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Title: Literature in the Making - by some of its makers
Author: Various
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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 Copyright, 1917, by Harper & Brothers
 Printed in the United States of America
 Published April, 1917




_WAR STOPS LITERATURE_                                                3

                                        WILLIAM DEAN HOWELLS

    William Dean Howells, the foremost American novelist of
    his generation, was born at Martin's Ferry, Ohio, March
    11, 1837. Most of his many novels have been realistic
    and sympathetic studies of contemporary American life.
    For some years he has written "The Editor's Easy Chair"
    in _Harper's Magazine_. He has received honorary
    degrees from Harvard, Yale, Oxford, and Columbia, and
    in 1915 the National Institute of Arts and Letters
    awarded him its Gold Medal "For distinguished work in
    fiction." _The Daughter of the Storage_ and _Years of
    My Youth_ are his latest books.

_THE JOYS OF THE POOR_                                               19

                                             KATHLEEN NORRIS

    Kathleen Norris was born in San Francisco, California,
    July 16, 1880. She is the wife of Charles Gilman
    Norris, himself a writer and the brother of the late
    Frank Norris. Among Mrs. Norris's best-known novels are
    _Mother_, _The Story of Julia Page_, and _The Heart of

_NATIONAL PROSPERITY AND ART_                                        35

                                            BOOTH TARKINGTON

    Booth Tarkington was born in Indianapolis, Indiana,
    July 29, 1869. A prolific and brilliant writer, he has
    scored many successes of different types, being the
    author of the romantic drama _Monsieur Beaucaire_, and
    of many novels dealing with contemporary Middle-Western
    life. Recently he has, in _Seventeen_ and the "Penrod"
    stories, given his attention to the comedies and
    tragedies of American youth.

_ROMANTICISM AND AMERICAN HUMOR_                                     45

                                              MONTAGUE GLASS

    Montague Glass was born at Manchester, England, July
    23, 1877. Coming in his youth to the United States, he
    brought into American fiction a new type--that of the
    metropolitan Jewish-American business man. His _Potash
    and Perlmutter_ and _Abe and Mawruss_ have given him a
    European as well as an American reputation.

_THE "MOVIES" BENEFIT LITERATURE_                                    63

                                                   REX BEACH

    Rex Beach was born at Atwood, Michigan, September 1,
    1877. His novels deal chiefly with the West and the
    North, and his favorite theme is adventurous life in
    the open. Among his best-known books are _The
    Spoilers_, _The Silver Horde_, and _Rainbow's End_.

_WHAT IS GENIUS?_                                                    75

                                          ROBERT W. CHAMBERS

    Robert W. Chambers was born in Brooklyn, New York, May
    26, 1865. One of the most widely read writers of his
    time, he has given his attention chiefly to English and
    American society, making it the theme of a large number
    of novels, among which may be mentioned _The Fighting
    Chance_, _Japonette_, and _Athalie_.

_DETERIORATION OF THE SHORT STORY_                                   89

                                            JAMES LANE ALLEN

    James Lane Allen was born near Lexington, Kentucky, in
    1849. In 1886 he gave up his profession of teaching to
    devote his attention to literature. Many of his novels
    deal with the South. Of them perhaps _The Kentucky
    Cardinal_ and _The Choir Invisible_ are best known.

_SOME HARMFUL INFLUENCES_                                           101

                                           HARRY LEON WILSON

    Harry Leon Wilson was born in Oregon, Illinois, May 1,
    1867. He was co-author with Booth Tarkington of _The
    Man from Home_, and his _Bunker Bean_ and _Ruggles of
    Red Gap_ have given him a great reputation for
    irresistible and peculiarly American humor.

_THE PASSING OF THE SNOB_                                           119

                                            EDWARD S. MARTIN

    Edward Sandford Martin was born in Willowbrook, Owasco,
    New York, January 2, 1856. His keen yet sympathetic
    observation of modern life finds expression in essays,
    many of which have been used editorially in Life.
    Several volumes of his essays have been published,
    among which may be mentioned _The Luxury of Children,
    and Some Other Luxuries_ and _Reflections of a
    Beginning Husband_.

_COMMERCIALIZING THE SEX INSTINCT_                                  131

                                              ROBERT HERRICK

    Robert Herrick was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts,
    April 26, 1868. He has been until recently a professor
    at the University of Chicago. He is a critic and a
    writer of realistic novels. _The Web of Life_, _The
    Common Lot_, _Together_, and _Clark's Field_ are novels
    that show Mr. Herrick's questioning attitude toward
    some modern social institutions.

_SIXTEEN DON'TS FOR POETS_                                          145

                                            ARTHUR GUITERMAN

    Arthur Guiterman was born of American parents in
    Vienna, Austria, November 28, 1871. He is a writer of
    deft and humorous light verse, of which a volume was
    recently published under the title _The Laughing Muse_.
    He contributes a weekly rhymed review to _Life_.

_MAGAZINES CHEAPEN FICTION_                                         157

                                      GEORGE BARR McCUTCHEON

    George Barr McCutcheon was born on a farm in Tippecanoe
    County, Indiana, July 26, 1866. He is a short-story
    writer and novelist, devoting himself chiefly to tales
    of adventure. _Beverley of Graustark_ and the volumes
    that succeeded it have gained him many admirers among
    lovers of romance.

_BUSINESS INCOMPATIBLE WITH ART_                                    169

                                           FRANK H. SPEARMAN

    Frank H. Spearman was born at Buffalo, New York,
    September 6, 1859. He is known both as a short-story
    writer and a writer of articles on economic topics. His
    novels are founded chiefly on themes dealing with the
    great industrial enterprises of the West, especially
    the railroads. The best known of these are _The
    Daughter of a Magnate_ and _The Strategy of Great

_THE NOVEL MUST GO_                                                 187

                                              WILL N. HARBEN

    Will N. Harben, who was born in Dalton, Georgia, July
    5, 1858, began his career in business in the South. His
    entrance into literature began with the assistant
    editorship of the _Youth's Companion_. He had gained a
    distinctive place as an interpreter of phases of
    Southern life in the company which includes Cable,
    Harris, and Johnston. His novels include _Pole Baker_,
    _Ann Boyd_, _Second Choice_, and many others.

_LITERATURE IN THE COLLEGES_                                        199

                                                JOHN ERSKINE

    John Erskine was born in New York City, October 5,
    1879. He is Adjunct Professor of English at Columbia
    University, the author of many text-books and critical
    works, of _Actæon and Other Poems_ and of _The Moral
    Obligation to be Intelligent and Other Essays_.

_CITY LIFE VERSUS LITERATURE_                                       213

                                              JOHN BURROUGHS

    John Burroughs was born in Roxbury, New York, April 3,
    1837. He taught school in his early years, and held for
    a time a clerkship in the United States Treasury. Since
    1874 he has devoted himself to literature and fruit
    culture. Among his well-known "Nature" books may be
    noted _Wake Robin_, _Bird and Bough_, and _Camping and
    Tramping with Roosevelt_.

_"EVASIVE IDEALISM" IN LITERATURE_                                  229

                                               ELLEN GLASGOW

    Ellen Glasgow was born in Richmond, Virginia, April 22,
    1874. Her novels, among which may be mentioned _The
    Voice of the People_, _The Romance of a Plain Man_, and
    _Life and Gabriella_, deal chiefly with social and
    psychological problems, and their scenes are for the
    most part in the southern part of the United States.

_"CHOCOLATE FUDGE" IN THE MAGAZINE_                                 241

                                                FANNIE HURST

    Fannie Hurst was born in St. Louis, October 19, 1889.
    She has served as a saleswoman and as a waitress and
    crossed the Atlantic in the steerage to get material
    for her short stories of the life of the working-woman,
    selections of which have been published with the titles
    _Just Around the Corner_ and _Every Soul Hath Its

_THE NEW SPIRIT IN POETRY_                                          253

                                                  AMY LOWELL

    Amy Lowell was born in Brookline, Massachusetts,
    February 9, 1874. She is prominently identified with
    _vers libre_, _imagisme_, and other ultra-modern poetic
    tendencies. She has published a volume of essays on
    modern French poetry and three books of poems, of
    which _Men, Women, and Ghosts_ is the most recent.

_A NEW DEFINITION OF POETRY_                                        265

                                    EDWIN ARLINGTON ROBINSON

    Edwin Arlington Robinson was born in Head Tide, Maine,
    December 22, 1869. He has written plays, but is chiefly
    known for his poems, most of them studies of character.
    His most recent volume is _Merlin: A Poem_.

_LET POETRY BE FREE_                                                277

                                   JOSEPHINE PRESTON PEABODY

    Josephine Preston Peabody was born in New York City.
    She won the Stratford-on-Avon Prize for her poetic
    drama _The Piper_. She has published many books of
    verse, one of which, called _Harvest Moon_, deals
    chiefly with woman's tragic share in the Great War. She
    is the wife of Prof. Lionel Simeon Marks of Harvard.

_THE HERESY OF SUPERMANISM_                                         289

                                        CHARLES RANN KENNEDY

    Charles Rann Kennedy was born at Derby, England,
    February 14, 1871. His plays, dealing with social and
    religious questions, include _The Servant in the
    House_, _The Terrible Meek_, _The Idol-Breakers_, and
    _The Rib of the Man_, his latest work.

_THE MASQUE AND DEMOCRACY_                                          305

                                               PERCY MACKAYE

    Percy MacKaye was born in New York City, March 16,
    1875. He has written many poems and plays, and has been
    especially identified with the production of community
    pageants and masques, having written and directed the
    St. Louis Civic Masque in 1914, and the Shakespeare
    Masque in New York City in 1916. Among his published
    works may be mentioned _The Scarecrow_, _Jeanne d'Arc_,
    _Sappho and Phaon_ and _Anti-Matrimony_ (plays) and
    _Uriel and Other Poems_.


This book is an effort to bridge the gulf between literary theory and
literary practice. In these days of specialization it is more than ever
true that the man who lectures and writes about the craft of writing
seldom has the time or the inclination to show, by actual work, that he
can apply his principles. On the other hand, the successful novelist,
poet, or playwright devotes himself to his craft and seldom attempts to
analyze and display the methods by which he obtains his effect, or even
to state his opinion on matters intellectual and æsthetic.

Now, the professor of English and the literary critic are valuable
members of society, and the development of literature owes much to their
counsel and guardianship. But there is a special significance in the
opinion which the writer holds concerning his own trade, in the advice
which he bases upon his own experience, in the theory of life and art
which he has formulated for himself.

Therefore I have spent considerable time in talking with some of the
most widely read authors of our day, and in obtaining from them frank
and informal statements of their points of view. I have purposely
refrained from confining myself to writers of any one school or type of
mind--the dean of American letters and the most advanced of our newest
poetical anarchists alike are represented in these pages. The authors
have talked freely, realizing that this was an opportunity to set forth
their views definitely and comprehensively. They have not the time to
write or lecture about their art, but they are willing to talk about it.

They knew that through me they spoke, in the first place, to the great
army of readers of their books who have a natural and pleasing curiosity
concerning the personality of the men and women who devote their lives
to providing them with entertainment, and, in some cases, instruction.
They knew that through me they spoke, in the second place, to all the
literary apprentices of the country, who look eagerly for precept and
example to those who have won fame by the delightful labor of writing.
They knew that through me they spoke, in the third place, to critics and
students of literature of our own generation and, perhaps, of those that
shall come after us. How eagerly would we read, for instance, an
interview with Francis Bacon on the question of the authorship of
Shakespeare's plays, or an interview with Oliver Goldsmith in which he
gave his real opinion of Dr. Johnson, Garrick, and Boswell! A century or
so from now, some of the writers who in this book talk to the world may
be the objects of curiosity as great.

The writers who have talked with me received me with courtesy, gave me
freely of their time and thought, and showed a sincere desire for the
furtherance of the purpose of this book. To them, accordingly, I tender
my gratitude for anything in these pages which the reader may find of
interest or of value. Their explanations of their literary creeds and
practices were furnished in the first instance for the _New York Times_,
to which I desire to express my acknowledgments.

                                                   JOYCE KILMER.




War stops literature. This is the belief of a man who for more than a
quarter of a century has been in the front rank of the world's
novelists, who wrote _The Rise of Silas Lapham_ and _A Modern Instance_
and nearly a hundred other sympathetic interpretations of American life.

Mr. William Dean Howells was the third writer to whom was put the
question, "What effect will the Great War have on literature?" And he
was the first to give a direct answer.

A famous French dramatist replied: "I am not a prophet. I have enough to
do to understand the present and the past; I cannot concern myself with
the future." A famous English short-story writer said, "The war has
already inspired some splendid poetry; it may also inspire great plays
and novels, but, of course, we cannot tell as yet."

But Mr. Howells said, quite simply, "War stops literature." He said it
as unemotionally as if he were stating a familiar axiom.

He does not consider it an axiom, however, for he supplied proof.

"I have never believed," he said, "that great events produced great
literature. They seldom call forth the great creative powers of man. In
poetry it is not the poems of occasion that endure, but the poems that
have come into being independently, not as the result of momentous

"This war does not furnish the poet, the novelist, and the dramatist
with the material of literature. For instance, the Germans, as every one
will admit, have shown extraordinary valor. But we do not think of
celebrating that valor in poetry; it does not thrill the modern writers
as such valor thrilled the writers of bygone centuries. When we think of
the valor of the Germans, our emotion is not admiration but pity.

"And the reason for this is that fighting is no longer our ideal.
Fighting was not a great ideal, and therefore it is no longer our ideal.
All that old material of literature--the clashing of swords, the thunder
of shot and shell, the great clouds of smoke, the blood and fury--all
this has gone out from literature. It is an anachronism."

"But the American Civil War produced literature, did it not?" I asked.

"What great literature did it produce?" asked Mr. Howells in turn. "As I
look back over my life and recall to mind the great number of books that
the Civil War inspired I find that I am thinking of things that the
American people have forgotten. They did not become literature, these
poems and stories that came in such quantities and seemed so important
in the sixties.

"There were the novels of J. W. De Forest, for instance. They were well
written, they were interesting, they described some phases of the Civil
War truthfully and vividly. We read them when they were written--but you
probably have never heard of them. No one reads them now. They were
literature, but that about which they were written has ceased to be of
literary interest.

"Of course, the Civil War, because of its peculiar nature, was followed
by an expansion, intellectual as well as social and economic. And this
expansion undoubtedly had its beneficial effect on literature. But the
Civil War itself did not have, could not have, literary expression.

"Of all the writings which the Civil War directly inspired I can think
of only one that has endured to be called literature. That is Lowell's
'Commemoration Ode.'

"War stops literature. It is an upheaval of civilization, a return to
barbarism; it means death to all the arts. Even the preparation for war
stops literature. It stopped it in Germany years ago. A little anecdote
is significant.

"I was in Florence about 1883, long after the Franco-Prussian War, and
there I met the editor of a great German literary weekly--I will not
tell you its name or his. He was a man of refinement and education, and
I have not forgotten his great kindness to my own fiction. One day I
asked him about the German novelists of the day.

"He said: 'There are no longer any German novelists worthy of the name.
Our new ideal has stopped all that. Militarism is our new ideal--the
ideal of Duty--and it has killed our imagination. So the German novel is

"Why is it, then," I asked, "that Russia, a nation of militaristic
ideals, has produced so many great novels during the past century?"

"Russia is not Germany," answered the man who taught Americans to read
Turgenieff. "The people of Russia are not militaristic as the people of
Germany are militaristic. In Germany war has for a generation been the
chief idea of every one. The nation has had a militaristic obsession.
And this, naturally, has stifled the imagination.

"But in Russia nothing of the sort has happened. Whatever the designs of
the ruling classes may be, the people of Russia keep their simplicity,
their large intellectuality and spirituality. And, therefore, their
imagination and other great intellectual and spiritual gifts find
expression in their great novels and plays.

"I well remember how the Russian novelists impressed me when I was a
young man. They opened to me what seemed to be a new world--and it was
only the real world. There is Tcheckoff--have you read his _Orchard_?
What life, what color, what beauty of truth are in that book!

"Then there is Turgenieff--how grateful I am for his books! It must be
thirty years since I first read him. Thomas Sargent Perry, of Boston, a
man of the greatest culture, was almost the first American to read
Turgenieff. Stedman read Turgenieff in those days, too. Soon all of the
younger writers were reading him.

"I remember very well a dinner at Whitelaw Reid's house in Lexington
Avenue, when some of us young men were enthusiastic over the Russian
novel, and the author we mentioned most frequently was Turgenieff.

"Dr. J. G. Holland, the poet who edited _The Century_, lived across the
street from Mr. Reid, and during the evening he came over and joined us.
He listened to us for a long time in silence, hardly speaking a word.
When he rose to go, he said: 'I have been listening to the conversation
of these young men for over an hour. They have been talking about books.
And I have never before heard the names of any of the authors they have

"Were those the days," I asked, "in which you first read Tolstoy?"

"That was long before the time," answered Mr. Howells. "Tolstoy
afterward meant everything to me--his philosophy as well as his
art--far more than Turgenieff. Tolstoy did not love all his writing.
He loved the thing that he wrote about, the thing that he lived and
taught--equality. And equality is the best thing in the world. It
is the thing for which the Best of Men lived and died.

"I never met Tolstoy," said Mr. Howells. "But I once sent him a message
of appreciation after he had sent a message to me. Tolstoy was great in
the way he wrote as well as in what he wrote. Tolstoy's force is a moral
force. His great art is as simple as nature."

"Do you think that the Russian novelists have influenced your work?" I

"I think," Mr. Howells replied, "that I had determined what I was to do
before I read any Russian novels. I first thought that it was necessary
to write only about things that I knew had already been written about.
Certain things had already been in books; therefore, I thought, they
legitimately were literary subjects and I might write about them.

"But soon I knew that this idea was wrong, that I must get my material,
not out of books, but out of life. And I also knew that it was not
necessary for me to look at life through English spectacles. Most of our
writers had been looking at life through English spectacles; they had
been closely following in the footsteps of English novelists. I saw
that around me were the materials for my work. I saw around me
life--wholesome, natural, human.

"I saw a young, free, energetic society. I saw a society in which
love--the greatest and most beautiful thing in the world--was innocent;
a society in which the relation between man and woman was simple and
pure. Here, I thought, are the materials for novels. Why should I go
back to the people of bygone ages and of lands not my own?"

"Do you think," I asked, "that romanticism has lost its hold on the

Mr. Howells smiled. "When realism," he said, "is once in a novelist's
blood he never can degenerate into romanticism. Romanticism is no longer
a literary force among English-speaking authors. Romanticism belongs to
the days in which war was an aim, an ideal, instead of a tragic
accident. It is something foreign to us. And literature must be native
to the soil, affected, of course, by the culture of other lands and
ages, but essentially of the people of the land and time in which it is
produced. Realism is the material of democracy. And no great literature
or art can arise outside of the democracy."

Tolstoy was mentioned again, and Mr. Howells was asked if he did not
think that the Russian novelist's custom of devoting a part of every day
to work that was not literary showed that all writers would be better
off if they were obliged to make a living in some other way than by
writing. Mr. Howells gave his answer with considerable vigor. His calm,
blue eyes lost something of their kindliness, and his lips were
compressed into a straight, thin line before he said:

"I certainly do not think so. The artist in letters or in lines should
have leisure in which to perform his valuable service to society. The
history of literature is full of heartbreaking instances of writers
whose productive careers were retarded by their inability to earn a
living at their chosen profession. The belief that poverty helps a
writer is stupid and wrong. Necessity is not and never has been an
incentive. Poverty is not and never has been an incentive. Writers and
other creative artists are hindered, not helped, by lack of leisure.

"I remember my own early experiences, and I know that my writing
suffered very much because I could not devote all my time to it. I had
to spend ten hours in drudgery for every two that I spent on my real
work. The fact that authors who have given the world things that it
treasures are forced to live in a state of anxiety over their finances
is lamentable. This anxiety cannot but have a restrictive influence on
literature. It is not want, but the fear of want, that kills."

"Still, in spite of their precarious financial condition, modern authors
are doing good work, are they not?" I asked.

"Certainly they are," answered Mr. Howells, "the novelists especially.
There is Robert Herrick, for example. His novels are interesting
stories, and they also are faithful reflections of American life. Will
Harben's work is admirable. It has splendid realism and fine humor.
Perhaps one thing that has kept it, so far, from an appreciation so
general as it will one day receive, is the fact that it deals, for the
most part, with one special locality, a certain part of Georgia.

"And in Spain--what excellent novelists they have there and have had for
a long time! The realistic movement reached Spain long before it reached
England and the United States. In fact, English-speaking countries were
the last to accept it. I have taken great pleasure in the works of
Armando Valdés. Then there are Pérez Galdós and Emilia Pardo Bazián, and
that priest who wrote a realistic novel about Madrid society. All these
novelists are realists, and realists of power.

"Then there are the great Scandinavians. I hope that I may some time
attempt to express a little of my gratitude for the pleasure that
Björnson's works have given me."

I asked, "What do you think of contemporary poetry?"

"I admired chiefly that of Thomas Hardy," said Mr. Howells. "His poems
have force and actuality and music and charm. Masefield I like, with
reservations. Three modern poets who give me great pleasure are Thomas
Hardy, William Watson, and Charles Hanson Towne. The first one of Mr.
Towne's poems that I read was "Manhattan." I have not forgotten the
truth of that poetic interpretation of New York. His poems are beautiful
and they are full of humanity. In his latest book there is a poem called
'A Ballad of Shame and Dread' that moved me deeply. It is a slight
thing, but it is wonderfully powerful. Like all of Towne's poetry, it is
warm with human sympathy."

"Do you think," I asked, "that the great social problems of the day, the
feminine unrest, for instance, are finding their expression in

"No," said Mr. Howells, "I cannot call to mind any adequate literary
expression of the woman movement. Perhaps this is because the women who
know most about it and feel it most strongly are not writers. The best
things that have been said about woman suffrage in our time have been
said by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. She has written the noblest satire
since Lowell. What wit she has, and what courage! Once I heard her
address a meeting of Single-Taxers. Now, the Single-Taxers are all right
so far as they go, but they don't go far enough. The Single-Taxers
heckled her, but she had a retort ready for every interruption. She
stood there with her brave smile and talked them all down."

"Do you think that Ibsen expressed the modern feminine unrest in _The
Doll's House_?" Mr. Howells was asked.

"Ibsen seldom expressed things," was his reply. "He suggested them,
mooted them, but he did not express them. _The Doll's House_ does not
express the meaning of unrest, it suggests it. Ibsen told you where you
stood, not where to go."

Mr. Howells had recently presided at a meeting which was addressed by
M. Brieux, and he expressed great admiration for the work of the French

"He is a great dramatist," he said. "He has given faithful reports of
life, and faithful reports of life are necessarily criticisms of life.
All great novels are criticisms of life. And I think that the poets will
concern themselves more and more with the life around them. It is
possible that soon we may have an epic in which the poet deals with the
events of contemporary life."

Mr. Howells is keenly awake to the effect which the war is having on
conditions in New York. And in his sympathy for the society which
inevitably must suffer for a war in which it is not directly concerned,
the active interest of the novelist was evident. "If all this only could
be reflected in a book!" he said. "If some novelist could interpret



Any young woman who desires to become a famous novelist and short-story
writer like Kathleen Norris will do well to take the following steps: In
the first place, come to New York. In the second place, marry some one
like Charles Gilman Norris.

Of course, every one who read _Mother_ and _The Rich Mrs. Burgoyne_ and
_Saturday's Child_ knew that the author was a married woman--and also a
married woman with plenty of personal experience with babies and stoves
and servants and other important domestic items. But not until I visited
Kathleen Norris at her very genuine home in Port Washington did I
appreciate the part which that domestic item called a husband has played
in Kathleen Norris's communications to the world.

I made this discovery after Charles Gilman Norris--accompanied by
little Frank, who bears the name of the illustrious novelist who was his
uncle--had motored me through Port Washington's pleasant avenues to the
Norris house. Before a fire of crackling hickory logs, Kathleen Norris
(clad in something very charming, which I will not attempt to describe)
was talking about the qualities necessary to a writer's success. And one
of these, she said, was a business sense.

Now, Mrs. Norris did not look exactly business-like. Nor is "a business
sense" the quality which most readers would immediately hit upon as the
characteristic which made the author of _Gayley the Troubadour_
different from the writers of other stories. I ventured to suggest this
to Mrs. Norris.

"I don't claim to possess a business sense," she said. "But my husband
has a business sense. He has taken charge of selling my stories to the
magazines and dealing with publishers and all of that. I do think that
literally thousands of writers are hindered from ever reaching the
public by the lack of business sense. And I know that my husband has
been responsible for getting most of my work published. My stories have
appeared since my marriage, you know. I don't need to have a business
sense, all I have to do is to write the stories. My husband does all
the rest--I don't need even to have any of the author's complacency, or
the author's pride!"

Mrs. Norris's fame is only about five years old--about as old as her
son. I asked her about her life before she was known as a writer,
expecting to hear picturesque tales of literary tribulations among the
hills of California. But her description of her journey to success was
not the conventional one; her journey was not for years paved with
rejection slips and illumined with midnight oil.

"It was New York that did it," she said. "When we first came to New York
from California the editor of a magazine with which Mr. Norris was
connected gave us a tea. Most of the people who were present were
short-story writers and novelists. It was pleasant for me to meet them,
and I enjoyed the afternoon. But my chief sensation was one of shock--it
was a real shock to me to find that writers were people!

"I felt as if I had met Joan of Arc, Cæsar, Cleopatra, Alexander the
Great, and all the great figures of history, and found them to be human
beings like myself. 'These writers are not supermen and superwomen,' I
said to myself, 'they are human beings like me. Why can't I do what
they're doing?'

"I thought this over after we went home that evening. And I made a
resolve. I resolved that before the next tea that I attended I would
tell a story. And when I next went to a tea I had sold a story."

"To what publication had you sold it?" I asked.

"To an evening paper," said Mrs. Norris; "but I had written and sold a
story. That was something; it meant a great deal to me. My first stories
were all sold to this evening paper, for twelve dollars each. This paper
printed a story every day, paying twelve dollars for each of them, and
giving a prize of fifty dollars for the best story published each week.
I won one of the fifty-dollar prizes."

Any one who to-day could buy a Kathleen Norris story for fifty dollars
would be not an editor, but a magician. Yet the memory of that early
triumph seemed to give Mrs. Norris real pleasure.

"I wrote _What Happened to Alanna_ two years before the Fire," she said.
("The Fire" means only one thing when a Californian says it.) "But most
of my stories have been written since I came to New York."

I asked Mrs. Norris for the history of one of her earliest stories, a
story of California life which appeared in the _Atlantic Monthly_. She
said: "That story went to twenty-six magazines before it was printed. My
husband had an alphabetical list of magazines. He sent the story first
to the _Atlantic Monthly_ and then to twenty-five other magazines. They
all returned it. Then he started at the top of the list again, and this
time the _Atlantic Monthly_ accepted it."

The mention of Mr. Norris's activities in selling this story brought our
conversation back to the subject of the "business sense."

"A writer needs the ability to sell a story as well as the ability to
write it," said Mrs. Norris, "unless there is some one else to do the
writing. Many a woman writes a really good story, sends it hopefully to
an editor, gets it back with a printed notice of its rejection, and puts
it away in a desk drawer. Then years later she tells her grandchildren
that she once wanted to be an author, but found that she couldn't do it.

"Now, that is no way for a writer to gain success. The writer must be
persevering, not only in writing, but in trying to get his work before
the public. Unless, as I said, there is some one else to supply the
perseverance in getting the work before the public.

"I think that the desire to write generally indicates the possession of
the power to write. But young writers are too easily discouraged. But I
have no right to blame a writer for being discouraged. I had frightful
discouragement--until I was married."

It is easy to see that Kathleen Norris does not hesitate to find in her
own home life material for her industrious pen. Little Frank has
undoubtedly served his mother as a model many times--which is not meant
to indicate that he is that monstrosity, a model child. Indeed, Mrs.
Norris believes that a novelist should use the material which lies ready
at hand, instead of seeking for exotic and unusual topics. She sees that
people want to read about the things with which they are already
familiar, that they are not (as many young writers seem to think) eager
for novelties.

"I cannot understand," she said, "how it is that writers will clamor for
recognition, and abuse the public for not welcoming them with
enthusiasm, and yet will not give the public what they know that the
public wants. So many people seem to want just their own sort of art,
but to want money, too. Now, I wouldn't write for a million dollars some
of those things that are called 'best sellers.' But I cannot see why a
writer who is avowedly writing for the public should think it beneath
him to treat the themes in which the public is interested. The greatest
tragedy of literature is the writer who persists in trying to give the
public what it does not want. Think of poor Gissing, for instance, dying
embittered because he couldn't sell his work!"

Mrs. Norris's conviction that a writer should use the material around
him is so strong that she seems actually to be pained by the thought of
all the excellent things for stories that are going to waste. I asked
her if literature ever could come from apartment-houses. She said:

"Of course it can! There is no reason why there shouldn't be good
stories and novels of apartment-house life. One reason why we are not
writing more and better stories of the life around us is because we are
living that life so intensely--too intensely. We live in this country so
close to our income that the problem of earning money makes us lose
sight of the essentials of life. It would be a fine thing for us,
mentally and spiritually, if we should live on less than we do. If, for
example, a family that found it was in receipt of a few hundred dollars
more a year than before should decide, therefore, to live under a
simpler scale than before, to do away with some really worthless
luxuries, what a fine thing that would be!"

Of course many young writers come to Mrs. Norris for advice. And some of
them excellently illustrate the tendency which she deprecates, the
tendency to write about the unknown instead of the familiar.

"I was talking the other day to a young girl of my acquaintance who is a
costume model," she said. "She has literary aspirations. Now, her life
itself has been an interesting story--her rise from a shopgirl to her
present position. And every now and then she will say something to me
that is a most interesting revelation--something that indicates the rich
store of experience that she might, if she would, draw upon in her
stories. On one occasion she said to me, 'I went home and put my
shoe-drawer in order.'

"'What do you mean?' I asked. 'What is your shoe-drawer?'

"'Why, my shoe-drawer!' she answered. 'You see, we costume models have
to have a drawer full of shoes, because we must change our shoes to
match every costume.'

"Why is it," asked Mrs. Norris, "that a girl like that cannot see the
value of such an incident as that? That shoe-drawer is a picturesque and
interesting thing, unknown to most people. And this girl, who knows all
about it, and wants to write, cannot see its literary value! And yet
what more interesting subject is there for her to write about than that
shoe-drawer? I do not see why writers will not appreciate the importance
of writing about the things that are around them."

Mrs. Norris gave a somewhat embarrassed laugh. "I really shouldn't
attempt to lay down the law in this way," she said. "I can speak only
for myself--I must write of the people and things that I know best, but
I ought not to attempt to prescribe what other people shall write

Mrs. Norris's chief literary enthusiasm seems to be Charles Dickens.
"When we were all infants out in the backwoods of California," she said,
"we battened on Dickens. Dickens and a writer whom I don't suppose
anybody reads nowadays--Henry Kingsley. The boys read Sir Walter
Scott's novels, and left Dickens to me. I read Dickens with delight, and
I still read him with delight. I have found passages in Dickens of which
I honestly believe there are no equal in all English literature except
in Shakespeare. I do not think that there is ever a year in which I do
not read some of Dickens's novels over again. Of course, any one can
find Dickens's faults--but I do not see how any one can fail to find his

"What is it in Dickens that especially attracts you?" I asked.

Mrs. Norris was silent for a moment. Then she said: "I think I like him
chiefly because he saw so clearly the joys of the poor. He did not give
his poor people nothing but disease and oppression and despair. He gave
them roast goose and plum pudding for their Christmas dinner--he gave
them faith and hope and love. He knew that often the rich suffer and the
poor are happy.

"Many of the modern realists seem ignorant of the fact that the poor may
be happy. They think that the cotter's Saturday night must always be
squalid and sordid and dismal, and that the millionaire's Saturday night
must be splendid and joyful. As a matter of fact, the poor family may
be, and often is, healthier and happier in every way than the rich
family. But these extreme realists are not like Dickens, they have not
his intimate knowledge of the life of the poor. They have the outsider's

"Too many writers are telling us about the sorrows of the poor. We need
writers who will tell us about the joys of the poor. We need writers who
will be aware of the pleasures to be derived from a good dinner of
corned beef and cabbage and a visit to a moving-picture theater. Often
when I pass a row of mean houses, as they would be called, I think
gratefully of the good times that I have had in just such places."

The thought of that little Celtic Californian reading Dickens among the
redwood-trees appealed to me. So I asked Mrs. Norris to tell more about
her childhood.

"Well," she said, "we hear a great deal about the misery, the bleak and
barren lives of the children who live in the tenements of New York's
lower East Side. But I think that an East Side tenement child would die
of ennui if it should be brought up as we were brought up. We had none
of the amusing and exciting experiences of the East Side child--we had
no white stockings, no ice-cream cones, no Coney Island, nothing of the

"We never even went to school. We would study French for a while with
some French neighbor who had sufficient leisure to teach us, and then
we'd study Spanish for a while with some Spaniard. That was the extent
of our schooling.

"My parents died when I was eighteen years old. I went to the city and
tried my hand at different sorts of work. For one thing, I tried to get
up children's parties, but in eighteen months I managed only one. Then I
did settlement work, was a librarian, a companion, and society reporter
on a newspaper. Then I got married--and wrote stories."

Mrs. Norris was at one time opposed to woman suffrage. Now, however, she
is a suffragist, but she refuses to say that she has been "converted" to

"I can't say that I have been converted to suffragism," she said, "any
more than I can say that I have been converted to warm baths and
tooth-brushes. And it does not seem to me that any women should need to
defend her right to vote any more than she should need to defend her
right to love her children. There is a theme for a novel--a big
suffrage novel will be written one of these days."

It may be that the author of _Mother_ will be the author of this "big
suffrage novel." But at present she disclaims any such intention. But
she admits that there is a purpose in all her portrayals of normal,
wholesome American home life.

"I don't think that I believe in 'art for art's sake,' as it is
generally interpreted," she said. "Of course, I don't believe in what is
called the commercial point of view--I have never written anything just
to have it printed. But I do not believe that there is any one standard
of art. I think that any book which the people ought to read must have
back of it something besides the mere desire of the writer to create
something. I never could write without a moral intention."



Mr. Booth Tarkington never will be called the George M. Cohan of
fiction. His novel, _The Turmoil_, is surely an indictment of modern
American urban civilization; of its materialism, its braggadocio, its
contempt for the things of the soul.

It was with the purpose of making this indictment a little clearer than
it could be when it is surrounded by a story, that I asked Mr.
Tarkington a few questions. And his answers are not likely to increase
our national complacencies.

In the first place, I asked Mr. Tarkington if the atmosphere of a young
and energetic nation might not reasonably be expected to be favorable to
literary and artistic expression.

"Yes, it might," said Mr. Tarkington. "There may be spiritual progress
in America as phenomenal as her material progress.

"There is and has been extraordinary progress in the arts. But the
people as a whole are naturally preoccupied with their material
progress. They are much more interested in Mr. Rockefeller than in Mr.

The last two sentences of Mr. Tarkington's reply made me eager for
something a little more specific on that subject.

"What are the forces in America to-day," I asked, "that hinder the
development of art and letters?"

Mr. Tarkington replied: "There are no forces in America to-day that
hinder the development of individuals in art and letters, save in
unimportant cases here and there. But there is a spirit that hinders
general personal decency, knows and cares nothing for beauty, and is
glad to have its body dirty for the sake of what it calls 'prosperity.'

"It 'wouldn't give a nickel' for any kind of art. But it can't and
doesn't hinder artists from producing works of art, though it makes them

"But do not these conditions in many instances seriously hinder
individual artists?"

Mr. Tarkington smiled. "Nothing stops an artist if he is one," he said.
"But many things may prevent a people or a community from knowing or
caring for art.

"The climate may be unfavorable; we need not expect the Eskimos to be
interested in architecture. In the United States politicians have
usually controlled the public purchase of works of art and the erection
of public buildings. This is bad for the public, naturally."

"I suppose," I said, "that the conditions you describe are distinctively
modern, are they not? At what time in the history of America have
conditions been most favorable to literary expression?"

Mr. Tarkington's reply was not what I expected. "At all times," he said.
"Literary expression does not depend on the times, though the
appreciation of it does, somewhat."

I asked Mr. Tarkington if he agreed with Mr. Gouverneur Morris in
considering the short story a modern development. He did not.

"There are short stories in the Bible," he said, "and in every
mythology; 'folk stories' of all races and tribes. Probably Mr. Morris's
definition of the short story would exclude these. I agree with him that
short stories are better written nowadays."

"But you do not believe," I said, "that American literature in general
is better than it used to be, do you? Why is it that there is now no
group of American writers like the New England group which included
Longfellow, Whittier, Lowell, Emerson, and Thoreau?"

"Why is there," Mr. Tarkington asked in turn, "no group like Homer
(wasn't he a group?) in Greece? There may be, but if there is just such
a modern group it would tend only to repeat the work of the Homeric
group, which wouldn't be interesting to the rest of us.

"The important thing is to find a group unlike Longfellow, Whittier,
Lowell, Emerson, and Thoreau. That is, if one accepts the idea that it
is important to find a group."

Mr. Tarkington's criticisms of the modern American city have been so
severe that I expected him to tell me that all writers should live in
the country. But again he surprised me. In reply to my question as to
which environment was more favorable to the production of literature,
the city or the country, he said:

"It depends upon the nerves of the writer. A writer can be born
anywhere, and he can grow up anywhere."

There has recently been considerable discussion--Professor Edward
Garnet and Gertrude Atherton have taken a considerable share in it--on
the relative merits of contemporary English and American fiction. I
asked Mr. Tarkington if in his opinion the United States had at the
present time novelists equal to those of England.

"That is unanswerable!" he answered. "Writers aren't like baseball
teams. What's the value of my opinion that _The Undiscovered Country_ is
a 'greater' novel than _A Pair of Blue Eyes_? These questions remind me
of school debating societies. Nothing is demonstrated, but everybody has
his own verdict."

Until I asked Mr. Tarkington about it I had heard only two opinions as
to the probable effect on literature of the war. One was that which
William Dean Howells tersely expressed by saying: "War stops
literature," and the other was that the war is purifying and
strengthening all forms of literary expression.

But Mr. Tarkington had something new to say about it. "What effect," I
asked, "is the war likely to have on American literature?"

"None of consequence," he answered. "The poet will find the subject, war
or no war. The sculptor doesn't depend upon epaulets."

Mr. Tarkington is so inveterate a writer of serials, and his work is so
familiar to the readers of the American magazines, that I desired to get
his expert opinion as to whether or not the American magazines, with
their remarkably high prices, had harmed or benefited fiction. His reply
was somewhat non-committal.

"They have induced many people to look upon the production of fiction as
a profitable business," he said. "But those people would merely not have
'tried fiction' at all otherwise. Prices have nothing to do with art."

Mr. Tarkington had some interesting things to say about that venerable
mirage, the Great American Novel. I asked him if that longed-for work
would ever be written; if, for example, there would ever be a work of
fiction reflecting American life as _Vanity Fair_ reflects English life.
He replied:

"If Thackeray had been an American he would not have written a novel
reflecting American life as _Vanity Fair_ reflected the English life of
its time. He would have written of New York; his young men would have
come there after Harvard. The only safe thing to say of the Great
American Novel is that the author will never know he wrote it."

Mr. Charles Belmont Davis had told me that a writer who had some means
of making a living other than writing would do better work than one who
devoted himself exclusively to literature. I asked Mr. Tarkington what
he thought about this.

"I think," he said, "that it would be very well for a writer to have
some means of making a living other than writing. There are likely to be
times in his career when it would give him a sense of security
concerning food. But I doubt if it would much affect his writing, unless
he considered writing to be a business."

Mr. Tarkington's answer to my next question is hereby commended to the
attention of all those feminine revolutionists who believe that they are
engaged in the pleasant task of changing the whole current of modern

"How has literature been affected," I asked, "by the suffrage movement
and feminism?"

Mr. Tarkington looked up in some surprise. "I haven't heard of any
change," he said.

The author of _The Turmoil_ could never be accused of jingoism. But he
is far from agreeing with those critics who believe that American
literature is merely "a phase of English literature." I asked him if he
believed that there was such a thing as a distinctively American

"Certainly," he replied. "Is _Huckleberry Finn_ a phase? It's a
monument; not an English one. English happens to be the language largely

The allusion in Mr. Tarkington's last reply suggested--what every reader
of _Penrod_ must know--that this novelist is an enthusiastic admirer of
Mark Twain. So I told him that Mr. T. A. Daly had classed Mark Twain
with Artemus Ward and Q. K. Philander Doesticks, P.B., and had said that
these men wrote nothing of real merit and were "the Charlie Chaplins of
their time."

Mr. Tarkington smiled. "Get Mr. T. A. Daly to talk some more," he said.
"We'd like to hear something about Voltaire and Flo Ziegfeld. Second
thoughts indicate that 'T. A. Daly' is the pen name of Mr. Charlie
Chaplin. Of course! And that makes it all right and natural. I thought
at first that it was a joke."



Once upon a time William Dean Howells leveled the keen lance of his
satire against what he called "the monstrous rag baby of romanticism."
In those simple days, literary labels were easily applied. A man who
wrote about Rome, Italy, was a romanticist; a man who wrote about Rome,
New York, was a Realist.

Now, however, a writer who finds his themes in the wholesale business
district of New York City does not disavow the title formerly given
exclusively to makers of drawn-sword-and-prancing-steed fiction.
Montague Glass is a romanticist.

The laureate of the cloak-and-suit trade and biographer of Mr. Abe
Potash and Mr. Mawruss Perlmutter does not believe that romance is a
matter of time and place. A realistic novel, he believes, may be written
about the Young Pretender or Alexander the Great, and a romance
about--well, about Elkan Lubliner, American.

Of course, I asked him to defend his claim to the name of romanticist.
He did so, but in general terms, without special reference to his own
work. For this widely read author has the amazing virtue of modesty.

"I do not think," he said, "that the so-called historical novelists are
the only romanticists. The difference between the two schools of writers
is in method, rather than in subject.

"A romanticist is a writer who creates an atmosphere of his own about
the things with which he deals. He is the poet, the constructive artist.
He calls into being that which has not hitherto existed.

"A realist, however, is a writer who faithfully reproduces an atmosphere
that already exists. He reports, records; one of his distinguishing
characteristics must be his attention to detail. The romanticist is as
truthful as the realist, but he deals with a few large truths rather
than with many small facts."

"And you," I said, determined to make the conversation more personal,
"prefer the romantic method?"

"Yes," said Mr. Glass, "I do. I prefer to use the romantic method, and
to read the works of the writers who use it. I believe that there is
more value in suggestion than in detailed description. For instance, I
do not think that my stories would gain vividness if I should put all
the dialogue--I tell my stories chiefly by means of dialogues, you
know--into dialect. So I do not put down the dialogue phonetically. I
spell the words correctly, not in accordance with the pronunciation of
my characters.

"This is not an invariable rule. When, for instance, Abe or Mawruss has
learned a new long word which he uses frequently to show it off, he
generally mispronounces it. He may say 'quincidence' for 'coincidence.'
Such a mispronunciation as this I reproduce, for it has its significance
as a revelation of character. But I do not attempt to put down all
mispronunciations; I let the dialect be imagined.

"The romanticist, you see, uses his own imagination and expects
imagination in his readers. His method might be called impressionistic;
he outlines and suggests, instead of describing exhaustively. The
romanticist really is more economical than the realist, and he has more

"Who are the leading romanticists of the day?" I asked.

"Well," Mr. Glass replied, "my favorite among contemporary romanticists
is Joseph Conrad. There is a man who is certainly no swashbuckling
novelist of the Wardour Street school. He writes of modern life, and yet
he is a romanticist through and through.

"I think that I may justly claim to be one of the first admirers of
Conrad in America. I used to read him when apparently the only other man
in this part of the world to appreciate him was William L. Alden, who
praised him in the columns of the _New York Times Review of Books_.

"I well remember my discovery of Conrad. I went to Brooklyn to hear
'Tosca' sung at the Academy of Music. I had bought my ticket, and I had
about an hour to spend before it would be time for the curtain to rise.
So I went across the street to the Brooklyn Public Library.

"While I was idly looking over the novels on the shelves I came upon
Conrad's _Typhoon_. I sat down and began to read it.

"When I arose, I had finished the book. Also, I had missed the first two
acts of the opera--and I had been eager to hear them. But Conrad more
than compensated for the loss of those two acts.

"Many of the modern English writers are romanticists. Galsworthy surely
is no realist. And William de Morgan, although he writes at great length
and has abundance of detail, is a romanticist. He does not use detail
for its own sake, as the realists use it; he uses it only when it has
some definite value in unfolding the plot or revealing character. He
uses it significantly; he is particularly successful in using it
humorously, as Daudet and Dickens used it. Arnold Bennett is a realist,
and I think that one of the reasons why he is so widely read in the
United States is because the life which he describes so minutely is a
life much like that of his American readers. People like to read about
the sort of life they already know. The average reader wants to have a
sense of familiarity with the characters in his novels."

Mr. Glass is a contrary person. It is contrary for the only novelist who
knows anything about New York's cloak-and-suit trade to be of English
birth and to look like a poet. It is contrary of him to have that
distinctively American play, "Potash and Perlmutter," start its London
run two years ago and be "still going strong." And it was contrary of
him not to say, as he might reasonably be expected to say in view of his
own success, that the encounters and adventures of business must be the
theme of the American novelists of the future.

"No," he said, in answer to my question, "I do not see any reason for
the novelist to confine himself to business life. Themes for fiction are
universal. A novelist should write of the life he knows best, whatever
it may be.

"I do not mean that the novelist should write about his own business. I
mean that he should write about the psychology that he understands. A
man who spends years in the cloak-and-suit business is not, therefore,
qualified to write novels about that business, even if he is qualified
to write novels at all.

"I had no real knowledge of the cloak-and-suit trade when I began to
write about it. I made many technical blunders. For instance, I had
Potash and Perlmutter buying goods by the gross instead of by the piece.
And I received many indignant letters pointing out my mistake.

"I had never been in the cloak-and-suit trade. But my work as a lawyer
had brought me into contact with many people who were in that business,
and I had intimate knowledge of the psychology of the Jew, his religion,
his humor, his tragedy, his whole attitude toward life.

"The trouble with many young writers," said Mr. Glass, "is that they
don't know what they are writing about. They are attempting to describe
psychological states of which they have only third-hand knowledge. Their
ideas have no semblance of truth, and therefore their work is absolutely

"At any rate," I said, "you will admit that American writers are more
and more inclined to make the United States the scene of their stories.
Do you think that O. Henry's influence is responsible for this?"

"No," said Mr. Glass, "I do not think that this is due to O. Henry's
influence. It was a natural development. You see, O. Henry's literary
life lasted for only about four years, and while he has had many
imitators, I do not think that he can be given credit for directing the
attention of American writers to the life of their own country.

"Probably William Dean Howells should be called the founder of the
modern school of American fiction. He was the first writer to achieve
distinguished success for tales of modern American life. There were
several other authors who began to write about Americans soon after Mr.
Howells began--Thomas Janvier, H. C. Bunner, and Brander Matthews were
among them.

"Kipling's popularity gave a great impetus to the writing of short
stories of modern life. It is interesting to trace the course of the
short story from Kipling to O. Henry.

"Did you ever notice," asked Mr. Glass, "that the best stories on New
York life are written by people who have been born and brought up
outside of the city? The writer who has always lived in New York seems
thereby to be disqualified from writing about it, just as the man in the
cloak-and-suit trade is too close to his subject to reproduce it in
fiction. The writer who comes to New York after spending his youth
elsewhere gets the full romantic effect of New York; he gets a
perspective on it which the native New-Yorker seldom attains. The
viewpoint of the writer who has always lived in New York is subjective,
whereas one must have the objective viewpoint to write about the city

"I have been surprised by the caricatures of American life which come
from the pen of writers American by birth and ancestry. Recently I read
a novel by an American who has--and deserves, for he is a writer of
talent and reputation--a large following. This was a story of life in a
manufacturing town with which the novelist is thoroughly familiar. It,
however, appears to have been written to satisfy a grudge and
consequently one could mistake it for the work of an Englishman who had
once made a brief tour of America. For the big manufacturer who was the
principal character in the story was vulgar enough to satisfy the
prejudice of any reader of the _London Daily Mail_. Certainly the
descriptions of the gaudy and offensive furniture in the rich
manufacturer's house and the dialogue of the members of his family and
the servants could provide splendid ammunition for the _Saturday Review_
or _The Academy_. The book appears to be a caricature, and yet that
novelist had lived most of his life among the sort of people about whom
he was writing!

"And how absolutely ignorant most New-Yorkers are of New York. Irvin
Cobb comes here from Louisville, Kentucky, and gets an intimate
knowledge of the city, and puts that knowledge into his short stories.
But a man brought up here makes the most ridiculous mistakes when he
writes about New York.

"I read a story of New York life recently that absolutely disgusted me,
its author was so ignorant of his subject. Yet he was a born New-Yorker.
Let me tell you what he wrote. He said that a man went into an arm-chair
lunch-room and bought a meal. His check amounted to sixty-five cents!
Now any one who knows anything about arm-chair lunch-rooms beyond the
mere fact of their existence knows that the cashier of such an
institution would drop dead if a customer paid him sixty-five cents at
one time. Then, the hero of this story had as a part of his meal in this
arm-chair lunch-room a baked potato, for which he paid fifteen cents!
Imagine a baked potato in such a place, and a fifteen-cent baked potato
at that!"

Mr. Glass did not, like most successful humorists, begin as a writer of
tragedy. His first story to be printed was "Aloysius of the Docks," a
humorous story of an East Side Irish boy, which appeared in 1900. The
lower East Side was for many years the scene of most of his stories. But
he does resemble most other writers in this respect, that he wrote
verse before he wrote fiction. I asked him to show me some of his
poetry, and he demurred somewhat violently. But, after all, a poet is a
poet, and at last I succeeded in persuading him to produce this exhibit.
Here it is--a poem by the author of "Potash and Perlmutter":


    There sounds aloft a warning scream,
      The jingling bell gives tongue below,
    She breasts again the busy stream,
      And cleaves its murky tide to snow.
    Bereft of burnished glittering brass,
      Ungainly bulging fore and aft,
    Slowly from shore to shore they pass--
      The matrons of the river craft.

Mr. Glass believes that humorous writing in America has changed more
than any other sort. But he does not, as I thought he would, attribute
this change to the increased cosmopolitanism of the country, to the
influx of people from other lands.

"Certainly our ideas of what is funny have changed," he said. "Humor is
an ephemeral thing. A generation ago we laughed at what to-day would
merely make us ill. The subjects and the methods of the humorists are
different. Who nowadays can find a laugh in the pages of Artemus Ward,
Philander Q. Doesticks, or Petroleum V. Nasby? Yet in their time these
men set the whole continent in a roar.

"Contrast two humorists typical of their respective periods--Bill Nye
and Abe Martin. I remember many years ago reading a story by Bill Nye
which every one then considered tremendously funny. He told how he went
downtown and got a shave and put on a clean collar and as he said,
'otherwise disguised himself.' When he got home his little dog refused
to recognize him, and several pages were devoted to his efforts to
persuade the dog of his identity. Then, failing to convince the dog that
he was really the same Bill Nye in spite of his shave and clean collar,
he impaled it on a pitchfork and buried it, putting over it the epitaph,
'Not dead, but jerked hence by request.'

"Now contrast with that a good example of modern American humor--a joke
by Abe Martin which I recently saw. There was a picture of two or three
men looking at a tattered tramp, and one of them was represented as
saying: 'You wouldn't think to look at him that that man played an
elegant game of billiards ten years ago!'

"It is an entirely different form of humor, you see. Bill Nye and the
writers of his school got their effects by grotesque misspelling,
fantastic ideas, and by the liberal use of shock and surprise. The
modern humor is subtler, more delicate, and more likely to endure.

"I do not think that the fact that America has become more cosmopolitan
has anything to do with this altered sense of humor. The American
humorists do not select cosmopolitan themes; the best of them are
distinctively American in their subject. Irvin Cobb, George Fitch, Kate
Douglas Wiggin, Edna Ferber Stewart, who wrote _The Fugitive
Blacksmith_--all these people draw their inspiration from purely
American phases of the life around them."

"What is it, then," I asked, "that has changed American humor?"

"Leisure," answered Mr. Glass. "Philander Q. Doesticks and other
humorists of his time wrote to amuse pioneers, people rough and
elemental in their tastes. Their audience consisted of men who worked
hard most of the time, and therefore had to be hit hard by any joke that
was to entertain them at all. But as Americans grew more leisurely, and
therefore had time to read, see plays, and look at pictures, they lost
their taste for crude and violent horseplay, and the new sort of humor
came in. Undoubtedly the same thing occurs in every newly settled
country--Australia, for example. It is unlikely that the Australian of
one hundred years from now will be amused by the things that amuse
Australians to-day.

"But the humor that entertains the citizens of a country of which the
civilization is well established is likely to retain its charm through
the years. Mark Twain's stories do not lose their flavor. But Mark Twain
was not exclusively a humorist; he was a student of life and he
reflected the tragedy of existence as well as its comedy. So does Irvin
Cobb, who is the nearest approach to Mark Twain now living.

"One source of Mark Twain's strength is his occasional vulgarity. That
surely is something that we should have in greater abundance in American
humor. I do not mean that our humorists should be pornographic and
obscene; I mean merely that they should be allowed great freedom in
their choice of themes. There is no humor without vulgarity. Our
humorists have been so limited and restrained that we have no paper fit
to be compared with _Simplicissimus_ or _Le Rire_.

"You see, a vulgar thing is not offensive if it is funny. Fun for fun's
sake is a much more important maxim than art for art's sake. The
humorists have a greater need for freedom in choice of themes than the
serious writers, especially the realistic writers, who are always
demanding greater freedom."

Mr. Glass returned to the subject of the failure of cosmopolitanism to
influence American literature by calling attention to the fact that very
few American writers find their themes among their foreign-born
fellow-citizens. "Where," he asked, "are the German-Americans and the
Italian-Americans? No writer knows these foreign-born citizens well
enough to write about them. The best American stories are about native
Americans. I admit that my stories are not about people peculiar to New
York--you can find counterparts of 'Potash and Perlmutter' in Berlin,
Paris, and London. But mine are not among the best stories of American
character. The best story of American character is 'Daisy Miller.'"

Mr. Glass believes that the technique of the short story has improved
greatly during the last score of years, but he is not so favorable in
his view of the modern novel, especially of the "cross-section of life"
type of work. He believes that the war will produce a great revival of
literary excellence in Europe, just as the Franco-Prussian War did; and
he called attention to something which has apparently been neglected by
most people who have discussed the subject--the tremendous inspiration
which Guy de Maupassant found in the Franco-Prussian War. But he said,
in conclusion:

"But any man who sits down to judge American literature in the course of
a few minutes' talk is an ass for his pains. Literary snap judgments are
foolish things. Nothing that I have said to you has any value at all."



Even the most prejudiced opponent of the moving pictures will admit that
they are becoming more intellectually respectable. Crude farce and
melodrama are being replaced by versions of classic plays and novels;
literature is elevating the motion picture. And Mr. Rex Beach believes
that the motion picture is benefiting literature.

This author of widely read novels had been talking to me about the
departments of literature--the novel, the short story, and the rest--and
among them he named the moving picture. I asked him if he believed that
moving pictures were dangerous for novelists, leading them to fill their
books with action, with a view to the profits of cinematographic
reproduction. He said:

"Well, authors are human beings, of course. They like to make money and
to have their work reach as large an audience as possible. I suppose
that the great majority of them keep their eyes on the screen, because
they know how profitable the moving picture is and because they want
their work seen by more people than would read their novels."

"Do you think that this harms their work?" I asked.

"It might if the novelists overdid it," he answered. "It would harm
their work if they became nothing but scenario writers. But so far the
result has been good.

"The tendency of the moving picture has been to make authors visualize
more clearly than ever before their characters and scenes that they are
writing about. Their work has become more realistic. I do not mean
realistic in the sense in which this word is used of some French
writers; I do not mean erotic or morbid. I mean actual, convincing,
clearly visualized.

"Literature has elevated the moving picture, keeping it out, to a great
extent, of melodrama and slap-stick comedy. And in return, the moving
picture has done a service to fiction, making the authors give more
attention to exact visualization."

"Has American fiction been lacking in visualization?" I asked.

"No," said Mr. Beach. "American novelists visualize more clearly to-day
than they did four or five years ago, before the moving picture had
become so important, but they always were strong in visualization. This
sort of realism is America's chief contribution to fiction."

"Then you believe that there is a distinctively American literature?" I
asked. "You do not agree with the critic who said that American
literature was 'a condition of English literature'?"

"I do not agree with him," Mr. Beach replied. "American writers use the
English language, so I suppose that what they write belongs to English
literature. But there is a distinctively American literature; Americans
talk in their own manner, think in their own manner, and handle business
propositions in their own manner, and naturally they write in their own
manner. American literature is different from other kinds of literature
just as American business methods are different from those of Europe.

"Fiction written in America must necessarily be tinged with American
thought and American action. I have no patience with people who say
that America has no literature. They say that nothing we are writing
to-day will live. Well, what if that is true? It's true not only of
literature, but of everything else.

"Our roads won't last forever; they're built in a hurry to be used in a
hurry. But they're better roads to drive and motor over than those old
Roman roads of Europe. Our office-buildings won't last as long as the
Pyramids, but they're better for business purposes.

"Personally, I've never been enthusiastic over things that have no
virtues but age and ugliness. I'd rather have a good, strong,
serviceable piece of Grand Rapids furniture than any ramshackle,
moth-eaten antique."

"But don't you think," I asked, "that the permanence of a book's appeal
is a proof of its greatness?"

"I don't see how we can tell anything definite about the permanence of
the appeal of books written in our time. And I don't mean by literature
writings that necessarily endure through the ages. I believe that
literature is the expression of the mind, the sentiment, the
intellectual attitude of the people who live at the time it is written.
I admit that our literature is ephemeral--like everything else about
us--but I believe that it is good."

Mr. Rex Beach was not pacing his floor nervously; he was crossing the
room with the practical intention of procuring a cigarette.
Nevertheless, his firm tread lent emphasis to his remarks.

"There is a sort of literary snobbery," he said, "noticeable among
people who condemn contemporaneous literature just because it is
contemporaneous. The strongest proof that there is something good in the
literature of the day is that it reaches a great audience. There must be
something in it or people wouldn't read it.

"The people are the final judges; it is to them that authors must
appeal. Take any big question of public importance--after it has been
discussed by politicians and newspapers, it is the people who at last
decide it.

"A man may have devoted his life to some tremendous achievement, and
have left it as a monument to his fame. But it is to public opinion that
we must look for the verdict on the value of his life's work.

"Take Carnegie, for example; when he dies, you bet people will have his
number! His ideas are a tremendous menace, and the people who believe
as he does about peace will find themselves generally execrated one of
these days.

"It may seem to you that this has nothing to do with literature. But it
has a good deal to do with it. I know that many things have been said
about the effect on literature of the war. But I want to say that the
war will have, I hope, one admirable effect on American writers--it will
make them stir up the American conscience to a sense of the necessity
for national defensive preparation. The writers must educate the people
in world politics and show them the necessity for defensive action.
Americans have a sort of mental inertia in regard to public questions,
and the writers must overcome this inertia.

"The writers must stir up the politicians and the people. There's been a
whole lot of mush written about peace. There always will be war. We
can't reform the world.

"The pacifists say that it is useless to arm because war cannot be
prevented by armaments. The obvious answer to that is that neither can
the failure to arm prevent war. And the verdict after the war will be
better if we are prepared for it. The writers must call our attention to
the folly of leaving ourselves open to attack.

"It's hard to reach the conscience of the American people on any big
issue. We are too independent, too indifferent, too ready to slump back.
That's one of the penalties of democracy, I suppose; the national sense
of patriotism becomes atrophied. It needs some whaling-big jolt to wake
it up. Every American writer can help to do this.

"The trouble is that we have too many men with feminine minds, too many
of these delicate fellows with handkerchiefs up their sleeves. I can't
imagine any women with ideas more feminine than those of Bryan--could
any woman evolve anything more feminine than his peace-at-any-price

Mr. Beach smiled. "I suppose I should not be talking about world
politics," he said. "There are so many men who have specialized in that
subject and are therefore competent to talk about it. I am only a
specialist in writing."

"Do you think," I asked, "that writers should be specialists in writing?
Some people believe that the best fiction, for example, is produced by
men who do some other work for a living."

"I certainly believe that a writer should devote himself to writing,"
said Mr. Beach. "This is an age of specialization, and literature is no
exception to the general rule. Literature is like everything else--you
must specialize in it to be successful."

"This has not always been the case, has it?" I asked. "Has literature
been produced by people who made writing only an avocation?"

"Surely," said Mr. Beach. "It is only within the last few years that
writers have been able to write for a living and make enough to keep the
fringe off their cuffs."

I asked what had caused this change.

"It has been caused chiefly by the magazines. The modern magazines have
done two important things for fiction--they have brought it within every
one's reach, and they have increased the prices paid to the authors,
thus enabling them to make a living by devoting themselves exclusively
to writing."

"But it has been said," I ventured, "that a writer, no matter how
talented he may be, cannot make a comfortable living out of writing
fiction unless he is most extraordinarily gifted with ideas, and that,
therefore, a writer takes a tremendous risk if he throws himself upon
literature for support."

"How is a writer going to get ideas for stories," asked Mr. Beach, in
turn, "unless he uses ideas? The more ideas a man uses, the more ideas
will come to him.

"The imaginative quality in a man is like any other quality; the more it
is functioned the better it is functioned. If you fail to use any organ
of your body, nature will in time let that organ go out of commission.

"It is just the same with imagination as with any organ of the body. If
a writer waits for ideas to come to him and ceases to exercise his
imagination, his imagination will become atrophied. But if he uses his
imagination it will grow stronger and ideas will come to him with
increasing frequency."

Mr. Beach is an enthusiastic advocate of the moving picture. In the
course of his discussion of it he advanced an interesting theory as to
the next stage of its development.

"The next use of the moving picture," he said, "will be the editorial
use. We have had the moving picture used as a comic device, as a device
to spread news, and as an interpreter of fiction. But as yet no one has
endeavored to use it as a means to mold public opinion in great vital
issues of the day.

"Of course, it has been used educationally, and as part of various
propaganda schemes. But it will be used in connection with great
political problems. It will become the most powerful of all influences
for directing public opinion in politics and in everything else.

"It will play a mighty part in the thought of the country and of the

"I have seen men and women coming from a great moving-picture show
almost hysterical with emotion. I have heard them shout and stamp and
whistle at what they saw flashed before them on a white sheet as they
never did in any theater.

"What a strong argument 'The Birth of a Nation' presents! Now, suppose
that same art and that same equipment were used to present arguments
about some political issue of our own time, instead of one of our
fathers' time. What a force that would be!"



Sentimental Tommy's great predecessor in the relentless pursuit of the
"right word" was, teachers of literature tell us, the unsentimental
Gustave Flaubert. But these academic gentlemen, who insist that the
writer shall spend hours, even days, if necessary, in perfecting a
single sentence, seldom produce any literature. I asked Robert W.
Chambers, who has written more "best sellers" than any other living
writer, what he thought of Flaubert's method of work.

He looked at me rather quizzically. "I think," he said, with a smile,
"that Flaubert was slow. What else is there to think? Of course he was a
matchless workman. But if he spent half a day in hunting for one word,
he was slow, that's all. He might have gone on writing and then have
come back later for that inevitable word."

"But what do you think of Flaubert's method, as a method?" I asked. "Do
you think that a writer who works with such laborious care is right?"

"It's not a question of right or wrong," said Mr. Chambers, "it's a
question of the individual writer's ability and tendency. If a man can
produce novels like those of Flaubert, by writing slowly and
laboriously, by all means let him write that way. But it would not be
fair to establish that as the only legitimate method of writing.

"Some authors always write slowly. With some of them it's like pulling
teeth for them to get their ideas out on paper. It's the same way in
painting. You may see half a dozen men drawing from the same model. One
will make his sketch premier coup; another will devote an hour to his;
another will work all day. They may be artists of equal ability. It is
the result that counts, not the method or the time."

"And what is it that makes a man an artist, in pigments or in words?" I
asked. "Do you believe in the old saying that the poet--the creative
artist--is born and not made?"

"No," said Mr. Chambers, "I do not think that that is the truth. I think
that with regard to the writer it is true to this extent, that there
must exist, in the first place, the inclination to write, to express
ideas in written words. Then the writer must have something to express
really worthy of expression, and he must learn how to express it. These
three things make the writer--the inclination to say something, the
possession of something worth saying, and the knowledge of how to say

"And where does genius come in?" I asked.

"What is genius?" asked Mr. Chambers, in turn. "I don't know. Perhaps
genius is the combination of these three qualities in the highest

"Of course," he added, with a laugh, "I know that all this is contrary
to the opinion of the public. People like to believe that writers depend
entirely upon an inspiration. They like to think that we are a hazy lot,
sitting around and posing and waiting for some sort of divine afflatus.
They think that writers sit around like a Quaker meeting, waiting for
the spirit to move them."

"But have there not been writers," I asked, "who seem to prove that
there is some truth in the inspiration theory? There is William de
Morgan, for example, beginning to write novels in his old age. He spent
most of his life in working in ceramics, not with words."

"On the contrary," said Mr. Chambers, "I think that William de Morgan
proves my theory. He really spent all his life in learning to write--he
was in training for being a novelist all the while. The novelist's
training may be unconscious. He must have--as William de Morgan surely
always has had--keen interest in the world. That is the main thing for
the writer to have--a vivid interest in life. If we are to devote
ourselves to the production of pictures of humanity according to our own
temperaments, we must have this vivid interest in life; we must have
intense curiosity. The men who have counted in literature have had this
intense, never-satiated curiosity about life.

"This is true for the romanticists as well as the realists. The most
imaginative and fantastic romances must have their basis in real life.

"I know of no better examples of this truth than the gargoyles which one
sees in Gothic architecture in Europe. These extraordinary creatures
that thrust their heads from the sides of cathedrals, misshapen and
grotesque, are nevertheless thoroughly logical. That is, no matter how
fantastic they may be, they have backbones and ribs and tails, and these
backbones and ribs and tails are logical--that is, they could do what
backbones and ribs and tails are supposed to do.

"In real life there are no creatures like the gargoyles, but the
important thing is that the gargoyles really could exist. This is a good
example of the true method of construction. The base of the construction
must rest on real knowledge. The medieval sculptors knew the formation
of existing animals; therefore they knew how to make gargoyles."

"How does this theory apply to poets?" I asked.

"I don't know," answered Mr. Chambers, "but it seems to me to apply to
all creative work. The artist must know life before he can build even a
travesty on life."

I called Mr. Chambers's attention to the work of certain ultra-modern
poets who deliberately exclude life from their work. He was not inclined
to take them seriously.

"There always have been aberrations," he said, "and there always will
be. They're bound to exist. And there is bound to be, from time to time,
attitudinizing and straining after effect on the part of prose writers
as well as poets. And it is all based on one thing--self-consciousness.
It is self-consciousness that spoils the work of some modern writers."

I asked Mr. Chambers to be more specific in his allusions. "I cannot
mention names," he said, "but there are certain writers who are always
conscious of the style in which they are writing. Sometimes they
consciously write in the style of some other men. They are thinking all
the while of their technique and equipment, and the result is that their
work loses its effect. A writer should not be convinced all the while
that he is a realist or a romanticist; he should not subject himself
deliberately to some special school of writing, and certainly he should
not be conscious of his own style. The less a writer thinks of his
technique the sooner he arrives at self-expression.

"It's just like ordinary conversation. A man is known by the way in
which he talks--that is his 'style.' But he is not all the while acutely
conscious of his manner of talking--unless he has an impediment in his
speech. So the writer should be known by his untrammeled and
unembarrassed expression."

I asked Mr. Chambers what he thought of the idea that the popularity of
magazines has vitiated the public taste and lowered the standard of

"I do not think that this is the case," he said. "I do not see that the
custom of serial publication has harmed the novel. It is not a modern
innovation, you know. The novels of Dickens, Thackeray, and George Eliot
had serial publication. But I do believe that the American public reads
less fiction than it did a generation ago, and that its taste is not so
good as it was."

This was a surprising statement to come from an author whom the public
has received with such enthusiasm, so I asked Mr. Chambers to explain.

"In the days of our forefathers," he said, "this was an Anglo-Saxon
country. Then the average intelligence of the nation was higher and the
taste in literature better. But there came the great rush of immigration
to the United States from Europe, and the Anglo-Saxon culture of the
country was diluted.

"You see signs of this lowered standard of taste in fiction and on
the stage. The demand is for primitive and childish stuff, and the
reason for this is that the audience has only a sort of backstairs
intelligence. If we had progressed along the lines in which we were
headed before this wave of immigration, we would not be satisfied with
the books and magazines that are given us to-day.

"Of course the magazines are mechanically better to-day than they were a
generation ago. Then we had not the photogravure and the half-tone and
the other processes that make our magazines beautiful. But we had better
taste and also we had more leisure.

"I remember when one of the most widely read of our magazines was a
popular science monthly, which printed articles by great scientists on
biological and other topics. That was in the days when Darwin was
announcing his theory of evolution--the first great jolt which orthodoxy
received. People would not take time to read a magazine of that sort
now. They are so occupied with business and dancing and all sorts of
occupations that they have little leisure for reading."

Mr. Chambers stopped talking suddenly and laughed. "I'm not a good man
for you to bring these questions to," he said, "because I never have had
any special reverence for books or literature as such. I reverence the
books that I like, not all books."

"And have you such a thing as a favorite author?" I asked.

"Yes," said Mr. Chambers. "Dumas."

During the 1870's Mr. Chambers was an art student in Paris, and he has
many interesting memories of the French and English writers and painters
who have made that period memorable. He knew Paul Verlaine (whose poetry
he greatly admires), Charles Conder, and Aubrey Beardsley.

"One day," he said, "I was out on a shooting-trip--I think it was in
Belgium--and I met a young English poet, a charming fellow, whose work I
was later to know and like. It was the poet who wrote at least one great
poem--'Cynara'--it was Ernest Dowson.

"I knew many of the Beaux Arts crowd, because my brother was a student
of architecture at the Beaux Arts. And they were a decent, clean
crowd--they were not 'decadents.' I do not take much stock in the pose
of 'decadence,' nor in the artistic temperament. I never saw a real
artist with the artistic temperament. I always associated that with

Mr. Chambers, although he has intimate knowledge of the Quartier Latin,
has little use for "Bohemia."

"What is Bohemia?" he asked. "If it is a place where a number of artists
huddle together for the sake of animal warmth, I have nothing to say
against it. But if it is a place where a number of artists come to
scorn the world, then it is a dangerous thing. The artist should not
separate himself from the world.

"These artistic and literary cults are wrong. I do not believe in
professional clubs and cliques. If writers form a combination for
business reasons, that is all right, but a writer should not associate
exclusively with other writers; he should do his work and then go out
and see and talk to people in other professions. We should sweep the
cobwebs from the profession of writing and not try to fence it in from
the public."

To the somewhat trite question as to the effects of the war on
literature, Mr. Chambers made first his usual modest answer, "I don't
know." But when I told him of the author who had dogmatically stated
that war always stops literature, and that the Civil War had produced no
writing worthy of preservation, Mr. Chambers reconsidered.

"Did he say that the Civil War had produced no literature worthy of
preservation?" he said. "He must have forgotten that the Civil War
caused one man to make contributions to our literature as valuable as
anything we possess. He must have forgotten Abraham Lincoln."

Before I left, I mentioned to Mr. Chambers the theory that literature
is better as a staff than as a crutch, as an avocation than as a
vocation. This, like the "inevitable word" theory, is greatly beloved by
college professors. Mr. Chambers said:

"I disagree utterly with that theory. Do you remember how Dr. Johnson
wrote _Rasselas_? It was in order to raise the money to pay for his
mother's funeral. I believe that the best work is done under pressure.
Of course the work must be enjoyed; a man in choosing a profession
should select that sort of work which he prefers to do in his leisure
moments. Let him do for his lifework the task which he would select for
his leisure--and let him not take himself too seriously!"



That Edgar Allan Poe, in spite of his acknowledged genius, has had
practically no influence on the development of the short story in
America, and that the current short story written in America is inferior
to that written during the years between 1870 and 1895, these are two
remarkable statements made to me by James Lane Allen, the distinguished
author of _The Choir Invisible_, _The Mettle of the Pasture_, and many
another memorable novel.

I found Mr. Allen in the pleasant workroom of his New York residence.
Himself a Southerner, he is an enthusiastic admirer of the poet whose
name is inseparably linked with Southern letters. But I was soon to find
that he does not share the opinion of those who consider Poe the
originator of the modern short story, nor does he rate Poe's influence
in fiction as very wide.

"There is always much interest in short stories," he said, "among
authors, and in the great body of readers. You say that Mr. Gouverneur
Morris believes that except Poe almost no writer before our generation
could write short stories.

"I do not wish to be placed in a position of publicly criticizing Mr.
Gouverneur Morris's opinion of the short story. But it may not seem
antagonistic to the opinion of any one to call attention to the fact
that, of all American short stories yet written, the two most widely
known in and outside our country were written independently of Poe.
These are _The Man Without a Country_ and _Rip Van Winkle_.

"As the technique of the American short story is understood and applied
to-day, neither of these two stories can be regarded as a work of
impeccable art. But flaws have not kept them from fame. By a common
verdict the flawless short stories of the day are fameless. Certainly,
also, Hawthorne was uninfluenced by Poe in writing short stories that
remain secure among brief American classics.

"This, of course, is limiting the outlook to our own literature. Beyond
our literature, what of Balzac? In the splendor of his achievements with
the novel, Balzac has perhaps been slighted as a master of the short
story. Think, for instance, of such a colossal fragment as _The Atheists

"And what of Boccaccio? For centuries before Poe, the _Decameron_ shone
before the eyes of the world as the golden treasury of model forms for
the short story.

"And centuries before Boccaccio, flashing from hand to hand all over the
world, there was a greater treasury still, the treasury of _The Arabian

"It is no disparagement to Poe to say that his genius did not
originate the genius of the short story. His true place, his logical
place, in the development of the short story is that of a man with

"Since there is a breath of nativity blowing through his stories, I
think it is the breath of far distant romance from somewhere. Certainly
his stories are as remote from our civilization and from all things
American as are Oriental tales."

Mr. Allen showed he had given much thought to Edgar Allan Poe's place
among the American fiction writers, so I thought that he might also have
some interesting things to say about Poe as a poet. He had. He mentioned
a quality of Poe's verse which for some reason or other seems
heretofore to have escaped the notice of students of American poetry.

"It may be worth while calling attention," he said, "to the fact that
nearly all of Poe's poems belong to the night. Twelve o'clock noon never
strikes to his poetic genius. His best poems are Poe's Nights, if not
_Arabian Nights_.

"There is a saying that the German novel long ago died of the full moon.
To Poe the dead moon was the orb of life. The sun blotted him out."

Great as is his admiration for Poe's genius, Mr. Allen does not believe
he has greatly influenced American prose. He said:

"As to the influence of Poe's short stories in our country, this seems
to be a tradition mainly fostered by professors of English in American
universities and by the historians of our literature. The tradition does
not prevail among American writers. Actually there is no traceable stamp
of the influence of his prose writings on the work of any American
short-story writer known to me, save one. That one is Ambrose Bierce."

"Why is it," I asked, "that Poe's influence on American fiction has been
so slight?"

"The main reason," Mr. Allen answered, "why Poe's stories have remained
outside American imitation or emulation is perhaps because they are
projected outside American sympathies. They lie to-day where they lay
when they were written--beyond the confines of what the German calls the
literature of the soil.

"Poe and Ambrose Bierce are at least to be linked in this: that they are
the two greatest and the two coldest of all American short-story
writers. Any living American fictionist will perhaps bear testimony to
the fact that he has never met any other writer who has been influenced
by the stories of Poe."

"Mr. Allen," I said, "you believe that the American short story has not
been influenced by Poe; has the American short story, however, improved
since his time?"

"The renascence of the American short story," said Mr. Allen,
thoughtfully, "its real efflorescence as a natural literary art form,
took place after the close of the Civil War. The historians of our
literature have, perhaps, as is customary with them, held to the strict
continuity of tradition as explaining this renascence. If so, they have
omitted one of the instinctive forces of human nature, which invariably
act in nations that have literatures and act ungovernably at the
termination of all wars.

"After any war spontaneity in story-telling is one of the ungovernable
impulses of human nature. This can be traced from modern literature back
to primitive man returning from his feuds. When he had no literature, he
carved his story on the walls of his cave or on a bone to tell the glory
of the fight. Before he could even carve a bone he hung up a row of the
heads of the defeated. Perhaps the original form of the war short story
was a good, thick volume of heads. Within our own civilization the
American Indian told his short stories in this way--with American heads
or tufts of scalps--a sad way of telling them for our forefathers.

"At the close of the American Civil War the atmosphere, both North and
South, was charged with stories. The amazing fact is not that short
stories should have begun at that time, but that they should have begun
with such perfection. This perfection expressed itself more richly
during the period, say, from 1870 to 1895--twenty-five years--than it
has ever done since.

"The evidence is at hand that the best of the American short stories
written during that period outweigh in value those that have been
written later--with the exception of those of one man. And this evidence
takes this form--that these stories were collected into volumes, had an
enormous sale, had the highest critical appreciation, have passed into
the histories of literature written since, have gone into the courses of
English literature now being taught in the universities, and are still
steadily being sold.

"Is this true of the best short stories being written now? Are any of
the short stories written since that period being bound into volumes and
extensively sold? Do the professors of English literature recommend them
to their classes? That is the practical test.

"The one exception is O. Henry. He alone stands out in the later period
as a world within himself; as much apart from any one else as are
Hawthorne and Poe."

Mr. Allen did not express an opinion as to the probable effects on
literature of the war. He said:

"Now, the North and the South in the renascence of the short story after
the Civil War divide honors about equally. But it is impossible to speak
of the Southern short story, or indeed of Southern literature at all,
without being brought to the brink of a subject which lies back of the
whole philosophy of Southern literature."

Mr. Allen paused for a moment. Then he continued, speaking with an
intensity which reminded me of his Southern birth and upbringing:

"Suppose that at the end of the present European war Germany should be
victorious and France defeated. And suppose that in France there should
not be left a single publishing-house, a single literary periodical, a
single literary editor, a single critic, and scarcely even a single
buyer of books.

"And suppose that the defeated French people wanted to cry out their
soul over their defeat and against their conquerors. And suppose that in
order to do this every French novelist, short-story writer, or poet,
unable to keep silent, should begin to write and begin to send his novel
or his short story or his poem over into Germany to be read by a German
editor, published by a German publisher, and sold in a German bookshop
to a German reader. What kind of French literature of the war do you
think would appear in Germany and be fostered there?

"But this is exactly what happened after the war between the North and
the South.

"The few voices that began to be sent northward across the demolished
battle-line could only be the voices that would be listened to and
welcomed on the other side. That is the reason why that first literature
was so mild, so tempered, so thin, so devitalized, that it seemed not to
come from an enraged people, but from the memories of their ghosts.

"As a result of finding war literature inexpressible in such conditions,
the young generation of Southerners dropped the theme of war altogether
and explored other paths. So that perhaps the most original and
spontaneous fragments of this new Southern post-bellum literature are in
the regions of the imagination, where no note of war is heard.

"It is not beyond the bounds of possibility that if Joel Chandler
Harris, a young Southerner, had possessed full freedom to wreak his
genius on the war, the world might never have heard of 'Uncle Remus.'
The world might never have known that among the cotton-plantations there
dwelt a brother to Æsop and to La Fontaine."



From the Pacific Coast--from what is enthusiastically termed "the Golden
West"--from that section of the United States which is large and
chivalrous and gladly suffers suffrage--comes a voice, replying to my
question: "What is the matter with contemporary fiction?"

And the voice says, "_Cherchez la femme!_"

It is the voice of Mr. Harry Leon Wilson, author of _Bunker Bean_,
_Ruggles of Red Gap_, and many another popular novel, and co-author with
Mr. Booth Tarkington of several successful plays. Mr. Wilson believes
that the dullness and insincerity of our novels are due to the taste of
most of their readers--that is, to the taste of the women.

I asked Mr. Wilson what, in his opinion, was the influence most harmful
to the development of literature in America.

"I know little about literature," Mr. Wilson replied, "but if you mean
the novel, I should say the intense satisfaction with it as it is, of
the maker, the seller, and the buyer. And to trace this baneful
satisfaction to its source, I should say it lies in the lack of a
cultivated taste in our women readers of fiction.

"Publishers are agreed, I believe, that women buy the great bulk of
their output. The current novel is as deliberately planned to please the
woman buyer as is any other bit of trade goods. The publisher knows what
she wants to read, the writer finds out from the publisher, and you can
see the result in the advertisements--and the writer's royalty

"'We want,' says the publisher, 'a stunning girl for the cover and a
corking good love interest to catch the women.' (Publishers do talk that
way when they have safely locked themselves in their low dens.)

"This love interest is always said to be wholesome and sweet. I don't
know. Certainly it is sweet enough. In the trade novel it's as if you
took a segment of rich layer cake, the chocolate-and-jelly kind, poured
over it a half-pint of nice thick molasses, and then, just to make sure,
sprinkled this abundantly with fine sugar.

"Anyway, that's what the publisher has found--and he has the best means
of knowing--that the American woman will buy year in and year out. And
you can't blame him for printing it. A publisher with ideals of his own
couldn't last any longer than a grocer with ideals of his own, or a

"And least of all can you blame the author for writing this slush,
because nine times out of ten he doesn't know any better. How should he,
with no one to tell him?

"And that," said Mr. Wilson, "is another evil almost as great in its
influence as the undeveloped taste of our women readers. I mean our lack
of authoritative criticism. Now we really do get a good novel once in a
blue moon, but one who has been made wary by the mass of trade novels
would never suspect it from reading our book reviews. The good novel, it
is true, is praised heartily, but then so are all the bad novels--and
how is one to tell?

"At least eighty-five per cent. of our book reviews are mere amiable,
perfunctory echoes of the enthusiastic 'canned' review which the
publisher obligingly prints on the paper jacket of his best seller. I
sometimes suspect this task is allotted to a member of the staff who is
known to be 'fond of reading.'

"Another evil influence is often alleged--the pressure the business
office puts on the reviewer to be tender with novels that are lavishly
advertised, but I have never thought there was more than a grain of
truth in this.

"Perhaps a publisher wouldn't continue to patronize a sheet that
habitually blurted out the truth about his best sellers, but I really
doubt that this was ever put to an issue. I don't believe the average
book-reviewer knows any better than the average novelist the difference
between a good and a bad novel.

"It isn't so with the other arts. We have critics for those. Music,
sculpture, painting--we know the best and get the best.

"But, then, the novel is scarcely considered to be an art form. Any one
can--and does--write a novel, if he can only find the time. It isn't
supposed to be a thing one must study, like plumbing or architecture.

"The novelist who wants to write a best seller this year studies the
best seller of last year, and wisely, because that is what the publisher
wants--something like his last one that sold big. He is looking for it
night and day and for nothing else. He wants good carpenters who have
followed the design that women have liked. Fiction is the one art you
don't take seriously, and there is no one to tell us we should; there
are no critics to inform the writers and the readers and make the
publishers timid.

"True, we have in this country two or three, possibly four, critics who
can speak with authority, men who know what the novel has been, what it
is with us, what it ought to be. One of them is a friend of mine, and I
reproached him lately for not speaking out in meeting oftener.

"His defense was pathetic. First, that ninety out of a hundred of our
novels are beneath criticism. Second, as to the remaining ten that would
merit the rapier instead of the bludgeon--'criticism is harder to sell
than post-meridian virtue. I have tried.'

"And he has to eat as often as any publisher. So there you are! People
are not going to pay him for finding fault with something they are
intensely satisfied with. It all comes back to the women. When their
taste is corrected we shall have better novels. But not before then!"

"Mr. Wilson," I said, "do you believe that the development of the
magazine, with its high prices and serialization, has been harmful or
beneficial to fiction?"

"In the first place, the magazine hasn't developed," he answered. "It
has merely multiplied--the cheap ones, I mean. And prices have not
increased except to about a dozen of our national favorites. Where there
is one writer who can get fifteen hundred dollars for a short story, or
fifteen thousand dollars for the serial rights to a novel, there are a
thousand who can get not more than a fifteenth of those prices.

"On the whole, I think that the effect of the cheap monthlies has been
good. They are the only ones that welcome the new writer. They try him
out. Then, if the public takes to him, the better magazines find it out
after a while and form an alliance with him--that is, if his characters
are so sweet and wholesome that the magazine can still be left on the
center-table where Cuthbert or Berryl might see it after school.

"Nowadays I never expect to find a good short story in any of the cheap
magazines. Of course, it does happen now and then, but not often enough
to make me impatient for their coming. And, of course, the cheap
monthlies do print, for the most part, what are probably the worst
short stories that will ever be written in the world--the very furthest
from anything real.

"These writers, too, like the novelists, study one another instead of
life. We will say one of them writes a short story about a pure young
shopgirl of flower-like beauty who, spending an evening of innocent
recreation in a notorious Tenderloin dive (one of those places that I,
for one, have never been able to find), is insulted by the leader of
Tammany Hall, who is always hanging around there for evil purposes. At
the last moment she is saved from his loathsome advances by a dashing
young stranger in a cute-cut blue serge suit, who carries her off in a
taxicab and marries her at 2 A.M. And he, of course, proves to be the
great traction magnate who owns all the city's surface-car lines.

"The other writers, and some new ones that never before thought of
writing, read this story, which is called 'All for Love,' and learn to
do the 'type'--the pure young shopgirl, a bit slangy in spite of her
flower-like beauty; the abhorrent politician (some day he will have a
distressing mix-up with his very own daughter in one of these evil
places--see if he doesn't!), the low-browed dive-keeper, and the honest
young traction magnate. They will learn with a little practice to do
these as the dupes of the 'Be-a-cartoonist!' schools learn to draw 'An
Irishman,' 'A German,' 'A Jew,' and the dental façade of Colonel

"But we must remember that O. Henry came to us from the cheap magazines,
never did get into the higher-priced ones, and was, by the way,
wretchedly paid for his stories. True, he received good prices in his
later days, but I doubt if they raised the average for his output to two
hundred dollars a story. He neglected to come to the feast in a wedding
garment, so the more pretentious magazines would have none of him.

"For one O. Henry, then, we can forgive the lesser monthlies for the
bulk of their stuff that can be read only by born otoliths. The more
magazines, the better our chance of finding the new man, and only in the
cheap ones can he come to life."

Many dogmatic statements have been made concerning the great American
novel. I have been told that it would come from the South, that it would
come from the West, that it would never be written. But Mr. Wilson has a
new and revolutionary theory.

"Will there," I asked, "ever be the great American novel? That is, will
there ever be a novel which reflects American life as adequately as
_Vanity Fair_ reflects English life?"

"There have already been dozens of them!" was Mr. Wilson's emphatic
reply. "To go no farther back, Booth Tarkington wrote one the other day,
and so did Theodore Dreiser. (Dreiser's story, 'The "Genius,"' of course
couldn't have appeared in any American magazine. Trust your canny
publisher not to let his magazine hand know what his book hand is

"But let us lay forever that dear old question that has haunted our
literary columns for so many years. The answer, of course, is that there
is no novel that reflects English life any more adequately than _The
Turmoil_, or '_The Genius_,' or _The Virginian_, or _Perch of the
Devil_, or _Unleavened Bread_, or _The Rise of Silas Lapham_ reflects
American life.

"Certainly _Vanity Fair_ doesn't do this. It reflects but a very narrow
section of London life. For the purposes of fictional portrayal England
is just as big and difficult--as impossible in one novel--as the United

"To know England through fiction one must go to all her artists, past
and present, getting a little from each. Hardy gives us an England that
Thackeray never suspected, and Galsworthy gives us still another, not to
go on to the England of George Moore, Phillpotts, Quiller-Couch, Wells,
Bennett, Walpole, George, or Mackenzie. I hope at the proper time that a
tasteful little tablet will be erected to my memory for having laid this
ancient and highly respectable apparition."

In his interesting contribution to a symposium of opinions as to what
are the six best novels in the English language, Mr. Wilson had some
things to say about Dickens which were not likely to bring him a vote of
thanks from the Dickens Fellowship. I wished to have his opinion of
Dickens stated more definitely, and so, basing my question on a
statement he had made in the symposium, I asked, "What qualities in the
work of Charles Dickens make him a bad model for novelists to follow?"

Mr. Wilson replied: "Dickens has been a blight to most writers who were
susceptible to his vices. He was a great humorist, but an inferior
novelist, and countless other inferior novelists have believed that they
could be great humorists by following his childishly easy formula.

"That is, those who were influenced by him copy his faults. Witness our
school of characterization based on the Dickens method, a school holding
that 'character' is a mere trick of giving your creation exaggerated
mannerisms or physical surfaces--as with Dickens it was rarely anything

"Dickens created vaudeville 'characters'--unsurpassed for twenty-minute
sketches, deadly beyond that to the mentally mature. His stock in trade
was the grotesque make-up. In stage talk he couldn't create a 'straight'

"Strip his people of their make-ups, verbal, hirsute, sartorial,
surgical, pathological, what not--and dummies remain. Meet them once and
you know them for the rest of the tale, the Micawbers, Gamps,
Pecksniffs, Nicklebys; each has his stunt and does it over and over at
each new meeting, to the--for me, at least--maddening delay of the
melodrama. I like melodrama as well as any one, badgered heroines,
falsely accused heroes, missing wills, trap-doors, disguised
philanthropists, foul murders, and even slow-dying children who are not
only moralists, but orators; and I like to see the villain get his at
last, and get it good; but I can't read Dickens any more, because the
tale must be held up every five minutes for one of the funny
'characters' to do his stunt.

"How many years will it take us--writers, I mean--to realize that there
are no characters in Dickens in the sense that Dmitri in _The Brothers
Caramazov_ is a character? How few of our current novelists can
distinguish between the soulless caricaturing of Dickens and the genuine
character-drawing of a Turgenieff or a Dostoievski!

"How few of us can see how the soul of Dmitri is slowly unfolded to the
reader with never a bit of make-up! To this moment, I don't know if he
wore a beard or not; but I know the man. Dickens would have given him
funny whiskers, astigmatism, a shortened leg, a purple nose, and still
to make sure we wouldn't mistake him a catch phrase for his utterance.

"Any novelist who has mastered the rudiments of his craft, even though
he hasn't an atom of humor in his make-up, can write a Dickens novel,
and any publisher will print it for the Christmas trade if it's fairly
workman-like, and it will be warmly praised in the reviews. That happens
every season.

"And that's why Dickens is a bad model. If one must have a model, why
not Hall Caine, infinitely the superior of Dickens as a craftsman? Of
course, having no humor, he can't be read by people who have, but he
knows his trade, where Dickens was a preposterous blunderer."

Charles Belmont Davis once told me that a novelist should have some
other regular occupation besides writing. I asked Mr. Wilson his opinion
on this subject.

"Mr. Davis didn't originate this theory," he said. "It's older than he
is. Anyway, I don't believe in it. I know of no business to-day that
would leave a man time to write novels, and a novelist worth his salt
won't have time for any other business.

"Of course, the ideal novelist would at one time or another have been
anything. The ideal novelist has two passions, people and words, and he
should have had and should continue to have as many points of contact
with life as possible. But if he has reached the point where he can
write to please me, I want him not to waste time doing anything else.

"Personally, I wish I might have been, for varying intervals, a Russian
Grand Duke, an Eighth Avenue undertaker, the manager of a
five-and-ten-cent store, a head waiter, a burglar, a desk sergeant at
the Thirtieth Street Police Station, and a malefactor of great wealth,
preferably one that gets into the snapshots at Newport, reading from
left to right. But Heaven has denied me practically all of these avenues
to a knowledge of my humankind, and I am too busy keeping up with the
current styles of all millinery fiction to take to any of them at this
late day.

"Besides, I have a bad example to deter me, having just read _The High
Priestess_, by Robert Grant, who has another business than novel
writing--something connected with the law, I believe, in Boston. I have
no means of knowing how valuable a civic unit he may have been in his
home town, but I do feel that he has cheated the world of a great deal
by keeping to this other business, whatever it may be.

"From the author of _Unleavened Bread_ we once had a right to expect
much. But _The High Priestess_ chiefly makes me regret that he didn't
have to write novels or starve; by its virtues of construction, which
are many and admirable, and by its utter lack of power to communicate
any emotion whatsoever, which is conspicuous and lamentable. He seems to
have written his novel with an adding-machine, and instinctively I
blame that 'other business' of his, in which he seems to have
forgotten--for he did know it once--that a novelist may or may not think
straight, but he must feel.

"Perhaps he wasn't a real novelist, after all. I suspect a real novelist
would starve in any other business."

I told Mr. Wilson that a prominent American humorist writer had classed
Mark Twain with Artemus Ward and Philander Doesticks, and said that
these men were not genuine humorists, but "the Charlie Chaplins of their

Mr. Wilson smiled. "Isn't this rather high praise for Charlie Chaplin?"
he asked. "How far is this idolatry of the movie actor to go, anyway?
True, Mr. Chaplin is a skilled comedian, pre-eminent in his curious new
profession, but to my thinking he lacks repose at those supreme moments
when he is battering the faces of his fellow-histrions with the wet mop
or the stuffed club, or walking on their stomachs; but I may be
prejudiced. I know I shouldn't have ranked him with Mark Twain,
arch-humanist and satirist and one of the few literary artists who have
attained the world stature--so that we must go back and back to
Cervantes to find his like."



If William Makepeace Thackeray were alive to-day he would not write a
_Book of Snobs_. He might write a _Book of Reformers_.

This is the opinion of that shrewd and kindly satirist, Edward S.
Martin. I found him not in New York, the city whose lights and shadows
are reflected in much of his graceful prose and pungent verse, but out
among the Connecticut hills. In the pleasant study of his quaint
Colonial cottage he talked about the thing he delights to

"Thackeray would not write a _Book of Snobs_ to-day," he said. "The snob
is not now the appealing subject that he was in the early days of the
reign of Queen Victoria. Thackeray could not now find enough snobs and
snobbery to write about, either in England or in America. Snobs are by
way of having punctured tires these days.

"Don't you think that the snobs were always very much apart from our
civilization and national ideals? They were a symptom of an established
and conservative society. And this established and conservative society
Thackeray in his way helped to break down.

"To-day, in England and in the United States, that kind of society is in
a precarious condition. If Thackeray were now writing, he would not
satirize snobs. It is more likely that he would satirize the reformers.
I think that all the snobs have hit the sawdust trail."

"How did this happen?" I asked. "What was it that did away with the

"It was largely a natural process of change," said Mr. Martin. "The
snobs were put on the defensive. You see, there is a harder push of
democracy now than there was in Thackeray's time. The world of which the
snob was so conspicuous a part seems, especially since the war began, to
have passed away. Of course the literature of that world is not dead,
but for the moment it seems obsolete.

"To-day the whole attention of civilized mankind is fixed on the great
fundamental problems; there is no time for snobbery. For one thing,
there is the problem of national self-preservation. And there has
recently been before the civilized world, more strongly than ever
before, the great problem of the development of democracy.

"I suppose that the war will check, to a certain extent, the development
of democracy. In England the great task of the hour is to organize all
the powers of society for defense against attack, against attack by a
power organized for forty years for that attack.

"I suppose England will get organization out of this war. And if we get
into the war, we'll get organization out of it."

Mr. Martin is generally thought of as a critic of social rather than
political conditions. But he is keenly interested in politics. Speaking
of American politics and the possibility of America's entering the war,
he said:

"For the past fifteen years our greatest activity in politics has been
to rip things open. It seemed to most people that the organization was
getting too strong and that it was controlled by too few people. The
fight has been against that condition.

"But if we became involved in a serious war trouble the energy of our
people would be directed to an attempt to secure increased efficiency.
We would become closely organized again. I don't think we'd lose the
benefit of what has been done in the past years, but we would come to a
turn in the road.

"I suppose it would bring us all together, if we got into this war, and
I suppose we'd get some good out of it.

"You see, the people who formerly directed our Government haven't had
much power for several years. Now they are valuable people. And they
will come back into power again, but with greatly modified conditions.

"I don't think that a new set of people are going to manage the affairs
of the nation. I think that the affairs of the nation will be managed by
the people who managed them before. But these people will be much more
under control than they were before, and they will be subject to new

"How much good government by commission is going to do I don't know. We
have not as yet had good enough men to enter into this important work,
and the best of those who have entered have not stayed in this
employment. So the development of experts in government has not come
along as well as people hoped it would."

The genial philosopher smiled quizzically and rose from his chair.

"I'm afraid I'm getting too political," he said, pacing slowly up and
down the room. "Let's get back to snobs and snobbery.

"You asked me a few minutes ago why the snob had become so inconspicuous
a figure in our modern society. Well, I know one reason for this altered
condition of affairs. Woman has abolished the snob. Woman has changed

"And what changed woman?" I asked.

"Many things; the development of machinery, for instance," he replied.
"Woman has not changed so much as the conditions of life have changed.

"The development of machinery has caused changes that impress me deeply.
It has produced immense alterations in the conditions of life and in the
relations between people.

"War has been changed in a striking manner by this development of
machinery. Never in the history of warfare was machinery so prominent
and important as to-day. In fact, I think I am justified in speaking of
this war as a machine-bore!

"Machinery really has had a great deal to do with changing the
condition and activities of woman, and has been a powerful influence in
bringing about the modern movement for women's suffrage. Machinery has
changed the employment of women and forced them into kinds of work which
are not domestic.

"The typewriter and the telephone have revolutionized our methods of
doing business. The typewriter and the telephone have filled our offices
with women. They are doing work which twenty years ago would have been
considered most unfeminine.

"The war is strengthening this tendency of women to take up work that is
not domestic. I have heard it said that women first got into the
undomestic kinds of business in France during the Napoleonic wars.
Napoleon wanted to have all the men out in the line of battle, so he had
girls instructed in bookkeeping and other kinds of office work.

"The business activities of Frenchwomen date from that time. And a
similar result seems to be coming out of this war. In France, in
England, in all the countries engaged in the war the women are filling
the positions left vacant by the men."

"Do you think," I asked, "that this is a good thing for civilization,
this increased activity of women in business?"

"I don't know," said Mr. Martin, musingly. "I don't know. But I do know
this, that the main employment of woman is to rear a family. Office
work, administrative work--these things are of only secondary
importance. The one vital thing for women to do is to rear families.
They must do this if the human race is to continue."

"Mr. Martin," I said, "you told me that Thackeray, if he were alive,
would satirize the reformers. Just what sort of reformer is it that has
taken the place of the snob?"

Mr. Martin did not at once answer. He smiled, as if enjoying some
entertaining memory. Then he started to speak, and mentioned the name of
a prominent reformer. But his New England caution checked him. He said:

"No, I'd better not say anything about that. I'd rather not. I'd rather
say that the things that the snobs admired and particularly embodied
have lost prestige during the last twenty years.

"After 1898, after our great rise to prosperity, the captains of
industry and of finance were the great men of the country. But I think
these great men are less stunning now than they were then. And money is
less stunning, too.

"All the business of money-making has had a great loss of prestige since
1900. People think more of other things. And the people who are thinking
of other things than money-making have more of a 'punch' than they had
before. The wise have more of a punch, and so have the foolish."

Again came that reminiscent smile. "Reformers can be very trying," he
said. "Very trying, indeed. Did you ever read Brand Whitlock's _Forty
Years of It_? Brand Whitlock had his own trials with the reformers.
Whitlock is a sensible, generous man, and his attitude toward reformers
is a good deal humorous and not at all violent. That would be
Thackeray's attitude toward them, I think, if he were living to-day.
He'd satirize the reformers instead of the snobs."

Mr. Martin is not inclined to condemn or to accept absolutely any of the
modern reform movements. "All reform movements," he said, "run until
they get a check. Then they stop. But what they have accomplished is not

The society women who undertake sociological reform work find in Mr.
Martin no unsympathetic critic.

"These wealthy women," he said, "take up reform work as a recourse.
Society life is not very filling. They have a sense of emptiness. So
they go in for reform, to fill out their lives more adequately.

"But I don't know that I'd call that kind of thing reform. I'd call it a
large form of social activity. These women are attending to a great mass
of people who need this attention. But the bulk of this kind of work is
too small for it to be called reform.

"In New York there are very many young people who need care and
leadership. The neglected and incompetent must be looked after. The
old-fashioned family control has been considerably loosened, and an
attempt must be made to guard those who are therefore less protected
than they would have been a generation ago. Certainly these efforts to
look after young people who don't have enough care taken of them by
their families are directed in the right direction."

I asked Mr. Martin what he thought of the present condition of American
literature, particularly the work presented to the public on the pages
of magazines.

"Just now," he said, "the newspapers seem to have almost everything. The
great interest of the last few years has been in the newspapers. They
have had a tremendous story to tell, they have told it every day, and
other things have seemed, in comparison, flat and lifeless.

"It has been a hard time for every sort of a publication not absolutely
up to the minute all the time. The newspapers have had the field almost
to themselves.

"And I think that the newspapers have greatly improved. They have had an
immense chance, and it has been very stimulating."



"Realism," said Robert Herrick, "is not the celebration of sexuality." I
had not recalled to earth that merry divine whose lyric invitation to go
a-Maying still echoes in the heart of every lover of poetry. The Robert
Herrick with whom I was talking is a poet and a discriminating critic of
poetry, but the world knows him chiefly for his novels--_The Common
Lot_, _Together_, _Clark's Field_, and other intimate studies of
American life and character. He is a realist, and not many years ago
there were critics who thought that his manner of dealing with sexual
themes was dangerously frank. Therefore, the statement that he had just
made seemed to me particularly significant.

"It seems to have become the fashion," he said, "to apply the term
Realist to every writer who is obsessed with sex. I think I know the
reason for this. Our Anglo-Saxon prudery kept all mention of sex
relations out of our fiction for many years. Among comparatively modern
novelists the realists were the first to break the shackles of this
convention, and write frankly of sex. And from this it has come, most
unfortunately, that realism and pornography are often confused by
novelists and critics as well as by the public.

"This confusion of ideas was apparent in some of the criticisms of my
novel _Together_. In an early chapter of the book there was an incident
which was intended to show that the man and woman who were the chief
figures in the book were spiritually incompatible, that their relations
as husband and wife would be wrong. This was, in fact, the theme of the
book, and this incident in the first chapter was intended to foreshadow
the later events of their married life. Well, the critics who disliked
this chapter said that what they objected to was its 'gross realism.'

"Now, as a matter of fact, that part of the book was not realistic at
all. I was describing something unusual, abnormal, while realism has to
do with the normal. The critic had, of course, a perfect right to
believe that the subject ought not to be treated at all, but 'gross
realism' was the most inappropriate description possible.

"Undoubtedly there are many writers who believe that they are realists
because they write about nothing but sex. Undoubtedly, too, there are
many writers who are conscious of the commercial value of sex in
literature. Of course a writer ought to be conscious of the sex impulse
in life, but he ought not to display it constantly. I wish our writers
would pay less attention to the direct manifestations of sex and more to
its indirect influence, to the ways in which it affects all phases of

"Who are some of the writers who seem to you to be especially ready to
avail themselves of the commercial value of sex?" I asked.

Mr. Herrick smiled. "I think you know the writers I mean without my
mentioning their names," he said. "They write for widely circulated
magazines, and make a great deal of money, and their success is due
almost entirely to their industrious celebration of sexual affairs. You
know the sort of magazine for which they write--it always has on the
cover a highly colored picture of a pretty woman, never anything else.
That, too, is an example, and a rather wearying example, of the
commercializing of the sex appeal.

"I think that Zola, although he was a great artist, was often conscious
of the business value of the sex theme. He knew that that sort of thing
had a tremendous appeal, and, for me, much of his best work is marred by
his deliberate introduction of sex, with the purpose--which, of course,
he realized--of making a sensation and selling large editions of his
books. This sort of commercialism was not found in the great Russian
realists, the true realist--Dostoievski, for example. But it is found in
the work of some of the modern Russian writers who are incorrectly
termed realists."

"Mr. Herrick," I asked, "just what is a realist?"

Mr. Herrick's youthful face, which contrasts strangely with his white
hair, took on a thoughtful expression.

"The distinction between realism and romanticism," he said, "is one of
spirit rather than of method. The realist has before him an aim which is
entirely different from that of the romanticist.

"The realist writes a novel with one purpose in view. And that purpose
is to render into written words the normal aspect of things.

"The aim of the romanticist is entirely different. He is concerned only
with things which are exciting, astonishing--in a word, abnormal.

"I do not like literary labels, and I think that the names 'realist' and
'romanticist' have been so much misused that they are now almost
meaningless. The significance of the term changes from year to year; the
realists of one generation are the romanticists of the next.

"Bulwer Lytton was considered a realist in his day. But we think of him
only as a sentimental and melodramatic romanticist whose work has no
connection with real life.

"Charles Dickens was considered a realist by the critics of his own
generation, and it is probable that he considered himself a realist. But
his strongest instinct was toward the melodramatic. He wrote chiefly
about simple people, it is true, and chiefly about his own land and
time. But the fact that a writer used his contemporaries as subjects
does not make him a realist. Dickens's people were unusual; they were
better or worse than most people, and they had extraordinary adventures;
they did not lead the sort of life which most people lead. Therefore,
Dickens cannot accurately be called a realist."

"You called Dostoievski a realist," I said. "What writers who use the
English language seem to you to deserve best the name of realist?"

"I think," said Mr. Herrick, "that the most thoroughgoing realist who
ever wrote in England was Anthony Trollope. _Barchester Towers_ and
_Framley Parsonage_ are masterpieces of realism; they give a faithful
and convincing picture of the every-day life of a section of English
society with which their author was thoroughly familiar. Trollope
reflected life as he saw it--normal life. He was a great realist.

"In the United States there has been only one writer who has as great a
right to the name realist as had Anthony Trollope. That man is William
Dean Howells. Mr. Howells has always been interested in the normal
aspect of things. He has taken for his subject a sort of life which he
knows intimately; he has not sought for extraordinary adventures for his
theme, nor has he depicted characters remote from our experience. His
novels are distinguished by such fidelity to life that he has an
indisputable claim to be called a realist.

"But, as I said, it is dangerous and unprofitable to attempt to label
literary artists. Thackeray was a realist. Yet _Henry Esmond_ is classed
as a romantic novel. In that book Thackeray used the realistic method;
he spent a long time in studying the manners and customs of the time
about which he was writing; and all the details of the sort of life
which he describes are, I believe, historically accurate. And yet _Henry
Esmond_ is a romance from beginning to end; it is a romantic novel
written by a realist, and written according to what is called the
realistic method.

"On the other hand, Sir Walter Scott was a romanticist. No one will deny
that. Yet in many of his early books he dealt with what may be called
realistic material; he described with close fidelity to detail a sort of
life and a sort of people with which he was well acquainted.

"Whether a writer is a realist or a romanticist is, after all, I think,
partly a matter of accident or culture. I happen to be a realist because
I was brought up on the great Russian realists like Gogol and the great
English realists from George Elliot down to Thomas Hardy. If I had been
brought up on romantic writers I suppose that I might now be writing an
entirely different sort of novel from that with which I am associated.

"There is a sounder distinction," said Mr. Herrick, "than that which
people try to draw between the realistic novel and the romantic novel.
This is the distinction between the novel of character and the novel of
events. Personally, I never have been able to see how the development of
character can be separated from the plot of a novel. A book in which the
characters exhibit exactly the same characteristics, moral and
intellectual, in the last chapter as in the first, seems to me to be
utterly worthless.

"I will, however, make one exception--that is, the novel of the Jules
Verne type. In this sort of book, and in romances of the Monte Cristo
kind, action is the only thing with which the author and the reader are
concerned, and any attempt to develop character would clog the wheels of
the story.

"But every other kind of novel depends on character. Even in the best
work of Dumas, in _The Three Musketeers_, for example, the characters of
the principal figures develop as the story progresses.

"The highest interest of a novel depends upon the development of its
characters. If the characters are static, then the book is feeble. I
have never been able to see how the plot and the development of the
characters can be separated.

"Of course, the novel of character is full of adventure. The adventures
of Henry James's characters are of absorbing interest, but they are
psychological adventures, internal adventures. If some kind person
wanted to give one of Henry James's novels what is commonly called 'a
bully plot' the novel would fail."

As to the probable effect on literature of the war, Mr. Herrick has a
theory different from that of any other writer with whom I have
discussed the subject.

"I think," he said, "that after the war we shall return to fatuous
romanticism and weak sentimentality in literature. The tendency will be
to read novels in order to forget life, instead of reading them to
realize life. There will be a revival of a deeper religious sense,
perhaps, but there will also be a revival of mere empty formalism in
religion. It has been so in the past after great convulsions. Men need
time to recover their spiritual pride, their interest in ideas."

But Mr. Herrick's own reaction to the war does not seem to justify his
pessimistic prophecy. Certainly the personal experience which he next
narrated to me does not indicate that Mr. Herrick is growing sentimental
and romantic.

"When I was in Rome recently," he said, "I was much impressed by
D'Annunzio. I was interested in him as a problem, as a picturesque
literary personality, as a decadent raffine type regenerated by the war.
I have not read any of his books for many years.

"I took some of D'Annunzio's books to read on my voyage home. I read _Il
Piacere_. I realized its charm, I realized the highly æsthetic quality
of its author, a scholarly and exact æstheticism as well as an emotional
æstheticism. But, nevertheless, I had to force myself to read the book.
It was simply a description of a young man's amorous adventures. And I
could not see any reason for the existence of this carefully written
record of passional experiences.

"It seemed to me that the war had swept this sort of thing aside, or had
swept aside my interest in this sort of thing. The book seemed to me as
dull and trivial and as remote as a second-rate eighteenth-century
novel. And I wondered if we would ever again return to the time when
such a record of a young man's emotional and sensual experiences would
be worth while.

"I came to the conclusion that D'Annunzio himself would not now write
such a novel. I think that it would seem to him to be too trivial a
report on life. I think that the war has so forced the essential things
of life upon the attention of young men."



Arthur Guiterman has been called the Owen Seaman of America. Of course
he isn't, any more than Owen Seaman is the Arthur Guiterman of England.
But the verse which brings Arthur Guiterman his daily bread is turned no
less deftly than is that of _Punch's_ famous editor. Arthur Guiterman is
not a humorist who writes verse; he is a poet with an abundant gift of

Now, the author of _The Antiseptic Baby and the Prophylactic Pup_ and
_The Quest of the Riband_, and of those unforgetable rhymed reviews,
differs from most other poets not only in possessing an abnormally
developed sense of humor, but also in being able to make a comfortable
living out of the sale of his verse. But when he talked to me recently
he was by no means inclined to advise all able young poets to expect
their poetry to provide them with board and lodging.

"Of course it is possible to make a living out of verse," he said. "Walt
Mason does, and so does Berton Braley. And now most of my income comes
from my verse. Formerly I wrote short stories, but I haven't written one
for seven or eight years.

"Nevertheless, I think it is inadvisable for any one to set out with the
idea of depending on the sale of verse as a means of livelihood. You
see, there are, after all, two forms, and only two forms, of literary
expression--the prose form and the verse form. Some subjects suit the
prose form, others suit the verse form. Any one who makes writing his
profession has ideas severally adapted to both of these forms. And every
writer should be able to express his idea in whichever of these two
forms suits it better.

"Now, the verse form is older than the prose form. And so I have come to
look upon it as the form peculiarly attractive to youth. Many writers
outgrew the tendency to use the verse form, but some never outgrew it.
Sir Walter Scott was a verse-writer before he was a prose-writer, and so
was Shakespeare. So were many modern writers--Robert W. Chambers, for

"This theory is true especially in regard to lyric verse. The lyric is
nearly always the work of a young man. As a man grows older he sings
less and preaches more. Certainly this was true of Milton.

"I never thought that I should write verse for a living. But verse
happens to be the medium that I love. I ran across my first poem the
other day--it was about fireflies, and I was eight years old when I
wrote it. Certainly nearly all writers write verse before they write
prose; perhaps it is atavistic. I don't know that Henry James began with
verse. But I would be willing to bet that he did.

"One trouble with a great many people who make a living out of writing
verse is that they feel obliged always to be verse-writers, never to
write prose, even when the subject demands that medium. Alfred Noyes
gives us an example of this unfortunate tendency in his _Drake_. I am
not disparaging Alfred Noyes's work; he has written charming lyrics, but
in _Drake_, and perhaps in some of the _Tales from the Mermaid Tavern_,
I feel that he has written verse not because the subject was especially
suited to that medium, but because he felt that he was a verse-writer
and therefore should not write prose."

Mr. Guiterman is firmly convinced, however, that a verse-writer ought to
be able, in time, to make a living out of his work.

"If a man calls himself a writer," he said, "he ought to be able to make
a living out of writing. And I think that the writer of verse has a
greater opportunity to-day than ever before. I don't mean to say that
the appreciation of poetry is more intense than ever before, but it is
more general. More people are reading poetry now than in bygone

"Compare with the traditions that we have to-day those of the early
nineteenth century, of the time of Byron and Sir Walter Scott. Then
books of verse sold in large quantities, it is true, but to a relatively
small public, to one class of readers. Now not only the poet, but also
the verse-writer has an enormous public. If a really great poet should
arise to-day he would find awaiting him a larger public than that known
by any poet of the past. But it would be necessary for the poet to be
great for him to find this public. Byron would be more generally
appreciated to-day, if he were to live again, than he was in his own
generation. I mention Byron because I think it probable that the next
great poet will have something of Byron's dynamic quality."

"Who was the last great poet?" I asked.

"How is one to decide whether or not a poet is great?" asked Mr.
Guiterman in turn. "My own feeling is that the late William Vaughn Moody
was a great poet in the making. Perhaps he never really fulfilled his
early promise; perhaps he went back to the themes of bygone ages too
much in finding themes for his poetry. It may be that the next really
great poet will sing an entirely different strain; it may be that I will
be one of those who will say that his work is all bosh.

"But at any rate, he won't be an imitation Whitman or anything of that
sort. He won't be any special school, nor will he think that he is
founding a school. But it may be that his admirers will found a school
with him as its leader, and they may force him to take himself
seriously, and thus ruin himself."

Returning to the subject of the advisability of a writer being able to
express himself in verse as well as in prose, Mr. Guiterman said:

"Especially in our generation is it true that good verse requires
extreme condensation. In most work to-day brevity is desirable. The
epigram beats the epic. If Milton were living to-day he would not write
epics. I don't think it improbable that we have men with Miltonic minds,
and they are not writing epics.

"If a man finds that he cannot express his idea in verse more forcefully
than he can in prose, then he ought to write prose. Very often a writer
is interested in some little incident which he would not be justified in
treating in prose, something too slight to be the theme of a short
story. This is the sort of thing which he should put into verse. There
is Leigh Hunt's _Jennie Kissed Me_, for example. Suppose he had made a
short story of it."

Thinking of this poet's financial success, I asked him just what course
he would advise a young poet to pursue who had no means of livelihood
except writing.

"Well, the worst thing for him to do," said Mr. Guiterman, "would be to
devote all his attention to writing an epic. He'd starve to death.

"I suppose the best thing for him to do would be to write on as many
subjects as possible, including those of intense interest to himself.
What interests him intensely is sure to interest others, and the number
of others whom it interests will depend on how close he is by nature to
the mind of his place and time. He should get some sort of regular work
so that he need not depend at first upon the sale of his writings. This
work need not necessarily be literary in character, although it would be
advisable for him to get employment in a magazine or newspaper office,
so that he may get in touch with the conditions governing the sale of

"He should write on themes suggested by the day's news. He should write
topical verse; if there is a political campaign on, he should write
verse bearing upon that; if a great catastrophe occurs, he should write
about that, but he must not write on these subjects in a commonplace

"He should send his verses to the daily papers, for they are the
publications most interested in topical verse. But also he should
attempt to sell his work to the magazines, which pay better prices than
the newspapers. If it is in him to do so, he should write humorous
verse, for there is always a good market for humorous verse that is
worth printing. He should look up the publishers of holiday cards, and
submit to them Christmas, Thanksgiving, and Easter verses, for which he
would receive, probably, about five dollars apiece. He should write
advertising verses, and he should, perhaps, make an alliance with some
artist with whom he can work, each supplementing the work of the other."

"Mr. Guiterman," I said, "is this the advice that you would give to John
Keats if he were to ask you?"

"Yes, certainly," said Mr. Guiterman. "But you understand that our
hypothetical poet must all the time be doing his own work, writing the
sort of verse which he specially desires to write. If his pot-boiling is
honestly done, it will help him with his other work.

"He must study the needs and limitations of the various publications. He
must recognize the fact that just because he has certain powers it does
not follow that everything he writes will be desired by the editors.
Marked ability and market ability are different propositions.

"If he finds that the magazines are not printing sad sonnets, he must
not write sad sonnets. He must adapt himself to the demands of the day.

"There is high precedent for this course. You asked if I would give
this advice to the young Keats. Why not, when Shakespeare himself
followed the line of action of which I spoke? He began as a lyric poet,
a writer of sonnets. He wrote plays because he saw that the demand was
for plays, and because he wanted to make a living and more than a
living. But because he was Shakespeare his plays are what they are.

"The poet must be influenced by the demand. There is inspiration in the
demand. Besides the material reward, the poet who is influenced by the
demand has the encouraging, inspiring knowledge that he is writing
something that people want to read."

I asked Mr. Guiterman to give me a list of negative commandments for the
guidance of aspiring poets. Here it is:

"Don't think of yourself as a poet, and don't dress the part.

"Don't classify yourself as a member of any special school or group.

"Don't call your quarters a garret or a studio.

"Don't frequent exclusively the company of writers.

"Don't think of any class of work that you feel moved to do as either
beneath you or above you.

"Don't complain of lack of appreciation. (In the long run no really good
published work can escape appreciation.)

"Don't think you are entitled to any special rights, privileges, and
immunities as a literary person, or have any more reason to consider
your possible lack of fame a grievance against the world than has any
shipping-clerk or traveling-salesman.

"Don't speak of poetic license or believe that there is any such thing.

"Don't tolerate in your own work any flaws in rhythm, rhyme, melody, or

"Don't use 'e'er' for 'ever,' 'o'er' for 'over,' 'whenas' or 'what time'
for 'when,' or any of the 'poetical' commonplaces of the past.

"Don't say 'did go' for 'went,' even if you need an extra syllable.

"Don't omit articles or prepositions for the sake of the rhythm.

"Don't have your book published at your own expense by any house that
makes a practice of publishing at the author's expense.

"Don't write poems about unborn babies.

"Don't--don't write hymns to the great god Pan. He is dead; let him rest
in peace!

"Don't write what everybody else is writing."



Why is the modern American novel inferior to the modern English novel?
Of course, there are some patriotic critics who believe that it is not
inferior. But most readers of fiction speak of H. G. Wells and Compton
Mackenzie, for example, with a respect and admiration which they do not
extend to living American novelists.

Why is this? Is it because of snobbishness or literary colonialism on
the part of the American public? George Barr McCutcheon does not think
so. The author of _Beverly of Graustark_ and many another popular
romance believes that there is in America a force definitely harmful to
the novel. And that force is the magazine.

"The development of the magazine," he said to me, "has affected fiction
in two ways. It has made it cheap and yet expensive, if you know what I

"Novels written solely with the view to sensationalism are more than
likely to bring discredit, not upon the magazine, but upon the writer.
He gets his price, however, and the public gets its fiction.

"In my humble opinion, a writer should develop and complete his novel
without a thought of its value or suitability to serial purposes. He
should complete it to his own satisfaction--if that is possible--before
submitting it to either editor or publisher. They should not be
permitted to see it until it is in its complete form."

"But you yourself write serial stories, do you not?" I asked.

"I have never written a serial," answered Mr. McCutcheon. "Some of my
stories have been published serially, but they were not written as

"I am quite convinced in my own mind that if we undertake to analyze the
distinction between the first-class English writers of to-day and many
of our Americans, we will find that their superiority resolves itself
quite simply into the fact that they do not write their novels as
serials. In other words, they write a novel and not a series of
chapters, parts, and instalments."

"Do you think that the American novel will always be inferior to the
English novel?" I asked. "Is it not probable that the American novel
will so develop as to escape the effects of serialization?"

"There is no reason," Mr. McCutcheon replied, "why Americans should not
produce novels equal to those of the English, provided the same care is
exercised in the handling of their material, and that they make haste as
slowly as possible. Just so long, however, as we are menaced by the
perils of the serial our general output will remain inferior to that of

"I do not mean to say that we have no writers in this country who are
the equals in every respect of the best of the English novelists. We
have some great men and women here, sincere, earnest workers who will
not be spoiled."

Mr. McCutcheon has no respect for the type of novel, increasingly
popular of late, in which the author devotes page after page to glowing
accounts of immorality with the avowed intention of teaching a high
moral lesson. He has little faith in the honesty of purpose of the
authors of works of this sort.

"The so-called sex novel," he said, "is one of our gravest fatalities. I
may be wrong, but I am inclined to think that most novels of that
character are written, not from an æsthetic point of view, but for the
somewhat laudable purpose of keeping the wolf from the door and at the
same time allowing the head of the family to ride in an automobile of
his own.

"The typical serial writer is animated by the desire, or perhaps it is
an obligation, to make the 'suspended interest' paramount to all else.
This interest must not be allowed to flag between instalments.

"The keen desire for thrills must be gratified at all costs. It is
commanded by the editor--and I do not say that the editor errs. His
public expects it in a serial. It must not be disappointed."

I asked Mr. McCutcheon if he believed that a writer could produce
sensational and poorly constructed fiction in order to make a living and
yet keep his talent unimpaired; if a writer was justified in writing
trash in order to gain leisure for serious work. He replied:

"There are writers to-day who persist in turning out what they
vaingloriously describe as 'stuff to meet the popular demand.' They
invariably or inevitably declare that some day they will 'be in a
position to write the sort of stuff they want to write.'

"These writers say, in defense of their position, that they are not even
trying to do their best work, that they are merely biding their time,
and that--some day! I very much doubt their sincerity, or, at any rate,
their capacity for self-analysis. I believe that when an author sets
himself down to write a book (I refer to any author of recognized
ability), he puts into that book the best that is in him at the time.

"It is impossible for a good, conscientious writer to work on a plane
lower than his best. Only hack writers can do such things.

"There is not one of us who does not do his best when he undertakes to
write his book. We only confess that we have not done our best when a
critic accuses us of pot-boiling, and so forth. Then we rise in our
pride and say, 'Oh, well, I can do better work than this, and they know

"It is true that we may not be doing the thing that we really want to
do, but I am convinced that we are unconsciously doing our best, just
the same. It all resolves itself into this statement--a good workman
cannot deliberately do a poor piece of work.

"I am free to confess that I have done my very best in everything I have
undertaken. It may fall short of excellence as viewed from even my own
viewpoint, but it is the best I know how to do.

"So you may take it from me that the writer who declares that he is
going to do something really worth while, just as soon as he gets
through doing the thing that the public expects him to do, is deceiving
himself and no one else. An author cannot stand still in his work. He
either progresses or retrogrades, and no man progresses except by means
of steady improvement. He cannot say, 'I will write a poor book this
year and a great book next year.'"

Mr. McCutcheon is so unashamedly a romanticist that I expected to find
him an enthusiastic partisan of the first and greatest master of the
romantic novel in English. But, to my surprise, he said:

"I suppose the world has outgrown Sir Walter Scott's novels. It is quite
natural that it should. The world is older and conditions have changed.
The fairest simile I can offer in explanation is that as man himself
grows older he loses, except in a too frequently elastic memory, his
interest in the things that moved him when he was a boy."

But while Mr. McCutcheon believes (in defiance of the opinion of the
publishers who continue to bring out, year by year, their countless new
editions of the Waverley Novels in all the languages of the civilized
world) that the spell of the Wizard of the North has waned, he
nevertheless believes that the romantic novel has lost none of its
ancient appeal.

"I do not believe," he said, "that the vogue of the romantic novel, or
tale (which is a better word for describing the sort of fiction covered
by this generic term), will ever die. The present war undoubtedly will
alter the trend of the modern romantic fiction, but it will not in
effect destroy it."

"How will it alter it?" I asked.

"Years most certainly will go by," he replied, "before the novelist may
even hope to contend with the realities of this great and most
unromantic conflict. Kings and courtiers are very ordinary, and, in some
cases, ignoble creatures in these days, and none of them appears to be

"We find a good many villains among our erstwhile heroes, and a good
many heroes among our principal villains. People will not care to read
war novels for a good many years to come, but it is inevitable that
future generations will read even the lightest kind of fiction dealing
with this war, horrible though it is. Just so long as the world exists
there will be people who read nothing else but the red-blood, stirring
romantic stories.

"There exists, of course, a class of readers who will not be tempted by
the romantic, who will not even tolerate it, because they cannot
understand it. That class may increase, but so will its antithesis.

"I know a man who has read the Bible through five or six times, not
because he is of a religious turn of mind or even mildly devout, but
because there is a lot of good, sound, exciting romance in it! A man who
is without romance in his soul has no right to beget children, for he
cannot love them as they ought to be loved. They represent romance at
its best. He is, therefore, purely selfish in his possession of them."

Mr. McCutcheon had spoken of the probable effect of the war on the
popular taste for romantic fiction. I reminded him of William Dean
Howells's much-quoted statement, "War stops literature."

"War stops everything else," said Mr. McCutcheon, "so why not
literature? It stops everything, I amend, except bloodshed, horror, and

"And when the war itself is stopped, you will find that literature will
be revived with farming and other innocent and productive industries. I
venture to say that some of the greatest literature the world has ever
known is being written to-day. Out of the history of this titanic
struggle will come the most profound literary expressions of all time,
and from men who to-day are unknown and unconsidered."

I asked Mr. McCutcheon if he did not believe that the youthful energy of
the United States was likely to make its citizens impatient of romance,
that quality being generally considered the exclusive property of
nations ancient in civilization. He did not think so.

"America," he said, "is essentially a romantic country, our great and
profound commercialism to the contrary notwithstanding. America was born
of adventure; its infancy was cradled in romance; it has grown up in
thrills. And while to-day it may not reflect romance as we are prone to
consider it, there still rests in America a wonderful treasure in the
shape of undeveloped possibilities.

"We are, first of all, an eager, zestful, imaginative people. We are
creatures of romance. We do two things exceedingly well--we dream and
we perform.

"Our dreams are of adventure, of risk, of chance, of impossibilities,
and of deeds that only the bold may conceive. And we find on waking from
these dreams that we have performed the deeds we dreamed of.

"The Old World looks upon us as braggarts. Perhaps we are, but we are
kindly, genial, smiling braggarts--and the braggart is, after all, our
truest romanticist.

"I like to hear a grown man admit that he still believes in fairies.
That sort of man thinks of the things that are beautiful, even though
they are invisible. And--if you stop to think about it--the most
beautiful things in the world are invisible."



The late J. Pierpont Morgan writing sonnet sequences, Rockefeller
regarding oil as useful only when mixed with pigment and spread upon
canvas by his own deft hand, Carnegie designing libraries instead of
paying for them--these are some of the entertaining visions that occur
to the mind of Frank H. Spearman when he contemplates in fancy a
civilization in which business no longer draws the master minds away
from art.

I asked the author of _Nan of Music Mountain_ if he thought that the
trend of present-day American life--its commercialism and
materialism--affected the character of our literature. He replied:

"Let us take commercialism first: By it you mean the pursuit of
business. Success in business brings money, power, and that public
esteem we may loosely term fame--the admiration of our fellow-men and
the sense of power among them.

"Commercialism, thus defined, affects the character of our literature in
a way that none of our students of the subject seems to have
apprehended. We live in an atmosphere of material striving. Our great
rewards are material successes. The extremely important consequence is
that our business life through its greater temptations--through its
being able to offer the rewards of wealth and mastery and esteem--robs
literature and the kindred arts of our keenest minds. We have, it is
true, eminent doctors and lawyers, but the complaint that commercialism
has invaded these professions only proves that they depend directly on
business prosperity for a substantial portion of their own rewards.

"I am not forgetting the crust and garret as the traditional setting for
the literary genius; but, when this state of affairs existed, the genius
had no chance to become a business millionaire within ten years--or, for
that matter, within a hundred. And while poverty provides an excellent
foundation for a career, it is not so good as a superstructure--at
least, not outside the ranks of the heroic few who renounce riches for
spiritual things.

"More than once," continued Mr. Spearman, "in meeting men among our
masters of industry, I have been struck by the thought that these are
the men who should be writing great books, painting great pictures, and
building great cathedrals; their tastes, I have sometimes found, run in
these directions quite as strongly as the tastes of lesser men who give
themselves to literature, painting, or architecture. But the present-day
market for cathedrals is somewhat straitened, and a great ambition may
nowadays easily neglect the prospective rewards of literature for those
of steel-making.

"Business success--not achieved in literature and the arts--comes first
with us; in consequence, the ranks of those who follow these professions
are robbed of the intellect that should contribute to them. This is the
real way in which commercialism--our pursuit of business--affects our
literature. It depletes, too, in the same way, the quality of men in our
public life.

"Charles G. Dawes has called my attention more than once to the falling
off in caliber among men from whose ranks our politicians and public men
are drawn. It is not that our present administration is so conspicuously
weak; go to any of the Presidential conventions this year and note the
falling off in quality among the politicians. In one generation the
change has been startling. The sons of the men that loomed large in
public life twenty-five years ago to-day are masters of business.

"Business takes everything. We have had really magnificent financiers,
such as the elder Morgan, who should be our Michael Angelo. I have known
railroad executives who might have been distinguished novelists, and
bankers who would have been great artists were the American people as
obsessed with the painting of pictures and the making of statues as
those of Europe once were.

"In Michael Angelo's day public interest in solving problems in
manufacture and transportation did not overshadow that in painting and
sculpture. Leonardo in our day would be building railroads, digging
canals, or inventing the aeroplane--and doing better, perhaps, at these
things than any man living; he came perilously close to doing all of
them in his own day.

"Before you can bring our steel-founders and business men into
literature you must make success in literature and its kindred arts
esteemed as the greatest reward. As it is, I fear it is likely to be
chiefly those who through lack of capacity, inclination, or robust
health are unequal to the heat and burden of great business that will be
left for the secondary callings, among which we must at present rank
literature. It would be interesting, too, to consider to what extent
this movement of men toward business rewards has been compensated for by
the opportunities afforded to women in the field thus deserted; we
certainly have many clever women cultivating it."

"But what," I asked, "about materialism--not specifically commercialism,
but materialism? Do you think that its evil effects are evident in
contemporary literature?"

"Materialism--you mean the philosophy--has quite a different effect on
any literature--a poisonous, a baneful effect, rather than a merely
harmful one," Mr. Spearman answered. "Can you possibly have, at any time
or anywhere, great art without a great faith? Since the era of
Christianity, at any rate, it seems to me that periods of faith, or at
least periods enjoying the reflexes and echoes of faith, have afforded
the really nourishing atmosphere for artistic development. Spirituality
provides that which the imagination may seize upon for the substance of
its creative effort; without spirituality the imagination shrivels, and
the materialist, while losing none of his characteristic confidence,
shrinks continually to punier artistic stature."

Something in what Mr. Spearman had said reminded me of Henry Holt's
criticisms of the modern magazines. So I asked Mr. Spearman what effect
the development of the American magazine, with its high prices for
serials and series of stories, had had upon our fiction. He answered:

"Good, I think. Our fiction must compete in its rewards with those of
business. One of the rewards of either--even if you put it, in the first
case, the lowest--is the monetary reward, and the more substantial that
can be made, the more chance fiction will have of holding up its head.

"I have had occasion to watch pretty closely the development of the
inclinations and ambitions of a number of average American boys--boys
that have had fairly intimate opportunities to consider both literature
and business. I have been startled more than once to find that as each
of them came along and was asked what he wanted to do, the substance of
his answer has been, 'Something to make money.'

"If you question your own youthful acquaintances, you will receive in
most cases, I dare say, similar answers. I am afraid if Giotto had been
a Wyoming shepherd-boy he would want to be a steel-maker. Anything that
tends to attract the young to the pursuit of literature as a calling
strengthens our fiction, and the magazine should have credit for an
'assist' in this direction. Don't forget, of course, that the magazine
itself derives directly, by way of advertising, from business."

"Do you think, then," I asked, "that our writers are producing work as
likely to endure as that which is being produced in England?"

Mr. Spearman smiled whimsically. "Your question suggests to me," he
replied, "rather than any judgment in the case, the reflection that the
average English writer has possessed over our average American writer
the very great advantage of an opportunity to become really educated; to
this extent their equipment is appreciably stronger than ours. If you
will read the ordinary run of English fiction or play-writing and
compare it with similar work of ours, you cannot fail to note the better
finish in their work. And in expressing a conviction that our writers
are somewhat handicapped as to this factor in their equipment, I do not
indict them for wasted opportunities; I indict our own substantial
failure in educational methods. For a generation or more we have
experimented, and from the very first grade in our grammar-schools up to
the university courses there have resulted confusion and ineptitude. I
instance specifically our experimentation with electives and our
widespread contempt for the classics. To attempt to master any of the
arts and not to be intimately familiar with what the Greeks and the
Romans have left us of their achievement--not to speak of those, to us,
uncharted seas of medieval achievement in every direction following the
twelfth century--is to make the effort under a distinct disadvantage.

"The average English writer has had much more of this intimacy, or at
least a chance at much more of it, than the average American writer. In
the sphere of literary criticism I have heard Mr. Brownell speak of the
better quality of even the anonymous English literary criticism so
frequently to be found in their journals when compared with similar
American work. There is only one explanation for these things, and it
lies in the training. All of this not implying, in indirect answer to
your question, that the English writer is to bear away the prize in the
competition for literary permanence. American Samsons may, despite
everything, burst their bonds; but if they win it will often be without
what their teachers should have supplied.

"Mr. Brownell, in his definitive essay on Cooper, in comparing the
material at Balzac's hand with that at Cooper's, remarks on the fact
that Cooper's background was essentially nature. 'Nothing, it is true,
is more romantic than nature,' adds Mr. Brownell, 'except nature plus
man. But the exception is prodigious.' Europe measures behind her
writers almost three thousand years of man.

"We have in this country no atmosphere of Christian tradition such as
that which pervades Europe--English-speaking people parted with historic
Christianity before they came here. But, willingly or unwillingly, the
English and the Continental writers are saturated with this magnificent
background of Christianity--they can't escape it. And what I note as
striking evidence of the value to them of this brooding spirit of twenty
European centuries is the fact that their very pagans choose Christian
material to work with. Goethe himself, fine old pagan that he was,
turned to Christian quarries for his _Faust_. The minor pagans turn in
likewise, though naturally with slighter results. But to all of them,
Christianity, paraphrasing Samson, might well say: 'If ye had not plowed
with my heifer, ye had not read--your own riddle of longed-for

"Why is it that the art of fiction is no longer taken as seriously as it
was, for example, in the time of Sir Walter Scott?"

"I don't know how seriously," countered Mr. Spearman, "you mean your
question to be taken. It suggests that in the day of Walter Scott the
field of novel-writing was still so new that only bolder spirits
ventured into it. It was not a day when the many could attempt the novel
with any assurances of success in marketing their wares. In consequence
we got then the work of only big men and women. Pioneers--though not
necessarily respectable--are a hardy lot.

"Still--touching on your other question about the great American
novel--if I wished to develop great musicians I should start every one
possible at studying music, and I can't help thinking that the more
there are among us who attempt novels the greater probability there will
be for the production of a masterpiece. A man's mind is a mine. Neither
he nor any one else knows what is in it. Possessing the property in fee
simple, he has, of course, certain valuable proprietary rights. But the
only way I know of to find out to a certainty just what lies within the
property is persistently to tunnel and drift, or, as Mr. Brownell says,
'to get out what is in you.' And I am in complete accord with him in the
belief that temperament is the best possible endowment for a
novelist--and temperament comes, if you are a Christian, from God; if a
pagan, from the gods."

Mr. Spearman returned to his theme of the effect of materialism on
literature in the course of a discussion of the French novel of the day
as compared to the novel of Zola and his imitators. He said:

"I think the important thing for Zola was that his day coincided with a
materialistic ascendency in the thought of France. He lived at a time
admirably suited to a man of his type. Zola found a France weak and
contemptible in its government, and in consequence a soil in which
grossness could profitably be cultivated.

"He was by no means a great artist; he was merely a writer writhing for
recognition when he turned to filth. He took it up to commercialize it,
to turn it into money and reputation. Men such as he are continually, at
different times and in different countries, lifting their heads. But
unless they are sustained by what chances to be a loose public attitude
on questions of decency, they are clubbed into silence.

"And just why should the exploitation of filth assume to monopolize the
word 'realism'? To define precisely what realism should include and
exclude would call for hard thinking. But it doesn't take much thought
to reach the conclusion that mere annalists of grossness have no proper
monopoly of the term. Grossness is no adequate foundation for a literary
monument; it is not even a satisfactory corner-stone. The few writers
one thinks of that constitute exceptions would have left a better
monument without it.

"But if you wish to realize how fortunate Zola was in coinciding with a
period when the chief effort of the ruling spirits of France was to war
on all forces that strove to conserve decency, try to imagine what sort
of a reception _L'Assommoir_ would be accorded to-day by the tears of
France stricken through calamity to its knees.

"France is experiencing now realism of quite another sort from that
propagated by Zola--a realism that is wringing the souls and turning
the thoughts of a great and unhappy people back once more to the eternal
verities; in these grossness never had a place.

"And if you don't want to think in grossness, don't read in it; if you
don't want to act in grossness, don't think in it. To exploit it is to
exaggerate its proper significance in the affairs of life.

"Twenty-five years ago an American writer set out as a Zola disciple to
give us something American along Zola's lines. He made a failure of
it--so complete that he was forced to complain that later efforts in
which he returned to paths of decency were refused by editors and
publishers. He had spoiled his name as an asset. If you are curious to
note how far the bars have been let down in his direction in twenty-five
years, contemplate what passes to-day among us with quite a footing of
magazine and book popularity. It means simply that we are falling into
those conditions of public indifference in which moral parasites may
flourish. But if one were forced to-day to choose in France between the
material taken up by Zola after his failure to cultivate successfully
cleaner fields, and that chosen by Réné Bazin and the new and hopeful
French school of spirituality, there could be no question that the
latter would afford the better opportunity. And there can be no real
question but that the exponents of grossness are likewise opportunists,
looking first of all for a market for their names--as most men are
doing. But some men, by reason of inclination or voluntary restraint,
have restricted themselves in their choice of literary materials."

Mr. Spearman has recently given much of his time to moving-picture work,
with the result that his name is nearly as familiar to the devotees of
the flickering screen as to habitual magazine readers. I asked him how
the development of the moving picture is likely to affect literature. He

"What I can say on this point will perhaps be more directly of interest
to writers themselves; the development of the moving picture broadens
their market. It has, if you will let me put it in this way, increased
the number of our theaters in their capacity for absorbing material for
the drama a thousandfold. Inevitably a new industry developing with such
amazing rapidity is still in the experimental stages, and those who know
it best say its possibilities are but just beginning. What I note of
interest to the literary worker is that men advanced and in authority
in the production of pictures have reached this conclusion: Behind every
good picture there must be a good story. The slogan to-day is 'The story
is the thing.' And those close to the 'inside' of the industry say
to-day to the fictionist: 'Hold on to your stories. Within a year or two
they will command from the movies much higher prices than to-day,
because the supply is fast becoming exhausted.'"

It was in the course of his remarks about the rewards of literature that
Mr. Spearman told an interesting story concerning Henry James and George
du Maurier. He said:

"The recent death of Henry James is bringing out many anecdotes
concerning him. At the time of George du Maurier's death it was recalled
that he had once given the material for _Trilby_ to Henry James with
permission to use it; and the story ran that, resolving to use it
himself, Mr. James returned the material to Du Maurier, who wrote the
novel from it.

"But I don't think it has ever appeared that the real reason why Henry
James did not attempt _Trilby_ was that he possessed no musical sense;
Mr. James himself told me this, and without a sense of music the
material was useless to any one. I discussed the incident with him some
ten years ago and he added, in connection with _Trilby_ and Du Maurier,
other interesting facts.

"_Trilby_ did not at first make a signal success in England. Its first
big hit was made in _Harper's Magazine_. Not realizing the American
possibilities, Mr. du Maurier, when offered by Harper & Brothers a
choice between royalties and five thousand dollars outright for the book
rights, took the lump sum as if it were descended straight from heaven.
When the news of the extraordinary success of the book in this country
reached him, he realized his serious mistake, and in the family circle
there was keen depression over it. But further surprises were in store
for him. To their eternal credit, the house of Harper &
Brothers--honorable then as now--in view of the unfortunate situation in
which their author had placed himself, voluntarily canceled the first
contract and restored Du Maurier to a royalty basis. The fear in the
English home then was that this arrangement would come too late to bring
in anything. Not only, however, did the book continue to sell, but the
play came on, and together the rights afforded George du Maurier a
competency that banished further worry from the home."



The novel is doomed. If the automobile, the aeroplane, and the moving
picture continue to develop during the next ten years as they have
developed during the last ten, people will cease almost entirely to take
interest in fiction.

It was not Henry Ford who told me this. Neither was it Mr. Wright, nor
M. Pathé. The man who made this ominous prophecy about the novel is
himself a successful novelist. He is Will N. Harben, author of _Pole
Baker_, _Ann Boyd_, _The Desired Woman_, and many other widely read
tales of life in rural Georgia.

Although he is so closely associated with the Southern scenes about
which he has written, Mr. Harben spends most of his time in New York
nowadays. He justifies this course interestingly--but before I tell his
views on this subject I will repeat what he had to say about this
possible extinction of the novel.

"You have read," he said, "of the tremendous vogue of _Pickwick Papers_
when it was first published. No work of fiction since that time has been
received with such enthusiasm.

"In London at that time you would find statuettes of Pickwick, Mr.
Winkle, and Sam Weller in the shop windows. There were Pickwick
punch-ladles, Pickwick teaspoons, Pickwick souvenirs of all sorts.

"Now, when you walk down Broadway, do you find any reminders of the
popular novels of the day? You do not, except of course in the
bookshops. But you do find things that remind you of contemporary taste.
In the windows of stationers and druggists you find statuettes not of
characters in the fiction of the day, but of Charlie Chaplin.

"Of course the moving picture has not supplanted the novel. But people
all over the country are becoming less and less interested in fiction.
The time which many people formerly gave to the latest novel they now
give to the latest film.

"And the moving picture is by no means the only thing which is weaning
us away from the novel. The automobile is a powerful influence in this

"Take, for instance, the town from which I come--Dalton, Georgia. There
the people who used to read novels spend their time which they used to
give to that entertainment riding around in automobiles. Sometimes they
go on long trips, sometimes they go to visit their friends in near-by
towns. But automobiling is the way in which they nowadays are accustomed
to spend their leisure.

"Naturally, this has its effect on their attitude toward novels. Years
ago, when Dalton had a population of about three thousand, it had two
well-patronized bookshops. Now it has a population of about seven
thousand and no bookshops at all!

"I suppose one of the reasons is that people live their adventures by
means of the automobile, and therefore do not care so much about getting
adventures from the printed page. But the chief reason is one of
time--the fact is that people more and more prefer automobiling to

"Now, if the aeroplane were to be perfected--as we have every reason to
believe it will be--so that we could travel in it as we now do in the
automobile, what possible interest would we have in reading dry novels?
It seems likely that in a hundred years we will be able to see clearly
the surface of Mars--do you think that people will want to read novels
when this wonderful new world is before their eyes?

"The authors themselves are beginning to realize this. They are becoming
more and more nervous. They are not the placid creatures that they were
in Sir Walter Scott's day. They feel that people are not as interested
in them and their works as they used to be. I doubt very much if any
publisher to-day would be interested, for example, in an author who
produced a novel as long as _David Copperfield_ and of the same

"But do you think," I asked, "that the fault is entirely that of the
public? Haven't the authors changed, too?"

"I think that the authors have changed," said Mr. Harben, reflectively.
"The authors do not live as they used to live.

"The authors no longer live with the people about whom they write.
Instead, they live with other authors.

"Nowadays, an author achieves success by writing, we will say, about
the people of his home in the Far West. Then he comes to New York. And
instead of living with the sort of people about whom he writes, he lives
with artists. That must have its effect upon his work."

"But is not that what you yourself did?" I asked. "A New York
apartment-house is certainly the last place in the world in which to
look for the historian of _Pole Baker_!"

Mr. Harben smiled. "But I don't live with artists," he said. "I try to
live with the kind of people I write about. I resolved a long time ago
to try to avoid living with literary people and to live with all sorts
of human beings--with people who didn't know or care whether or not I
was a writer.

"So I have for my friends and acquaintances sailors, merchants--people
of all sorts of professions and trade. And people of that sort--people
who make no pretensions to be artists--are the best company for a
writer, for they open their hearts to him. A writer can learn how to
write about humanity by living with humanity, instead of with other
people who are trying to write about humanity."

"But at any rate you have left the part of the country about which you
write," I said. "And wasn't that one of the things for which you
condemned our hypothetical writer of Western tales?"

"Not necessarily," said Mr. Harben. "It sometimes happens that an author
can write about the scenes he knows best only after he has gone away
from them. I know that this is true of myself.

"It's in line with the old saws about 'distance lends enchantment' and
'emotion remembered in tranquillity,' you know. I believe that Du
Maurier was able to write his vivid descriptions of life in the Latin
Quarter of Paris because he went to London to do it.

"You see, I absorbed life in Georgia for many years. And in New York I
can remember it and get a perspective on it and write about it."

"Then," I said, "you would go to Georgia, I suppose, if you wanted to
write a story about life in a New York apartment?"

Mr. Harben thought for a moment. "No," he said, slowly, "I don't think
that I'd go to Georgia to write about New York. I think that a novel
about New York must be written in New York--while a novel about Dalton,
Georgia, must be written away from Dalton, Georgia."

"How do you account for that?" I asked.

"Well," said Mr. Harben, "for one thing there is something bracing about
New York's atmosphere that makes it easier to write when one is here.
Once I tried to write a novel in Dalton, and I simply couldn't do it.

"And the reason why a novel about New York must be written in New York
is because you can't absorb New York as you might absorb Georgia, so to
speak, and then go away and express it. New York is so thoroughly
artificial that there is nothing about it which a writer can absorb.

"New York hasn't the puzzles and adventures and surprises that Georgia
has. Everybody knows about apartment-houses and skyscrapers and subways
and elevators and dumb-waiters--there's nothing new to say about them.

"I sometimes think that the reason why the modern novel about New York
City is so uninteresting is because everybody tries to write about New
York City. And their novels are all of one pattern--necessarily, because
life in New York City is all of one pattern.

"In bygone days this was not true of New York. For instance, Mr.
Howells's novels about New York City were about a community in which
people lived in real houses and had families and friends. In those days
life in New York had its problems and surprises and adventures; it was
not lived mechanically and according to a set pattern.

"What I have said about the advisability of an author's leaving the
scenes about which he is to write is not universally true. There are
writers who do better work by staying in the place where the scenes of
their stories are laid. For instance, Joel Chandler Harris did better
work by staying in the South than he would have done if he had gone

"But wasn't that because his negro folk-tales were a sort of 'glorified
reporting' rather than creative work?" I asked.

"No," said Mr. Harben; "they were creative work. Joel Chandler Harris
remembered just the bare skeleton of the stories as the negro had told
them to him. And he developed them imaginatively. That was creative
work. And he did most of his writing, and the best of his writing, in
the office of _The Constitution_."

"In view of what you said about the difficulty of absorbing New York
life," I suggested, "I suppose that, in your opinion, the great American
novel will not be written about New York."

"What do you mean by the great American novel?" asked Mr. Harben. "So
far as I know there is no great English novel or great Russian novel."

"I suppose that the term means a novel inevitably associated with the
national literature," I said. "You cannot think of English literature
without thinking of _Vanity Fair_, for instance. Certainly there is no
American novel so conspicuously a reflection of our national life as
that novel is of English life."

"Well," said Mr. Harben, "it is difficult to think of American
literature or of American life without thinking of the novels of William
Dean Howells. But the great American novel, to use that term, would be
less likely to come into being than the great English novel.

"You see, the United States is not as compact as England. London, it may
be said, is England; it has all the characteristics of England, and in
the season all England may be met there."

Mr. Harben is not in sympathy with the theories of some of our modern

"The trouble with the average realist," he said, "is that he doesn't
believe that the emotions are real. As a matter of fact, the greatest
source of material for the novelist is to be found in the emotional and
spiritual side of human nature. If writers were more receptive to
spiritual and emotional impressions they would make better novels. It is
the soul of man that the greatest novels are written about--there is
Dostoievski's _Crime and Punishment_, for example!"

In spite of his criticisms of some of the methods of the modern
realists, Mr. Harben believes strongly in the importance of one
realistic dogma, that which has to do with detailed description.

"Why is it that _Pepys's Diary_ is interesting to us?" he asked. "It is
because of its detail.

"But if Pepys had been a Howells--if he had been as careful in
describing great things as he was in describing small things--then his
_Diary_ would be ten times more valuable to us than it is. And so
Howells's novels will be valuable to people who read them a thousand
years from now to get an idea of how we live.

"That is, Howells's novels will be valuable if people read novels in the
years that are to come! Perhaps they will not be reading novels or
anything else. For all we know, thought-transference may become as
common a thing as telephony is now. And if this comes to pass nobody
will read!"



Brown of Harvard is no more. The play of that name may still be running,
but of Harvard life it is now about as accurate a picture as _Trelawney
of the Wells_ is of modern English life. At Harvard, and at all the
great American universities, the dashing, picturesque young athlete is
no longer the prevailing type of the undergraduate ideal.

Of course, undergraduate athletics and undergraduate athletes
persist--it would be a tragedy if they did not--but the type of youth
that has been rather effectively denominated the "rah-rah boy" is
increasingly difficult to find. His place has been taken, not by the
"grind," the plodding, prematurely old student, caring only for his
books and his scholastic record, but by a normal young man, aware that
the campus is not the most important place in the world; aware, in
fact, that the university is not the universe.

This young man knows about class politics, but also about international
politics; about baseball, but also about contemporary literature. He is
much more a citizen than his predecessor of ten years since, less
provincial, less aristocratic. And he not only enjoys literature, but
actually desires to create it.

The chief enthusiasm at Harvard seems to be the drama; indeed, the Brown
of Harvard to-day must be represented not as a crimson-sweatered
gladiator but as a cross between Strindberg and George M. Cohan. At
Columbia--I have Prof. John Erskine's word for it--there has lately
developed a genuine interest in--what do you suppose? Poetry!

I interviewed the bulletin-board outside Hamilton Hall before I
interviewed Professor Erskine, and it, too, surprised me. It was not the
bulletin-board of my not altogether remote undergraduate days. It bore
notices telling of a meeting of the "Forum for Religious Discussion," of
an anti-militaristic mass-meeting, of a rehearsal of an Elizabethan
drama. It was a sign of the times.

Professor Erskine said that undergraduate ideals had greatly changed
during the last few years. I asked him how this had come to pass.

"Well," he replied, "I think that college life reflects the ordinary
life of the world more closely than is usually believed. This is a day
of general cultural and spiritual awakening. The college student is
waking, just as everybody else is waking; like everybody else, he is
becoming more interested in the great things of life. There is no reason
why the college walls should shut him in from the hopes, ambitions, and
problems of the rest of humanity.

"It isn't only the boys that have changed--the parents have changed too.
Time was when the father and mother wanted their son to go to college so
that he could join a group of pleasant, nice-mannered boys of good
family. Now they have a definite idea of the practical value of a
college education, they send their son to college intelligently.

"Also, the whole theory of teaching has changed. The purely Germanic
system has been superseded by something more humane. The old idea of
scholarship for its own sake is no longer insisted upon. Instead, the
subjects taught are treated in their relation to life, the only way in
which they can be of real interest to the students.

"You will look in vain in the modern university for the old type of
absent-minded, dry-as-dust professor. He has been superseded by the
professor who is a man as well as a scholar. And naturally he approaches
his subject and his classes in a different spirit from that of his

"We have a new sort of teacher of English. He is not now (as was once
often the case) a retired clergyman, or a specialist recruited from some
unliterary field. He is, in many cases, a creative artist, a dramatist,
a novelist, or a poet.

"When I was in college this was not generally true. Then such a
professor as George Edward Woodberry or Brander Matthews was unique. Now
the college wants poets and creative writers."

These are Professor Erskine's actual words. I asked him to repeat his
last statement and he said, apparently with no sense of the amazement
which his words caused in me, "The college wants the poets!" The stone
which the builders rejected is become the head of the corner.

But, then, there are poets and poets. There is, for example, Prof.
Curtis Hidden Page. There is also one John Erskine, author of _Actæon
and Other Poems_, and Adjunct Professor of English at Columbia
University. There is also Prof. Alfred Noyes. But there are also some
thousand or so poets in the United States who will be surprised to know
that the college wants them. Academic appreciation of poets has
generally consisted of a cordial welcome given their collected works two
hundred years after their deaths.

"English as a cultural finish," Professor Erskine continued, "has gone
by the board. English is taught nowadays with as much seriousness as
philosophy or history. Art in all its forms is considered as the history
of the race, and treated seriously by the student as well as by the
professor. To-day the students regard Shakespeare and Tennyson as very
important men. They study them as in a course in philosophy they would
study Bergson. Literature, philosophy, and history have been drawn
together as one subject, as they should be."

"What," I asked, "are some of the extra-curricular manifestations of
literary interest among the students?"

"In the first place," he answered, "the extraordinary amount of writing
done by the students. It is not at all unusual now for a Columbia
student to sell his work to the regular magazines. The student who
writes for the magazines and newspapers is no longer a novelty.
Randolph Bourne, who was recently graduated, contributed a number of
essays to the _Atlantic Monthly_ during his junior and senior years.

"Many of the students write for the newspapers. The better sort of
newspaper humorists have had a strong influence on the undergraduate
mind; they have shown the way to writing things that are funny but have
an intellectual appeal. This has resulted in the production of some
really excellent light verse. Also, Horace's stock has gone up.

"During the last two years some remarkable plays have been handed into
the Columbia University Dramatic Association. Not only were they
serious, but also they were highly poetic.

"And this," said Professor Erskine, "marks what I hope is the
distinguishing literary atmosphere at Columbia. The trend of the plays
written by Columbia students is strongly poetic. This is not true,
perhaps, of the plays written by students of other institutions. The
writers of plays want to write poetic plays, and--what is perhaps even
more surprising--the other students do not consider poetic drama
'high-brow stuff.'

"Philolexian, the oldest of the Columbia literary societies, has been
producing Elizabethan plays. These plays have been enthusiastically
received, and the enthusiasm does not seem to show any signs of dying
down. The students come to the study of these plays with a feeling of
familiarity, for they have seen them acted."

"Does this enthusiasm for literature show itself in the college
magazine?" I asked.

"It shows itself," answered Professor Erskine, "by the absence of a
literary magazine. The literary magazine has completely collapsed. In
small colleges, far away from the cities where the regular magazines are
published, the college magazine is the only available outlet for the
work of the students who can write. But here in New York the students
know the condition of the literary market, and the more skilful writers
among them do not care to give their writings to an amateur publication
when they can sell them off the campus. So the _Columbia Monthly_ got
only second-best material. The boys who really could write would not
sacrifice their work by burying it in a college publication, so the
_Columbia Monthly_ died.

"The history of a literary club we have up here, called Boar's Head, is
significant. It was started as a sort of revival of an older
organization called King's Crown. At first the program consisted of an
address at each meeting by some prominent writer. For a while the
meetings were well attended, but gradually the interest died down.

"At length I found what the trouble was--the boys wanted to do their own
entertaining. Now work by the members is read at every meeting; there
are no addresses by outsiders.

"And here again the poetic trend of the undergraduate mind at Columbia
is displayed. The Scribblers' Club, which consisted of short-story
writers, is dead--there were not enough short-story writers to support
it. And at the meetings of Boar's Head there have been read, during the
past two years, only one or two short stories.

"The boys bring plays and poems to the Boar's Head meetings, but not
short stories. Last year most of the poems which were read were short
lyrics. Toward the end of last year and during the present year longer
poems have been read. They are not poems in the Masefield manner; they
are modeled rather on Keats and Coleridge. This fact has interested me
because the magazines, as a rule, have not been buying long poems. I
was interested to see that William Stanley Braithwaite, in his excellent
_Anthology of Magazine Verse and Year-Book of American Poetry_, calls
attention to the increasing popularity of the longer poem.

"Last year Boar's Head decided to bring out a little book containing the
best of the poems that were read at its meetings. A number of
subscribers at twenty-five cents each were procured, and _Quad Ripples_
was published. It contained only short poems. This year Boar's Head has
published _Odes and Episodes_, a collection of light verse by one of its
former members, Archie Austin Coates. It soon will publish a collection
of poems read at its meetings, and all these poems are long. Some of
these poems are so good that it is a real sacrifice for the boys to have
them printed in this book instead of in some magazine.

"Of course, there were always 'literary men' at Columbia, but they were
considered unusual. Now they no longer even form a class by themselves.
One of our best writers of light verse is the captain of the baseball

"Speaking of light verse and baseball," continued Professor Erskine,
"there is a certain connection between the _Columbia Monthly_ and
football, besides the obvious parallel which lies in the fact that both
have ceased to exist. Some of the boys express eagerness to revive the
college magazine, just as they express eagerness to revive football. But
it is, I believe, merely a matter of pride with them. They are eager to
have football and to have a college magazine; they are not so eager to
contribute to the support of either institution.

"One proof of the literary renascence of Columbia is that the essays
written in the regular course of the work in philosophy and in English
are better than ever before."

"Do you believe," I asked, "that being in the city has had a good effect
on literary activity among Columbia students?"

He answered: "I do think so, decidedly. It has produced an extreme
individualism and has given the boys enterprising minds. It is true that
it has its disadvantages, it has made the student, so to speak,
centrifugal, and has destroyed collegiate co-operation of the old sort.
But it has produced an original, independent type of student.

"The older type of college student was interested in football because he
knew that people expected him to be interested in football. The
Columbia student of to-day is interested in poetry, not because it is a
Columbia tradition to be interested in poetry, but because his tastes
are naturally literary."

Several of the causes of this poetic renascence at Columbia had been
mentioned in the course of our conversation, but Professor Erskine had
ignored one of the most important of them. So I will mention it now. It
is John Erskine.



"Well," said John Burroughs, "she doesn't seem to want us out here, so I
guess we'll have to go in." So we left the little summer-house
overlooking the Hudson and went into the bark-walled study.

Now, "she" was a fat and officious robin, and her nest was in a corner
of the summer-house just over my head, as I sat with the
poet-naturalist. The nest was full of hungry and unprepossessing young
robins, and the mother robin seemed to be annoyed in her visits to it by
our talk. As we walked to the study, leaving to the robin family
undisputed possession of the summer-house, I heard John Burroughs say in
tones of mild indignation, half to himself and half to me:

"I won't stand this another year! This is the third year she's taken
possession of that summer-house, and next May she simply must build her
nest somewhere else!"

Nevertheless, I think that this impudent robin will rear her 1917 brood
in John Burroughs's summer-house, if she wants to.

When I walked up from the station to Riverby--John Burroughs's
twenty-acre home on the west shore of the Hudson--I was surprised by the
agility of my seventy-nine-year-old companion. He walked with the
elastic step of a young man, and his eyes and brain were as alert as in
the days when he showed Emerson and Whitman the wild wonders of the

"Living in the city," he said, "is a discordant thing, an unnatural
thing. The city is a place to which one goes to do business; it is a
place where men overreach one another in the fight for money. But it is
not a place in which one can live.

"Years ago, I think, it was possible to have a home in the city. I used
to think that a home in Boston might possibly be imagined. But no one
can have a home in New York in all that noise and haste.

"Sometimes I am worried by the thought of the effect that life in the
city will have on coming generations. All this grind and rush and roar
of the Subway and the surface cars must have some effect on the children
of New-Yorkers. And that effect cannot be good.

"And what effect can it have on our literature? It might produce, I
suppose, in the writer's mind, a sense of the necessity of haste, a
passionate desire to get his effect as quickly as possible. But can it
give him sharpness of intellect and keenness of æsthetic perception! I'd
like to think so, but I can't. I don't see how literature can be
produced in the city. Literature must have repose, and there is no
repose in New York so far as I can see.

"Of course I have no right to speak for other writers. Some people can
find repose in the city--I can't. I hear that people write on the
trains, on the omnibus, and in the Subway--I don't see how they do it!"

"Have you noticed," I asked, as we left the lane and walked down a
grassy slope toward the study, "that the city has not as yet set its
mark on our literature?"

"I think," said John Burroughs, "that much of our modern fiction shows
what I may call a metropolitan quality; it seems made up of showy
streets and electric light. But I don't know. I don't read much
fiction. I turn more to poetry and to meditative essays. Some poets find
beauty in the city, and they must, I suppose, find repose there. Richard
Watson Gilder spent nearly all his life in a city and reflected the life
of the city in his poems. And Edmund Clarence Stedman was thoroughly a
poet of the city. I don't think that any of Emerson's poems smack of the
city. They smack of the country, and of Emerson's study in the country,
his study under the pines, where, as he wrote:

        the sacred pine-tree adds
    To the leaves her myriads.

"Of the younger poets, John James Piatt has written beautifully of the
city. He wrote a very fine poem called 'The Morning Street,' which
appeared in the _Atlantic Monthly_ some years ago. In it he describes
vividly the hush of early morning in a great city, when the steps of a
solitary traveler echo from the walls of the sleeping houses. I don't
suppose Piatt is known to many readers of this generation. He was a
friend of Howells, and was the co-author with Howells of _Poems by Two
Friends_, published in the early sixties. This was Howells's first

We were in the bark-walled study now, seated before the great stone
fireplace, in which some logs were blazing. On the stone shelf I saw,
among the photographs of Carlyle and Emerson and other friends of my
host, a portrait of Whitman.

"Your friend, Walt Whitman," I said, "got inspiration from the city."

"Yes," said John Burroughs, "he got inspiration from the city, but you
wouldn't call his poems city poetry. His way of writing wasn't
metropolitan, you know; you might say that he treated the city by a
country method. What he loved about the city was its people--he loved
the throngs of men, he loved human associations.

"But he was a born lover of cities, Whitman was. He loved the city in
all its phases, mainly because he was such a lover of his kind, of the
'human critter,' as he calls him. Whitman spent most of his life in the
city, and was more at home there than in the country. He came to
Brooklyn when he was a boy, and there he worked in a law-office, and as
a printer and on the _Eagle_.

"For a while, I remember, he drove a 'bus up and down Broadway when the
driver, who was a friend of his, was sick. That's where he got the
stuff he put in _The Funeral of an Old Omnibus-driver_. He put in it all
the signs and catch-words of the 'bus-drivers."

John Burroughs pointed his steady old hand at a big framed photograph on
the wall. It is an unusual portrait of Walt Whitman, showing him seated,
with his hands clasped, with a flaring shirt collar, like a sailor's.

"Whitman," John Burroughs continued, "seems to be appealing more and
more to young men. But in the modern Whitmanesque young poets I don't
see much to suggest Whitman, except in form. They do clever things, but
not elemental things, not things with a cosmic basis. Whitman, with all
his commonness and nearness, reached out into the abysmal depths, as his
imitators fail to do. I think Robert Frost has been influenced by
Whitman. His _North of Boston_ is very good; it is genuine realism; it
is a faithful, convincing picture of New England farm life. When I first
saw the book I didn't think I'd read three pages of it, but I read it
all with keen interest. It's absolutely true.

"I used to see Whitman often when he and I were working in Washington.
And he came up to see me here. When I was in Washington Whitman used to
like to come up to our house for Sunday morning breakfast. Mrs.
Burroughs makes capital pancakes, and Walt was very fond of them, but he
was always late for breakfast. The coffee would boil over, the griddle
would smoke, car after car would go jingling by, and no Walt. But a car
would stop at last, and Walt would roll off it and saunter up to the
door--cheery, vigorous, serene, putting every one in good humor. And how
he ate! He radiated health and hopefulness. This is what made his work
among the sick soldiers in Washington of such inestimable value. Every
one who came into personal relations with him felt his rare, compelling

"Very few young literary men of Whitman's day accepted him. Stedman did,
and the fact is greatly to his credit. Howells and Aldrich were repelled
by his bigness. All the Boston poets except Emerson hesitated. Emerson
didn't hesitate--unlike Lowell and Holmes, he kept open house for big

I asked Mr. Burroughs what, in his opinion, had brought about the change
in the world's attitude toward Whitman.

"Well," he replied, looking thoughtfully into the radiant depths of the
open fire, "when Whitman first appeared we were all subservient to the
conventional standards of English literature. We understood and
appreciated only the pretty and exact. Whitman came in his working-man's
garb, in his shirt sleeves he sauntered into the parlor of literature.

"We resented it. But the young men nowadays are more liberal. More and
more Whitman is forcing on them his open-air standards. Science
supplemented by the human heart gives us a bigger and freer world than
our forefathers knew. And then the European acceptance of Whitman had
had its effect. We take our point of view so largely from Europe. And a
force like Whitman's must be felt slowly; it's a cumulative thing."

"You believe," I said, "that Whitman is our greatest poet?"

"Oh yes," he replied, "Whitman is the greatest poet America has
produced. He is great with the qualities that make Homer and the classic
poets great. Emerson is more precious, more intellectual. Whitman and
Emerson are our two greatest poets."

While we strolled over the pleasant turf and watched a wood-thrush
resting in the cool of the evening above her half-built nest among the
cherry blossoms, John Burroughs returned to the subject that we had
discussed on our way from the station--the city's evil effect on

"Business life," he said, "is inimical to poetry. To write poetry you
must get into an atmosphere utterly different from that of the city. And
one of the greatest of all enemies of literature is the newspaper. The
style of writing that the newspaper has brought into existence is as far
as possible from art and literature. When you are writing for a daily
paper, you don't try to say a thing in a poetic or artistic way, but in
an efficient way, in a business-like way. There is no appeal to the
imagination, no ideality. A newspaper is a noisy thing that goes out
into the street and shouts its way into the attention of people.

"If you are going to write poetry you must say to certain phases of the
newspapers, 'Get thee behind me, Satan!' A poet can't be developing his
gossiping faculty and turning everything hot off the griddle. The daily
paper is a new institution, and it has come to stay. But it has bad
manners, and it is the enemy of all meditation, all privacy, all things
that make for great art.

"It's the same way with nature and writing about nature. From nature we
get not literature, but the raw material for literature. It is very
important for us to remember that the bee does not get honey from the
flowers; it makes honey from what it gets from the flowers. What it gets
from the flowers is nothing but sweet water. The bee gets its sweet
water, retires, thinks it over, and by a private process makes it into

"So many nature-writers fail to profit by the example of the bee. They
go into the woods and come out again and write about their
experience--but they don't give us honey. They don't retire and subject
what they find in the woods to a private process. They don't give us
honey; they give us just a little sweet water, pretty thoroughly

"In my own work--if I may mention it in all humbleness--I have tried for
years not to give the world just a bare record, but to flavor it, so to
speak, with my own personality, as the bee turns the sweet water that it
gets into honey by adding its own formic acid.

"If I lived in the city I couldn't do any writing, unless I succeeded in
obliterating the city from my consciousness. But I shouldn't try to
force my standards on every one. Other men live in the cities and
write--Carlyle did most of his work in London. But he lived a secluded
life even in the city, and he had to have his yearly pilgrimage to

It is some years since John Burroughs has written poetry, although all
his prose is clearly the work of a poet. And it is safe to say that
better known than any of his intimate prose studies of the out-of-door
world--better known even than _Wake Robin_ and that immortal _A Hunt for
the Nightingale_ and _In Fresh Fields_--is one of his poems, _Waiting_,
the poem that begins:

    Serene, I fold my hands and wait,
      Nor care for wind, nor tide, nor sea;
    I rave no more 'gainst time or fate,
      For lo! my own shall come to me.

"I wrote _Waiting_," he said, "in 1862, when I was reading medicine in
the office of a country physician. It was a dingy afternoon, and I was
feeling pretty blue. But the thought came to me--I suppose I got it from
Goethe or some of the Orientals, probably by way of Emerson--that what
belonged to me would come to me in time, if I waited--and if I also
hustled. So I waited and I hustled, and my little poem turned out to be
a prophecy. My own has come to me, as I never expected it to come. The
best friends I have were seeking me all the while. There's Henry Ford;
he had read all my books, and he came to me--that great-hearted man, the
friend of all the birds, and my friend.

"The poem first appeared in the _Knickerbocker Magazine_. That magazine
was edited by a Cockney named Kinneha Cornwallis. It ran long enough to
print one of Cornwallis's novels, and then it died. I remember that the
_Knickerbocker Magazine_ never paid me for _Waiting_, and the poem
didn't attract any attention until Whittier printed it in his _Songs of
Three Centuries_.

"It has been changed and tampered with and had all sorts of things done
to it. It was found among the manuscripts of a poet down South after his
death, and his literary executor was going to print it in his book. He
wrote to me and asked if I could show a date for it earlier than 1882. I
said, 'Yes, 1862!' and that settled that matter.

"There was a man in Boston that I wanted to kick! He wrote to me and
asked if he could print _Waiting_ on a card and circulate it among his
friends. I told him he could, and sent him an autographed copy to make
sure he'd get it straight. He sent me a package of the printed cards,
and I found that he had added a stanza to it--a religious stanza, all
about Heaven's gate! He had left out the second stanza, and added this
religious stanza. He was worried because God had been left out of my
poem--poor God, ignored by a little atom like me!

"When people ask me where I got the idea in it, I generally say that my
parents were old-school Baptists and believed in foreordination, and
that's the way that foreordination cropped out in me--it's a sort of
transcendental version of foreordination. I think the poem is true--like
attracts like; it's the way in which we are constituted, rather than any
conscious factor, that insures success. It's that that makes our
fortunes, it's that that is the 'tide in the affairs of men' that
Shakespeare meant."

A few rods from John Burroughs's riverside house a brown thrush is
building her nest in a cherry-tree. She is a bird of individual ideas,
and is thoroughly convinced that paper, not twigs and leaves, forms the
proper basis for her work. It is pleasant to think of John Burroughs
seated in his study communing with the memories of Whitman and Emerson,
and his other great dead friends. But it is pleasanter to think of him,
as I saw him, anxious and intent, his great white beard mingled with the
cherry blossoms, as he strolled over to fix the paper base of the
thrush's nest so that the wind could not destroy it.



What is the matter with American literature? There are many answers that
might be made to this often-asked question. "Nothing" might be one
answer. "Commercialism" might be another. But the answer given by Ellen
Glasgow, whose latest successful novel of American manners and morals is
_Life and Gabriella_, is "evasive idealism."

I found the young woman who has found in our Southern States themes for
sympathetic realism rather than picturesque romance temporarily
resident, inappropriately enough, in a hotel not far from Broadway and
Forty-second Street. And I found her to be a woman of many ideas and
strong convictions. One strongly felt and forcibly expressed conviction
was that the "evasive idealism" which is evident in so much of our
popular fiction is in reality the chief blemish on the American
character, manifesting its baleful influence in our political, social,
and economic life. Miss Glasgow first used the term "evasive idealism"
in an effort to explain why contemporary English novels are better than
contemporary American novels.

"Certainly," she said, "the novels written by John Galsworthy and the
other English novelists of the new generation are better than anything
that we are producing in the United States at the present time. And I
think that the reason for this is that in America we demand from our
writers, as we demand from our politicians, and in general from those
who theoretically are our men of light and leading, an evasive idealism
instead of a straightforward facing of realities. In England the demand
is for a direct and sincere interpretation of life, and that is what the
novelists of England, especially the younger novelists, are making. But
what the American public seems to desire is the cheapest sort of sham
optimism. And apparently our writers--a great many of them--are ready
and eager to meet this demand.

"You know the sort of book which takes best in this country. It is the
sort of book in which there is not from beginning to end a single
attempt to portray a genuine human being. Instead there are a number of
picturesque and attractive lay figures, and one of them is made to
develop a whimsical, sentimental, and maudlinly optimistic philosophy of

"That is what the people want--a sugary philosophy, utterly without any
basis in logic or human experience. They want the cheapest sort of false
optimism, and they want it to be uttered by a picturesque, whimsical
character, in humorous dialect. Books made according to this receipt
sell by the hundreds of thousands.

"I don't know which is the more tragic, the fact that a desire for this
sort of literary pabulum exists, or the fact that there are so many
writers willing to satisfy that desire. But I do know that the
widespread enthusiasm for this sort of writing is the reason for the
inferiority of our novels to those of England. And, furthermore, I think
that this evasive idealism, this preference for a pretty sham instead of
the truth, is evident not only in literature, but in every phase of
American life.

"Look at our politics! We tolerate corruption; graft goes on
undisturbed, except for some sporadic attacks of conscience on the part
of various communities. The ugliness of sin is there, but we prefer not
to look at it. Instead of facing the evil and attacking it manfully we
go after any sort of a false god that will detract our attention from
our shame. Just as in literature we want the books which deal not with
life as it is, but with life as it might be imagined to be lived, so in
politics we want to face not hard and unpleasant facts, but agreeable

"Nevertheless," said Miss Glasgow, "I think that in literature there are
signs of a movement away from this evasive idealism. It is much more
evident in England than in America, but I think that in the course of
time it will reach us, too. We shall cease to be 'slaves of words,' as
Sophocles said, and learn that the novelist's duty is to understand and
interpret life. And when our novelists and our readers of novels
appreciate the advisability of this attitude, then will the social and
political life of the United States be more wholesome than it has been
for many a year. The new movement in the novel is away from sentimental
optimism and toward an optimism that is genuine and robust."

"Then a novel may be at once optimistic and realistic?" I said. "That
is not in accord with the generally received ideas of realism."

"It is true of the work of the great realists," answered Miss Glasgow.
"True realism is optimistic, without being sentimental."

"What realists have been optimistic?" I asked.

"Well," said Miss Glasgow, "Henry Fielding, one of the first and
greatest of English realists, surely was an optimist. And there was
Charles Dickens--often, it is true, he was sentimental, but at his best
he was a robust optimist.

"But the greatest modern example of the robust optimistic realist,
absolutely free from sentimentality, is George Meredith. Galsworthy, who
surely is a realist, is optimistic in such works as _The Freelands_ and
_The Patricians_. And Meredith is always realistic and always

"The optimism I mean, the optimism which is a distinguishing
characteristic of George Meredith's works, does not come from an evasion
of facts, but from a recognition of them. The constructive novelist, the
novelist who really interprets life, never ignores any of the facts of
life. Instead, he accepts them and builds upon them. And he perceives
the power of the will to control destiny; he knows that life is not what
you get out of it, but what you put into it. This is what the younger
English novelists know and what our novelists must learn. And it is
their growing recognition of this spirit that makes me feel that the
tendency of modern literature is toward democracy."

"What is the connection between democracy and the tendency you have
described?" I asked.

"To me," Miss Glasgow answered, "true democracy consists chiefly in the
general recognition of the truth that will create destiny. Democracy
does not consist in the belief that all men are born free and equal or
in the desire that they shall be born free and equal. It consists in the
knowledge that all people should possess an opportunity to use their
will to control--to create--destiny, and that they should know that they
have this opportunity. They must be educated to the use of the will, and
they must be taught that character can create destiny.

"Of course, environment inevitably has its effect on the character, and,
therefore, on will, and, therefore, on destiny. You can so oppress and
depress the body that the will has no chance. True democracy provides
for all equal opportunities for the exercise of will. If you hang a
man, you can't ask him to exercise his will. But if you give him a
chance to live--which is the democratic thing to do--then you put before
him an opportunity to exercise his will."

"But what are the manifestations of this new democratic spirit?" I
asked. "Is not the war, which is surely the greatest event of our time,
an anti-democratic thing?"

"The war is not anti-democratic," Miss Glasgow replied, "any more than
it is anti-autocratic. Or rather, I may say it is both anti-democratic
and anti-autocratic. It is a conflict of principles, a deadly struggle
between democracy and imperialism. It is a fight for the new spirit of
democracy against the old evil order of things.

"Of course, I do not mean that the democracy of France and England is
perfect. But with all its imperfections it is nearer true democracy than
is the spirit of Germany. We should not expect the democracy of our
country to be perfect. The time has not come for that. 'Man is not man
as yet,' as Browning said in _Paracelsus_.

"The war is turning people away from the false standards in art and
letters which they served so long. The highly artificial romantic novel
and drama are impossible in Europe to-day. The war has made that sort
of thing absolutely absurd. And America must be affected by this just as
every other nation in the world is affected. To our novelists and to all
of us must come a sense of the serious importance of actual life,
instead of a sense of the beauty of romantic illusions. There are many
indications of this tendency in our contemporary literature. For
instance, in poetry we have the Spoon River Anthology--surely a sign of
the return of the poet to real life. But the greatest poets, like the
greatest novelists, have always been passionately interested in real
life. Walt Whitman and Robert Browning always were realists and always
were optimistic. Whitman was a most exultant optimist; he was optimistic
even about dying.

"Among recent books of verse I have been much impressed by Masefield's
_Good Friday_. There is a work which is both august and sympathetic; Mr.
Masefield's treatment of his theme is realistic, yet thoroughly
reverent. There is one line in it which I think I never shall forget. It
is, 'The men who suffer most endure the least.'

"_Good Friday_ is a sign of literature's strong tendency toward reality.
It seems to me to be a phase of the general breaking down of the
barriers between the nations, the classes, and the sexes. But this
breaking down of barriers is something that most of our novelists have
been ignoring. Mary Watts has recognized it, but she is one of the very
few American novelists to do so."

"But this sort of consciousness is not generally considered to be a
characteristic of the realistic novelist," I said. And I mentioned to
Miss Glasgow a certain conspicuous American novelist whose books are
very long, very dull, and distinguished only by their author's obsession
with sex. He, I said, was the man of whom most people would think first
when the word realist was spoken.

"Of course," said Miss Glasgow, "we must distinguish between a realist
and a vulgarian, and I do not see how a writer who is absolutely without
humor can justly be called a realist. Consider the great realists--Jane
Austen, Henry Fielding, Anthony Trollope, George Meredith--they all had
humor. What our novelists need chiefly are more humor and a more serious
attitude toward life. If our novelists are titanic enough, they will
have a serious attitude toward life, and if they stand far enough off
they will have humor.

"I hope," Miss Glasgow added, "that America will produce better
literature after the war. I hope that a change for the better will be
evident in all branches of literary endeavor. We have to-day many
novelists who start out with the serious purpose of interpreting life.
But they don't interpret it. They find that it is easier to give the
people what they want than to interpret life. Therefore this change in
the character of our novels must come after the people themselves are
awakened to a sense of the importance of real life, instead of life
sentimentally and deceptively portrayed.

"I think that our novels to-day are better than they were twenty-five
years ago. Of course, we have no Hawthorne to-day, but the general
average of stories is better than it was. We have so many accomplished
writers of short stories. There is Katharine Fullerton Gerould. What an
admirable artist she is! Mary E. Wilkins has written some splendid
interpretations of New England life, and Miss Jewett reflected the mind
and soul of a part of our country."



Only a few years ago Fannie Hurst's name was unknown to most readers.
But in a surprisingly short time Miss Hurst's short stories, especially
her sympathetic and poignantly realistic studies of the life of the
Jewish citizens of New York, have earned for her popular as well as
critical approval.

Fannie Hurst's fame has been won almost entirely through the most widely
circulated weekly and monthly magazines. And yet when I talked to this
energetic young woman the other morning in her studio in Carnegie Hall,
I found her attitude toward the magazines anything but friendly. She
accused them of printing what she called "chocolate-fudge" fiction. And
she said it in a way which indicated that chocolate fudge is not her
favorite dish.

"I do not feel," she said, "that the American magazine is exerting
itself toward influencing our fiction for the better. In most cases it
is content to pander to the untutored public taste instead of attempting
anything constructive.

"The magazine public is, after all, open to conviction. But phlegm and
commercialism on the part of most of our magazines lead them to give the
public what it wants rather than what is good for it.

"'If chocolate-fudge fiction will sell the magazine, give 'em chocolate
fudge!' say editors and publishers. Small wonder that American
fiction-readers continue bilious in their demands. Authors, meanwhile,
who like sweet butter on their bread--it is amazing how many
do--continue to postpone that Big Idea, and American fiction pauses by
the wayside."

"What is the remedy for this condition, Miss Hurst?" I asked. "Would
matters be better if the writers did not have to comply with the demands
of the magazines--if they had some other means of making a living than

Miss Hurst did not answer at once. At length she said, thoughtfully:

"It would seem that to escape this almost inevitable overlapping of
bread and sweet butter the writer of short stories should not depend
upon the sale of his work for a living, but should endeavor to provide
himself with some other source of income.

"Theoretically, at least, such a condition would eliminate the
pot-boilers and safeguard the serious worker from the possibility of
'misshaping' his art to meet a commercial condition.

"I say theoretically because from my own point of view I cannot conceive
of short-story writing as an avocation. The gentle art of short fiction
consumes just about six hours of my day at the rate of from twenty to
twenty-five days on a story of from eight to ten thousand words. And
since I work best from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., I can think of no remunerative
occupation outside those hours except cabaret work or night clerking."

"What about present-day relationship between American publishers and
authors?" I asked, "Do you think they are all they should be?"

"American publishers and authors," Miss Hurst replied, "to-day seem to
be working somewhat at cross-purposes, owing partially, I think, to the
great commercial significance that has become attached to the various
rights, such as motion-picture, serial, dramatic, book, etc., and which
are to be reckoned with in the sale of fiction.

"There is little doubt that authors have suffered at the hands of
publishers on these various scores, oftener than not the publisher and
not the author reaping the benefits accruing from the author's ignorance
of conditions or lack of foresight.

"The Authors' League has been formed to remedy just that evil--and it
was a crying one.

"On the other hand, it is certain that fiction-writers are better paid
to-day than ever in the history of literature, and if a man is writing a
seventy-five-dollar story there is a pretty good reason why.

"I feel a great deal of hesitancy about the present proposed affiliation
of authors with labor. There is so much to be said on both sides!

"If the publisher represents capital and the author labor, my sympathies
immediately veer me toward labor. But do they? That same question has
recently been thrashed out by the actors, and they have gone over to
labor. Scores of our most prominent American authors are of that same

"I cannot help but feel that for publisher and author to assume the
relationship of employer and employee is a dangerous step. All forms of
labor do not come under the same head. And I am the last to say that
writing is not hard labor. But Cellini could hardly have allied himself
with an iron-workers' guild. All men are mammals, but not all mammals
are men!

"It seems doubly unfortunate, with the Authors' League in existence to
direct and safeguard the financial destiny of the author, to take a step
which immediately places the author and publisher on the same basis of
relationship that exists between hod-carrier and contractor.

"As a matter of fact, I am almost wont to question the traditional lack
of business acumen in authors. On the contrary, almost every successful
author of my acquaintance not only is pretty well able to take care of
himself, but owns a motor-car and a safety-deposit box at the same time.
And I find the not-so-successful authors prodding pretty faithfully to
get their prices up.

"The Authors' League is a great institution and fills a great need. It
was formed for just the purpose that seems to be prompting authors to
unionize--to instruct authors in their rights and protect them against

"Why unionize? Next, an author will find himself obliged to lay aside
his pen when the whistle blows, and publishers will be finding
themselves obliged to deal in open-shop literature."

"And what effect are the moving pictures going to have on fiction?" I
asked. "Will it be good or bad?"

"Up to the present," Miss Hurst replied, "moving pictures have, in my
opinion, been little else than a destructive force where American
fiction is concerned. Picturized fiction is on a cheap and sensational
level. Even classics and standardized fiction are ruthlessly defamed by
tawdry presentation. With the mechanics of the motion picture so
advanced, it is unfortunate that the photoplay itself is not keeping
pace with that advancement.

"Motion pictures are in the hands of laymen, and they show it. The
scenario-writers, so-called 'staff writers,' have sprung up overnight,
so to speak, and, from what I understand, when authors venture into the
field they are at the mercy of the moving-picture director.

"Mrs. Frances Hodgson Burnett could not endure to sit through the
picture presentation of _Little Lord Fauntleroy_, so mutilated was it.

"Of course, scenario-writing is a new art, and this interesting form of
expression has hardly emerged from its infancy. Except perhaps in such
great spectacles as 'The Birth of a Nation,' where, after all, the play
is not the thing."

I asked Miss Hurst if she agreed with those who believe that Edgar Allan
Poe's short stories have never been surpassed. I found that she did not.

"I should say," she said, "that since Poe's time we have had masters of
the short story who have equaled him. Poe is, of course, the legitimate
father of the American short story, and, coupled with that fact, was
possessed of that kind of self-consciousness which enabled him to
formulate a law of composition which has not been without its influence
upon our subsequent short fiction.

"But in American letters there is little doubt that in the last one
hundred years the short story has made more progress than any other
literary type. We are becoming not only proficient, but pre-eminent in
the short story. I can think off-hand of quite a group of writers, each
of whom has contributed short-story classics to our literature.

"There are Robert Louis Stevenson, Henry James (if we may claim him),
Bret Harte, Mark Twain, Mary E. Wilkins Freeman, O. Henry, Richard
Harding Davis, Jack London, and Booth Tarkington. And I am sure that
there are various others whose names do not occur to me at this moment."

"You mentioned O. Henry," I said. "Then you do not share Katharine
Fullerton Gerould's belief that O. Henry's influence on modern fiction
is bad?"

"I decidedly disagree," said Miss Hurst, with considerable firmness,
"with the statement that O. Henry wrote incidents rather than short
stories, and is a pernicious influence in modern letters. That his
structural form is more than anecdotal can be shown by an analysis of
almost any of his plots.

"But it seems pedantic to criticize O. Henry on the score of structure.
Admitting that the substance of his writings does rest on frail
framework, even sometimes upon the trick, he built with Gothic skill and
with no obvious pillars of support.

"Corot was none the less a landscape artist because he removed that
particular brown tree from that particular green slope. O. Henry's
facetiousness and, if you will, his frail structures, are no more to be
reckoned with than, for instance, the extravagance of plot and the
morbid formality we find in Poe.

"The smiting word and the polished phrase he quite frankly subordinated
to the laugh, or the tear with a sniffle. Just as soon call red woolen
underwear pernicious!

"The Henry James school has put a super-finish upon literature which, it
is true, gives the same satisfying sense of wholeness that we get from a
Greek urn. But, after all, chastity is not the first and last requisite.
O. Henry loved to laugh with life! It was not in him to regard it with a
Mona Lisa smile."

Miss Hurst has confined her attention so closely to American
metropolitan life that I thought it would be interesting to have her
opinion as to the truth of the remark, attributed to William Dean
Howells, that American literature is merely a phase of English
literature. In reply to my question she said:

"I agree with Mr. Howells that American literature up to now has been
rather a phase of English literature. His own graceful art is an example
of cousinship. American literature probably will continue to be an
effort until our American melting-pot ceases boiling.

"_David Copperfield_ and _Vanity Fair_ come from a people whose lineage
goes back by century-plants and not by Mayflowers. Theodore Dreiser and
Ernest Poole, sometimes more or less inarticulately, are preparing us
for the great American novel. When we reach a proper consistency the
boiling is bound to cease, and, just as inevitably, the epic novel must



Miss Amy Lowell, America's chief advocate and practitioner of the new
poetry, would wear, I supposed, a gown by Bakst, with many Oriental
jewels. And incense would be burning in a golden basin. And Miss Lowell
would say that the art of poetry was discovered in 1916.

But there is nothing exotic or artificial about Miss Lowell's appearance
and surroundings. Nor did the author of _Sword Blades and Poppy Seed_
express, when I talked to her the other day, any of the extravagant
opinions which conservative critics attribute to the _vers libristes_.
Miss Lowell talked with the practicality which is of New England and the
serenity which is of Boston; she was positive, but not narrowly
dogmatic; she is keenly appreciative of contemporary poetry, but she has
the fullest sense of the value of the great heritage of poetical
tradition that has come down to us through the ages.

There is so much careless talk of _imagisme_, _vers libre_, and the new
poetry in general that I thought it advisable to begin our talk by
asking for a definition or a description of the new poetry. In reply to
my question Miss Lowell said:

"The thing that makes me feel sure that there is a future in the new
poetry is the fact that those who write it follow so many different
lines of thought. The new poetry is so large a subject that it can
scarcely be covered by one definition. It seems to me that there are
four definite sorts of new poetry, which I will attempt to describe.

"One branch of the new poetry may be called the realistic school. This
branch is descended partly from Whitman and partly from the
prose-writers of France and England. The leading exponents of it are
Robert Frost and Edgar Lee Masters. These two poets are different from
each other, but they both are realists, they march under the same

"Another branch of the new poetry consists of the poets whose work shows
a mixture of the highly imaginative and the realistic. Their thought
verges on the purely imaginative, but is corrected by a scientific
attitude of mind. I suppose that this particular movement in English
poetry may be said to have started with Coleridge, but in England the
movement hardly attained its due proportions. Half of literary England
followed Wordsworth, half followed Byron. It is in America that we find
the greatest disciple of Coleridge in the person of Edgar Allan Poe. The
force of the movement then went back to France, where it showed clearly
in Mallarmê and the later symbolists. To-day we see this tendency
somewhat popularized in Vachell Lindsay, although perhaps he does not
know it. And if I may be so bold as to mention myself, I should say that
I in common with most other imagists belong to this branch, that I am at
once a fantasist and a realist.

"Thirdly, we have the lyrico-imaginative type of poet. Of this branch
the best example that I can call to mind is John Gould Fletcher. The
fourth group of the new poets consists of those who are descended
straight from Matthew Arnold. They show the Wordsworth influence
corrected by experience and education. Browning is in their line of
descent. Characteristics of their work are high seriousness,
astringency, and a certain pruning down of poetry so that redundancy is
absolutely avoided. Of this type the most striking example is Edwin
Arlington Robinson."

"Miss Lowell," I said, "the opponents of the new poetry generally attack
it chiefly on account of its form--or rather, on account of its
formlessness. And yet what you have said has to do only with the idea
itself. You have said nothing about the way in which the idea is

"There is no special form which is characteristic of the new poetry,"
said Miss Lowell, "and of course 'formlessness' is a word which is
applied to it only by the ignorant. The new poetry is in every form.
Edgar Lee Masters has written in _vers libre_ and in regular rhythm.
Robert Frost writes in blank verse. Vachell Lindsay writes in varied
rhyme schemes. I write in both the regular meters and the newer forms,
such as _vers libre_ and 'polyphonic prose.'

"It is a mistake to suppose, as many conservative critics do, that
modern poetry is a matter of _vers libre_. _Vers libre_ is not new, but
it is valuable to give vividness when vividness is desired. _Vers libre_
is a difficult thing to write well, and a very easy thing to write
badly. This particular branch of the new poetry movement has been
imitated so extensively that it has brought the whole movement into
disrepute in the eyes of casual observers. But we must remember that no
movement is to be judged by its obscure imitators. A movement must be
judged by the few people at its head who make the trend. There cannot be
many of them. In the history of the world there are only a few supreme
artists, only a small number of great artists, only a limited number of
good artists. And to suppose that we in America at this particular
moment can be possessed of many artists worthy of consideration is

"Undoubtedly the fact that a great number of people are engaged to-day
in producing poetry is a great stimulus and helps to create a proper
atmosphere for those men whose work may live. For it is a curious fact
that the artistic names that have come down to us are those of men who
have lived in the so-called great artistic periods, when many other men
were working at the same thing."

I asked Miss Lowell to tell something of this _vers libre_ which is so
much discussed and so little understood. She said:

"_Vers libre_ is based upon rhythm. Its definition is 'A verse form
based upon cadence rather than upon exact meter.' It is a little
difficult to define cadence when dealing with poetry. I might call it
the sense of balance.

"The unit of _vers libre_ is the strophe, not the line or the foot, as
in regular meter. The strophe is a group of words which round themselves
satisfactorily to the ear. In short poems this complete rounding may
take place only at the end, making the poem a unit of a single movement,
the lines serving only to give the slight up-and-down effect necessary
to the voice when the poem is read aloud.

"In longer poems the strophe may be a group of lines. Poetry being a
spoken and not a written art, those not well versed in the various
poetic forms will find it simpler to read _vers libre_ poems aloud,
rather than to try to get their rhythm from the printed page. For people
who are used only to the exact meters, the printed arrangement of a
_vers libre_ poem is a confusing process. To a certain extent cadence is
dependent upon quantity--long and short syllables being of peculiar
importance. Words hurried over in reading are balanced by words on which
the reader pauses. Remember, also, that _vers libre_ can be either
rhymed or unrhymed."

"One objection," I said, "that many critics bring up against unrhymed
poetry is that it cannot be remembered."

"I cannot see that that is of the slightest importance," Miss Lowell
replied. "The music that we whistle when we come out of the theater is
not the greatest music we have heard.

    "Zaccheus he
    Did climb a tree
    His Lord to see

is easily remembered. But I refuse to think that it is great poetry.

"The enemies of _vers libre_," she continued, "say that _vers libre_ is
in no respect different from oratory. Now, there is a difference between
the cadence of _vers libre_ and the cadence of oratory. Lincoln's
Gettysburg address is not _vers libre_, it is rhythmical prose. At the
prose end of cadence is rhythmical prose; at the verse end is _vers
libre_. The difference is in the kind of cadence.

"Recently a writer in _The Nation_ took some of Meredith's prose and
made it into _vers libre_ poems which any poet would have been glad to
write. Then he took some of my poems and turned them into prose, with a
result which he was kind enough to call beautiful. He then pertinently
asked what was the difference.

"I might answer that there is no difference. Typography is not relevant
to the discussion. Whether a thing is written as prose or as verse is
immaterial. But if we would see the advantage which Meredith's
imagination enjoyed in the freer forms of expression, we need only
compare these lyrical passages from his prose works with his own
metrical poetry."

I asked Miss Lowell about the charge that the new poets are lacking in
reverence for the great poets of the past. She believes that the charge
is unfounded. Nevertheless, she believes that the new poets do well to
take the New England group of writers less seriously than conservative
critics would have them take them.

"America has produced only two great poets, Whitman and Poe," said Miss
Lowell. "The rest of the early American poets were cultivated gentlemen,
but they were more exactly English provincial poets than American poets,
and they were decidedly inferior to the parent stock. The men of the New
England group, with the single exception of Emerson, were cultivated
gentlemen with a taste for literature--they never rose above that level.

"No one can judge his contemporaries. We cannot say with certainty that
the poets of this generation are better than their predecessors. But
surely we can see that the new poets have more originality, more of the
stuff out of which poetry is made, than their predecessors had, aside
from the two great exceptions that I have mentioned."

"What is the thing that American poetry chiefly needs?" I asked.

"Well," said Miss Lowell, "I wish that there were a great many changes
in our attitude toward literature. I wish that no man could expect to
make a living by writing. I wish that the magazines did not pay for
contributions--few of them do in France, you know. And I wish that the
newspapers did not try to review books. But the thing that we chiefly
need is informed and authoritative criticism.

"We have very few critics, we have practically none who are writing
separate books on contemporary verse. When I was writing my _French
Poets_ I read twenty or thirty books on contemporary French poetry,
serious books, written by critics who make a specialty of the poetry of
their own day.

"We have nothing like this in America. The men who write critical books
write of the literature of a hundred years ago. No critical mind is
bent toward contemporary verse. There are a few newspaper critics who
pay serious attention to contemporary verse--William Stanley
Braithwaite, O. W. Firkins, and Louis Untermeyer, for example--but there
are only a few of them.

"What is to be desired is for some one to be as interested in criticism
as the poets are in poetry. It was the regularity of Sainte-Beuve's
'Causeries du Lundi' that gave it its weight. What we want is a critic
like that, who is neither an old man despairing of a better job nor a
young man using his newspaper work as a stepping-stone to something
higher. Of course, brilliant criticisms of poetry appear from time to
time, but what we need is criticism as an institution.

"After all," said Miss Lowell, in conclusion, "there are only two kinds
of poetry, good poetry and bad poetry. The form of poetry is a matter of
individual idiosyncrasy. It is only the very young and the very old, the
very inexperienced or the numbed, who say, 'This is the only way in
which poetry shall be written!'"



At no time in the history of literature have the critics been able to
agree upon a definition of poetry. And the recent popularity of _vers
libre_ and _imagisme_ has made the definer's task harder than ever
before. Is rhyme essential to poetry? Is rhythm essential to poetry? Can
a mere reflection of life justly be called poetry, or must imagination
be present?

I put some of these questions to Edwin Arlington Robinson, who wrote
_Captain Craig_, _The Children of the Night_, _The Town Down the River_,
_The Man Against the Sky_ and _Merlin: A Poem_. And this man, whom
William Stanley Braithwaite and other authoritative critics have called
the foremost of American poets, this student of life, who was revealing
the mysterious poetry of humanity many years before Edgar Lee Masters
discovered to the world the vexed spirits that haunt Spoon River,
rewarded my questioning with a new definition of poetry. He said:

"Poetry is a language that tells us, through a more or less emotional
reaction, something that cannot be said.

"All real poetry, great or small, does this," he added. "And it seems to
me that poetry has two characteristics. One is that it is, after all,
undefinable. The other is that it is eventually unmistakable."

"'Eventually'!" I said. "Then you think that poetry is not always
appreciated in the lifetime of its maker?"

Mr. Robinson smiled whimsically. "I never use words enough," he said.
"It is not unmistakable as soon as it is published, but sooner or later
it is unmistakable.

"And in the poet's lifetime there are always some people who will
understand and appreciate his work. I really think that it is impossible
for a real poet permanently to escape appreciation. And I can't imagine
anything sillier for a man to do than to worry about poetry that has
once been decently published. The rest is in the hands of Time, and Time
has more than often a way of making a pretty thorough job of it."

"But why is it," I asked, "that a great poet so often is without honor
in his own generation, where mediocrity is immediately famous?"

"It's hard to say," said Mr. Robinson, thoughtfully regarding the
glowing end of his cigar. "Many causes prevent poetry from being
correctly appraised in its own time. Any poetry that is marked by
violence, that is conspicuous in color, that is sensationally odd, makes
an immediate appeal. On the other hand, poetry that is not noticeably
eccentric sometimes fails for years to attract any attention.

"I think that this is why so many of Kipling's worst poems are greatly
overpraised, while some of his best poems are not appreciated. _Gunga
Din_, which is, of course, a good thing in its way, has been praised far
more than it deserves, because of its oddity. And the poem beginning
'There's a whisper down the field' has never been properly appreciated.
It's one of the very best of Kipling's poems, although it is marred by a
few lapses of taste. One of his greatest poems, by the way, _The
Children of the Zodiac_, happens to be in prose.

"But I am always revising my opinion of Kipling. I have changed my mind
about him so often that I have no confidence in my critical judgment.
That is one of the reasons why I do not like to criticise my American

"Do you think," I asked, "that this tendency to pay attention chiefly to
the more sensational poets is as characteristic of our generation as of
those that came before?"

"I think it applies particularly to our own time," he replied. "More
than ever before oddity and violence are bringing into prominence poets
who have little besides these two qualities to offer the world, and some
who have much more. It may seem very strange to you, but I think that a
great modern instance of this tendency is the case of Robert Browning.
The eccentricities of Browning's method are the things that first turned
popular attention upon him, but the startling quality in Browning made
more sensation in his own time than it can ever make again. I say this
in spite of the fact that Browning and Wordsworth are taken as the
classic examples of slow recognition. Wordsworth, you know, had no
respect for the judgment of youth. It may have been sour grapes, but I
am inclined to think that there was a great deal of truth in his

"I think it is safe to say that all real poetry is going to give at some
time or other a suggestion of finality. In real poetry you find that
something has been said, and yet you find also about it a sort of nimbus
of what can't be said.

"This nimbus may be there--I wouldn't say that it isn't there--and yet I
can't find it in much of the self-conscious experimenting that is going
on nowadays in the name of poetry.

"I can't get over the impression," Mr. Robinson went on, with a
meditative frown, "that these post-impressionists in painting and most
of the _vers libristes_ in poetry are trying to find some sort of short
cut to artistic success. I know that many of the new writers insist that
it is harder to write good _vers libre_ than to write good rhymed
poetry. And judging from some of their results, I am inclined to agree
with them."

I asked Mr. Robinson if he believed that the evident increase in
interest in poetry, shown by the large sales of the work of Robert Frost
and Edgar Lee Masters and Rupert Brooke, indicated a real renascence of

"I think that it indicates a real renascence of poetry," he replied. "I
am sufficiently child-like and hopeful to find it very encouraging."

"Do you think," I asked, "that the poetry that is written in America
to-day is better than that written a generation ago?"

"I should hardly venture to say that," said Mr. Robinson. "For one
thing, we have no Emerson. Emerson is the greatest poet who ever wrote
in America. Passages scattered here and there in his work surely are the
greatest of American poetry. In fact, I think that there are lines and
sentences in Emerson's poetry that are as great as anything anywhere."

I asked Mr. Robinson whether he thought the modern English poets were
doing better work than their American contemporaries. At first he was
unwilling to express an opinion on this subject, repeating his statement
that he mistrusted his own critical judgment. But he said:

"Within his limits, I believe that A. E. Housman is the most authentic
poet now writing in England. But, of course, his limits are very sharply
drawn. I don't think that any one who knows anything about poetry will
ever think of questioning the inspiration of _A Shropshire Lad_."

"Would you make a similar comment on any other poetry of our time?" I

"Well," said Mr. Robinson, reflectively, "I think that no one will
question the inspiration of some of Kipling's poems, of parts of John
Masefield's _Dauber_, and some of the long lyrics of Alfred Noyes. But I
do not think that either of these poets gives the impression of finality
which A. E. Housman gives. But the way in which I have shifted my
opinion about some of Rudyard Kipling's poems, and most of Swinburne's,
makes me think that Wordsworth was very largely right in his attitude
toward the judgment of youth. But where my opinions have shifted, I
think now that I always had misgivings. I fancy that youth always has
misgivings in regard to what is later to be modified or repudiated."

Then I asked Mr. Robinson if he thought that the war had anything to do
with the renascence of poetry.

"I can't see any connection," he replied. "The only effect on poetry
that the war has had, so far as I know, is to produce those five sonnets
by Rupert Brooke. I can't see that it has caused any poetical event. And
there's no use prophesying what the war will or will not do to poetry,
because no one knows anything about it. The Civil War seems to have had
little effect on poetry except to produce Julia Ward Howe's _Battle
Hymn of the Republic_, Whitman's poems on the death of Lincoln, and
Lowell's 'Ode.'"

"Mr. Robinson," I said, "there has been much discussion recently about
the rewards of poetry, and Miss Amy Lowell has said that no poet ought
to be expected to make a living by writing. What do you think about it?"

"Should a poet be able to make a living out of poetry?" said Mr.
Robinson. "Generally speaking, it is not possible for a poet to make a
decent living by his work. In most cases it would be bad for his
creative faculties for a poet to make as much money as a successful
novelist makes. Fortunately, there is no danger of that. Now, assuming
that a poet has enough money to live on, the most important thing for
him to have is an audience. I mean that the best poetry is likely to be
written when poetry is in the air. If a poet with no obligations and
responsibilities except to stay alive can't live on a thousand dollars a
year (I don't undertake to say just how he is going to get it), he'd
better go into some other business."

"Then you don't think," I said, "that literature has lost through the
poverty of poets?"

"I certainly do believe that literature has lost through the poverty of
poets," said Mr. Robinson. "I don't believe in poverty. I never did. I
think it is good for a poet to be bumped and knocked around when he is
young, but all the difficulties that are put in his way after he gets to
be twenty-five or thirty are certain to take something out of his work.
I don't see how they can do anything else.

"Some time ago you asked me," said Mr. Robinson, "how I accounted for
our difficulty in making a correct estimate of the poetry of one's own
time. The question is a difficult one. I don't even say that it has an
answer. But the solution of the thing seems to me to be related to what
I said about the quality of finality that seems to exist in all real
poetry. Finality seems always to have had a way of not obtruding itself
to any great extent."



Mrs. Lionel Marks--or Josephine Preston Peabody, to call her by the name
which she has made famous--is a poet whose tendency has always been
toward democracy. From _The Singing Leaves_, her first book of lyrics,
to _The Piper_ (the dramatic poem which received the Stratford-on-Avon
prize in 1910), and _The Wolf of Gubbio_, the poetic representation of
events in St. Francis's life in her latest published book, she has
chosen for her theme not fantastic and rare aspects of nature, nor the
new answers of her own emotions, but things that are common to all
normal mankind--such as love and religion. Also, without seeming to
preach, she is always expressing her love for Liberty, Equality, and
Fraternity, and although she never dwells upon the overworked term, she
is as devoted an adherent of the brotherhood of man as was William

Therefore I was eager to learn whether or not she held the
opinion--often expressed during the past months--that poetry is becoming
more democratic, less an art practised and appreciated by the chosen
few. Also I wanted to know if she saw signs of this democratization of
poetry in the development of free verse, or _vers libre_, as those who
write it prefer to say, in the apparently growing tendency of poets to
give up the use of rhyme and rhythm.

"Certainly, poetry is steadily growing more democratic," said Mrs.
Marks. "More people are writing poetry to-day than fifty years ago, and
the appreciation of poetry is more general. Most poets of genuine
calling are writing now with the world in mind as an audience, not
merely for the entertainment of a little literary cult.

"But I do not think that the _vers libre_ fad has any connection with
this tendency, or with the development of poetry at all. Indeed, I do
not think that the cult is growing; we hear more of it in the United
States than we did a year or two ago, but that is chiefly because London
and Paris have outworn its novelty, so the _vers libristes_ concentrate
their energies on Chicago and New York.

"I love some 'free verse.' Certainly, there may be times when a poet
finds he can express his idea or his emotion better without rhyme and
rhythm than with them. But verse that is ostentatiously free--free verse
that obviously has been made deliberately--that is a highly artificial
sort of writing, bears no more relation to literature than does an
acrostic. Neither the themes nor the methods of those who call
themselves _vers libristes_ are democratic; they are, in the worst sense
of the word, the sense which came into use at the time of the French
Revolution, aristocratic.

"The canon of the _vers libristes_ is essentially aristocratic. They
contend, absurdly enough, that all traditional forms of rhyme and rhythm
constitute a sort of bondage, and therefore they arbitrarily rule them
out. Not for them are the fetters that bound Shelley's spirit to the
earth! Also they arbitrarily rule out what they call, with their
fondness for labels, the 'sociological note,' 'didacticism,'
'meanings'--any ideas or emotions, in fact, that may be called communal
or democratic.

"My own canon is that all themes are fit for poetry and that all methods
must justify themselves. If I may be permitted to make a clumsy
wooden-toy apothegm I would say that poetry is rhythmic without and
within. If we turn Carlyle's sometimes cloudy prose inside out we find
that it has a silver lining of poetry.

"Neither can I understand why the _vers libristes_ believe that their
sort of writing is new. Leopardi wrote what would be called good
_imagisme_, although the _imagistes_ do not seem to be aware of the
fact, and the theory that rhyme is undesirable in poetry has appeared
sporadically time and again in the history of poetry. When Sir Philip
Sidney was alive there were pedants who argued against the use of rhyme,
and some of them confuted their own arguments by writing charming lyrics
in the traditional manner. By dint of reading the fine eye-cracking
print in the Globe Edition of Spenser I found that the author of the
_Faerie Queen_ at one time took seriously Gabriel Harvey's arguments
against rhyme and made an unbelievably frightful experiment in rhymeless
verse--as bad as the parodists of our band-wagon.

"The other day I asked some one in the Greek department of Harvard how
to read a fragment of Sappho's that I wanted to teach my children to
say. He said that no one nowadays could know how certain of Sappho's
poems really should be read, because the music for them had been lost,
and they were all true lyrics, meant to be sung and sung by Sappho to
music of her own making. So you see that poets who avowedly make verses
that can appeal only to the eye, successions of images, in which the
position of the words on the page is of great importance, believe that
they are the successors of poets whose work was meant not to be read,
but to be sung, whose verses fitted the regular measure of music.

"As I said before," said Mrs. Marks, smiling, "I have no objection to
free verse when it is a spontaneous expression. But I do object to free
verse when it is organized into a cult that denies other freedoms to
other poets! And I object to the bigotry of some of the people who are
trying to impose free verse upon an uninterested world.

"And also I object to the unfairness of some of the advocates of free
verse. When they compare free verse, and what I suppose I must call
chained verse, they take the greatest example of unrhymed poetry that
they can find--the King James version of the Book of Job, perhaps--and
say: 'This is better than "Yankee Doodle." Therefore, free verse is
better than traditional verse.'

"You see," said Mrs. Marks, "the commonest thing there is, I may say the
most democratic thing, is the rhythm of the heart-beat. A true poet
cannot ignore this. At the greatest times in his life, when he is filled
with joy or despair, or when he has a sense of portent, man is aware of
his heart, of its beat, of its recurrent tick, tick; he is aware of the
rhythm of life. When we are dying, perhaps the only sense that remains
with us is the sense of rhythm--the feeling that the grains of sand are
running, running, running out.

"The pulse-beat is a tremendous thing. It is the basis of all that men
have in common. All life is locked up in its regularly recurrent rhythm.
And it is that rhythm that appears in our love-songs, our war-songs, in
all the poetry of the human cycle from lullabies to funeral chants. In
the great moments of life men feel that they must be sharing, that they
must have something in common with other men, and so their emotions
crystallize into the ritual of rhythm, which is the most democratic
thing that there is.

"Primitive poetry, poetry that comes straight from the hearts of the
people, sometimes circulating for generations without being committed to
paper, is strongly traditional. The convention of regular rhyme and
rhythm is never absent. What could be more conventional and more
democratic than the old ballad, with its recurrent refrain in which the
audience joined? Centuries ago in the Scotch Highlands the
ballad-makers, like the men who wrote the 'Come-all-ye's' in our
great-grandfather's time, used regular rhyme and rhythm. And if these
poets were not democratic, then there never was such a thing as a
democratic poet."

"But is it not true," I asked, "that Whitman is considered the most
democratic poet of his day, and that his avoidance of rhyme and regular
rhythm is advanced as proof of his democracy?"

"Whitman," said Mrs. Marks, "was a democrat in principle, but not in
poetic practice. He loved humanity, but he still waits to reach his
widest audience because his verse lacks strongly stressed, communal
music. The only poems which he wrote that really reached the hearts of
the people quickly are those which are most nearly traditional in
form--_When Lilacs Last in Dooryards Bloomed_ and _Captain, My Captain!_
in which he used rhyme.

"You see, nothing else establishes such a bond with memory as rhyme.

"Did you ever think," said Mrs. Marks, suddenly, "that the truest
exuberance of life always expresses itself rhythmically? Children are
generous with the most intricate rhythms; they do not eat ice-cream in
the disorderly grown-up way; they eat it in a pattern, turning the
saucer around and around; they skit alternate flagstones or every third
step on the stairway. Because they are overflowing with life they
express themselves in rhythm. _Vers libre_ is too grown-up to be the
most vital poetry; one of the ways in which the poet must be like a
little child is in possessing an exuberance of life. His life must

"The poets especially remember that Christ said, 'I am come that ye
might have life and that ye might have it more abundantly.'

"The rhythm of life," said Mrs. Marks, thoughtfully. "The rhythm of
life. Who is conscious of his heart-beats except at the great moments of
life, and who is unconscious of them then? The music of poetry is the
witness of that intense moment when there is discovered to man or woman,
when there reverberates through his brain and being, the tremendous
rhythm and refrain whereby we live."

Mrs. Marks has no patience with those who use the term "sociological" in
depreciation of all poetry that is not intensely subjective and

"There are some critics," she said, "who would condemn the Lord's Prayer
as 'sociological' because it begins 'Our Father' instead of 'My Father.'

"The true poet must be a true democrat; he must, if he can, share with
all the world the vision that lights him; he must be in sympathy with
the people. The war has made a great many European poets aware of this
fact. Think how the war changed Rupert Brooke, for instance? He had been
a most aristocratic poet, making poems, some of which could only repel
minds less in love with the fantastic. But he shared the great emotion
of his countrymen, and so he wrote out of his deeply wakened, sudden
simplicity those sonnets which they all can understand and must forever

"The war will help make poetry. It has swept away the fads and cults
from Europe; they find a peaceful haven in the United States, but they
will not live as dogmas. In the democracy that is soon to come may all
'isms' founder and lose themselves! And may all true freedoms come into
their own, with the maker, his mind and his tools."



"But, of course," said Charles Rann Kennedy, violently (he says most
things rather violently), "you understand that the war's most important
effect on literature was clearly evident long before the war began!"

I did not understand this statement, and said so. Thereupon the author
of _The Servant in the House_ and _The Terrible Meek_ said:

"We have so often been told that great events cast their shadows before,
that the tremendous truth of the phrase has ceased to impress us. The
war which began in August, 1914, exercised a tremendous influence over
the mind of the world in 1913, 1912, 1911, and 1910. The great wave of
religious thought which swept over Europe and America during those years
was caused by the approach of the war. The tremendous pacifist
movement--not the weak, bloodless pacifism of the poltroon, but the
heroic, flaming pacifism of the soldier-hearted convinced of sin--was a
protest against the menacing injustice of the war; it was the world's
shudder of dread.

"The literature of the first decade of the twentieth century was more
thoroughly and obviously influenced by the war than will be that of the
decade following. Think of that amazing quickening of the conscience of
the French nation, a quickening which found expression in the novels of
Réné Bazin, the immortal ballads of Francis Jammes, and in the work of
countless other writers! These people were preparing themselves and
their fellow-countrymen for the mighty ordeal which was before them.

"It is blasphemous to say that the war can only affect things that come
after it; to say that is to attempt to limit the powers of God. There
are, of course, some writers who can only feel the influence of a thing
after it has become evident; after they have carefully studied and
absorbed it. But there are others, the manikoi, the prophetic madmen,
who are swayed by what is to happen rather than by what has happened.
I'm one of them.

"The war held me in its spell long before the German troops crossed
Belgian soil. I wrote my _The Terrible Meek_ by direct inspiration from
heaven in Holy Week, 1912.

"I put that in," said Mr. Kennedy (who looks very much like Gilbert K.
Chesterton's _Man-alive_), suddenly breaking off the thread of his
discourse, "not only because I know that it is the absolute truth, but
because of the highly entertaining way in which it is bound to be

"New York's dramatic critics, the Lord Chamberlain of England, the
military authorities of Germany and Great Britain--all these people were
charmingly unanimous in finding _The Terrible Meek_ blasphemous,
villainous, poisonous. Even the New York MacDowell Club, after two
stormy debates, decided to omit all mention of _The Terrible Meek_ from
its bulletin. Perhaps this was not entirely because the play was
'sacrilegious'; the club may possibly have been influenced by the fact
that its author was a loud person with long hair, who told unpleasant
truths in reputable gatherings. And copies of the published book of the
play, which were accompanied by friendly letters from the author, were
refused by every monarch now at war in Europe!

"But in 1914 and 1915 _The Terrible Meek_ suddenly found, to its own
amazement, that it had become a respectable play! Its connection with
the present war became evident. It has been the subject of countless
leading articles; it has been read, and even acted, in thousands of
churches. On the occasion of the first production of the despised play
in New York City, my wife and I received a small pot of roses from a
girls' school which we sometimes visit. In due time this was planted by
the porch of our summer home in Connecticut. This year--three years only
after its planting--the rose-tree covers three-quarters of the big
porch, and last summer it bore thousands of blooms. Now these things are
a parable!

"No, the Lord does not have to wait until the beginnings of mighty wars
for them vitally to influence the literature of the world. Upon some of
us He places the burden of the coming horror years before.

"Although I am and always have been violently opposed to war, I cannot
help observing what this war has already commenced to do for literature.
It is killing Supermanism--and I purposely call it by that name to
distinguish it from the mere actual doctrine that Nietzsche may or may
not have taught. The damnable heresy, as it historically happened among
us, was already beginning to influence very badly most of our young
writers. Clever devilism caught the trick of it too easily. Now, heresy
is sin always and everywhere; and this heresy was a particularly black
and deadly kind of sin. It ate into the very heart of our life.

"And yet there was a reason, almost an excuse, for the power which the
Superman idea got over the minds of writers after Bernard Shaw's first
brilliant and engaging popularization of it. And the excuse is that
Supermanism, with its emphasis on strength and courage and life, was to
a great extent a healthy and almost inevitable reaction from the maudlin
milk-and-water sort of theology and morals that had been apologetically
handed out to us by weak-kneed religious teachers.

"We had too much of the 'gentle Jesus' of the Sunday-school. In our maze
of evil Protestantisms, we had lost sight of the real Son of God who is
Jesus Christ. We had lost the terrible and lovely doctrine of the wrath
of the Lamb.

"And so a great many writers turned to Supermanism with a shout of
relief. They were sick of milk and water, and this seemed to be strong
wine. But Supermanism is heresy, and it rapidly spread over the world,
most perniciously influencing all intellectual life.

"And there were so many things to help Supermanism! There was the
general acceptance of the doctrine of biological necessity as an
argument for war--Bernhardi actually used that phrase, I believe--the
idea that affairs of the spirit are determined exteriorly. There was the
acceptance of various extraordinary interpretations of Darwin's theory
of evolution! Every little man called himself a scientist, and took his
own little potterings-about very seriously. Everything had to be a
matter of observation, these little fellows said; they would believe
only what they saw. They didn't know that real scientists always begin
_a priori_, that real scientists always know the truth first and then
set about to prove it.

"Well, all these people helped the heresy of Supermanism along. But the
people who helped it along chiefly were the apologetic Christians, who
should have combated it with fire and sword. It was helped along by the
sort of Christian who calls himself 'liberal' and 'progressive,' the
sort of Christian who says, 'Of course, I'm not orthodox.' When any one
says that to me, I always answer him in the chaste little way which so
endears me to my day and generation: 'Hell, aren't you? I hope I am!'

"This sort of so-called Christian helps Supermanism in two ways. In the
first place, the 'progressive' Christians are great connoisseurs of
heresy, they simply love any new sort of blasphemous philosophy, whether
it comes from Germany or Upper Tooting. They love to try to assimilate
all the new mad and wicked ideas, and graft them on Christianity. I
suppose it's their idea of making the Lord Jesus Christ up to date and
attractive. They love to try to engrave pretty patterns on the Rock of
Ages. And Supermanism was to them a new and alluring pattern.

"Of course a Supermanism might be worked out on strictly Christian
lines, the Superman in that case being the Christ. But that is not the
way in which the theory has historically worked out. No! Mr. Superman as
we've actually known him in the world recently is the Beast that was
taken, and with him the false prophets that wrought miracles before him,
with which he had deceived them that had received the mark of the Beast
and them that had worshiped his image. And these, in the terrible
symbolism of St. John, you will remember, got fire and brimstone for
their pains! As now!

"Then there was your Christian Supermanism that tried to get up a weak
little imitation of the wrath of the Lamb. This was your bastard by
theatricality and popularity out of so-called muscular Christianity. Not
the virile 'muscular Christianity' of Charles Kingsley, mind you--a
power he won almost alone, by blood and tears; but the 'safe' thing of
the after generation, the 'all things to all men'--when success was well
assured. This is your baseball Christianity, the Christianity of the
'punch,' of the piled-up heap of dollars, of the commercially counted
'conversions' and the rest of the blasphemies! Christ deliver us from
it, if needs be, even by fire!

"Well, Supermanism cast its shadow over all forms of literary
expression. The big and the little mockers all fell under its
spell--they had their fling at Christianity in their novels, their
plays, their poems. In the novel Supermanism was evident not so much in
direct attacks on Christianity as in a brutal and pitiless realism.
Perhaps some of this hard realism was a natural reaction from the
eye-piping sentimentality of some of the Victorian writers. But most of
it was merely Supermanism in fiction--pessimism, egotism, fatalism,

"One thing to be said for the Christian Scientists, the Mental Healers,
the New Thought people generally, is that they did a real service
through all this bad time by refusing to recognize any such heresy as
biological determination as applied to things spiritual. They really did
teach man's freedom up there in the heavens where he properly belongs.
They refused to be bound by the earth, and all the appearances and the
exterior causes thereof. Their Superman, if they ever used the phrase,
was at least the Healer, the spirit spent for others, not for self.

"If you were to ask me what were the war's most conspicuous effects on
literature just at present, I would say conviction of sin, repentance
and turning to God. There can be no suggestion of Supermanism in our
literature now. We have rediscovered the Christian Virtues. If a man
writes something about blond-beasting through the world for his own
good, all we have to do is to stick up in front of his eyes a crucifix.
For the world has seen courage and self-abnegation of the kind that
Christ taught--it has seen men throw their lives away. The war has
shown the world that the man who will throw away his life is braver and
stronger and greater than the man who plunges forward to safety over the
lives of others. The world has learned that he who loses his life shall
gain it.

"The war has thrown a clear light upon Christianity, and now all the
little apologetic 'progressive' Christians see that the world had never
reacted against orthodox Christianity as such, but only against the
bowelless unbelief which masqueraded as Christianity. We have had so
many ministers who talked about Christ as they would have talked about
kippered herrings--even with less enthusiasm. But now any one who speaks
or writes about Christianity after this will have to know that he has to
do with something terribly real.

"Of course, during the war the only people who can write about it are
those who are in the red-hot period of youth. Young men of genius write
in times of stress. The war forces genius to flower prematurely--that is
how we got the noble sonnets of Rupert Brooke.

"And after the war will come to the making of literature the man who has
conquered pain and agony. And that is the real Superman, the Christian
Superman, the Superman who has always been the normal ideal of the
world. Carlyle's Superman was nearer the truth than was Nietzsche's, for
Carlyle's Superman idea was grounded in courage and sacrifice and love;
his Superman was some one worth fighting for and dying for. And the war
is showing us that this is the true Superman, if we want to save the
world for nobler ends.

"And the war, I believe, will do away with the tommy-rotten objection to
'message' in literature. Don't misunderstand me. Of course, we all
object to the stupid 'story with a purpose' in the Sunday-school sense
of that phrase. We don't want literature used as a sugar-coating around
the illuminating lesson that God loves little Willie because he fed the
dicky-birds and didn't say 'damn'! Yet we want literature to awake again
and be as always in the great days--a message. Literature must be a
direct message from the heart of the author to the heart of the world.
The _Prometheus Vinctus_ was such a message. So also the _Antigone_. All
Greek drama was.

"All the little literary and artistic cults are dead or dying. The idea
of literature as a thing distinct from life is dead. Writers can never
again think of themselves as a race separate from the rest of humanity.
All the artificial Bohemias have been destroyed, and can never again
exist; for now at last the new world is about to dawn. Christ is coming.

"And yet this war has made evident the importance of literature. It has
made words real again. It has shown that men cannot live forever on a
lie, written or spoken. God has come upon us like a thief in the night,
and He has judged by our words. Some of us He has turned to madness and
the vain babblings of heathendom. I am no wild chauvinist; though a man,
English-born, it gives me no joy to speak of Germans as Huns, and to
heap up hate and indignation against them. Nor in my wildest flights of
romanticism can I dream that an England yet possessing Lord Northcliffe
and the present Government can be all that God might call delightful.
Mr. Superman has invaded England right enough, that I sadly know; and
Prussianism is not all in Potsdam.

"Yet it is significant, in view of the Superman's birthplace, in view of
the fact that the German people have very largely accepted his doctrine
and ideal, that the men who stand for speech among them, in their public
manifestoes have been delivered over unto confusion and a lie. The
logician has been illogical, the literary artist rendered without form
and void. Their very craft has turned to impotence and self-destruction.
I repeat, this is no happiness to me. Rather, I think of the Germany I
have loved, and I weep for the pity of it all. I am no friend of kings
and kaisers and bankers and grocers and titled newspaper editors, that I
should make their bloodiness mine. But I cannot help but see the sign of
God written across the heavens in words of living fire.

"As I said in _The Terrible Meek_: 'There is great power in words. All
the things that ever get done in the world, good or bad, are done by

"What we'll have to rediscover is that literature, like life, begins
with the utterance of a word. And until people realize once again that a
word is no mere dead thing buried in a dictionary, but the actual,
awful, wonderful Life of God Himself, we shall neither have nor deserve
to have a literature!"



The community masque, _Caliban by the Yellow Sands_, is primarily
intended to honor the memory of Shakespeare on the three-hundredth
anniversary of his death. But its significance goes further than the
purpose of commemoration. Mr. Percy MacKaye, the author, tells me that
he sees his masque as part of a movement which shall bring poetry to the
service of the entire community, which shall make poetry democratic, in
the best sense of the word, and that the result of this movement will be
to create conditions likely to produce out of the soil of America a
great renascence of the drama.

Mr. MacKaye undoubtedly is the busiest poet in the United States of
America. When he talked to me about the significance of the community
masque, rehearsals of the various groups that are to take part in it
were going on all over the city. Every few minutes he was called away
to confer with some of the directors of the masque, or some of the
actors taking part in it. For a while Mr. John Drew was with us, talking
of his appearance, in the character of Shakespeare, in epilogue. Mr.
Robert Edmund Jones, the designer of the inner scenes, brought over some
new drawings, and there were telephone conversations about music and
costumes and other important details of the monster production.

"The fact," said Mr. MacKaye, "that the masque is a poem primarily
intended to be heard rather than to be read, is itself a movement toward
the earlier and more democratic uses of poetry. Poetry appeals
essentially to the ear, and is an art of the spoken word, yet, on
account of our conditions of life, the written word is considered

"This was not true in Shakespeare's time. And in the sort of work that I
am doing is shown a return to the old ideal. A masque is a poem that can
be visualized and acted. First of all it must be a poem, otherwise it
cannot be anything but a more or less warped work of art.

"With much of the new movement in the theater I am heartily in sympathy;
but the movement seems to me one-sided. A large part of it has to do
with visualization. Emphasis is laid on the appeal to the eye rather
than the appeal to the ear, because the men of genius, like Gordon
Craig, who have been leaders in the movement, have been interested in
that phase of dramatic presentation.

"Now I think that this one-sidedness is regrettable. When Gordon Craig
called his book on dramatic visualization _The Art of the Theater_ he
was wrong. He should have called it 'An Art of the Theater.'

"These men have neglected part of the human soul. They have forgotten
that the greatest part of the appeal of a drama is to the ear. The ear
brings up the most subtle of all life's associations and connotations.
By means of the ear the motions and ideas are conjured up in the mind of
the audience.

"Now, while the new movement in the theater is visual in character, the
new movement in poetry is, so to speak, audible. The American poets are
insisting more and more on the importance of the spoken word in poetry,
as distinct from its shadow on the printed page. Whether they write
_vers libre_ or the usual rhymed forms, they appreciate the fact that
they must write poems that will be effective when read aloud. Surely
this is a wholesome movement, likely to tend more and more toward
definite dramatic expression on the part of the poets, whether to
audiences through actors on the stage, or to audiences gathered to hear
the direct utterances of the poets themselves.

"This being so, the stage tending more toward visualization, and poetry
tending more and more toward the spoken word, where shall we look for
the co-ordinating development? I think that we shall find it in the
community masque. The community masque draws out of the unlabored and
untrammeled resources of our national life its inspiration and its
theme. It requires our young poets to get closely in touch with our
national life, with our history and with contemporary attitudes and
ideals. To do this it is first of all necessary to have the poetic
vision. The great need of the day is of the poet trained in the art of
the theater.

"The pageant and the masque offer the ideal conditions for the rendering
of poetry. The poet who writes the lyric may or may not ordinarily be
the one to speak it. In the masque the one who speaks the poem is the
one chosen to do so because of his special fitness for the task. I have
chosen my actors for the Shakespeare masque with special reference to
their ability to speak poetry."

"But what has this to do," I asked, "with making poetry more

"For one thing," Mr. MacKaye answered, "it gives the poet a larger
audience. People who never read poetry will listen to poetry when it is
presented to them in dramatic form. I have found that the result of the
presentation of a community masque is to interest in poetry a large
number of people who had hitherto been deaf to its appeal. In St. Louis,
when I started a masque, that queer word with a 'q' in it was understood
by a comparatively small number. But after the masque was produced
nearly every high-school boy and girl in the town was writing masques.

"No one can observe the progress of the community masque without seeing
that it is surely a most democratic art form. I read my St. Louis masque
before assemblies of ministers, in negro high schools, before clubs of
advertising-men, at I. W. W. meetings--before men of all conditions of
life and shades of opinion. It afforded them a sort of spiritual and
intellectual meeting-place, it gave them a common interest. Surely that
is a democratic function.

"The democracy of the masque was forcefully brought to my attention
again at the recent dinner by Otto Kahn to the Mayor's Honorary
Committee for the New York Shakespeare Celebration. After James M. Beck
had made a speech, Morris Hillquit, also a member of the committee,
arose and addressed the company. He pointed out more clearly than I have
heard it done before that in this cause extremes of opinion met, that
art was producing practical democracy.

"And yet," said Mr. MacKaye, hastily, "the masque stands for the
democracy of excellence, not the democracy of mediocrity. What is art
but self-government, the harmonizing of the elements of the mind? There
can be no art where there is no discipline, there can be no art where
there is not a high standard of excellence.

"As I said," he continued, "the original appeal of poetry was to the ear
as well as to the eye. In the days when poetry was a more democratic art
than it has been in our time and that of our fathers, the poet spoke his
poems to a circle of enthralled listeners. The masque is spoken through
many mouths, but it might be spoken or chanted by the bard himself.

"There has never before been so great an opportunity for the revival of
the poetic drama. Ordinarily when a poetic drama is presented the cast
has been drawn from actors trained in the rendition of prose. Inevitably
the tendency has been for them to give a prose value to the lines of
poetry. In selecting a cast for a masque, special attention is given to
the ability of the actors to speak poetry, so the poem is presented as
the poet intended.

"It may be that the pageant and masque movement represents the full
flowering of the renascence of poetry which all observers of
intellectual events have recognized. But these movements are perennial;
I do not like to think of a renascence of poetry because I do not think
that poetry has been dead. I feel that it is desirable for the poets to
become aware of the opportunities presented to them by the masque, the
opportunities to combine the art of poetry with the art of the theater,
and thus put poetry at the service of mankind.

"I have felt that the Poetry Society of America, an organization whose
activities certainly are stimulating and encouraging to every friend of
the art, might serve poetry better if its members were to place more
emphasis on creation and less on criticism. At their meetings now
criticism is the dominant note. Poems written by the members are read
aloud and criticized from the floor. This is excellent, in its place,
but its effect is to lay stress on the critical function of the poet,
which, after all, is not his main function. What the members of the
Poetry Society should do is to seek co-operatively to create something.
And for this the masque offers them a golden opportunity.

"The flowering of poetry is a thing of infinite variety. There must be
variety in a masque if the masque is to continue to be a worthy and
popular art form. Standardization would be fatal to the masque, and I
have stood out against it with all the power I possess. The masque and
the pageant must not degenerate into traveling shows, done according to
a fixed receipt. There must be the vision in it, and when the people see
the vision they respond marvelously."

Percy MacKaye is the son of Steele MacKaye, the author of _Hazel Kirke_
and other popular plays. From the very beginning of his literary career
his chief ambition has seemed to be to bring about a closer
_rapprochement_ between poetry and the drama.

When Mr. MacKaye was graduated from Harvard, in 1897, there were in that
university no courses, technical or otherwise, in the modern drama. The
official acceptance of his own commencement part _On the Need of
Imagination in the Drama of To-day_ was the first official sanction of
the subject, which was commented upon by the _Boston Transcript_ as
something unprecedented in the annals of university discussion,
especially of Harvard. It was not until seven or eight years had passed
that Prof. George P. Baker began his courses in dramatic technique.

The development of the pageant and the masque has been for years the
object of Mr. MacKaye's tireless endeavors. He has spoken of the masque
as "the potential drama of democracy." Two years ago in St. Louis he had
his first technical opportunity on a large scale to experiment in
devising this sort of communal entertainment. There, during five
performances, witnessed by half a million people, some seven thousand
citizens of St. Louis took part in his masque, in association with the
pageant by Thomas Wood Stevens.

"The outgoing cost of the St. Louis production," said Mr. MacKaye, "was
$122,000; the income, $139,000. The balance of $17,000 has been devoted
to a fund for civic art. If these seem large sums, we must look back to
the days of the classic Greek drama and remember that the cost of
producing a single play by Sophocles at Athens was $500,000.

"The St. Louis production was truly a drama of, for, and by the people,
a true community masque. _Caliban by the Yellow Sands_ is a community
masque, given as the central popular expression of some hundreds of
supplementary Shakespearian celebrations.

"I call this work a masque, because it is a dramatic work of symbolism,
involving in its structure pageantry, poetry, and the dance. But I have
not thought to relate its structure to a historic form; I have simply
sought by its structure to solve a problem of the art of the theater.
That problem is the new one of creating a focus of dramatic technique
for the growing but groping movement vaguely called 'pageantry,' which
is itself a vital sign of social evolution--the half-desire of the
people not merely to remain receptive to a popular art created by
specialists, but to take part themselves in creating it; the
desire,--that is, of democracy consistently to seek expression through
a drama of and by the people, not merely for the people.

"Six years ago, after the pageant-masque of the city of Gloucester,
Massachusetts, I wrote, in _Scribner's Magazine_, an article in which I
said that I found in the three American pageant-masques which I had seen
recently, the Gloucester Pageant, the Masque at Aspet, and the
California Redwood Festival, the expression of community spirit focused
by co-operating artists in dramatic form. I said then, what I feel even
more strongly after my work with the St. Louis Pageant and the
Shakespearian Masque, that pageantry is poetry for the masses.

"The parade of Election Day, the processions of Antics and Horribles on
the Fourth of July and Thanksgiving Day, the May-Queen rituals of
children--these make an elemental appeal to every one. What is this
elemental appeal? Is it not the appeal of symbolism, the expression of
life's meanings in sensuous form? Crude though it may be, pageantry
satisfies an elemental instinct for art, a popular demand for poetry.
This instinct and this demand, like other human instincts and demands,
may be educated, refined, developed into a mighty agency of
civilization. Refinement of this deep, popular instinct will result
from a rational selection in correlation of the elements of pageantry.
Painting, dancing, music, and sculpture (the last as applied to classic
groupings) are appropriately the special arts for selecting those
elements, and drama is the special art of correlating them.

"The form of pageantry most popular and impressive in appeal as a fine
art is that of the dramatic pageant, or masque. It is not limited to
historic themes. All vital modern forces and institutions of our nation
might appropriately find symbolic expression in the masque.

"And in this would be seen the making of art democratic. Thus would the
art of poetry and the art of the drama be put at the service of mankind.
Artistic gifts, which now are individualized and dispersed, would be
organized to express the labors and aspirations of communities,
reviving, for the noblest humanism of our own times, the traditions of
Leonardo da Vinci, Ben Jonson, and Inigo Jones. The development of the
art of public masques, dedicated to civic education, would do more than
any other agency to provide popular symbolic form and tradition for the
stuff of a noble national drama. The present theaters cannot develop a
public art, since they are dedicated to a private speculative business.
The association of artists and civic leaders in the organization of
public masques would tend gradually to establish a civic theater, owned
by the people and conducted by artists, in every city of the nation.

"I expressed these ideas," said Mr. MacKaye, "some years ago, before the
pageant movement had reached its present pitch of popularity. All my
experiences since that time have given me a firmer conviction that the
masque is the drama of democracy, and I believe that the chief value of
the Shakespearian masque is as a step forward in the progress of the
co-operative dramatic and poetic expression of the people.

"_Caliban by the Yellow Sands_ will be given at the City College Stadium
May 23d, 24th, 25th, 26th, and 27th. After its New York performance it
will be available for production elsewhere on a modified scale of stage
performance. After June 1st it is planned that a professional company,
which will co-operate with the local communities, will take the masque
on tour.

"The subtitle of _Caliban by the Yellow Sands_ is _A Community Masque of
the Art of the Theater_, _Devised and Written to Commemorate the
Tercentenary of the Death of Shakespeare_. The dramatic-symbolic motive
of the masque I have taken from Scene 2 of Act I of _The Tempest_, where
Prospero says:

                            It was mine art
    When I arrived and heard thee, that made gape
    The pine and let thee out.

"The art of Prospero I have conceived as the art of Shakespeare in its
universal scope--that many-visioned art of the theater, which age after
age has come to liberate the imprisoned imagination of mankind from the
fetters of brute force and ignorance; that same art which, being usurped
or stifled by groping part-knowledge, prudery, or lust, has been botched
in its ideal aims, and has wrought havoc, hypocrisy, and decadence.
Caliban is in this masque that passionate child-curious part of us all,
groveling close to his origin, yet groping up toward that serener plane
of pity and love, reason, and disciplined will, on which Miranda and
Prospero commune with Ariel and his spirits.

"The theme of the masque--Caliban seeking to learn the art of
Prospero--is, of course, the slow education of mankind through the
influences of co-operative art--that is, of the art of the theater in
its full social scope. This theme of co-operation is expressed earliest
in the masque through the lyric of Ariel's Spirits taken from _The
Tempest_; it is sounded, with central stress, in the chorus of peace
when the kings clasp hands on the Field of the Cloth of Gold; and, with
final emphasis, in the gathering together of the creative forces of
dramatic art in the Epilogue.

"So I have tried to make the masque bring that message of co-operation
which I think all true art should bring. And the masque is the form
which seems to me destined to bring about this desired co-operation, to
bring back, perhaps, the conditions which existed in the spacious days
of the great Greek drama. The growth in popularity of masques and
pageants is preparing the way for a new race of poet dramatists, of
poets who will use their knowledge of the art of the theater to
interpret the people to themselves. And out of this new artistic
democracy will come, let us hope, our new national poetry and our new
national drama."


       *       *       *       *       *


The duplicate book title and chapter titles have been removed. Also the
following misprints have been corrected:

    TOC: put in "Tippecanoe" without a hyphen (in "Tippecanoe
    County, Indiana")

    TOC: "Mackaye" changed to "MacKaye", as in all other instances
    ("Percy Mackaye was born in New York City...")

    p. 56: "countinent" changed to "continent" ("Yet in their time
    these men set the whole countinent in a roar.")

    p. 75: period is added after the middle initial W (ROBERT W.

    p. 78: period is added the following sentence: The most
    imaginative and fantastic romances must have their basis in real

    p. 107: put in "dive-keeper" with a hyphen (no other instance in
    the text)

    p. 112: put in "soulless" without a hyphen (no other instances
    in the text)

    p. 178: opening double quote changed to single quote ('If ye had
    not plowed with my heifer....)

    p. 218: put in "catch-words" with a hyphen (no other instances
    in the text)

    p. 243: put in "motion-picture" with a hyphen (no other
    instances in the text)

    p. 247: put in "off-hand" with a hyphen ("I can think off-hand
    of quite a group of writers....")

    p. 283: put in "Dooryards" without a hyphen ("When Lilacs Last
    in Dooryards Bloomed")

    p. 293: put in "everywhere" without a hyphen ("heresy is sin
    always and everywhere;")

    p. 294: "Of couse" changed to "Of course" ("Of course, I'm not

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