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

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Copyright, 1892, by HARPER & BROTHERS.

_All rights reserved._




  _My dear Lounsbury,--In reading over the proof-sheets
  of these pages, I have happened on your name more often
  than I thought I had written it, and yet not so often by
  once as I wish to write it. So I set it here, in the forefront
  of this little book, to bear witness that much of what
  may be good in these essaylets of mine is due to help given
  by you, either directly by word of mouth or indirectly by
  the printed page. And that is why I take pleasure now
  in subscribing myself as_

  _Yours gratefully_,


  Columbia College
  _September, 1892_









    II. OF A NOVEL OF M. ZOLA'S      161
    III. OF WOMEN'S NOVELS      169


In a novel written in the last decade but one of the nineteenth century
by an Australian lady in collaboration with a member of Parliament, one
of the characters stops another "to ask for the explanation of this or
that Australian phrase," wondering whether "it would be better to give
the English meaning of each word after the word itself, and to keep on
repeating it all through, or would it do to put a footnote once for all,
or how would it do to have a little glossary at the end?" As it happens,
oddly enough, the authors of _The Ladies' Gallery_ have not themselves
done any one of these things; and therefore, if we chance to read their
fiction, we are left to grope for ourselves when in the first two
chapters we are told of "the wild howling of the _dingoes_ in the
_scrub_," and when we learn that the hero had "eaten his evening
meal--_damper_ and a hard junk of _wallabi_ flesh"--while his "_billy_
of tea was warming." Then we are informed that "he had arranged a bed
with his blankets, his _swag_ for a pillow," and that he wished for a
good mate to share his watch, or even "a black _tracker_ upon whom he
could depend as a scout." We are told also that this hero, who "was not
intended to _grub_ along," hears a call in the night, and he reflects
"that a black fellow would not _cou-ee_ in that way." Later he cuts up
"a _fig_ of tobacco;" he says "we can _yarn_ now;" he speaks of living
on "wild plums and _bandicoot_;" and he makes mention of "a certain
_newchum_." From the context we may fairly infer that this last term is
the Australian equivalent of the Western _tenderfoot_; but who shall
explain the meaning of _damper_ and _dingoes_, _cou-ee_ and _bandicoot?_
And why have _scrub_ and _billy_, _grub_ and _fig_, taken on new
meanings, as though they had suffered a sea-change in the long voyage
around the Cape or through the canal?

As yet, so far as I know, no British critic has raised a cry of alarm
against the coming degradation of the English language by the invasion
of Australianisms. It can hardly be doubted, however, that the
necessities of a new civilization will force the Australian to the
making of many a new word to define new conditions. As the San Francisco
_hoodlum_ is different from the New York _loafer_, so the Melbourne
_larrikin_ has differentiated himself from the London _rough_, and in
due season a term had to be developed to denote this differentiation.
There are also not a few Canadian phrases to be collected by the
curious; and the exiles in India have evolved a vocabulary of their own
by a frequent adoption of native words, which makes difficult the
reading of certain of Mr. Rudyard Kipling's earlier tales. To recall
these things is but to recognize that the same causes are at work in
Canada, in India, and in Australia as have been acting in the United
States. It remains to be seen whether the British critic will show the
same intolerance towards the colonial and dependent Australian and
Canadian that he has been wont to show towards the independent American.
The controversy, when it comes, is one at which the American will look
on with disinterested amusement, remembering that those laugh best who
laugh last, and that Dean Alford omitted from the later editions of his
dogmatic discussion of the _Queen's English_ a passage which was
prominent in the first edition, issued in 1863, during the war of the
rebellion, and which animadverted on the process of deterioration that
the Queen's English had undergone at the hands of the Americans. "Look
at those phrases," he cried, "which so amuse us in their speech and
books, at their reckless exaggeration and contempt for congruity, and
then compare the character and history of the nation--its blunted sense
of moral obligation and duty to man, its open disregard of conventional
right where aggrandizement is to be obtained, and I may now say, its
reckless and fruitless maintenance of the most cruel and unprincipled
war in the history of the world." Time can be relied on to quash an
indictment against a nation, and we Americans should be sorry to think
that there are to-day in England any of those who in 1863 sympathized
with the Dean of Canterbury, and who are not now heartily ashamed of
their attitude then.

Owing, it may be, to the consciousness of strength, which is a precious
result of the war the British clergyman denounced thus eloquently, the
last tie of colonialism which bound us to the mother-country is broken.
We know now that the mother-tongue is a heritage and not a loan. It is
ours to use as we needs must. In America there is no necessity to plead
for the right of the Americanism to exist. The cause is won. No American
writer worth his salt would think of withdrawing a word or of
apologizing for a phrase because it was not current within sound of Bow
Bells. The most timid of American authoresses has no doubt as to her use
of _railroad_, _conductor_, _grade,_ and to _switch_, despite her
possible knowledge that in British usage the equivalents of these words
are _railway_, _guard_, _gradient,_ and to _shunt_. On the contrary, in
fact, there is visible now and again, especially on the part of the most
highly cultivated writers, an obvious delight in grasping an indigenous
word racy of the soil. There is many an American expression of a pungent
freshness which authors, weary of an outworn vocabulary, seize eagerly.
It may be a new word, but it would not be in accord with our traditions
to refuse naturalization to a welcome new-comer; or it may be a survival
flourishing here in our open fields, although long since rooted out of
the trim island garden on the other side of the Atlantic, and in such
case we use it unhesitatingly to-day as our forefathers used it in the
past, "following," as Lowell remarks, "the fashion of our ancestors, who
unhappily could bring over no English better than Shakespeare's."

In the preface to the first edition of his dictionary, issued in 1825,
Noah Webster declared that although in America "the body of the language
is the same as in England, and it is desirable to perpetuate that
sameness, yet some differences must exist," since "language is the
expression of ideas, and if the people of one country cannot preserve an
identity of ideas" with the people of another country, they are not
likely to retain an absolute identity of language; and Webster had no
difficulty in showing that differences of physical and political
conditions had already in his day, only half a century after the
Revolution, and when the centre of population was still close to the
Atlantic seaboard, produced differences of speech. It is too much to
expect, perhaps, that the British critic shall look at this Yankee
independence from our point of view. Professor Lounsbury tells us in his
admirable biography that in Fenimore Cooper's time the attitude of the
Englishman towards the American "in the most favorable cases ... was
supercilious and patronizing, an attitude which never permits the nation
criticising to understand the nation criticised." Things have changed
for the better since Cooper was almost alone in his stalwart
Americanism, but the arrogance which General Braddock of his Majesty's
army showed towards Colonel Washington of the Virginia contingent
survives here and there in Great Britain, even though another dean sits
in Dr. Alford's stall in Canterbury Cathedral; it prompted a British
novelist not long ago to be offensively impertinent to an American lady
(_Athenæum_, September 1, 1888), and it allowed Lord Wolseley to insult
the memory of Robert E. Lee with ignorant praise. It finds expression in
a passage like the following from a _Primer of English Composition_, by
Mr. John Nichols: "Americanisms, as 'Britisher,' 'skedaddle,' and the
peculiar use of 'clever,' 'calculate,' 'guess,' 'reckon,' etc., with the
mongrel speech adopted by some humorists, are only admissible in
satirical pictures of American manners" (p. 35). When we read an
assertion of this sort, we are reduced to believe that it must be the
dampness of the British climate which has thus rusted the hinges of
British manners.

Far more often than we could wish can we hear the note of lofty
condescension in British discussion of the peculiarities of other races.
When Englishmen are forced to compare themselves with men of any other
country, no doubt it must be difficult for them not to plume themselves
on their superior virtue. But modesty is also a virtue, and if this were
more often cultivated in Great Britain, the French, for example, would
have fewer occasions for making pointed remarks about _la morgue
britannique_. Even the gentle Thackeray--if the excursus may be
forgiven--is not wholly free from this failing. In spite of his
familiarity with French life and French art, he could not quite divest
himself of his British pride, and of the intolerance which accompanies
it, and therefore we find him recording that M. de Florac confided
gayly to Mr. Clive Newcome the reason why he preferred the coffee at the
hotel to the coffee at the great café "with a _duris urgéns in rebūs
égestsās!_ pronounced in the true French manner" (_Newcomes_, chapter
xxviii.). But how should a Frenchman pronounce Latin?--like an
Englishman, perhaps? When even the kindly Thackeray is capable of a
sneering insularity of this sort, it is small wonder that the feeling of
the French towards the British is well expressed in the final line of
the quatrain inscribed over the gate at Compiègne through which Joan
Darc went to her capture:

     "Tous ceux-là d'Albion n'ont faict le bien jamais!"

And we are reminded of the English lady who was taken to see Mr.
Jefferson's performance of Rip Van Winkle, and who liked it very much
indeed, but thought it such a pity that the actor had so strong an
American accent!

"Ignorance of his neighbor is the character of the typical John Bull,"
says Mr. R. L. Stevenson, who also declares that "the Englishman sits
apart bursting with pride and ignorance." What a Scot has written a
Yankee may quote. And the quotation has pertinence here in view of the
fact that in the last century the English were just as keen against
Scotticisms and Hibernicisms, and just as bitter, as they have been in
this century against Americanisms, and as they may be in the next
against Australianisms. Macaulay asserted that there were in _Marmion_
and in _Waverley_ "Scotticisms at which a London apprentice would
laugh;" and there are to be seen in the English newspapers now and again
petty attacks on the style and vocabulary of American authors of
distinction, which it is perhaps charitable to credit to London
apprentices. One of these it was no doubt who began a review of Mr.
Brownell's subtle and profound study of _French Traits_ with the
statement that "the language most depressing to the educated Englishman
is the language of the cultured American." Probably the small sword will
always be exasperating to those who cling to the boxing-glove.

When a London apprentice laughs at the Scotticisms of the North Briton,
and when the London _Athenæum_ is depressed by the language of cultured
Americans, there is to be discovered behind the laugh and the scoff an
assumption that any departure from the usage which obtains in London is
most deplorable. The laugh and the scoff are the outward and visible
signs of an inward and spiritual belief that the Londoner is the sole
guardian and trustee of the English language. But this is a belief for
which there is no foundation whatever. The English language is not
bankrupt that it needs to have a receiver appointed; it is quite capable
of minding its own business without the care of a committee of
Englishmen. If indeed a guardian were necessary, what Englishman would
it be who would best preserve our pure English--the shepherd of Dorset
or the miner of Northumberland, the Yorkshire man or the cockney? If it
is not the London apprentice who is to set the standard, but the
Englishman of breeding, it is hard to discover the ground whereon this
Englishman can claim superiority of taste or knowledge over the other
educated men to whom English is the mother-tongue, whether they were
born in Scotland, Ireland, or America, in Australia, India, or Canada.

The fallacy of the Englishman, be he London apprentice or contributor to
the _Athenæum_, is that he erects a merely personal standard in the use
of our language. He compares the English he finds in the novels of a
Scotchman or in the essays of an American with that which he hears about
him daily in London, animadverting upon every divergence from this local
British usage as a departure from the strict letter of the law which
governs our language. It is, of course, unfair to suggest that a
parochial self-satisfaction underlies this utilization of personal
experience as the sole test of linguistic propriety; but the procedure
is amusingly illogical.

The cockney has no monopoly of good English if even he has his full
portion. The Englishman in England is but the elder brother of the
Anglo-Saxon elsewhere; and by no right of primogeniture does he control
the language which is our birthright. Noah Webster, in the preface from
which quotation has already been made, remarked that American authors
had a tendency to write "the language in its genuine idiom," and he
asserted that "in this respect Franklin and Washington, whose language
is their hereditary mother-tongue, unsophisticated by modern grammar,
present as pure models of genuine English as Addison or Swift." It may
be doubted whether English is now more vigorously spoken or better
understood in London than in New York or in Melbourne; but it is
indisputable that the student detects in the ordinary speech of the
Englishman many a lapse from the best usage. This contaminating of the
well of English undefiled is not to be defended because it is due to
Englishmen who happen to live in England. A blunder made in Great
Britain is to be stigmatized as a Briticism, and it is to be avoided by
those who take thought of their speech just as though the impropriety
were a Scotticism or a Hibernicism, an Americanism or an Australianism.
When a locution of the London apprentice is not in accord with the
principles of the language, there is no prejudice in its favor because
it happened to arise beside the Thames rather than on the shores of the
Hudson or by the banks of the St. Lawrence.

Of Briticisms there are as many and as worthy of collection and
collocation as were the most of the Americanisms the all-embracing
Bartlett gathered into his dictionary. Indeed, if a Scot or a Yankee
were to prepare a glossary of Briticisms on the ample scale adopted by
Mr. Bartlett, and with the same generous hospitality, the result would
surprise no one more than the Englishman. We should find in its pages
many a word and phrase and turn of speech common enough in England and
quite foreign to the best usage of those who speak English--Briticisms
as worthy of reproof as the worst specimen of "the mongrel speech
adopted by some humorists in America." These are to be sought rather in
the written language than in oral speech, though there are Briticisms
a-plenty in the talk of the Londoner, from the suppression of the
initial _h_ among the masses to the dropping of the final _g_ among the
classes. Of a truth, precision of speech is not frequent in London, and
not seldom the delivery of the Englishman of education nowadays may
fairly be called slovenly. As I recall the list of those whom I have
heard use the English language with mingled ease and elegance, I find
fewer Englishmen than either Scotchmen or Americans. Quintilian tells us
that an old Athenian woman called the eloquent Theophrastus a stranger,
and declared "that she had discovered him to be a foreigner only from
his speaking in a manner too Attic." Something of this ultra-precision
is perhaps to be observed to-day in the modern Athens, be that Edinburgh
or Boston.

In the ordinary speech of Englishmen there are not a few vocables which
grate on American ears. Sometimes they are ludicrous, sometimes they are
hideous, sometimes they seem to us simply strange. Thus when Matthew
Arnold wrote about Tolstoï, he told us that Anna Karénina "throws
herself under the wheels of a _goods_ train." To us Americans this
sounds odd, as it is our habit to call the means of self-destruction
chosen by the Russian heroine "a _freight_ train." But it is simply due
to the accidental evolution of railroad terminology in England and in
America at the same time, whereby the same thing came to be called by a
different name on either side of the Atlantic. Neither term has a right
of way as against the other; and it would be interesting to foresee
which will get down to our great-grandchildren. In like manner the
_keyless watch_ of Great Britain is the _stem-winder_ of the United
States; and here, again, there is little to choose, as both words are

The use of _like_ for _as_, not uncommon in the Southern States, has
there always been regarded as an indefensible colloquialism; but in
England it is heard in the conversation of literary men of high
standing, and now and again it even gets itself into print in books of
good repute. It will be found, for instance, in the sketch of Macaulay
which the late Cotter Morrison wrote for the series of _English Men of
Letters_ edited by Mr. John Morley. And Walter Bagehot represents the
dwellers in old manor-houses and in rural parsonages asking, "Why can't
they [the French] have Kings, Lords, and Commons, _like_ we have?" Here
occasion serves to remark that Bagehot's own writing is besprinkled with
Briticisms; his style is slouchy beyond belief; it is impossible to
imagine a Frenchman or an American capable of thinking as clearly and as
cogently as Bagehot, and willing to write as carelessly.

To be noted also is the British habit of saying "very pleased," when the
tradition of the language and the best American usage alike require one
to say "very much pleased." Equally noteworthy is the misuse of
_without_ for _unless_, condemned in America as a vulgarism, but
discoverable in England in the pages of important periodical
publications; for example, in the number of the _New Review_ for August,
1890, we find Sir Charles Dilke, who, as a member of her Majesty's Privy
Council, ought to be familiar with the Queen's English, writing that
"nothing can be brought before the Vestry _without_ the Vestry is duly
summoned." Among the political Briticisms which deserve collection as
well as political Americanisms, although far less picturesque, are to be
recorded the use of _the government_ when _the ministry_ rather is
intended, and also the habit of accepting these nouns of multitude as
plural, and therefore of writing "the ministry _are_" and "the
government _are_" where an American would more naturally write "the
administration is." Another more recent Briticism is the growing habit
of dropping the article, and saying that "ministers are," meaning
thereby that the cabinet as a whole is about to take action. As yet I
have not seen "ministers is," but even this barbaric locution bids fair
to be reached in course of time. It must be admitted that the
terminology of politics is independent in its tendencies, and frequently
"breaks the slate" of the regular grammar. It was the speech-making of
an American Senator which appeared to the late George T. Lanigan as "a
foretaste of that grammatical millennium when the singular verb shall
lie down with the plural noun, and a little conjunction shall lead

Perhaps the two most frequent Briticisms and the most obvious are the
use of _different to_ where the American more appropriately and
logically says _different from_, and the employment of _directly_ and
its synonym _immediately_ for _as soon as_ in such phrases as "directly
he arrived, he did thus." Even Thackeray, in his most carefully written
and most artistic novel, allowed Henry Esmond to write _instantly_ for
_as soon as_, whereby he was guilty also of an anachronism, as this
blunder is a Briticism of comparatively recent origin, and is not yet to
be found in the pages of any American author of authority. It is
perhaps worthy of note that in that triumph of psychologic insight
_Barry Lyndon_, which also is written in the first person, we find
_like_ for _as_, much as though it were a Hibernicism, which we do not
understand it to be.

I am informed and believe--for in matters of language I prefer to
testify on information and belief only, and not to make affidavit of my
own knowledge, necessarily circumscribed by individual experience--I am
informed and believe that an Englishman says _lift_ where we say
_elevator_, and that he calls that man an _agricultural laborer_ whom an
American would term a _farm hand_. In the one case the Briticism is the
shorter, and in the other the Americanism. I am told that an Englishman
calls for a _tin_ of condensed milk, when an American would ask for a
_can_, and that an Englishman even ventures to taste _tinned_ meat,
which we Americans would suspect to be tainted by the metal, although we
have no prejudice against _canned_ meats. I understand that an
Englishman _stops_ at a hotel at which an American would _stay_. I have
been led to believe that an Englishwoman of fashion will go to a
_swagger function_, at which she will expect to meet _no end_ of
_smart_ people, meaning thereby not clever folks, but _swells_. I have
heard that an Englishman speaks of a _wire_, meaning a _telegram_; and I
know that an English friend of mine in New York received a letter from
his sister in London, bidding him hold himself in readiness to cross the
Atlantic at a day's notice, and informing him that he might "have to
come over on a _wire_." To an American, going over the ocean "on a wire"
seems an unusual mode of travelling, and too Blondin-like to be
attempted by less expert acrobats.

The point half-way between us and our adversary seems nearer to him; but
this is an optical delusion, just as the jet of water in the centre of a
fountain appears closer to the other side than to ours. So it is not
easy for any one on either shore of the Atlantic to be absolutely
impartial in considering the speech of those on the other. An American
with a sense of the poetic cannot but prefer to the imported word
_autumn_ the native and more logical word _fall_, which the British have
strangely suffered to drop into disuse. An American conscious of the
fact that _cunning_ is frequent in the mouths of his fair countrywomen,
and that it is sadly wrenched from its true significance, is aware also
that the British are trying to cramp our mother-tongue by limiting _bug_
to a single offensive species, by giving to _bloody_ an ulterior
significance as of semi-profanity, and by restricting _sick_ to a single
form of physical wretchedness, forgetful that Peter's wife's mother once
lay sick of a fever, and that an officer in her Majesty's service may
even now go home on sick leave. The ordinary and broader use of _sick_
is not as uncommon in England as some British critics affect to think. I
have heard an Englishman defend the use of _I feel bad_ for _I feel
ill_, on the ground that he employed the former phrase only when he was
sick enough to be above all thought of grammar.

We Americans have extended the meaning of _transom_, which, strictly
speaking, was the bar across the top of a door under the fanlight
itself. This American enlargement of the meaning of _transom_ has not
found favor at the hands of British critics, who did not protest in any
way against the British restriction of the meaning of _bug_, _bloody_,
and _sick_. Indeed, in the very number of the London weekly review in
which we could read a protest against Mr. Howells's employment of
_transom_ in its more modern American meaning was to be seen an
advertisement of a journalist in want of a job, and vaunting himself as
expert in the writing of _leaderettes_. Surely _leaderette_ is as
unlovely a vocable as one could find in a Sabbath day's reading; and,
moreover, it is almost unintelligible to an American, who calls that an
_editorial_ which the Englishman calls a _leader_, and who would term
that an _editorial paragraph_ which the Englishman terms a _leaderette_.
Another sentence plucked from the pages of the _Saturday Review_ about
the same time is also almost incomprehensible to the ordinary American:
"But he is so brilliant and so much by way of being complete that they
will be few who read his book and do not wish to know more of him." From
the context we may hazard a guess that so much by way of being is here
synonymous with _almost_. But what would Lindley Murray say to so vile a
phrase?--that Lindley Murray whom the British invoke so often, ignoring
or ignorant of the fact that he was an American. Holding with the late
Richard Grant White that ours is really a grammarless tongue, and
distrusting all efforts of school-masters to strait-jacket our speech
into formulas borrowed from the Latin, I for one should be quite willing
to abandon Lindley Murray to the British. It is not the first time that
an American weed has been exhibited in England as a horticultural
beauty; our common way-side mullein, for example, is cherished across
the Atlantic as the "American velvet plant."

Other divergencies of usage may perhaps deserve a passing word. It is an
Americanism to call him _clever_ whom we deem good-natured only; and it
is a Briticism to call that entertainment _smart_ which we consider very
fashionable; and of the two the Briticism seems the more natural
outgrowth. So also the British _terminus_ of Latin origin is better than
the American _depot_ of French origin; it is a wonder that so uncouth an
absurdity as _depot_ ever got into use when we had at hand the natural
word _station_.

Sometimes the difference between the Americanism and Briticism is very
slight. In America _coal_ is put on the grate in the singular, while in
England _coals_ are put in the grate in the plural. In the United States
_beets_ are served at table as a vegetable, while in Great Britain _beet
root_ is served. Oddly enough, the British do not say _potato root_ or
_carrot root_ when they order either of those esculents to be cooked,
and as the American usage seems the more logical, perhaps it is more
likely to prevail.

Sometimes--and indeed one might say often--a word or a usage is
denounced by some British critic without due examination of the evidence
on its behalf. Professor Freeman, for example, who is frequently finicky
in his choice of words, objected strongly to the use of _metropolis_ as
descriptive of the chief city of a country, rather restricting the word
to its more ecclesiastical significance as a cathedral town, and Mr.
Skeat has admitted the validity of the objection. But Mr. R. O.
Williams, in his recent suggestive paper on "Good English for
Americans," informs us that _metropolis_ was employed to indicate the
most important city of the State by Macaulay, an author most careful in
the use of words, and by De Quincey, a purist of the strictest sect.
Nay, more, he even finds _metropolis_ thus taken in the prose of
Addison and in the verse of Milton.

In like manner Dr. Fitzedward Hall had no difficulty in showing that
_reliable_, often objurgated as an Americanism, is to be found in a
letter written in 1624 by one Richard Montagu, afterwards a bishop, and
that it owes its introduction into literature to Coleridge, who used it
in 1800. Dr. Hall has also shown that _scientist_, which Mr. A. J. Ellis
saw fit to denounce as an "American barbaric trisyllable," was first
used by an Englishman, Dr. Whewell, in 1840. One of the abiding
advantages of the _New English Dictionary_ of the Philological
Society--an advantage which may more than counterbalance the
carelessness with which its quotations have been verified--is that its
columns can be used to convince even the ordinary British critic that
many a word and many an expression which he is prompt to condemn as an
Americanism, and therefore pestilent, is to be found in the literature
of our language long before the Declaration of Independence broke the
political unity of the Anglo-Saxon race. And although a negative is
always difficult of proof, this same _New English Dictionary_ gives
evidence in behalf of the late Mr. White's contention that _Britisher_
is not an Americanism, but a Briticism; he said that the word was never
heard in the mouth of an American, and, as it happens, Dr. Murray is not
able to adduce in its behalf a single quotation from any American

The effort for precision, the desire to make a word do no more than is
set down for it, the wish to have warrant for every syllable, is neither
despicable nor futile. It is only by taking thought that language can be
bent to do our will. The sparse vocabulary and the rude idioms of the
shepherd or the teamster are inadequate to the needs of the poet and of
the student. The ideal of style is said to be the speech of the people
in the mouth of the scholar. And Walter Bagehot, in his essay on "Sterne
and Thackeray"--one of the few of his papers which have art and form as
well as sympathy and insight--declares that "how language was first
invented and made we may not know, but beyond doubt it was shaped and
fashioned into its present state by common ordinary men and women using
it for common and ordinary purposes. They wanted a carving-knife, not a
razor or lancet; and those great artists who have to use language for
more exquisite purposes, who employ it to describe changing sentiments
and momentary fancies, and the fluctuating and indefinite inner world,
must use curious nicety and hidden but effectual artifice, else they
cannot duly punctuate their thoughts and slice the fine edges of their
reflections. A hair's breadth is as important to them as a yard's
breadth to a common workman."

To put so sharp a point upon his style, the artist in words must choose
his material with unfaltering care. He must select and store away in his
scrip the best words. He must free his vocabulary from clumsy localisms,
whether these be Americanisms or Briticisms. He must be true to the
inherent and vital principles of our language, not yielding to temporary
defections from the truth, whether these flourish in Great Britain or in
the United States.

It cannot be said too often that there is no basis for the belief that
somewhere there exists a sublimated English language, perfect and
impeccable. This is the flawless ideal to which all artists in style
strive vainly to attain, whether they are Englishmen or Americans,
Australians or Canadians, Irish or Scotch. But nowhere is this speech
without stain spoken by man in his daily life--not in London, where
cockneyisms abound, not in Oxford, where university slang is luxuriant
and where pedantry flourishes. Nowhere has this pure and undefiled
language ever been spoken by any community. Nowhere will it ever be
spoken other than by a few men here and there gifted by nature or
trained by art. The speech of the people in the mouth of the scholar,
that is the absolute ideal which no man can find by travel, and which
every man must make for himself by toil, avoiding alike the tendency of
the people towards slouching inaccuracy and the tendency of the scholar
towards academic frigidity. Of the two, the more wholesome leaning is
towards the forcible idioms of the plain people rather than the tamer
precision of the student. The wild flowers of speech, plucked betimes
with the dew still on them, humble and homely and touching, such as we
find in Franklin and in Emerson, in Lowell and in Thoreau, are to be
preferred infinitely before the waxen petals of rhetoric as a
school-master arranges them. The grammarian, the purist, the pernicketty
stickler for trifles, is the deadly foe of good English, rich in idioms
and racy of the soil. Every man who has taught himself to know good
English and to love it and to delight in it, must sympathize with
Professor Lounsbury's lack of admiration "for that grammar-school
training which consists in teaching the pupil how much more he knows
about our tongue than the great masters who have moulded it, which
practically sets up the claim that the only men who are able to write
English properly are the men who have never shown any capacity to write
it at all."

As to the English of the future, who knows what the years may bring
forth? The language is alive and growing and extending on all sides, to
the grief of the purist and the pedant, who prefer a dead language that
they can dissect at will, and that has come to the end of its
usefulness. The existence of Briticisms and of Americanisms and of
Australianisms is a sign of healthy vitality. "Neither usage," said
Professor Freeman, after contrasting certain Americanisms and
Briticisms, "can be said to be in itself better or worse than the
other. Each usage is the better in the land in which it has grown up of
itself." An unprejudiced critic, if such a one could haply be found,
would probably discover an equality of blemish on either side of the
ocean--more precision and pedantry on the one side, and a more daring
carelessness on the other. To declare a single standard of speech is

That there will ever be any broad divergence between the English
language and American speech, such, for example, as differentiates the
Portuguese from the Spanish, is now altogether unlikely. A divergence as
wide as this has been impossible since the invention of printing, and it
is even less possible since the school-master has been abroad teaching
the same A B C in London, New York, Sydney, and Calcutta. Although it
has ceased absolutely to be British, the chief literature of North
America is still English, and must remain so, just as the chief
literature of South America is still Spanish. Señor Juan Valera,
declaring this truth in the preface to his delightful _Pepita Ximenez_,
reminds us that "the literature of Syracuse, of Antioch, and of
Alexandria was as much Greek literature as was the literature of
Athens." In like manner we may recall the fact that Lucan, Seneca,
Martial, and Quintilian were all of them Spaniards by birth.

That any one country shall remain or become at once the political,
financial, and literary centre of the wide series of Anglo-Saxon States
which now encircles the globe is almost equally unlikely. But we may be
sure that that branch of our Anglo-Saxon stock will use the best
English, and will perhaps see its standards of speech accepted by the
other branches, which is most vigorous physically, mentally, and
morally, which has the most intelligence, and which knows its duty best
and does it most fearlessly.



When the author of "The Cathedral" was accosted by the wandering
Englishmen within the lofty aisles of Chartres, he cracked a joke,

    "Whereat they stared, then laughed, and we were friends,
    The seas, the wars, the centuries interposed,
    Abolished in the truce of common speech
    And mutual comfort of the mother-tongue."

In this common speech other Englishmen are not always ready to
acknowledge the full rights of Lowell's countryman. They would put us
off with but a younger brother's portion of the mother-tongue, seeming
somehow to think that they are more closely related to the common parent
than we are. But Orlando, the younger son of Sir Rowland du Bois, was no
villain; and though we have broken with the father-land, the
mother-tongue is none the less our heritage. Indeed we need not care
whether the division _per stirpes_ or _per capita_, our share is not the
less in either case.

Beneath the impotent protests which certain British newspapers are prone
to make every now and again against the "American language" as a whole,
and against the stray Americanism which has happened last to invade
England, there is a tacit assumption that we Americans are outer
barbarians, mere strangers, wickedly tampering with something which
belongs to the British exclusively. And the outcry against the "American
language" is not as shrill nor as piteous as the shriek of horror with
which certain of the journals of London greet "American spelling," a
hideous monster, which they feared was ready to devour them as soon as
the international copyright bill should become law. In the midst of
every discussion of the effect of the copyright act in Great Britain,
the bugbear of "American spelling" reared its grisly head. The London
_Times_ declared that English publishers would never put any books into
type in the United States because the people of England would never
tolerate the peculiarities of orthography which prevailed in American
printing-offices. The _St. James's Gazette_ promptly retorted that
"already newspapers in London are habitually using the ugliest forms of
American spelling, and those silly eccentricities do not make the
slightest difference in their circulation." The _Times_ and the _St.
James's Gazette_ might differ as to the effect of the copyright act on
the profits of the printers of England, but they agreed heartily as to
the total depravity of "American spelling." I think that any
disinterested foreigner who might chance to hear these violent outcries
would suppose that English orthography was as the law of the Medes and
Persians, which altereth not; he would be justified in believing that
the system of spelling now in use in Great Britain was hallowed by the
Established Church, and in some way mysteriously connected with the
State religion. Indeed, no other explanation would suffice to account
for the vigor, the violence, and the persistency of the protests.

Just what the British newspapers are afraid of it is not easy to say and
it is difficult to declare just what they mean when they talk of
"American spelling." Probably they do not refer to the improvements in
orthography suggested by the first great American--Benjamin Franklin.
Possibly they do refer to the modifications in the accepted spelling
proposed by another American, Noah Webster--not so great, and yet not to
be named slightingly by any one who knows how fertile his labors have
been for the good of the whole country. Noah Webster, so his biographer,
Mr. Scudder, tells us, "was one of the first to carry a spirit of
democracy into letters.... Throughout his work one may detect a
confidence in the common-sense of the people which was as firm as
Franklin's." But the innovations of Webster were hesitating and often
inconsistent; and the most of them have been abandoned by later editors
of Webster's _American Dictionary of the English Language_.

What, then, do British writers mean when they animadvert upon "American
spelling?" So far as I have been able to discover, the British
journalists object to certain minor labor-saving improvements of
American orthography, such as the dropping of the _k_ from _almanack_,
the omission of one _g_ from _waggon_, and the like; and they protest
with double force, with all the strength that in them lies, against the
substitution of a single _l_ for a double _l_ in such words as
_traveller_, against the omission of the _u_ from such words as
_honour_, against the substitution of an _s_ for a _c_ in such words as
_defence_, and against the transposing of the final two letters of such
words as _theatre_. The objection to "American spelling" may lie deeper
than I have here suggested, and it may have a wider application; but I
have done my best to state it fully and fairly as I have deduced it from
a painful perusal of many columns of exacerbated British writing.

Now if I have succeeded in stating honestly the extent of the British
journalistic objections to "American spelling," the unprejudiced reader
may be moved to ask: "Is this all? Are these few and slight and
unimportant changes the cause of this mighty commotion?" One may agree
with Sainte-Beuve in thinking that "orthography is the beginning of
literature," without discovering in these modifications from the
Johnsonian canon any cause for extreme disgust. And since I have quoted
Sainte-Beuve once, I venture to cite him again, and to take from the
same letter of March 15, 1867, his suggestion that "if we write more
correctly, let it be to express especially honest feelings and just

Feelings may be honest though they are violent, but irritation is not
the best frame of mind for just thinking. The tenacity with which some
of the newspapers of London are wont to defend the accepted British
orthography is perhaps due rather to feeling than to thought. Lowell
told us that esthetic hatred burned nowadays with as fierce a flame as
ever once theological hatred; and any American who chances to note the
force and the fervor and the frequency of the objurgations against
"American spelling" in the columns of the _Saturday Review_, for
example, and of the _Athenæum_, may find himself wondering as to the
date of the papal bull which declared the infallibility of contemporary
British orthography, and as to the place where the council of the Church
was held at which it was made an article of faith.

The _Saturday Review_ and the _Athenæum_, highly pitched as their voices
are, yet are scarcely shriller in their cry to arms against the
possible invasion of the sanctity of British orthography by "American
spelling" than is the London _Times_, the solid representative of
British thought, the mighty organ-voice of British feeling. Yet the
_Times_ is not without orthographic eccentricities of its own, as
Matthew Arnold took occasion to point out. In his essay on the "Literary
Influence of Academies," he asserts that "every one has noticed the way
in which the _Times_ chooses to spell the word _diocese_; it always
spells it _diocess_, deriving it, I suppose, from _Zeus_ and
_census_.... Imagine an educated Frenchman indulging himself in an
orthographical antic of this sort!"

When we read what is written in the _Times_ and the _Saturday Review_
and the _Athenæum_, sometimes in set articles on the subject, and even
more often in casual and subsidiary slurs in the course of book-reviews,
we wonder at the vehemence of the feeling displayed. If we did not know
that ancient abuses are often defended with more vigor and with louder
shouts than inheritances of less doubtful worth, we might suppose that
the present spelling of the English language was in a condition
perfectedly satisfactory alike to scholar and to student. Such, however,
is not the case. The leading philologists of Great Britain and of the
United States have repeatedly denounced English spelling as it now is on
both sides of the Atlantic. Professor Max Müller at Oxford is no less
emphatic than Professor Whitney at Yale. There is now living no scholar
of any repute who any longer defends the orthodox and ordinary
orthography of the English language.

The fact is that a little learning is quite as dangerous a thing now as
it was in Pope's day. Those who are volubly denouncing "American
spelling" in the columns of British journals are not students of the
history of English speech; they are not scholars in English; in so far
as they know anything of the language, they are but amateur
philologists. As a well-known writer on spelling reform once neatly
remarked, "The men who get their etymology by inspiration are like the
poor in that we have them always with us." Although few of them are as
ignorant and dense as the unknown unfortunate who first tortured the
obviously jocular _Welsh rabbit_ into a pedantic and impossible _Welsh
rarebit_, still the most of their writing serves no good purpose; to
quote the apt illustration of a Western humorist, "It has as little
influence as the _p_ in _pneumonia_." Nor do we discover in these
specimens of British journalism that abundant urbanity which etymology
might lead us to look for in the writing of inhabitants of so large a
city as London.

Any one who takes the trouble to inform himself on the subject will soon
discover that it is only the half-educated man who defends the
contemporary orthography of the English language, and who denounces the
alleged "American spelling" of _center_ and _honor_. The uneducated
reader may wonder perchance what the _g_ is doing in _sovereign_; the
half-educated reader discerns in the _g_ a connecting link between the
English _sovereign_ and the Latin _regno_; the well-educated reader
knows that there is no philological connection whatever between _regno_
and _sovereign_.

The most of those who write with ease in British journals, deploring the
prevalence of "American spelling," have never carried their education
so far as to acquire that foundation of wisdom which prevents a man from
expressing an opinion on subjects as to which he is ignorant. The object
of education, it has been said, is to make a man know what he knows, and
also to know how much he does not know. Despite the close sympathy
between the intellectual pursuits, a student of optics is not qualified
to express an opinion in esthetics; and on the other hand, a critic of
art may easily be ignorant of science. Now literature is one of the
arts, and philology is a science. Though men of letters have to use
words as the tools of their trade, orthography is none the less a branch
of philology, and philology does not come by nature. Literature may even
exist without writing, and therefore without spelling. Homer, the
trouvères, and the minnesingers practised their art perhaps without the
aid of letters. Writing, indeed, has no necessary connection with
literature, still less has orthography. A literary critic is rarely a
scientific student of language; he has no need to be; but being
ignorant, it is the part of modesty for him not to expose his
ignorance. To boast of it is unseemly.

Far be it from me to appear as the defender of the "American spelling"
which the British journalists denounce. This "American spelling" is less
absurd than the British spelling only in so far as it has varied
therefrom. Even in these variations there is abundant absurdity. Once
upon a time most words that now are spelled with a final _c_ had an
added _k_. Even now both British and American usage retains this _k_ in
_hammock_, although both British and Americans have dropped the needless
letter from _havoc_; while the British retain the _k_ at the end of
_almanack_ and the Americans have dropped it. Dr. Johnson was a
reactionary in orthography as in politics; and in his dictionary he
wilfully put a final _k_ to words like _optick_, without being generally
followed by the publick--as he would have spelled it. Music was then
_musick_, although, even as late as Aubrey's time, it had been
_musique_. In our own day we are witnessing the very gradual
substitution of the logical _technic_ for the form originally imported
from France--_technique_. As yet, so far as I have observed, no
attempts have been made to modify the foreign spelling of _clique_ and

I am inclined to think that technic is replacing _technique_ more
rapidly--or should I say less slowly?--in the United States than in
Great Britain. We Americans like to assimilate our words and to make
them our own, while the British have rather a fondness for foreign
phrases. A London journalist recently held up to public obloquy as an
"ignorant Americanism" the word _program_, although he would have found
it set down in Professor Skeat's _Etymological Dictionary_. "_Programme_
was taken from the French," so a recent writer reminds us, "and in
violation of analogy, seeing that, when it was imported into English, we
had already _anagram_, _cryptogram_, _diogram_, _epigram_, etc." The
logical form _program_ is not common even in America, and British
writers seem to prefer the French form, as British speakers still give a
French pronunciation to _charade_, which in America has long since been
accepted frankly as an English word. So we find Mr. Andrew Lang, in his
_Angling Sketches_, referring to the _asphalte_: surely in our language
the word is either _asphaltum_ or _asphalt_.

Here, if the excursus may be permitted, I should like to note also that
the American willingness to acknowledge the English language as good
enough for the ordinary purposes of speech shows itself in our
acceptance of certain words of foreign origin as now fully naturalized,
and therefore so to be treated. The Americans are inclined to consider
that _formula_, for example, and _criterion_ and _memorandum_ and
_cherub_ and _bureau_ are now good English words, forming their plurals
by the addition of an _s_. Our first cousins, once removed, across the
Atlantic seem to be still in doubt; and therefore we find them making
the plurals of these words in accordance with the rules of the various
languages from which the several words were derived. So in British books
we meet the Latin plurals, _formulæ_ and _memoranda_; the Greek plural,
_criteria_; the Hebrew plural, _cherubim_; and the French plural,
_bureaux_. Oddly enough, the writers who use these foreign plurals are
unwilling to admit that the word thus modified is a foreign word, for
more often than not they print it without italics, although frankly
foreign words are carefully italicized. Possibly it is idle to look for
any logic in anything which has to do with modern English orthography on
either side of the ocean.

Perhaps, however, there is less even than ordinary logic in the British
journalist's objection to the so-called "American spelling" of _meter_;
for why should any one insist on _metre_ while unhesitatingly accepting
its compound _diameter_? Mr. John Bellows, in the preface to his
inestimable French-English and English-French pocket dictionary, one of
the very best books of reference ever published, informs us that "the
Act of Parliament legalizing the use of the metric system in this
country [England] gives the words meter, liter, gram, etc., spelled on
the American plan." Perhaps now that the sanction of law has been given
to this spelling, the final _er_ will drive out the _re_ which has
usurped its place. In one of the last papers that he wrote, Lowell
declared that "_center_ is no Americanism; it entered the language in
that shape, and kept it at least as late as Defoe." "In the sixteenth
and in the first half of the seventeenth century," says Professor
Lounsbury, "while both ways of writing these words existed side by side,
the termination _er_ is far more common than that in _re_. The first
complete edition of Shakespeare's plays was published in 1623. In that
work _sepulcher_ occurs thirteen times; it is spelled eleven times with
_er_. _Scepter_ occurs thirty-seven times; it is not once spelled with
_re_, but always with _er_. _Center_ occurs twelve times, and in nine
instances out of the twelve it ends in _er_." So we see that this
so-called "American spelling" is fully warranted by the history of the
English language. It is amusing to note how often a wider and a deeper
study of English will reveal that what is suddenly denounced in Great
Britain as the very latest Americanism, whether this be a variation in
speech or in spelling, is shown to be really a survival of a previous
usage of our language, and authorized by a host of precedents.

Of course it is idle to kick against the pricks of progress, and no
doubt in due season Great Britain and her colonial dependencies will be
content again to spell words that end in _er_ as Shakespeare and Ben
Jonson and Spenser spelled them. But when we get so far towards the
orthographic millennium that we all spell _sepulcher_, the ghost of
Thomas Campbell will groan within the grave at the havoc then wrought in
the final line of "Hohenlinden," which will cease to end with even the
outward semblance of a rhyme to the eye. We all know that

    "On Linden, when the sun was low,
    All bloodless lay the untrodden snow,
    And dark as winter was the flow
      Of Iser, rolling rapidly,"

and those of us who have persevered may remember that with one exception
every fourth line of Campbell's poem ends with a y--the words are
_rapidly_, _scenery_, _revelry_, _artillery_, _canopy_, and
_chivalry_--not rhymes of surpassing distinction, any of them, but
perhaps passable to a reader who will humor the final syllable. The one
exception is the final line of the poem--

    "Shall be a soldier's _sepulchre_."

To no man's ear did _sepulchre_ ever rhyme justly with _chivalry_ and
_canopy_ and _artillery_, although Campbell may have so contorted his
vision that he evoked the dim spook of a rhyme in his mind's eye. A
rhyme to the eye is a sorry thing at best, and it is sorriest when it
depends on an inaccurate and evanescent orthography.

Dr. Johnson was as illogical in his keeping in and leaving out of the
_u_ in words like _honor_ and _governor_ as he was in many other things;
and the makers of later dictionaries have departed widely from his
practice, those in Great Britain still halting half-way, while those in
the United States have gone on to the bitter end. The illogic of the
great lexicographer is shown in his omission of the _u_ from _exterior_
and _posterior_, and his retention of it in the kindred words
_interiour_ and _anteriour_; this, indeed, seems like wilful perversity,
and justifies flood's merry jest about "Dr. Johnson's Contradictionary."
The half-way measures of later British lexicographers are shown in their
omission of the _u_ from words which Dr. Johnson spelled _emperour_,
_governour_, _oratour_, _horrour_, and _dolour_, while still retaining
it in _favour_ and _honour_ and a few others.

The reason for his disgust generally given by the London man of letters
who is annoyed by the "American spelling" of _honor_ and _favor_ is that
these words are not derived directly from the Latin, but indirectly
through the French; this is the plea put forward by the late Archbishop
Trench. Even if this plea were pertinent, the application of this theory
is not consistent in current British orthography, which prescribes the
omission of the _u_ from _error_ and _emperor_, and its retention in
_colour_ and _honour_--although all four words are alike derived from
the Latin through the French. And this plea fails absolutely to account
for the _u_ which the British insist on preserving in _harbour_ and in
_neighbour_, words not derived from the Latin at all, whether directly
or indirectly through the French. An American may well ask, "If the _u_
in _honour_ teaches etymology, what does the _u_ in _harbour_ teach?"
There is no doubt that the _u_ in _harbour_ teaches a false etymology;
and there is no doubt also that the _u_ in _honour_ has been made to
teach a false etymology, for Trench's derivation of this final _our_
from the French _eur_ is absurd, as the old French was _our_, and
sometimes _ur_, sometimes even _or_. Pseudo-philology of this sort is no
new thing. Professor Max Müller tells us that the Roman prigs used to
spell _cena_ (to show their knowledge of Greek), _coena_, as if the
word were somehow connected with [Greek: koinê].

Thus we see that the _u_ in _honour_ suggests a false etymology; so does
the _ue_ in _tongue_, and the _g_ in _sovereign_, and the _c_ in
_scent_, and the _s_ in _island_, and the _mp_ in _comptroller_, and the
_h_ in _rhyme_; and there are many more of our ordinary orthographies
which are quite as misleading from a philological point of view. As
Professor Hadley mildly put it, "our common spelling is often an
untrustworthy guide to etymology." But why should we expect or desire
spelling to be a guide to etymology? If it is to be a guide at all, we
may fairly insist on its being trustworthy, and so we cannot help
thinking scorn of those who insist on retaining a superfluous _u_ in

But why should orthography be made subservient to etymology? What have
the two things in common? They exist for wholly different ends, to be
attained by wholly different means. To bend either from its own work to
the aid of the other is to impair the utility of both. This truth is
recognized by all etymologists, and by all students of language,
although it has not yet found acceptance among men of letters, who are
rarely students of language in the scientific sense. "It may be
observed," Mr. Sweet declares, "that it is mainly among the class of
half-taught dabblers in philology that etymological spelling has found
its supporters;" and he goes on to say that "all true philologists and
philological bodies have uniformly denounced it as a monstrous absurdity
both from a practical and a scientific point of view." I should never
dare to apply to the late Archbishop Trench and the London journalists
who echo his errors so harsh a phrase as Mr. Sweet's "half-taught
dabblers in philology;" but when a fellow-Englishman uses it perhaps I
may venture to quote it without reproach.

As I have said before, the alleged "American spelling" differs but very
slightly from that which prevails in England. A wandering New-Yorker who
rambles through London is able to collect now and again evidences of
orthographic survivals which give him a sudden sense of being in an
older country than his own. I have seen a man whose home was near
Gramercy Park stop short in the middle of a little street in Mayfair,
and point with ecstatic delight to the strip of paper across the glass
door of a bar proclaiming that CYDER was sold within. I have seen the
same man thrill with pure joy before the shop of a _chymist_ in the
window of which _corn-plaisters_ were offered for sale. And this same
New-Yorker was carried back across the years when he noted the extra _g_
in the British _waggon_--an orthographic fifth wheel, if ever there was
one; he smiled at the _k_ which lingers at the end of the British
_almanack_; he wondered why a British house should have _storeys_ when
an American house has _stories_; and he disliked intensely the wanton
_e_ wherewith British printers have recently disfigured _form_ which in
the latest London typographical vocabularies appears as _forme_. This
_e_ in _form_ is a gratuitous addition, and therefore contrary to the
trend of spelling reform, which aims at the suppression of all arbitrary
and needless letters. Most of the American modifications of the
Johnsonian orthography have been labor-saving devices, like the dropping
of _u_ in _color_ and of one _l_ in _traveler_, in an effort at
simplification, and in accord with the irresistible tendency of mankind
to cut across lots.

The so-called "American spelling" differs from the spelling which
obtains in England only in so far as it has yielded a little more
readily to the forces which make for progress, for uniformity, for
logic, for common-sense. But just how fortuitous and chaotic the
condition of English spelling is nowadays both in Great Britain and in
the United States no man knows who has not taken the trouble to
investigate for himself. In England, the reactionary orthography of
Samuel Johnson is no longer accepted by all. In America, the
revolutionary orthography of Noah Webster has been receded from even by
his own inheritors. There is no standard, no authority, not even that of
a powerful, resolute, and domineering personality.

Perhaps the attitude of philologists towards the present spelling of the
English language, and their opinion of those who are up in arms in
defence of it, have never been more tersely stated than in Professor
Lounsbury's recent and most admirable _Studies in Chaucer_, a work which
I should term eminently scholarly, if that phrase did not perhaps give
a false impression of a book wherein the results of learning are set
forth with the most adroit literary art, and with an uninsistent but
omnipresent humor, which is a constant delight to the reader:

"There is certainly nothing more contemptible than our present spelling,
unless it be the reasons usually given for clinging to it. The divorce
which has unfortunately almost always existed between English letters
and English scholarship makes nowhere a more pointed exhibition of
itself than in the comments which men of real literary ability make upon
proposals to change or modify the cast-iron framework in which our words
are now clothed. On one side there is an absolute agreement of view on
the part of those who are authorized by their knowledge of the subject
to pronounce an opinion. These are well aware that the present
orthography hides the history of the word instead of revealing it; that
it is a stumbling-block in the way of derivation or of pronunciation
instead of a guide to it; that it is not in any sense a growth or
development, but a mechanical malformation, which owes its existence to
the ignorance of early printers and the necessity of consulting the
convenience of printing-offices. This consensus of scholars makes the
slightest possible impression upon men of letters throughout the whole
great Anglo-Saxon community. There is hardly one of them who is not
calmly confident of the superiority of his opinion to that of the most
famous special students who have spent years in examining the subject.
There is hardly one of them who does not fancy he is manifesting a noble
conservatism by holding fast to some spelling peculiarly absurd, and
thereby maintaining a bulwark against the ruin of the tongue. There is
hardly one of them who has any hesitation in discussing the question in
its entirety, while every word he utters shows that he does not even
understand its elementary principles. There would be something
thoroughly comic in turning into a fierce international dispute the
question of spelling _honor_ without the _u_, were it not for the
depression which every student of the language cannot well help feeling
in contemplating the hopeless abysmal ignorance of the history of the
tongue which any educated man must first possess in order to become
excited over the subject at all." (_Studies in Chaucer_, vol. iii., pp.

Pronunciation is slowly but steadily changing. Sometimes it is going
further and further away from the orthography; for example, _either_ and
_neither_ are getting more and more to have in their first syllable the
long _i_ sound instead of the long _e_ sound which they had once.
Sometimes it is being modified to agree with the orthography; for
example, the older pronunciations of _again_ to rhyme with _men_, and of
_been_ to rhyme with _pin_, in which I was carefully trained as a boy,
seem to me to be giving way before a pronunciation in exact accord with
the spelling, _again_ to rhyme with _pain_, and _been_ to rhyme with
_seen_. These two illustrations are from the necessarily circumscribed
experience of a single observer, and the observation of others may not
bear me out in my opinion; but though the illustrations fall to the
ground, the main assertion, that pronunciation is changing, is

No doubt the change is less rapid than it was before the invention of
printing; far less rapid than it was before the days of the
public-school and of the morning newspaper. There are variations of
pronunciation in different parts of the United States and of Great
Britain as there are variations of vocabulary; but in the future there
will be a constantly increasing tendency for these variations to
disappear. There are irresistible forces making for uniformity--forces
which are crushing out Platt-Deutsch in Germany, Provençal in France,
Romansch in Switzerland. There is a desire to see a standard set up to
which all may strive to conform. In France a standard of pronunciation
is found at the performances of the Comédie Française; and in Germany,
what is almost a standard of vocabulary has been set in what is now
known as _Bühne-Deutsch_.

In France the Academy was constituted chiefly to be a guardian of the
language; and the Academy, properly conservative as it needs must be, is
engaged in a slow reform of French orthography, yielding to the popular
demand decorously and judiciously. By official action, also, the
orthography of German has been simplified and made more logical and
brought into closer relation with modern pronunciation. Even more
thorough reforms have been carried through in Italy, in Spain, and in
Holland. Yet neither French nor German, not Italian, Spanish, or Dutch,
stood half as much in need of the broom of reform as English, for in no
one of these languages were there so many dark corners which needed
cleaning out; in no one of them the difference between orthography and
pronunciation as wide; and in no one of them was the accepted spelling
debased by numberless false etymologies. Sometimes it seems as though
our orthography is altogether vile; that it is most intolerable and not
to be endured; that it calls not for the broom of reform, but rather for
the besom of destruction.

For any elaborate and far-reaching scheme of spelling reform, seemingly,
the time has not yet come, although, for all we know, we may be
approaching it all unwittingly, as few of us in 1860 foresaw the
Emancipation Proclamation of 1863. In the mean while, what is needed on
both sides of the Atlantic, in the United States as well as in Great
Britain, is a conviction that the existing orthography of English is not
sacred, and that to tamper with it is not high-treason. What is needed
is the consciousness that neither Samuel Johnson nor Noah Webster
compiled his dictionary under direct inspiration. What is needed is an
awakening to the fact that our spelling, so far from being immaculate at
its best, is, at its best, hardly less absurd than the hap-hazard,
rule-of-thumb, funnily phonetic spelling of Artemus Ward and of Josh
Billings. What is needed is anything which will break up the lethargy of
satisfaction with the accepted orthography, and help to open the eyes of
readers and writers to the stupidity of the present system and tend to
make them discontented with it.

So the few and slight divergences between the orthography obtaining in
Great Britain and the orthography obtaining in the United States are not
to be deplored. The _cyder_ on the door of the London bar-room and the
_catalog_ in the pages of the New York _Library Journal_ both subserve
the useful purpose of making people alive to the possibilities of an
amended orthography. Thus the so-called "American spelling" helps along
a good cause--and so, also, do the British assaults upon it.



On the evening of the Tuesday following the first Monday next November,
after the citizens of the several States shall have cast their ballots
for the candidates of their choice, the boys of New York, in accord with
their immemorial custom on election night, will illuminate the streets
of the city with countless bonfires, not knowing, any of them, that they
are thus commemorating Guy Faux and the discovery of the Gunpowder Plot.
And yet such is the fact, as Doctor Eggleston has ascertained beyond all
question. What British boys are pleased to remember on the 5th of
November, American boys have forgotten, although they keep alive the
memorial fires on the evening of the Tuesday following the first Monday
in November, be that the 5th or not, as the almanac may declare. In
like manner the "dressing up as a Guy" still survives also in New York,
in the parades of the "fantasticals" on Thanksgiving Day--the last
Thursday in November. So hard is it for old customs to die out. Perhaps
the British 5th of November was in its turn a survival of some pagan
rite ignorantly lingering as late as the Gunpowder Plot, and thereafter
identified with the fate of Guy Faux.

We cannot help being the descendants of our ancestors; and no tariff,
however high and however complicated by _ad valorem_ duties, can keep
out of these United States the traditions, the beliefs, the habits, the
feelings of the immigrants whose children we are. That those who have
left a great country, England or France or Germany, should look back to
that country as the centre of light, is natural--perhaps it is
inevitable. But that their children should continue to do so, natural
enough for a while, is not inevitable. Even though the colonist succeeds
in breaking the political tie which binds him to the country whence his
fathers came, there is no real independence unless he lays aside also
the habit of intellectual deference; and that is as arduous, as
difficult, and as long a task as any one ever undertook. None the less
is it absolutely necessary if a people is to speak with its own voice
and not with borrowed tongues--if its independence is to be complete and

In Mr. Henry Cabot Lodge's interesting and stimulant volume called
_Studies in History_ there is no essay more interesting or more
stimulating than that on "Colonialism in the United States." In
two-score pages Mr. Lodge distinguishes colonialism from provincialism,
with which it is sometimes confounded, and then shows how the thirteen
United States, having once been colonies, still breathed the colonial
spirit long after their political independence was fully established. He
recalls the fact that one half of the people disliked Washington's
proclamation of neutrality as between France and Great Britain, because
it seemed "hostile to France," while the other approved of it for the
same reason. We Americans at the beginning of this century were still
engaged in fighting over again all the battles of Europe. But
Washington was an American, not a European, and so was Hamilton; and
they kept us true to the line of our national development.

Even before the Revolution, when "the travelled American, the
_petit-maître_ of the colonies," so Hawthorne reminds us, was "the ape
of London foppery, as the newspaper was the semblance of the London
journals"--even then there were Americans, like Franklin, for example,
who had nothing of the colonist about them, who were at once
cosmopolitan and American. Mr. Lodge is right in calling Franklin's
_Autobiography_ "the corner-stone, the first great work of American

After the War of 1812 the politics of the United States ceased to depend
in any way on the politics of Europe; and our elections began to turn
solely on questions of domestic policy. So our commerce and our
manufactures freed themselves from reliance on England or France. An
unending succession of inventions showed the ingenuity of the American.
In law, the autonomy of the separate States permitted a variety of
juristic experiment, the best results of which have been copied now in
the legislature of Great Britain. "But the colonial spirit"--to quote
Mr. Lodge again--"cast out from our politics and fast disappearing from
business and the professions, still clung closely to literature, which
must always be the best and last expression of a national mode of

The colonial attitude in literature was unwittingly encouraged by
Congress, which, by refusing to pass an international copyright bill,
and thus secure to the British author the control of his own works,
permitted the foreigner to be plundered, and forced the native author to
sell his wares in competition with stolen goods. Sir Henry Sumner Maine
declared--in his work on _Popular Government_ (p. 247)--that the neglect
to give copyright to foreign "writers has condemned the whole American
community to a literary servitude unparalleled in the history of
thought." This, of course, is the violent over-statement of an enemy;
but there was a percentage of truth in it once. To show just what the
American literary attitude was in the early years of this century, Mr.
Lodge instances Cooper's first novel, _Precaution_, now wholly
forgotten, and fortunately, for its characters, its scenery, "its
conventional phrases were all English; worst and most extraordinary of
all, it professed to be by an English author, and was received on that
theory without suspicion." And Mr. Lodge tersely sums up the situation
by saying that "the first step of an American entering upon a literary
career was to pretend to be an Englishman in order that he might win the
approval, not of Englishmen, but of his own countrymen."

Cooper was too good an American to be content with the cast-off garments
of British novelists; and in 1821, a year after the appearance of
_Precaution_, he published _The Spy_, and never thereafter was there any
need for an American novelist to masquerade as an Englishman. Yet his
fellow-countrymen thought to compliment Cooper by calling him "the
American Scott." And more than a quarter of a century later, when Lowell
put forth his _Fable for Critics_ there was abundant colonialism in our
literature, if we may accept the satirist's picture of the mass-meeting

    "The American Bulwers, Disraelis, and Scotts.

    By the way, 'tis a fact that displays what profusions
    Of all kinds of greatness bless free institutions,
    That while the Old World has produced barely eight
    Of such poets as all men agree to call great,
    And of other great characters nearly a score--
    One might safely say less than that rather than more--
    With you every year a whole crop is begotten,
    They're as much of a staple as corn is or cotton;
    Why, there's scarcely a huddle of log-huts and shanties
    That has not brought forth its own Miltons and Dantes;
    I myself know ten Byrons, one Coleridge, three Shelleys,
    Two Raphaels, six Titians (I think), one Apelles,
    Leonardos and Rubenses plenty as lichens,
    One (but that one is plenty) American Dickens,
    A whole flock of Lambs, any number of Tennysons--
    In short, if a man has the luck to have any sons,
    He may feel pretty certain that one out of twain
    Will be some very great person over again."

After Cooper came Hawthorne and Poe, intensely American, both of them,
although in different fashion. In due season Mrs. Stowe brought out one
book which set forth fearlessly a situation undeniably (and most
unfortunately) American. Then came the war, which stiffened our national
consciousness, and by giving us something to be proud of, killed the
earlier habit of brag. Among later story-tellers who study American life
as it is, and without any taint of Briticism, are the author of _The
Adventures of Huckleberry Finn_, the author of _The Rise of Silas
Lapham_, the author of _The Hoosier Schoolmaster_, and the author of
_Old Creole Days_, all aggressively American, all devoid of the
slightest suggestion of colonialism, all possessing a wholesome mistrust
of British traditions, British standards, and British methods. Some of
his fellow-countrymen and contemporaries complained that Cooper was not
proud of being called "the American Scott;" and if we want to see how
far we have travelled away from colonialism of this sort we have only to
imagine the laughter with which Mark Twain would greet any critic who
thought to compliment him by calling him the American Burnand!

That this is an enormous gain is obvious enough. American authors are
now writing for their fellow-countrymen and about their
fellow-countrymen. If, as Matthew Arnold declared, "the end and aim of
all literature is, if one considers it attentively, nothing but that--a
criticism of life," then the literature likely to be most useful, most
invigorating, and most satisfactory to Americans should be a criticism
of life in America. Whether or not the spirit of colonialism still
survives in these United States sufficiently to make the majority of
readers here prefer books of British authorship is a question hardly
worth asking, it seems to me, although there are some, both in London
and in New York, who would answer it in the affirmative. To those of us
who happened to be in London during the closing days of our long
struggle for the Copyright act of 1891 it was obvious that many British
authors believed that unbounded affluence was about to burst upon them.
They accepted Sir Henry Maine's view as to the literary poverty of
America, and apparently did not know that there were American authors
standing ready to supply the American demand as soon as they should be
relieved from an enforced competition with stolen goods.

These British authors thought that the passage of the act opened a
boundless field for them to enter in and take possession of; and no
doubt some of the American opponents of the bill were of the same
opinion. Of course we all see now, what some of us who had studied the
conditions of the book-trade foresaw, that the instant result of the
Copyright act must needs be a decrease in the number of books of British
authorship sold in the United States. As soon as there was only one
authorized publisher engaged in pushing a British book in America, in
the place of a dozen unauthorized publishers forced to a frantic and
cut-throat competition, the British book had to sell on its merits
alone, without the aid of any premium of cheapness. As soon as all books
had to be paid for by the publisher, the book of native authorship had
its natural preference; and now the inferior and doubtful books of
foreign authorship are ceasing to be reprinted here. This is a tendency
which will increase with time, and very properly, since every nation
ought to be able to supply its own second-rate books, and to borrow from
abroad only the best that the foreigner has to offer it. And it cannot
be said too often or too emphatically that the British are foreigners,
and that their ideals in life, in literature, in politics, in taste, in
art, are not our ideals.

The decrease in the proportion of British books published in America,
sharply accelerated, no doubt, by the Copyright act of 1891, has been
going on ever since Cooper published _The Spy_, now more than threescore
years and ten ago. It occurred to me that it would be useful to show
exactly the rate at which the American book had been gaining upon the
British book, and to discover whether the native author had overtaken
the foreigner or was likely to do so. To this end I have considered the
books issued during the past thirty years by two of the leading
publishing houses of America: Messrs. Harper & Brothers, and Messrs.
Houghton, Mifflin & Company. Messrs. Harper & Brothers have always
maintained very close relations with the leading authors of Great
Britain; and to them, far more than to any one other American publishing
house, have the most popular writers of England intrusted the American
editions of their works. Messrs. Houghton, Mifflin & Company, on the
other hand, succeeding to the firms of Ticknor & Fields, and of Fields,
Osgood & Company, have always devoted themselves more especially to
books of American authorship. These two great houses represent different
traditions, and it seemed to me therefore that a comparison of their
present catalogues with their catalogues of thirty years ago would not
be without profit. I have to thank both these firms for their kindly
assistance, without which it would have been impossible for me to
prepare the present paper.

I have been furnished with a list of the books published by Messrs.
Harper & Brothers in the years 1861, 1871, 1881, and 1891; and I propose
to show how the book of American authorship has gained on the book of
British authorship in three decades. From all the lists I begin by
discarding the classic authors of our language. There was scarcely any
American literature before Cooper's _Spy_, and of course all the
glorious roll of English authors who wrote before 1776 are as much a
part of our having as the common law itself. For kindred reasons I throw
out all new editions and all text-books and all school-books.

Making these deductions (and they naturally decrease very much the
apparent number of books published during any one year), we find that in
the year 1861 Messrs. Harper & Brothers issued twenty-four books, of
which fourteen were of British authorship (including George Eliot's
_Silas Marner_) and seven of American authorship (including Motley's
_United Netherlands_ and Mr. Curtis's _Trumps_); three books sent forth
by them were translated from foreign languages.

In 1871 Messrs. Harper & Brothers published fifty-seven books, and of
these thirty-six were of British authorship, twenty were by American
writers, and one was a translation.

In 1881 they sent forth ninety-eight books, of which sixty-six were by
British authors (including some forty-seven numbers of the Franklin
Square Library) and twenty-six were by American authors, while six were
translations from foreign languages. It is to be noted that in 1881 we
were in the very thick of piracy, and that Messrs. Harper & Brothers
were engaged in pushing vigorously the Franklin Square Library, which
they had devised as a weapon to fight the reprinters with.

In 1891 the Copyright act became operative on the 1st of July. During
that year Messrs. Harper & Brothers issued seventy-six books, of which
twenty-seven were of British authorship and forty-one of American,
while eight were translations. It is to be noted here that the
translations of 1891 were nearly all made in America, while those of
1861 and of 1881 were the work of British writers. In the books of
British authorship are included all those issued only in paper covers in
the new Franklin Square Library. Of course, Messrs. Harper & Brothers
issued every year many more books than I have counted; but I have, as I
said, omitted all new editions, all school-books, and all reprints of
the classics of our own or any other language, as not falling within the
scope of this inquiry. To decide exactly what to include or to exclude
was not always easy, but I have tried to be consistent, and I believe
that the figures here given are fairly accurate. They show that a house
which published in 1861 twice as many books of British authorship as of
American, published in 1891 one-third more books of American authorship
than of British. They show also that the actual number of American books
issued by this firm increased with every decade, and was in 1891 almost
six times as large as it was thirty years before.

The present house of Houghton, Mifflin & Company is descended on one
side from the firm of Hurd & Houghton, and on the other from the firm
which was successively William D. Ticknor & Company, Ticknor & Fields,
Fields, Osgood & Company, and James R. Osgood & Company. I am sorry to
say that I have not been able to get a complete catalogue of the books
published by Ticknor & Fields in 1861, but I have found certain lists of
books published by them about that time: one of these lists contains
four American books, three British, and one translation from a foreign
tongue; in another there are ten books of British authorship and ten of
American; and in a third there are six British authors represented and
eight American.

In 1871 the firm was James R. Osgood & Company, and the proportion of
books of American authorship was steadily increasing. I have not been
able to find a full and complete list, but I know that the house
published that year at least twenty-eight books by American authors, ten
by British writers, and three translated from a modern language.

In 1881 the firm had become Houghton, Mifflin & Company, and it has
kindly provided me with an accurate list of its publications during
these twelve months. Omitting, as before, all new editions, we find that
the house issued that year thirty-eight books by Americans, seven by
British authors, and eleven volumes of translations.

In 1891 the proportion of native works still further increased. The
American books published in that year by Messrs. Houghton, Mifflin &
Company were sixty-nine, while the firm issued only seven volumes by
British authors and two translations. A comparison of these figures with
those of thirty years before show that the predecessors of Messrs.
Houghton, Mifflin & Company published in 1861 about as many books of
British authorship as of American; while in 1891 the firm sent forth ten
times as many American books as it did British.

In going over the lists of Messrs. Harper & Brothers and of Messrs.
Houghton, Mifflin & Company, I have resolutely cast out of account all
school-books, because a consideration of these might have given a false
impression, since the school-books of all Americans who were boys in
1861 were already of American authorship. I was a boy myself in 1861,
and I never saw a school-book of British origin until after I had been
in college for a year or two, and then it was only a single manual of
political economy. When Noah Webster issued, in 1783, the first part of
a _Grammatical Institute of the English Language_, afterwards known as
_Webster's Spelling Book_, and as such sold for half a century to the
extent of a million copies a year, an example was set which other
American educators were prompt to follow.

For nearly a hundred years now the American school-boy has been supplied
with American books suited to American conditions and inculcating
American ideas. Nor is there any likelihood that this fortunate
condition will ever change. The American Book Company, a publishing firm
formed by the consolidation of four or five of the leading school-book
houses of this country, supplies probably four-fifths of the books used
in American schools. I have recently made a careful examination of its
complete classified price-list of school and college text-books, with
the eminently satisfactory result of finding in the first 500 titles
only one book of foreign authorship.

Perhaps it was in consequence of the wholesome Americanism imparted in
the school-room that American boys and girls demanded other books of
American authorship. Certain it was that the department of the
publishing trade which handles "juveniles," as they are called, gave an
early preference to books describing life in America or from an American
point of view. Peter Parley was a pioneer, and Jacob Abbott followed
after; and I confess I am sorry for the boys and girls of Great Britain
who did not know the joy of travelling through Europe with Rollo and
Uncle George, the omniscient. From my own childhood I can recall only
one volume of British origin, although of American manufacture; it was a
sturdy tome called _The Boy's Own Book_, and it had strange wood-cuts of
strangely chubby youths in strange Eton jackets.

In Doctor Holmes's paper on "The Seasons" (to be found in _Pages from an
Old Volume of Life_), it is made evident that the American children of
the second decade of this century were less fortunate than those of the
seventh decade. Doctor Holmes tells us that he was educated on Miss
Edgeworth and _Evenings at Home_. "There we found ourselves in a strange
world, where James was called Jem, not Jim, as we always heard it; where
one found cowslips in the fields, while what we saw were buttercups;
where naughty school-boys got through a gap in the hedge to steal Farmer
Giles's red-streaks, instead of shinning over the fence to hook old
Daddy Jones's Baldwins; where there were larks and nightingales instead
of yellow-birds and bobolinks; where the robin was a little domestic
bird that fed at the table, instead of a great, fidgety, jerky, whooping
thrush; where poor people lived in thatched cottages, instead of
shingled ten-footers; where the tables were made of deal; where every
village had its parson and clerk and beadle, its green-grocer, its
apothecary who visited the sick, and its bar-maid who served out ale"
(pp. 172-3).

And with the witty wisdom which is the secret of the Autocrat's power
over us, he continues: "What a mess--there is no other word for it--what
a mess was made of it in our young minds in the attempt to reconcile
what we read about with what we saw! It was like putting a picture of
Regent's Park in one side of a stereoscope and a picture of Boston
Common on the other, and trying to make one of them. The end was that we
all grew up with a mental squint which we could never get rid of. We saw
the lark and the cowslip and the rest on the printed page with one eye,
the bobolink and the buttercup, and so on, with the other in nature.
This world is always a riddle to us at best; but those English
children's books seemed so perfectly simple and natural, and yet were so
alien to our youthful experiences that the Houyhnhnm primer could not
have muddled our intellects more hopelessly."

The colonial habit of dependence on England for literature and of
deference to British opinion is to be seen in the history of the
American drama quite as distinctly as in the other departments of
literature, and it is not yet wholly extinct. At first, of course, all
our actors were of British birth. When the first American comedy, Royall
Tyler's "Contrast," was played at the John Street Theatre in New York in
1787, the character of Jonathan the Yankee was undertaken by Thomas
Wignell, a native of England. Thomas Abthorpe Cooper was criticised in
London as an American, but he had been born in Great Britain. Edwin
Forrest was the first distinguished tragedian who was a native of our
continent. Since he set the example many an American actor has appeared
in England, and Mr. Augustin Daly has taken his whole company of
comedians to Europe repeatedly. Nowadays there are always performers of
American birth and training in half a dozen of the leading London

Indeed, it might fairly be said that acting was the first of the arts to
develop here in America; beyond all question it was the first that we
began to export. But the art of the native American dramatist long
lagged behind that of the native American actor. Perhaps even now there
is still a lingering survival of the prejudice in favor of foreign
plays, or, at least, against plays of American authorship. At present
the foreign play most likely to be in favor is the French, but when the
theatre was young in this country our sole reliance was on the British
stage. Now we get light from Berlin and from Paris; then we saw no ray
of hope except from London.

So complete was the dependence of the Park Theatre on Drury Lane and on
Covent Garden in the early part of this century, that when our first
native dramatist, William Dunlap, made adaptations of Kotzebue's plays
he took good care not to avow his share in the work, allowing it to be
supposed that his versions of the German originals were those which had
been made for the London stage. Even as late as 1812, when Mr. J. N.
Barker dramatized _Marmion_ "the prejudice then existing against
American authors"--to quote the words of Mr. Ireland, the historian of
the New York stage--"was so great that the play was announced as the
production of an English dramatist, and thus, with its fine cast,
commanded an extraordinary success." Perhaps this is even more pitiful
than Cooper's pretending to be an Englishman in his first novel.

To show the changes which have taken place in the composition of our
play-bills during the past thirty years, I have had lists made of the
plays which were advertised for performance in the first full week of
January in 1861, 1871, 1881, and 1891. The result of the consideration
of these lists is not as convincing as one could wish, for the
performances of a single week are scarcely enough to furnish matter for
the adequate comparison of one year with another. Yet the comparison is
not without interest, and it seems to me indisputably instructive. All
grand operas, all circuses, all menageries, all dime museums, all negro
minstrel entertainments, and all those strange performances known, for
some inscrutable reason, as "variety shows," are here left out of court,
as having little or no connection with literature.

Making these deductions, we find that there were open in New York in the
first week of January, 1861, seven places of amusement devoted to the
drama, at only two of which were the plays wholly of American
authorship; although at a third, where Edwin Forrest was acting, the
American tragedy of "The Gladiator" shared the bill with the British
tragedy of "Damon and Pythias." At the rest of the theatres the plays
were of British authorship, that at Wallack's being "Pauline," a British
dramatization of a French novel.

In the corresponding week of 1871 after making the same omissions, and
after deducting also the performances in foreign languages, always very
frequent in a city with a population as cosmopolitan as ours--making
these allowances, we find seven theatres, at which three British plays
are being performed and three American plays, and one play, if it can so
be called, "The Black Crook," which was an American adaptation from the
German. There was at this time a temporary prevalence of negro
minstrelsy and the variety show.

In 1881 the New Yorker who went to the theatre during the first week in
January had his choice of fifteen performances, and he could see nine
plays of American authorship, two American adaptations from the German,
two British adaptations from the French, and two plays of British
authorship. The proportion of American plays seems overwhelming, and it
was probably not maintained throughout the year, although the preceding
decade had seen an extraordinary development of the American drama.
Among those to be seen at this time in New York were "The Danites,"
"Hazel Kirke," and "The Banker's Daughter."

When we come to 1891 we see that the list of theatres offering a
dramatic entertainment in the English language has swollen to
twenty-one, and we note that the variety shows and the negro minstrel
performances are now infrequent. At these twenty-one theatres we could
see thirteen plays of American authorship, besides two American
adaptations from the German, while at the same time there were also
visible five plays by British authors and one British adaptation from
the French. I may add also, and of my own knowledge, that the plays
which were most popular, and therefore most profitable at this time,
were all to be found among the thirteen of American authorship. It is a
fact also that for fully forty years now the great pecuniary successes
of the American theatre have been gained by plays of American life, and
more especially of American character. "Uncle Tom's Cabin," "Rip Van
Winkle," "Colonel Sellers," "My Partner," "The Danites," "The Banker's
Daughter," "Held by the Enemy," and "Shenandoah" have had no foreign
rivals in popularity except "The Two Orphans." Possibly exception
should also be made of "The Shaughraun" and "Hazel Kirke," both written
in America, although dealing with life in Europe.

It is to be noted that the Copyright act of 1891 has had, and will have,
but little effect upon the foreign dramatist, because, for twenty years
and more, judicial decisions in the United States courts had accorded
him a full protection for his stage-right under the common law. Thus the
American dramatist had been freed from the necessity of vending his
wares in competition with stolen goods long before a like privilege had
been vouchsafed to the American novelist.

A careful study of the figures here presented will convince the
disinterested critic that the American dramatist has passed his foreign
rival in the race for popularity, just as a careful study of the
successive lists of Messrs. Harper & Brothers and Messrs. Houghton,
Mifflin & Company will prove that the American author has also overtaken
the foreigner. If there was truth once in Sir Henry Sumner Maine's
assertion that we Americans offered the example of a literary servitude
without parallel, that assertion is true no longer. The American author
is now conscious of a demand from the American public for plays and for
books which reflect American life and embody American character. Before
another decade has closed the century, the proportion of works of
foreign authorship to be seen in our book-stores and in our theatres is
certain to be smaller still. Sooner or later the time will come when it
will be profitable to reproduce in America only the best of books of
foreign authors and only the best plays of foreign dramatists.

At the same time that the American author has been taking possession of
his own country he has also been conquering abroad. I have not had time
for the needful and laborious calculation, but I believe that an
examination of the files of the London _Athenæum_ and _Saturday Review_
of 1861 would show that very few books of American authorship were
deemed worthy of reprint and review in England, while an examination of
their files for 1891 would reveal a surprisingly large proportion of
books of American origin now considered as entitled to criticism. And I
believe that this proportion is steadily increasing, and that more and
more books published in the United States are every year reprinted in
Great Britain, or exported for sale in London in editions of
satisfactory size.

Of course the reputation of American authors has been spread abroad in
England largely by the agency of the great American illustrated
magazines, which have now an enormous circulation on the other side of
the Atlantic. There are at least two American magazines which far
outsell in England itself any British magazine of corresponding
pretensions. A few British magazines and reviews continue to be imported
into the United States, but they are very few indeed; I think that the
total number of copies imported is less than the number exported of
either of the two great American illustrated monthlies.

It is pleasant to be able to assert that this wide-spread popularity of
the American magazines in England has not been due to any attempt to
cater to the English market. On the contrary, the more obviously and
frankly American these magazines are, the more marked is their success
in England. No doubt a large part of this popularity is due to American
superiority in wood-engraving, in process work, in printing, and to the
liberality of the American publisher in paying for these embellishments;
but a share as large is due to the skill with which the American
magazines are edited, to their freshness, their brightness, their
vivacity, to their national flavor, and especially to their larger scope
and to their stronger understanding of the capabilities and the
opportunities of the modern periodical.



Most appropriate is it that the first literary centenary which we were
called upon to commemorate one hundred years after the adoption of the
Constitution that knit these States into a nation should be the birthday
of the author who has done the most to make us known to the nations of
Europe. In the first year of Washington's first term as President, on
the fifteenth day of September, 1789, was born James Fenimore Cooper,
the first of American novelists, and the first American author to carry
our flag outside the limits of our language. Franklin was the earliest
American who had fame among foreigners; but his wide popularity was due
rather to his achievements as a philosopher, as a physicist, as a
statesman, than to his labors as an author. Irving was six years older
than Cooper, and his reputation was as high in England as at home; yet
to this day he is little more than a name to those who do not speak our
mother-tongue. But after Cooper had published _The Spy_, _The Last of
the Mohicans_, and _The Pilot_ his popularity was cosmopolitan; he was
almost as widely read in France, in Germany, and in Italy as in Great
Britain and the United States. Only one American book has ever since
attained the international success of these of Cooper's--_Uncle Tom's
Cabin_, and only one American author has since gained a name at all
commensurate with Cooper's abroad--Poe. Here in these United States we
know what Emerson was to us and what he did for us and what our debt is
to him; but the French and the Germans and the Italians do not know
Emerson. When Professor Boyesen visited Hugo some ten years ago he found
that the great French lyrist had never heard of Emerson. I have a copy
of _Evangeline_ annotated in French for the use of French children
learning English at school; but whatever Longfellow's popularity in
England or in Germany, he is really but little known in France or Italy
or Spain. With Goethe and Schiller, with Scott and Byron, Cooper was one
of the foreign forces which brought about the Romanticist revolt in
France, profoundly affecting the literature of all Latin countries.
Dumas owed almost as much to Cooper as he did to Scott; and Balzac said
that if Cooper had only drawn character as well as he painted "the
phenomena of nature, he would have uttered the last word of our art."

In his admirable life of Cooper, one of the best of modern biographies,
Professor Lounsbury shows clearly the extraordinary state of affairs
with which Cooper had to contend. Foremost among the disadvantages
against which he had to labor was the dull, deadening provincialism of
American criticism at the time when _The Spy_ was written; and as we
read Professor Lounsbury's pages we see how bravely Cooper fought for
our intellectual emancipation from the shackles of the British criticism
of that time, more ignorant then and even more insular than it is now.
Abroad Cooper received the attention nearly always given in literature
to those who bring a new thing; and the new thing which Cooper annexed
to literature was America. At home he had to struggle against a belief
that our soil was barren of romance--as though the author who used his
eyes could not find ample material wherever there was humanity. Cooper
was the first who proved the fitness of American life and American
history for the uses of fiction. _The Spy_ is really the first of
American novels, and it remains one of the best. Cooper was the
prospector of that little army of industrious miners now engaged in
working every vein of local color and character, and in sifting out the
golden dust from the sands of local history. The authors of _Oldtown
Folks_, of the _Tales of the Argonauts_, of _Old Creole Days_, and of
_In the Tennessee Mountains_ were but following in Cooper's
footsteps--though they carried more modern tools. And when the desire of
the day is for detail and for finish, it is not without profit to turn
again to stories of a bolder sweep. When the tendency of the times is
perhaps towards an undue elaboration of miniature portraits, there is
gain in going back to the masterpieces of a literary artist who
succeeded best in heroic statues. And not a few of us, whatever our code
of literary esthetics, may find delight, fleeting though it be, in the
free outline drawing of Cooper, after our eyes are tired by the niggling
and cross-hatching of many among our contemporary realists. When our
pleasant duty is done, when our examination is at an end, and when we
seek to sum up our impressions and to set them down plainly, we find
that chief among Cooper's characteristics were, first, a sturdy, hearty,
robust, out-door and open-air wholesomeness, devoid of any trace of
offence and free from all morbid taint; and, secondly, an intense
Americanism--ingrained, abiding, and dominant. Professor Lounsbury
quotes from a British magazine of 1831 the statement that, to an
Englishman, Cooper appeared to be prouder of his birth as an American
than of his genius as an author--an attitude which may seem to some a
little old-fashioned, but which on Cooper's part was both natural and

_The Spy_ was the earliest of Cooper's American novels (and its
predecessor, _Precaution_, a mere stencil imitation of the minor British
novel of that day, need not be held in remembrance against him). _The
Spy_, published in 1821, was followed in 1823 by _The Pioneers_, the
first of the _Leatherstocking Tales_ to appear, and by far the poorest;
indeed it is the only one of the five for which any apology need be
made. The narrative drags under the burden of overabundant detail; and
the story may deserve to be called dull at times. Leatherstocking even
is but a faint outline of himself, as the author afterwards with loving
care elaborated the character. _The Last of the Mohicans came_ out in
1826, and its success was instantaneous and enduring. In 1827 appeared
_The Prairie_, the third tale in which Leatherstocking is the chief
character. It is rare that an author is ever able to write a successful
sequel to a successful story, yet Cooper did more; _The Prairie_ is a
sequel to _The Pioneers_, and _The Last of the Mohicans_ is a prologue
to it. Eighteen years after the first of the _Leatherstocking Tales_ had
been published, Cooper issued the last of them, amplifying his single
sketch into a drama in five acts by the addition of _The Pathfinder_,
printed in 1840, and of _The Deerslayer_, printed in 1841. In the
sequence of events _The Deerslayer_, the latest written, is the earliest
to be read; then comes _The Last of the Mohicans_, followed by _The
Pathfinder_ and _The Pioneers_; while in _The Prairie_ the series ends.
Of the incomparable variety of scene in these five related tales, or of
the extraordinary fertility of invention which they reveal, it would not
be easy to say too much. In their kind they have never been surpassed.
The earliest to appear, _The Pioneers_, is the least meritorious--as
though Cooper had not yet seen the value of his material, and had not
yet acquired the art of handling it to advantage. _The Pathfinder_,
dignified as it is and pathetic in its portrayal of Leatherstocking's
lovemaking, lacks the absorbing interest of _The Last of the Mohicans_;
it is perhaps inferior in art to _The Deerslayer_, which was written the
year after, and it has not the noble simplicity of _The Prairie_, in
which we see the end of the old hunter.

There are, no doubt, irregularities in the _Leatherstocking Tales_, and
the incongruities and lesser errors inevitable in a mode of composition
at once desultory and protracted; but there they stand, a solid monument
of American literature, and not the least enduring. "If anything from
the pen of the writer of these romances is at all to outlive himself, it
is, unquestionably, the series of the _Leatherstocking Tales_"--so
wrote the author when he sent forth the first collected and revised
edition of the narrative of Natty Bumppo's adventures. That Cooper was
right seems to-day indisputable. An author may fairly claim to be judged
by his best, to be measured by his highest; and the _Leatherstocking
Tales_ are Cooper's highest and best in more ways than one, but chiefly
because of the lofty figure of Leatherstocking. Lowell, when fabling for
critics, said that Cooper had drawn but one new character, explaining
afterwards that

    The men who have given to _one_ character life
    And objective existence, are not very rife;
    You may number them all, both prose-writers and singers,
    Without overruning the bounds of your fingers;
    And Natty won't go to oblivion quicker
    Than Adams the parson or Primrose the vicar.

And Thackeray--perhaps recalling the final scene in _The Prairie_, where
the dying Leatherstocking drew himself up and said "Here!" and that
other scene in _The Newcomes_, where the dying Colonel drew himself up
and said "Adsum!"--was frequent in praise of Cooper; and in one of the
_Roundabout Papers_, after expressing his fondness for Scott's modest
and honorable heroes, he adds: "Much as I like these most unassuming,
manly, unpretentious gentlemen, I have to own that I think the heroes of
another writer--viz., Leatherstocking, Uncas, Hardheart, Tom Coffin--are
quite the equals of Scott's men; perhaps Leatherstocking is better than
any one in 'Scott's lot.' _La Longue Carabine_ is one of the great
prize-men of fiction. He ranks with your Uncle Toby, Sir Roger de
Coverley, Falstaff--heroic figures all, American or British, and the
artist has deserved well of his country who devised them."

It is to be noticed that Thackeray singled out for praise two of
Cooper's Indians to pair with the hunter and the sailor; and it seems to
me that Thackeray is fairer towards him who conceived Uncas and
Hardheart than are the authors of _A Fable for Critics_ and of
_Condensed Novels_. _Muck-a-Muck_ I should set aside among the parodies
which are unfair--so far as the red man is concerned, at least; for I
hold as quite fair Mr. Harte's raillery of the wooden maidens and
polysyllabic old men who stalk through Cooper's pages. Cooper's Indian
has been disputed and he has been laughed at, but he still lives.
Cooper's Indian is very like Mr. Parkman's Indian--and who knows the red
man better than the author of _The Oregon Trail_? Uncas and Chingachgook
and Hardheart are all good men and true, and June, the wife of
Arrowhead, the Tuscarora, is a good wife and a true woman. They are
Indians, all of them; heroic figures, no doubt, and yet taken from life,
with no more idealization than may serve the maker of romance. They
remind us that when West first saw the Apollo Belvedere he thought at
once of a Mohawk brave. They were the result of knowledge and of much
patient investigation under conditions forever passed away. We see
Cooper's Indians nowadays through mists of prejudice due to those who
have imitated them from the outside. _The Last of the Mohicans_ has
suffered the degradation of a trail of dime novels, written by those
apparently more familiar with the Five Points than with the Five
Nations; Cooper begat Mayne Reid, and Mayne Reid begat Ned Buntline and
_Buffalo Bill's First Scalp for Custer_ and similar abominations. But
none the less are Uncas and Hardheart noble figures, worthily drawn,
and never to be mentioned without praise.

In 1821 Cooper published _The Spy_, the first American historical novel;
in 1823 he published _The Pioneers_, in which the backwoodsman and the
red man were first introduced into literature; and in 1824 he published
_The Pilot_, and for the first time the scene of a story was laid on the
sea rather than on the land, and the interest turned wholly on marine
adventure. In four years Cooper had put forth three novels, each in its
way road-breaking and epoch-making: only the great men of letters have a
record like this. With the recollection before us of some of Smollett's
highly colored naval characters, we cannot say that Cooper sketched the
first real sailor in fiction, but he invented the sea tale just as Poe
invented the detective story--and in neither case has any disciple
surpassed the master. The supremacy of the _The Pilot_ and _The Red
Rover_ is quite as evident as the supremacy of the _The Gold Bug_ and
_The Murders in the Rue Morgue_. We have been used to the novel of the
ocean, and it is hard for us now to understand why Cooper's friends
thought his attempt to write one perilous and why they sought to
dissuade him. It was believed that readers could not be interested in
the contingencies and emergencies of life on the ocean wave. Nowadays it
seems to us that if any part of _The Pilot_ lags and stumbles it is that
which passes ashore: Cooper's landscapes, or at least his views of a
ruined abbey, may be affected at times, but his marines are always true
and always captivating.

Cooper, like Thackeray, forbade his family to authorize or aid any
biographer--although the American novelist had as little to conceal as
the English. No doubt Cooper had his faults, both as a man and as an
author. He was thin-skinned and hot-headed. He let himself become
involved in a great many foolish quarrels. He had a plentiful lack of
tact. But the man was straightforward and high-minded, and so was the
author. We can readily pardon his petty pedantries and the little vices
of expression he persisted in. We can confess that his "females," as he
would term them, are indubitably wooden. We may acknowledge that even
among his men there is no wide range of character; Richard Jones (in
_The Pioneers_) is first cousin to Cap (in _The Pathfinder_), just as
Long Tom Coffin is a half-brother of Natty Bumppo. We must admit that
Cooper's lighter characters are not touched with the humor that Scott
could command at will; the Naturalist (in _The Prairie_), for example,
is not alive and delightful like the Antiquary of Scott.

In the main, indeed, Cooper's humor is not of the purest. When he
attempted it of malice prepense it was often laboriously unfunny. But
sometimes, as it fell accidentally from the lips of Leatherstocking, it
was unforced and delicious (see, for instance, at the end of chapter
xxvii. of _The Pathfinder_, the account of Natty's sparing the sleeping
Mingos and of the fate which thereafter befell them at the hands of
Chingachgook). On the other hand, Cooper's best work abounds in fine
romantic touches--Long Tom pinning the British captain to the mast with
the harpoon, the wretched Abiram (in _The Prairie_) tied hand and foot
and left on a ledge with a rope around his neck so that he can move only
to hang himself, the death-grip of the brave (in _The Last of the
Mohicans_) hanging wounded and without hope over the watery
abyss--these are pictures fixed in the memory and now unforgettable.

Time is unerring in its selection. Cooper has now been dead nearly
two-score years. What survives of his work are the _Sea Tales_ and the
_Leatherstocking Tales_. From these I have found myself forced to cite
characters and episodes. These are the stories which hold their own in
the libraries. Public and critics are at one here. The wind of the lakes
and the prairies has not lost its balsam, and the salt of the sea keeps
its savor. For the free movement of his figures and for the proper
expansion of his story Cooper needed a broad region and a widening
vista. He excelled in conveying the suggestion of vastness and limitless
space, and of depicting the human beings proper to these great reaches
of land and water--the two elements he ruled; and he was equally at home
on the rolling waves of the prairie and on the green and irregular
hillocks of the ocean.



"In the four quarters of the globe, who reads an American book?" asked
Sydney Smith in the _Edinburgh Review_, in 1820; and for years the
American people writhed under the query as though they had been put to
the question themselves. In those days the American cuticle was
extraordinarily sensitive, and the gentlest stroke of satire caused
exquisite pain. But although Sydney Smith was unkind, he was not unjust;
in the four quarters of the globe nobody to-day reads any American book
published before 1820--except Irving's _Knickerbocker_. In the very year
that Sydney Smith wrote there was published in England a book which
might have arrested the dean's sarcastic inquiry had it appeared a few
months earlier. This was Irving's _Sketch Book_. The Americans of
seventy years ago did not know it; but none the less is it a fact that
American literature made a very poor showing then, and that there was in
existence in those days scarcely a single book with vitality enough to
survive threescore years and ten. The men who were to make our
literature what it is were then alive--Irving, Cooper, Bryant, Emerson,
Longfellow, Whittier, Holmes, Lowell, Poe, Hawthorne, Bancroft,
Prescott, and Motley; but Irving's _Knickerbocker_ was the only book
then in print which to-day is read or readable. It was only in 1821 that
Cooper published the _Spy_, the first American historical novel, and the
first of the _Leatherstocking Tales_ did not appear until 1823.
Reverberations of the angry roar which answered Sydney Smith's question
must have reached his ears, for, in 1824, again in the _Edinburgh
Review_, he wondered at our touchiness: "That Americans ... should be
flung into such convulsions by English Reviewers and Magazines is really
a sad specimen of Columbian juvenility."

Now we have changed all that. In less than three-quarters of a century
(a very short time in the history of a nation) our cuticle has
toughened--perhaps the process was hastened by the strokes of a long war
fought for conscience' sake. It is not so easy now to wring our withers,
and more often than not it is on the other side of the Atlantic that the
galled jade winces. John Bull is not as pachydermatous as once he was,
and a chance word of Brother Jonathan's penetrates and rankles. Mr.
Charles Dudley Warner once let fall an innocent remark about the British
strawberry; and more than one British journal flushed with rage till it
rivalled the redness of that worthy but hollow-hearted fruit. Mr. W. D.
Howells suggested a criticism of two British novelists; and the editor
of the _Saturday Review_ made ready to accept the command of the Channel
Fleet. Mr. Theodore Roosevelt rebuked a British general for insulting
Robert E. Lee with blundering laudation; and Mr. Andrew Lang promptly
wrote a paper on "International Girlishness," in which he very
courteously offered himself as an example of the failing he described.
In a little essay on the centenary of Fenimore Cooper, I remarked that
the reader of Professor Lounsbury's admirable biography could "see how
bravely Cooper fought for our intellectual emancipation from the
shackles of the British criticism of that time, more ignorant then and
even more insular than it is now;" and against this casual accusation
that British criticism is or was ignorant and insular, Mr. Andrew Lang
again protested, with his wonted suavity, of course, but with energy
nevertheless and with emphasis.

Turn about is fair enough. When Time plays the fiddle, the dancers must
needs change places; and we Americans have no call for weeping that the
British attitude to-day resembles ours in the early part of the century
more than our own does. The change is pleasant, and Mr. Andrew Lang
ought not to object to our enjoyment of it. As regards the special
charge that British criticism was more ignorant and more insular fifty
odd years ago than it is now--well, I do not think that Mr. Andrew Lang
ought to object to that either. If I understand my own statement, it
means that there has been an improvement in British criticism in the
past half-century; and I do not think that this assertion affords a fair
ground for a quarrel. Still, when Mr. Andrew Lang throws down the
gauntlet, I cannot refuse to put on the gloves; and I decline to avail
myself of the small side door he kindly left ajar for my escape.

First, it is to be noted that when Mr. Andrew Lang writes about
"critics," and when I wrote, we were discussing different things. There
are two kinds of critics, and the word criticism may mean either of two
things. The writer of an anonymous book-review printed in a daily or
weekly paper considers himself a critic, and the product of his pen is
accepted as a criticism. But there is no other word than criticism to
describe the finest work (in prose) of James Russell Lowell and of
Matthew Arnold. Mr. Andrew Lang chooses to consider chiefly what might
be called the higher criticism, and he sets aside the lower critics as
"reviewers," declaring that "reviewers are rarely critics, and they are
often very tired, very casual, very flippant." Now, it was this sort of
British critic, the very casual and very flippant reviewer, that I meant
when I spoke of the ignorance and insularity of British criticism; and
it was the attitude of British critics of this type towards America that
I had in mind. It was to their ignorance of America and Americans that
I referred, and to the insularity of their position towards us. This
ignorance is now less than it was in Cooper's time, and of late the
insularity has been modified for the better. But that they were "very
tired, very casual, and very flippant" is not an excuse for their
constant attitude towards most American authors; it is not even an
adequate reason. No doubt Mr. Andrew Lang knows the anecdote--is there
any Merry Jest that he has not heard?--of the Judge who chafed under the
insulting demeanor of a certain barrister until at last he was forced to
protest: "Brother Blank," he said, "I know my great inferiority to you;
but, after all, I am a vertebrate animal, and your manner towards me
would be unbecoming from God Almighty to a black beetle!"

It is in relation to America and to American workers that we find
British criticism ignorant and insular. The ordinary British critic
assumes a very different tone towards us from that he assumes towards
the French or the Germans. He may dislike these, but he accepts them as
equals. Us he regards as inferiors--as degenerate Englishmen
unfortunately cut off from communion with the father-land and the
mother-tongue, and to be chided because we do not humbly acknowledge our
deficiencies. He does not know that we are now no more English than the
English themselves are now Germans. He does not guess that we are proud
that we are not English--prouder, perhaps, of nothing else. He does not
think that we do not like being treated as though we were younger sons
in exile--wandering prodigals, deserving no better fare than the husks
of patronizing criticism. No American likes to be patronized, and even
some Englishmen seem to object to it; apparently Mr. Andrew Lang did not
approve of the critical nepotism of a certain Teutonic reviewer. But the
lordliness of the eminent German who reviewed Mr. Andrew Lang's book
without reading it was tempered by the good faith with which he
confessed his ignorance; and his offence was less heinous than that of
the critic in the _Saturday Review_, who dismissed Mr. Aldrich's "Queen
of Sheba" with a curt assertion that it was like the author's other

As the Greek felt towards the Barbarian and as the Jew towards the
Gentile, so does the ordinary British critic feel towards America. The
feeling of the Greek and of the Jew was perhaps based on a serious
reason; but what justifies the lofty superiority of the British critic?
Is not its cause the self-satisfaction of ignorant insularity?--using
neither word in any offensive sense. And does it not result in a
willingness to condemn without knowledge and without any effort to
acquire knowledge? Any one who recalls Brougham's review of Byron's
first book, or Jeffrey's attack on Keats, or Wilson's dissection of
Tennyson, knows that there are British criticisms which are not models
of sweetness and light; never are sweetness and light more frequently
absent than in British criticism of America and of Americans. "Light," I
take it, means knowledge; and "sweetness" is incompatible with that form
of _morgue britannique_ which one may call insularity.

The higher criticism in England, which Mr. Andrew Lang praises perhaps
not more than it deserves, has developed greatly within the last twenty
years. It is not ignorant like the very tired, very casual, and very
flippant reviewing, nor in the same fashion; but it has an ignorance of
its own, compounded of many simples. Its attitude towards us is not as
offensive, but it is not without its touch of superiority now and again.
Mr. Andrew Lang himself, for example, is ignorant of our best critics,
and confesses his ignorance as frankly as did his Teutonic reviewer; and
then he reveals what is not wholly unlike insularity in his readiness,
despite this ignorance, to make comparisons between American critics and

On Mr. Andrew Lang's list of British critics are the names of Mr.
Ruskin, Mr. J. A. Symonds, Mr. R. L. Stevenson, Mr. Leslie Stephen, Mr.
Walter Pater, Mr. George Saintsbury, Mr. Frederic Harrison, Professor
Robertson Smith, Mr. Swinburne, and Mr. Theodore Watts--and every reader
must instinctively add Mr. Andrew Lang's own name to a list on which it
will find no superior. The list seems oddly chosen; an American misses
the name of Mr. John Morley, perhaps the foremost of British critics of
our day, and those of Mr. Austin Dobson, and of Mr. William Archer. Of
American critics Mr. Andrew Lang can recall of his own accord,
apparently, only the name of Lowell, and he remarks that "Mr. Howells,
in an essay on this subject, mentions Mr. Stedman and Mr. T. S. Perry,
doubtless with justice." If there were any advantage in making out a
list of American critics to place beside the list of British critics, I
should put down the names of Mr. Curtis, Col. Higginson, Mr. Warner, Mr.
R. H. Stoddard, Professor Lounsbury, Professor T. F. Crane, Mr. W. C.
Brownell, Mr. John Burroughs, Mr. George E. Woodberry, and Mr. Henry
James--adding, of course, the names of Mr. Stedman and of Professor
Child, mentioned by Mr. Andrew Lang in another part of his paper. But I
fear me greatly that this is idle; it is but the setting up of one
personal equation over against another. Orthodoxy is my doxy and
heterodoxy is your doxy. Counting of noses is not the best way to settle
a dispute about literature.

Indeed there is no way to settle such a dispute, and there is no hope of
coming to an agreement. "It is a very pretty quarrel as it stands;" and
if "we quarrel in print, by the book," let us stop at the first degree,
the Retort Courteous, not going on even to the third, the Reply
Churlish. Also is there much virtue in an If. "If you said so, then I
said so." Let us then, while there is yet time, shake hands across the
Atlantic and swear brothers.



"Doubtless criticism was originally benignant, pointing out the beauties
of a work rather than its defects. The passions of man have made it
malignant, as the bad heart of Procrustes turned the bed, the symbol of
repose, into an instrument of torture." So wrote Longfellow a many years
ago, thinking, it may be, on _English Bards and Scotch Reviewers_, or on
the Jedburgh justice of Jeffrey. But we may question whether the poet
did not unduly idealize the past, as is the custom of poets, and whether
he did not unfairly asperse the present. With the general softening of
manners, no doubt those of the critic have improved also. Surely, since
a time whereof the memory of man runneth not to the contrary, "to
criticise," in the ears of many, if not of most, has been synonymous
with "to find fault." In Farquhar's "Inconstant," now nearly two hundred
years old, Petit says of a certain lady: "She's a critic, sir; she hates
a jest, for fear it should please her."

The critics themselves are to blame for this misapprehension of their
attitude. When Mr. Arthur Pendennis wrote reviews for the _Pall Mall
Gazette_, he settled the poet's claims as though he "were my lord on the
bench and the author a miserable little suitor trembling before him."
The critic of this sort acts not only as judge and jury, first finding
the author guilty and then putting on the black cap to sentence him to
the gallows, but he often volunteers as executioner also, laying on a
round dozen lashes with his own hand, and with a hearty good-will. We
are told, for example, that Captain Shandon knew the crack of
Warrington's whip and the cut his thong left. Bludyer went to work like
a butcher and mangled his subject, but Warrington finished a man, laying
"his cuts neat and regular, straight down the back, and drawing blood
every time."

Whenever I recall this picture I understand the protest of one of the
most acute and subtle of American critics, who told me that he did not
much mind what was said about his articles so long as they were not
called "trenchant." Perhaps trenchant is the adjective which best
defines what true criticism is not. True criticism, so Joubert tells us,
is _un exercice méthodique de discernement_. It is an effort to
understand and to explain. The true critic is no more an executioner
than he is an assassin; he is rather a seer, sent forward to spy out the
land, and most useful when he comes back bringing a good report and
bearing a full cluster of grapes.

_La critique sans bonté trouble le gout et empoisonne les saveurs_, said
Joubert again; unkindly criticism disturbs the taste and poisons the
savor. No one of the great critics was unkindly. That Macaulay
mercilessly flayed Montgomery is evidence, were any needed, that
Macaulay was not one of the great critics. The tomahawk and the
scalping-knife are not the critical apparatus, and they are not to be
found in the armory of Lessing and of Sainte-Beuve, of Matthew Arnold
and of James Russell Lowell. It is only incidentally that these devout
students of letters find fault. Though they may ban now and again, they
came to bless. They chose their subjects, for the most part, because
they loved these, and were eager to praise them and to make plain to the
world the reasons for their ardent affection. Whenever they might chance
to see incompetence and pretension pushing to the front, they shrugged
their shoulders more often than not, and passed by on the other side
silently:--and so best. Very rarely did they cross over to expose an

Lessing waged war upon theories of art, but he kept up no fight with
individual authors. Sainte-Beuve sought to paint the portrait of the man
as he was, warts and all; but he did not care for a sitter who was not
worth the most loving art. Matthew Arnold was swift to find the joints
in his opponent's armor; but there is hardly one of his essays in
criticism which had not its exciting cause in his admiration for its
subject. Mr. Lowell has not always hidden his scorn of a sham, and
sometimes he has scourged it with a single sharp phrase. Generally,
however, even the humbugs get off scot-free, for the true critic knows
that time will attend to these fellows, and there is rarely any need to
lend a hand. It was Bentley who said that no man was ever written down
save by himself.

The late Edouard Scherer once handled M. Emile Zola without gloves; and
M. Jules Lemaître has made M. Georges Ohnet the target of his flashing
wit. But each of these attacks attained notoriety from its
unexpectedness. And what has been gained in either case? Since Scherer
fell foul of him, M. Zola has written his strongest novel, _Germinal_
(one of the most powerful tales of this century), and his rankest story,
_La Terre_ (one of the most offensive fictions in all the history of
literature). M. Lemaître's brilliant assault on M. Ohnet may well have
excited pity for the wretched victim; and, damaging as it was, I doubt
if its effect is as fatal as the gentler and more humorous criticism of
M. Anatole France, in which the reader sees contempt slowly gaining the
mastery over the honest critic's kindliness.

For all that he was a little prim in taste and a little arid in manner,
Scherer had the gift of appreciation--the most precious possession of
any critic. M. Lemaître, despite his frank enjoyment of his own skill
in fence, has a faculty of hearty admiration. There are thirteen studies
in the first series of his _Contemporains_, and the dissection of the
unfortunate M. Ohnet is the only one in which the critic does not handle
his scalpel with loving care. To run amuck through the throng of one's
fellow-craftsmen is not a sign of sanity--on the contrary. Depreciation
is cheaper than appreciation; and criticism which is merely destructive
is essentially inferior to criticism which is constructive. That he saw
so little to praise is greatly against Poe's claim to be taken seriously
as a critic; so is his violence of speech; and so also is the fact that
those whom he lauded might be as little deserving of his eulogy as those
whom he assailed were worthy of his condemnation. The habit of
intemperate attack which grew on Poe is foreign to the serene calm of
the higher criticism. F. D. Maurice made the shrewd remark that the
critics who take pleasure in cutting up mean books soon deteriorate
themselves--subdued to that they work in. It may be needful, once in a
way, to nail vermin to the barn door as a warning, and thus we may seek
a reason for Macaulay's cruel treatment of Montgomery, and M.
Lemaître's pitiless castigation of M. Ohnet. But in nine cases out of
ten, or rather in ninety-nine out of a hundred, the attitude of the
critic towards contemporary trash had best be one of absolute
indifference, sure that Time will sift out what is good, and that Time
winnows with unerring taste.

The duty of the critic, therefore, is to help the reader to "get the
best"--in the old phrase of the dictionary venders--to choose it, to
understand it, to enjoy it. To choose it, first of all; so must the
critic dwell with delighted insistence upon the best books, drawing
attention afresh to the old and discovering the new with alert vision.
Neglect is the proper portion of the worthless books of the hour,
whatever may be their vogue for the week or the month. It cannot be
declared too frequently that temporary popularity is no sure test of
real merit; else were _Proverbial Philosophy_, the _Light of Asia_, and
the _Epic of Hades_ the foremost British poems since the decline of
Robert Montgomery; else were the _Lamplighter_ (does any one read the
_Lamplighter_ nowadays, I wonder?), _Looking Backward_, and _Mr. Barnes
of New York_ the typical American novels. No one can insist too often
on the distinction between what is "good enough" for current consumption
by a careless public and what is really good, permanent, and secure. No
one can declare with too much emphasis the difference between what is
literature and what is not literature, nor the width of the gulf which
separates them. A critic who has not an eye single to this distinction
fails of his duty. Perhaps the best way to make the distinction plain to
the reader is to persist in discussing what is vital and enduring,
pointedly passing over what may happen to be accidentally popular.

Yet the critic mischooses who should shut himself up with the classics
of all languages and in rapt contemplation of their beauties be blind to
the best work of his own time. If criticism itself is to be seen of men,
it must enter the arena and bear a hand in the combat. The books which
have come down to us from our fathers and from our grandfathers are a
blessed heritage, no doubt; but there are a few books of like value to
be picked out of those which we of to-day shall pass along to our
children and to our grandchildren. It may be even that some of our
children are beginning already to set down in black and white their
impressions of life, with a skill and with a truth which shall in due
season make them classics also. Sainte-Beuve asserted that the real
triumph of the critic was when the poets whose praises he had sounded
and for whom he had fought grew in stature and surpassed themselves,
keeping, and more than keeping, the magnificent promises which the
critic, as their sponsor in baptism, had made for them. Besides the
criticism of the classics, grave, learned, definitive, there is another
more alert, said Sainte-Beuve, more in touch with the spirit of the
hour, more lightly equipped, it may be, and yet more willing to find
answers for the questions of the day. This more vivacious criticism
chooses its heroes and encompasses them about with its affection, using
boldly the words "genius" and "glory," however much this may scandalize
the lookers-on:

    "Nous tiendrons, pour lutter dans l'arène lyrique,
     Toi la lance, moi les coursiers."

To few critics is it given to prophesy the lyric supremacy of a Victor
Hugo--it was in a review of _Les Feuilles d'Automne_ that Sainte-Beuve
made this declaration of principles. A critic lacking the insight and
the equipment of Sainte-Beuve may unduly despise an Ugly Duckling, or he
may mistake a Goose for a Swan, only to wait in vain for its song.
Indeed, to set out of malice prepense to discover a genius is but a
wild-goose chase at best; and though the sport is pleasant for those who
follow, it may be fatal to the chance fowl who is expected to lay a
golden egg. Longfellow's assertion that "critics are sentinels in the
grand army of letters, stationed at the corners of newspapers and
reviews to challenge every new author," may not be altogether
acceptable, but it is at least the duty of the soldier to make sure of
the papers of those who seek to enlist in the garrison.

"British criticism has always been more or less parochial," said Lowell,
many years ago, before he had been American Minister at St. James's. "It
cannot quite persuade itself that truth is of immortal essence, totally
independent of all assistance from quarterly journals or the British
army and navy." No doubt there has been a decided improvement in the
temper of British criticism since this was written; it is less
parochial than it was, and it is perhaps now one of its faults that it
affects a cosmopolitanism to which it does not attain. But even now an
American of literary taste is simply staggered--there is no other word
for it--whenever he reads the weekly reviews of contemporary fiction in
the _Athenæum_, the _Academy_, the _Spectator_, and the _Saturday
Review_, and when he sees high praise bestowed on novels so poor that no
American pirate imperils his salvation to reprint them. The encomiums
bestowed, for example, upon such tales as those which are written by the
ladies who call themselves "Rita" and "The Duchess" and "The Authoress
of _The House on the Marsh_," seem hopelessly uncritical. The writers of
most of these reviews are sadly lacking in literary perception and in
literary perspective. The readers of these reviews--if they had no other
sources of information--would never suspect that the novel of England is
no longer what it was once, and that it is now inferior in art to the
novel of France, of Spain, and of America. If the petty minnows are
magnified thus, what lens will serve fitly to reproduce the lordly
salmon or the stalwart tarpon? Those who praise the second-rate or the
tenth-rate in terms appropriate only to the first-rate are derelict to
the first duty of the critic--which is to help the reader to choose the

And the second duty of the critic is like unto the first. It is to help
the reader to understand the best. There is many a book which needs to
be made plain to him who runs as he reads, and it is the running reader
of these hurried years that the critic must needs address. There are not
a few works of high merit (although none, perhaps, of the very highest)
which gain by being explained, even as Philip expounded Esaias to the
eunuch of Candace, Queen of the Ethiopians, getting up into his chariot
and guiding him. Perhaps it is paradoxical to suggest that a book of the
very highest class is perforce clear beyond all need of commentary or
exposition; but it is indisputable that familiarity may blur the outline
and use may wear away the sharp edges, until we no longer see the
masterpiece as distinctly as we might, nor do we regard it with the same
interest. Here again the critic finds his opportunity; he may show the
perennial freshness of that which seemed for a while withered; and he
may interpret again the meaning of the message an old book may bring to
a new generation. Sometimes this message is valuable and yet invisible
from the outside, like the political pamphlets which were smuggled into
the France of the Second Empire concealed in the hollow plaster busts of
Napoleon III., but ready to the hand that knew how to extract them
adroitly at the proper time.

The third duty of the critic, after aiding the reader to choose the best
and to understand it, is to help him to enjoy it. This is possible only
when the critic's own enjoyment is acute enough to be contagious.
However well informed a critic may be, and however keen he may be, if he
be not capable of the cordial admiration which warms the heart, his
criticism is wanting. A critic whose enthusiasm is not catching lacks
the power of disseminating his opinions. His judgment may be excellent,
but his influence remains negative. One torch may light many a fire; and
how far a little candle throws its beams! Perhaps the ability to take an
intense delight in another man's work, and the willingness to express
this delight frankly and fully, are two of the characteristics of the
true critic; of a certainty they are the characteristics most frequently
absent in the criticaster. Consider how Sainte-Beuve and Matthew Arnold
and Lowell have sung the praises of those whose poems delighted them.
Note how Mr. Henry James and M. Jules Lemaître are affected by the
talents of M. Alphonse Daudet and of M. Guy de Maupassant.

Having done his duty to the reader, the critic has done his full duty to
the author also. It is to the people at large that the critic is under
obligations, not to any individual. As he cannot take cognizance of a
work of art, literary or dramatic, plastic or pictorial, until after it
is wholly complete, his opinion can be of little benefit to the author.
A work of art is finally finished when it comes before the public, and
the instances are very few indeed when an author has ever thought it
worth while to modify the form in which it was first presented to the
world. A work of science, on the other hand, depending partly on the
exactness of the facts which it sets forth and on which it is founded,
may gain from the suggested emendations of a critic. Many a history,
many a law book, many a scientific treatise has been bettered in
successive editions by hints gleaned here and there from the reviews of

But the work of art stands on a wholly different footing from the work
of science; and the critics have no further duty towards the author,
except, of course, to treat him fairly, and to present him to the public
if they deem him worthy of this honor. The novel or the poem being done
once for all, it is hardly possible for critics to be of any use to the
novelist or to the poet personally. The artist of experience makes up
his mind to this, and accepts criticism as something which has little or
nothing to do with his work, but which may materially affect his
position before the public. Thackeray, who understood the feelings and
the failings of the literary man as no one else, has shown us Mr. Arthur
Pendennis reading the newspaper notices of his novel, _Walter Lorraine_,
and sending them home to his mother. "Their censure did not much affect
him; for the good-natured young man was disposed to accept with
considerable humility the dispraise of others. Nor did their praise
elate him overmuch; for, like most honest persons, he had his own
opinion about his own performance, and when a critic praised him in the
wrong place he was hurt rather than pleased by the compliment."

Mr. James tells us that the author of _Smoke_ and _Fathers and Sons_, a
far greater novelist than the author of _Walter Lorraine_, had a serene
indifference towards criticism. Turgenef gave Mr. James "the impression
of thinking of criticism as most serious workers think of it--that it is
the amusement, the exercise, the subsistence of the critic (and, so far
as this goes, of immense use), but that, though it may often concern
other readers, it does not much concern the artist himself." Though
criticism is of little use to the author directly, it can be of immense
service to him indirectly, if it be exposition rather than comment; not
a bald and barren attempt at classification, but a sympathetic
interpretation. At bottom, sympathy is the prime requisite of the
critic; and with sympathy come appreciation, penetration,
revelation--such, for example, as the American novelist has shown in his
criticisms of the Russian.

There is one kind of review of no benefit either to the author or to the
public. This is the careless, perfunctory book-notice, penned hastily by
a tired writer, who does not take the trouble to formulate his opinion,
and perhaps not even to form one. Towards the end of 1889 there appeared
in a British weekly the following notice of a volume of American short

     "A littery gent in one of Mr. [----]'s short stories says: 'A good
     idea for a short story is a shy bird, and doesn't come for the
     calling.' Alas! alas! it is true. The French can call a great deal
     better than we can; but the Americans, it would seem, cannot. The
     best of Mr. [----]'s stories is the first, about a tree which grew
     out of the bosom of a buried suicide, and behaved accordingly to
     his descendants; but, so far from being a short story, it is a long
     one, extending over some hundreds of years, and it suffers from the
     compression which Mr. [----] puts upon it. It deserves to have a
     volume to itself."

Refraining from all remark upon the style in which this paragraph is
written or upon the taste of the writer, I desire to call attention to
the fact that it is not what it purports to be. It is not a criticism
within the accepted meaning of the word. It indicates no intellectual
effort on the part of its writer to understand the author of the book.
An author would need to be superlatively sensitive who could take
offence at this paragraph, and an author who could find pleasure in it
would have to be unspeakably vain. To me this notice seems the absolute
negation of criticism--mere words with no suggestion of a thought behind
them. The man who dashed this off robbed the author of a criticism to
which he was entitled if the book was worth reviewing at all; and in
thus shirking his bounden duty he also cheated the proprietor of the
paper who paid him. Empty paragraphing of this offensive character is
commoner now than it was a few years ago, commoner in Great Britain than
in the United States, and commoner in anonymous articles than in those
warranted by the signature of the writer. Probably the man who was
guilty of this innocuous notice would have been ashamed to put his name
to it.

If a book is so empty that there is nothing to say about it, then there
is no need to say anything. It is related that when a dramatist, who was
reading a play before the Committee of the Comédie Française, rebuked M.
Got for slumbering peacefully during this ceremony, the eminent comedian
answered promptly, "Sleep, Monsieur, is also an opinion." If a book
puts the critic to sleep, or so benumbs his faculties that he finds
himself speechless, he has no call to proceed further in the matter.
Perhaps the author may take heart of grace when he remembers that of all
Shakespeare's characters, it was the one with the ass's head who had an
exposition of sleep come upon him, as it was the one with the blackest
heart who said he was nothing if not critical.

If I were to attempt to draw up Twelve Good Rules for Reviewers, I
should begin with:

I. Form an honest opinion.

II. Express it honestly.

III. Don't review a book which you cannot take seriously.

IV. Don't review a book with which you are out of sympathy. That is to
say, put yourself in the author's place, and try to see his work from
his point, of view, which is sure to be a coign of vantage.

V. Stick to the text. Review the book before you, and not the book some
other author might have written; _obiter dicta_ are as valueless from
the critic as from the judge. Don't go off on a tangent. And also don't
go round in a circle. Say what you have to say, and stop. Don't go on
writing about and about the subject, and merely weaving garlands of
flowers of rhetoric.

VI. Beware of the Sham Sample, as Charles Reade called it. Make sure
that the specimen bricks you select for quotation do not give a false
impression of the _façade_, and not only of the elevation merely, but of
the perspective also, and of the ground-plan.

VII. In reviewing a biography or a history, criticise the book before
you, and don't write a parallel essay, for which the volume you have in
hand serves only as a peg.

VIII. In reviewing a work of fiction, don't give away the plot. In the
eyes of the novelist this is the unpardonable sin. And, as it discounts
the pleasure of the reader also, it is almost equally unkind to him.

IX. Don't try to prove every successful author a plagiarist. It may be
that many a successful author has been a plagiarist, but no author ever
succeeded because of his plagiary.

X. Don't break a butterfly on a wheel. If a book is not worth much, it
is not worth reviewing.

XI. Don't review a book as an east wind would review an apple-tree--so
it was once said Douglas Jerrold was wont to do. Of what profit to any
one is mere bitterness and vexation of spirit?

XII. Remember that the critic's duty is to the reader mainly, and that
it is to guide him not only to what is good, but to what is best. Three
parts of what is contemporary must be temporary only.

Having in the past now and again fallen from grace myself and written
criticism, I know that on such occasions these Twelve Good Rules would
have been exceedingly helpful to me had I then possessed them; therefore
I offer them now hopefully to my fellow-critics. But I find myself in a
state of humility (to which few critics are accustomed), and I doubt how
far my good advice will be heeded. I remember that, after reporting the
speech in which Poor Richard's maxims were all massed together, Franklin
tells us that "thus the old gentleman ended his harangue. The people
heard it and approved the doctrine; and immediately practised the
contrary, just as if it had been a common sermon."



"Whoever wishes to attain an English style, familiar but not coarse, and
elegant but not ostentatious, must give his days and nights to the study
of Addison," said Doctor Johnson a many years ago; and Doctor Johnson's
own style, elaborate if not artificial, and orotund if not polysyllabic,
might no doubt have been improved if the writer of the _Rambler_ had
given more of his days and nights to the study of the chief writer of
the _Spectator_. Doctor Johnson's advice is still quoted often, perhaps
it is still followed sometimes. Yet it is outworn and not for to-day. We
have nowadays better weapons than the Brown Bess Johnson appreciated so
highly--breech-loading rifles incomparably superior to the smooth-bore
he praises. Owing in part, no doubt, to the influence of Addison and to
the advice of Johnson, we have had writers of late whose style is easier
than Addison's, more graceful, more varied, more precise. Set a page of
one of Addison's little apologues beside a page of one of Hawthorne's
tales, and note how much more pellucid Hawthorne's style is, how much
more beautiful, how much more distinguished. Contrast one of Addison's
criticisms with one of Matthew Arnold's, and observe not only how much
more complete is the terminology of the art now than it was when the
_Spectator_ was appearing twice a week, but also how much more acute and
how much more flexible the mind of the later critic than the mind of the

Compare Addison's essays with those which Mr. George William Curtis has
recently collected into a volume, _From the Easy Chair_, and you will
see no reason to adopt any theory of literary degeneracy in our day. We
are all of us the heirs of the ages, no doubt, but it is in an unusual
degree that Mr. Curtis is the inheritor of the best traditions of the
English essay. He is the direct descendant of Addison, whose style is
overrated; of Steele, whose morality is humorous; of Goldsmith, whose
writing was angelic, and of Irving, whose taste was pretty. Mr. Curtis
recalls all of these, yet he is like none of them. Humorous as they are
and charming, he is somewhat sturdier, of a more robust fibre, with a
stronger respect for plain living and high thinking, with a firmer grasp
on the duties of life.

For the most part these essays of Mr. Curtis's are pleasant papers of
reminiscence, of gentle moralizing, and of kindly satire; but he is a
swift and a careless reader who does not detect the underlying
preachment which is at the core of most of them. Mr. Curtis is not
content to scourge lightly the snobbery and the vulgarity which cling to
the fringe of fashion, and sometimes get nearer to the centre of
society; he also sets up a high standard of morality in public life. The
divorce between Politics and Society--in the narrower meaning of the
words--is not wholesome for either party. Mr. Curtis reminds us that
"good government is one of the best things in the world," and that the
wise man "knows that good things of that kind are not cheap." This is a
quotation from the highly instructive and permanently pertinent paper
on "Honestus at the Caucus," which begins with the assertion that "a man
who is easily discouraged, who is not willing to put the good seed out
of sight and wait for results, who desponds if he cannot obtain
everything at once, and who thinks the human race lost if he is
disappointed, will be very unhappy if he persists in taking part in
politics. There is no sphere in which self-deception is easier."

There are but few essays with a political intention in this delightful
little book. The rest are papers mainly about people, about "Edward
Everett in 1862," and about "Emerson Lecturing," and about "Dickens
Reading," and about "Robert Browning in Florence," and about "Wendell
Phillips at Harvard," and about "A Little Dinner with Thackeray," and
about Thoreau, who had "a staccato style of speech, every word coming
separately and distinctly as if preserving the same cool isolation in
the sentence that the speaker did in society." Not a few of them have to
do with the players of the past, with the vocalists who are now but
memories of dead and gone delight, with the performers on musical
instruments--"Thalberg and other Pianists," "At the Opera in 1864,"
"Jenny Lind." Was the gentle Jenny Lind really a vocalist, or was she
only a singer of songs, unforgetable now because she sang them? As we
read these reminders of past delights we find ourselves wondering how
Jenny Lind would please the denizens of certain Unmusical Boxes at the
Metropolitan Opera-house, "who have an insatiable desire to proceed with
their intellectual cultivation by audible conversation during the

In the thick of the tussle of life here in this huge city of ours, where
strident voices fill the market-place, the mellow note of the essayist
is heard distinctly as he leans back in his Easy Chair, modulating every
syllable with exquisite felicity. And perhaps the author of the
_Potiphar Papers_ is in his way quite as characteristic of New York as
any of the more self-seeking notorieties who din into our ears the
catalogue of their merits. In a great city there is room for all, for
the boss and the heeler and the tough, as well as for the _Tatler_, the
_Spectator_, the _Idler_, the _Rambler_, and the _Citizen of the World_.

A citizen of the world, Mr. Curtis is, beyond all question, really
cosmopolitan; and, as Colonel Higginson told us a dozen years ago, "to
be really cosmopolitan a man must be at home even in his own country."
When Colonel Higginson came to New York last year to deliver before the
Nineteenth Century Club the lecture on _The New World and the New Book_,
which gives its title to a recent collection of his essays, this epigram
was quoted by the president of the club in introducing the speaker of
the evening. It is perhaps now the best known of Colonel Higginson's
many sharp sayings; it is better known probably than his assertion that
the American has "a drop more of nervous fluid" than the Englishman--an
assertion which Matthew Arnold failed to understand but did not fail to
denounce. No doubt it is hard for a writer as witty as Colonel Higginson
to find one or two of his acute sentences quivering in the public
memory, while others as well aimed fall off idly. But it is with the
epigram as with the lyric; we shoot an arrow in the air, it falls to
earth we know not where; and we can rarely foretell which shaft is going
to split the willow wand.

Colonel Higginson need not be ashamed to go down to posterity as the
author of one phrase, for many a writer is saved from oblivion by a
single apothegm; nor need he be afraid of this fate, for there are "good
things" a-plenty in this new volume, and some of them are certain to do
good service in international combat, and to go hustling across the
Atlantic again and again. There is an arsenal of epigram in the little
essay called "Weapons of Precision," and it is pleasant to see that
their effective range is more than 3000 miles. At that distance they
have already wounded Mr. Andrew Lang, and forced from him a cry of pain.
So sensitive did Mr. Lang show himself to these transatlantic darts that
he allowed himself to reveal his ignorance of Colonel Higginson's work,
of the Peabody Museum, and of various other men and things in America--a
knowledge of which was a condition precedent to debate on the question.

This question is very simple: Is there such a man as an American? Has he
ever done anything justifying his existence? Or is he simply a
second-rate, expatriated Englishman, a colonist who is to say ditto
forever and a day? If we are only debased duplicates of the Poor
Islanders, then our experiment here is a failure, and our continued
existence is not worth while. If we are something other than English,
then it may be as well to understand ourselves, and to throw off any
lingering bond of colonialism. This is what Colonel Higginson's book was
intended to help us to do. "Nothing is further," he has said in his
preface, from his "wish than to pander to any petty national vanity,"
his sole desire being to assist in creating a modest and reasonable
self-respect. "The Civil War bequeathed to us Americans, twenty-five
years ago, a great revival of national feeling; but this has been
followed in some quarters, during the last few years, by a curious
relapse into something of the old colonial and apologetic attitude." No
doubt this attitude is not characteristic of the best; it is to be seen
only in the East--chiefly in New York and in Boston--chiefly among the
half-educated, for the man of wide culture looks for light rather to
Paris and Berlin than to London.

Colonel Higginson proves abundantly, with a cloud of witnesses, that one
of the differences between the American and the Englishman is the
former's greater quickness. We are lighter and swifter in our
appreciation of humor, for example. Indeed, it is amusing to observe
that we speak of the English as obtuse in humor, just as they speak of
the Scotch. I think that Colonel Higginson succeeds also in showing that
there is greater fineness of taste in literature and in art in America;
at least we do not take our dime novels seriously, while in England the
leading weekly reviews really consider the stories of Miss Marryat and
of Mr. Farjeon.

Of course "the added drop of nervous fluid" must be paid for somehow; in
all international comparisons the great law of compensations holds good.
Recently a leading American scientist told me that he thought there was,
in American scientific work, a lack of the energy he had observed in the
English. It was of pure science he was speaking; as far as applied
science is concerned, there seems to be no lack of energy visible in the
United States. That this criticism is just I cannot deny, having no wish
to fall into the pitfall of discussing a subject of which I have no
knowledge whatever. But if there is a possible loss of energy, there is
an indisputable gain in mental flexibility, in openness of mind. There
are Philistines in the United States, as there are in Great Britain, a
many of them on both sides of the Atlantic; but between the British
Philistine and the American there is an essential difference. The
British Philistine knows not the light, and he hates it and he refuses
to receive it. The American Philistine knows not the light, but he is
not hostile, and he is not only ready to receive it, but eager. This is
a difference which goes to the root of the matter.

I have delayed so long over the subject of Colonel Higginson's book that
I have now no space to speak of its style or of its separate chapters.
"Weapons of Precision" I have already praised; it is a protest against
vulgarity of style--against the bludgeon and the boomerang as arms of
debate; it is a series of swift, rapier-like thrusts, to be considered
by all who think that our language is inferior to the French in point
and in brilliancy. Indeed, the whole book may be commended to those who
can enjoy style and wit and learning and a knowledge of the world and a
wisdom derived from men as well as from books. Especially may the
essays on the "Shadow of Europe," on the "Perils of American Humor," on
the "Evolution of an American," and on the "Trick of Self-Depreciation"
be recommended to all who are downcast about the position of literature
and of the arts in these United States, or about the United States as a
nation. These essays are tonic and stimulant; and if their Americanism
may seem to some aggressive, this is a failing which might become more
common than it is without becoming dangerous--if always it were
characterized by knowledge as wide as Colonel Higginson's and by wit as

To no one may I venture to recommend Colonel Higginson's book more
urgently than to Miss Agnes Repplier, who has sent forth a second volume
of her entertaining magazine articles grouped under the excellent title
of _Points of View_. Miss Repplier is very clever and very colonial.
Although a Philadelphian, she has apparently never heard of the
Declaration of Independence. From the company she keeps it is perhaps
not an unfair inference to suggest that she seems to be sorry that she
is not herself a Poor Islander. She is a well-read woman, with all
literature open before her, yet she quotes almost altogether from the
contributors to the contemporary British magazines; and we feel that if
birds of a feather flock together we have here in the eagle's nest by
some mischance hatched a British sparrow.

Miss Repplier's subjects are excellent--"A Plea for Humor," "Books that
Have Hindered Me," "Literary Shibboleths," "Fiction in the Pulpit," and
the like; and she discusses them with ready humor and feminine
individuality. She quotes abundantly and often aptly--and apt quotation
is a difficult art. But the writers from whom she quotes are not always
of that compliment. Bagehot had the gift of the winged phrase, and a
quotation from his masculine prose is always welcome. But a glance down
the list of the others from whom Miss Repplier quotes will show that she
mischooses often. She seems to lack the sense of literary perspective;
and for her one writer is apparently as good as another--so long as he
is a contemporary Englishman.

There is no index to Miss Repplier's book, but I have found amusement
in making out a hasty list of those from whom she quotes. I do not vouch
for its completeness or for its absolute accuracy, but it will serve to
show that she is more at home in Great Britain than in the United
States, and that her mind travels more willingly in the little
compartments of a British railway carriage than in the large parlor cars
of her native land. Besides Bagehot she cites Mr. Lang, Mr. Birrell, Mr.
Shorthouse, Mr. Frederic Harrison, Mr. Radford, Mr. Swinburne, Mr.
George Saintsbury, Mr. Gosse, Mr. James Payn, Mr. Ruskin, Mr. Pater, Mr.
Froude, Mr. Oscar Wilde, and Miss "Vernon Lee." There is also one
quotation from Doctor Everett, and one more from Doctor Holmes, or
perhaps two. But there is nothing from Lowell, than whom a more quotable
writer never lived. In like manner we find Miss Repplier discussing the
novels and characters of Miss Austen and of Scott, of Dickens, of
Thackeray, and of George Eliot, but never once referring to the novels
or characters of Hawthorne. Just how it was possible for any clever
American woman to write nine essays in criticism, rich in references
and quotations, without once happening on Lowell or on Hawthorne, is to
me inexplicable.

Colonialism is scarcely an adequate explanation for this devotion to the
first-rate, second-rate, and third-rate writers of a foreign country to
the neglect of the first-rate writers of her own. Perhaps the secret is
to be sought rather in Miss Repplier's lack of literary standards. In
literature as in some other things a woman's opinion is often personal
and accidental; it depends on the way the book has happened to strike
her; the angle of reflection is equal to the angle of incidence. Miss
Repplier fails to apprehend the distinction between the authors who are
to be taken seriously and the writers who are not to be taken
seriously--between the man of letters who is somebody and the scribbler
who is merely, in the French phrase, _quelconque_--nobody in particular.
There is no need to go over the list of the persons from whom Miss
Repplier quotes, and with whose writings she seems to have an equal
familiarity; certain names on it are those of comic personalities not to
be accorded the compliment of serious criticism.

Despite Miss Repplier's reliance on those British authors who have come
to America to enlighten us with lectures in words of one syllable--to
borrow a neat phrase of Colonel Higginson's--her _Points of View_ are
well chosen, and the outlook from them is pleasant. She writes brightly
always, and often brilliantly. She does herself injustice by her
deference to those whom she invites to her board, for she is better
company than her guests. Her criticism one need not fully agree with to
call it generally sensible and well put, and sometimes necessary.
Perhaps her best pages contain her protest against critical shams and
literary affectations. She has no patience with the man who, while
really liking Mr. Haggard's tales of battle, murder, and sudden death,
absurdly pretends to a preference for Tolstoï and Ibsen, whom his soul
abhors. She has pleasant humor in her remark that those who read _Robert
Elsmere_ nowadays would think it wrong to enjoy _Tom Jones_, while the
people who enjoyed _Tom Jones_--when it first came out--would have
thought it wrong to read _Robert Elsmere_; and "that the people who,
wishing to be on the safe side of virtue, think it wrong to read
either, are scorned greatly as lacking true moral discrimination."

A bias in favor of one's own countrymen is absurd when it leads us to
accept native geese for swans of Avon; but even then it is more
creditable than a bias in favor of foreigners. So it is to be hoped that
some of Miss Repplier's Philadelphian friends will take her to
Independence Hall next Fourth of July and show her the bell that
proclaimed liberty throughout the land. Then, on their way home, they
might drop into a book-store and make Miss Repplier a present of Colonel
Higginson's _The New World and the New Book_, and of Mr. Henry Cabot
Lodge's _Studies in History_ (wherein is to be found his acute account
of "Colonialism in America"), and also of that volume of Lowell's prose
which contains the famous essay "On a Certain Condescension in




The boy of to-day is fortunate indeed, and, of a truth, he is to be
congratulated. While the boy of yesterday had to stay his stomach with
the unconscious humor of _Sandford and Merton_, the boy of to-day may
get his fill of fun and of romance and of adventure in the _Story of a
Bad Boy_, in _Treasure Island_, in _Tom Brown_, and in _Tom Sawyer_, and
then in the sequel to _Tom Sawyer_, wherein Tom himself appears in the
very nick of time, like a young god from the machine. Sequels of stories
which have been widely popular are not a little risky. _Huckleberry
Finn_ is a sharp exception to the general rule of failure. Although it
is a sequel, it is quite as worthy of wide popularity as _Tom Sawyer_.
An American critic once neatly declared that the late G. P. R. James
hit the bull's-eye of success with his first shot, and that forever
thereafter he went on firing through the same hole. Now this is just
what Mark Twain has not done: _Huckleberry Finn_ is not an attempt to do
_Tom Sawyer_ over again. It is a story quite as unlike its predecessor
as it is like. Although Huck Finn appeared first in the earlier book,
and although Tom Sawyer reappears in the later, the scenes and the
characters are otherwise wholly different. Above all, the atmosphere of
the story is different. _Tom Sawyer_ was a tale of boyish adventure in a
village in Missouri, on the Mississippi River, and it was told by the
author. _Huckleberry Finn_ is autobiographic; it is a tale of boyish
adventure along the Mississippi River told as it appeared to Huck Finn.
There is not in _Huckleberry Finn_ any one scene quite as funny as those
in which Tom Sawyer gets his friends to whitewash the fence for him, and
then uses the spoils thereby acquired to attain the highest distinction
of the Sunday-school the next morning. Nor is there any situation quite
as thrilling as that awful moment in the cave when the boy and the girl
are lost in the darkness; and when Tom Sawyer suddenly sees a human hand
bearing a light, and then finds that the hand is the hand of Indian Joe,
his one mortal enemy. I have always thought that the vision of the hand
in the cave in _Tom Sawyer_ was one of the very finest things in the
literature of adventure since Robinson Crusoe first saw a single
foot-print in the sand of the sea-shore.

But though _Huckleberry Finn_ may not quite reach these two highest
points of _Tom Sawyer_, the general level of the later story is
indisputably higher than that of the earlier. For one thing, the skill
with which the character of Huck Finn is maintained is marvellous. We
see everything through his eyes--and they are his eyes, and not a pair
of Mark Twain's spectacles. And the comments on what he sees are his
comments--the comments of an ignorant, superstitious, sharp, healthy
boy, brought up as Huck Finn had been brought up; they are not speeches
put into his mouth by the author. One of the most artistic things in the
book--and that Mark Twain is a literary artist of a very high order all
who have considered his later writings critically cannot but
confess--one of the most artistic things in _Huckleberry Finn_ is the
sober self-restraint with which Mr. Clemens lets Huck Finn set down,
without any comment at all, scenes which would have afforded the
ordinary writer matter for endless moral and political and sociological
disquisition. I refer particularly to the accounts of the
Grangerford-Shepherdson feud, and of the shooting of Boggs by Colonel
Sherburn. Here are two incidents of the rough old life of the
South-western States and of the Mississippi Valley, forty or fifty years
ago, of the old life which is now rapidly passing away under the
influence of advancing civilization and increasing commercial
prosperity, but which has not wholly disappeared even yet, although a
slow revolution in public sentiment is taking place. The
Grangerford-Shepherdson feud is a vendetta as deadly as any Corsican
could wish, yet the parties to it were honest, brave, sincere, good
Christian people, probably people of deep religious sentiment. None the
less we see them taking their guns to church, and, when occasion serves,
joining in what is little better than a general massacre. The killing of
Boggs by Colonel Sherburn is told with equal sobriety and truth; and
the later scene in which Colonel Sherburn cows and lashes the mob which
has set out to lynch him is one of the most vigorous bits of writing
Mark Twain has done.

In _Tom Sawyer_ we saw Huckleberry Finn from the outside; in the present
volume we see him from the inside. He is almost as much a delight to any
one who has been a boy as was Tom Sawyer. But only he or she who has
been a boy can truly enjoy this record of his adventures and of his
sentiments and of his sayings. Old maids of either sex will wholly fail
to understand him, or to like him, or to see his significance and his
value. Like Tom Sawyer, Huck Finn is a genuine boy; he is neither a girl
in boy's clothes, like many of the modern heroes of juvenile fiction,
nor is he a "little man," a full-grown man cut down; he is a boy, just a
boy, only a boy. And his ways and modes of thought are boyish. As Mr. F.
Anstey understands the English boy, and especially the English boy of
the middle classes, so Mark Twain understands the American boy, and
especially the American boy of the Mississippi Valley of forty or fifty
years ago. The contrast between Tom Sawyer, who is the child of
respectable parents, decently brought up, and Huckleberry Finn, who is
the child of the town drunkard, not brought up at all, is made distinct
by a hundred artistic touches, not the least natural of which is Huck's
constant reference to Tom as his ideal of what a boy should be. When
Huck escapes from the cabin where his drunken and worthless father had
confined him, carefully manufacturing a mass of very circumstantial
evidence to prove his own murder by robbers, he cannot help saying, "I
did wish Tom Sawyer was there; I knowed he would take an interest in
this kind of business, and throw in the fancy touches. Nobody could
spread himself like Tom Sawyer in such a thing as that." Both boys have
their full share of boyish imagination; and Tom Sawyer, being given to
books, lets his imagination run on robbers and pirates, having a perfect
understanding with himself that, if you want to get fun out of this
life, you must never hesitate to make believe very hard; and, with Tom's
youth and health, he never finds it hard to make believe and to be a
pirate at will, or to summon an attendant spirit, or to rescue a
prisoner from the deepest dungeon 'neath the castle moat. But in Huck
this imagination has turned to superstition; he is a walking repository
of the juvenile folk-lore of the Mississippi Valley--a folk-lore partly
traditional among the white settlers, but largely influenced by intimate
association with the negroes. When Huck was in his room at night all by
himself waiting for the signal Tom Sawyer was to give him at midnight,
he felt so lonesome he wished he was dead:

"The stars was shining and the leaves rustled in the woods ever so
mournful; and I heard an owl, away off, who-whooing about somebody that
was dead, and a whippowill and a dog crying about somebody that was
going to die; and the wind was trying to whisper something to me, and I
couldn't make out what it was, and so it made the cold shivers run over
me. Then away out in the woods I heard that kind of a sound that a ghost
makes when it wants to tell about something that's on its mind and can't
make itself understood, and so can't rest easy in its grave, and has to
go about that way every night grieving. I got so downhearted and scared
I did wish I had some company. Pretty soon a spider went crawling up my
shoulders, and I flipped it off and it lit in the candle; and before I
could budge it was all shrivelled up. I didn't need anybody to tell me
that that was an awful bad sign and would fetch me some bad luck, so I
was scared and most shook the clothes off me. I got up and turned around
in my tracks three times and crossed my breast every time; and then I
tied up a little lock of my hair with a thread to keep witches away. But
I hadn't no confidence. You do that when you've lost a horseshoe that
you've found, instead of nailing it up over the door, but I hadn't ever
heard anybody say it was any way to keep off bad luck when you'd killed
a spider."

And, again, later in the story, not at night this time, but in broad
daylight, Huck walks along a road:

"When I got there it was all still and Sunday-like, and hot and
sunshiny--the hands was gone to the fields; and there was them kind of
faint dronings of bugs and flies in the air that makes it seem so
lonesome like everybody's dead and gone; and if a breeze fans along and
quivers the leaves, it makes you feel mournful, because you feel like
it's spirits whispering--spirits that's been dead ever so many
years--and you always think they're talking about _you_. As a general
thing it makes a body wish _he_ was dead, too, and done with it all."

Now, none of these sentiments are appropriate to Tom Sawyer, who had
none of the feeling for nature which Huck Finn had caught during his
numberless days and nights in the open air. Nor could Tom Sawyer either
have seen or set down this instantaneous photograph of a summer storm:

"It would get so dark that it looked all blue-black outside, and lovely;
and the rain would thrash along by so thick that the trees off a little
ways looked dim and spider-webby; and here would come a blast of wind
that would bend the trees down and turn up the pale underside of the
leaves; and then a perfect ripper of a gust would follow along and set
the branches to tossing their arms as if they was just wild; and next,
when it was just about the bluest and blackest--fst! it was as bright as
glory, and you'd have a little glimpse of tree-tops a-plunging about,
away off yonder in the storm, hundreds of yards further than you could
see before; dark as sin again in a second, and now you'd hear the
thunder let go with an awful crash, and then go rumbling, grumbling,
tumbling down the sky towards the under side of the world, like rolling
empty barrels down-stairs, where it's long stairs and they bounce a good
deal, you know."

The romantic side of Tom Sawyer is shown in most delightfully humorous
fashion in the account of his difficult devices to aid in the easy
escape of Jim, a run-away negro. Jim is an admirably drawn character.
There have been not a few fine and firm portraits of negroes in recent
American fiction, of which Mr. Cable's Bras-Coupé in the _Grandissimes_
is perhaps the most vigorous, and Mr. Harris's Mingo and Uncle Remus and
Blue Dave are the most gentle. Jim is worthy to rank with these; and the
essential simplicity and kindliness and generosity of the Southern negro
have never been better shown than here by Mark Twain. Nor are Tom Sawyer
and Huck Finn and Jim the only fresh and original figures in Mr.
Clemens's book; on the contrary, there is scarcely a character of the
many introduced who does not impress the reader at once as true to
life--and therefore as new, for life is so varied that a portrait from
life is sure to be as good as new. That Mr. Clemens draws from life, and
yet lifts his work from the domain of the photograph to the region of
art, is evident to any one who will give his writing the honest
attention which it deserves. The chief players in _Huckleberry Finn_ are
taken from life, no doubt, but they are so aptly chosen and so broadly
drawn that they are quite as typical as they are actual. They have one
great charm, all of them--they are not written about and about; they are
not described and dissected and analyzed; they appear and play their
parts and disappear; and yet they leave a sharp impression of
indubitable vitality and individuality.



IN his most suggestive study of the Greek World Under Roman Sway,
wherein we find the feelings, the thoughts, and the actions of those who
lived in the first century explained and elucidated by constant
references to similar states of feeling, thought, and action still
surviving among us who live in the nineteenth century, Professor Mahaffy
expresses his belief that the _Golden Ass_ of Apuleius does not give a
true picture of the Greek life it purported to represent, but that it is
rather a reflection of the depravity of the Romans to whom it was
addressed; and then he adds these shrewd suggestions, to be borne in
mind by all who ever consider the fiction of a foreign country or of
another century: "We might as well charge all society in France with
being addicted to one form of vice, because recent French fiction
occupies itself almost exclusively with this as the material for its
plots. The society for which such books are written must have shown that
they are to its taste; the society which such books portray may be
wholly different and grossly libelled by being made to reflect the vices
of the author and his readers."

If French society were composed exclusively of the men and women who
people most of the Parisian romances of the past fifteen or twenty
years; if the inhabitants of the cities were like the miserable
creatures we see in M. Zola's _Pot-Bouille_, and if the dwellers in the
fields were like the horrible wretches we see in M. Zola's _La Terre_,
the outlook of France would be black indeed, for no country could exist
or should exist which was peopled by such a gang of monsters. But any
one who knows French life, any one especially who knows the life of the
larger provincial towns, knows that what M. Zola has represented as
typical and characteristic is, in reality, exceptional and abnormal.
Probably there is no house in the whole of Paris occupied by as corrupt
a set of tenants as those set before us in _Pot-Bouille_; and certainly
there is no village in the whole of France wherein all the horrors
depicted in _La Terre_ could possibly have taken place. The fact is, the
French like to boast about vice as the British like to boast about
virtue. I should doubt if there was any great difference in morals
between the upper society of Paris and of London, except the
overwhelming hypocrisy of the latter. Apparently M. Zola has at last
awakened to some consciousness of the false impression produced by his
work. _Le Rève_ was his attempt to produce a novel fit for the class to
which nearly all English novels are addressed.

In his recent study, _L'Argent_, there is a fairer balance than in his
other books; there are decent people, kindly folk, men and women of
honest hearts and willing hands. We have a cheerful glimpse of the home
life of Mazaud, the stock-broker who commits suicide when he fails. The
Jordans, husband and wife, are perhaps the pleasantest pair to be found
in all M. Zola's novels. With the novelist's increasing fame,
apparently, he is taking brighter views of humanity. And Madame
Caroline, despite her lapse, might almost be called an honest woman, if
this is not a paradox; she is a strong, wholesome, broad-minded
creature, admirably realized. The goddess Lubricity, whom Matthew Arnold
first named as the presiding deity of French fiction, is still
worshipped in other parts of the book; and her worship is out of place
in this book at least, for those who are seized with the lust for gain
have little time for any other. For example, the whole story of
Saccard's relations with the Baroness Sandorff is needlessly offensive
and revolting; and at bottom it is essentially false. But there is a
marked improvement of tone in _L'Argent_ over certain even of his later
books, while the atmosphere is nowhere as foul as it was in most of his
earlier novels.

There is no disputing that M. Zola is a man with a dirty mind--with a
liking for dirt for its own sake. There is no disputing also that he is
a novelist of most extraordinary fecundity and force. Of all the books I
have read in the past ten years, I received the strongest impression
from Zola's _Germinal_ and from Ibsen's _Ghosts_; and I can still hear
the cry for light, and the pitiful appeal of the son to the mother with
which the latter closes; and I can still feel the chill wind which
whistles across the dark plain in the opening pages of the former. There
is in _L'Argent_ the same power, the same splendid sweep, the same
mighty movement, the same symbolic treatment of the subject, the same
epic method. M. Zola thinks himself a naturalist; he has preached
naturalism from the house-top; he is generally taken at his word and
criticised as a naturalist, and as a fact he is not a naturalist at all.
M. Zola is not one who sees certain things in life, and who ties them
together with a loose thread of plot--although this is the naturalism
he approves of. He has preached it, but he has never practised it. On
the contrary, M. Zola picks out a subject and reads up and crams for it,
and conceives it as a whole, and devises typical characters and
characteristic incidents, and co-ordinates the materials he has thus
laboriously accumulated into a harmonious work of art, as closely
constructed as a Greek tragedy and moving forward towards the inevitable
catastrophe with something of the same irresistible impulse. No novelist
of our time is affected less by what he sees in nature than M. Zola; not
one is more consciously artful.

This symbolic method of M. Zola's is shown in _L'Argent_ almost as
clearly as in _Germinal_, which I cannot help considering his greatest
novel, despite its prolixity and the foulness of many of its episodes.
As _Germinal_ was the story of a coal-mine with a strike, so _L'Argent_
is a story of a gigantic speculation on the stock exchange, treated in
the same epic fashion, with typical characters and all the necessary
incidents. Obviously the Union Générale suggested certain particular
details of Saccard's Banque Universelle. Obviously also Baron
Rothschild sat for the portrait of Gundermann. There is the same use of
minor figures to personify the crowd, and themselves identifiable by
some broad characteristic--Moser, the bear; Pellerault, the bull;
Amadrin, the speculator who foolishly blundered into a successful
operation, and who has wisely held his tongue ever since; and all these
minor characters (and there is a host of them) serve as a chorus, help
along the main action of the tale, comment upon it, and typify the
throng of men and women who are at the periphery of any great movement.
These little people are all vigorously projected; they are all adroitly
contrasted one with another; they are all carried in the hand of the
novelist and manœuvred with unfailing effect, with a power and a
certainty which no other living novelist possesses.

That many readers should be bored by all of Zola's writing I can readily
understand, for it is not always easy reading. That many more should be
shocked by him is even more comprehensible, for he has a thick thumb and
he makes dirty marks over all his work. That some even should be annoyed
by M. Zola's method or irritated by his mannerisms, I can explain
without difficulty. But what I cannot comprehend is that any one having
read _Une Page d'Amour_ or _Germinal_ or _L'Argent_ can deny that M.
Zola is a very great force in fiction. But there are critics in Great
Britain--and even in the United States, where we are less squeamish and
less hypocritical--who refuse to reckon with M. Zola, and who pass by on
the other side. A man must be strong of stomach to enjoy much of M.
Zola's fiction; he must be feeble in perception if he does not feel its
strength and its complex art. M. Zola's strength is often rank, no
doubt, and there is a foul flavor about even his most forcible novels,
which makes them unfit for the library of the clean-minded American
woman. But in any exact sense of the word M. Zola's novels are not
immoral, as the romances of M. Georges Ohnet are immoral, for example,
or those of the late Octave Feuillet. Yet they are not spoon-meat for



The reader of _Humphrey Clinker_--if that robust and sturdy British
story has any readers nowadays, when the art of fiction has become so
much finer and more subtile--will remember that little Tim Cropdale "had
made shift to live many years by writing novels at the rate of £5 a
volume; but that branch of business is now engrossed by female authors,"
so Smollett goes on to tell us, "who publish merely for the propagation
of virtue, with so much ease and spirit and delicacy and knowledge of
the human heart, and all in the serene tranquillity of high life, that
the reader is not only enchanted by their genius but reformed by their
morality." _Humphrey Clinker_ was first published in 1771, the year of
its author's death; and the names of the women of England who were
writing novels six-score years ago are now forgotten. How many of the
insatiate devourers of fiction who feed voraciously on the paper-covered
volumes of the news-stand have ever heard of the _Memoirs of Miss Sidney
Biddulph_ for example? Yet Charles James Fox called this the best novel
of his age; and Doctor Johnson found great interest in following the
misadventures of Miss Biddulph, and declared to the authoress that he
knew not if she had a right, on moral principles, to make her readers
suffer so much. The authoress of the _Memoirs of Miss Sidney Biddulph_
was Frances Sheridan, now remembered only because she was the mother of
the author of the _School for Scandal_.

Mrs. Sheridan was an estimable woman, and it was not to her that
Smollett turned the edge of his irony. There were in his day not a few
fashionable ladies who, in "the serene tranquillity of high life," told
stories that neither enchanted by their genius nor reformed by their
morality. In most of the novels written by women in the second half of
the eighteenth century, the morality is but little more obvious than the
genius. Like the fashionable English novels of the first half of this
century, now as carefully forgotten as the tales of Smollett's fair
contemporaries, the female fiction with which Little Tim Cropdale found
himself unable to compete was a curious compound of bad morals, bad
manners, and bad grammar. Although stories by female authors who
"publish merely for the propagation of virtue" and for the gratification
of their own vanity are still to be found in London by any one who will
seek on Mr. Mudie's shelves, the standard of female fiction has been
greatly elevated in England since Miss Austen put forth her first modest

Charlotte Brontë and George Eliot followed in due season; and it would
not now be possible to draw up a list of the ten greatest British
novelists without placing on it the names of two or three women, at the
least. There are diligent readers of fiction who would insist that the
name of Mrs. Oliphant should be inscribed among the chosen few, by
reason of certain of her earlier tales of Scottish life; and there are
others equally insistent that the strange romances of the English lady
who calls herself a French expletive entitle the name of "Ouida" to be
placed on the roll of the chosen few. Indeed, the admiration of those
who do admire this lady's stories is so ardent and fervid that I
sometimes wonder whether the twentieth century will not see a Ouida
Society for the expounding of the inner spiritual meaning of _Under Two
Flags_ and _Held in Bondage_.

In America, since the day when Susanna Rowson wrote _Charlotte Temple_,
and more especially since the day when Mrs. Stowe wrote _Uncle Tom's
Cabin_, no list of American novelists could fairly be drawn up on which
nearly half the names would not be those of women--even when one of
these names might seem to be that of a man--like Charles Egbert
Craddock's, for example. Colonel Higginson recently deplored the
oblivion into which we have allowed the wholesomely realistic fiction of
Miss Sedgwick to fall; and it has been remarked that the vigorous New
England tales of Rose Terry Cooke never met with the full measure of
success they deserved. But the authoress of _Ramona_, the authoress of
That Lass o' Lowrie's, the authoress of _Anne_, the authoress of _Faith
Gartney's Girlhood_, the authoress of _Signor Monaldini's Niece_, the
authoress of _John Ward, Preacher_, the authoress of the _Story of
Margaret Kent_, the authoress of _Friend Olivia_, and the authoresses of
a dozen or of a score of other novels which have had their day of
vogue, these ladies are able easily to prove that the field of fiction
is being cultivated diligently by the women of America.

One of the cleverest novels recently published by any American woman is
_The Anglomaniacs_, which came forth anonymously, but which Mrs. Burton
Harrison has since acknowledged. It is a sketch only, a little picture
of a corner of life, hardly more than an impression, but is brilliant in
color and accurate in drawing. Limited as it is in scope and contracted
as is its framework, it strikes me as the best reflection of certain
phases of New York life since the author of the _Potiphar Papers_ made
fun of the Reverend Mr. Creamcheese. It echoes the talk of those who

                      "tread the weary mill
    With jaded step and call it pleasure still."

And, better yet, it suggests the feelings which prompted the talk. At a
recent meeting of the Nineteenth Century Club, Mr. Theodore Roosevelt
called Mr. Ward McAllister's _Society as I Found It_ an "exposure of the
400;" and certainly it is difficult to believe that even 100 people of
fashion could be found anywhere in New York as dull as those Mr.
McAllister saw around him, as narrow-minded and as thick-witted. Mrs.
Burton Harrison knows what is called Society quite as well as Mr.
McAllister; and as she is a clever woman, those she sees about her are
often clever also. The company of Anglomaniacs to which she invites our
attention are not dullards, nor are they cads, even though an
ill-natured philosopher might be moved to call them snobs. A
good-natured philosopher would probably find them amusing; and he would
make shift to enjoy their companionship, dropping easily into
acquaintance and laughing with them quite as often as he laughed at

In these days, when hosts of honest people throughout the United States
are reading with delighted awe long accounts of the manners and customs
of a strange tribe of human creatures, the female of which is known as a
"Society Lady" and the male as a "Clubman," it is pleasant to find
novels of New York life written by ladies who move within the charmed
circle of what is called Society, and who can write about the doings of
their fellows simply and without either snobbish wonder or caddish
envy. The authoress of _The Anglomaniacs_ and the authoress of
_Mademoiselle Réséda_ see Society as it is, and they are not so dazzled
by the unexpected glare that they need to put on sea-side spectacles to
enable them to observe what is going on about them. It is an old saying
that to describe well we must not know too well, for long knowledge
blunts the edge of appreciation. But those who, having knowledge, seek
rather to reveal than to describe, often render a more valuable service
than the more superficial observers who offer us their first
impressions. Something of this revelation of Society we find in Mrs.
Harrison's brilliant sketch and in the stories of "Julien Gordon."

Thackeray complained that no British novelist had dared to describe a
young man's life since Fielding wrote _Tom Jones_; and Mr. Henry James,
praising George Sand, notes the total absence of passion in English
novels. If this reproach is ever taken away from our fiction, it will be
by some woman. Women are more willing than men to suggest the animal
nature that sheathes our immortal souls; they are bolder in the use of
the stronger emotions; they are more willing to suggest the
possibilities of passion lurking all unsuspected beneath the placidity
of modern fine-lady existence. Perhaps they are sometimes even a little
too willing: as Mr. Warner reminded us not long ago, "it may be
generally said of novelists, that men know more than they tell, and that
women tell more than they know."

It is by slow degrees that woman forges forward and takes her place
alongside man in the mastery of the fine arts. The Muses were all women,
once upon a time, but those whom they visited were all men. The first
art in which the woman made herself manifestly the equal of the man was
the art of vocal music--or was it that of dancing? The daughter of
Herodias was mistress of both accomplishments. Then in time woman
divided the stage with man; the histrionic art was possessed by both
sexes with equal opportunity; and who shall say that Garrick or Kean
surpassed in power Mrs. Siddons or Rachel? Now prose fiction is theirs
quite as much as it is man's; and when the _Critic_ recently elected by
vote the twenty foremost American women of letters, many more than half
were writers of novels. The readers of _Humphrey Clinker_ did not
foresee Jane Austen and George Eliot and George Sand any more than
little Tim Cropdale could.



"WHOEVER and wherever and however situated a man is, he must watch three
things--sleeping, digestion, and laughing," said Mr. Beecher; and he
added with equal wisdom, "they are three indispensable necessities.
Prayers are very well, and reading the Bible very well indeed; but a man
can get along without the Bible, but he can't without the other three
things." When a man has a clear conscience, good digestion ought to wait
on appetite; and when he has a good digestion and a clear conscience, he
ought to find it easy to sleep well. Yet as sleep is the only true
friend that will not come at one's call, he may be wakeful despite his
pure heart and quiet stomach; and in this case he may fairly resort to
the Patent-office reports or the British comic papers, than which

             "Not poppy, nor mandragora,
    Nor all the drowsy syrups of the world"

are more potent soporifics. Many of the avowedly humorous publications
of the day are better as a cure for sleeplessness than as a cause of
laughter. Of all sad words of tongue or pen none is sadder than what is
known in many a newspaper office as "comic copy." Wit cannot be made to
order, and humor cannot be purchased by the yard, with a discount if the
buyer takes the whole roll.

In the _History of Henry Esmond_--more veracious than many a more
pretentious history of the reign of Queen Anne and of a broader
truth--Thackeray speaks of the "famous beaux-esprits," who "would make
many brilliant hits--half a dozen in a night sometimes--but, like
sharp-shooters, when they had fired their shot, they were obliged to
retire under cover till their pieces were loaded again and they got
another chance at their enemy." And this figure expresses the exact
fact; no wit is a breech-loader--still less is he a repeating rifle
capable of discharging sixteen shots without taking thought. The
readiest man must have time to reload and the most fertile must lie
fallow now and again. Richard Brinsley Sheridan, even when he had most
carefully prepared himself, did not sparkle in private conversation as
he was able to make his characters scintillate through the long sittings
of the scandalous college. If needs must and the devil drives a poor
wretch to crack jokes unceasingly, then of necessity the edge of his wit
will not be as keen nor the strokes of his humor as effective. And this
is why the conducting of a comic paper is like the leading of a forlorn
hope. Success can scarcely be more than a lucky accident. "'Tis not in
mortals to command success," and if Cato and Sempronius were joint
editors of a comic weekly it may be doubted whether they would even
deserve it. Nor would the author of the tragedy from which this last
quotation is taken have been a satisfactory office editor of a comic
weekly, although he contributed to the _Spectator_ the delightfully and
delicately humorous sketch of Sir Roger de Coverley.

This is why the level of comic journalism is not as lofty as we could
wish. This is why we frequently find poor jokes even in journals where
every effort is made to provide good jokes. The supply is not equal to
the demand, and the jokesmith often has to set his wits to work when the
stock of raw material is running low. _Punch_ and _Puck_ are the
representative comic weeklies of the two great branches of the
English-speaking race. _Punch_ has had a great past. It may even be
questioned whether those who declare its decadence do not exaggerate its
former merits almost as much as they do its present failings. It is
vaguely remembered that in _Punch_ Hood published the "Song of the
Shirt" and Thackeray the _Book of Snobs_, and Douglas Jerrold the _Story
of a Feather_, and it is often supposed that there was a time when all
the clever men of London contributed their best things every week to
_Punch_. But one has only to turn over the leaves of any of the earlier
volumes of the British weekly to discover that if this ever were the
case, then the clever men of London were a very dull lot. _Punch_ is
very much the same now that it was in the past. Hood contributed the
"Song of the Shirt," and nothing else; Douglas Jerrold wrote the _Story
of a Feather_--but who reads Douglas Jerrold nowadays? A'Becket
composed a _Comic History of England_, and the few of us who have read
it to-day feel as Dickens felt at the time, that it is dull and
machine-made. Thackeray wrote _Mr. Punch's Prize Novelists_ and the
_Snob Papers_; and Thackeray was the "Fat Contributor;" and there has
been no one like Thackeray since he left the paper.

But the pictures of _Punch_ are as good now as ever they were; perhaps,
taking one week with another, they are better. And the letter-press is
very much what it has always been--rhymes, jingles, puns in profusion,
topical allusions--"comic copy," in short. Now and then there is
something in _Punch_ which is still worth reading. There were Artemus
Ward's papers a score of years ago, for instance, and there were more
recently some of Mr. F. C. Burnand's earlier parodies and some of his
earlier _Happy Thoughts_. Decidedly the most amusing prose which has
appeared in _Punch_ during the past four or five years is the series of
overheard conversations called _Voces Populi_.

The author of _Voces Populi_ is the "F. Anstey" who is well known in
America as the writer of _Vice Versa_ and of the _Tinted Venus_. It is
an open secret that the real name of "F. Anstey" is Guthrie, just as
everybody knows that the real name of "Mark Twain" is Clemens. (The
conjunction of these names was fortuitous, but it serves to remind me
that I once heard Mr. Robert Louis Stevenson say that the two strongest
chapters in the fiction of the past ten years were to be found, one in
the _Giant's Robe_ of "F. Anstey" and the other in the _Huckleberry
Finn_ of "Mark Twain.") The first book of an unknown author has small
chance of sudden success, and _Vice Versa_ was Mr. Guthrie's first book.
Fortunately it came into the hands of Mr. Andrew Lang a few days after
it was published, and Mr. Lang was so taken with its freshness, its
truthfulness to boy nature, and its almost pathetic humor that he wrote
a column about it in the _Daily News_--a column of the heartiest
appreciation. "It was Lang's review that made the success of _Vice
Versa_," said Mr. Guthrie to me once in London, two or three years ago,
when we were planning to write a story together. And it was Mr. Lang who
afterwards introduced the author of _Vice Versa_ to the staff of

In _Voces Populi_ Mr. Guthrie has gathered a score and a half of
fragmentary dialogues, casual, plotless, but never pointless. They are
thumbnail sketches of British character, "At a Dinner Party," "At a
Wedding," "At the French Play," "At a Turkish Bath," "In an Italian
Restaurant," in "Trafalgar Square" during a demonstration, and in "A
Show Place." They are photographic in their accuracy, making due
allowance for humorous foreshortening. They hit off the foibles of
fashionable frivolity; they depict with unfaltering exactness the
inconceivable limitations and narrowness of the middle class; but where
they are most abundantly and triumphantly successful is in the rendering
of the lower orders of London. Mr. Guthrie has caught the cockney in the
very act of cockneyism, and he has here pilloried him for all time, but
wholly without bitterness or rancor. Mr. Guthrie knows his roughs, his
ruffians, his house-maids, his travellers, "Third Class--Parliamentary,"
and his visitors to "An East-End Poultry Show;" he knows them through
and through; he sees their weakness; and after all he is tolerant, he
does not dislike them in his heart, he handles them as though he loved
them. We confess his kindliness of touch, even though it moves us to no
more friendly feeling of our own. "Vox populi, vox Dei," says the adage,
as true as most adages; but these _Voces Populi_, if not "Voces
diaboli," might at least be called to the witness-box by the devil's
advocate. It is a terrible indictment of contemporary British manners
that we hear in these conversations, humorous as they are; and the
indictment is perhaps the severer in that it is wholly unconscious. It
is quite unwittingly that Mr. Guthrie offers this evidence to prove the
truth of Matthew Arnold's assertion that one could see in England "an
aristocracy materialized and null, a middle class purblind and hideous,
a lower class crude and brutal."

In this respect at least no greater contrast could be found to the
_Voces Populi_ of Mr. Guthrie, reprinted from the British _Punch_, than
the _Short Sixes_ of Mr. H. C. Bunner, reprinted from the American
_Puck_. The impression with which one rises from the reading of Mr.
Bunner's tales is as different as possible from that with which one
rises from the reading of Mr. Guthrie's dialogues. In the one book we
see the British selfish, brutal, narrow-minded; and in the other we see
the Americans lively, kindly, good-humored. In each case the volume is
made up of matter contributed week by week to a comic journal. If it be
objected that the satirist is bound perforce to show the seamy side of
human nature, the obligation ought to be equally respected on both sides
of the Atlantic; and the fact is that Mr. Guthrie reports conversations
which are very clever and very amusing, but which give us no liking for
his fellow-countrymen; whereas Mr. Bunner's men and women we are ready
and glad to take by the hand, even if we do not take them all to our
hearts. Look down the _dramatis personæ_ of Mr. Bunner's thirteen
stories, and even the old curmudgeon who befools the little parson of
one of "The Two Churches of Quawket" has humor enough to save him from
hatred, and the little parson himself is pitiful rather than
contemptible. Neither Colonel Brereton's Aunty nor the mendacious and
persuasive colonel is a character whom any American would cross the
street to avoid--far from it. And as for the pert young person who
engages in "A Sisterly Scheme," and who is perhaps the most forward and
objectionable young woman of recent fiction, where is the American who
could object to her? Where, indeed, is the American who does not envy
Muffets the fun of his courtship and the joy of his marriage?

George Eliot in one of her novels tells us that "a difference of taste
in jests is a great strain on the affections"--a profound truth. There
is little hope of happiness in a union where one party has a highly
developed sense of humor and the other none at all. That is perhaps the
reason why so few international marriages are happy. Certainly, the
chief characteristic of the figures in Mr. Guthrie's little dramas is
their absence of humor, and one of the chief characteristics of the
people in Mr. Bunner's prose comedies is their abundance of humor. We
laugh at the speakers in _Voces Populi_, while we laugh with the actors
in _Short Sixes_. And we find in Mr. Bunner's book an unfailing variety,
an unflagging ingenuity and an unforced humor, now rich and now
delicate. We are delighted by wit, playful and incessant and never
obtrusive. We discover ourselves to be dissolved in laughter, and often
it is "the exquisite laughter that comes from a gratification of the
reasoning faculty," as George Eliot called it in one of her letters.
Never is it laughter that we ever feel ashamed of; near the smile there
is often a tear, hidden, and to be found only by those who seek. "The
Tenor," for example, which may seem to some hasty readers almost
farcical, is in reality almost tragic, in that the heroine sees the
shattering of an ideal and stumbles over the clay feet of her idol. The
"Love Letters of Smith" are broadly funny, if you choose to think them
so, but I feel sorry for the reader who pays that clever sketch the
tribute of careless laughter only.

Next, perhaps, to Mr. Bunner's firm grasp of character, to his delicate
perception, to his keen observation, to his faculty of hinting a
pathetic undercurrent beneath the flow of humor, comes his felicity in
suggesting the very essence of New York. Only three of the thirteen
little tales are supposed to happen in this great city, and these are,
perhaps, not likely to be the most popular; but they are enough to show
again what Mr. Bunner had already revealed in the _Story of a New York
House_ and in the still uncollected _Ballads of the Town_, that he has a
knowledge of this busy city possessed by no other American writer of
fiction. It is knowledge not paraded in his pages, but it permeates
certain of his characters. Take "The Tenor," for example. In that lively
story the young girl, seeking out the being whom she has worshipped from
afar, rashly ventures into the hotel where the singer and his wife live.
She goes as a servant, and she has a chance interview with one of the
employees of the house--"a good-looking, large girl, with red hair and
bright cheeks." This young person sees the name "Louise Levy" on the
heroine's trunk. "You don't look like a sheeny," she remarks promptly.
"Can't tell nothin' about names, can you? My name's Slattery. You'd
think I was Irish, wouldn't you? Well, I'm straight Ne' York. I'd be
dead before I was Irish. Born here. Ninth Ward, an' next to an
engine-house." Could anything be more intensely, impressively,
essentially Manhattan than this little vignette framed in the doorway of
a hotel?

There are those who choose to speak of Mr. Bunner as a humorist,
because he is the editor of _Puck_. He is a humorist, no doubt, and his
humor will endure, for it is founded on observation and on an
understanding of his fellow-man. But he is a poet--as a true humorist
must be. Perhaps his best story is "Love in Old Clothes," in which the
humor and the poetry are inextricably blended, and in which there is a
pure tenderness of touch I cannot but call exquisite. And yet, perhaps,
I do not like it as well as the vigorous sketch called the "Zadoc Pine
Labor Union." This is an object-lesson in Americanism; it is a model of
applied political economy. And Zadoc Pine himself is one of the most
direct and manly characters who has stepped from real life into
literature. He has gumption and he has grit; he is an American as
Benjamin Franklin was an American, and as Abraham Lincoln was. He could
think as straight as he could shoot; and the tale of his rise in life is
as potent a plea for freedom as Mr. Herbert Spencer's.

But about Mr. Bunner's writings I confess that I can never speak with
the expected coldness of the critic, for the author is my friend for now
many years. We have dwelt beneath the same roof for months at a time.
We have exchanged counsel day and night; we have heard each other's
plans and projects; we have read each other's manuscript; we have
revised each other's proof-sheets; more than once we have written the
same story together, he holding the pen, or I, as chance would have it.
But shall friendship blind me to the quality of my comrade's art? When
he puts forth a book, shall I pass by on the other side, silent, and
giving no sign? That may be the choice of some, but it is not mine.


       *       *       *       *       *


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The following have been changed (note of etext transcriber)

the words thus modified is a foreign word,=>the word thus modified is a
foreign word,


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