hand the victim's means of defence were
steadily restricted and conditioned, until in the end he had scarcely
any at all. This is the state of the law today. It is held in the
leading cases that anything is obscene which may excite "impure
thoughts" in "the minds ... of persons that are susceptible to impure
thoughts,"[55] or which "tends to deprave the minds" of any who, because
they are "young and inexperienced," are "open to such
influences"[56]--in brief, that anything is obscene that is not fit to
be handed to a child just learning to read, or that may imaginably
stimulate the lubricity of the most foul-minded. It is held further that
words that are perfectly innocent in themselves--"words, abstractly
considered, [that] may be free from vulgarism"--may yet be assumed, by a
friendly jury, to be likely to "arouse a libidinous passion ... in the
mind of a modest woman." (I quote exactly! The court failed to define
"modest woman.")[57] Yet further, it is held that any book is obscene
"which is unbecoming, immodest...."[58] Obviously, this last decision
throws open the door to endless imbecilities, for its definition merely
begs the question, and so makes a reasonable solution ten times harder.
It is in such mazes that the Comstocks safely lurk. Almost any printed
allusion to sex may be argued against as unbecoming in a moral
republic, and once it is unbecoming it is also obscene.

In meeting such attacks the defendant must do his fighting without
weapons. He cannot allege in his defence that the offending work was put
forth for a legitimate, necessary and decent purpose;[59] he cannot
allege that a passage complained of is from a standard work, itself in
general circulation;[60] he cannot offer evidence that the person to
whom a book or picture was sold or exhibited was not actually depraved
by it, or likely to be depraved by it;[61] he cannot rest his defence on
its lack of such effect upon the jurymen themselves;[62] he cannot plead
that the alleged obscenity, in point of fact, is couched in decent and
unobjectionable language;[63] he cannot plead that the same or a similar
work has gone unchallenged elsewhere;[64] he cannot argue that the
circulation of works of the same class has set up a presumption of
toleration, and a tacit limitation of the definition of obscenity.[65]
The general character of a book is not a defence of a particular
passage, however unimportant; if there is the slightest descent to what
is "unbecoming," the whole may be ruthlessly condemned.[66] Nor is it an
admissible defence to argue that the book was not generally circulated,
and that the copy in evidence was obtained by an _agent provocateur_,
and by false representations.[67] Finally, all the decisions deny the
defendant the right to introduce any testimony, whether expert or
otherwise, that a book is of artistic value and not pornographic, and
that its effect upon normal persons is not pernicious. Upon this point
the jury is the sole judge, and it cannot be helped to its decision by
taking other opinions, or by hearing evidence as to what is the general

Occasionally, as I have said, a judge has revolted against this
intolerable state of the court-and Comstock-made law, and directed a
jury to disregard these astounding decisions.[68] In a recent New York
case Judge Samuel Seabury actually ruled that "it is no part of the duty
of courts to exercise a censorship over literary productions."[69] But
in general the judiciary has been curiously complaisant, and more than
once a Puritan on the bench has delighted the Comstocks by prosecuting
their case for them.[70] With such decisions in their hands and such aid
from the other side of the bar, it is no wonder that they enter upon
their campaigns with impudence and assurance. All the odds are in their
favour from the start. They have statutes deliberately designed to make
the defence onerous; they are familiar by long experience with all the
tricks and surprises of the game; they are sheltered behind
organizations, incorporated without capital and liberally chartered by
trembling legislatures, which make reprisals impossible in case of
failure; above all, they have perfected the business of playing upon the
cowardice and vanity of judges and prosecuting officers. The newspapers,
with very few exceptions, give them ready aid. Theoretically, perhaps,
many newspaper editors are opposed to comstockery, and sometimes they
denounce it with great eloquence, but when a good show is offered they
are always in favour of the showman[71]--and the Comstocks are showmen
of undoubted skill. They know how to make a victim jump and writhe in
the ring; they have a talent for finding victims who are prominent
enough to arrest attention; they shrewdly capitalize the fact that the
pursuer appears more heroic than the prey, and the further fact that the
newspaper reader is impatient of artistic pretensions and glad to see an
artist made ridiculous. And behind them there is always the steady
pressure of Puritan prejudice--the Puritan feeling that "immorality" is
the blackest of crimes, and that its practitioner has no rights. It was
by making use of these elements that Comstock achieved his prodigies,
and it is by making use of them that his heirs and assigns keep up the
sport today. Their livelihood depends upon the money they can raise
among the righteous, and the amount they can raise depends upon the
quality of the entertainment they offer. Hence their adept search for
shining marks. Hence, for example, the spectacular raid upon the Art
Students' League, on August 2, 1906. Hence the artful turning to their
own use of the vogue of such sensational dramatists as Eugène Brieux and
George Bernard Shaw, and of such isolated plays as "Trilby" and "Sapho."
Hence the barring from the mails of the inflammatory report of the
Chicago Vice Commission--a strange, strange case of dog eating dog.

But here we have humour. There is, however, no humour in the case of a
serious author who sees his work damaged and perhaps ruined by a
malicious and unintelligent attack, and himself held up to public
obloquy as one with the vendors of pamphlets of flagellation and filthy
"marriage guides." He finds opposing him a flat denial of his decent
purpose as an artist, and a stupid and ill-natured logic that baffles
sober answer.[72] He finds on his side only the half-hearted support of
a publisher whose interest in a single book is limited to his profits
from it, and who desires above all things to evade a nuisance and an
expense. Not a few publishers, knowing the constant possibility of
sudden and arbitrary attack, insert a clause in their contracts whereby
an author must secure them against damage from any "immoral" matter in
his book. They read and approve the manuscript, they print the book and
sell it--but if it is unlucky enough to attract the comstockian
lightning, the author has the whole burden to bear,[73] and if they
seek safety and economy by yielding, as often happens, he must consent
to the mutilation or even the suppression of his work. The result is
that a writer in such a situation, is practically beaten before he can
offer a defence. The professional book-baiters have laws to their
liking, and courts pliant to their exactions; they fill the newspapers
with inflammatory charges before the accused gets his day in court; they
have the aid of prosecuting officers who fear the political damage of
their enmity, and of the enmity of their wealthy and influential
backers; above all, they have the command of far more money than any
author can hope to muster. Finally, they derive an advantage from two of
the most widespread of human weaknesses, the first being envy and the
second being fear. When an author is attacked, a good many of his rivals
see only a personal benefit in his difficulties, and not a menace to
the whole order, and a good many others are afraid to go to his aid
because of the danger of bringing down the moralists' rage upon
themselves. Both of these weaknesses revealed themselves very amusingly
in the Dreiser case, and I hope to detail their operations at some
length later on, when I describe that _cause célèbre_ in a separate

Now add to the unfairness and malignancy of the attack its no less
disconcerting arbitrariness and fortuitousness, and the path of the
American author is seen to be strewn with formidable entanglements
indeed. With the law what it is, he is quite unable to decide _a priori_
what is permitted by the national delicacy and what is not, nor can he
get any light from the recorded campaigns of the moralists. They seem to
strike blindly, unintelligently, without any coherent theory or plan.
"Trilby" is assaulted by the united comstockery of a dozen cities, and
"The Yoke" somehow escapes. "Hagar Revelly" is made the subject of a
double prosecution in the State and Federal courts, and "Love's
Pilgrimage" and "One Man" go unmolested. The publisher of
Przybyszewski's "Homo Sapiens" is forced to withdraw it; the publisher
of Artzibashef's "Sanine" follows it with "The Breaking Point." The
serious work of a Forel is brought into court as pornography, and the
books of Havelock Ellis are barred from the mails; the innumerable
volumes on "sex hygiene" by tawdry clergymen and smutty old maids are
circulated by the million and without challenge. Frank Harris is
deprived of a publisher for his "Oscar Wilde: His Life and Confession"
by threats of immediate prosecution; the newspapers meanwhile dedicate
thousands of columns to the filthy amusements of Harry Thaw. George
Moore's "Memoirs of My Dead Life" are bowdlerized, James Lane Allen's "A
Summer in Arcady" is barred from libraries, and a book by D. H. Lawrence
is forbidden publication altogether; at the same time half a dozen cheap
magazines devoted to sensational sex stories attain to hundreds of
thousands of circulation. A serious book by David Graham Phillips,
published serially in a popular monthly, is raided the moment it appears
between covers; a trashy piece of nastiness by Elinor Glyn goes
unmolested. Worse, books are sold for months and even years without
protest, and then suddenly attacked; Dreiser's "The 'Genius,'"
Kreymborg's "Edna" and Forel's "The Sexual Question" are examples. Still
worse, what is held to be unobjectionable in one State is forbidden in
another as _contra bonos mores_.[74] Altogether, there is madness, and
no method in it. The livelihoods and good names of hard-striving and
decent men are at the mercy of the whims of a horde of fanatics and
mountebanks, and they have no way of securing themselves against attack,
and no redress for their loss when it comes.

§ 6

So beset, it is no wonder that the typical American maker of books
becomes a timorous and ineffective fellow, whose work tends inevitably
toward a feeble superficiality. Sucking in the Puritan spirit with the
very air he breathes, and perhaps burdened inwardly with an inheritance
of the actual Puritan stupidity, he is further kept upon the straight
path of chemical purity by the very real perils that I have just
rehearsed. The result is a literature full of the mawkishness that the
late Henry James so often roared against--a literature almost wholly
detached from life as men are living it in the world--in George Moore's
phrase, a literature still at nurse. It is on the side of sex that the
appointed virtuosi of virtue exercise their chief repressions, for it is
sex that especially fascinates the lubricious Puritan mind; but the
conventual reticence that thus becomes the enforced fashion in one field
extends itself to all others. Our fiction, in general, is marked by an
artificiality as marked as that of Eighteenth Century poetry or the
later Georgian drama. The romance in it runs to set forms and stale
situations; the revelation, by such a book as "The Titan," that there
may be a glamour as entrancing in the way of a conqueror of men as in
the way of a youth with a maid, remains isolated and exotic. We have no
first-rate political or religious novel; we have no first-rate war
story; despite all our national engrossment in commercial enterprise, we
have few second-rate tales of business. Romance, in American fiction,
still means only a somewhat childish amorousness and sentimentality--the
love affairs of Paul and Virginia, or the pale adulteries of their
elders. And on the side of realism there is an almost equal vacuity and
lack of veracity. The action of all the novels of the Howells school
goes on within four walls of painted canvas; they begin to shock once
they describe an attack of asthma or a steak burning below stairs; they
never penetrate beneath the flow of social concealments and urbanities
to the passions that actually move men and women to their acts, and the
great forces that circumscribe and condition personality. So obvious a
piece of reporting as Upton Sinclair's "The Jungle" or Robert Herrick's
"Together" makes a sensation; the appearance of a "Jennie Gerhardt" or a
"Hagar Revelly" brings forth a growl of astonishment and rage.

In all this dread of free inquiry, this childish skittishness in both
writers and public, this dearth of courage and even of curiosity, the
influence of comstockery is undoubtedly to be detected. It constitutes a
sinister and ever-present menace to all men of ideas; it affrights the
publisher and paralyzes the author; no one on the outside can imagine
its burden as a practical concern. I am, in moments borrowed from more
palatable business, the editor of an American magazine, and I thus know
at first hand what the burden is. That magazine is anything but a
popular one, in the current sense. It sells at a relatively high price;
it contains no pictures or other baits for the childish; it is frankly
addressed to a sophisticated minority. I may thus assume reasonably, I
believe, that its readers are not sex-curious and itching adolescents,
just as my colleague of the _Atlantic Monthly_ may assume reasonably
that his readers are not Italian immigrants. Nevertheless, as a
practical editor, I find that the Comstocks, near and far, are oftener
in my mind's eye than my actual patrons. The thing I always have to
decide about a manuscript offered for publication, before ever I give
any thought to its artistic merit and suitability, is the question
whether its publication will be permitted--not even whether it is
intrinsically good or evil, moral or immoral, but whether some roving
Methodist preacher, self-commissioned to keep watch on letters, will
read indecency into it. Not a week passes that I do not decline some
sound and honest piece of work for no other reason. I have a long list
of such things by American authors, well-devised, well-imagined,
well-executed, respectable as human documents and as works of art--but
never to be printed in mine or any other American magazine. It includes
four or five short stories of the very first rank, and the best one-act
play yet done, to my knowledge, by an American. All of these pieces
would go into type at once on the Continent; no sane man would think of
objecting to them; they are no more obscene, to a normal adult, than his
own bare legs. But they simply cannot be printed in the United States,
with the law what it is and the courts what they are.

I know many other editors. All of them are in the same boat. Some of
them try to get around the difficulty by pecksniffery more or less
open--for example, by fastening a moral purpose upon works of art, and
hawking them as uplifting.[75] Others, facing the intolerable fact,
yield to it with resignation. And if they didn't? Well, if one of them
didn't, any professional moralist could go before a police magistrate,
get a warrant upon a simple affidavit, raid the office of the offending
editor, seize all the magazines in sight, and keep them impounded until
after the disposition of the case. Editors cannot afford to take this
risk. Magazines are perishable goods. Even if, after a trial has been
had, they are returned, they are worthless save as waste paper. And what
may be done with copies found in the actual office of publication may be
done too with copies found on news-stands, and not only in one city, but
in two, six, a dozen, a hundred. All the costs and burdens of the
contest are on the defendant. Let him be acquitted with honour, and
invited to dinner by the judge, he has yet lost his property, and the
Comstock hiding behind the warrant cannot be made to pay. In this
concealment, indeed, lurk many sinister things--not forgetting personal
enmity and business rivalry. The actual complainant is seldom uncovered;
Comstockery, taking on a semi-judicial character, throws its chartered
immunity around the whole process. A hypothetical outrage? By no means.
It has been perpetrated, in one American city or another, upon fully
half of the magazines of general circulation published today. Its
possibility sticks in the consciousness of every editor and publisher
like a recurrent glycosuria.[76]

But though the effects of comstockery are thus abominably insane and
irritating, the fact is not to be forgotten that, after all, the thing
is no more than an effect itself. The fundamental causes of all the
grotesque (and often half-fabulous) phenomena flowing out of it are to
be sought in the habits of mind of the American people. They are, as I
have shown, besotted by moral concepts, a moral engrossment, a delusion
of moral infallibility. In their view of the arts they are still unable
to shake off the naïve suspicion of the Fathers.[77] A work of the
imagination can justify itself, in their sight, only if it show a moral
purpose, and that purpose must be obvious and unmistakable. Even in
their slow progress toward a revolt against the ancestral Philistinism,
they cling to this ethical bemusement: a new gallery of pictures is
welcomed as "improving," to hear Beethoven "makes one better." Any
questioning of the moral ideas that prevail--the principal business, it
must be plain, of the novelist, the serious dramatist, the professed
inquirer into human motives and acts--is received with the utmost
hostility. To attempt such an enterprise is to disturb the peace--and
the disturber of the peace, in the national view, quickly passes over
into the downright criminal.

These symptoms, it seems to me, are only partly racial, despite the
persistent survival of that third-rate English strain which shows itself
so ingenuously in the colonial spirit, the sense of inferiority, the
frank craving for praise from home. The race, in truth, grows mongrel,
and the protest against that mongrelism only serves to drive in the
fact. But a mongrel race is necessarily a race still in the stage of
reaching out for culture; it has not yet formulated defensible
standards; it must needs rest heavily upon the superstitions that go
with inferiority. The Reformation brought Scotland among the civilized
nations, but it took Scotland a century and a half to live down the
Reformation.[78] Dogmatism, conformity, Philistinism, the fear of
rebels, the crusading spirit; these are the marks of an upstart people,
uncertain of their rank in the world and even of their direction.[79] A
cultured European, reading a typical American critical journal, must
needs conceive the United States, says H. G. Wells, as "a vain,
garrulous and prosperous female of uncertain age and still more
uncertain temper, with unfounded pretensions to intellectuality and an
ideal of refinement of the most negative description ... the Aunt Errant
of Christendom."[80] There is always that blushful shyness, that
timorous uncertainty, broken by sudden rages, sudden enunciations of
impeccable doctrine, sudden runnings amuck. Formalism is the hall-mark
of the national culture, and sins against the one are sins against the
other. The American is school-mastered out of gusto, out of joy, out of
innocence. He can never fathom William Blake's notion that "the lust of
the goat is also to the glory of God." He must be correct, or, in his
own phrase, he must bust.

_Via trita est tutissima._ The new generation, urged to curiosity and
rebellion by its mounting sap, is rigorously restrained, regimented,
policed. The ideal is vacuity, guilelessness, imbecility. "We are
looking at this particular book," said Comstock's successor of "The
'Genius,'" "from the standpoint of its harmful effect on female readers
of immature mind."[81] To be curious is to be lewd; to know is to yield
to fornication. Here we have the mediaeval doctrine still on its legs: a
chance word may arouse "a libidinous passion" in the mind of a "modest"
woman. Not only youth must be safeguarded, but also the "female," the
untrustworthy one, the temptress. "Modest," is a euphemism; it takes
laws to keep her "pure." The "locks of chastity" rust in the Cluny
Museum; in place of them we have comstockery....

But, as I have said in hymning Huneker, there is yet the munyonic
consolation. Time is a great legalizer, even in the field of morals. We
have yet no delivery, but we have at least the beginnings of a revolt,
or, at all events, of a protest. We have already reached, in Howells,
our Hannah More; in Clemens, our Swift; in Henry James, our Horace
Walpole; in Woodberry, Robinson _et al._, our Cowpers, Southeys and
Crabbes; perhaps we might even make a composite and call it our Johnson.
We are sweating through our Eighteenth Century, our era of sentiment,
our spiritual measles. Maybe a new day is not quite so far off as it
seems to be, and with it we may get our Hardy, our Conrad, our
Swinburne, our Thomas, our Moore, our Meredith and our Synge.



[38] American Literature, tr. by Julia Franklin; New York, Doubleday,
Page & Co., 1915.

[39] New York, Dodd, Mead & Co., 1916.

[40] The first edition for public sale did not appear until June, 1917,
and in it the preface was suppressed.

[41] Second edition; Boston, Little, Brown & Co., 1859, xxvi.

[42] _Cf._ The Puritan, by Owen Hatteras, _The Smart Set_, July, 1916;
and The Puritan's Will to Power, by Randolph S. Bourne, _The Seven
Arts_, April, 1917.

[43] An instructive account of the organization and methods of the
Anti-Saloon League, a thoroughly typical Puritan engine, is to be found
in Alcohol and Society, by John Koren; New York, Henry Holt & Co., 1916.

[44] U. S. Rep., vol. 242, No. 7, p. 502.

[45] The majority opinion, written by Mr. Justice Day, is given in U. S.
Rep., vol. 242, no. 7, pp. 482-496.

[46] New York, (1914).

[47] I quote from page 157 of Anthony Comstock, Fighter, the official
biography. On page 239 the number of his prosecutions is given as 3,646,
with 2,682 convictions, which works out to but 73 per cent. He is
credited with having destroyed 50 tons of books, 28,425 pounds of
stereotype plates, 16,900 photographic negatives, and 3,984,063
photographs--enough to fill "sixteen freight cars, fifteen loaded with
ten tons each, and the other nearly full."

[48] By Charles Gallaudet Trumbull; New York, Fleming H. Revell Co.

[49] An example: "All the evil men in New York cannot harm a hair of my
head, were it not the will of God. If it be His will, what right have I
or any one to say aught? I am only a speck, a mite, before God, yet not
a hair of my head can be harmed unless it be His will. Oh, to live, to
feel, to be--Thy will be done!" (pp. 84-5). Again: "I prayed that, if my
bill might not pass, I might go back to New York submissive to God's
will, feeling that it was for the best. I asked for forgiveness and
asked that my bill might pass, if possible; but over and above all, that
the will of God be done" (p. 6). Nevertheless, Comstock neglected no
chance to apply his backstairs pressure to the members of both Houses.

[50] Now, with amendments, sections 211, 212 and 245 of the United
States Criminal Code.

[51] _Vide_ Anthony Comstock, Fighter, pp. 81, 85, 94.

[52] Now sections 1141, 1142 and 1143 of the Penal Laws of New York.

[53] U. S. _vs._ Casper, reported in the _Twentieth Century_, Feb. 11,

[54] The trial court dodged the issue by directing the jury to find the
prisoner not guilty on the ground of insanity. The necessary
implication, of course, was that the publication complained of was
actually obscene. In 1895, one Wise, of Clay Center, Kansas, sent a
quotation from the Bible through the mails, and was found guilty of
mailing obscene matter. See The Free Press Anthology, compiled by
Theodore Schroeder; New York, Truth Seeker Pub. Co., 1909, p. 258.

[55] U. S. _vs._ Bennett, 16 Blatchford, 368-9 (1877).

[56] _Idem_, 362; People _vs._ Muller, 96 N. Y., 411; U. S. _vs._ Clark,
38 Fed. Rep. 734.

[57] U. S. _vs._ Moore, 129 Fed., 160-1 (1904).

[58] U. S. _vs._ Heywood, judge's charge, Boston, 1877. Quoted in U. S.
_vs._ Bennett, 16 Blatchford.

[59] U. S. _vs._ Slenker, 32 Fed. Rep., 693; People _vs._ Muller, 96 N.
Y. 408-414; Anti-Vice Motion Picture Co. _vs._ Bell, reported in the
_New York Law Journal_, Sept. 22, 1916; Sociological Research Film
Corporation _vs._ the City of New York, 83 Misc. 815; Steele _vs._
Bannon, 7 L. R. C. L. Series, 267; U. S. _vs._ Means, 42 Fed. Rep. 605,

[60] U. S. _vs._ Cheseman, 19 Fed. Rep., 597 (1884).

[61] People _vs._ Muller, 96 N. Y., 413.

[62] U. S. _vs._ Bennett, 16 Blatchford, 368-9.

[63] U. S. _vs._ Smith, 45 Fed. Rep. 478.

[64] U. S. _vs._ Bennett, 16 Blatchford, 360-1; People _vs._ Berry, 1 N.
Y., Crim. R., 32.

[65] People _vs._ Muller, 32 Hun., 212-215.

[66] U. S. _vs._ Bennett, 16 Blatchford, 361.

[67] U. S. _vs._ Moore, 16 Fed. Rep., 39; U. S. _vs._ Wright, 38 Fed.
Rep., 106; U. S. _vs._ Dorsey, 40 Fed. Rep., 752; U. S. _vs._ Baker, 155
Mass., 287; U. S. _vs._ Grimm, 15 Supreme Court Rep., 472.

[68] Various cases in point are cited in the Brief on Behalf of
Plaintiff in Dreiser _vs._ John Lane Co., App. Div. 1st Dept. N. Y.,
1917. I cite a few: People _vs._ Eastman, 188 N. Y., 478; U. S. _vs._
Swearingen, 161 U. S., 446; People _vs._ Tylkoff, 212 N. Y., 197; In the
matter of Worthington Co., 62 St. Rep. 116-7; St. Hubert Guild _vs._
Quinn, 64 Misc., 336-341. But nearly all such decisions are in New York
cases. In the Federal courts the Comstocks usually have their way.

[69] St. Hubert Guild _vs._ Quinn, 64 Misc., 339.

[70] For example, Judge Chas. L. Benedict, sitting in U. S. _vs._
Bennett, _op. cit._ This is a leading case, and the Comstocks make much
of it. Nevertheless, a contemporary newspaper denounces Judge Benedict
for his "intense bigotry" and alleges that "the only evidence which he
permitted to be given was on the side of the prosecution." (Port Jervis,
N. Y., _Evening Gazette_, March 22, 1879.) Moreover, a juror in the
case, Alfred A. Valentine, thought it necessary to inform the newspapers
that he voted guilty only in obedience to judicial instructions.

[71] _Vide_ Newspaper Morals, by H. L. Mencken, the _Atlantic Monthly_,
March, 1914.

[72] As a fair specimen of the sort of reasoning that prevails among the
consecrated brethren I offer the following extract from an argument
against birth control delivered by the present active head of the New
York Society for the Suppression of Vice before the Women's City Club of
New York, Nov. 17, 1916:

"Natural and inevitable conditions, over which we can have no control,
will assert themselves wherever population becomes too dense. This has
been exemplified time after time in the history of the world where
over-population has been corrected by manifestations of nature or by
war, flood or pestilence.... Belgium may have been regarded as an
over-populated country. Is it a coincidence that, during the past two
years, the territory of Belgium has been devastated and its population
scattered throughout the other countries of the world?"

[73] For example, the printed contract of the John Lane Co., publisher
of Dreiser's The "Genius," contains this provision: "The author hereby
guarantees ... that the work ... contains nothing of a scandalous, an
immoral or a libelous nature." The contract for the publication of The
"Genius" was signed on July 30, 1914. The manuscript had been carefully
read by representatives of the publisher, and presumably passed as not
scandalous or immoral, inasmuch as the publication of a scandalous or
immoral book would have exposed the publisher to prosecution. About
8,000 copies were sold under this contract. Two years later, in July,
1916, the Society for the Suppression of Vice threatened to begin a
prosecution unless the book was withdrawn. It was withdrawn forthwith,
and Dreiser was compelled to enter suit for a performance of the
contract. The withdrawal, it will be noticed, was not in obedience to a
court order, but followed a mere comstockian threat. Yet Dreiser was at
once deprived of his royalties, and forced into expensive litigation.
Had it not been that eminent counsel volunteered for his defence, his
personal means would have been insufficient to have got him even a day
in court.

[74] The chief sufferers from this conflict are the authors of moving
pictures. What they face at the hands of imbecile State boards of
censorship is described at length by Channing Pollock in an article
entitled "Swinging the Censor" in the _Bulletin_ of the Authors' League
of America for March, 1917.

[75] For example, the magazine which printed David Graham Phillips'
Susan Lenox: Her Rise and Fall as a serial prefaced it with a moral
encomium by the Rev. Charles H. Parkhurst. Later, when the novel
appeared in book form, the Comstocks began an action to have it
suppressed, and forced the publisher to bowdlerize it.

[76] An account of a typical prosecution, arbitrary, unintelligent and
disingenuous, is to be found in Sumner and Indecency, by Frank Harris,
in _Pearson's Magazine_ for June, 1917, p. 556.

[77] For further discussions of this point consult Art in America, by
Aleister Crowley, _The English Review_, Nov., 1913; Life, Art and
America, by Theodore Dreiser, _The Seven Arts_, Feb., 1917; and The
American; His Ideas of Beauty, by H. L. Mencken, _The Smart Set_, Sept.,

[78] _Vide_ The Cambridge History of English Literature, vol. XI, p.

[79] The point is discussed by H. V. Routh in The Cambridge History of
English Literature, vol. XI, p. 290.

[80] In Boon; New York, George H. Doran Co., 1915.

[81] In a letter to Felix Shay, Nov. 24, 1916.


Abolitionists, 213, 231

Agnosticism, 14, 17

Alden, W. L., on Conrad, 53

"Almayer's Folly," 12, 16, 37, 42, 47, 51, 52, 56, 59

American Bible Society, 239

American mind, 25, 197-8, 207 et seq.

"Amy Foster," 36

Anglo-Saxon point of view, 20-3

Animal behaviour, theory of, 135

"Anthony Comstock, Fighter," 254 _n_, 255 et seq.

Anti-Saloon League, 244 et seq., 249-50

Art Students' League raid, 269

Balzac, H. de, 15, 73, 76, 113, 155, 202, 260

"Banks of the Wabash, The," 106

Beauty, Dreiser on, 126

Benedict, Judge Chas. L., and Comstockery, 267 _n_.

Bennett, Arnold, 19, 26, 32, 48, 62, 78, 104, 137, 142, 143

Bible, declared obscene, 261-2

Bierce, Ambrose, 146, 202, 216, 224

"Blue Sphere, The," 126

_Bohemian Magazine_, 104

Bourne, Randolph, 147 _n_, 158, 237 _n_.

Boynton, H. W., 134, 158

British mind, 25

Brooks, Van Wyck, 134

_Butler, Edward Malia_, 116 et seq., 119

Calvinism, 14, 139, 164, 197 et seq.

Catholicism, Dreiser's, 75

Censorship, theatre, 241; moving picture, 242, 274

_Century Magazine_, 143, 221

"Chance," 37, 48, 56, 60

Chicago Vice Commission, report of, 269

"Children of the Sea," _see_ "Nigger of the Narcissus, The"

"Chopin: the Man and His Music," 166, 169 et seq.

Clemens, S. L., _see_ Twain, Mark

Clifford, Hugh, 52, 54, 59

Comstock, Anthony, 253 et seq.

Comstock Postal Acts of 1873, 241, 257 et seq.

Comstocks, attack on Dreiser, 101-2, 140 et seq.

Conrad, Joseph, birth and parentage, 20;
  first book, 51;
  early success, 53;
  pensioned, 54;
  his books as bibelots, 56;
  style, 36 et seq.;
  materials, 40 et seq.;
  irony, 13, 18;
  ethical agnosticism, 17, 29-32;
  on women, 33-5;
  statement of his task, 29;
  contrasted with other authors, 30, 45, 48-9, 88 et seq., 96

_Cowperwood, Frank_, 79, 114 et seq., 135, 201

Criticism in America, 153 et seq., 191-2

Curle, Richard, 60

_Delineator_, 104

de Pachmann, Vladimir, 171, 178

Dewey, John, 152-3

Dime novels, Dreiser as editor of, 103

Doubleday, Page & Co., 70, 100-1, 102

Drama League of America, 180, 182

Dreiser, Theodore, birth and parentage, 76-7, 106;
  early influences, 68 et seq.;
  career in journalism, 98-105;
  first book, 70, 98 et seq.;
  dates of books, 100, 105;
  plays, 105, 125-6;
  travel books, 105, 127-131;
  style, 79 et seq., 113;
  mysticism, 12;
  agnosticism, 88 et seq., 147;
  his novels criticized, 106 et seq.;
  academic attitude toward, 131 et seq.;
  attacked by Comstocks, 139 et seq.;
  contrasted with Conrad, 34, 88 et seq.

Dresser, Paul, 106, 130

"Egoists," 179, 181

"End of the Tether, The," 47

"Falk," 16, 36, 39, 47, 59, 64

Fiction, English, 18, 19

"Financier, The," 81, 86, 101, 105, 107, 114, 122, 138

Flaubert, Gustave, 73, 84, 136, 181

Follett, Wilson, 11, 13, 17, 60

Garnett, Edward, 52

"'Genius,' The," 80-1, 83, 86, 87, 93, 105, 107, 115, 122, 125,
  139, 226, 270, 273, 282

_Gerhardt, Jennie_, 109-10, 119, 137

_Gerhardt, Jennie's_ father, 96, 117

German mind, 25

"Girl in the Coffin, The," 125

Good Templars, 228-30

_Goorall, Yanko_, 12

Great Awakening of 1734, 227

Greenwich Village, 124, 145, 224

"Hand of the Potter, The," 105

_Hanson, Minnie_, 85

Hardy, Thomas, 16, 62, 69, 71, 72, 76, 260

Harper & Bros., 100-2, 105

Harvard, 163, 169, 177

"Heart of Darkness," 35, 36, 41, 64

_Herrenmoral_, 236

_Heyst_, 12, 34, 59

"Hoosier Holiday, A," 76, 86, 88, 92, 105, 106, 125, 127 et seq.

Hope, Dreiser on, 126

Howells, W. D., 28, 58, 74, 76, 97, 156, 159, 188, 205, 217, 218,
  275, 282

Hueffer, Ford Madox, 53, 54

Huneker, James, birth and parentage, 164;
  in journalism, 167, 183;
  as music student, 166-7;
  as a critic, 159 et seq., 190-4;
  books on music, 168-175;
  stories, 188-90;
  on Conrad, 59;
  his aims, 193;
  style, 180 et seq.

_Hurstwood_, 99, 108-9

Ibsen, Henrik, 15, 23, 24, 40, 83, 124, 156, 160-1, 162, 182, 200

"Iconoclasts," 169, 170, 179, 181

"Inheritors, The," 42, 53, 56

"In the Dark," 126

"Ivory, Apes and Peacocks," 59

James, Henry, 58, 62, 113, 217, 218, 283

"Jennie Gerhardt," 16, 71, 76-7, 82, 84, 96, 101, 105-9, 111-2, 117,
  124, 276

Jesup, Morris K., 257 et seq.

_Jim, Lord_, 12, 16, 38, 39, 42, 59

_Jones, Althea_, 80-1, 85

Joseffy, Rafael, 167, 178

Kellner, Leon, 197 et seq.

_Kultur-Novellen_, Huneker's, 188 et seq.

_Kurtz_, 12, 16, 34, 38, 39, 59

Libraries, Dreiser's books in American, 143-5 _n_.

"Life, Art and America," 86, 88, 92, 105

"Lord Jim," 36, 47, 56, 60

Lord's Day Alliance, 242

Love, Dreiser on, 126

_MacWhirr, Capt._, 12, 37, 42

Mann Act, 241, 251-2, 258

_Marlow_, 36, 37

_Meeber, Carrie_, 40, 85, 99, 109 et seq., 126, 137

"Melomaniacs," 188 et seq.

Men and Religions Forward Movement, 239

Methodism, 139, 197, 277

"Mezzotints in Modern Music," 168

"Mirror of the Sea, The," 50, 56

"Morals, Not Art or Literature," 253

Naturalism, German, 77

"New Cosmopolis," 165, 183 et seq.

Nietzsche, F. W., 15, 29, 90, 93, 136, 158, 162, 173, 180, 181, 183,
  192, 193

"Nigger of the Narcissus, The," 50, 52, 56

Norris, Frank, 15, 70, 71, 100, 108, 122, 163, 191, 224

"Nostromo," 12, 38, 42, 45, 46-7, 48, 56

"Old Fogy," 170 et seq., 179, 181

"Old Ragpicker," 125

"Outcast of the Islands, An," 37

Page, Walter H., 102

"Pathos of Distance, The," 164

"Personal Record, A," 37, 51, 88

Pilsner, 165, 184-5

"Plays of the Natural and the Supernatural," 105, 125

Poe, Edgar Allan, 73, 151, 152, 154, 180-1, 189, 214, 221

"Point of Honor, The," 42, 47

Prague, 165, 185-6

Prohibition, 228-9, 244 et seq.

Prudery, American, 228

_Razumov_, 12, 34, 49

Resignationism, 14

"Return, The," 42

"Romance," 56

_Ruiz, Gaspar_, 12

Russia, Conrad's picture of, 49-50

Sea, Conrad's pictures of, 50-1

"Secret Agent, The," 42, 48, 59, 60

"Set of Six, A.," 56

"Shadow Line, The," 12, 13, 47

Shakespeare, Wm., 14-5, 61, 155, 121, 199, 204

Shaw, G. B., 15, 16, 19, 26, 121-2, 161, 182, 269

"Sister Carrie," 58, 70, 71, 73, 81, 84, 95, 97, 98 et seq., 105,
  107, 108, 109, 111, 112-3, 117, 119, 126, 143, 201

_Sklavenmoral_, 22, 235

Slav, qualities of, 14

"Some Reminiscences," 37, 56. (_See also_ "Personal Record, A.")

Sons of Temperance, 228

Street & Smith, 103-4

Symons, Arthur, 19, 28-9, 39

"Tales of Unrest," 52, 56

"Titan, The," 60, 77, 82, 86, 101, 105, 106, 111, 114, 117 et seq.,
  129, 138, 201, 275

Train, George Francis, 261-2

"Traveler at Forty, A.," 76, 82, 105, 125, 127

Truth, Dreiser on, 126

Twain, Mark, 15, 17, 30, 90, 131-2, 133, 143, 151, 202, 203-4, 217, 222

"Typhoon," 12, 47, 50, 53

"Under Western Eyes," 36, 42, 47, 48, 49, 56, 59

"Victory," 13, 33, 42, 48, 55, 56

"Visionaries," 188 et seq.

Webb Law, 230, 241, 258

Wells, H. G., 19, 32, 38, 48, 53, 62, 135, 142, 144, 281

_Wille zur Macht_, the Puritan, 237, 246

_Witla, Eugene_, 122 et seq., 137, 140 et seq.

Young Men's Christian Association, 230, 238, 240, 256

"Youth," 12, 13, 37, 41, 48, 53, 54, 56, 64

Zola, Emile, 15-6, 63, 71-2, 76, 78, 113, 124, 136, 202, 216, 260

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