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Contemporary American Novelists (1900-1920) by Carl Van Doren

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_The American Novel_, published last year, undertook to trace the
progress of a literary type in the United States from its beginnings to
the end of the nineteenth century; _Contemporary American Novelists_
undertakes to study the type as it has existed during the first two
decades of the twentieth century. Readers of both volumes may note that
in this later volume criticism has tended to supplant history. Only in
writing of dead authors can the critic feel that any considerable
portion of his task is done when he has arranged them in what he thinks
their proper categories and their true perspective. In the case of
living authors he has regularly to remember that he works with shifting
materials, with figures whose dimensions and importance may be changed
by growth, with persons who may desert old paths for new, reveal
unsuspected attributes, increase or fade with the mere revolutions of
time. All he can expect to do in dealing with any current type as fluid
as the novel, is, seizing upon it at some specific moment, to examine
the intentions and successes of outstanding or typical individuals and
to make the most accurate report possible concerning them. Whatever
general tendency there may be ought to appear from his examination.

The general tendency appearing most clearly among the novelists here
studied is, of course, the drift of naturalism: initiated a full
generation ago by several restless spirits, of whom E.W. Howe and Hamlin
Garland are the most conspicuous survivors; continued by those young
geniuses Stephen Crane, Frank Norris, Jack London, all dead before their
time, and by Theodore Dreiser, Robert Herrick, Upton Sinclair, happily
still alive; given a fresh impulse during the shaken years of the war
and of the recovery from war by such satirists as Edgar Lee Masters and
Sinclair Lewis and their companions in the new revolt. The intelligent
American fiction of the century has to be studied--so far as the novel
is concerned--largely in terms of its agreement or its disagreement with
this naturalistic tendency, which has been powerful enough to draw
Winston Churchill and Booth Tarkington into an approach to its
practices, to drive James Branch Cabell and Joseph Hergesheimer into
explicit dissent, and to throw into strong relief the balanced
independence of Edith Wharton and Willa Cather. The year 1920, marking a
peak in the triumph of one or two species of naturalism and in some ways
closing a chapter, affords an admirable occasion to take stock. This
book, indeed, was planned and begun at the close of that year and has
firmly resisted the temptation to do more than glance at most of the
work produced since then--even at the price of giving what must seem
insufficient notice to _The Triumph of the Egg_ and _Three Soldiers_
and of giving none at all to that still more recent masterpiece
_Cytherea_. While criticism pauses to take stock, creation steadily goes

Acknowledgments are due _The Nation_ for permission to reprint from its
pages those portions of the volume which have already been published


March, 1922.



1. Local Color
2. Romance


1. Hamlin Garland
2. Winston Churchill
3. Robert Herrick
4. Upton Sinclair
5. Theodore Dreiser


1. Booth Tarkington
2. Edith Wharton
3. James Branch Cabell
4. Willa Cather
5. Joseph Hergesheimer


1. Emergent Types

_Ellen Glasgow, William Allen White, Ernest Poole, Henry B. Fuller, Mary
Austin, Immigrants._

2. The Revolt from the Village

_Edgar Lee Masters, Sherwood Anderson, E.W. Howe, Sinclair Lewis, Zona
Gale, Floyd Dell, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Dorothy Canfield, 1921._





A study of the American novel of the twentieth century must first of all
take stock of certain types of fiction which continue to persist, with
varying degrees of vitality and significance, from the last quarter of
the century preceding.

There is, to begin with, the type associated with the now moribund cult
of local color, which originally had Bret Harte for its prophet, and
which, beginning almost at once after the Civil War, gradually broadened
out until it saw priests in every state and followers in every county.
Obedient to the example of the prophet, most of the practitioners of the
mode chose to be episodic rather than epic in their undertakings; the
history of local color belongs primarily to the historian of the short
story. Even when the local colorists essayed the novel they commonly did
little more than to expand some episode into elaborate dimensions or to
string beads of episode upon an obvious thread. Hardly one of them ever
made any real advance, either in art or reputation, upon his earliest
important volume: George Washington Cable, after more than forty years,
is still on the whole best represented by his _Old Creole Days_; and
so--to name only the chief among the survivors--after intervals not
greatly shorter are Mary N. Murfree ("Charles Egbert Craddock") by _In
the Tennessee Mountains_, Thomas Nelson Page by _In Ole Virginia_, Mary
E. Wilkins Freeman by _A Humble Romance and Other Stories_, James Lane
Allen by _Flute and Violin_, and Alice Brown by _Meadow-Grass_.

The eager popular demand for these brevities does not entirely account
for the failure of the type to go beyond its first experimental stage.
The defects of local color inhere in the constitution of the cult
itself, which, as its name suggests, thought first of color and then of
form, first of the piquant surfaces and then--if at all--of the stubborn
deeps of human life. In a sense, the local colorists were all pioneers:
they explored the older communities as solicitously as they did the new,
but they most of them came earliest in some field or other and found--or
thought--it necessary to clear the top of the soil before they sank
shaft or spade into it. Moreover, they accepted almost without challenge
the current inhibitions of gentility, reticence, cheerfulness. They
confined themselves to the emotions and the ideas and the language, for
the most part, of the respectable; they disregarded the stormier or
stealthier behavior of mankind or veiled it with discreet periphrasis;
they sweetened their narratives wherever possible with a brimming
optimism nicely tinctured with amiable sentiments. Poetic justice
prospered and happy endings were orthodox. To a remarkable extent the
local colorists passed by the immediate problems of Americans--social,
theological, political, economic; nor did they frequently rise above the
local to the universal. They were, in short, ordinarily provincial,
without, however, the rude durability or the homely truthfulness of
provincialism at its best.

To reflect upon the achievements of this dwindling cult is to discover
that it invented few memorable plots, devised almost no new styles,
created little that was genuinely original in its modes of truth or
beauty, and even added but the scantiest handful of characters to the
great gallery of the imagination. What local color did was to fit
obliging fiction to resisting fact in so many native regions that the
entire country came in some degree to see itself through literary eyes
and therefore in some degree to feel civilized by the sight. This is,
indeed, one of the important processes of civilization. But in this case
it was limited in its influence by the habits of vision which the local
colorists had. They scrutinized their world at the instigation of
benevolence rather than at that of intelligence; they felt it with
friendship rather than with passion. And because of their limitations of
intelligence and passion they fell naturally into routine ways and both
saw and represented in accordance with this or that prevailing formula.
Herein they were powerfully confirmed by the pressure of editors and a
public who wanted each writer to continue in the channel of his happiest
success and not to disappoint them by new departures. Not only did this
result in confining individuals to a single channel each but it resulted
in the convergence of all of them into a few broad and shallow streams.

An excellent example may be found in the flourishing cycle of stories
which, while Bret Harte was celebrating California, grew up about the
life of Southern plantations before the war. The mood of most of these
was of course elegiac and the motive was to show how much splendor had
perished in the downfall of the old regime. Over and over they repeated
the same themes: how an irascible planter refuses to allow his daughter
to marry the youth of her choice and how true love finds a way; how a
beguiling Southern maiden has to choose between lovers and gives her
hand and heart to him who is stoutest in his adherence to the
Confederacy; how, now and then, love crosses the lines and a Confederate
girl magnanimously, though only after a desperate struggle with herself,
marries a Union officer who has saved the old plantation from a
marauding band of Union soldiers; how a pair of ancient slaves cling to
their duty during the appalling years and will not presume upon their
freedom even when it comes; how the gentry, though menaced by a riffraff
of poor whites, nevertheless hold their heads high and shine brightly
through the gloom; how some former planter and everlasting colonel
declines to be reconstructed by events and passes the remainder of his
years as a courageous, bibulous, orgulous simulacrum of his once
thriving self. Mr. Page's _In Ole Virginia_ and F. Hopkinson Smith's
_Colonel Carter of Cartersville_ in a brief compass employ all these
themes; and dozens of books which might be named play variations upon
them without really enlarging or correcting them. All of them were
kindly, humorous, sentimental, charming; almost all of them are steadily
fading out like family photographs.

The South, however, did not restrict itself wholly to its plantation
cycle. In New Orleans Mr. Cable daintily worked the lode which had been
deposited there by a French and Spanish past and by the presence still
of Creole elements in the population. Yet he too was elegiac,
sentimental, pretty, even when his style was most deft and his
representations most engaging. Quaintness was his second nature; romance
was in his blood. Bras-Coupe, the great, proud, rebellious slave in _The
Grandissimes_, belongs to the ancient lineage of those African princes
who in many tales have been sold to chain and lash and have escaped from
them by dying. The postures and graces and contrivances of Mr. Cable's
Creoles are traditional to all the little aristocracies surviving, in
fiction, from some more substantial day. Yet in spite of these
conventions his better novels have a texture of genuine vividness and
beauty. In their portrayal of the manners of New Orleans they have many
points of quiet satire and censure that betray a critical intelligence
working seriously behind them. That critical disposition in Mr. Cable
led him to disagree with the majority of Southerners regarding the
justice due the Negroes; and it helped persuade him to spend the
remainder of his life in a distant region.

The incident is symptomatic. While slavery still existed, public opinion
in the South had demanded that literature should exhibit the institution
only under a rosy light; public opinion now demanded that the problem in
its new guise should still be glossed over in the old way. In neither
era, consequently, could an honest novelist freely follow his
observations upon Southern life in general. The mind of the herd bore
down upon him and crushed him into the accepted molds. It seems a
curious irony that the Negroes who thus innocently limited the
literature of their section should have been the subjects of a little
body of narrative which bids fair to outlast all that local color hit
upon in the South. Joel Chandler Harris is not, strictly speaking, a
contemporary, but Uncle Remus is contemporary and perennial. His stories
are grounded in the universal traits of simple souls; they are also the
whimsical, incidental mirror of a particular race during a
significant--though now extinct--phase of its career. They are at once
as ancient and as fresh as folk-lore.

Besides the rich planters and their slaves one other class of human
beings in the South especially attracted the attention of the local
colorists--the mountaineers. Certain distant cousins of this backwoods
stock had come into literature as "Pikes" or poor whites in the Far
West with Bret Harte and in the Middle West with John Hay and Edward
Eggleston; it remained for Charles Egbert Craddock in Tennessee and John
Fox in Kentucky to discover the heroic and sentimental qualities of the
breed among its highland fastnesses of the Great Smoky and Cumberland
Mountains. Here again formulas sprang up and so stifled the free growth
of observation that, though a multitude of stories has been written
about the mountains, almost all of them may be resolved into themes as
few in number as those which succeeded nearer Tidewater: how a stranger
man comes into the mountains, loves the flower of all the native
maidens, and clashes with the suspicions or jealousies of her
neighborhood; how two clans have been worn away by a long vendetta until
only one representative of each clan remains and the two forgive and
forget among the ruins; how a band of highlanders defend themselves
against the invading minions of a law made for the nation at large but
hardly applicable to highland circumstances; how the mountain virtues in
some way or other prove superior to the softer virtues--almost vices by
comparison--of the world of plains and cities. These formulas, however,
resulted from another cause than the popular complacency which hated to
be disturbed in Virginia and Louisiana. The mountain people,
inarticulate themselves, have uniformly been seen from the outside and
therefore have been studied in their surface peculiarities more often
than in their deeper traits of character. And, having once entered the
realm of legend, they continue to be known by the half-dozen
distinguishing features which in legend are always enough for any type.

In the North and West, of course, much the same process went on as in
the South among the local colorists, conditioned by the same demands and
pressures. Because the territory was wider, however, in the expanding
sections, the types of character there were somewhat less likely to be
confined to one locality than in the section which for a time had a ring
drawn round it by its past and by the difficulty of emerging from it;
and because the career of North and West was not definitely interrupted
by the war, the types of fiction there have persisted longer than in the
South, where a new order of life, after a generation of clinging
memories, has moved toward popular heroes of a new variety.

The cowboy, for instance, legitimate successor to the miners and
gamblers of Bret Harte, might derive from almost any one of the states
and might range over prodigious areas; it is partly accident, of course,
that he stands out so sharply among the numerous conditions of men
produced by the new frontier. Except on very few occasions, as in Alfred
Henry Lewis's racy Wolfville stories and in Frederick Remington's vivid
pictures, in Andy Adams's more minute chronicle _The Log of a Cowboy_,
in Owen Wister's more sentimental _The Virginian_, and in O. Henry's
more diversified _Heart of the West_ and its fellows among his books,
the cowboy has regularly moved on the plane of the sub-literary--in dime
novels and, latterly, in moving pictures. He, like the mountaineer of
the South, has himself been largely inarticulate except for his rude
songs and ballads; formula and tradition caught him early and in
fiction stiffened one of the most picturesque of human beings--a modern
Centaur, an American Cossack, a Western picaro--into a stock figure who
in a stock costume perpetually sits a bucking broncho, brandishes a
six-shooter or swings a lariat, rounds up stampeding cattle, makes
fierce war on Mexicans, Indians, and rival outfits, and ardently, humbly
woos the ranchman's gentle daughter or the timorous school-ma'am. He
still has no Homer, no Gogol, no Fenimore Cooper even, though he invites
a master of some sort to take advantage of a thrilling opportunity.

The same fate of formula and tradition befell another type multiplied by
the local novelists--the bad boy. His career may be said to have begun
in New England, with Thomas Bailey Aldrich's reaction from the priggish
manikins who infested the older "juveniles"; but Mark Twain took him up
with such mastery that his subsequent habitat has usually been the
Middle West, where a recognized lineage connects Tom Sawyer and
Huckleberry Finn with Mitch Miller and Penrod Schofield and their
fellow-conspirators against the peace of villages. The bad boy, it must
be noticed, is never really bad; he is simply mischievous. He serves as
a natural outlet for the imagination of communities which are
respectable but which lack reverence for solemn dignity. He can play the
wildest pranks and still be innocent; he can have his adolescent fling
and then settle down into a prudent maturity. Both the influence of Mark
Twain and the local color tendency toward uniformity in type have held
the bad boy to a path which, in view of his character, seems singularly
narrow. In book after book he indulges in the same practical jokes upon
parents, teachers, and all those in authority; brags, fibs, fights,
plays truant, learns to swear and smoke, with the same devices and
consequences; suffers from the same agonies of shyness, the same
indifference to the female sex, the same awkward inclination toward
particular little girls. For the most part, thanks to the formulas, he
has been examined from the angle of adult irritation or amusement; only
very recently--as by Edgar Lee Masters and Sherwood Anderson--has he
been credited with a life and passions more or less his own and
therefore as fully rounded as his stage of development permits.

The American business man, with millions of imaginations daily turned
upon him, rarely appears in that fiction which sprang from local color
except as the canny trader of some small town or as the ruthless magnate
of some glittering metropolis. _David Harum_ remains his rural avatar
and _The Letters from a Self-Made Merchant to His Son_ his most popular
commentary. Doubtless the existence of this type in every community
tends to warn off the searchers after local figures, who have preferred,
in their fashion, to be monopolists when they could. Doubtless, also,
the American business man has suffered from the critical light in which
he has been studied by the reflective novelists. But though the higher
grades of literature have refused to pay unstinted tribute and honor to
men of wealth, the lower grades have paid almost as lavishly as life

Multitudes of poor boys in popular fiction rise to affluence by the
practice of the commercial virtues. To be self-made, the axiom tacitly
runs, is to be well-made. Time was in the United States when the true
hero had to start his career, unaided, from some lonely farm, from some
widow's cottage, or from some city slum; and although, with the growth
of luxury in the nation, readers have come to approve the heir who puts
on overalls and works up in a few months from the bottom of the factory
to the top, the standards of success are practically the same in all
instances: sleepless industry, restless scheming, resistless will,
coupled with a changeless probity in the domestic excellences. Nothing
is more curious about the American business man of fiction than the
sentimentality he displays in all matters of the heart. He may hold as
robustly as he likes to the doctrine that business is business and that
business and sympathy will not mix, but when put to the test he must
always soften under the pleadings of distress and be malleable to the
desires of mother, sweetheart, wife, or daughter. Even when a popular
novelist sets out to be reflective--say, for example, Winston
Churchill--he takes his hero up to the mountain of success and then
conducts him down again to the valley of humiliation, made conscious
that the love, after all, either of his family or of his society, is
better than lucre. Theodore Dreiser's stubborn habit of presenting his
rich men's will to power without abatement or apology has helped to keep
him steadily suspected. The popular romancers have contrived to mingle
passion for money and susceptibility to moralism somewhat upon the
analogy of those lucky thaumaturgists who are able to eat their cake and
have it too.

A similar mixture occurs in the politician of popular tradition. He
hardly ever rises to the dimensions of statesmanship, and indeed rarely
belongs to the Federal government at all: Washington has always been
singularly neglected by the novelists. The American politician of
fiction is essentially a local personage, the boss of ward or village.
Customarily he holds no office himself but instead sits in some dusty
den and dispenses injustice with an even hand. Candidates fear his
influence and either truckle to him or advance against him with the
weapons of reform--failing, as a rule, to accomplish anything. Aldermen
and legislators are his creatures. His web is out in all directions: he
holds this man's mortgage, knows that man's guilty secret, discovers the
other's weakness and takes advantage of it. He is cynically illiterate
and contemptuous of the respectable classes. If need be he can resort to
outrageous violence to gain his ends. And yet, though the reflective
novelists have all condemned him for half a century, he sits fast in
ordinary fiction, where he is tolerated with the amused fatalism which
in actual American life has allowed his lease to run so long. What
justifies him is his success--his countrymen love success for its own
sake--and his kind heart. Like Robin Hood he levies upon the plethoric
rich for the deserving poor; and he yields to the tender entreaties of
the widow and the orphan with amiable gestures.

The women characters evolved by the school of local color endure a
serious restriction from the excessive interest taken by the novelists
in the American young girl. Not only has she as a possible reader
established the boundaries beyond which they might not go in speaking of
sexual affairs but she has dominated the scene of their inventions with
her glittering energy and her healthy bloodlessness. Some differences
appear among the sections of the country as to what special phases of
her character shall be here or there preferred: she is ordinarily most
capricious in the Southern, most strenuous in the Western, most knowing
in the New York, and most demure in the New England novels. Yet
everywhere she considerably resembles a bright, cool, graceful boy
pretending to be a woman. Coeducation and the scarcity of chaperons have
made her self-possessed to a degree which mystifies readers not duly
versed in American folkways. Though she plays at love-making almost from
the cradle, she manages hardly ever to be scorched--a salamander, as one
novelist suggests, sporting among the flames of life.

When native Victorianism was at its height, in the third quarter of the
nineteenth century, she inclined to piety as her mode of preservation;
at the present moment she inclines to a romping optimism which frightens
away both thought and passion. From _The Wide, Wide World_ to
_Pollyanna_, however, she has taken habitual advantage of the reverence
for the virgin which is one of the most pervasive elements in American
popular opinion. That reverence has many charming and wholesome aspects;
it has given young women a priceless freedom of movement in America
without the penalty of being constantly suspected of sexual designs
which they may not harbor. It must be remembered that the Daisy Millers
who awaken unjust European gossip are understood at home, and that the
understanding given them is a form of homage certainly no less honorable
than the compliments of gallantry. In actual experience, however, girls
grow up, whereas the popular fiction of the United States has done its
best to keep them forever children. Nothing breaks the crystal shallows
of their confidence. They are insolently secure in a world apparently
made for them. The little difficulties which perturb their courtship are
nine-tenths of them superficial and external matters, and the end comes
as smoothly as a fairy tale's, before doubt has ever had an opportunity
to shatter or passion the occasion to purge a spirit. From Hawthorne to
the beginnings of naturalism there was hardly a single profound love
story written in America. How could there be when green girls were the
sole heroines and censors?

Among the older women created by the local color generation there were
certain fashionable successes and social climbers in the large cities
who have more complex fortunes than the young girls; but for the most
part they are merely typical or conventional--as selfish as gold and as
hard as agate. On somewhat humbler levels that generation--as Mary
Austin has pointed out of American fiction at large--came nearer to
reality by its representation of a type peculiar to the United States:
the "woman" who is also a "lady"; that is, who combines in herself the
functions both of the busy housewife and of the charming ornament of her
society. The gradual reduction in America of the servant class has
served to develop women who keep books and music beside them at their
domestic tasks as pioneer farmers kept muskets near them in the fields.
They devote to homely duties the time devoted by European ladies to
love, intrigue, public affairs; they preserve, thanks to countless
labor-saving devices, for more or less intellectual pursuits the
strength which among European women is consumed by habitual drudgery.
The combination of functions has probably done much to increase
sexlessness and to decrease helplessness, and so to produce almost a new
species of womanhood which is bound eventually to be of great moment in
the national life. Local color, however, taking the species for granted,
seems hardly to have been aware of its significant existence.

Only New England emphasized a distinct type: the old maid. She has been
studied in that section as in no other quarter of the world. Expansion
and emigration after the Civil War drew very heavily upon the declining
Puritan stock; and naturally the young men left their native farms and
villages more numerously than the young women, who remained behind and
in many cases never married. Local fiction fell very largely into the
hands of women--Harriet Beecher Stowe, Rose Terry Cooke, Sarah Orne
Jewett, Mary E. Wilkins Freeman, Alice Brown--who broke completely with
the age-old tradition of ridiculing spinsters no longer young. In the
little cycles which these story-tellers elaborated the old maid is
likely to be the center of her episode, studied in her own career and
not merely in that of households upon which she is some sort of
parasite. The heroine of Mrs. Freeman's _A New England Nun_ is an
illuminating instance: she has been betrothed to an absent,
fortune-hunting lover for fourteen years, and now that he is back she
finds herself full of consternation at his masculine habits and rejoices
when he turns to another woman and leaves his first love to the felicity
of her contented cell.

What in most literatures appears as a catastrophe appears in New
England as a relief. Energy has run low in the calm veins of such women,
and they have better things to do than to dwell upon the lives they
might have led had marriage complicated them. Here genre painting
reaches its apogee in American literature: quaint interiors scrupulously
described; rounds of minute activity familiarly portrayed; skimpy moods
analyzed with a delicate competence of touch. At the same time, New
England literature was now too sentimental and now too realistic to
allow all its old maids to remain perpetually sweet and passive. In its
sentimental hours it liked to call up their younger days and to show
them at the point which had decided or compelled their future
loneliness--again and again discovering some act of abnegation such as
giving up a lover because of the unsteadiness of his moral principles or
surrendering him to another woman to whom he seemed for some reason or
other to belong. In its realistic hours local color in New England liked
to examine the atrophy of the emotions which in these stories often
grows upon the celibate. One formula endlessly repeated deals with the
efforts of some acrid spinster--or wife long widowed--to keep a young
girl from marriage, generally out of contempt for love as a trivial
weakness; the conclusion usually makes love victorious after a
thunderbolt of revelation to the hinderer. There are inquiries, too,
into the repressions and obsessions of women whose lives in this fashion
or that have missed their flowering. Many of the inquiries are
sympathetic, tender, penetrating, but most of them incline toward
timidity and tameness. Their note is prevailingly the note of elegy;
they are seen through a trembling haze of reticence. It is as if they
had been made for readers of a vitality no more abundant than that of
their angular heroines.

It would be possible to make a picturesque, precious anthology of
stories dealing with the types and humors of New England. Different
writers would contribute different tones: Sarah Orne Jewett the tone of
faded gentility brooding over its miniature possessions in decaying
seaport towns or in idyllic villages a little further inland; Mary E.
Wilkins Freeman the tone of a stern honesty trained in isolated farms
and along high, exposed ridges where the wind seems to have gnarled the
dispositions of men and women as it has gnarled the apple trees and
where human stubbornness perpetually crops out through a covering of
kindliness as if in imitation of those granite ledges which everywhere
tend to break through the thin soil; Alice Brown the tone of a homely
accuracy touched with the fresh hues of a gently poetical temperament.
More detailed in actuality than the stories of other sections, these New
England plots do not fall so readily into formulas as do those of the
South and West; and yet they have their formulas: how a stubborn pride
worthy of some supreme cause holds an elderly Yankee to a petty,
obstinate course until grievous calamities ensue; how a rural wife,
neglected and overworked by her husband, rises in revolt against the
treadmill of her dull tasks and startles him into comprehension and
awkward consideration; how the remnant of some once prosperous family
puts into the labor of keeping up appearances an amount of effort which,
otherwise expended, might restore the family fortunes; how neighbors
lock horns in the ruthless litigation which in New England corresponds
to the vendettas of Kentucky and how they are reconciled eventually by
sentiment in one guise or another; how a young girl--there are no Tom
Joneses and few Hamlets in this womanly universe--grows up bright and
sensitive as a flower and suffers from the hard, stiff frame of pious
poverty; how a superb heroism springs out of a narrow life, expressing
itself in some act of pitiful surrender and veiling the deed under an
even more pitiful inarticulateness.

The cities of New England have been almost passed over by the local
colorists; Boston, the capital of the Puritans, has singularly to depend
upon the older Holmes or the visiting Howells of Ohio for its reputation
in fiction. Ever since Hawthorne, the romancers and novelists of his
native province have taken, one may say, to the fields, where they have
worked much in the mood of Rose Terry Cooke, who called her best
collection of stories _Huckleberries_ to emphasize what she thought a
true resemblance between the crops and characters of New
England--"hardy, sweet yet spicy, defying storms of heat or cold with
calm persistence, clinging to a poor soil, barren pastures, gray and
rocky hillsides, yet drawing fruitful issues from scanty sources."

Alas that as time goes on the issues of such art seem less fruitful than
once they seemed; that even Mrs. Freeman's _Pembroke_, one of the best
novels of its class, lacks form and structure, and seems to encroach
upon caricature in its study of the progress and consequences of Yankee
pride. After a fecund generation of such stories Edith Wharton in _Ethan
Frome_ has surpassed all her native rivals in tragic power and
distinction of language; Robert Frost has been able to distil the
essence of all of them in three slender books of verse; Edwin Arlington
Robinson in a few brief poems has created the wistful Tilbury Town and
has endowed it with pathos at once more haunting and more lasting than
that of any New England village chronicled in prose; it has remained for
the Pennsylvanian Joseph Hergesheimer in _Java Head_ to seize most
artfully upon the riches of loveliness that survive from the hour when
Massachusetts was at its noon of prosperity; and local color of the
orthodox tradition now persists in New England hardly anywhere except
around Cape Cod, of which Joseph C. Lincoln is the dry, quaint, amusing

Through the influence, in important measure, of Howells and the
_Atlantic Monthly_ the modes of fiction which were practised east of
Albany extended their example to other districts also: to northern New
York in Irving Bacheller; to Ohio in Mary S. Watts and Brand Whitlock;
to Indiana in Meredith Nicholson; to Wisconsin in Zona Gale; to Iowa and
Arkansas in Alice French ("Octave Thanet"); to Kansas in William Allen
White; to the Colorado mines in Mary Hallock Foote; to the Virginias in
Ellen Glasgow and Henry Sydnor Harrison; to Georgia in Will N. Harben;
and to other neighborhoods in other neighborly chroniclers whose mere
names could stretch out to a point beyond which critical emphasis would
be lost. New York City clung to less tender and more incisive habits of
fiction; that city's pace for local color was set by the deft, bright
Richard Harding Davis, Henry Cuyler Bunner, Brander Matthews, O.
Henry--all well known figures; by the late Herman Knickerbocker Viele,
too little known, in whose novels, such as _The Last of the
Knickerbockers_, affectionate accuracy is mated with smiling, graceful
humor; and by David Gray, too little known, whose _Gallops_, concerned
with the horsy parish of St. Thomas Equinus near New York City, contains
the most amusing stories about fashionable sports which this republic
has brought forth. In the Middle West Edgar Watson Howe and Hamlin
Garland, and in the Far West Frank Norris and Jack London, broke with
the customary tendency by turning away from pathos toward tragedy, and
away from discreet benevolence toward emphatic candor. The prevailing
school of naturalism has made its principal advance upon the passing
school of local color by a sacrifice of genial neighborliness; no less
exact and detailed in observation than their predecessors, the
naturalists have insisted upon bringing criticism in and measuring the
most amiable locality by wider standards. Here lies the essential point
of difference between the old style and the new.

It is by reference to this point that the credit--such as it is--of
being quite contemporary must be withheld from so earnest and varied a
novelist as Margaret Deland. That theological agonies like those in
_John Ward, Preacher_ were actually suffered a generation back and that
the book is a valuable document upon the times cannot explain away the
fact that Mrs. Deland herself appears to have been partly overwhelmed
by the storm which sweeps the parish of her story. So in her later
novels which have essayed such problems as divorce, the compulsions of
love, the inevitable clash of parents and children, she tugs at Gordian
knots with the patient fingers of goodwill when one slash with the
intelligence would cut her difficulties away. Suppose it possible, for
instance, that the heroine of _The Awakening of Helena Richie_ could
have been courageous enough to go to her lover to await the death of her
loathsome husband and then could have been so timid as to undergo the
perturbations over her conduct which almost break her heart in Old
Chester--suppose these contradictions might have dwelt together in
Helena, yet could Mrs. Deland not have noted and anatomized them in a
way to show that she saw the contradictions even while recording them?
Suppose that Elizabeth in _The Iron Woman_ was expected by her community
to pay superfluously for an hour's blind folly with a lifetime of
unhappiness and did undertake so to pay for it, yet could Mrs. Deland
not have pointed out that the situation was repugnant both to ordinary
common sense and to the very code of honor and stability which in the
end persuades David and Elizabeth to give each other up?

The conclusions of these novels, which to thousands of readers have
seemed stern and terrible, are in reality terrible chiefly because they
are soft--soft with a sentimentalism swathed in folds of piety. The
customs of Old Chester stifle its inhabitants, who take a kind of stolid
joy in their fetters; and Mrs. Deland, with all her understanding, does
not illuminate them. The movements of her imagination are cumbered by a
too narrow--however charming--cage. Her excellence belongs to the hours
when, not trying to transcend her little Pennsylvania universe, she
brings accuracy and shrewdness and felicity to the chronicles of small
beer in _Old Chester Tales_ and _Dr. Lavendar's People_. These
strictures and this praise she earns by her adherence to the parochial
cult of local color.


If naturalism was a reaction from the small beer of local color, so, in
another fashion, was the flare-up of romance which attended and
succeeded the Spanish War. History was suddenly discovered to be
wonderful no less than humble life; and so was adventure in the
difficult quarters of the earth. That curious, that lush episode of
fiction endowed American literature with a phalanx of "best sellers"
some of which still continue to be sold, in diminished numbers; and it
endowed the national tradition with a host of gallant personages and
heroic incidents dug up out of old books or brought back from far quests
by land or water. It remains, however, an episode; the rococo romancers
did not last. Almost without exception they turned to other methods as
the romantic mood faded out of the populace. Of those who had employed
history for their substance only James Branch Cabell remained absolutely
faithful, revising, strengthening, deepening his art with irony and
beauty until it became an art exquisitely peculiar to himself.

Mary Johnston was as faithful, but her fidelity had less growth in it.
Originally attracted to the heroic legend of colonial Virginia, she has
since so far departed from it as to produce in the _Long Roll_ and
_Cease Firing_ a wide panorama of the Civil War, in other books to study
the historic plight and current unrest of women, and here and there to
show an observant consciousness of the changing world; but her
imagination long ago sank its deepest roots into the traditions of the
Old Dominion. She brings to them, however, no fresh interpretations, as
satisfied as any medieval romancer to ring harmonious changes on ancient
themes, enlarging them, perhaps, with something spacious in her language
and liberal in her sentiments, yet transmitting her material rather as a
singer than as a poet, agreeably rather than creatively.

As Miss Johnston leans upon history for her favorite staff, so James
Lane Allen leans upon "Nature." He is not, indeed, innocent of history.
His Kentucky is always conscious of its chivalric past, and his most
popular romance, _The Choir Invisible_, has its scene laid in and near
the Lexington of the eighteenth century. Nor is he innocent of the
devices of local color. His earliest collection of tales--_Flute and
Violin_--and his ingratiating comment upon it--_The Blue-Grass Region of
Kentucky_--once for all established the character which his chosen
district has in the world of the imagination. But from the first he held
principles of art which would not allow him to consider either history
or local color as ends in themselves. He believed they must be
employed, when employed, as elements contributory to some general effect
of beauty or of meaning. He has built up beauty with the most deliberate
hands, and he has sought to express the highest meanings in his art,
seeking to look through the "thin-aired regions of consciousness which
are ruled over by Tact to the underworld of consciousness where are
situated the mighty workshops, and where toils on forever the cyclopean
youth, Instinct."

In this important program, however, he has constantly been handicapped
by his orthodoxies. John Gray, in _The Choir Invisible_, loving a woman
who though in love with him is bound in marriage to another, engages
himself to a young girl, shortly afterward to find that his real love is
free again; yet with a high gesture of sacrifice he holds to his
engagement and enters upon a union of duty which is sure to make two,
and possibly three, persons unhappy instead of one, though all of them
are equally guiltless. Mr. Allen approves of this immoral arithmetic
with a sentimentalism which has drawn rains of tears down thoughtless
cheeks. So in _The Reign of Law_ he exhibits a youth extricating himself
from an obsolete theology with sufferings which can be explained only on
the ground that the theology was too strong ever to have been escaped or
the youth too weak ever to have rebelled. And in _Aftermath_, sequel to
_A Kentucky Cardinal_, the author sentimentally and quite needlessly
stacks the cards against his hero and lets his heroine die, to bring, as
he might say, "the eternal note of sadness in." All this to show how
"Nature" holds men in her powerful hands and tortures them when they
struggle to follow the mind to liberty! To prove a thesis so profoundly
true and tragic Mr. Allen can do no more than borrow the tricks of

Just how melodramatic his sentimentalism forces him to be has often been
overlooked because of his diction and his pictures. Though he tends to
the mellifluous and the saccharine he has in his better pages a dewy,
luminous style, with words choicely picked out and cadences delicately
manipulated. By comparison most of the local colorists of his period
seem homespun and most of the romancers a little tawdry. His method is
the mosaicist's, working self-consciously in fine materials. Movement
with him never leaps nor flows; in fact, it seems to dawdle when, too
often, he forgets to be vigilant in the interests of simplicity; it is
languid with scrupulous hesitations and accumulations. As to his
pictures, they come from a Kentucky glorified. When he says that in June
there "the warm-eyed, bronzed, foot-stamping young bucks forsake their
plowshares in the green rows, their reapers among the yellow beards; and
the bouncing, laughing, round-breasted girls arrange their ribbons and
their vows," Mr. Allen is remembering Theocritus, the _Pervigilium
Veneris_, and the silver ages of literature no less than his own state
and his own day. He uses local color habitually to ennoble it, and but
for his extravagant taste for sweetness he might have achieved pastorals
of an imperishable sort.

Even as it is, the _Kentucky Cardinal-Aftermath_ story has all the
quaint grace of pressed flowers and remembered valentines, and _Summer
in Arcady_, his masterpiece, has at once rich passion and spare form.
Here Mr. Allen is at his best, representing young love springing up
fiercely, exuberantly, against a lovely background congenial to the
human mood. He has not known, however, how to keep up that difficult
equilibrium between artifice and simplicity which the idyl demands. His
later books tend to be turgid, oppressive, cloying with sentimentalism
and amorous obsessions in their graver moments, and in their lighter
moments to fall flat from a lack of the true sinews of comedy.

Of a temper as different as possible from Mr. Allen's was Edgar Saltus,
just dead, who stood alone and decadent in a country which the _fin de
siecle_ scarcely touched with its graceful, graceless maladies. He began
his career, after a penetrating study of Balzac, with _The Philosophy of
Disenchantment_ and _The Anatomy of Negation_, erudite, witty challenges
to illusion, deriving primarily from Hartmann and Schopenhauer but
enriching their arguments with much inquisitive learning in current
French philosophers and poets. Erudition, however, was not Saltus's sole
equipment: his pessimism came, in part, from his literary masters but in
part also from a temperament which steadily followed its own impulses
and arrived at its own destinations. Cynical, deracinated, he turned
from his speculative doubts to the positive realities of sense,
becoming the historian of love and loveliness in sumptuous, perverse
phases. In _Mary Magdalen_ he dressed up a traditional courtesan in the
splendors of purple and gold and perfumed her with many quaint,
dangerous essences more exciting than her later career as penitent; in
_Imperial Purple_ he undertook a chronicle of the Roman emperors from
Julius Caesar to Heliogabolus, exhibiting them in the most splendid of
all their extravagances and sins; in _Historia Amoris_ he followed the
maddening trail of love and in _The Lords of the Ghostland_ the
saddening trail of faith through the annals of mankind.

He wrote novels, too, of contemporary life, but they are his least
notable achievements. His personages in none of these novels manage to
convince; his plots are melodrama; his worldly wisdom has smirks and
postures in it; his style, now sharp now sagging, is unequal. Saltus
could not, it seems, dispense with antiquity and remoteness in his
books. Only when buried in the deep world of ancient story or when
ranging through the widest field of time did he become most himself.
Then he invited no comparisons with familiar actualities and could
assemble the most magnificent glories according to his whims and could
drape them in the most gorgeous stuffs. What especially touched his
imagination was the spectacle of imperial Rome as interpreted to him by
French decadence: that lust for power and sensation, those incredible
temples, palaces, feasts, revelries, blasphemies, butcheries. Commencing
with a beauty which knew no bounds, he moved on to lust or satiety or
impotence for his theme; in the end he brought little but a glittering
ferocity to that cold chronicle of the czars from Ivan to Catherine,
_The Imperial Orgy_. His phrases never failed him, flashing like gems or
snakes and clasping his exuberant materials in almost the only
discipline they ever had. Wit withheld him from utter lusciousness.
Though he employed Corinthian cadences and diction, he kept continually
checking them with the cynic twist of some deft colloquialism. To
venture into his microcosm is to bid farewell to all that is simple and
kindly; it is, however, to discover the terrible beauty that lurks
behind corruption, malevolent though delirious.

Romance of the traditionary sort, it is plain, has lately lost its vogue
in the United States and is being neglected as at almost no other period
since Fenimore Cooper established its principal native modes. The
ancient romantic matters of the Settlement and the Revolution flourish
almost solely in tales for boys. There is of course still a matter of
the Frontier, but it is another frontier: the Canadian North and
Northwest, Alaska, the islands of the South Seas, latterly the battle
fields of France, and always the trails of American exploration wherever
they may chance to lead. The performers upon such themes--the Rex
Beaches, the Emerson Houghs, the Randall Parrishes, the Zane Greys, the
James Oliver Curwoods--march ordinarily under the noisy banner of "red
blood" and derive from Stephen Crane, Frank Norris, Jack London, those
generous boys of naturalism whose temperaments carried them again and
again into the territories of vivid danger. Criticism notes in the later
annalists of "red blood" their spasmodic energy, their considerable
technical knowledge, their stereotyped characters, their recurrent
formulas, their uncritical, Rooseveltian opinions, their enormous
popularity, their almost complete lack of distinction in style or
attitude, and passes by without further obligation than to point out
that Stewart Edward White probably deserves to stand first among them by
virtue of a certain substantial range and panoramic faithfulness to the
life of the lumbermen represented in his most successful book, _The
Blazed Trail_.

This phase of life deserves particular emphasis for the reason that
there has recently been growing up among the lumber-camps from the Bay
of Fundy to Puget Sound the legend of a mythical hero named Paul Bunyan
who is the only personage of the sort yet invented and elaborated by the
ordinary run of men in any American calling. Paul is less a patron saint
of the loggers than an autochthonous Munchausen, whose fame has been
extended almost entirely by word of mouth among lumbermen resting from
their work and vying with one another to see who could tell the most
stupendous yarn about Paul's prowess and achievements. The process
resembles that which in the folk everywhere has evolved enormous legends
about favorite heroes; the legend concerning Paul, however, is
essentially native in its accurate geography, in its passion for
grotesque exaggeration, in its hilarious metaphors, in its dry,
drawling, straight-faced narrative method. Exaggeration such as that in
some of these stories verges upon genius. When Paul goes West he
carelessly lets his pick drag behind him and cuts out the Grand Canyon
of the Colorado; he raises corn in Kansas prodigious enough to suck the
Mississippi dry and stop navigation; he builds a hotel so high that he
has "the last seven stories put on hinges so's they could be swung back
for to let the moon go by"; he achieves such feats of eating and
drinking and working and fighting and loving as make Hercules himself
seem a pallid fellow who should have gone upon the rowdy American
frontier to learn the great ways of adventure. Though it is true that
the legend has been developing for many years without adequate literary
use of it having yet been made, it lies ready for romance to handle; and
no discussion of contemporary American fiction can go deeper than the
surfaces without at least mentioning that hilarious chapbook _Paul
Bunyan Comes West_.

That romance is just now being slighted appears from the lamentable
hiatus into which the fame of Charles D. Stewart has lately fallen. His
_Partners of Providence_ suffers from the inevitable comparison with
_Tom Sawyer_ and _Huckleberry Finn_ which it cannot stand, though it
continues the saga of the Mississippi with sympathy and knowledge; but
_The Fugitive Blacksmith_ has a flavor which few comparisons and no
neglect can spoil. Its protagonist, wrongly accused of a murder which he
by mischance finds it difficult to explain, takes to his heels and
lives by his mechanic wits among the villages of the lower Mississippi
through a diversity of adventures which puts his story among the little
masterpieces of the picaresque. Though it is clumsily garnished with
irrelevant things, it stands out above them, racy, rememberable. The
blacksmith has an ingenuity as varied as his experiences. Whereas other
picaroes cheat or fight or love their ways, this hero uses his dexterity
at unaccustomed trades until it is little less than intoxicating to see
him rise to each emergency. He is a proletarian Odysseus, and his
history is a quaint _Odyssey_ of the roving artisan.

The matter of the Civil War, though very large in the American memory,
has in literature not quite reached a parity with the older matters of
the Settlement, the Revolution, and the Frontier, principally, no doubt,
because there has been only one period--and that a brief one--of
historical romance since the war. In connection with this matter,
however, there has been created the legend which at present is surely
the most potent of all the legendary elements dear to the American

Abraham Lincoln is, strictly speaking, more than a legend; he has become
a cult. Immediately after his death he lived in the national mind for a
time as primarily a martyr; then emphasis shifted to his humor and a
whole literature of waggish tales and retorts and apologues assembled
around his name; then he passed into a more sentimental zone and endless
stories were multiplied about his natural piety and his habit of
pardoning innocent offenders. Out of the efflorescence of all these
aspects of legend which accompanied the centenary of his birth there has
since seemed to be emerging--though the older aspects still persist as
well--a conception of him as a figure at once lofty and familiar, at
once sad and witty, at once Olympian and human. Among poets of all
grades of opinion Lincoln is the chief native hero: Edwin Arlington
Robinson has best expressed in words as firm as bronze the Master's
reputation for lonely pride and forgiving laughter; John Gould Fletcher,
with an eloquence found nowhere else in his work, likens Lincoln to a
tree so mighty that its branches reach the heavens and its roots the
primal rock and nations of men may rest in its shade; Edgar Lee Masters,
whose work is full of the shadow and light of Lincoln, has made his most
moving lyric an epitaph upon Ann Rutledge, the girl Lincoln loved and
lost; and Vachel Lindsay, in Lincoln's own Springfield, during the World
War thought of him as so stirred even in death by the horrors which then
alarmed the universe that he could not sleep but walked up and down the
midnight streets, mourning and brooding. It is precisely thus, in other
ages, that saints are said to appear at difficult moments, to quiet the
waves or turn the arrow aside. Without these more vulgar manifestations
Lincoln nevertheless lives as the founder of every cult lives, in the
echoes of his voice on many tongues and in the vibrations of his voice
in many affections.

The novelists, unfortunately, fall behind the poets in the beauty and
wisdom with which they celebrate the figure of Lincoln, though they have
produced scores of volumes associated with it, upon the life not only of
Lincoln himself but of his mother, of his children, of this or that
friend or neighbor. Of the various novels--from Winston Churchill's _The
Crisis_ to Irving Bacheller's _A Man for the Ages_--which have sought to
mingle the right proportions of rural shrewdness and honorable dignity,
no one has yet been equal to the magnitude of its theme. They have
followed the customary paths of the historical romance without seeming
to realize that in a theme so spacious they could learn from the methods
of Plato with Socrates, of Shakespeare with his kingly heroes, of the
biographers of Francis of Assisi with their gracious saint.

Few literary tasks are harder than the task of the critic holding a
steady course through the welter of novels which make a tumult in the
world and trying to indicate those which have some genuine significance
as works of art or intelligence or as documents upon the time. How shall
he dispose, for example, of such beguilers of the millions as Gene
Stratton Porter, who piles sentimentalism upon "Nature" till the soft
heap defies analysis, and Harold Bell Wright, who cannily mixes
sentimentalism with valor and prudence till the resultant blend tempts
appetites uncounted? Popularity has its arts no less than excellence;
and so has it its own kind of seriousness. Much as the advertiser and
the salesman have done to market tons of Mrs. Porter and Mr. Wright,
they could not have done it without the assistance furnished them by the
fact that their authors believe and feel the things they write. They
throb with all the popular impulses; they laugh when the multitude
laughs and weep when it weeps; and they have the gift--which is really
rare not common--of calling the multitude's attention to their books in
which is displayed, as in a consoling mirror, the sweet, rosy, empty
features of banality.

How shall the patient critic dispose of Robert W. Chambers, who,
possessing in a high degree the qualities of narrative, of costume, of
dramatic effectiveness, of satire even (as witness _Iole_), has drifted
with the fashions for a generation and has latterly allowed himself to
decline to the manufacture of literary sillibub in the guise of novels
about the smart set and Bohemia? How shall the stern critic dispose of
Gertrude Atherton, who knows so much about California, New York, and the
international scene but who somehow fails to transmute her materials to
any lasting metal and leaves the impression of a vexed aristocrat
scolding the age without either convincing it or convicting it of very
serious deficiencies? How shall the accurate critic dispose of Frank
Harris, who was born in Ireland and who had the most conspicuous part of
his career in England, but who is a naturalized American citizen and who
has written in _The Bomb_ a vivid and intelligent novel dealing with the
Chicago "anarchists" of 1886? How shall the conscientious critic dispose
of the Owen Johnsons and the Rupert Hugheses and the Gouverneur
Morrises and the George Barr McCutcheons with all their energy and
information and good intentions and yet with their fatal lack of true

How shall the tolerant critic dispose of the writers of detective
stories whose name is legion and whose art is to fine fiction as
arithmetic to calculus--particularly Arthur Reeve, inventor of that
Craig Kennedy who with endless ingenuity solves problem after problem by
the introduction of scientific and pseudoscientific novelties? How shall
the puzzled critic dispose of Alice Duer Miller and her light, bright
stories of fashionable life; of Edward Lucas White and his vast
panoramas of South America and the ancient world; of Katherine Fullerton
Gerould, with her grim tales and her petulant conservatism; of those
energetic successors of O. Henry, Edna Ferber and Fanny Hurst; of the
late Charles Emmet Van Loan, with his intimate knowledge of sport; of
the schools and swarms of men and women who write short stories for the
most part but who occasionally essay a novel? How shall the worried
critic dispose of the more or less professional humorists who have
created characters and localities: Irvin S. Cobb, who, capable of better
things, prefers the paths of the grotesque and rolls his bulk through
current literature laughing at his own misadventures; Finley Peter
Dunne, inventor of that Mr. Dooley who makes it clear that the American
tradition which invented Poor Richard is still alive; Ring W. Lardner,
master of the racy vernacular of the almost illiterate; George Ade,
easily first of his class, fabulist and satirist?

Perhaps it is best for the baffled critic to leave all of them to time
and, singling out the ten living novelists who seem to him most
distinguished or significant, to study them one by one, adding some
account of the school of fiction just now predominant.




The pedigree of the most energetic and important fiction now being
written in the United States goes unmistakably back to that creative
uprising of discontent in the eighties of the last century which brought
into articulate consciousness the larger share of the aspects of unrest
which have since continued to challenge the nation's magnificent,
arrogant grand march.

The decade had Henry Adams for its bitter philosopher, despairing over
current political corruption and turning away to probe the roots of
American policy under Jefferson and his immediate successors; had the
youthful Theodore Roosevelt for its standard-bearer of a civic
conscience which was, plans went, to bring virtue into caucuses; had
Henry George for its spokesman of economic change, moving across the
continent from California to New York with an argument and a program for
new battles against privilege; had Edward Bellamy for its Utopian
romancer, setting forth a delectable picture of what human society might
become were the old iniquities reasonably wiped away and co-operative
order brought out of competitive chaos; had William Dean Howells for its
annalist of manners, turning toward the end of the decade from his
benevolent acceptance of the world as it was to stout-hearted, though
soft-voiced, accusations brought in the name of Tolstoy and the Apostles
against human inequality however constituted; had--to end the list of
instances without going outside the literary class--Hamlin Garland for
its principal spokesman of the distress and dissatisfaction then
stirring along the changed frontier which so long as free land lasted
had been the natural outlet for the expansive, restless race.

Heretofore the prairies and the plains had depended almost wholly upon
romance--and that often of the cheapest sort--for their literary
reputation; Mr. Garland, who had tested at first hand the innumerable
hardships of such a life, became articulate through his dissent from
average notions about the pioneer. His earliest motives of dissent seem
to have been personal and artistic. During that youth which saw him
borne steadily westward, from his Wisconsin birthplace to windy Iowa and
then to bleak Dakota, his own instincts clashed with those of his
migratory father as the instincts of many a sensitive, unremembered
youth must have clashed with the dumb, fierce urges of the leaders of
migration everywhere. The younger Garland hungered on the frontier for
beauty and learning and leisure; the impulse which eventually detached
him from Dakota and sent him on a trepid, reverent pilgrimage to Boston
was the very impulse which, on another scale, had lately detached Henry
James from his native country and had sent him to the ancient home of
his forefathers in the British Isles.

Mr. Garland could neither feel so free nor fly so far from home as
James. He had, in the midst of his raptures and his successes in New
England, still to remember the plight of the family he had left behind
him on the lonely prairie; he cherished a patriotism for his province
which went a long way toward restoring him to it in time. Sentimental
and romantic considerations, however, did not influence him altogether
in his first important work. He had been kindled by Howells in Boston to
a passion for realism which carried him beyond the suave accuracy of his
master to the somber veracity of _Main-Travelled Roads_, _Prairie
Folks_, and _Rose of Dutcher's Coolly_. This veracity was more than
somber; it was deliberate and polemic. Mr. Garland, ardently a radical
of the school of Henry George, had enlisted in the crusade against
poverty, and he desired to tell the unheeded truth about the frontier
farmers and their wives in language which might do something to lift the
desperate burdens of their condition. Consequently his passions and his
doctrines joined hands to fix the direction of his art; he both hated
the frontier and hinted at definite remedies which he thought would make
it more endurable.

It throws a strong light upon the progress of American society and
literature during the past generation to point out that the service
recently performed by _Main Street_ was, in its fashion, performed
thirty years ago by _Main-Travelled Roads_. Each book challenges the
myth of the rural beauties and the rural virtues; but whereas Sinclair
Lewis, in an intellectual and satiric age, charges that the villagers
are dull, Mr. Garland, in a moral and pathetic age, charged that the
farmers were oppressed. His men wrestle fearfully with sod and mud and
drought and blizzard, goaded by mortgages which may at almost any moment
snatch away all that labor and parsimony have stored up. His women,
endowed with no matter what initial hopes or charms, are sacrificed to
overwork and deprivations and drag out maturity and old age on the
weariest treadmill. The pressure of life is simply too heavy to be borne
except by the ruthless or the crafty. Mr. Garland, though nourished on
the popular legend of the frontier, had come to feel that the "song of
emigration had been, in effect, the hymn of fugitives." Illusion no less
than reality had tempted Americans toward their far frontiers, and the
enormous mass, once under way, had rolled stubbornly westward, crushing
all its members who might desire to hesitate or to reflect.

The romancers had studied the progress of the frontier in the lives of
its victors; Mr. Garland studied it in the lives of its victims: the
private soldier returning drably and mutely from the war to resume his
drab, mute career behind the plow; the tenant caught in a trap by his
landlord and the law and obliged to pay for the added value which his
own toil has given to his farm; the brother neglected until his courage
has died and proffered assistance comes too late to rouse him; and
particularly the daughter whom a harsh father or the wife whom a brutal
husband breaks or drives away--the most sensitive and therefore the most
pitiful victims of them all. Mr. Garland told his early stories in the
strong, level, ominous language of a man who had observed much but chose
to write little. Not his words but the overtones vibrating through them
cry out that the earth and the fruits of the earth belong to all men and
yet a few of them have turned tiger or dog or jackal and snatched what
is precious for themselves while their fellows starve and freeze.
Insoluble as are the dilemmas he propounded and tense and unrelieved as
his accusations were, he stood in his methods nearer, say, to the humane
Millet than to the angry Zola. There is a clear, high splendor about his
landscapes; youth and love on his desolate plains, as well as anywhere,
can find glory in the most difficult existence; he might strip
particular lives relentlessly bare but he no less relentlessly clung to
the conviction that human life has an inalienable dignity which is
deeper than any glamor goes and can survive the loss of all its

Why did Mr. Garland not equal the intellectual and artistic success of
_Main-Travelled Roads_, _Prairie Folks_, and _Rose of Dutcher's Coolly_
for a quarter of a century? At the outset he had passion, knowledge,
industry, doctrine, approbation, and he labored hard at enlarging the
sagas of which these books were the center. Yet _Jason Edwards_, _A
Spoil of Office_, _A Member of the Third House_ are dim names and the
Far Western tales which succeeded them grow too rapidly less impressive
as they grow older. The rise of historical romance among the American
followers of Stevenson at the end of the century and the subsequent rise
of flippancy under the leadership of O. Henry have both been blamed for
the partial eclipse into which Mr. Garland's reputation passed. As a
matter of fact, the causes were more fundamental than the mere
fickleness of literary reputation or than the demands of editors and
public that he repeat himself forever. In that first brilliant cycle of
stories this downright pioneer worked with the material which of all
materials he knew best and over which his imagination played most
eagerly. From them, however, he turned to pleas for the single tax and
to exposures of legislative corruption and imbecility about which he
neither knew nor cared so much as he knew and cared about the actual
lives of working farmers. His imagination, whatever his zeal might do in
these different surroundings, would not come to the old point of

Instead, however, of diagnosing his case correctly Mr. Garland followed
the false light of local color to the Rocky Mountains and began the
series of romantic narratives which further interrupted his true growth
and, gradually, his true fame. He who had grimly refused to lend his
voice to the chorus chanting the popular legend of the frontier in which
he had grown up and who had studied the deceptive picture not as a
visitor but as a native, now became himself a visiting enthusiast for
the "high trails" and let himself be roused by a fervor sufficiently
like that from which he had earlier dissented. In his different way he
was as hungry for new lands as his father had been before him. Looking
upon local color as the end--when it is more accurately the
beginning--of fiction, he felt that he had exhausted his old community
and must move on to fresher pastures.

Here the prime fallacy of his school misled him: he believed that if he
had represented the types and scenes of his particular region once he
had done all he could, when of course had he let imagination serve him
he might have found in that microcosm as many passions and tragedies and
joys as he or any novelist could have needed for a lifetime. Here, too,
the prime penalty of his school overtook him: he came to lay so much
emphasis upon outward manners that he let his plots and characters fall
into routine and formula. The novels of his middle period--such as _Her
Mountain Lover_, _The Captain of the Gray Horse Troop_, _Hester_, _The
Light of the Star_, _Cavanagh, Forest Ranger_--too frequently recur to
the romantic theme of a love uniting some powerful, uneducated
frontiersman and some girl from a politer neighborhood. Pioneer and lady
are always almost the same pair in varying costumes; the stories harp
upon the praise of plains and mountains and the scorn of cities and
civilization. These romances, much value as they have as documents and
will long continue to have, must be said to exhibit the frontier as
self-conscious, obstreperous, given to insisting upon its difference
from the rest of the world. In ordinary human intercourse such
insistence eventually becomes tiresome; in literature no less than in
life there is a time to remember local traits and a time to forget them
in concerns more universal.

What concerns of Mr. Garland's were universal became evident when he
published _A Son of the Middle Border_. His enthusiasms might be
romantic but his imagination was not; it was indissolubly married to his
memory of actual events. The formulas of his mountain romances, having
been the inventions of a mind not essentially inventive, had been at
best no more than sectional; the realities of his autobiography, taking
him back again to _Main-Travelled Roads_ and its cycle, were personal,
lyrical, and consequently universal. All along, it now appeared, he had
been at his best when he was most nearly autobiographical: those vivid
early stories had come from the lives of his own family or of their
neighbors; _Rose of Dutcher's Coolly_ had set forth what was practically
his own experience in its account of a heroine--not hero--who leaves her
native farm to go first to a country college and then to Chicago to
pursue a wider life, torn constantly between a passion for freedom and a
loyalty to the father she must tragically desert.

In a sense _A Son of the Middle Border_ supersedes the fictive versions
of the same material; they are the original documents and the _Son_ the
final redaction and commentary. Veracious still, the son of that border
appears no longer vexed as formerly. Memory, parent of art, has at once
sweetened and enlarged the scene. What has been lost of pungent
vividness has its compensation in a broader, a more philosophic
interpretation of the old frontier, which in this record grows to epic
meanings and dimensions. Its savage hardships, though never minimized,
take their due place in its powerful history; the defeat which the
victims underwent cannot rob the victors of their many claims to glory.
If there was little contentment in this border there was still much
rapture. Such things Mr. Garland reveals without saying them too
plainly: the epic qualities of his book--as in Mark Twain's _Life on the
Mississippi_--lie in its implications; the tale itself is a candid
narrative of his own adventures through childhood, youth, and his first
literary period.

This autobiographic method, applied with success in _A Daughter of the
Middle Border_ to his later life in Chicago and all the regions which he
visited, brings into play his higher gifts and excludes his lower. Under
slight obligation to imagine, he runs slight risk of succumbing to those
conventionalisms which often stiffen his work when he trusts to his
imagination. Avowedly dealing with his own opinions and experiences, he
is not tempted to project them, as in the novels he does somewhat too
frequently, into the careers of his heroes. Dealing chiefly with action
not with thought, he does not tend so much as elsewhere to solve
speculative problems with sentiment instead of with reflection. In the
_Son_ and the _Daughter_ he has the fullest chance to be autobiographic
without disguise.

Here lies his best province and here appears his best art. It is an art,
as he employs it, no less subtle than humane. Warm, firm flesh covers
the bones of his chronology. He imparts reality to this or that
occasion, like a novelist, by reciting conversation which must come from
something besides bare memory. He rounds out the characters of the
persons he remembers with a fulness and grace which, lifelike as his
persons are, betray the habit of creating characters. He enriches his
analysis of the Middle Border with sensitive descriptions of the "large,
unconscious scenery" in which it transacted its affairs. If it is
difficult to overprize the documentary value of his saga of the Garlands
and the McClintocks and of their son who turned back on the trail, so is
it difficult to overpraise the sincerity and tenderness and beauty with
which the chronicle was set down.


The tidal wave of historical romance which toward the end of the past
century attacked this coast and broke so far inland as to inundate the
entire continent swept Winston Churchill to a substantial peak of
popularity to which he has since clung, with little apparent loss, by
the exercise of methods somewhat but not greatly less romantic than
those which first lifted him above the flood. He came during a moment
of national expansiveness. Patriotism and jingoism, altruism and
imperialism, passion and sentimentalism shook the temper which had been
slowly stiffening since the Civil War. Now, with a rush of unaccustomed
emotions, the national imagination sought out its own past, luxuriating
in it, not to say wallowing in it.

In Mr. Churchill it found a romancer full of consolation to any who
might fear or suspect that the country's history did not quite match its
destiny. He had enough erudition to lend a very considerable "thickness"
to his scene, whether it was Annapolis or St. Louis or Kentucky or
upland New England. He had a sense for the general bearings of this or
that epoch; he had a firm, warm confidence in the future implied and
adumbrated by this past; he had a feeling for the ceremonial in all
eminent occasions. He had, too, a knack at archaic costume and knack
enough at the idiom in which his contemporaries believed their forebears
had expressed themselves. And he had, besides all these qualities needed
to make his records heroic, the quality of moral earnestness which
imparted to them the look of moral significance. Richard Carvel by the
exercise of simple Maryland virtues rises above the enervate young
sparks of Mayfair; Stephen Brice in _The Crisis_ by his simple Yankee
virtues makes his mark among the St. Louis rebels--who, however, are
gallant and noble though misguided men; canny David Ritchie in _The
Crossing_ leads the frontiersmen of Kentucky as the little child of
fable leads the lion and the lamb; crafty Jethro Bass in _Coniston_,
though a village boss with a pocketful of mortgages and consequently of
constituents, surrenders his ugly power at the touch of a maiden's hand.

To reflect a little upon this combination of heroic color and moral
earnestness is to discover how much Mr. Churchill owes to the elements
injected into American life by Theodore Roosevelt. Is not _The
Crossing_--to take specific illustrations--connected with the same
central cycle as _The Winning of the West_? Is not _Coniston_, whatever
the date of its events, an arraignment of that civic corruption which
Roosevelt hated as the natural result of civic negligence and against
which he urged the duty of an awakened civic conscience? In time Mr.
Churchill was to extend his inquiries to regions of speculation into
which Roosevelt never ventured, but as regards American history and
American politics they were of one mind. "Nor are the ethics of the
manner of our acquisition of a part of Panama and the Canal," wrote Mr.
Churchill in 1918 in his essay on _The American Contribution and the
Democratic Idea_, "wholly defensible from the point of view of
international democracy. Yet it must be remembered that President
Roosevelt was dealing with a corrupt, irresponsible, and hostile
government, and that the Canal had become a necessity not only for our
own development, but for that of the civilization of the world." And
again: "The only real peril confronting democracy is the arrest of

Roosevelt himself could not have muddled an issue better. Like him Mr.
Churchill has habitually moved along the main lines of national
feeling--believing in America and democracy with a fealty unshaken by
any adverse evidence and delighting in the American pageant with a gusto
rarely modified by the exercise of any critical intelligence. Morally he
has been strenuous and eager; intellectually he has been naive and
belated. Whether he has been writing what was avowedly romance or what
was intended to be sober criticism he has been always the romancer first
and the critic afterwards.

And yet since the vogue of historical romance passed nearly a score of
years ago Mr. Churchill has honestly striven to keep up with the world
by thinking about it. One novel after another has presented some
encroaching problem of American civic or social life: the control of
politics by interest in _Mr. Crewe's Career_; divorce in _A Modern
Chronicle_; the conflict between Christianity and business in _The
Inside of the Cup_; the oppression of the soul by the lust for temporal
power in _A Far Country_; the struggle of women with the conditions of
modern industry in _The Dwelling-Place of Light_. Nothing has hurried
Mr. Churchill or forced his hand; he has taken two or three years for
each novel, has read widely, has brooded over his theme, has reinforced
his stories with solid documentation. He has aroused prodigious
discussion of his challenges and solutions--particularly in the case of
_The Inside of the Cup_. That novel perhaps best of all exhibits his
later methods. John Hodder by some miracle of inattention or some
accident of isolation has been kept in his country parish from any
contact with the doubt which characterizes his age. Transferred to a
large city he almost instantly finds in himself heresies hitherto only
latent, spends a single summer among the poor, and in the fall begins
relentless war against the unworthy rich among his congregation. Thought
plays but a trivial part in Hodder's evolution. Had he done any real
thinking or were he capable of it he must long before have freed himself
from the dogmas that obstruct him. Instead he has drifted with the
general stream and learns not from the leaders but from the slower
followers of opinion. Like the politician he absorbs through his skin,
gathering premonitions as to which way the crowd is going and then
rushing off in that direction.

If this recalls the processes of Roosevelt, hardly less does it recall
those of Mr. Churchill. Once taken by an idea for a novel he has always
burned with it as if it were as new to the world as to him. Here lies,
without much question, the secret of that genuine earnestness which
pervades all his books: he writes out of the contagious passion of a
recent convert or a still excited discoverer. Here lies, too, without
much question, the secret of Mr. Churchill's success in holding his
audiences: a sort of unconscious politician among novelists, he gathers
his premonitions at happy moments, when the drift is already setting in.
Never once has Mr. Churchill, like a philosopher or a seer, run off

Even for those, however, who perceive that he belongs intellectually to
a middle class which is neither very subtle nor very profound on the one
hand nor very shrewd or very downright on the other, it is impossible to
withhold from Mr. Churchill the respect due a sincere, scrupulous, and
upright man who has served the truth and his art according to his
lights. If he has not overheard the keenest voices of his age, neither
has he listened to the voice of the mob. The sounds which have reached
him from among the people have come from those who eagerly aspire to
better things arrived at by orderly progress, from those who desire in
some lawful way to outgrow the injustices and inequalities of civil
existence and by fit methods to free the human spirit from all that
clogs and stifles it. But as they aspire and intend better than they
think, so, in concert with them, does Mr. Churchill.

In all his novels, even the most romantic, the real interest lies in
some mounting aspiration opposed to a static regime, whether the passion
for independence among the American colonies, or the expanding movement
of the population westward, or the crusades against slavery or political
malfeasance, or the extrication of liberal temperaments from the
shackles of excessive wealth or poverty or orthodoxy. Yet the only
conclusions he can at all devise are those which history has devised
already--the achievement of independence or of the Illinois country, the
abolition of slavery, the defeat of this or that usurper of power in
politics. Rarely is anything really thought out. Compare, for instance,
his epic of matrimony, _A Modern Chronicle_, with such a penetrating--if
satirical--study as _The Custom of the Country_. Mrs. Wharton urges no
more doctrine than Mr. Churchill, and she, like him, confines herself to
the career of one woman with her successive husbands; but whereas the
_Custom_ is luminous with quiet suggestion and implicit commentary upon
the relations of the sexes in the prevailing modes of marriage, the
_Chronicle_ has little more to say than that after two exciting
marriages a woman is ready enough to settle peacefully down with the
friend of her childhood whom she should have married in the beginning.
In _A Far Country_ a lawyer who has let himself be made a tool in the
hands of nefarious corporations undergoes a tragic love affair, suffers
conversion, reads a few books of modern speculation, and resolutely
turns his face toward a new order. In the same precipitate fashion the
heroine of _The Dwelling-Place of Light_, who has given no apparent
thought whatever to economic problems except as they touch her
individually, suffers a shock in connection with her intrigue with her
capitalist employer and becomes straightway a radical, shortly
thereafter making a pathetic and edifying end in childbirth. In these
books there are hundreds of sound observations and elevated sentiments;
the author's sympathies are, as a rule, remarkably right; but taken as a
whole his most serious novels, however lifelike and well rounded their
surfaces may seem, lack the upholding, articulating skeleton of thought.

Much the same lack of spiritual penetration and intellectual
consistency which has kept Mr. Churchill from ever building a very
notable realistic plot has kept him from ever creating any very
memorable characters. The author of ten novels, immensely popular for
more than a score of years, he has to his credit not a single
figure--man or woman--generally accepted by the public as either a type
or a person. With remarkably few exceptions he has seen his dramatis
personae from without and--doubtless for that reason--has apparently
felt as free to saw and fit them to his argument as he has felt with his
plots. Something preposterous in the millionaire reformer Mr. Crewe,
something cantankerous and passionate in the Abolitionist Judge Whipple
of _The Crisis_, above all something both tough and quaint in the
up-country politician Jethro Bass in _Coniston_ resisted the
argumentative knife and saved for those particular persons that look of
being entities in their own right which distinguishes the authentic from
the artificial characters of fiction.

For the most part, however, Mr. Churchill has erred in what may be
called the arithmetic of his art: he has thought of men and women as
mere fractions of a unit of fiction, whereas they themselves in any but
romances must be the units and the total work the sum or product of the
fictive operation. Naturally he has succeeded rather worse with
characters of his own creating, since his conceptions in such cases have
come to him as social or political problems to be illustrated in the
conduct of beings suitably shaped, than in characters drawn in some
measure from history, with their individualities already more or less
established. Without achieving fresh or bold interpretations of John
Paul Jones or George Rogers Clark or Lincoln, Mr. Churchill has added a
good deal to the vividness of their legends; whereas in the case of
characters not quite so historical, such as Judge Whipple and Jethro
Bass, he has admirably fused his moral earnestness regarding American
politics with his sense of spaciousness and color in the American past.

After the most careful reflection upon Mr. Churchill's successive
studies of contemporary life one recurs irresistibly to his romances. He
possesses, and has more than once displayed, a true romantic--almost a
true epic--instinct. Behind the careers of Richard Carvel and Stephen
Brice and David Ritchie and Jethro Bass appear the procession and
reverberation of stirring days. Nearer a Walter Scott than a Bernard
Shaw, Mr. Churchill has always been willing to take the memories of his
nation as they have come down to him and to work them without question
or rejection into his broad tapestry. A naturalistic generation is
tempted to make light of such methods; they belong, however, too truly
to good traditions of literature to be overlooked.

A national past has many uses, and different dispositions find in it
instruction or warning, depression or exaltation. Mr. Churchill has
found in the American past a cause for exaltation chiefly; after his
ugliest chapters the light breaks and he closes always upon the note of
high confidence which resounds in the epics of robust, successful
nations. If in this respect he has too regularly flattered his
countrymen, he has also enriched the national consciousness by the
colors which he has brought back from his impassioned forays. Only now
and then, it must be remembered, do historical novels pass in their
original form from one generation to another; more frequently they
suffer a decomposition due to their lack of essential truth and descend
to the function of compost for succeeding harvests of romance. Though
probably but one or two of Mr. Churchill's books--perhaps not even
one--can be expected to outlast a generation with much vitality, he
cannot be denied the honor of having added something agreeable if
imponderable to the national memory and so of having served his country
in one real way if not in another.


If the novels of Robert Herrick were nothing else they would still be
indispensable documents upon that first and second decade of the
twentieth century in America, when a minority unconvinced by either
romance or Roosevelt set out to scrutinize the exuberant complacence
which was becoming a more and more ominous element in the national
character. Imperialism, running a cheerful career in the Caribbean and
in the Pacific, had set the mode for average opinion; the world to
Americans looked immense and the United States the most immense
potentiality in it.

Small wonder then that the prevailing literature gave itself generally
to large proclamations about the future or to spacious recollections of
the past in which the note was hope unmodified. Small wonder either--be
it said to the credit of literature--that the same period caused and saw
the development of the most emphatic protest which has come from native
pens since the abolition of slavery--not excepting even the literary
rebels of the eighties. Much of that protest naturally expressed itself
in fiction, of many orders of intelligence and competence and intention.
Various voices have been louder or shriller or sweeter or in some cases
more thoroughgoing than Mr. Herrick's; but his is the voice which, in
fiction, has best represented the scholar's conscience disturbed by the
spectacle of a tumultuous generation of which most of the members are
too much undisturbed.

In particular Mr. Herrick has concerned himself with the status of women
in the republic which has prided itself upon nothing more than upon its
attitude toward their sex, and he has regularly insisted upon carrying
his researches beyond that period of green girlhood which appears to be
all of a woman's life that can interest the popular fiction-mongers. He
knows, without anywhere putting it precisely into words, that the
elaborate language of compliment used by Americans toward women, though
deriving perhaps from a time when women were less numerous on the
frontier than men and were therefore specially prized and praised, has
become for the most part a hollow language. The pioneer woman earned
all the respect she got by the equal share she bore in the tasks of her
laborious world. Her successor in the comfortable society which the
frontier founded by its travail neither works nor breeds as those first
women did. But the energy thus happily released, instead of being
directed into other useful channels, has been encouraged to spend itself
upon the complex arts of the parasite.

Ascribe it to the vanity of men who choose to regard women as luxurious
chattels and the visible symptoms of success; ascribe it to a wasteful
habit practised by a nation never compelled to make the best use of its
resources; ascribe it to the craft of a sex quick to seize its advantage
after centuries of disadvantage--ascribe it to whatever one will, the
fact remains that the United States has evolved a widely admired type of
woman who lacks the glad animal spontaneity of the little girl, the
ardent abandon of the mistress, the strong loyalty of the wife, the
deep, calm, fierce instincts of the mother; and who even lacks--although
here a change has taken place since Mr. Herrick began to chronicle
her--the confident impulse to follow her own path as an individual,
irrespective of her peculiar functions. It must be remembered, of
course, that Mr. Herrick has had in mind not the vast majority of women,
who in the United States as everywhere else on earth still fully
participate in life, but the American Woman, that traditional figure
compounded of timid ice and dainty insolence and habitually tricked out
with a wealth which holds the world so far away that it cannot see how
empty she really is. He has sought in his novels, by dissecting the
pretty simulacrum, to show that it has little blood and less soul.

At times he writes with a biting animus. In _One Woman's Life_ Milly
schemes herself out of the plain surroundings into which she was born,
lapses from her designs enough to marry a poor man for love but
subsequently wrecks his career and wears him out by her ambitious
ignorance, and before she ends the story in the arms of another husband
has contrived to waste the savings of a friend of her own sex who tries
to help her. In _The Healer_ the doctor's wife continually drags him
back from the passionate exercise of his true gift, luring him with her
beauty to live in the world which nearly destroys him, though he finally
comprehends the danger and escapes her. And in _Together_, its epic
canvas crowded with all kinds and conditions of lovers and married
couples, Mr. Herrick never spares the type. Other novelists may be
content to show her glittering in her maiden plumage; he advances to the
point where it becomes clear that the qualities ordinarily exalted in
her are nothing but signs of an arrested spiritual and moral
development. Hard and wilful enough, she never becomes mature, and she
tangles the web of life with the heedless hands of a child.

A less reflective novelist might be content with blaming or satirizing
her for her blind instinct to marry her richest suitor; for forcing him,
once married, to support her and her children at a pitch of luxury which
demands that he give up his personal aspirations in art or science or
altruism; for struggling so ruthlessly to plant her daughters in
prosperous soil which will nourish the "sacred seed" of the race
abundantly. Mr. Herrick, however, does not disapprove such instincts for
their own sake. He sees in them an element furnishing mankind with one
of its valuable sources of stability. What he assails is a national
conception which endows women with these instincts in mean, trivial,
unenlightened forms.

His criticism of the American Woman, indeed, is but an emphatic point in
his larger criticism of human life, and he has singled her out
essentially, it seems, because of the shallowness of her lovely
pretenses. It is the shallowness, not the sex, which arouses him. In
_The Common Lot_, in _The Memoirs of an American Citizen_, in _Clark's
Field_, and in certain of the strands of _Together_ it is the women who
demand that, no matter what happens, they shall be allowed to live their
lives upon the high plane of integrity from which the casual world is
always trying to pull men and women down. Integrity in love, integrity
in personal conduct, integrity in business and public affairs--this Mr.
Herrick holds to with a profound, at times a bleak, consistency which
has both worried and limited his readers. Integrity in love leads
Margaret Pole in _Together_, for instance, from her foolish husband to
her lover during one lyric episode and thereafter holds them apart in
the consciousness of a love completed and not to be touched with
perishable flesh. In novel after novel the characters come to grief from
the American habit of extravagance, which, as Mr. Herrick represents
it, seems a serious offense against integrity--springing from a failure
to control vagrant desires and tying the spirit to the need of
superfluous things until it ceases to be itself. And with never wearied
iteration he comes back to the problem of how the individual can
maintain his integrity in the face of the temptation to get easy wealth
and cut a false figure in the world.

Possibly it was a youth spent in New England that made Mr. Herrick as
sensitive as he has been to the atmosphere of affairs in Chicago, where
fortunes have come in like a flood during his residence there, and where
the popular imagination has been primarily enlisted in the game of
seeing where the next wave will break and of catching its golden spoil.
Mr. Herrick has not confined himself to Chicago for his scene; indeed,
he is one of the least local of American novelists, ranging as he does,
with all the appearances of ease, from New England to California, from
farm to factory, from city to suburb, and along the routes of pleasure
which Americans take in Europe. But Chicago is the true center of his
universe, and he is the principal historian in fiction of that roaring
village so rapidly turned town. He has not, however, been blown with the
prevailing winds. The vision that has fired most of his fellow citizens
has looked to him like a tantalizing but insubstantial mirage. Something
in his disposition has kept him cool while others were being made drunk
with opportunity.

Is it the scholar in him, or the New Englander, or the moralist which
has compelled him to count the moral cost of material expansion? In the
first of his novels to win much of a hearing, _The Common Lot_, he
studies the career of an architect who becomes involved in the frauds of
dishonest builders and sacrifices his professional integrity for the
sake of quick, dangerous profits. _The Memoirs of an American Citizen_,
a precious document now too much neglected, follows a country youth of
good initial impulses through his rise and progress among the packers
and on to the Senate of the United States. This is one of the oldest
themes in literature, one of the themes most certain to succeed with any
public: Dick Whittington, the Industrious Apprentice, over again. Mr.
Herrick, however, cannot merely repeat the old drama or point the old
moral. His hero wriggles upward by devious ways and sharp practices,
crushing competitors, diverting justice, and gradually paying for his
fortune with his integrity. In the most modern idiom Mr. Herrick asks
again and again the ancient question whether the whole world is worth as
much as a man's soul.

That mystical rigor which permits but one answer to the question
suggests to Mr. Herrick two avenues of cure from the evils accompanying
the disease he broods upon. One is a return to simple living under
conditions which quiet the restless nerves, allay the greedy appetites,
and restore the central will. The Master in _The Master of the Inn_,
Renault in _Together_, Holden in _The Healer_--all of them utter and
live a gospel of health which obviously corresponds to Mr. Herrick's
belief. When the world grows too loud one may withdraw from it; there
are still uncrowded spaces where existence marches simply. Remembering
them, Mr. Herrick's imagination, held commonly on so tight a fist, slips
its hood off and takes wing. And yet he knows that the north woods into
which a few favored men and women may withdraw are not cure enough for
the multitude. They must practise, or some one must practise for their
benefit, honorable refusals in the midst of life. The architect's wife
in _The Common Lot_, Harrington's sister in _The Memoirs of an American
Citizen_, the clear-eyed Johnstons in _Together_--they have or attain
the knowledge, which seems a paradox, that selfishness can fatally
entangle the individual in the perplexities of existence and that the
best chance for disentanglement may come from intelligent unselfishness.

_Clark's Field_ amply illustrates this paradox. The field has for many
years lain idle in the midst of a growing town because of a flaw in the
title, and when eventually the title is quieted and the land is sold it
pours wealth upon heads not educated to use it with wisdom. Here is
unearned increment made flesh and converted into drama: the field that
might have been home and garden and playground becomes a machine, a
monster, which gradually visits evil upon all concerned. Then Adelle and
her proletarian cousin, aware that the field through the corruption of a
well-meant law has grown malevolent, resolve to break the spell by
surrendering their selfish interests and accepting the position of
unselfish trustees to the estate until--if that time ever comes--some
better means may be devised for making the earth serve the purposes of
those who live upon it.

The solution does not entirely satisfy, of course. At best it is a
makeshift if considered in its larger bearings. It comes near, however,
to solving the problems as individuals of Adelle and her cousin, who
save more in character than they lose in pocket. And it might possibly
have come nearer still were it not for the handicap under which Mr.
Herrick, for all his intelligence and conscience, has labored as an
artist. That handicap is a certain stiffness on the plastic side of his
imagination. His conceptions come to him, if criticism can be any judge,
with a large touch of the abstract about them; his rationalizing
intelligence is always present at their birth. Nor do his narratives,
once under way, flow with the sure, effortless movement which is natural
to born story-tellers. His imagination, not quite continuous enough,
occasionally fails to fuse and shape disparate materials. It is likely
to fall short when he essays fancy or mystery, as in _A Life for a
Life_; or when he has a whimsy for amusing melodrama, as in _His Great
Adventure_. The flexibility which reveals itself in humor or in the
lighter irony is not one of his principal endowments. Restrained and
direct as he always is so far as language goes, he cannot always keep
his action absolutely in hand: this or that person or incident now and
then breaks out of the pattern; the skeleton of a formula now and then
becomes too prominent.

It is his intelligence which makes his satire sharp and significant; it
is his conscience which lends passion to his representation and lifts
him often to a true if sober eloquence. But in at least two of his
novels imagination takes him, as only imagination can take a novelist,
beyond the reach of either intelligence or conscience. _Together_, a
little cumbersome, a little sprawling, nevertheless glows with an
intensity which gives off heat as well as light. It is more than an
exhaustive document upon modern marriage; it is interpretation as well.
_Clark's Field_, a sparer, clearer story, is even more than
interpretation; it is a work of art springing from a spirit which has
taken fire and has transmuted almost all its abstract conceptions into
genuine flesh and blood. That _Clark's Field_ is Mr. Herrick's latest
novel heightens the expectation with which one hears that after a
silence of seven years he now plans to return to fiction.


The social and industrial order which has blacklisted Upton Sinclair
has, while increasing his rage, also increased his art. In his youth he
was primarily a lyric boy storming the ears of a world which failed to
detect in his romances the promise of which he himself was outspokenly
confident. His first character--the hero of _Springtime and Harvest_
and of _The Journal of Arthur Stirling_--belonged to the lamenting race
of the minor poets, shaped his beauty in deep seclusion, and died
because it went unrecognized. Mr. Sinclair, though he had created
Stirling in his own image, did not die. Instead he began to study the
causes of public deafness and found the injustices which ever since he
has devoted his enormous energy to exposing. If that original motive
seems inadequate and if traces of it have been partially responsible for
his reputation as a seeker of personal notoriety, still it has lent
ardor to his crusade. And if he had not discovered so much injustice to
chronicle--if there had not been so much for him to discover--he must
have lacked the ammunition with which he has fought.

As the evidences have accumulated he has been spared the need of
complaining merely because another minor poet was neglected and has been
able to widen his accusations until they include the whole multitude of
oppressions which free spirits have to contend against when they face
machines and privilege and mortmain. The industrial system which true
prophets have unanimously condemned for a century and a half helped to
pack Mr. Sinclair's records from the first; the war, with its vast
hysteria and blind panic, made it superfluous for him to add much
commentary in _Jimmie Higgins_ and _100%_ to the veritable episodes
which he there recounted. On some occasions fact itself has the impetus
of propaganda. The times have furnished Mr. Sinclair the keen, cool,
dangerous art of Thomas Paine.

To mention Paine is to rank Mr. Sinclair with the ragged philosophers
among whom he properly belongs, rather than with learned misanthropes
like Swift or intellectual ironists like Bernard Shaw. An expansive
passion for humanity at large colors all this proletarian radical has
written. By disposition very obviously a poet, working with no subtle or
complex processes and without any of the lighter aspects of humor, Mr.
Sinclair simply refuses to accept existence as it stands and goes on
questioning it forever. _Samuel the Seeker_ seems a kind of allegory of
its author's own career. He, too, in the fashion of Samuel Prescott,
inquires of all he meets why they tolerate injustice and demands that
something or other be done at once. These are the methods of the ragged
philosophers, whereas the learned understand that justice comes slowly
and so rest now and then from effort; and the ironists understand that
justice may never come and so now and then sit down, detached and

Naive inquirers like Upton Sinclair take and give fewer opportunities
for comfort. How can any one talk of the long ages of human progress
when a child may starve to death in a few days? How can any one take
refuge in irony when agony is always abroad, biting and rending? How can
any one leave to others the obligation to assail injustice when the
responsibility for it lies equally upon all, whether victims or victors,
who permit it to continue? A questioner so relentless can very soon bore
the questioned, especially if they are less strenuous or less inflamed
than he and can keep up his pitch neither of activity nor of anger; but
this is no proof that such an inquiry is impertinent or that answers are
impossible. Indeed, the chances are that the proportions of this
boredom and the animosity resulting from it will depend upon the extent
to which grievances do exist about which it is painful to think for the
reason that they so plainly should not exist. A complacent reader of any
of Mr. Sinclair's better books can stay complacent only by shutting up
the book and his mind again.

Without doubt the various abuses which these books set forth have their
case seriously weakened by the violent quickness with which Mr. Sinclair
scents conspiracy among the enemies of justice. It is perhaps not to be
wondered at that he should so often fly to this conclusion; he has
himself, as his personal history in _The Brass Check_ makes clear
enough, been practically conspired against. But some instinct for
melodrama in his constitution has led him to invent a larger number of
conspirators than has been necessary to illustrate his contention.

In _Love's Pilgrimage_, for instance, Thyrsis suffers tortures from the
fact that it takes time for a poet, however gifted, to make himself
heard. In reality, of course, the blame for this lies in about the same
quarter of the universe as that which establishes a period of years
between youth and maturity; to complain too bitterly about either ruling
is to waste on an inscrutable problem the strength which might better be
devoted to an annoying task. Mr. Sinclair, however, cools himself in no
such philosophy. He dramatizes Thyrsis's hungry longings and cruel
disappointments on Thyrsis's own terms, making the boy out a martyr with
powerful forces arrayed against him in a conspiracy to keep ascendant
genius down. Consequently the narrative has about it something shrill
and febrile; it is keyed too high to carry full conviction to any but
those who are straining at a similar leash. So also in _The Profits of
Religion_--which is to the present age what _The Age of Reason_ was to
an earlier revolutionary generation--Mr. Sinclair excessively simplifies
religious history by reducing almost the whole process to a conspiracy
on the part of priestcraft to hoodwink the people and so to fatten its
own greedy purse. He must know that the process has not been quite so
simple; but, leaving to others to say the things that all will say, he
studies "supernaturalism as a source of income and a shield to
privilege." Here again his instincts and methods as a melodramatist
assert themselves: he warms to the struggle and plays his lash upon his
conspiring priests in a mood of mingled duty and delight.

_The Profits of Religion_ and _The Brass Check_ belong to a series of
treatises on the economic interpretation of culture which will later
examine education and literature as these two have examined the church
and journalism and which collectively will bear the title _The Dead
Hand_. Against the malign domination of the present by the past Mr.
Sinclair directs his principal assault. In the arts he sees the dead
hand holding the classics on their thrones and thrusting back new
masterpieces as they appear; in religion he sees it clothing the visions
of ancient poets in steel creeds and rituals and denying that such
visions can ever come to later spirits; in human society he sees it
welding the manacles of caste and hardening this or that temporary
pattern of life to a perpetual order. As he repeatedly suspects
conspiracy where none exists, so he repeatedly suspects deliberate
malice where he should perceive stupidity.

Now stupidity, though certainly the cause of more evils than malice can
devise, is less employable as a villain: it is not anthropomorphic
enough for melodrama. Mr. Sinclair is moral first and then intellectual.
Touching upon such a theme as the horrors of venereal disease he feels
more than a rational man's contempt for the imbecility of parents who
will not instruct their daughters in anything but the sentimental
elements of sex; he feels the fury toward them that audiences feel
toward villains. It is much the same with his rather absurd novels
written to display the follies of fashionable life, _The Metropolis_ and
_The Moneychangers_: he finds more crime than folly in the extravagant
pursuit of pleasure on the part of the few while the many endure hunger
and cold, homelessness and joblessness, ignorance and rebellion and
premature decay. Though the satirists may smile at the silly few, the
ragged philosophers must weep for the miserable many.

Class-consciousness is a great advantage to the writer of exciting
fiction, as numerous American novelists have shown--standing ordinarily,
however, on the side of the privileged orders. Mr. Sinclair in _The
Jungle_, his great success, taking his stand with the unprivileged, with
the wretched aliens in the Chicago stockyards, had the advantage that he
could represent his characters as actually contending against the
conspiracy which always exists when the exploiters of men see the
exploited growing restless. What outraged the public was the news,
later confirmed by official investigation, that the meat of a large part
of the world was being prepared, at great profit to the packers, under
conditions abominably unhygienic; what outraged Mr. Sinclair was the
spectacle of the lives which the workers in the yards were compelled to
lead if they got work--which meant life to them--at all. Thanks to the
conspiracy among their masters they could not help themselves; thanks to
the weight of the dead hand they could get no help from popular opinion,
which saw their plight as something essential to the very structure of
society, as Aristotle saw slavery. Mr. Sinclair proclaimed with a
ringing voice that their plight was not essential; and he prophesied the
revolution with an eloquence which, though the revolution has not come,
still warms and lifts the raw material with which he had to deal.

Nothing about him has done more to make him an arresting novelist than
his conviction that mankind has not yet reached its peak, as the
pessimists think; and that the current stage of civilization, with all
that is unendurable about it, need last no longer than till the moment
when mankind determines that it need no longer endure. He speaks as a
socialist who has dug up a multitude of economic facts and can present
them with appalling force; he speaks as a poet sustained by visions and
generous hopes.

How hope has worked in Mr. Sinclair appears with significant emphasis in
the contrast between _Manassas_ and _100%_; the two books illustrate the
range of American naturalism and the progressive disillusion of a
generation. _Manassas_ is the work of a man filled with epic memories
and epic expectations who saw in the Civil War a clash of titanic
principles, saw a nation being beaten out on a fearful anvil, saw
splendor and heroism rising up from the pits of slaughter. And in spite
of his fifteen years spent in discovering the other side of the American
picture Mr. Sinclair in _Jimmie Higgins_, the story of a socialist who
went to war against the Kaiser, showed traces still of a romantic pulse,
settling down, however, toward the end, to a colder beat. It is the
colder beat which throbs in _100%_, with a temperature that suggests
both ice and fire. Rarely has such irony been maintained in an entire
volume as that which traces the evolution of Peter Gudge from sharper to
patriot through the foul career of spying and incitement and persecution
opened to his kind of talents by the frenzy of noncombatants during the
war. To this has that patriotism come which on the red fields of
Virginia poured itself out in unstinting sacrifice; and, though the
sacrifice went on in France and Flanders, was it worth while, Mr.
Sinclair implicitly inquires, when the conflict, at no matter how great
a distance, could breed such vermin as Peter Gudge? Explicitly he does
not answer his question: his art has gone, at least for the moment,
beyond avowed argument, merely marshaling the evidence with ironic skill
and dispensing with the chorus. _100%_ is a document which honest
Americans must remember and point out when orators exclaim, in the
accents of official idealism, over the great days and deeds of the great

The road for Mr. Sinclair to travel is the road of irony and
documentation, both of which will hold him back from ineffectual rages
and thereby serve to enlarge his influence. Such genius for controversy
as his may be neither expected nor advised to look for quieter paths; it
feels, with Bernard Shaw, that "if people are rotting and starving in
all directions, and nobody else has the heart or brains to make a
disturbance about it, the great writers must." It is fair to say,
however, that certain readers heartily sympathetic toward Mr. Sinclair
observe in him a painful tendency to enjoy scandal for its own sake and
to generalize from it to an extent which hurts his cause; observe in him
a quite superfluous gusto when it comes to reporting bloody incidents
not always contributory to any general design; observe in him a frequent
over-use of the shout and the scream. He has himself given an
example--_100%_--on which such critical strictures are based; in that
best of his novels as well as best of his arguments he has avoided most
of his own defects.

A revolutionary novelist naturally finds it difficult to represent his
world with the quiet grasp with which it can be represented by one who,
accepting the present frame of life, has studied it curiously,
affectionately, until it has left a firm, substantial image in the mind.
The revolutionist must see life as constantly whirling and melting under
his gaze; he must bring to light many facts which the majority overlook
but which it will seem to him like connivance with injustice to leave in
hiding; he must go constantly beyond what is to what ought to be. All
the more reason, then, why he should be as watchful as the most watchful
artist in his choice and use of the modes of his particular art. It
requires at least as much art to convert as to give pleasure.


Much concerned about wisdom as Theodore Dreiser is, he almost wholly
lacks the dexterous knowingness which has marked the mass of fiction in
the age of O. Henry. Not only has Mr. Dreiser never allowed any one else
to make up his mind for him regarding the significance and aims and
obligations of mankind but he has never made up his mind himself. A
large dubitancy colors all his reflections. "All we know is that we
cannot know." The only law about which we can be reasonably certain is
the law of change. Justice is "an occasional compromise struck in an
eternal battle." Virtue and honesty are "a system of weights and
measures, balances struck between man and man."

Prudence no less than philosophy demands, then, that we hold ourselves
constantly in readiness to discard our ancient creeds and habits and
step valiantly around the corner beyond which reality will have drifted
even while we were building our houses on what seemed the primeval and
eternal rock. Tides of change rise from deeps below deeps; cosmic winds
of change blow upon us from boundless chaos; mountains, in the long
geologic seasons, shift and flow like clouds; and the everlasting
heavens may some day be shattered by the explosion or pressure of new
circumstances. Somewhere in the scheme man stands punily on what may be
an Ararat rising out of the abyss or only a promontory of the moment
sinking back again; there all his strength is devoted to a dim struggle
for survival. How in this flickering universe shall man claim for
himself the honors of any important antiquity or any important destiny?
What, in this vast accident, does human dignity amount to?

For a philosopher with views so wide it is difficult to be a dramatist
or a novelist. If he is consistent the most portentous human tragedy
must seem to him only a tiny gasp for breath, the most delightful human
comedy only a tiny flutter of joy. Against a background of suns dying on
the other side of Aldebaran any mole trodden upon by some casual hoof
may appear as significant a personage as an Oedipus or a Lear in his
last agony. To be a novelist or dramatist at all such a cosmic
philosopher must contract his vision to the little island we inhabit,
must adjust his interest to mortal proportions and concerns, must match
his narrative to the scale by which we ordinarily measure our lives. The
muddle of elements so often obvious in Mr. Dreiser's work comes from the
conflict within him of huge, expansive moods and a conscience working
hard to be accurate in its representation of the most honest facts of
manners and character.

Granted, he might reasonably argue, that the plight and stature of all
mankind are essentially so mean, the novelist need not seriously bother
himself with the task of looking about for its heroic figures. Plain
stories of plain people are as valuable as any others. Since all larger
doctrines and ideals are likely to be false in a precarious world, it is
best to stick as close as possible to the individual. When the
individual is sincere he has at least some positive attributes; his
record may have a genuine significance for others if it is presented
with absolute candor. Indeed, we can partially escape from the general
meaninglessness of life at large by being or studying individuals who
are sincere, and who are therefore the origins and centers of some kind
of reality.

That the sincerity which Mr. Dreiser practises differs in some respects
from that of any other American novelist, no matter how truthful, must
be referred to one special quality of his own temperament. Historically
he has his fellows: he belongs with the movement toward naturalism which
came to America when Hamlin Garland and Stephen Crane and Frank Norris,
partly as a protest against the bland realism which Howells expounded,
were dissenting in their various dialects from the reticences and the
romances then current. Personally Mr. Dreiser displays, almost alone
among American novelists, the characteristics of what for lack of a
better native term we have to call the peasant type--the type to which
Gorki belongs and which Tolstoy wanted to belong to.

Enlarged by genius though Mr. Dreiser is; open as he is to all manner of
novel sensations and ideas; little as he is bound by the rigor of
village habits and prejudices--still he carries wherever he goes the
true peasant simplicity of outlook, speaks with the peasant's bald
frankness, and suffers a peasant confusion in the face of complexity.
How far he sees life on one simple plane may be illustrated by his short
story _When the Old Century Was New_, an attempt to reconstruct in
fiction the New York of 1801 which shows him, in spite of some
deliberate erudition, to be amazingly unable to feel at home in another
age than his own. This same simplicity of outlook makes _A Traveler at
Forty_ so revealing a document, makes the Traveler appear a true
Innocent Abroad without the hilarious and shrewd self-sufficiency of a
frontiersman of genius like Mark Twain. While it is true that Mr.
Dreiser's plain-speaking on a variety of topics euphemized by earlier
American realists has about it some look of conscious intention, and is
undoubtedly sustained by his literary principles, yet his candor
essentially inheres in his nature: he thinks in blunt terms before he
speaks in them. He speaks bluntly even upon the more subtle and
intricate themes--finance and sex and art--which interest him above all

On the whole he probably succeeds best with finance. The career of
Cowperwood in _The Financier_ and _The Titan_, a career notoriously
based upon that of Charles T. Yerkes, allowed Mr. Dreiser to exercise
his virtue of patient industry and to build up a solid monument of fact
which, though often dull enough, nevertheless continues generally to
convince, at least in respect to Cowperwood's business enterprises. The
American financier, after all, has rarely had much subtlety in his
make-up. Single-minded, tough-skinned, ruthless, "suggesting a power
which invents man for one purpose and no other, as generals, saints, and
the like are invented," he shoulders and hurls his bulk through a sea of
troubles and carries off his spoils. Such a man as Frank Cowperwood Mr.
Dreiser understands. He understands the march of desire to its goal. He

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