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Confessions and Criticisms by Julian Hawthorne

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CONFESSIONS AND CRITICISMS

BY
JULIAN HAWTHORNE

CONTENTS.

CHAPTER

I. A PRELIMINARY CONFESSION
II. NOVELS AND AGNOSTICISM
III. AMERICANISM IN FICTION
IV. LITERATURE FOR CHILDREN
V. THE MORAL AIM IN FICTION
VI. THE MAKER OF MANY BOOKS
VII. MR. MALLOCK'S MISSING SCIENCE
VIII. THEODORE WINTHROP'S WRITINGS
IX. EMERSON AS AN AMERICAN
X. MODERN MAGIC
XI. AMERICAN WILD ANIMALS IN ART

CONFESSIONS AND CRITICISMS.

CHAPTER I.

A PRELIMINARY CONFESSION.

In 1869, when I was about twenty-three years old, I sent a couple of
sonnets to the revived _Putnam's Magazine_. At that period I had no
intention of becoming a professional writer: I was studying civil
engineering at the Polytechnic School in Dresden, Saxony. Years before, I
had received parental warnings--unnecessary, as I thought--against writing
for a living. During the next two years, however, when I was acting as
hydrographic engineer in the New York Dock Department, I amused myself by
writing a short story, called "Love and Counter-Love," which was published
in _Harper's Weekly_, and for which I was paid fifty dollars. "If fifty
dollars can be so easily earned," I thought, "why not go on adding to my
income in this way from time to time?" I was aided and abetted in the idea
by the late Robert Carter, editor of _Appletons' Journal_; and the latter
periodical and _Harper's Magazine_ had the burden, and I the benefit, of
the result. When, in 1872, I was abruptly relieved from my duties in the
Dock Department, I had the alternative of either taking my family down to
Central America to watch me dig a canal, or of attempting to live by my
pen. I bought twelve reams of large letter-paper, and began my first
work,--"Bressant." I finished it in three weeks; but prudent counsellors
advised me that it was too immoral to publish, except in French: so I
recast it, as the phrase is, and, in its chastened state, sent it through
the post to a Boston publisher. It was lost on the way, and has not yet
been found. I was rather pleased than otherwise at this catastrophe; for I
had in those days a strange delight in rewriting my productions: it was,
perhaps, a more sensible practice than to print them. Accordingly, I
rewrote and enlarged "Bressant" in Dresden (whither I returned with my
family in 1872); but--immorality aside--I think the first version was the
best of the three. On my way to Germany I passed through London, and there
made the acquaintance of Henry S. King, the publisher, a charming but
imprudent man, for he paid me one hundred pounds for the English copyright
of my novel: and the moderate edition he printed is, I believe, still
unexhausted. The book was received in a kindly manner by the press; but
both in this country and in England some surprise and indignation were
expressed that the son of his father should presume to be a novelist. This
sentiment, whatever its bearing upon me, has undoubtedly been of service
to my critics: it gives them something to write about. A disquisition upon
the mantle of Nathaniel Hawthorne, and an analysis of the differences and
similarities between him and his successor, generally fill so much of a
notice as to enable the reviewer to dismiss the book itself very briefly.
I often used to wish, when, years afterwards, I was myself a reviewer for
the London _Spectator_, that I could light upon some son of his father who
might similarly lighten my labors. Meanwhile, I was agreeably astonished
at what I chose to consider the success of "Bressant," and set to work to
surpass it in another romance, called (for some reason I have forgotten)
"Idolatry." This unknown book was actually rewritten, in whole or in part,
no less than seven times. _Non sum qualis eram_. For seven or eight years
past I have seldom rewritten one of the many pages which circumstances
have compelled me to inflict upon the world. But the discipline of
"Idolatry" probably taught me how to clothe an idea in words.

By the time "Idolatry" was published, the year 1874 had come, and I was
living in London. From my note-books and recollections I compiled a series
of papers on life in Dresden, under the general title of "Saxon Studies."
Alexander Strahan, then editor of the _Contemporary Review_, printed them
in that periodical as fast as I wrote them, and they were reproduced in
certain eclectic magazines in this country,--until I asserted my American
copyright. Their publication in book form was followed by the collapse of
both the English and the American firm engaging in that enterprise. I draw
no deductions from that fact: I simply state it. The circulation of the
"Studies" was naturally small; but one copy fell into the hands of a
Dresden critic, and the manner in which he wrote of it and its author
repaid me for the labor of composition and satisfied me that I had not
done amiss.

After "Saxon Studies" I began another novel, "Garth," instalments of which
appeared from month to month in _Harper's Magazine_. When it had run for a
year or more, with no signs of abatement, the publishers felt obliged to
intimate that unless I put an end to their misery they would. Accordingly,
I promptly gave Garth his quietus. The truth is, I was tired of him
myself. With all his qualities and virtues, he could not help being a
prig. He found some friends, however, and still shows signs of vitality. I
wrote no other novel for nearly two years, but contributed some sketches
of English life to _Appletons' Journal_, and produced a couple of
novelettes,--"Mrs. Gainsborough's Diamonds" and "Archibald Malmaison,"--
which, by reason of their light draught, went rather farther than usual.
Other short tales, which I hardly care to recall, belong to this period. I
had already ceased to take pleasure in writing for its own sake,--partly,
no doubt, because I was obliged to write for the sake of something else.
Only those who have no reverence for literature should venture to meddle
with the making of it,--unless, at all events, they can supply the demands
of the butcher and baker from an independent source.

In 1879, "Sebastian Strome" was published as a serial in _All the Year
Round_. Charley Dickens, the son of the great novelist, and editor of the
magazine, used to say to me while the story was in progress, "Keep that
red-haired girl up to the mark, and the story will do." I took a fancy to
Mary Dene myself. But I uniformly prefer my heroines to my heroes; perhaps
because I invent the former out of whole cloth, whereas the latter are
often formed of shreds and patches of men I have met. And I never raised a
character to the position of hero without recognizing in him, before I had
done with him, an egregious ass. Differ as they may in other respects,
they are all brethren in that; and yet I am by no means disposed to take a
Carlylese view of my actual fellow-creatures.

I did some hard work at this time: I remember once writing for twenty-six
consecutive hours without pausing or rising from my chair; and when,
lately, I re-read the story then produced, it seemed quite as good as the
average of my work in that kind. I hasten to add that it has never been
printed in this country: for that matter, not more than half my short
tales have found an American publisher. "Archibald Malmaison" was offered
seven years ago to all the leading publishers in New York and Boston, and
was promptly refused by all. Since its recent appearance here, however, it
has had a circulation larger perhaps than that of all my other stories
combined. But that is one of the accidents that neither author nor
publisher can foresee. It was the horror of "Archibald Malmaison," not any
literary merit, that gave it vogue,--its horror, its strangeness, and its
brevity.

On Guy Fawkes's day, 1880, I began "Fortune's Fool,"--or "Luck," as it was
first called,--and wrote the first ten of the twelve numbers in three
months. I used to sit down to my table at eight o'clock in the evening and
write till sunrise. But the two remaining instalments were not written and
published until 1883, and this delay and its circumstances spoiled the
book. In the interval between beginning and finishing it another long
novel--"Dust"--was written and published. I returned to America in 1882,
after an absence in Europe far longer than I had anticipated or desired. I
trust I may never leave my native land again for any other on this planet.

"Beatrix Randolph," "Noble Blood," and "Love--or a Name," are the novels
which I have written since my return; and I also published a biography,
"Nathaniel Hawthorne and his Wife." I cannot conscientiously say that I
have found the literary profession--in and for itself--entirely agreeable.
Almost everything that I have written has been written from necessity; and
there is very little of it that I shall not be glad to see forgotten. The
true rewards of literature, for men of limited calibre, are the incidental
ones,--the valuable friendships and the charming associations which it
brings about. For the sake of these I would willingly endure again many
passages of a life that has not been all roses; not that I would appear to
belittle my own work: it does not need it. But the present generation (in
America at least) does not strike me as containing much literary genius.
The number of undersized persons is large and active, and we hardly
believe in the possibility of heroic stature. I cannot sufficiently admire
the pains we are at to make our work--embodying the aims it does--
immaculate in form. Form without idea is nothing, and we have no ideas. If
one of us were to get an idea, it would create its own form, as easily as
does a flower or a planet. I think we take ourselves too seriously: our
posterity will not be nearly so grave over us. For my part, I do not write
better than I do, because I have no ideas worth better clothes than they
can pick up for themselves. "Whatever is worth doing at all is worth doing
with your best pains," is a saying which has injured our literature more
than any other single thing. How many a lumber-closet since the world
began has been filled by the results of this purblind and delusive theory!
But this is not autobiographical,--save that to have written it shows how
little prudence my life has taught me.

* * * * *

I remember wondering, in 1871, how anybody could write novels. I had
produced two or three short stories; but to expand such a thing until it
should cover two or three hundred pages seemed an enterprise far beyond my
capacity. Since then, I have accomplished the feat only too often; but I
doubt whether I have a much clearer idea than before of the way it is
done; and I am certain of never having done it twice in the same way. The
manner in which the plant arrives at maturity varies according to the
circumstances in which the seed is planted and cultivated; and the
cultivator, in this instance at least, is content to adapt his action to
whatever conditions happen to exist.

While, therefore, it might be easy to formulate a cut-and-dried method of
procedure, which should be calculated to produce the best results by the
most efficient means, no such formula would truly represent the present
writer's actual practice. If I ever attempted to map out my successive
steps beforehand, I never adhered to the forecast or reached the
anticipated goal. The characters develop unexpected traits, and these
traits become the parents of incidents that had not been contemplated. The
characters themselves, on the other hand, cannot be kept to any
preconceived characteristics; they are, in their turn, modified by the
exigencies of the plot.

In two or three cases I have tried to make portraits of real persons whom
I have known; but these persons have always been more lifeless than the
others, and most lifeless in precisely those features that most nearly
reproduced life. The best results in this direction are realized by those
characters that come to their birth simultaneously with the general scheme
of the proposed events; though I remember that one of the most lifelike of
my personages (Madge, in the novel "Garth") was not even thought of until
the story of which she is the heroine had been for some time under
consideration.

Speaking generally, I should suppose that the best novels are apt to be
those that have been longest in the novelist's mind before being committed
to paper; and the best materials to use, in the way of character and
scenery, are those that were studied not less than seven or eight years
previous to their reproduction. Thereby is attained that quality in a
story known as atmosphere or tone, perhaps the most valuable and telling
quality of all. Occasionally, however, in the rare case of a story that
suddenly seizes upon the writer's imagination and despotically "possesses"
him, the atmosphere is created by the very strength of the "possession."
In the former instance, the writer is thoroughly master of his subject; in
the latter, the subject thoroughly masters him; and both amount
essentially to the same thing, harmony between subject and writer.

With respect to style, there is little to be said. Without a good style,
no writer can do much; but it is impossible really to create a good style.
A writer's style was born at the same time and under the same conditions
that he himself was. The only rule that can be given him is, to say what
he has to say in the clearest and most direct way, using the most fitting
and expressive words. But often, of course, this advice is like that of
the doctor who counsels his patient to free his mind from all care and
worry, to live luxuriously on the fat of the land, and to make a voyage
round the world in a private yacht. The patient has not the means of
following the prescription. A writer may improve a native talent for
style; but the talent itself he must either have by nature, or forever go
without. And the style that rises to the height of genius is like the
Phoenix; there is hardly ever more than one example of it in an age.

Upon the whole, I conceive that the best way of telling how a novel may be
written will be to trace the steps by which some one novel of mine came
into existence, and let the reader draw his own conclusions from the
record. For this purpose I will select one of the longest of my
productions, "Fortune's Fool."

It is so long that, rather than be compelled to read it over again, I
would write another of equal length; though I hasten to add that neither
contingency is in the least probable. In very few men is found the power
of sustained conception necessary to the successful composition of so
prolix a tale; and certainly I have never betrayed the ownership of such a
qualification. The tale, nevertheless, is an irrevocable fact; and my
present business it is to be its biographer.

When, in the winter of 1879, the opportunity came to write it, the central
idea of it had been for over a year cooking in my mind. It was originally
derived from a dream. I saw a man who, upon some occasion, caught a
glimpse of a woman's face. This face was, in his memory, the ideal of
beauty, purity, and goodness. Through many years and vicissitudes he
sought it; it was his religion, a human incarnation of divine qualities.

At certain momentous epochs of his career, he had glimpses of it again;
and the effect was always to turn him away from the wrong path and into
the right. At last, near the end of his life, he has, for the first time,
an opportunity of speaking to this mortal angel and knowing her; and then
he discovers that she is mortal indeed, and chargeable with the worst
frailties of mortality. The moral was that any substitute for a purely
spiritual religion is fatal, and, sooner or later, reveals its rottenness.

This seemed good enough for a beginning; but, when I woke up, I was not
long in perceiving that it would require various modifications before
being suitable for a novel; and the first modifications must be in the way
of rendering the plot plausible. What sort of a man, for example, must the
hero be to fall into and remain in such an error regarding the character
of the heroine? He must, I concluded, be a person of great simplicity and
honesty of character, with a strong tinge of ideality and imagination, and
with little or no education.

These considerations indicated a person destitute of known parentage, and
growing up more or less apart from civilization, but possessing by nature
an artistic or poetic temperament. Fore-glimpses of the further
development of the story led me to make him the child of a wealthy English
nobleman, but born in a remote New England village. His artistic
proclivities must be inherited from his father, who was, therefore,
endowed with a talent for amateur sketching in oils; which talent, again,
led him, during his minority, to travel on the continent for purposes of
artistic study. While in Paris, this man, Floyd Vivian, meets a young
Frenchwoman, whom he secretly marries, and with whom he elopes to America.
Then Vivian receives news of his father's death, compelling him to return
to England; and he leaves his wife behind him.

A child (Jack, the hero of the story) is born during his absence, and the
mother dies. Vivian, now Lord Castleman, finds reason to believe that his
wife is dead, but knows nothing of the boy; and he marries again. The boy,
therefore, is left to grow up in the Maine woods, ignorant of his
parentage, but with one or two chances of finding it out hereafter. So
far, so good.

But now it was necessary to invent a heroine for this hero. In order to
make the construction compact, I made her Jack's cousin, the daughter, of
Lord Vivian's younger brother, who came into being for that purpose. This
brother (Murdock) was a black sheep; and his daughter, Madeleine, was
adopted by Lord Vivian, because I now perceived that Lord Vivian's
conscience was going to trouble him with regard to his dead wife and her
possible child, and that he would make a pilgrimage to New England to
settle his doubts, taking Madeleine with him; intending, if no child by
the first marriage were forthcoming, to make Madeleine his heir; for he
had no issue by his second marriage. This journey would enable Jack and
Madeleine to meet as children. But it was necessary that they should have
no suspicion of their cousinship. Consequently, Lord Vivian, who alone
could acquaint them with this fact, must die in the very act of learning
it himself. And what should be the manner of his death?

At first, I thought he should be murdered by his younger brother; but I
afterwards hit upon another plan, that seemed less hackneyed and provided
more interesting issues. Murdock should arrive at the Maine village at the
same time as Lord Vivian, and upon the same errand, to get hold of Lord
Vivian's son, of whose existence he had heard, and whom he wished to get
out of the way, in order that his own daughter, Madeleine, might inherit
the property. Murdock should find Jack, and Jack, a mere boy, should kill
him, though not, of course, intentionally, or even consciously (for which
purpose the machinery of the Witch's Head was introduced).

With Murdock's death, the papers that he carried, proving Jack's
parentage, should disappear, to be recovered long afterward, when they
were needed. Lord Vivian should quietly expire at the same time, of heart
disease (to which he was forthwith made subject), and Madeleine should be
left temporarily to her own devices. Thus was brought about her meeting
with Jack in the cave. It was their first meeting; and Jack must remember
her face, so as to recognize her when they meet, years later, in England.
But, as it was beyond belief that the girl's face should resemble the
woman's enough to make such a recognition possible, I devised the
miniature portrait of her mother, which Madeleine gave to Jack for a
keepsake, and which was the image of what Madeleine herself should
afterward become.

Something more was needed, however, to complete the situation; and to meet
this exigency, I created M. Jacques Malgre, the grandfather of Jack, who
had followed his daughter to America, in the belief that she had been
seduced by Vivian; who had brought up Jack, hating him for his father's
sake, and loving him for his mother's sake; and who dwelt year after year
in the Maine village, hoping some day to wreak his vengeance upon the
seducer. But when M. Malgre and Vivian at last meet, this revenge is
balked by the removal of its supposed motive; Vivian having actually
married Malgre's daughter, and being prepared to make Jack heir of
Castlemere. Moral: "'Vengeance is mine,' saith the Lord, 'I will repay.'"

The groundwork of the story was now sufficiently denned. Madeleine and
Jack were born and accounted for. They had met and made friends with each
other without either knowing who the other was; they were rival claimants
for the same property, and would hereafter contend for it; still, without
identifying each other as the little boy and girl that had met by chance
in the cave so long ago. In the meanwhile, there might be personal
meetings, in which they should recognize each other as persons though not
by name; and should thus be cementing their friendship as man and woman,
while, as Jack Vivian and Madeleine, they were at open war in the courts
of law.

This arrangement would need careful handling to render it plausible; but
it could be done. I am now of opinion, however, that I should have done
well to have given up the whole fundamental idea of the story, as
suggested by the dream. The dream had done its office when it had provided
me with characters and materials for a more probable and less abstruse and
difficult plot. All further dependence upon it should then have been
relinquished, and the story allowed to work out its own natural and
unforced conclusion. But it is easy to be wise after the event; and the
event, at this time, was still in the future.

As Madeleine was to be the opposite of the sinless, ideal woman that Jack
was to imagine her to be, it was necessary to subject her to some evil
influence; and this influence was embodied in the form of Bryan Sinclair,
who, though an afterthought, came to be the most powerful figure in the
story. But, before he would bring himself to bear upon her, she must have
reached womanhood; and I also perceived that Jack must become a man before
the action of the story, as between him and Madeleine, could continue. An
interval of ten or fifteen years must therefore occur; and this was
arranged by sending Jack into the western wilderness of California, and
fixing the period as just preceding the date of the California gold fever
of '49.

Jack and Bryan were to be rivals for Madeleine; but artistic
considerations seemed to require that they should first meet and become
friends much in the same way that Jack and Madeleine had done. So I sent
Bryan to California, and made him the original discoverer of the precious
metal there; brought him and Jack together; and finally sent them to
England in each other's company. Jack, of course, as yet knows nothing of
his origin, and appears in London society merely as a natural genius and a
sculptor of wild animals.

By this time, I had begun to make Madeleine's acquaintance, and, in
consequence, to doubt the possibility of her becoming wholly evil, even
under the influence of Bryan Sinclair. There would be a constant struggle
between them; she would love him, but would not yield to him, though her
life and happiness would be compromised by his means. He, on the other
hand, would love her, and he would make some effort to be worthy of her;
but his other crimes would weigh him down, until, at the moment when the
battle cost her her life, he should be destroyed by the incarnation of his
own wickedness, in the shape of Tom Berne.

This was not the issue that I had originally designed, and, whether better
or worse than that, did not harmonize with what had gone before. The story
lacked wholeness and continuous vitality. As a work of art, it was a
failure. But I did not realize this fact until it was too late, and
probably should not have known how to mend matters had it been otherwise.
One of the dangers against which a writer has especially to guard is that
of losing his sense of proportion in the conduct of a story. An episode
that has little relative importance may be allowed undue weight, because
it seems interesting intrinsically, or because he has expended special
pains upon it. It is only long afterward, when he has become cool and
impartial, if not indifferent or disgusted, that he can see clearly where
the faults of construction lie.

I need not go further into the details of the story. Enough has been said
to give a clew to what might remain to say. I began to write it in the
winter of 1879-80, in London; and, in order to avoid noise and
interruption, it was my custom to begin writing at eight in the evening,
and continue at work until six or seven o'clock the next morning. In three
months I had written as far as the 393d page, in the American edition. The
remaining seventy pages were not completed, in their published form, until
about three years later, an extraordinary delay, which did not escape
censure at the time, and into the causes of which I will not enter here.

The title of the story also underwent various vicissitudes. The one first
chosen was "Happy Jack"; but that was objected to as suggesting, to an
English ear at least, a species of cheap Jack or rambling peddler. The
next title fixed upon was "Luck"; but before this could be copyrighted,
somebody published a story called "Luck, and What Came of It," and thereby
invalidated my briefer version. For several weeks, I was at a loss what to
call it; but one evening, at a representation of "Romeo and Juliet," I
heard the exclamation of _Romeo_, "Oh, I am fortune's fool!" and
immediately appropriated it to my own needs. It suited the book well
enough, in more ways than one.

CHAPTER II

NOVELS AND AGNOSTICISM.

The novel of our times is susceptible of many definitions. The American
publishers of Railway libraries think that it is forty or fifty double-
column pages of pirated English fiction. Readers of the "New York Ledger"
suppose it to be a romance of angelic virtue at last triumphant over
satanic villany. The aristocracy of culture describe it as a philosophic
analysis of human character and motives, with an agnostic bias on the
analyst's part. Schoolboys are under the impression that it is a tale of
Western chivalry and Indian outrage--price, ten cents. Most of us agree in
the belief that it should contain a brace or two of lovers, a suspense,
and a solution.

To investigate the nature of the novel in the abstract would involve going
back to the very origin of things. It would imply the recognition of a
certain faculty of the mind, known as imagination; and of a certain fact
in history, called art. Art and imagination are correlatives,--one implies
the other. Together, they may be said to constitute the characteristic
badge and vindication of human nature; imagination is the badge, and art
is the vindication. Reason, which gets so much vulgar glorification, is,
after all, a secondary quality. It is posterior to imagination,--it is one
of the means by which imagination seeks to realize its ends. Some animals
reason, or seem to do so: but the most cultivated ape or donkey has not
yet composed a sonnet, or a symphony, or "an arrangement in green and
yellow." Man still retains a few prerogatives, although, like Aesop's
stag, which despised the legs that bore it away from the hounds, and
extolled the antlers that entangled it in the thicket,--so man often
magnifies those elements of his nature that least deserve it.

But, before celebrating art and imagination, we should have a clear idea
what those handsome terms mean. In the broadest sense, imagination is the
cause of the effect we call progress. It marks all forms of human effort
towards a better state of things. It embraces a perception of existing
shortcomings, and an aspiration towards a loftier ideal. It is, in fact, a
truly divine force in man, reminding him of his heavenly origin, and
stimulating him to rise again to the level whence he fell. For it has
glimpses of the divine Image within or behind the material veil; and its
constant impulse is to tear aside the veil and grasp the image. The world,
let us say, is a gross and finite translation of an infinite and perfect
Word; and imagination is the intuition of that perfection, born in the
human heart, and destined forever to draw mankind into closer harmony with
it.

In common speech, however, imagination is deprived of this broader
significance, and is restricted to its relations with art. Art is not
progress, though progress implies art. It differs from progress chiefly in
disclaiming the practical element. You cannot apply a poem, a picture, or
a strain of music, to material necessities; they are not food, clothing,
or shelter. Only after these physical wants are assuaged, does art
supervene. Its sphere is exclusively mental and moral. But this definition
is not adequate; a further distinction is needed. For such things as
mathematics, moral philosophy, and political economy also belong to the
mental sphere, and yet they are not art. But these, though not actually
existing on the plane of material necessities, yet do exist solely in
order to relieve such necessities. Unlike beauty, they are not their own
excuse for being. Their embodiment is utilitarian, that of art is
aesthetic. Political economy, for example, shows me how to buy two drinks
for the same price I used to pay for one; while art inspires me to
transmute a pewter mug into a Cellini goblet. My physical nature, perhaps,
prefers two drinks to one; but, if my taste be educated, and I be not too
thirsty, I would rather drink once from the Cellini goblet than twice from
the mug. Political economy gravitates towards the material level; art
seeks incarnation only in order to stimulate anew the same spiritual
faculties that generated it. Art is the production, by means of
appearances, of the illusion of a loftier reality; and imagination is the
faculty which holds that loftier reality up for imitation.

The disposition of these preliminaries brings us once more in sight of the
goal of our pilgrimage. The novel, despite its name, is no new thing, but
an old friend in a modern dress. Ever since the time of Cadmus,--ever
since language began to express thought as well as emotion,--men have
betrayed the impulse to utter in forms of literary art,--in poetry and
story,--their conceptions of the world around them. According to many
philologists, poetry was the original form of human speech. Be that as it
may, whatever flows into the mind, from the spectacle of nature and of
mankind, that influx the mind tends instinctively to reproduce, in a shape
accordant with its peculiar bias and genius. And those minds in which
imagination is predominant, impart to their reproductions a balance and
beauty which stamp them as art. Art--and literary art especially--is the
only evidence we have that this universal frame of things has relation to
our minds, and is a universe and not a poliverse. Outside revelation, it
is our best assurance of an intelligent purpose in creation.

Novels, then, instead of being (as some persons have supposed) a wilful
and corrupt conspiracy on the part of the evilly disposed, against the
peace and prosperity of the realm, may claim a most ancient and
indefeasible right to existence. They, with their ancestors and near
relatives, constitute Literature,--without which the human race would be
little better than savages. For the effect of pure literature upon a
receptive mind is something more than can be definitely stated. Like
sunshine upon a landscape, it is a kind of miracle. It demands from its
disciple almost as much as it gives him, and is never revealed save to the
disinterested and loving eye. In our best moments, it touches us most
deeply; and when the sentiment of human brotherhood kindles most warmly
within us, we discover in literature an exquisite answering ardor. When
everything that can be, has been said about a true work of art, its finest
charm remains,--the charm derived from a source beyond the conscious reach
even of the artist.

The novel, then, must be pure literature; as much so as the poem. But
poetry--now that the day of the broad Homeric epic is past, or temporarily
eclipsed--appeals to a taste too exclusive and abstracted for the demands
of modern readers. Its most accommodating metre fails to house our endless
variety of mood and movement; it exacts from the student an exaltation
above the customary level of thought and sentiment greater than he can
readily afford. The poet of old used to clothe in the garb of verse his
every observation on life and nature; but to-day he reserves for it only
his most ideal and abstract conceptions. The merit of Cervantes is not so
much that he laughed Spain's chivalry away, as that he heralded the modern
novel of character and manners. It is the latest, most pliable, most
catholic solution of the old problem,--how to unfold man to himself. It
improves on the old methods, while missing little of their excellence. No
one can read a great novel without feeling that, from its outwardly
prosaic pages, strains of genuine poetry have ever and anon reached his
ears. It does not obtrude itself; it is not there for him who has not
skill to listen for it: but for him who has ears, it is like the music of
a bird, denning itself amidst the innumerable murmurs of the forest.

So, the ideal novel, conforming in every part to the behests of the
imagination, should produce, by means of literary art, the illusion of a
loftier reality. This excludes the photographic method of novel-writing.
"That is a false effort in art," says Goethe, towards the close of his
long and splendid career, "which, in giving reality to the appearance,
goes so far as to leave in it nothing but the common, every-day actual."
It is neither the actual, nor Chinese copies of the actual, that we demand
of art. Were art merely the purveyor of such things, she might yield her
crown to the camera and the stenographer; and divine imagination would
degenerate into vulgar inventiveness. Imagination is incompatible with
inventiveness, or imitation. Imitation is death, imagination is life.
Imitation is servitude, imagination is royalty. He who claims the name of
artist must rise to that vision of a loftier reality--a more true because
a more beautiful world--which only imagination can reveal. A truer world,
--for the world of facts is not and cannot be true. It is barren,
incoherent, misleading. But behind every fact there is a truth: and these
truths are enlightening, unifying, creative. Fasten your hold upon them,
and facts will become your servants instead of your tyrants. No charm of
detail will be lost, no homely picturesque circumstance, no touch of human
pathos or humor; but all hardness, rigidity, and finality will disappear,
and your story will be not yours alone, but that of every one who feels
and thinks. Spirit gives universality and meaning; but alas! for this new
gospel of the auctioneer's catalogue, and the crackling of thorns under a
pot. He who deals with facts only, deprives his work of gradation and
distinction. One fact, considered in itself, has no less importance than
any other; a lump of charcoal is as valuable as a diamond. But that is the
philosophy of brute beasts and Digger Indians. A child, digging on the
beach, may shape a heap of sand into a similitude of Vesuvius; but is it
nothing that Vesuvius towers above the clouds, and overwhelms Pompeii?

* * * * *

In proceeding from the general to the particular,--to the novel as it
actually exists in England and America,--attention will be confined
strictly to the contemporary outlook. The new generation of novelists (by
which is intended not those merely living in this age, but those who
actively belong to it) differ in at least one fundamental respect from the
later representatives of the generation preceding them. Thackeray and
Dickens did not deliberately concern themselves about a philosophy of
life. With more or less complacency, more or less cynicism, they accepted
the religious and social canons which had grown to be the commonplace of
the first half of this century. They pictured men and women, not as
affected by questions, but as affected by one another. The morality and
immorality of their personages were of the old familiar Church-of-England
sort; there was no speculation as to whether what had been supposed to be
wrong was really right, and _vice versa_. Such speculations, in various
forms and degrees of energy, appear in the world periodically; but the
public conscience during the last thirty or forty years had been gradually
making itself comfortable after the disturbances consequent upon the
French Revolution; the theoretical rights of man had been settled for the
moment; and interest was directed no longer to the assertion and support
of these rights, but to the social condition and character which were
their outcome. Good people were those who climbed through reverses and
sorrows towards the conventional heaven; bad people were those who, in
spite of worldly and temporary successes and triumphs, gravitated towards
the conventional hell. Novels designed on this basis in so far filled the
bill, as the phrase is: their greater or less excellence depended solely
on the veracity with which the aspect, the temperament, and the conduct of
the _dramatis personae_ were reported, and upon the amount of ingenuity
wherewith the web of events and circumstances was woven, and the
conclusion reached. Nothing more was expected, and, in general, little or
nothing more was attempted. Little more, certainly, will be found in the
writings of Thackeray or of Balzac, who, it is commonly admitted, approach
nearest to perfection of any novelists of their time. There was nothing
genuine or commanding in the metaphysical dilettanteism of Bulwer: the
philosophical speculations of Georges Sand are the least permanently
interesting feature of her writings; and the same might in some measure be
affirmed of George Eliot, whose gloomy wisdom finally confesses its
inability to do more than advise us rather to bear those ills we have than
fly to others that we know not of. As to Nathaniel Hawthorne, he cannot
properly be instanced in this connection; for he analyzed chiefly those
parts of human nature which remain substantially unaltered in the face of
whatever changes of opinion, civilization, and religion. The truth that he
brings to light is not the sensational fact of a fashion or a period, but
a verity of the human heart, which may foretell, but can never be affected
by, anything which that heart may conceive. In other words, Hawthorne
belonged neither to this nor to any other generation of writers further
than that his productions may be used as a test of the inner veracity of
all the rest.

But of late years a new order of things has been coming into vogue, and
the new novelists have been among the first to reflect it; and of these
the Americans have shown themselves among the most susceptible. Science,
or the investigation of the phenomena of existence (in opposition to
philosophy, the investigation of the phenomena of being), has proved
nature to be so orderly and self-sufficient, and inquiry as to the origin
of the primordial atom so unproductive and quixotic, as to make it
convenient and indeed reasonable to accept nature as a self-existing fact,
and to let all the rest--if rest there be--go. From this point of view,
God and a future life retire into the background; not as finally
disproved,--because denial, like affirmation, must, in order to be final,
be logically supported; and spirit is, if not illogical, at any rate
outside the domain of logic,--but as being a hopelessly vague and
untrustworthy hypothesis. The Bible is a human book; Christ was a
gentleman, related to the Buddha and Plato families; Joseph was an ill-
used man; death, so far as we have any reason to believe, is annihilation
of personal existence; life is--the predicament of the body previous to
death; morality is the enlightened selfishness of the greatest number;
civilization is the compromises men make with one another in order to get
the most they can out of the world; wisdom is acknowledgment of these
propositions; folly is to hanker after what may lie beyond the sphere of
sense. The supporter of these doctrines by no means permits himself to be
regarded as a rampant and dogmatic atheist; he is simply the modest and
humble doubter of what he cannot prove. He even recognizes the persistence
of the religious instinct in man, and caters to it by a new religion
suited to the times--the Religion of Humanity. Thus he is secure at all
points: for if the religion of the Bible turn out to be true, his
disappointment will be an agreeable one; and if it turns out false, he
will not be disappointed at all. He is an agnostic--a person bound to be
complacent whatever happens. He may indulge a gentle regret, a musing
sadness, a smiling pensiveness; but he will never refuse a comfortable
dinner, and always wear something soft next his skin, nor can he
altogether avoid the consciousness of his intellectual superiority.

Agnosticism, which reaches forward into nihilism on one side, and extends
back into liberal Christianity on the other, marks, at all events, a
definite turning-point from what has been to what is to come. The human
mind, in the course of its long journey, is passing through a dark place,
and is, as it were, whistling to keep up its courage. It is a period of
doubt: what it will result in remains to be seen; but analogy leads us to
infer that this doubt, like all others, will be succeeded by a
comparatively definite belief in something--no matter what. It is a
transient state--the interval between one creed and another. The agnostic
no longer holds to what is behind him, nor knows what lies before, so he
contents himself with feeling the ground beneath his feet. That, at least,
though the heavens fall, is likely to remain; meanwhile, let the heavens
take care of themselves. It may be the part of valor to champion divine
revelation, but the better part of valor is discretion, and if divine
revelation prove true, discretion will be none the worse off. On the other
hand, to champion a myth is to make one's self ridiculous, and of being
ridiculous the agnostic has a consuming fear. From the superhuman
disinterestedness of the theory of the Religion of Humanity, before which
angels might quail, he flinches not, but when it comes to the risk of
being laughed at by certain sagacious persons he confesses that bravery
has its limits. He dares do all that may become an agnostic,--who dares do
more is none.

But, however open to criticism this phase of thought may be, it is a
genuine phase, and the proof is the alarm and the shifts that it has
brought about in the opposite camp. "Established" religion finds the
foundation of her establishment undermined, and, like the lady in Hamlet's
play, she doth protest too much. In another place, all manner of odd
superstitions and quasi-miracles are cropping up and gaining credence, as
if, since the immortality of the soul cannot be proved by logic, it should
be smuggled into belief by fraud and violence--that is, by the testimony
of the bodily senses themselves. Taking a comprehensive view of the whole
field, therefore, it seems to be divided between discreet and supercilious
skepticism on one side, and, on the other, the clamorous jugglery of
charlatanism. The case is not really so bad as that: nihilists are not
discreet and even the Bishop of Rome is not necessarily a charlatan.
Nevertheless, the outlook may fairly be described as confused and the
issue uncertain. And--to come without further preface to the subject of
this paper--it is with this material that the modern novelist, so far as
he is a modern and not a future novelist, or a novelist _temporis acti_,
has to work. Unless a man have the gift to forecast the years, or, at
least, to catch the first ray of the coming light, he can hardly do better
than attend to what is under his nose. He may hesitate to identify himself
with agnosticism, but he can scarcely avoid discussing it, either in
itself or in its effects. He must entertain its problems; and the
personages of his story, if they do not directly advocate or oppose
agnostic views, must show in their lives either confirmation or disproof
of agnostic principles. It is impossible, save at the cost of affectation
or of ignorance, to escape from the spirit of the age. It is in the air we
breathe, and, whether we are fully conscious thereof or not, our lives and
thoughts must needs be tinctured by it.

Now, art is creative; but Mephistopheles, the spirit that denies, is
destructive. A negative attitude of mind is not favorable for the
production of works of art. The best periods of art have also been periods
of spiritual or philosophical convictions. The more a man doubts, the more
he disintegrates and the less he constructs. He has in him no central
initial certainty round which all other matters of knowledge or
investigation may group themselves in symmetrical relation. He may analyze
to his heart's content, but must be wary of organizing. If creation is not
of God, if nature is not the expression of the contact between an infinite
and a finite being, then the universe and everything in it are accidents,
which might have been otherwise or might have not been at all; there is no
design in them nor purpose, no divine and eternal significance. This being
conceded, what meaning would there be in designing works of art? If art
has not its prototype in creation, if all that we see and do is chance,
uninspired by a controlling and forming intelligence behind or within it,
then to construct a work of art would be to make something arbitrary and
grotesque, something unreal and fugitive, something out of accord with the
general sense (or nonsense) of things, something with no further basis or
warrant than is supplied by the maker's idle and irresponsible fancy. But
since no man cares to expend the trained energies of his mind upon the
manufacture of toys, it will come to pass (upon the accidental hypothesis
of creation) that artists will become shy of justifying their own title.
They will adopt the scientific method of merely collecting and describing
phenomena; but the phenomena will no longer be arranged as parts or
developments of a central controlling idea, because such an arrangement
would no longer seem to be founded on the truth: the gratification which
it gives to the mind would be deemed illusory, the result of tradition and
prejudice; or, in other words, what is true being found no longer
consistent with what we have been accustomed to call beauty, the latter
would cease to be an object of desire, though something widely alien to it
might usurp its name. If beauty be devoid of independent right to be, and
definable only as an attribute of truth, then undoubtedly the cynosure to-
day may be the scarecrow of to-morrow, and _vice versa_, according to our
varying conception of what truth is.

And, as a matter of fact, art already shows the effects of the agnostic
influence. Artists have begun to doubt whether their old conceptions of
beauty be not fanciful and silly. They betray a tendency to eschew the
loftier flights of the imagination, and confine themselves to what they
call facts. Critics deprecate idealism as something fit only for children,
and extol the courage of seeing and representing things as they are.
Sculpture is either a stern student of modern trousers and coat-tails or a
vapid imitator of classic prototypes. Painters try all manner of
experiments, and shrink from painting beneath the surface of their canvas.
Much of recent effort in the different branches of art comes to us in the
form of "studies," but the complete work still delays to be born. We would
not so much mind having our old idols and criterions done away with were
something new and better, or as good, substituted for them. But apparently
nothing definite has yet been decided on. Doubt still reigns, and, once
more, doubt is not creative. One of two things must presently happen. The
time will come when we must stop saying that we do not know whether or not
God, and all that God implies, exists, and affirm definitely and finally
either that he does not exist or that he does. That settled, we shall soon
see what will become of art. If there is a God, he will be understood and
worshipped, not superstitiously and literally as heretofore, but in a new
and enlightened spirit; and an art will arise commensurate with this new
and loftier revelation. If there is no God, it is difficult to see how art
can have the face to show herself any more. There is no place for her in
the Religion of Humanity; to be true and living she can be nothing which
it has thus far entered into the heart of man to call beautiful; and she
could only serve to remind us of certain vague longings and aspirations
now proved to be as false as they were vain. Art is not an orchid: it
cannot grow in the air. Unless its root can be traced as deep down as
Yggdrasil, it will wither and vanish, and be forgotten as it ought to be;
and as for the cowslip by the river's brim, a yellow cowslip it shall be,
and nothing more; and the light that never was on sea or land shall be
permanently extinguished, in the interests of common sense and economy,
and (what is least inviting of all to the unregenerate mind) we shall
speedily get rid of the notion that we have lost anything worth
preserving.

This, however, is only what may be, and our concern at present is with
things as they are. It has been observed that American writers have shown
themselves more susceptible of the new influences than most others, partly
no doubt from a natural sensitiveness of organization, but in some measure
also because there are with us no ruts and fetters of old tradition from
which we must emancipate ourselves before adopting anything new. We have
no past, in the European sense, and so are ready for whatever the present
or the future may have to suggest. Nevertheless, the novelist who, in a
larger degree than any other, seems to be the literary parent of our own
best men of fiction, is himself not an American, nor even an Englishman,
but a Russian--Turguenieff. His series of extraordinary novels, translated
into English and French, is altogether the most important fact in the
literature of fiction of the last twelve years. To read his books you
would scarcely imagine that their author could have had any knowledge of
the work of his predecessors in the same field. Originality is a term
indiscriminately applied, and generally of trifling significance, but so
far as any writer may be original, Turguenieff is so. He is no less
original in the general scheme and treatment of his stories than in their
details. Whatever he produces has the air of being the outcome of his
personal experience and observation. He even describes his characters,
their aspect, features, and ruling traits, in a novel and memorable
manner. He seizes on them from a new point of vantage, and uses scarcely
any of the hackneyed and conventional devices for bringing his portraits
before our minds; yet no writer, not even Carlyle, has been more vivid,
graphic, and illuminating than he. Here are eyes that owe nothing to other
eyes, but examine and record for themselves. Having once taken up a
character he never loses his grasp on it: on the contrary, he masters it
more and more, and only lets go of it when the last recesses of its
organism have been explored. In the quality and conduct of his plots he is
equally unprecedented. His scenes are modern, and embody characteristic
events and problems in the recent history of Russia. There is in their
arrangement no attempt at symmetry, nor poetic justice. Temperament and
circumstances are made to rule, and against their merciless fiat no appeal
is allowed. Evil does evil to the end; weakness never gathers strength;
even goodness never varies from its level: it suffers, but is not
corrupted; it is the goodness of instinct, not of struggle and aspiration;
it happens to belong to this or that person, just as his hair happens to
be black or brown. Everything in the surroundings and the action is to the
last degree matter-of-fact, commonplace, inevitable; there are no
picturesque coincidences, no providential interferences, no desperate
victories over fate; the tale, like the world of the materialist, moves
onward from a predetermined beginning to a helpless and tragic close. And
yet few books have been written of deeper and more permanent fascination
than these. Their grim veracity; the creative sympathy and steady
dispassionateness of their portrayal of mankind; their constancy of
motive, and their sombre earnestness, have been surpassed by none. This
earnestness is worth dwelling upon for a moment. It bears no likeness to
the dogmatism of the bigot or the fanaticism of the enthusiast. It is the
concentration of a broadly gifted masculine mind, devoting its unstinted
energies to depicting certain aspects of society and civilization, which
are powerfully representative of the tendencies of the day. "Here is the
unvarnished fact--give heed to it!" is the unwritten motto. The author
avoids betraying, either explicitly or implicitly, the tendency of his own
sympathies; not because he fears to have them known, but because he holds
it to be his office simply to portray, and to leave judgment thereupon
where, in any case, it must ultimately rest--with the world of his
readers. He tells us what is; it is for us to consider whether it also
must be and shall be. Turguenieff is an artist by nature, yet his books
are not intentionally works of art; they are fragments of history,
differing from real life only in presenting such persons and events as are
commandingly and exhaustively typical, and excluding all others. This
faculty of selection is one of the highest artistic faculties, and it
appears as much in the minor as in the major features of the narrative. It
indicates that Turguenieff might, if he chose, produce a story as
faultlessly symmetrical as was ever framed. Why, then, does he not so
choose? The reason can only be that he deems the truth-seeming of his
narrative would thereby be impaired. "He is only telling a story," the
reader would say, "and he shapes the events and persons so as to fit the
plot." But is this reason reasonable? To those who believe that God has no
hand in the ordering of human affairs, it undoubtedly is reasonable. To
those who believe the contrary, however, it appears as if the story of no
human life or complex of lives could be otherwise than a rounded and
perfect work of art--provided only that the spectator takes note, not
merely of the superficial accidents and appearances, but also of the
underlying divine purpose and significance. The absence of this
recognition in Turguenieff's novels is the explanation of them: holding
the creed their author does, he could not have written them otherwise;
and, on the other hand, had his creed been different, he very likely would
not have written novels at all.

The pioneer, in whatever field of thought or activity, is apt to be also
the most distinguished figure therein. The consciousness of being the
first augments the keenness of his impressions, and a mind that can see
and report in advance of others a new order of things may claim a finer
organization than the ordinary. The vitality of nature animates him who
has insight to discern her at first hand, whereas his followers miss the
freshness of the morning, because, instead of discovering, they must be
content to illustrate and refine. Those of our writers who betray
Turguenieff's influence are possibly his superiors in finish and culture,
but their faculty of convincing and presenting is less. Their interest in
their own work seems less serious than his; they may entertain us more,
but they do not move and magnetize so much. The persons and events of
their stories are conscientiously studied, and are nothing if not natural;
but they lack distinction. In an epitome of life so concise as the longest
novel must needs be, to use any but types is waste of time and space. A
typical character is one who combines the traits or beliefs of a certain
class to which he is affiliated--who is, practically, all of them and
himself besides; and, when we know him, there is nothing left worth
knowing about the others. In Shakespeare's Hamlet and Enobarbus, in
Fielding's Squire Western, in Walter Scott's Edie Ochiltree and Meg
Merrilies, in Balzac's Pere Goriot and Madame Marneff, in Thackeray's
Colonel Newcome and Becky Sharp, in Turguenieff's Bazarof and Dimitri
Roudine, we meet persons who exhaust for us the groups to which they
severally belong. Bazarof, the nihilist, for instance, reveals to us the
motives and influences that have made nihilism, so that we feel that
nothing essential on that score remains to be learnt.

The ability to recognize and select types is a test of a novelist's talent
and experience. It implies energy to rise above the blind walls of one's
private circle of acquaintance; the power to perceive what phases of
thought and existence are to be represented as well as who represents
them; the sagacity to analyze the age or the moment and reproduce its
dominant features. The feat is difficult, and, when done, by no means
blows its own trumpet. On the contrary, the reader must open his eyes to
be aware of it. He finds the story clear and easy of comprehension; the
characters come home to him familiarly and remain distinctly in his
memory; he understands something which was, till now, vague to him: but he
is as likely to ascribe this to an exceptional lucidity in his own mental
condition as to any special merit in the author. Indeed, it often happens
that the author who puts out-of-the-way personages into his stories--
characters that represent nothing but themselves, or possibly some
eccentricity of invention on their author's part, will gain the latter a
reputation for cleverness higher than his fellow's who portrays mankind in
its masses as well as in its details. But the finest imagination is not
that which evolves strange images, but that which explains seeming
contradictions, and reveals the unity within the difference and the
harmony beneath the discord.

Were we to compare our fictitious literature, as a whole, with that of
England, the balance must be immeasurably on the English side. Even
confining ourselves to to-day, and to the prospect of to-morrow, it must
be conceded that, in settled method, in guiding tradition, in training and
associations both personal and inherited, the average English novelist is
better circumstanced than the American. Nevertheless, the English novelist
is not at present writing better novels than the American. The reason
seems to be that he uses no material which has not been in use for
hundreds of years; and to say that such material begins to lose its
freshness is not putting the case too strongly. He has not been able to
detach himself from the paralyzing background of English conventionality.
The vein was rich, but it is worn out; and the half-dozen pioneers had all
the luck.

There is no commanding individual imagination in England--nor, to say the
truth, does there seem to be any in America. But we have what they have
not--a national imaginative tendency. There are no fetters upon our fancy;
and, however deeply our real estate may be mortgaged, there is freedom for
our ideas. England has not yet appreciated the true inwardness of a
favorite phrase of ours,--a new deal. And yet she is tired to death of her
own stale stories; and when, by chance, any one of her writers happens to
chirp out a note a shade different from the prevailing key, the whole
nation pounces down upon him, with a shriek of half-incredulous joy, and
buys him up, at the rate of a million copies a year. Our own best writers
are more read in England, or, at any rate, more talked about, than their
native crop; not so much, perhaps, because they are different as because
their difference is felt to be of a significant and typical kind. It has
in it a gleam of the new day. They are realistic; but realism, so far as
it involves a faithful study of nature, is useful. The illusion of a
loftier reality, at which we should aim, must be evolved from adequate
knowledge of reality itself. The spontaneous and assured faith, which is
the mainspring of sane imagination, must be preceded by the doubt and
rejection of what is lifeless and insincere. We desire no resurrection of
the Ann Radclyffe type of romance: but the true alternative to this is not
such a mixture of the police gazette and the medical reporter as Emile
Zola offers us. So far as Zola is conscientious, let him live; but, in so
far as he is revolting, let him die. Many things in the world seem ugly
and purposeless; but to a deeper intelligence than ours, they are a part
of beauty and design. What is ugly and irrelevant, can never enter, as
such, into a work of art; because the artist is bound, by a sacred
obligation, to show us the complete curve only,--never the undeveloped
fragments.

But were the firmament of England still illuminated with her Dickenses,
her Thackerays, and her Brontes, I should still hold our state to be
fuller of promise than hers. It may be admitted that almost everything was
against our producing anything good in literature. Our men, in the first
place, had to write for nothing; because the publisher, who can steal a
readable English novel, will not pay for an American novel, for the mere
patriotic gratification of enabling its American author to write it. In
the second place, they had nothing to write about, for the national life
was too crude and heterogeneous for ordinary artistic purposes. Thirdly,
they had no one to write for: because, although, in one sense, there might
be readers enough, in a higher sense there were scarcely any,--that is to
say, there was no organized critical body of literary opinion, from which
an author could confidently look to receive his just meed of encouragement
and praise. Yet, in spite of all this, and not to mention honored names
that have ceased or are ceasing to cast their living weight into the
scale, we are contributing much that is fresh and original, and something,
it may be, that is of permanent value, to literature. We have accepted the
situation; and, since no straw has been vouchsafed us to make our bricks
with, we are trying manfully to make them without.

It will not be necessary, however, to call the roll of all the able and
popular gentlemen who are contending in the forlorn hope against
disheartening odds; and as for the ladies who have honored our literature
by their contributions, it will perhaps be well to adopt regarding them a
course analogous to that which Napoleon is said to have pursued with the
letters sent to him while in Italy. He left them unread until a certain
time had elapsed, and then found that most of them no longer needed
attention. We are thus brought face to face with the two men with whom
every critic of American novelists has to reckon; who represent what is
carefullest and newest in American fiction; and it remains to inquire how
far their work has been moulded by the skeptical or radical spirit of
which Turguenieff is the chief exemplar.

The author of "Daisy Miller" had been writing for several years before the
bearings of his course could be confidently calculated. Some of his
earlier tales,--as, for example, "The Madonna of the Future,"--while
keeping near reality on one side, are on the other eminently fanciful and
ideal. He seemed to feel the attraction of fairyland, but to lack
resolution to swallow it whole; so, instead of idealizing both persons and
plot, as Hawthorne had ventured to do, he tried to persuade real persons
to work out an ideal destiny. But the tact, delicacy, and reticence with
which these attempts were made did not blind him to the essential
incongruity; either realism or idealism had to go, and step by step he
dismissed the latter, until at length Turguenieff's current caught him. By
this time, however, his culture had become too wide, and his independent
views too confirmed, to admit of his yielding unconditionally to the great
Russian. Especially his critical familiarity with French literature
operated to broaden, if at the same time to render less trenchant, his
method and expression. His characters are drawn with fastidious care, and
closely follow the tones and fashions of real life. Each utterance is so
exactly like what it ought to be that the reader feels the same sort of
pleased surprise as is afforded by a phonograph which repeats, with all
the accidental pauses and inflections, the speech spoken into it. Yet the
words come through a medium; they are not quite spontaneous; these figures
have not the sad, human inevitableness of Turguenieff's people. The reason
seems to be (leaving the difference between the genius of the two writers
out of account) that the American, unlike the Russian, recognizes no
tragic importance in the situation. To the latter, the vision of life is
so ominous that his voice waxes sonorous and terrible; his eyes, made keen
by foreboding, see the leading elements of the conflict, and them only; he
is no idle singer of an empty day, but he speaks because speech springs
out of him. To his mind, the foundations of human welfare are in jeopardy,
and it is full time to decide what means may avert the danger. But the
American does not think any cataclysm is impending, or if any there be,
nobody can help it. The subjects that best repay attention are the minor
ones of civilization, culture, behavior; how to avoid certain vulgarities
and follies, how to inculcate certain principles: and to illustrate these
points heroic types are not needed. In other words, the situation being
unheroic, so must the actors be; for, apart from the inspirations of
circumstances, Napoleon no more than John Smith is recognizable as a hero.

Now, in adopting this view, a writer places himself under several manifest
disadvantages. If you are to be an agnostic, it is better (for novel-
writing purposes) not to be a complacent or resigned one. Otherwise your
characters will find it difficult to show what is in them. A man reveals
and classifies himself in proportion to the severity of the condition or
action required of him, hence the American novelist's people are in
considerable straits to make themselves adequately known to us. They
cannot lay bare their inmost soul over a cup of tea or a picture by Corot;
so, in order to explain themselves, they must not only submit to
dissection at the author's hands, but must also devote no little time and
ingenuity to dissecting themselves and one another. But dissection is one
thing, and the living word rank from the heart and absolutely reeking of
the human creature that uttered it--the word that Turguenieff's people are
constantly uttering--is another. Moreover, in the dearth of commanding
traits and stirring events, there is a continual temptation to magnify
those which are petty and insignificant. Instead of a telescope to sweep
the heavens, we are furnished with a microscope to detect infusoria. We
want a description of a mountain; and, instead of receiving an outline,
naked and severe, perhaps, but true and impressive, we are introduced to a
tiny field on its immeasurable side, and we go botanizing and insect-
hunting there. This is realism; but it is the realism of texture, not of
form and relation. It encourages our glance to be near-sighted instead of
comprehensive. Above all, there is a misgiving that we do not touch the
writer's true quality, and that these scenes of his, so elaborately and
conscientiously prepared, have cost him much thought and pains, but not
one throb of the heart or throe of the spirit. The experiences that he
depicts have not, one fancies, marked wrinkles on his forehead or turned
his hair gray. There are two kinds of reserve--the reserve which feels
that its message is too mighty for it, and the reserve which feels that it
is too mighty for its message. Our new school of writers is reserved, but
its reserve does not strike one as being of the former kind. It cannot be
said of any one of Mr. James's stories, "This is his best," or "This is
his worst," because no one of them is all one way. They have their phases
of strength and veracity, and, also, phases that are neither veracious nor
strong. The cause may either lie in a lack of experience in a certain
direction on the writer's part; or else in his reluctance to write up to
the experience he has. The experience in question is not of the ways of
the world,--concerning which Mr. James has every sign of being politely
familiar,--nor of men and women in their every-day aspect; still less of
literary ways and means, for of these, in his own line, he is a master.
The experience referred to is experience of passion. If Mr. James be not
incapable of describing passion, at all events he has still to show that
he is capable of it. He has introduced us to many characters that seem to
have in them capacity for the highest passion,--as witness Christina
Light,--and yet he has never allowed them an opportunity to develop it. He
seems to evade the situation; but the evasion is managed with so much
plausibility that, although we may be disappointed, or even irritated, and
feel, more or less vaguely, that we have been unfairly dealt with, we are
unable to show exactly where or how the unfairness comes in. Thus his
novels might be compared to a beautiful face, full of culture and good
breeding, but lacking that fire of the eye and fashion of the lip that
betray a living human soul.

The other one of the two writers whose names are so often mentioned
together, seems to have taken up the subject of our domestic and social
pathology; and the minute care and conscientious veracity which he has
brought to bear upon his work has not been surpassed, even by Shakespeare.
But, if I could venture a criticism upon his productions, it would be to
the effect that there is not enough fiction in them. They are elaborate
and amiable reports of what we see around us. They are not exactly
imaginative,--in the sense in which I have attempted to define the word.
There are two ways of warning a man against unwholesome life--one is, to
show him a picture of disease; the other is, to show him a picture of
health. The former is the negative, the latter the positive treatment.
Both have their merits; but the latter is, perhaps, the better adapted to
novels, the former to essays. A novelist should not only know what he has
got; he should also know what he wants. His mind should have an active, or
theorizing, as well as a passive, or contemplative, side. He should have
energy to discount the people he personally knows; the power to perceive
what phases of thought are to be represented, as well as to describe the
persons who happen to be their least inadequate representatives; the
sagacity to analyze the age or the moment, and to reveal its tendency and
meaning. Mr. Howells has produced a great deal of finely wrought tapestry;
but does not seem, as yet, to have found a hall fit to adorn it with.

And yet Mr. James and Mr. Howells have done more than all the rest of us
to make our literature respectable during the last ten years. If texture
be the object, they have brought texture to a fineness never surpassed
anywhere. They have discovered charm and grace in much that was only blank
before. They have detected and described points of human nature hitherto
unnoticed, which, if not intrinsically important, will one day be made
auxiliary to the production of pictures of broader as well as minuter
veracity than have heretofore been produced. All that seems wanting thus
far is a direction, an aim, a belief. Agnosticism has brought about a
pause for a while, and no doubt a pause is preferable to some kinds of
activity. It may enable us, when the time comes to set forward again, to
do so with better equipment and more intelligent purpose. It will not do
to be always at a prophetic heat of enthusiasm, sympathy, denunciation:
the coolly critical mood is also useful to prune extravagance and promote
a sense of responsibility. The novels of Mr. James and of Mr. Howells have
taught us that men and women are creatures of infinitely complicated
structure, and that even the least of these complications, if it is
portrayed at all, is worth portraying truthfully. But we cannot forget, on
the other hand, that honest emotion and hearty action are necessary to the
wholesomeness of society, because in their absence society is afflicted
with a lamentable sameness and triviality; the old primitive impulses
remain, but the food on which they are compelled to feed is insipid and
unsustaining; our eyes are turned inward instead of outward, and each one
of us becomes himself the Rome towards which all his roads lead. Such
books as these authors have written are not the Great American Novel,
because they take life and humanity not in their loftier, but in their
lesser manifestations. They are the side scenes and the background of a
story that has yet to be written. That story will have the interest not
only of the collision of private passions and efforts, but of the great
ideas and principles which characterize and animate a nation. It will
discriminate between what is accidental and what is permanent, between
what is realistic and what is real, between what is sentimental and what
is sentiment. It will show us not only what we are, but what we are to be;
not only what to avoid, but what to do. It will rest neither in the tragic
gloom of Turguenieff, nor in the critical composure of James, nor in the
gentle deprecation of Howells, but will demonstrate that the weakness of
man is the motive and condition of his strength. It will not shrink from
romance, nor from ideality, nor from artistic completeness, because it
will know at what depths and heights of life these elements are truly
operative. It will be American, not because its scene is laid or its
characters born in the United States, but because its burden will be
reaction against old tyrannies and exposure of new hypocrisies; a
refutation of respectable falsehoods, and a proclamation of
unsophisticated truths. Indeed, let us take heed and diligently improve
our native talent, lest a day come when the Great American Novel make its
appearance, but written in a foreign language, and by some author who--
however purely American at heart--never set foot on the shores of the
Republic.

CHAPTER III.

AMERICANISM IN FICTION.

Contemporary criticism will have it that, in order to create an American
Literature, we must use American materials. The term "Literature" has, no
doubt, come to be employed in a loose sense. The London _Saturday Review_
has (or used to have until lately) a monthly two-column article devoted to
what it called "American Literature," three-fourths of which were devoted
to an examination of volumes of State Histories, Statistical Digests,
Records of the Census, and other such works as were never, before or
since, suspected of being literature; while the remaining fourth mentioned
the titles (occasionally with a line of comment) of whatever productions
were at hand in the way of essays, novels, and poetry. This would seem to
indicate that we may have--nay, are already possessed of--an American
Literature, composed of American materials, provided only that we consent
to adopt the _Saturday Review's_ conception of what literature is.

Many of us believe, however, that the essays, the novels, and the poetry,
as well as the statistical digests, ought to go to the making up of a
national literature. It has been discovered, however, that the existence
of the former does not depend, to the same extent as that of the latter,
upon the employment of exclusively American material. A book about the
census, if it be not American, is nothing; but a poem or a romance, though
written by a native-born American, who, perhaps, has never crossed the
Atlantic, not only may, but frequently does, have nothing in it that can
be called essentially American, except its English and, occasionally, its
ideas. And the question arises whether such productions can justly be held
to form component parts of what shall hereafter be recognized as the
literature of America.

How was it with the makers of English literature? Beginning with Chaucer,
his "Canterbury Pilgrims" is English, both in scene and character; it is
even mentioned of the Abbess that "Frenche of Paris was to her unknowe";
but his "Legende of Goode Women" might, so far as its subject-matter is
concerned, have been written by a French, a Spanish, or an Italian
Chaucer, just as well as by the British Daniel. Spenser's "Faerie Queene"
numbers St. George and King Arthur among its heroes; but its scene is laid
in Faerie Lande, if it be laid anywhere, and it is a barefaced moral
allegory throughout. Shakespeare wrote thirty-seven plays, the elimination
of which from English literature would undeniably be a serious loss to it;
yet, of these plays twenty-three have entirely foreign scenes and
characters. Milton, as a political writer, was English; but his "Paradise
Lost and Regained," his "Samson," his "Ode on the Nativity," his "Comus,"
bear no reference to the land of his birth. Dryden's best-known work to-
day is his "Alexander's Feast." Pope has come down to us as the translator
of Homer. Richardson, Fielding, Smollett, and Sterne are the great quartet
of English novelists of the last century; but Smollett, in his preface to
"Roderick Random," after an admiring allusion to the "Gil Blas" of Le
Sage, goes on to say: "The following sheets I have modelled on his plan";
and Sterne was always talking and thinking about Cervantes, and comparing
himself to the great Spaniard: "I think there is more laughable humor,
with an equal degree of Cervantic satire, if not more, than in the last,"
he writes of one of his chapters, to "my witty widow, Mrs. F." Many even
of Walter Scott's romances are un-English in their elements; and the fame
of Shelley, Keats, and Byron rests entirely upon their "foreign" work.
Coleridge's poetry and philosophy bear no technical stamp of nationality;
and, to come down to later times, Carlyle was profoundly imbued with
Germanism, while the "Romola" of George Eliot and the "Cloister and the
Hearth" of Charles Reade are by many considered to be the best of their
works. In the above enumeration innumerable instances in point are, of
course, omitted; but enough have been given, perhaps, to show that
imaginative writers have not generally been disowned by their country on
the ground that they have availed themselves, in their writings, of other
scenes and characters than those of their own immediate neighborhoods.

The statistics of the work of the foremost American writers could easily
be shown to be much more strongly imbued with the specific flavor of their
environment. Benjamin Franklin, though he was an author before the United
States existed, was American to the marrow. The "Leather-Stocking Tales"
of Cooper are the American epic. Irving's "Knickerbocker" and his
"Woolfert's Roost" will long outlast his other productions. Poe's most
popular tale, "The Gold-Bug," is American in its scene, and so is "The
Mystery of Marie Roget," in spite of its French nomenclature; and all that
he wrote is strongly tinged with the native hue of his strange genius.
Longfellow's "Evangeline" and "Hiawatha" and "Miles Standish," and such
poems as "The Skeleton in Armor" and "The Building of the Ship," crowd out
of sight his graceful translations and adaptations. Emerson is the
veritable American eagle of our literature, so that to be Emersonian is to
be American. Whittier and Holmes have never looked beyond their native
boundaries, and Hawthorne has brought the stern gloom of the Puritan
period and the uneasy theorizings of the present day into harmony with the
universal and permanent elements of human nature. There was certainly
nothing European visible in the crude but vigorous stories of Theodore
Winthrop; and Bret Harte, the most brilliant figure among our later men,
is not only American, but Californian,--as is, likewise, the Poet of the
Sierras. It is not necessary to go any further. Mr. Henry James, having
enjoyed early and singular opportunities of studying the effects of the
recent annual influx of Americans, cultured and otherwise, into England
and the Continent, has very sensibly and effectively, and with exquisite
grace of style and pleasantness of thought, made the phenomenon the theme
of a remarkable series of stories. Hereupon the cry of an "International
School" has been raised, and critics profess to be seriously alarmed lest
we should ignore the signal advantages for _mise-en-scene_ presented by
this Western half of the planet, and should enter into vain and
unpatriotic competition with foreign writers on their own ground. The
truth is, meanwhile, that it would have been a much surer sign of
affectation in us to have abstained from literary comment upon the patent
and notable fact of this international _rapprochement_,--which is just as
characteristic an American trait as the episode of the Argonauts of 1849,
--and we have every reason to be grateful to Mr. Henry James, and to his
school, if he has any, for having rescued us from the opprobrium of so
foolish a piece of know-nothingism. The phase is, of course, merely
temporary; its interest and significance will presently be exhausted; but,
because we are American, are we to import no French cakes and English ale?
As a matter of fact, we are too timid and self-conscious; and these
infirmities imply a much more serious obstacle to the formation of a
characteristic literature than does any amount of gadding abroad.

That must be a very shallow literature which depends for its national
flavor and character upon its topography and its dialect; and the
criticism which can conceive of no deeper Americanism than this is
shallower still. What is an American book? It is a book written by an
American, and by one who writes as an American; that is, unaffectedly. So
an English book is a book written by an unaffected Englishman. What
difference can it make what the subject of the writing is? Mr. Henry James
lately brought out a volume of essays on "French Poets and Novelists." Mr.
E. C. Stedman recently published a series of monographs on "The Victorian
Poets." Are these books French and English, or are they nondescript, or
are they American? Not only are they American, but they are more
essentially American than if they had been disquisitions upon American
literature. And the reason is, of course, that they subject the things of
the old world to the tests of the new, and thereby vindicate and
illustrate the characteristic mission of America to mankind. We are here
to hold up European conventionalisms and prejudices in the light of the
new day, and thus afford everybody the opportunity, never heretofore
enjoyed, of judging them by other standards, and in other surroundings
than those amidst which they came into existence. In the same way,
Emerson's "English Traits" is an American thing, and it gives categorical
reasons why American things should be. And what is an American novel
except a novel treating of persons, places, and ideas from an American
point of view? The point of view is _the_ point, not the thing seen from
it.

But it is said that "the great American novel," in order fully to deserve
its name, ought to have American scenery. Some thousands of years ago, the
Greeks had a novelist--Homer--who evolved the great novel of that epoch;
but the scenery of that novel was Trojan, not Greek. The story is a
criticism, from a Greek standpoint, of foreign affairs, illustrated with
practical examples; and, as regards treatment, quite as much care is
bestowed upon the delineation of Hector, Priam, and Paris, as upon
Agamemnon, Menelaus, and Achilles. The same story, told by a Trojan Homer,
would doubtless have been very different; but it is by no means certain
that it would have been any better told. It embodies, whether symbolically
or literally matters not, the triumph of Greek ideas and civilization.
But, even so, the sympathies of the reader are not always, or perhaps
uniformly, on the conquering side. Homer was doubtless a patriot, but he
shows no signs of having been a bigot. He described that great
international episode with singular impartiality; what chiefly interested
him was the play of human nature. Nevertheless, there is no evidence that
the Greeks were backward in admitting his claims as their national poet;
and we may legitimately conclude that were an American Homer--whether in
prose or poetry--to appear among us, he might pitch his scene where he
liked--in Patagonia, or on the banks of the Zambezi--and we should accept
the situation with perfect equanimity. Only let him be a native of New
York, or Boston, or San Francisco, or Mullenville, and be inspired with
the American idea, and we ask no more. Whatever he writes will belong to
our literature, and add lustre to it.

One hears many complaints about the snobbishness of running after things
European. Go West, young man, these moralists say, or go down Fifth
Avenue, and investigate Chatham Street, and learn that all the elements of
romance, to him who has the seeing eye, lie around your own front doorstep
and back yard. But let not these persons forget that he who fears Europe
is a less respectable snob than he who studies it. Let us welcome Europe
in our books as freely as we do at Castle Garden; we may do so safely. If
our digestion be not strong enough to assimilate her, and work up whatever
is valuable in her into our own bone and sinew, then America is not the
thing we took her for. For what is America? Is it simply a reproduction of
one of these Eastern nationalities, which we are so fond of alluding to as
effete? Surely not. It is a new departure in history; it is a new door
opened to the development of the human race, or, as I should prefer to
say, of humanity. We are misled by the chatter of politicians and the
bombast of Congress. In the course of ages, the time has at last arrived
when man, all over this planet, is entering upon a new career of moral,
intellectual, and political emancipation; and America is the concrete
expression and theatre of that great fact, as all spiritual truths find
their fitting and representative physical incarnation. But what would this
huge western continent be, if America--the real America of the mind--had
no existence? It would be a body without a soul, and would better,
therefore, not be at all. If America is to be a repetition of Europe on a
larger scale, it is not worth the pain of governing it. Europe has shown
what European ideas can accomplish; and whatever fresh thought or impulse
comes to birth in it can be nothing else than an American thought and
impulse, and must sooner or later find its way here, and become
naturalized with its brethren. Buds and blossoms of America are sprouting
forth all over the Old World, and we gather in the fruit. They do not find
themselves at home there, but they know where their home is. The old
country feels them like thorns in her old flesh, and is gladly rid of
them; but such prickings are the only wholesome and hopeful symptoms she
presents; if they ceased to trouble her, she would be dead indeed. She has
an uneasy experience before her, for a time; but the time will come when
she, too, will understand that her ease is her disease, and then Castle
Garden may close its doors, for America will be everywhere.

If, then, America is something vastly more than has hitherto been
understood by the word nation, it is proper that we attach to that other
word, patriotism, a significance broader and loftier than has been
conceived till now. By so much as the idea that we represent is great, by
so much are we, in comparison with it, inevitably chargeable with
littleness and short-comings. For we are of the same flesh and blood as
our neighbors; it is only our opportunities and our responsibilities that
are fairer and weightier than theirs. Circumstances afford every excuse to
them, but none to us. "_E Pluribus Unum_" is a frivolous motto; our true
one should be, "_Noblesse oblige_." But, with a strange perversity, in all
matters of comparison between ourselves and others, we display what we are
pleased to call our patriotism by an absurd touchiness as to points
wherein Europe, with its settled and polished civilization, must needs be
our superior; and are quite indifferent about those things by which our
real strength is constituted. Can we not be content to learn from Europe
the graces, the refinements, the amenities of life, so long as we are able
to teach her life itself? For my part, I never saw in England any
appurtenance of civilization, calculated to add to the convenience and
commodiousness of existence, that did not seem to me to surpass anything
of the kind that we have in this country. Notwithstanding which--and I am
far, indeed, from having any pretensions to asceticism--I would have been
fairly stifled at the idea of having to spend my life there. No American
can live in Europe, unless he means to return home, or unless, at any
rate, he returns here in mind, in hope, in belief. For an American to
accept England, or any other country, as both a mental and physical
finality, would, it seems to me, be tantamount to renouncing his very
life. To enjoy English comforts at the cost of adopting English opinions,
would be about as pleasant as to have the privilege of retaining one's
body on condition of surrendering one's soul, and would, indeed, amount to
just about the same thing.

I fail, therefore, to feel any apprehension as to our literature becoming
Europeanized, because whatever is American in it must lie deeper than
anything European can penetrate. More than that, I believe and hope that
our novelists will deal with Europe a great deal more, and a great deal
more intelligently, than they have done yet. It is a true and healthy
artistic instinct that leads them to do so. Hawthorne--and no American
writer had a better right than he to contradict his own argument--says, in
the preface to the "Marble Faun," in a passage that has been often quoted,
but will bear repetition:--

"Italy, as the site of a romance, was chiefly valuable to him as <
affording a sort of poetic or fairy precinct, where actualities would
not be so terribly insisted on as they are, and must needs be, in
America. No author, without a trial, can conceive of the difficulty of
writing a romance about a country where there is no shadow, no
antiquity, n mystery, no picturesque and gloomy wrong, nor anything
but a commonplace prosperity, in broad and simple daylight, as is
happily the case with my dear native land. It will be very long, I
trust, before romance writers may find congenial and easily handled
themes, either in the annals of our stalwart Republic, or in any
characteristic and probable events of our individual lives. Romance
and poetry, ivy, lichens, and wall-flowers, need ruin to make them
grow."

Now, what is to be understood from this passage? It assumes, in the first
place, that a work of art, in order to be effective, must contain profound
contrasts of light and shadow; and then it points out that the shadow, at
least, is found ready to the hand in Europe. There is no hint of patriotic
scruples as to availing one's self of such a "picturesque and gloomy"
background; if it is to be had, then let it be taken; the main object to
be considered is the work of art. Europe, in short, afforded an excellent
quarry, from which, in Hawthorne's opinion, the American novelist might
obtain materials which are conspicuously deficient in his own country, and
which that country is all the better for not possessing. In the "Marble
Faun" the author had conceived a certain idea, and he considered that he
had been not unsuccessful in realizing it. The subject was new, and full
of especial attractions to his genius, and it would manifestly have been
impossible to adapt it to an American setting. There was one drawback
connected with it, and this Hawthorne did not fail to recognize. He
remarks in the preface that he had "lived too long abroad not to be aware
that a foreigner seldom acquires that knowledge of a country at once
flexible and profound, which may justify him in endeavoring to idealize
its traits." But he was careful not to attempt "a portraiture of Italian
manners and character." He made use of the Italian scenery and atmosphere
just so far as was essential to the development of his idea, and
consistent with the extent of his Italian knowledge; and, for the rest,
fell back upon American characters and principles. The result has been
long enough before the world to have met with a proper appreciation. I
have heard regret expressed that the power employed by the author in
working out this story had not been applied to a romance dealing with a
purely American subject. But to analyze this objection is to dispose of
it. A man of genius is not, commonly, enfeebled by his own productions;
and, physical accidents aside, Hawthorne was just as capable of writing
another "Scarlet Letter" after the "Marble Faun" was published, as he had
been before. Meanwhile, few will deny that our literature would be a loser
had the "Marble Faun" never been written.

The drawback above alluded to is, however, not to be underrated. It may
operate in two ways. In the first place, the American's European
observations may be inaccurate. As a child, looking at a sphere, might
suppose it to be a flat disc, shaded at one side and lighted at the other,
so a sightseer in Europe may ascribe to what he beholds qualities and a
character quite at variance with what a more fundamental knowledge would
have enabled him to perceive. In the second place, the stranger in a
strange land, be he as accurate as he may, will always tend to look at
what is around him objectively, instead of allowing it subjectively--or,
as it were, unconsciously--to color his narrative. He will be more apt
directly to describe what he sees, than to convey the feeling or aroma of
it without description. It would doubtless, for instance, be possible for
Mr. Henry James to write an "English" or even a "French" novel without
falling into a single technical error; but it is no less certain that a
native writer, of equal ability, would treat the same subject in a very
different manner. Mr. James's version might contain a great deal more of
definite information; but the native work would insinuate an impression
which both comes from and goes to a greater depth of apprehension.

But, on the other hand, it is not contended that any American should write
an "English" or anything but an "American" novel. The contention is,
simply, that he should not refrain from using foreign material, when it
happens to suit his exigencies, merely because it is foreign. Objective
writing may be quite as good reading as subjective writing, in its proper
place and function. In fiction, no more than elsewhere, may a writer
pretend to be what he is not, or to know what he knows not. When he finds
himself abroad, he must frankly admit his situation; and more will not
then be required of him than he is fairly competent to afford. It will
seldom happen, as Hawthorne intimates, that he can successfully reproduce
the inner workings and philosophy of European social and political customs
and peculiarities; but he can give a picture of the scenery as vivid as
can the aborigine, or more so; he can make an accurate study of personal
native character; and, finally, and most important of all, he can make use
of the conditions of European civilization in events, incidents, and
situations which would be impossible on this side of the water. The
restrictions, the traditions, the law, and the license of those old
countries are full of suggestions to the student of character and
circumstances, and supply him with colors and effects that he would else
search for in vain. For the truth may as well be admitted; we are at a
distinct disadvantage, in America, in respect of the materials of romance.
Not that vigorous, pathetic, striking stories may not be constructed here;
and there is humor enough, the humor of dialect, of incongruity of
character; but, so far as the story depends for its effect, not upon
psychical and personal, but upon physical and general events and
situations, we soon feel the limit of our resources. An analysis of the
human soul, such as may be found in the "House of the Seven Gables," for
instance, is absolute in its interest, apart from outward conditions. But
such an analysis cannot be carried on, so to say, _in vacuo_. You must
have solid ground to stand on; you must have fitting circumstances,
background, and perspective. The ruin of a soul, the tragedy of a heart,
demand, as a necessity of harmony and picturesque effect, a corresponding
and conspiring environment and stage--just as, in music, the air in the
treble is supported and reverberated by the bass accompaniment. The
immediate, contemporary act or predicament loses more than half its
meaning and impressiveness if it be re-echoed from no sounding-board in
the past--its notes, however sweetly and truly touched, fall flatly on the
ear. The deeper we attempt to pitch the key of an American story,
therefore, the more difficulty shall we find in providing a congruous
setting for it; and it is interesting to note how the masters of the craft
have met the difficulty. In the "Seven Gables"--and I take leave to say
that if I draw illustrations from this particular writer, it is for no
other reason than that he presents, more forcibly than most, a method of
dealing with the special problem we are considering--Hawthorne, with the
intuitive skill of genius, evolves a background, and produces a
reverberation, from materials which he may be said to have created almost
as much as discovered. The idea of a house, founded two hundred years ago
upon a crime, remaining ever since in possession of its original owners,
and becoming the theatre, at last, of the judgment upon that crime, is a
thoroughly picturesque idea, but it is thoroughly un-American. Such a
thing might conceivably occur, but nothing in this country could well be
more unlikely. No one before Hawthorne had ever thought of attempting such
a thing; at all events, no one else, before or since, has accomplished it.
The preface to the romance in question reveals the principle upon which
its author worked, and incidentally gives a new definition of the term
"romance,"--a definition of which, thus far, no one but its propounder has
known how to avail himself. It amounts, in fact, to an acknowledgment that
it is impossible to write a "novel" of American life that shall be at once
artistic, realistic, and profound. A novel, he says, aims at a "very
minute fidelity, not merely to the possible, but to the probable and
ordinary course of man's experience." A romance, on the other hand,
"while, as a work of art, it must rigidly subject itself to laws, and
while it sins unpardonably so far as it may swerve aside from the truth of
the human heart, has fairly a right to present that truth under
circumstances, to a great extent, of the writer's own choosing or
creation. If he think fit, also, he may so manage his atmospherical medium
as to bring out and mellow the lights, and deepen and enrich the shadows,
of the picture." This is good advice, no doubt, but not easy to follow. We
can all understand, however, that the difficulties would be greatly
lessened could we but command backgrounds of the European order.
Thackeray, the Brontes, George Eliot, and others have written great
stories, which did not have to be romances, because the literal conditions
of life in England have a picturesqueness and a depth which correspond
well enough with whatever moral and mental scenery we may project upon
them. Hawthorne was forced to use the scenery and capabilities of his
native town of Salem. He saw that he could not present these in a
realistic light, and his artistic instinct showed him that he must modify
or veil the realism of his figures in the same degree and manner as that
of his accessories. No doubt, his peculiar genius and temperament
eminently qualified him to produce this magical change; it was a
remarkable instance of the spontaneous marriage, so to speak, of the means
to the end; and even when, in Italy, he had an opportunity to write a
story which should be accurate in fact, as well as faithful to "the truth
of the human heart," he still preferred a subject which bore to the
Italian environment the same relation that the "House of the Seven Gables"
and the "Scarlet Letter" do to the American one; in other words, the
conception of Donatello is removed as much further than Clifford or Hester
Prynne from literal realism as the inherent romance of the Italian setting
is above that of New England. The whole thing is advanced a step further
towards pure idealism, the relative proportions being maintained.

"The Blithedale Romance" is only another instance in point, and here, as
before, we find the principle admirably stated in the preface. "In the old
countries," says Hawthorne, "a novelist's work is not put exactly side by
side with nature; and he is allowed a license with regard to everyday
probability, in view of the improved effects he is bound to produce
thereby. Among ourselves, on the contrary, there is as yet no Faery Land,
so like the real world that, in a suitable remoteness, we cannot well tell
the difference, but with an atmosphere of strange enchantment, beheld
through which the inhabitants have a propriety of their own. This
atmosphere is what the American romancer needs. In its absence, the beings
of his imagination are compelled to show themselves in the same category
as actually living mortals; a necessity that renders the paint and
pasteboard of their composition but too painfully discernible."
Accordingly, Hawthorne selects the Brook Farm episode (or a reflection of
it) as affording his drama "a theatre, a little removed from the highway
of ordinary travel, where the creatures of his brain may play their
phantasmagorical antics, without exposing them to too close a comparison
with the actual events of real lives." In this case, therefore, an
exceptional circumstance is made to answer the same purpose that was
attained by different means in the other romances.

But in what manner have our other writers of fiction treated the
difficulties that were thus dealt with by Hawthorne?--Herman Melville
cannot be instanced here; for his only novel or romance, whichever it be,
was also the most impossible of all his books, and really a terrible
example of the enormities which a man of genius may perpetrate when
working in a direction unsuited to him. I refer, of course, to "Pierre, or
the Ambiguities." Oliver Wendell Holmes's two delightful stories are as
favorable examples of what can be done, in the way of an American novel,
by a wise, witty, and learned gentleman, as we are likely to see.
Nevertheless, one cannot avoid the feeling that they are the work of a man
who has achieved success and found recognition in other ways than by
stories, or even poems and essays. The interest, in either book, centres
round one of those physiological phenomena which impinge so strangely upon
the domain of the soul; for the rest, they are simply accurate and
humorous portraitures of local dialects and peculiarities, and thus afford
little assistance in the search for a universally applicable rule of
guidance. Doctor Holmes, I believe, objects to having the term "medicated"
applied to his tales; but surely the adjective is not reproachful; it
indicates one of the most charming and also, alas! inimitable features of
his work.

Bret Harte is probably as valuable a witness as could be summoned in this
case. His touch is realistic, and yet his imagination is poetic and
romantic. He has discovered something. He has done something both new and
good. Within the space of some fifty pages, he has painted a series of
pictures which will last as long as anything in the fifty thousand pages
of Dickens. Taking "The Outcasts of Poker Flat" as perhaps the most nearly
perfect of the tales, as well as the most truly representative of the
writer's powers, let us try to guess its secret. In the first place, it is
very short,--a single episode, succinctly and eloquently told. The
descriptions of scenery and persons are masterly and memorable. The
characters of these persons, their actions, and the circumstances of their
lives, are as rugged, as grotesque, as terrible, and also as beautiful, as
the scenery. Thus an artistic harmony is established,--the thing which is
lacking in so much of our literature. The story moves swiftly on, through
humor, pathos, and tragedy, to its dramatic close. It is given with
perfect literary taste, and naught in its phases of human nature is either
extenuated or set down in malice. The little narrative can be read in a
few minutes, and can never be forgotten. But it is only an episode; and it
is an episode of an episode,--that of the Californian gold-fever. The
story of the Argonauts is only one story, after all, and these tales of
Harte's are but so many facets of the same gem. They are not, however,
like chapters in a romance; there is no such vital connection between them
as develops a cumulative force. We are no more impressed after reading
half a dozen of them than after the first; they are variations of the same
theme. They discover to us no new truth about human nature; they only show
us certain human beings so placed as to act out their naked selves,--to be
neither influenced nor protected by the rewards and screens of
conventional civilization. The affectation and insincerity of our daily
life make such a spectacle fresh and pleasing to us. But we enjoy it
because of its unexpectedness, its separateness, its unlikeness to the
ordinary course of existence. It is like a huge, strange, gorgeous flower,
an exaggeration and intensification of such flowers as we know; but a
flower without roots, unique, never to be reproduced. It is fitting that
its portrait should be painted; but, once done, it is done with; we cannot
fill our picture-gallery with it. Carlyle wrote the History of the French
Revolution, and Bret Harte has written the History of the Argonauts; but
it is absurd to suppose that a national literature could be founded on
either episode.

But though Mr. Harte has not left his fellow-craftsmen anything to gather
from the lode which he opened and exhausted, we may still learn something
from his method. He took things as he found them, and he found them
disinclined to weave themselves into an elaborate and balanced narrative.
He recognized the deficiency of historical perspective, but he saw that
what was lost in slowly growing, culminating power was gained in vivid,
instant force. The deeds of his character could not be represented as the
final result of long-inherited proclivities; but they could appear between
their motive and their consequence, like the draw--aim--fire! of the
Western desperado,--as short, sharp, and conclusive. In other words, the
conditions of American life, as he saw it, justified a short story, or any
number of them, but not a novel; and the fact that he did afterwards
attempt a novel only served to confirm his original position. I think that
the limitation that he discovered is of much wider application than we are
prone to realize. American life has been, as yet, nothing but a series of
episodes, of experiments. There has been no such thing as a fixed and
settled condition of society, not subject to change itself, and therefore
affording a foundation and contrast to minor or individual vicissitudes.
We cannot write American-grown novels, because a novel is not an episode,
nor an aggregation of episodes; we cannot write romances in the Hawthorne
sense, because, as yet, we do not seem to be clever enough. Several
courses are, however, open to us, and we are pursuing them all. First, we
are writing "short stories," accounts of episodes needing no historical
perspective, and not caring for any; and, so far as one may judge, we
write the best short stories in the world. Secondly, we may spin out our
short stories into long-short stories, just as we may imagine a baby six
feet high; it takes up more room, but is just as much a baby as one of
twelve inches. Thirdly, we may graft our flower of romance on a European
stem, and enjoy ourselves as much as the European novelists do, and with
as clear a conscience. We are stealing that which enriches us and does not
impoverish them. It is silly and childish to make the boundaries of the
America of the mind coincide with those of the United States. We need not
dispute about free trade and protection here; literature is not commerce,
nor is it politics. America is not a petty nationality, like France,
England, and Germany; but whatever in such nationalities tends toward
enlightenment and freedom is American. Let us not, therefore, confirm
ourselves in a false and ignoble conception of our meaning and mission in
the world. Let us not carry into the temple of the Muse the jealousies,
the prejudice, the ignorance, the selfishness of our "Senate" and
"Representatives," strangely so called! Let us not refuse to breathe the
air of Heaven, lest there be something European or Asian in it. If we
cannot have a national literature in the narrow, geographical sense of the
phrase, it is because our inheritance transcends all geographical
definitions. The great American novel may not be written this year, or
even in this century. Meanwhile, let us not fear to ride, and ride to
death, whatever species of Pegasus we can catch. It can do us no harm, and
it may help us to acquire a firmer seat against the time when our own, our
very own winged steed makes his appearance.

CHAPTER IV.

LITERATURE FOR CHILDREN.

Literature is that quality in books which affords delight and nourishment
to the soul. But this is a scientific and skeptical age, insomuch that one
hardly ventures to take for granted that every reader will know what his
soul is. It is not the intellect, though it gives the intellect light; nor
the emotions, though they receive their warmth from it. It is the most
catholic and constant element of human nature, yet it bears no direct part
in the practical affairs of life; it does not struggle, it does not even
suffer; but merely emerges or retires, glows or congeals, according to the
company in which it finds itself. We might say that the soul is a name for
man's innate sympathy with goodness and truth in the abstract; for no man
can have a bad soul, though his heart may be evil, or his mind depraved,
because the soul's access to the mind or heart has been so obstructed as
to leave the moral consciousness cold and dark. The soul, in other words,
is the only conservative and peacemaker; it affords the only unalterable
ground upon which all men can always meet; it unselfishly identifies or
unites us with our fellows, in contradistinction to the selfish intellect,
which individualizes us and sets each man against every other. Doubtless,
then, the soul is an amiable and desirable possession, and it would be a
pity to deprive it of so much encouragement as may be compatible with due
attention to the serious business of life. For there are moments, even in
the most active careers, when it seems agreeable to forget competition,
rivalry, jealousy; when it is a rest to think of one's self as a man
rather than a person;--moments when time and place appear impertinent, and
that most profitable which affords least palpable profit. At such seasons,
a man looks inward, or, as the American poet puts it, he loafs and invites
his soul, and then he is at a disadvantage if his soul, in consequence of
too persistent previous neglect, declines to respond to the invitation,
and remains immured in that secret place which, as years pass by, becomes
less and less accessible to so many of us.

When I say that literature nourishes the soul, I implicitly refuse the
title of literature to anything in books that either directly or
indirectly promotes any worldly or practical use. Of course, what is
literature to one man may be anything but literature to another, or to the
same man under different circumstances; Virgil to the schoolboy, for
instance, is a very different thing from the Virgil of the scholar. But
whatever you read with the design of improving yourself in some
profession, or of acquiring information likely to be of advantage to you
in any pursuit or contingency, or of enabling yourself to hold your own
with other readers, or even of rendering yourself that enviable
nondescript, a person of culture,--whatever, in short, is read with any
assignable purpose whatever, is in so far not literature. The Bible may be
literature to Mr. Matthew Arnold, because he reads it for fun; but to
Luther, Calvin, or the pupils of a Sunday-school, it is essentially
something else. Literature is the written communications of the soul of
mankind with itself; it is liable to appear in the most unexpected places,
and in the oddest company; it vanishes when we would grasp it, and appears
when we look not for it. Chairs of literature are established in the great
universities, and it is literature, no doubt, that the professor
discourses; but it ceases to be literature before it reaches the student's
ear; though, again, when the same students stumble across it in the
recesses of their memory ten or twenty years later, it may have become
literature once more. Finally, literature may, upon occasion, avail a man
more than the most thorough technical information; but it will not be
because it supplements or supplants that information, but because it has
so tempered and exalted his general faculty that whatever he may do is
done more clearly and comprehensively than might otherwise be the case.

Having thus, in some measure, considered what is literature and what the
soul, let us note, further, that the literature proper to manhood is not
proper to childhood, though the reverse is not--or, at least, never ought
to be--true. In childhood, the soul and the mind act in harmony; the mind
has not become preoccupied or sophisticated by so-called useful knowledge;
it responds obediently to the soul's impulses and intuitions. Children
have no morality; they have not yet descended to the level where morality
suggests itself to them. For morality is the outcome of spiritual pride,
the most stubborn and insidious of all sins; the pride which prompts each
of us to declare himself holier than his fellows, and to support that
claim by parading his docility to the Decalogue. Docility to any set of
rules, no matter of how divine authority, so long as it is inspired by
hope of future good or present advantage, is rather worse than useless:
except our righteousness exceed that of the Scribes and Pharisees,--that
is, except it be spontaneous righteousness or morality, and, therefore,
not morality, but unconscious goodness,--we shall in no wise have
benefited either ourselves or others. Children, when left to themselves,
artlessly and innocently act out the nature that is common to saint and
sinner alike; they are selfish, angry, and foolish, because their state is
human; and they are loving, truthful, and sincere, because their origin is
divine. All that pleases or agrees with them is good; all that opposes or
offends them is evil, and this, without any reference whatever to the
moral code in vogue among their elders. But, on the other hand, children
cannot be tempted as we are, because they suppose that everything is free
and possible, and because they are as yet uncontaminated by the artificial
cravings which the artificial prohibitions incident to our civilization
create. Life is to them a constantly widening circle of things to be had
and enjoyed; nor does it ever occur to them that their desires can
conflict with those of others, or with the laws of the universe. They
cannot consciously do wrong, nor understand that any one else can do so;
untoward accidents may happen, but inanimate nature is just as liable to
be objectionable in this respect as human beings: the stone that trips
them up, the thorn that scratches them, the snow that makes their flesh
tingle, is an object of their resentment in just the same kind and degree
as are the men and women who thwart or injure them. But of duty--that
dreary device to secure future reward by present suffering; of
conscientiousness--that fear of present good for the sake of future
punishment; of remorse--that disavowal of past pleasure for fear of the
sting in its tail; of ambition--that begrudging of all honorable results
that are not effected by one's self; of these, and all similar politic and
arbitrary masks of self-love and pusillanimity, these poor children know
and suspect nothing. Yet their eyes are much keener than ours, for they
see through the surface of nature and perceive its symbolism; they see the
living reality, of which nature is the veil, and are continually at fault
because this veil is not, after all, the reality,--because it is fixed and
unplastic. The "deep mind of dauntless infancy" is, in fact, the only
revelation we have, except divine revelation itself, of that pure and
natural life of man which we dream of, and liken to heaven; but we,
nevertheless, in our penny-wise, pound-foolish way, insist upon regarding
it as ignorance, and do our best, from the earliest possible moment, to
disenchant and dispel it. We call the outrage education, understanding
thereby the process of exterminating in the child the higher order of
faculties and the intuitions, and substituting for them the external
memory, timidity, self-esteem, and all that armament of petty weapons and
defences which may enable us to get the better of our fellow-creatures in
this world, and receive the reward of our sagacity in the next. The
success of our efforts is pitiably complete; for though the child, if
fairly engaged in single combat, might make a formidable resistance
against the infliction of "lessons," it cannot long withstand our crafty
device of sending it to a place where it sees a score or a hundred of
little victims like itself, all being driven to the same Siberia. The
spirit of emulation is aroused, and lo! away they all scamper, each
straining its utmost to reach the barren goal ahead of all competitors. So
do we make the most ignoble passions of our children our allies in the
unholy task of divesting them of their childhood. And yet, who is not
aware that the best men the world has seen have been those who, throughout
their lives, retained the aroma of childlike simplicity which they brought
with them into existence? Learning--the acquisition of specific facts--is
not wisdom; it is almost incompatible with wisdom; indeed, unless the mind
be powerful enough not only to fuse its facts, but to vaporize them,--to
sublimate them into an impalpable atmosphere,--they will stand in wisdom's
way. Wisdom comes from the pondering and the application to life of
certain truths quite above the sphere of facts, and of infinitely more
moment and less complexity,--truths which are often found to be in
accordance with the spiritual instinct called intuition, which children
possess more fully than grown persons. The wisdom of our children would
often astonish us, if we would only forbear the attempt to make them
knowing, and submissively accept instruction from them. Through all the
imperfection of their inherited infirmity, we shall ever and anon be
conscious of the radiance of a beautiful, unconscious intelligence, worth
more than the smartness of schools and the cleverness of colleges. But no;
we abhor the very notion of it, and generally succeed in extinguishing it
long before the Three R's are done with.

And yet, by wisely directing the child's use of the first of the Three,
much of the ill effects of the trio and their offspring might be
counteracted. If we believed--if the great mass of people known as the
civilized world did actually and livingly believe--that there was really
anything beyond or above the physical order of nature, our children's
literature, wrongly so called, would not be what it is. We believe what we
can see and touch; we teach them to believe the same, and, not satisfied
with that, we sedulously warn them not to believe anything else. The
child, let us suppose, has heard from some unauthorized person that there
are fairies--little magical creatures an inch high, up to all manner of
delightful feats. He comprehends the whole matter at half a word, feels
that he had known it already, and half thinks that he sees one or two on
his way home. He runs up to his mother and tells her about it; and has she
ever seen fairies? Alas! His mother tells him that the existence of such a
being as a fairy is impossible. In old times, when the world was very
ignorant and superstitious, they used to ascribe everything that happened
to supernatural agency; even the trifling daily accidents of one's life,
such as tumbling down stairs, or putting the right shoe on the left foot,
were thought or fancied to be the work of some mysterious power; and since
ignorant people are very apt to imagine they see what they believe
[proceeds this mother] instead of only believing what they see; and since,
furthermore, ignorance disposes to exaggeration and thus to untruth, these
people ended by asserting that they saw fairies. "Now, my child,"
continues the parent, "it would grieve me to see you the victim of such
folly. Do not read fairy stories. They are not true to life; they fill
your mind with idle notions; they cannot form your understanding, or aid
you to do your work in the world. If you should happen to fall in with
such fables, be careful as you read to bear in mind that they are pure
inventions--pretty, sometimes, perhaps, but essentially frivolous, if not
immoral. You have, however, thanks to the enlightened enterprise of
writers and publishers, an endless assortment of juvenile books and
periodicals which combine legitimate amusement with sound and trustworthy
instruction. Here are stories about little children, just like yourself,
who talk and act just as you do, and to whom nothing supernatural or
outlandish ever happens; and whose adventures, when you have read them,
convey to you some salutary moral lesson. What more can you want? Yes,
very likely 'Grimm's Tales' and 'The Arabian Nights' may seem more
attractive; but in this world many harmful things put on an inviting
guise, which deceives the inexperienced eye. May my child remember that
all is not gold that glitters, and desire, not what is diverting merely,
but what is useful and ... and conventional!"

Let us admit that, things being as they are, it is necessary to develop
the practical side of the child's nature, to ground him in moral
principles, and to make him comprehend and fear--nominally God, but
really--society. But why, in addition to doing this, should we strangle
the unpractical side of his nature,--the ideal, imaginative, spiritual
side,--the side which alone can determine his value or worthlessness in
eternity? If our minds were visible as our bodies are, we should behold on
every side of us, and in our own private looking-glasses, such abortions,
cripples, and monstrosities as all the slums of Europe and the East could
not parallel. We pretend to make little men and women out of our children,
and we make little dwarfs and hobgoblins out of them. Moreover, we should
not diminish even the practical efficiency of the coming generation by
rejecting their unpractical side. Whether this boy's worldly destination
be to clean a stable or to represent his country at a foreign court, he
will do his work all the better, instead of worse, for having been allowed
freedom of expansion on the ideal plane. He will do it comprehensively, or
as from above downward, instead of blindly, or as from below upward. To a
certain extent, this position is very generally admitted by instructors
nowadays; but the admission bears little or no fruit. The ideality and
imagination which they have in mind are but a partial and feeble imitation
of what is really signified by those terms. Ideality and imagination are
themselves merely the symptom or expression of the faculty and habit of
spiritual or subjective intuition--a faculty of paramount value in life,
though of late years, in the rush of rational knowledge and discovery, it
has fallen into neglect. But it is by means of this faculty alone that the
great religion of India was constructed--the most elaborate and seductive
of all systems; and although as a faith Buddhism is also the most
treacherous and dangerous attack ever made upon the immortal welfare of
mankind, that circumstance certainly does not discredit or invalidate the
claim to importance of spiritual intuition itself. It may be objected that
spiritual intuition is a vague term. It undoubtedly belongs to an abstruse
region of psychology; but its meaning for our present purpose is simply
the act of testing questions of the moral consciousness by an inward
touchstone of truth, instead of by external experience or information.
That the existence of such a touchstone should be ridiculed by those who
are accustomed to depend for their belief upon palpable or logical
evidence, goes without saying; but, on the other hand, there need be no
collision or argument on the point, since no question with which intuition
is concerned can ever present itself to persons who pin their faith to the
other sort of demonstration. The reverse of this statement is by no means
true; but it would lead us out of our present path to discuss the matter.

Assuming, however, that intuition is possible, it is evident that it
should exist in children in an extremely pure, if not in its most potent
state; and to deny it opportunity of development might fairly be called a
barbarity. It will hardly be disputed that children are an important
element in society. Without them we should lose the memory of our youth,
and all opportunity for the exercise of unselfish and disinterested
affection. Life would become arid and mechanical to a degree now scarcely
conceivable; chastity and all the human virtues would cease to exist;
marriage would be an aimless and absurd transaction; and the brotherhood
of man, even in the nominal sense that it now exists, would speedily be
abjured. Political economy and sociology neglect to make children an
element in their arguments and deductions, and no small part of their
error is attributable to that circumstance. But although children still
are born, and all the world acknowledges their paramount moral and social
value, the general tendency of what we are forced to call education at the
present day is to shorten as much as possible the period of childhood. In
America and Germany especially--but more in America than in Germany--
children are urged and stimulated to "grow up" almost before they have
been short-coated. That conceptions of order and discipline should be
early instilled into them is proper enough; but no other order and
discipline seems to be contemplated by educators than the forcing them to
stand and be stuffed full of indigestible and incongruous knowledge, than
which proceeding nothing more disorderly could be devised. It looks as if
we felt the innocence and naturalness of our children to be a rebuke to
us, and wished to do away with it in short order. There is something in
the New Testament about offending the little ones, and the preferred
alternative thereto; and really we are outraging not only the objective
child, but the subjective one also--that in ourselves, namely, which is
innocent and pure, and without which we had better not be at all. Now I do
not mean to say that the only medicine that can cure this malady is
legitimate children's literature; wise parents are also very useful,
though not perhaps so generally available. My present contention is that
the right sort of literature is an agent of great efficiency, and may be
very easily come by. Children derive more genuine enjoyment and profit
from a good book than most grown people are susceptible of: they see what
is described, and themselves enact and perfect the characters of the story
as it goes along.

Nor is it indispensable that literature of the kind required should
forthwith be produced; a great deal, of admirable quality, is already on
hand. There are a few great poems----Spenser's "Faerie Queene" is one--
which no well regulated child should be without; but poetry in general is
not exactly what we want. Children--healthy children--never have the
poetic genius; but they are born mystics, and they have the sense of
humor. The best way to speak to them is in prose, and the best kind of
prose is the symbolic. The hermetic philosophers of the Middle Ages are
probably the authors of some of the best children's stories extant. In
these tales, disguised beneath what is apparently the simplest and most
artless flow of narrative, profound truths are discussed and explained.
The child reads the narrative, and certainly cannot be accused of
comprehending the hidden philosophical problem; yet that also has its
share in charming him. The reason is partly that true symbolic or
figurative writing is the simplest form known to literature. The simplest,
that is to say, in outward form,--it may be indefinitely abstruse as to
its inward contents. Indeed, the very cause of its formal simplicity is
its interior profundity. The principle of hermetic writing was, as we
know, to disguise philosophical propositions and results under a form of
words which should ostensibly signify some very ordinary and trivial
thing. It was a secret language, in the vocabulary of which material facts
are used to represent spiritual truths. But it differed from ordinary
secret language in this, that not only were the truths represented in the
symbols, but the philosophical development of the truth, in its
ramifications, was completely evolved under the cover of a logically
consistent tale. This, evidently, is a far higher achievement of ingenuity
than merely to string together a series of unrelated parts of speech,
which, on being tested by the "key," shall discover the message or
information really intended. It is, in fact, a practical application of

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