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Of Literature (Entire) by William Dean Howells

Part 11 out of 15

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keeps on, we shall all go mad; but then we shall none of us be able to
criticise the others. Or possibly the thing may work its own cure. You
know the ingenuity of the political economists in justifying the egotism
to which conditions appeal. They do not deny that these foster greed and
rapacity in merciless degree, but they contend that when the wealth-
winner drops off gorged there is a kind of miracle wrought, and good
comes of it all. I never could see how; but if it is true, why shouldn't
a sort of ultimate immunity come back to us from the very excess and
invasion of the appeals now made to us, and destined to be made to us
still more by the adsmith? Come, isn't there hope in that?"

"I see a great opportunity for the wofsmith in some such dream," said my
friend. "Why don't you turn it to account?"

"You know that isn't my line; I must leave that sort of wofsmithing to
the romantic novelist. Besides, I have my well-known panacea for all the
ills our state is heir to, in a civilization which shall legislate
foolish and vicious and ugly and adulterate things out of the possibility
of existence. Most of the adsmithing is now employed in persuading
people that such things are useful, beautiful, and pure. But in any
civilization they shall not even be suffered to be made, much less
foisted upon the community by adsmiths."

"I see what you mean," said my friend; and he sighed gently. "I had much
better let you write about spring."

THE PSYCHOLOGY OF PLAGIARISM

A late incident in the history of a very widespread English novelist,
triumphantly closed by the statement of his friend that the novelist had
casually failed to accredit a given passage in his novel to the real
author, has brought freshly to my mind a curious question in ethics.
The friend who vindicated the novelist, or, rather, who contemptuously
dismissed the matter, not only confessed the fact of adoption, but
declared that it was one of many which could be found in the novelist's
works. The novelist, he said, was quite in the habit of so using
material in the rough, which he implied was like using any fact or idea
from life, and he declared that the novelist could not bother to answer
critics who regarded these exploitations as a sort of depredation. In a
manner he brushed the impertinent accusers aside, assuring the general
public that the novelist always meant, at his leisure, and in his own
way, duly to ticket the flies preserved in his amber.

I.

When I read this haughty vindication, I thought at first that if the case
were mine I would rather have several deadly enemies than such a friend
as that; but since, I have not been so sure. I have asked myself upon a
careful review of the matter whether plagiarism may not be frankly
avowed, as in nowise dishonest, and I wish some abler casuist would take
the affair into consideration and make it clear for me. If we are to
suppose that offences against society disgrace the offender, and that
public dishonor argues the fact of some such offence, then apparently
plagiarism is not such an offence; for in even very flagrant cases it
does not disgrace. The dictionary, indeed, defines it as "the crime of
literary theft"; but as no penalty attaches to it, and no lasting shame,
it is hard to believe it either a crime or a theft; and the offence, if
it is an offence (one has to call it something, and I hope the word is
not harsh), is some such harmless infraction of the moral law as white-
lying.

The much-perverted saying of Moliere, that he took his own where he found
it, is perhaps in the consciousness of those who appropriate the things
other people have rushed in with before them. But really they seem to
need neither excuse nor defence with the impartial public if they are
caught in the act of reclaiming their property or despoiling the rash
intruder upon their premises. The novelist in question is by no means
the only recent example, and is by no means a flagrant example. While
the ratification of the treaty with Spain was pending before the Senate
of the United States, a member of that body opposed it in a speech almost
word for word the same as a sermon delivered in New York City only a few
days earlier and published broadcast. He was promptly exposed by the
parallel-column system; but I have never heard that his standing was
affected or his usefulness impaired by the offence proven against him. A
few years ago an eminent divine in one of our cities preached as his own
the sermon of a brother divine, no longer living; he, too, was detected
and promptly exposed by the parallel-column system, but nothing whatever
happened from the exposure. Every one must recall like instances, more
or less remote. I remember one within my youthfuller knowledge of a
journalist who used as his own all the denunciatory passages of
Macaulay's article on Barrere, and applied them with changes of name to
the character and conduct of a local politician whom he felt it his duty
to devote to infamy. He was caught in the fact, and by means of the
parallel column pilloried before the community. But the community did
not mind it a bit, and the journalist did not either. He prospered on
amid those who all knew what he had done, and when he removed to another
city it was to a larger one, and to a position of more commanding
influence, from which he was long conspicuous in helping shape the
destinies of the nation.

So far as any effect from these exposures was concerned, they were as
harmless as those exposures of fraudulent spiritistic mediums which from
time to time are supposed to shake the spiritistic superstition to its
foundations. They really do nothing of the kind; the table-tippings,
rappings, materializations, and levitations keep on as before; and I do
not believe that the exposure of the novelist who has been the latest
victim of the parallel column will injure him a jot in the hearts or
heads of his readers.

II.

I am very glad of it, being a disbeliever in punishments of all sorts.
I am always glad to have sinners get off, for I like to get off from my
own sins; and I have a bad moment from my sense of them whenever
another's have found him out. But as yet I have not convinced myself
that the sort of thing we have been considering is a sin at all, for it
seems to deprave no more than it dishonors; or that it is what the
dictionary (with very unnecessary brutality) calls a "crime" and a
"theft." If it is either, it is differently conditioned, if not
differently natured, from all other crimes and thefts. These may be more
or less artfully and hopefully concealed, but plagiarism carries
inevitable detection with it. If you take a man's hat or coat out of his
hall, you may pawn it before the police overtake you; if you take his
horse out of his stable, you may ride it away beyond pursuit and sell it;
if you take his purse out of his pocket, you may pass it to a pal in the
crowd, and easily prove your innocence. But if you take his sermon, or
his essay, or even his apposite reflection, you cannot escape discovery.
The world is full of idle people reading books, and they are only too
glad to act as detectives; they please their miserable vanity by showing
their alertness, and are proud to hear witness against you in the court
of parallel columns. You have no safety in the obscurity of the author
from whom you take your own; there is always that most terrible reader,
the reader of one book, who knows that very author, and will the more
indecently hasten to bring you to the bar because he knows no other, and
wishes to display his erudition. A man may escape for centuries and yet
be found out. In the notorious case of William Shakespeare the offender
seemed finally secure of his prey; and yet one poor lady, who ended in a
lunatic asylum, was able to detect him at last, and to restore the goods
to their rightful owner, Sir Francis Bacon.

In spite, however, of this almost absolute certainty of exposure,
plagiarism goes on as it has always gone on; and there is no probability
that it will cease as long as there are novelists, senators, divines, and
journalists hard pressed for ideas which they happen not to have in mind
at the time, and which they see going to waste elsewhere. Now and then
it takes a more violent form and becomes a real mania, as when the
plagiarist openly claims and urges his right to a well-known piece of
literary property. When Mr. William Allen Butler's famous poem of
"Nothing to Wear" achieved its extraordinary popularity, a young girl
declared and apparently quite believed that she had written it and lost
the MS. in an omnibus. All her friends apparently believed so, too; and
the friends of the different gentlemen and ladies who claimed the
authorship of "Beautiful Snow" and "Rock Me to Sleep" were ready to
support them by affidavit against the real authors of those pretty
worthless pieces.

From all these facts it must appear to the philosophic reader that
plagiarism is not the simple "crime" or "theft" that the lexicographers
would have us believe. It argues a strange and peculiar courage on the
part of those who commit it or indulge it, since they are sure of having
it brought home to them, for they seem to dread the exposure, though it
involves no punishment outside of themselves. Why do they do it, or,
having done it, why do they mind it, since the public does not? Their
temerity and their timidity are things almost irreconcilable, and the
whole position leaves one quite puzzled as to what one would do if one's
own plagiarisms were found out. But this is a mere question of conduct,
and of infinitely less interest than that of the nature or essence of the
thing itself.

PURITANISM IN AMERICAN FICTION

The question whether the fiction which gives a vivid impression of
reality does truly represent the conditions studied in it, is one of
those inquiries to which there is no very final answer. The most
baffling fact of such fiction is that its truths are self-evident;
and if you go about to prove them you are in some danger of shaking the
convictions of those whom they have persuaded. It will not do to affirm
anything wholesale concerning them; a hundred examples to the contrary
present themselves if you know the ground, and you are left in doubt of
the verity which you cannot gainsay. The most that you can do is to
appeal to your own consciousness, and that is not proof to anybody else.
Perhaps the best test in this difficult matter is the quality of the art
which created the picture. Is it clear, simple, unaffected? Is it true
to human experience generally? If it is so, then it cannot well be false
to the special human experience it deals with.

I.

Not long ago I heard of something which amusingly, which pathetically,
illustrated the sense of reality imparted by the work of one of our
writers, whose art is of the kind I mean. A lady was driving with a
young girl of the lighter-minded civilization of New York through one of
those little towns of the North Shore in Massachusetts, where the small;
wooden houses cling to the edges of the shallow bay, and the schooners
slip, in and out on the hidden channels of the salt meadows as if they
were blown about through the tall grass. She tried to make her feel the
shy charm of the place, that almost subjective beauty, which those to the
manner born are so keenly aware of in old-fashioned New England villages;
but she found that the girl was not only not looking at the sad-colored
cottages, with their weather-worn shingle walls, their grassy door-yards
lit by patches of summer bloom, and their shutterless windows with their
close-drawn shades, but she was resolutely averting her eyes from them,
and staring straightforward until she should be out of sight of them
altogether. She said that they were terrible, and she knew that in each
of them was one of those dreary old women, or disappointed girls, or
unhappy wives, or bereaved mothers, she had read of in Miss Wilkins's
stories.

She had been too little sensible of the humor which forms the relief of
these stories, as it forms the relief of the bare, duteous,
conscientious, deeply individualized lives portrayed in them; and no
doubt this cannot make its full appeal to the heart of youth aching for
their stoical sorrows. Without being so very young, I, too, have found
the humor hardly enough at times, and if one has not the habit of
experiencing support in tragedy itself, one gets through a remote New
England village, at nightfall, say, rather limp than otherwise, and in
quite the mood that Miss Wilkins's bleaker studies leave one in. At mid-
day, or in the bright sunshine of the morning, it is quite possible to
fling off the melancholy which breathes the same note in the fact and the
fiction; and I have even had some pleasure at such times in identifying
this or, that one-story cottage with its lean-to as a Mary Wilkins house
and in placing one of her muted dramas in it. One cannot know the people
of such places without recognizing her types in them, and one cannot know
New England without owning the fidelity of her stories to New England
character, though, as I have already suggested, quite another sort of
stories could be written which should as faithfully represent other
phases of New England village life.

To the alien inquirer, however, I should be by no means confident that
their truth would evince itself, for the reason that human nature is
seldom on show anywhere. I am perfectly certain of the truth of Tolstoy
and Tourguenief to Russian life, yet I should not be surprised if I went
through Russia and met none of their people. I should be rather more
surprised if I went through Italy and met none of Verga's or Fogazzaro's,
but that would be because I already knew Italy a little. In fact, I
suspect that the last delight of truth in any art comes only to the
connoisseur who is as well acquainted with the subject as the artist
himself. One must not be too severe in challenging the truth of an
author to life; and one must bring a great deal of sympathy and a great
deal of patience to the scrutiny. Types are very backward and shrinking
things, after all; character is of such a mimosan sensibility that if you
seize it too abruptly its leaves are apt to shut and hide all that is
distinctive in it; so that it is not without some risk to an author's
reputation for honesty that he gives his readers the impression of his
truth.

II.

The difficulty with characters in fiction is that the reader there finds
them dramatized; not only their actions, but also their emotions are
dramatized; and the very same sort of persons when one meets them in real
life are recreantly undramatic. One might go through a New England
village and see Mary Wilkins houses and Mary Wilkins people, and yet not
witness a scene nor hear a word such as one finds in her tales. It is
only too probable that the inhabitants one met would say nothing quaint
or humorous, or betray at all the nature that she reveals in them; and
yet I should not question her revelation on that account. The life of
New England, such as Miss Wilkins deals with, and Miss Sarah O. Jewett,
and Miss Alice Brown, is not on the surface, or not visibly so, except to
the accustomed eye. It is Puritanism scarcely animated at all by the
Puritanic theology. One must not be very positive in such things, and I
may be too bold in venturing to say that while the belief of some New
Englanders approaches this theology the belief of most is now far from
it; and yet its penetrating individualism so deeply influenced the New
England character that Puritanism survives in the moral and mental make
of the people almost in its early strength. Conduct and manner conform
to a dead religious ideal; the wish to be sincere, the wish to be just,
the wish to be righteous are before the wish to be kind, merciful,
humble. A people are not a chosen people for half a dozen generations
without acquiring a spiritual pride that remains with them long after
they cease to believe themselves chosen. They are often stiffened in the
neck and they are often hardened in the heart by it, to the point of
making them angular and cold; but they are of an inveterate
responsibility to a power higher than themselves, and they are
strengthened for any fate. They are what we see in the stories which,
perhaps, hold the first place in American fiction.

As a matter of fact, the religion of New England is not now so
Puritanical as that of many parts of the South and West, and yet the
inherited Puritanism stamps the New England manner, and differences it
from the manner of the straightest sects elsewhere. There was, however,
always a revolt against Puritanism when Puritanism was severest and
securest; this resulted in types of shiftlessness if not wickedness,
which have not yet been duly studied, and which would make the fortune of
some novelist who cared to do a fresh thing. There is also a
sentimentality, or pseudo-emotionality (I have not the right phrase for
it), which awaits full recognition in fiction. This efflorescence from
the dust of systems and creeds, carried into natures left vacant by the
ancestral doctrine, has scarcely been noticed by the painters of New
England manners. It is often a last state of Unitarianism, which
prevailed in the larger towns and cities when the Calvinistic theology
ceased to be dominant, and it is often an effect of the spiritualism so
common in New England, and, in fact, everywhere in America. Then, there
is a wide-spread love of literature in the country towns and villages
which has in great measure replaced the old interest in dogma, and which
forms with us an author's closest appreciation, if not his best. But as
yet little hint of all this has got into the short stories, and still
less of that larger intellectual life of New England, or that exalted
beauty of character which tempts one to say that Puritanism was a
blessing if it made the New-Englanders what they are; though one can
always be glad not to have lived among them in the disciplinary period.
Boston, the capital of that New England nation which is fast losing
itself in the American nation, is no longer of its old literary primacy,
and yet most of our right thinking, our high thinking, still begins
there, and qualifies the thinking of the country at large. The good
causes, the generous causes, are first befriended there, and in a
wholesome sort the New England culture, as well as the New England
conscience, has imparted itself to the American people.

Even the power of writing short stories, which we suppose ourselves to
have in such excellent degree, has spread from New England. That is,
indeed, the home of the American short story, and it has there been
brought to such perfection in the work of Miss Wilkins, of Miss Jewett,
of Miss Brown, and of that most faithful, forgotten painter of manners,
Mrs. Rose Terry Cook, that it presents upon the whole a truthful picture
of New England village life in some of its more obvious phases. I say
obvious because I must, but I have already said that this is a life which
is very little obvious; and I should not blame any one who brought the
portrait to the test of reality, and found it exaggerated, overdrawn, and
unnatural, though I should be perfectly sure that such a critic was
wrong.

THE WHAT AND THE HOW IN ART

One of the things always enforcing itself upon the consciousness of the
artist in any sort is the fact that those whom artists work for rarely
care for their work artistically. They care for it morally, personally,
partially. I suspect that criticism itself has rather a muddled
preference for the what over the how, and that it is always haunted by a
philistine question of the material when it should, aesthetically
speaking, be concerned solely with the form.

I.

The other night at the theatre I was witness of a curious and amusing
illustration of my point. They were playing a most soul-filling
melodrama, of the sort which gives you assurance from the very first that
there will be no trouble in the end, but everything will come out just as
it should, no matter what obstacles oppose themselves in the course of
the action. An over-ruling Providence, long accustomed to the exigencies
of the stage, could not fail to intervene at the critical moment in
behalf of innocence and virtue, and the spectator never had the least
occasion for anxiety. Not unnaturally there was a black-hearted villain
in the piece; so very black-hearted that he seemed not to have a single
good impulse from first to last. Yet he was, in the keeping of the stage
Providence, as harmless as a blank cartridge, in spite of his deadly
aims. He accomplished no more mischief, in fact, than if all his intents
had been of the best; except for the satisfaction afforded by the
edifying spectacle of his defeat and shame, he need not have been in the
play at all; and one might almost have felt sorry for him, he was so
continually baffled. But this was not enough for the audience, or for
that part of it which filled the gallery to the roof. Perhaps he was
such an uncommonly black-hearted villain, so very, very cold-blooded in
his wickedness that the justice unsparingly dealt out to him by the
dramatist could not suffice. At any rate, the gallery took such a vivid
interest in his punishment that it had out the actor who impersonated the
wretch between all the acts, and hissed him throughout his deliberate
passage across the stage before the curtain. The hisses were not at all
for the actor, but altogether for the character. The performance was
fairly good, quite as good as the performance of any virtuous part in the
piece, and easily up to the level of other villanous performances (I
never find much nature in them, perhaps because there is not much nature
in villany itself; that is, villany pure and simple); but the mere
conception of the wickedness this bad man had attempted was too much for
an audience of the average popular goodness. It was only after he had
taken poison, and fallen dead before their eyes, that the spectators
forbore to visit him with a lively proof of their abhorrence; apparently
they did not care to "give him a realizing sense that there was a
punishment after death," as the man in Lincoln's story did with the dead
dog.

II.

The whole affair was very amusing at first, but it has since put me upon
thinking (I like to be put upon thinking; the eighteenth-century
essayists were) that the attitude of the audience towards this deplorable
reprobate is really the attitude of most readers of books, lookers at
pictures and statues, listeners to music, and so on through the whole
list of the arts. It is absolutely different from the artist's attitude,
from the connoisseur's attitude; it is quite irreconcilable with their
attitude, and yet I wonder if in the end it is not what the artist works
for. Art is not produced for artists, or even for connoisseurs; it is
produced for the general, who can never view it otherwise than morally,
personally, partially, from their associations and preconceptions.

Whether the effect with the general is what the artist works for or not,
he, does not succeed without it. Their brute liking or misliking is the
final test; it is universal suffrage that elects, after all. Only, in
some cases of this sort the polls do not close at four o'clock on the
first Tuesday after the first Monday of November, but remain open
forever, and the voting goes on. Still, even the first day's canvass is
important, or at least significant. It will not do for the artist to
electioneer, but if he is beaten, he ought to ponder the causes of his
defeat, and question how he has failed to touch the chord of universal
interest. He is in the world to make beauty and truth evident to his
fellowmen, who are as a rule incredibly stupid and ignorant of both, but
whose judgment he must nevertheless not despise. If he can make
something that they will cheer, or something that they will hiss, he may
not have done any great thing, but if he has made something that they
will neither cheer nor hiss, he may well have his misgivings, no matter
how well, how finely, how truly he has done the thing.

This is very humiliating, but a tacit snub to one's artist-pride such as
one gets from public silence is not a bad thing for one. Not long ago I
was talking about pictures with a painter, a very great painter, to my
thinking; one whose pieces give me the same feeling I have from reading
poetry; and I was excusing myself to him with respect to art, and perhaps
putting on a little more modesty than I felt. I said that I could enjoy
pictures only on the literary side, and could get no answer from my soul
to those excellences of handling and execution which seem chiefly to
interest painters. He replied that it was a confession of weakness in a
painter if he appealed merely or mainly to technical knowledge in the
spectator; that he narrowed his field and dwarfed his work by it; and
that if he painted for painters merely, or for the connoisseurs of
painting, he was denying his office, which was to say something clear and
appreciable to all sorts of men in the terms of art. He even insisted
that a picture ought to tell a story.

The difficulty in humbling one's self to this view of art is in the ease
with which one may please the general by art which is no art. Neither
the play nor the playing that I saw at the theatre when the actor was
hissed for the wickedness of the villain he was personating, was at all
fine; and yet I perceived, on reflection, that they had achieved a
supreme effect. If I may be so confidential, I will say that I should be
very sorry to have written that piece; yet I should be very proud if, on
the level I chose and with the quality I cared for, I could invent a
villain that the populace would have out and hiss for his surpassing
wickedness. In other words, I think it a thousand pities whenever an
artist gets so far away from the general, so far within himself or a
little circle of amateurs, that his highest and best work awakens no
response in the multitude. I am afraid this is rather the danger of the
arts among us, and how to escape it is not so very plain. It makes one
sick and sorry often to see how cheaply the applause of the common people
is won. It is not an infallible test of merit, but if it is wanting to
any performance, we may be pretty sure it is not the greatest
performance.

III.

The paradox lies in wait here, as in most other human affairs, to
confound us, and we try to baffle it, in this way and in that. We talk,
for instance, of poetry for poets, and we fondly imagine that this is
different from talking of cookery for cooks. Poetry is not made for
poets; they have enough poetry of their own, but it is made for people
who are not poets. If it does not please these, it may still be poetry,
but it is poetry which has failed of its truest office. It is none the
less its truest office because some very wretched verse seems often to do
it.

The logic of such a fact is not that the poet should try to achieve this
truest office of his art by means of doggerel, but that he should study
how and where and why the beauty and the truth he has made manifest are
wanting in universal interest, in human appeal. Leaving the drama out of
the question, and the theatre which seems now to be seeking only the
favor of the dull rich, I believe that there never was a time or a race
more open to the impressions of beauty and of truth than ours. The
artist who feels their divine charm, and longs to impart it, has now and
here a chance to impart it more widely than ever artist had in the world
before. Of course, the means of reaching the widest range of humanity
are the simple and the elementary, but there is no telling when the
complex and the recondite may not universally please. 288

The art is to make them plain to every one, for every one has them in
him. Lowell used to say that Shakespeare was subtle, but in letters a
foot high.

The painter, sculptor, or author who pleases the polite only has a
success to be proud of as far as it goes, and to be ashamed of that it
goes no further. He need not shrink from giving pleasure to the vulgar
because bad art pleases them. It is part of his reason for being that he
should please them, too; and if he does not it is a proof that he is
wanting in force, however much he abounds in fineness. Who would not
wish his picture to draw a crowd about it? Who would not wish his novel
to sell five hundred thousand copies, for reasons besides the sordid love
of gain which I am told governs novelists? One should not really wish it
any the less because chromos and historical romances are popular.

Sometime, I believe, the artist and his public will draw nearer together
in a mutual understanding, though perhaps not in our present conditions.
I put that understanding off till the good time when life shall be more
than living, more even than the question of getting a living; but in the
mean time I think that the artist might very well study the springs of
feeling in others; and if I were a dramatist I think I should quite
humbly go to that play where they hiss the villain for his villany, and
inquire how his wickedness had been made so appreciable, so vital, so
personal. Not being a dramatist, I still cannot indulge the greatest
contempt of that play and its public.

POLITICS OF AMERICAN AUTHORS

No thornier theme could well be suggested than I was once invited to
consider by an Englishman who wished to know how far American politicians
were scholars, and how far American authors took part in politics. In my
mind I first revolted from the inquiry, and then I cast about, in the
fascination it began to have for me, to see how I might handle it and
prick myself least. In a sort, which it would take too long to set
forth, politics are very intimate matters with us, and if one were to
deal quite frankly with the politics of a contemporary author, one might
accuse one's self of an unwarrantable personality. So, in what I shall
have to say in answer to the question asked me, I shall seek above all
things not to be quite frank.

I.

My uncandor need not be so jealously guarded in speaking of authors no
longer living. Not to go too far back among these, it is perfectly safe
to say that when the slavery question began to divide all kinds of men
among us, Lowell, Longfellow, Whittier, Curtis, Emerson, and Bryant more
or less promptly and openly took sides against slavery. Holmes was very
much later in doing so, but he made up for his long delay by his final
strenuousness; as for Hawthorne, he was, perhaps, too essentially a
spectator of life to be classed with either party, though his
associations, if not his sympathies, were with the Northern men who had
Southern principles until the civil war came. After the war, when our
political questions ceased to be moral and emotional and became economic
and sociological, literary men found their standing with greater
difficulty. They remained mostly Republicans, because the Republicans
were the anti-slavery party, and were still waging war against slavery in
their nerves.

I should say that they also continued very largely the emotional
tradition in politics, and it is doubtful if in the nature of things the
politics of literary men can ever be otherwise than emotional. In fact,
though the questions may no longer be so, the politics of vastly the
greater number of Americans are so. Nothing else would account for the
fact that during the last ten or fifteen years men have remained
Republicans and remained Democrats upon no tangible issues except of
office, which could practically concern only a few hundreds or thousands
out of every million voters. Party fealty is praised as a virtue, and
disloyalty to party is treated as a species of incivism next in
wickedness to treason. If any one were to ask me why then American
authors were not active in American politics, as they once were, I should
feel a certain diffidence in replying that the question of other people's
accession to office was, however emotional, unimportant to them as
compared with literary questions. I should have the more diffidence
because it might be retorted that literary men were too unpractical for
politics when they did not deal with moral issues.

Such a retort would be rather mild and civil, as things go, and might
even be regarded as complimentary. It is not our custom to be tender
with any one who doubts if any actuality is right, or might not be
bettered, especially in public affairs. We are apt to call such a one
out of his name and to punish him for opinions he has never held. This
may be a better reason than either given why authors do not take part in
politics with us. They are a thin-skinned race, fastidious often, and
always averse to hard knocks; they are rather modest, too, and distrust
their fitness to lead, when they have quite a firm faith in their
convictions. They hesitate to urge these in the face of practical
politicians, who have a confidence in their ability to settle all affairs
of State not surpassed even by that of business men in dealing with
economic questions.

I think it is a pity that our authors do not go into politics at least
for the sake of the material it would yield them; but really they do not.
Our politics are often vulgar, but they are very picturesque; yet, so
far, our fiction has shunned them even more decidedly than it has shunned
our good society--which is not picturesque or apparently anything but a
tiresome adaptation of the sort of drama that goes on abroad under the
same name. In nearly the degree that our authors have dealt with our
politics as material, they have given the practical politicians only too
much reason to doubt their insight and their capacity to understand the
mere machinery, the simplest motives, of political life.

II.

There are exceptions, of course, and if my promise of reticence did not
withhold me I might name some striking ones. Privately and
unprofessionally, I think our authors take as vivid an interest in public
affairs as any other class of our citizens, and I should be sorry to
think that they took a less intelligent interest. Now and then, but only
very rarely, one of them speaks out, and usually on the unpopular side.
In this event he is spared none of the penalties with which we like to
visit difference of opinion; rather they are accumulated on him.

Such things are not serious, and they are such as no serious man need
shrink from, but they have a bearing upon what I am trying to explain,
and in a certain measure they account for a certain attitude in our
literary men. No one likes to have stones, not to say mud, thrown at
him, though they are not meant to hurt him badly and may be partly thrown
in joke. But it is pretty certain that if a man not in politics takes
them seriously, he will have more or less mud, not to say stones, thrown
at him. He might burlesque or caricature them, or misrepresent them,
with safety; but if he spoke of public questions with heart and
conscience, he could not do it with impunity, unless he were authorized
to do so by some practical relation to them. I do not mean that then he
would escape; but in this country, where there were once supposed to be
no classes, people are more strictly classified than in any other.
Business to the business man, law to the lawyer, medicine to the
physician, politics to the politician, and letters to the literary man;
that is the rule. One is not expected to transcend his function, and
commonly one does not. We keep each to his last, as if there were not
human interests, civic interests, which had a higher claim than the last
upon our thinking and feeling. The tendency has grown upon us severally
and collectively through the long persistence of our prosperity; if
public affairs were going ill, private affairs were going so well that we
did not mind the others; and we Americans are, I think, meridional in our
improvidence. We are so essentially of to-day that we behave as if to-
morrow no more concerned us than yesterday. We have taught ourselves to
believe that it will all come out right in the end so long that we have
come to act upon our belief; we are optimistic fatalists.

III.

The turn which our politics have taken towards economics, if I may so
phrase the rise of the questions of labor and capital, has not largely
attracted literary men. It is doubtful whether Edward Bellamy himself,
whose fancy of better conditions has become the abiding faith of vast
numbers of Americans, supposed that he was entering the field of
practical politics, or dreamed of influencing elections by his hopes of
economic equality. But he virtually founded the Populist party, which,
as the vital principle of the Democratic party, came so near electing its
candidate for the Presidency some years ago; and he is to be named first
among our authors who have dealt with politics on their more human side
since the days of the old antislavery agitation. Without too great
disregard of the reticence concerning the living which I promised myself,
I may mention Dr. Edward Everett Hale and Colonel Thomas Wentworth
Higginson as prominent authors who encouraged the Nationalist movement
eventuating in Populism, though they were never Populists. It may be
interesting to note that Dr. Hale and Colonel Higginson, who later came
together in their sociological sympathies, were divided by the schism of
1884, when the first remained with the Republicans and the last went off
to the Democrats. More remotely, Colonel Higginson was anti slavery
almost to the point of Abolitionism, and he led a negro regiment in the
war. Dr. Hale was of those who were less radically opposed to slavery
before the war, but hardly so after it came. Since the war a sort of
refluence of the old anti-slavery politics carried from his moorings in
Southern tradition Mr. George W. Cable, who, against the white sentiment
of his section, sided with the former slaves, and would, if the indignant
renunciation of his fellow-Southerners could avail, have consequently
ceased to be the first of Southern authors, though he would still have
continued the author of at least one of the greatest American novels.

If I must burn my ships behind me in alleging these modern instances, as
I seem really to be doing, I may mention Mr. R. W. Gilder, the poet, as
an author who has taken part in the politics of municipal reform, Mr.
Hamlin Garland has been known from the first as a zealous George man, or
single-taxer. Mr. John Hay, Mr. Theodore Roosevelt, and Mr. Henry Cabot
Lodge are Republican politicians, as well as recognized literary men.
Mr. Joel Chandler Harris, when not writing Uncle Remus, writes political
articles in a leading Southern journal. Mark Twain is a leading anti-
imperialist.

IV.

I am not sure whether I have made out a case for our authors or against
them; perhaps I have not done so badly; but I have certainly not tried to
be exhaustive; the exhaustion is so apt to extend from the subject to the
reader, and I wish to leave him in a condition to judge for himself
whether American literary men take part in American politics or not.
I think they bear their share, in the quieter sort of way which we hope
(it may be too fondly) is the American way. They are none of them
politicians in the Latin sort. Few, if any, of our statesmen have come
forward with small volumes of verse in their hands as they used to do in
Spain; none of our poets or historians have been chosen Presidents of the
republic as has happened to their French confreres; no great novelist of
ours has been exiled as Victor Hugo was, or atrociously mishandled as
Zola has been, though I have no doubt that if, for instance, one had once
said the Spanish war wrong he would be pretty generally 'conspue'.
They have none of them reached the heights of political power, as several
English authors have done; but they have often been ambassadors,
ministers, and consuls, though they may not often have been appointed for
political reasons. I fancy they discharge their duties in voting rather
faithfully, though they do not often take part in caucuses or
conventions.

As for the other half of the question--how far American politicians are
scholars--one's first impulse would be to say that they never were so.
But I have always had an heretical belief that there were snakes in
Ireland; and it may be some such disposition to question authority that
keeps me from yielding to this impulse. The law of demand and supply
alone ought to have settled the question in favor of the presence of the
scholar in our politics, there has been such a cry for him among us for
almost a generation past. Perhaps the response has not been very direct,
but I imagine that our politicians have never been quite so destitute of
scholarship as they would sometimes make appear. I do not think so many
of them now write a good style, or speak a good style, as the politicians
of forty, or fifty, or sixty years ago; but this may be merely part of
the impression of the general worsening of things, familiar after middle
life to every one's experience, from the beginning of recorded time. If
something not so literary is meant by scholarship, if a study of finance,
of economics, of international affairs is in question, it seems to go on
rather more to their own satisfaction than that of their critics. But
without being always very proud of the result, and without professing to
know the facts very profoundly, one may still suspect that under an
outside by no means academic there is a process of thinking in our
statesmen which is not so loose, not so unscientific, and not even so
unscholarly as it might be supposed. It is not the effect of specific
training, and yet it is the effect of training. I do not find that the
matters dealt with are anywhere in the world intrusted to experts; and in
this sense scholarship has not been called to the aid of our legislation
or administration; but still I should not like to say that none of our
politicians were scholars. That would be offensive, and it might not be
true. In fact, I can think of several whom I should be tempted to call
scholars if I were not just here recalled to a sense of my purpose not to
deal quite frankly with this inquiry.

STORAGE

It has been the belief of certain kindly philosophers that if the one
half of mankind knew how the other half lived, the two halves might be
brought together in a family affection not now so observable in human
relations. Probably if this knowledge were perfect, there would still be
things, to bar the perfect brotherhood; and yet the knowledge itself is
so interesting, if not so salutary as it has been imagined, that one can
hardly refuse to impart it if one has it, and can reasonably hope, in the
advantage of the ignorant, to find one's excuse with the better informed.

I.

City and country are still so widely apart in every civilization that one
can safely count upon a reciprocal strangeness in many every-day things.
For instance, in the country, when people break up house-keeping, they
sell their household goods and gods, as they did in cities fifty or a
hundred years ago; but now in cities they simply store them; and vast
warehouses in all the principal towns have been devoted to their storage.
The warehouses are of all types, from dusty lofts over stores, and
ammoniacal lofts over stables, to buildings offering acres of space, and
carefully planned for the purpose. They are more or less fire-proof,
slow-burning, or briskly combustible, like the dwellings they have
devastated. But the modern tendency is to a type where flames do not
destroy, nor moth corrupt, nor thieves break through and steal. Such a
warehouse is a city in itself, laid out in streets and avenues, with the
private tenements on either hand duly numbered, and accessible only to
the tenants or their order. The aisles are concreted, the doors are
iron, and the roofs are ceiled with iron; the whole place is heated by
steam and lighted by electricity. Behind the iron doors, which in the
New York warehouses must number hundreds of thousands, and throughout all
our other cities, millions, the furniture of a myriad households is
stored--the effects of people who have gone to Europe, or broken up
house-keeping provisionally or definitively, or have died, or been
divorced. They are the dead bones of homes, or their ghosts, or their
yet living bodies held in hypnotic trances; destined again in some future
time to animate some house or flat anew. In certain cases the spell
lasts for many years, in others for a few, and in others yet it prolongs
itself indefinitely.

I may mention the case of one owner whom I saw visiting the warehouse to
take out the household stuff that had lain there a long fifteen years.
He had been all that while in Europe, expecting any day to come home and
begin life again, in his own land. That dream had passed, and now he was
taking his stuff out of storage and shipping it to Italy. I did not envy
him his feelings as the parts of his long-dead past rose round him in
formless resurrection. It was not that they were all broken or defaced.
On the contrary, they were in a state of preservation far more
heartbreaking than any decay. In well-managed storage warehouses the
things are handled with scrupulous care, and they are so packed into the
appointed rooms that if not disturbed they could suffer little harm in
fifteen or fifty years. The places are wonderfully well kept, and if you
will visit them, say in midwinter, after the fall influx of furniture has
all been hidden away behind the iron doors of the several cells, you
shall find their far-branching corridors scrupulously swept and dusted,
and shall walk up and down their concrete length with some such sense of
secure finality as you would experience in pacing the aisle of your
family vault.

That is what it comes to. One may feign that these storage warehouses
are cities, but they are really cemeteries: sad columbaria on whose
shelves are stowed exanimate things once so intimately of their owners'
lives that it is with the sense of looking at pieces and bits of one's
dead self that one revisits them. If one takes the fragments out to fit
them to new circumstance, one finds them not only uncomformable and
incapable, but so volubly confidential of the associations in which they
are steeped, that one wishes to hurry them back to their cell and lock it
upon them forever. One feels then that the old way was far better, and
that if the things had been auctioned off, and scattered up and down, as
chance willed, to serve new uses with people who wanted them enough to
pay for them even a tithe of their cost, it would have been wiser.
Failing this, a fire seems the only thing for them, and their removal to
the cheaper custody of a combustible or slow-burning warehouse the best
recourse. Desperate people, aging husbands and wives, who have attempted
the reconstruction of their homes with these

"Portions and parcels of the dreadful past"

have been known to wish for an earthquake, even, that would involve their
belongings in an indiscriminate ruin.

II.

In fact, each new start in life should be made with material new to you,
if comfort is to attend the enterprise. It is not only sorrowful but it
is futile to store your possessions, if you hope to find the old
happiness in taking them out and using them again. It is not that they
will not go into place, after a fashion, and perform their old office,
but that the pang they will inflict through the suggestion of the other
places where they served their purpose in other years will be only the
keener for the perfection with which they do it now. If they cannot be
sold, and if no fire comes down from heaven to consume them, then they
had better be stored with no thought of ever taking them out again.

That will be expensive, or it will be inexpensive, according to the sort
of storage they are put into. The inexperienced in such matters may be
surprised, and if they have hearts they may be grieved, to learn that the
fire-proof storage of the furniture of the average house would equal the
rent of a very comfortable domicile in a small town, or a farm by which a
family's living can be earned, with a decent dwelling in which it can be
sheltered. Yet the space required is not very great; three fair-sized
rooms will hold everything; and there is sometimes a fierce satisfaction
in seeing how closely the things that once stood largely about, and
seemed to fill ample parlors and chambers, can be packed away. To be
sure they are not in their familiar attitudes; they lie on their sides or
backs, or stand upon their heads; between the legs of library or dining
tables are stuffed all kinds of minor movables, with cushions, pillows,
pictures, cunningly adjusted to the environment; and mattresses pad the
walls, or interpose their soft bulk between pieces of furniture that
would otherwise rend each other. Carpets sewn in cotton against moths,
and rugs in long rolls; the piano hovering under its ample frame a whole
brood of helpless little guitars, mandolins, and banjos, and supporting
on its broad back a bulk of lighter cases to the fire-proof ceiling of
the cell; paintings in boxes indistinguishable outwardly from their
companioning mirrors; barrels of china and kitchen utensils, and all the
what-not of householding and house-keeping contribute to the repletion.

There is a science observed in the arrangement of the various effects;
against the rear wall and packed along the floor, and then in front of
and on top of these, is built a superstructure of the things that may be
first wanted, in case of removal, or oftenest wanted in some exigency of
the homeless life of the owners, pending removal. The lightest and
slightest articles float loosely about the door, or are interwoven in a
kind of fabric just within, and curtaining the ponderous mass behind.
The effect is not so artistic as the mortuary mosaics which the Roman
Capuchins design with the bones of their dead brethren in the crypt of
their church, but the warehousemen no doubt have their just pride in it,
and feel an artistic pang in its provisional or final disturbance.

It had better never be disturbed, for it is disturbed only in some futile
dream of returning to the past; and we never can return to the past on
the old terms. It is well in all things to accept life implicitly, and
when an end has come to treat it as the end, and not vainly mock it as a
suspense of function. When the poor break up their homes, with no
immediate hope of founding others, they must sell their belongings
because they cannot afford to pay storage on them. The rich or richer
store their household effects, and cheat themselves with the illusion
that they are going some time to rehabilitate with them just such a home
as they have dismantled. But the illusion probably deceives nobody so
little as those who cherish the vain hope. As long as they cherish it,
however--and they must cherish it till their furniture or themselves fall
to dust--they cannot begin life anew, as the poor do who have kept
nothing of the sort to link them to the past. This is one of the
disabilities of the prosperous, who will probably not be relieved of it
till some means of storing the owner as well as the' furniture is
invented. In the immense range of modern ingenuity, this is perhaps not
impossible. Why not, while we are still in life, some sweet oblivious
antidote which shall drug us against memory, and after time shall elapse
for the reconstruction of a new home in place of the old, shall repossess
us of ourselves as unchanged as the things with which we shall again
array it? Here is a pretty idea for some dreamer to spin into the filmy
fabric of a romance, and I handsomely make a present of it to the first
comer. If the dreamer is of the right quality he will know how to make
the reader feel that with the universal longing to return to former
conditions or circumstances it must always be a mistake to do so, and he
will subtly insinuate the disappointment and discomfort of the stored
personality in resuming its old relations. With that just mixture of the
comic and pathetic which we desire in romance, he will teach convincingly
that a stored personality is to be desired only if it is permanently
stored, with the implication of a like finality in the storage of its
belongings.

Save in some signal exception, a thing taken out of storage cannot be
established in its former function without a sense of its comparative
inadequacy. It stands in the old place, it serves the old use, and yet
a new thing would be better; it would even in some subtle wise be more
appropriate, if I may indulge so audacious a paradox; for the time is
new, and so will be all the subconscious keeping in which our lives are
mainly passed. We are supposed to have associations with the old things
which render them precious, but do not the associations rather render
them painful? If that is true of the inanimate things, how much truer it
is of those personalities which once environed and furnished our lives!
Take the article of old friends, for instance: has it ever happened to
the reader to witness the encounter of old friends after the lapse of
years? Such a meeting is conventionally imagined to be full of tender
joy, a rapture that vents itself in manly tears, perhaps, and certainly
in womanly tears. But really is it any such emotion? Honestly is not it
a cruel embarrassment, which all the hypocritical pretences cannot hide?
The old friends smile and laugh, and babble incoherently at one another,
but are they genuinely glad? Is not each wishing the other at that end
of the earth from which he came? Have they any use for each other such
as people of unbroken associations have?

I have lately been privy to the reunion of two old comrades who are bound
together more closely than most men in a community of interests,
occupations, and ideals. During a long separation they had kept account
of each other's opinions as well as experiences; they had exchanged
letters, from time to time, in which they opened their minds fully to
each other, and found themselves constantly in accord. When they met
they made a great shouting, and each pretended that he found the other
just what he used to be. They talked a long, long time, fighting the
invisible enemy which they felt between them. The enemy was habit, the
habit of other minds and hearts, the daily use of persons and things
which in their separation they had not had in common. When the old
friends parted they promised to meet every day, and now, since their
lines had been cast in the same places again, to repair the ravage of the
envious years, and become again to each other all that they had ever
been. But though they live in the same town, and often dine at the same
table, and belong to the same club, yet they have not grown together
again. They have grown more and more apart, and are uneasy in each
other's presence, tacitly self-reproachful for the same effect which
neither of them could avert or repair. They had been respectively in
storage, and each, in taking the other out, has experienced in him the
unfitness which grows upon the things put away for a time and reinstated
in a former function.

III.

I have not touched upon these facts of life, without the purpose of
finding some way out of the coil. There seems none better than the
counsel of keeping one's face set well forward, and one's eyes fixed
steadfastly upon the future. This is the hint we will get from nature if
we will heed her, and note how she never recurs, never stores or takes
out of storage. Fancy rehabilitating one's first love: how nature would
mock at that! We cannot go back and be the men and women we were, any
more than we can go back and be children. As we grow older, each year's
change in us is more chasmal and complete. There is no elixir whose
magic will recover us to ourselves as we were last year; but perhaps we
shall return to ourselves more and more in the times, or the eternity, to
come. Some instinct or inspiration implies the promise of this, but only
on condition that we shall not cling to the life that has been ours, and
hoard its mummified image in our hearts. We must not seek to store
ourselves, but must part with what we were for the use and behoof of
others, as the poor part with their worldly gear when they move from one
place to another. It is a curious and significant property of our
outworn characteristics that, like our old furniture, they will serve
admirably in the life of some other, and that this other can profitably
make them his when we can no longer keep them ours, or ever hope to
resume them. They not only go down to successive generations, but they
spread beyond our lineages, and serve the turn of those whom we never
knew to be within the circle of our influence.

Civilization imparts itself by some such means, and the lower classes are
clothed in the cast conduct of the upper, which if it had been stored
would have left the inferiors rude and barbarous. We have only to think
how socially naked most of us would be if we had not had the beautiful
manners of our exclusive society to put on at each change of fashion when
it dropped them.

All earthly and material things should be worn out with use, and not
preserved against decay by any unnatural artifice. Even when broken and
disabled from overuse they have a kind of respectability which must
commend itself to the observer, and which partakes of the pensive grace
of ruin. An old table with one leg gone, and slowly lapsing to decay in
the woodshed, is the emblem of a fitter order than the same table, with
all its legs intact, stored with the rest of the furniture from a broken
home. Spinning-wheels gathering dust in the garret of a house that is
itself falling to pieces have a dignity that deserts them when they are
dragged from their refuge, and furbished up with ribbons and a tuft of
fresh tow, and made to serve the hollow occasions of bric-a-brac, as they
were a few years ago. A pitcher broken at the fountain, or a battered
kettle on a rubbish heap, is a venerable object, but not crockery and
copper-ware stored in the possibility of future need. However carefully
handed down from one generation to another, the old objects have a
forlorn incongruity in their successive surroundings which appeals to the
compassion rather than the veneration of the witness.

It was from a truth deeply mystical that Hawthorne declared against any
sort of permanence in the dwellings of men, and held that each generation
should newly house itself. He preferred the perishability of the wooden
American house to the durability of the piles of brick or stone which in
Europe affected him as with some moral miasm from the succession of sires
and sons and grandsons that had died out of them. But even of such
structures as these it is impressive how little the earth makes with the
passage of time. Where once a great city of them stood, you shall find a
few tottering walls, scarcely more mindful of the past than "the cellar
and the well" which Holmes marked as the ultimate monuments, the last
witnesses, to the existence of our more transitory habitations. It is
the law of the patient sun that everything under it shall decay, and if
by reason of some swift calamity, some fiery cataclysm, the perishable
shall be overtaken by a fate that fixes it in unwasting arrest, it cannot
be felt that the law has been set aside in the interest of men's
happiness or cheerfulness. Neither Pompeii nor Herculaneum invites the
gayety of the spectator, who as he walks their disinterred thoroughfares
has the weird sense of taking a former civilization out of storage, and
the ache of finding it wholly unadapted to the actual world. As far as
his comfort is concerned, it had been far better that those cities had
not been stored, but had fallen to the ruin that has overtaken all their
contemporaries.

IV

No, good friend, sir or madam, as the case may be, but most likely madam:
if you are about to break up your household for any indefinite period,
and are not so poor that you need sell your things, be warned against
putting them in storage, unless of the most briskly combustible type.
Better, far better, give them away, and disperse them by that means to a
continuous use that shall end in using them up; or if no one will take
them, then hire a vacant lot, somewhere, and devote them to the flames.
By that means you shall bear witness against a custom that insults the
order of nature, and crowds the cities with the cemeteries of dead homes,
where there is scarcely space for the living homes. Do not vainly fancy
that you shall take your stuff out of storage and find it adapted to the
ends that it served before it was put in. You will not be the same, or
have the same needs or desire, when you take it out, and the new place
which you shall hope to equip with it will receive it with cold
reluctance, or openly refuse it, insisting upon forms and dimensions that
render it ridiculous or impossible. The law is that nothing taken out of
storage is the same as it was when put in, and this law, hieroglyphed in
those rude 'graffiti' apparently inscribed by accident in the process of
removal, has only such exceptions as prove the rule.

The world to which it has returned is not the same, and that makes all
the difference. Yet, truth and beauty do not change, however the moods
and fashions change. The ideals remain, and these alone you can go back
to, secure of finding them the same, to-day and to-morrow, that they were
yesterday. This perhaps is because they have never been in storage, but
in constant use, while the moods and fashions have been put away and
taken out a thousand times. Most people have never had ideals, but only
moods and fashions, but such people, least of all, are fitted to find in
them that pleasure of the rococo which consoles the idealist when the old
moods and fashions reappear.

"FLOATING DOWN THE RIVER ON THE O-HI-O"

There was not much promise of pleasure in the sodden afternoon of a mid-
March day at Pittsburg, where the smoke of a thousand foundry chimneys
gave up trying to rise through the thick, soft air, and fell with the
constant rain which it dyed its own black. But early memories stirred
joyfully in the two travellers in whose consciousness I was making my
tour, at sight of the familiar stern-wheel steamboat lying beside the
wharf boat at the foot of the dilapidated levee, and doing its best to
represent the hundreds of steamboats that used to lie there in the old
days. It had the help of three others in its generous effort, and the
levee itself made a gallant pretence of being crowded with freight, and
succeeded in displaying several saturated piles of barrels and
agricultural implements on the irregular pavement whose wheel-worn
stones, in long stretches, were sunken out of sight in their parent mud.
The boats and the levee were jointly quite equal to the demand made upon
them by the light-hearted youngsters of sixty-five and seventy, who were
setting out on their journey in fulfilment of a long-cherished dream, and
for whom much less freight and much fewer boats would have rehabilitated
the past.

I.

When they mounted the broad stairway, tidily strewn with straw to save it
from the mud of careless boots, and entered the long saloon of the
steamboat, the promise of their fancy was more than made good for them.
From the clerk's office, where they eagerly paid their fare, the saloon
stretched two hundred feet by thirty away to the stern, a cavernous
splendor of white paint and gilding, starred with electric bulbs, and
fenced at the stern with wide windows of painted glass. Midway between
the great stove in the bow where the men were herded, and the great stove
at the stern where the women kept themselves in the seclusion which the
tradition of Western river travel still guards, after well-nigh a hundred
years, they were given ample state-rooms, whose appointments so exactly
duplicated those they remembered from far-off days that they could have
believed themselves awakened from a dream of insubstantial time, with the
events in which it had seemed to lapse, mere feints of experience. When
they sat down at the supper-table and were served with the sort of
belated steamboat dinner which it recalled as vividly, the kind, sooty
faces and snowy aprons of those who served them were so quite those of
other days that they decided all repasts since were mere Barmecide
feasts, and made up for the long fraud practised upon them with the
appetites of the year 1850.

II.

A rigider sincerity than shall be practised here might own that the table
of the good steamboat 'Avonek' left something to be desired, if tested by
more sophisticated cuisines, but in the article of corn-bread it was of
an inapproachable preeminence. This bread was made of the white corn
which North knows not, nor the hapless East; and the buckwheat cakes at
breakfast were without blame, and there was a simple variety in the
abundance which ought to have satisfied if it did not flatter the choice.
The only thing that seemed strangely, that seemed sadly, anomalous in a
land flowing with ham and bacon was that the 'Avonek' had not imagined
providing either for the guests, no one of whom could have had a
religious scruple against them.

The thing, indeed, which was first and last conspicuous in the
passengers, was their perfectly American race and character. At the
start, when with an acceptable observance of Western steamboat tradition
the 'Avonek' left her wharf eight hours behind her appointed time, there
were very few passengers; but they began to come aboard at the little
towns of both shores as she swam southward and westward, till all the
tables were so full that, in observance of another Western steamboat
tradition; one did well to stand guard over his chair lest some other who
liked it should seize it earlier. The passengers were of every age and
condition, except perhaps the highest condition, and they seemed none the
worse for being more like Americans of the middle of the last century
than of the beginning of this. Their fashions were of an approximation
to those of the present, but did not scrupulously study detail; their
manners were those of simpler if not sincerer days.

The women kept to themselves at their end of the saloon, aloof from the
study of any but their husbands or kindred, but the men were everywhere
else about, and open to observation. They were not so open to
conversation, for your mid-Westerner is not a facile, though not an
unwilling, talker. They sat by their tall, cast-iron stove (of the oval
pattern unvaried since the earliest stove of the region), and silently
ruminated their tobacco and spat into the clustering, cuspidors at their
feet. They would always answer civilly if questioned, and oftenest
intelligently, but they asked nothing in return, and they seemed to have
none of that curiosity once known or imagined in them by Dickens and
other averse aliens. They had mostly faces of resolute power, and such a
looking of knowing exactly what they wanted as would not have promised
well for any collectively or individually opposing them. If ever the
sense of human equality has expressed itself in the human countenance it
speaks unmistakably from American faces like theirs.

They were neither handsome nor unhandsome; but for a few striking
exceptions, they had been impartially treated by nature; and where they
were notably plain their look of force made up for their lack of beauty.
They were notably handsomest in a tall young fellow of a lean face,
absolute Greek in profile, amply thwarted with a branching mustache, and
slender of figure, on whom his clothes, lustrous from much sitting down
and leaning up, grew like the bark on a tree, and who moved slowly and
gently about, and spoke with a low, kind voice. In his young comeliness
he was like a god, as the gods were fancied in the elder world: a chewing
and a spitting god, indeed, but divine in his passionless calm.

He was a serious divinity, and so were all the mid-Western human-beings
about him. One heard no joking either of the dapper or cockney sort of
cities, or the quaint graphic phrasing of Eastern country folk; and it
may have been not far enough West for the true Western humor. At any
rate, when they were not silent these men still were serious.

The women were apparently serious, too, and where they were associated
with the men were, if they were not really subject, strictly abeyant, in
the spectator's eye. The average of them was certainly not above the
American woman's average in good looks, though one young mother of six
children, well grown save for the baby in her arms, was of the type some
masters loved to paint, with eyes set wide under low arched brows. She
had the placid dignity and the air of motherly goodness which goes fitly
with such beauty, and the sight of her was such as to disperse many of
the misgivings that beset the beholder who looketh upon the woman when
she is New. As she seemed, so any man might wish to remember his mother
seeming.

All these river folk, who came from the farms and villages along the
stream, and never from the great towns or cities, were well mannered, if
quiet manners are good; and though the men nearly all chewed tobacco and
spat between meals, at the table they were of an exemplary behavior. The
use of the fork appeared strange to them, and they handled it strenuously
rather than agilely, yet they never used their knives shovel-wise,
however they planted their forks like daggers in the steak: the steak
deserved no gentler usage, indeed. They were usually young, and they
were constantly changing, bent upon short journeys between the shore
villages; they were mostly farm youth, apparently, though some were said
to be going to find work at the great potteries up the river for wages
fabulous to home-keeping experience.

One personality which greatly took the liking of one of our tourists was
a Kentucky mountaineer who, after three years' exile in a West Virginia
oil town, was gladly returning to the home for which he and all his
brood-of large and little comely, red-haired boys and girls-had never
ceased to pine. His eagerness to get back was more than touching; it was
awing; for it was founded on a sort of mediaeval patriotism that could
own no excellence beyond the borders of the natal region. He had
prospered at high wages in his trade at that oil town, and his wife and
children had managed a hired farm so well as to pay all the family
expenses from it, but he was gladly leaving opportunity behind, that he
might return to a land where, if you were passing a house at meal-time,
they came out and made you come in and eat. "When you eat where I've
been living you pay fifty cents," he explained. "And are you taking all
your household stuff with you?" "Only the cook-stove. Well, I'll tell
you: we made the other things ourselves; made them out of plank, and they
were not worth-moving." Here was the backwoods surviving into the day of
Trusts; and yet we talk of a world drifted hopelessly far from the old
ideals!

III.

The new ideals, the ideals of a pitiless industrialism, were sufficiently
expressed along the busy shores, where the innumerable derricks of oil-
wells silhouetted their gibbet shapes against the horizon, and the myriad
chimneys of the foundries sent up the smoke of their torment into the
quiet skies and flamed upon the forehead of the evening like baleful
suns. But why should I be so violent of phrase against these guiltless
means of millionairing? There must be iron and coal as well as wheat and
corn in the world, and without their combination we cannot have bread.
If the combination is in the form of a trust, such as has laid its giant
clutch upon all those warring industries beside the Ohio and swept them
into one great monopoly, why, it has still to show that it is worse than
competition; that it is not, indeed, merely the first blind stirrings of
the universal cooperation of which the dreamers of ideal commonwealths
have always had the vision.

The derricks and the chimneys, when one saw them, seem to have all the
land to themselves; but this was an appearance only, terrifying in its
strenuousness, but not, after all, the prevalent aspect. That was rather
of farm, farms, and evermore farms, lying along the rich levels of the
stream, and climbing as far up its beautiful hills as the plough could
drive. In the spring and in the Mall, when it is suddenly swollen by the
earlier and the later rains, the river scales its banks and swims over
those levels to the feet of those hills, and when it recedes it leaves
the cornfields enriched for the crop that, has never failed since the
forests were first cut from the land. Other fertilizing the fields have
never had any, but they teem as if the guano islands had been emptied
into their laps. They feel themselves so rich that they part with great
lengths and breadths of their soil to the river, which is not good for
the river, and is not well for the fields; so that the farmers, whose
ease learns slowly, are beginning more and more to fence their borders
with the young willows which form a hedge in the shallow wash such a
great part of the way up and down the Ohio. Elms and maples wade in
among the willows, and in time the river will be denied the indigestion
which it confesses in shoals and bars at low water, and in a difficulty
of channel at all stages.

Meanwhile the fields flourish in spite of their unwise largesse to the
stream, whose shores the comfortable farmsteads keep so constantly that
they are never out of sight. Most commonly they are of brick, but
sometimes of painted wood, and they are set on little eminences high
enough to save them from the freshets, but always so near the river that
they cannot fail of its passing life. Usually a group of planted
evergreens half hides the house from the boat, but its inmates will not
lose any detail of the show, and come down to the gate of the paling
fence to watch the 'Avonek' float by: motionless men and women, who lean
upon the supporting barrier, and rapt children who hold by their skirts
and hands. There is not the eager New England neatness about these
homes; now and then they have rather a sloven air, which does not discord
with their air of comfort; and very, very rarely they stagger drunkenly
in a ruinous neglect. Except where a log cabin has hardily survived the
pioneer period, the houses are nearly all of one pattern; their facades
front the river, and low chimneys point either gable, where a half-story
forms the attic of the two stories below. Gardens of pot-herbs flank
them, and behind cluster the corn-cribs, and the barns and stables
stretch into the fields that stretch out to the hills, now scantily
wooded, but ever lovely in the lines that change with the steamer's
course.

Except in the immediate suburbs of the large towns, there is no ambition
beyond that of rustic comfort in the buildings on the shore. There is no
such thing, apparently, as a summer cottage, with its mock humility of
name, up or down the whole tortuous length of the Ohio. As yet the land
is not openly depraved by shows of wealth; those who amass it either keep
it to themselves or come away to spend it in European travel, or pause to
waste it unrecognized on the ungrateful Atlantic seaboard. The only
distinctions that are marked are between the homes of honest industry
above the banks and the homes below them of the leisure, which it is
hoped is not dishonest. But, honest or dishonest, it is there apparently
to stay in the house-boats which line the shores by thousands, and repeat
on Occidental terms in our new land the river-life of old and far Cathay.

They formed the only feature of their travel which our tourists found
absolutely novel; they could clearly or dimly recall from the past every
other feature but the houseboats, which they instantly and gladly
naturalized to their memories of it. The houses had in common the form
of a freight-car set in a flat-bottomed boat; the car would be shorter or
longer, with one, or two, or three windows in its sides, and a section of
stovepipe softly smoking from its roof. The windows might be curtained
or they might be bare, but apparently there was no other distinction
among the houseboat dwellers, whose sluggish craft lay moored among the
willows, or tied to an elm or a maple, or even made fast to a stake on
shore. There were cases in which they had not followed the fall of the
river promptly enough, and lay slanted on the beach, or propped up to a
more habitable level on its slope; in a sole, sad instance, the house had
gone down with the boat and lay wallowing in the wash of the flood. But
they all gave evidence of a tranquil and unhurried life which the soul of
the beholder envied within him, whether it manifested itself in the lord
of the house-boat fishing from its bow, or the lady coming to cleanse
some household utensil at its stern. Infrequently a group of the house-
boat dwellers seemed to be drawing a net, and in one high event they
exhibited a good-sized fish of their capture, but nothing so strenuous
characterized their attitude on any other occasion. The accepted theory
of them was that they did by day as nearly nothing as men could do and
live, and that by night their forays on the bordering farms supplied the
simple needs of people who desired neither to toil nor to spin, but only
to emulate Solomon in his glory with the least possible exertion. The
joyful witness of their ease would willingly have sacrificed to them any
amount of the facile industrial or agricultural prosperity about them and
left them slumberously afloat, unmolested by dreams of landlord or tax-
gatherer. Their existence for the fleeting time seemed the true
interpretation of the sage's philosophy, the fulfilment of the poet's
aspiration.

"Why should we only toil, that are the roof and crown of things."

How did they pass their illimitable leisure, when they rested from the
fishing-net by day and the chicken-coop by night? Did they read the new
historical fictions aloud to one another? Did some of them even meditate
the thankless muse and not mind her ingratitude? Perhaps the ladies of
the house-boats, when they found themselves--as they often did--in
companies of four or five, had each other in to "evenings," at which one
of them read a paper on some artistic or literary topic.

IV.

The trader's boat, of an elder and more authentic tradition, sometimes
shouldered the house-boats away from a village landing, but it, too, was
a peaceful home, where the family life visibly went hand-in-hand with
commerce. When the trader has supplied all the wants and wishes of a
neighborhood, he unmoors his craft and drops down the river's tide to
where it meets the ocean's tide in the farthermost Mississippi, and there
either sells out both his boat and his stock, or hitches his home to some
returning steamboat, and climbs slowly, with many pauses, back to the
upper Ohio. But his home is not so interesting as that of the
houseboatman, nor so picturesque as that of the raftsman, whose floor of
logs rocks flexibly under his shanty, but securely rides the current. As
the pilots said, a steamboat never tries to hurt a raft of logs, which is
adapted to dangerous retaliation; and by night it always gives a wide
berth to the lantern tilting above the raft from a swaying pole. By day
the raft forms one of the pleasantest aspects of the river-life, with its
convoy of skiffs always searching the stream or shore for logs which have
broken from it, and which the skiffmen recognize by distinctive brands or
stamps. Here and there the logs lie in long ranks upon the shelving
beaches, mixed with the drift of trees and fence-rails, and frames of
corn-cribs and hencoops, and even house walls, which the freshets have
brought down and left stranded. The tops of the little willows are
tufted gayly with hay and rags, and other spoil of the flood; and in one
place a disordered mattress was lodged high among the boughs of a water-
maple, where it would form building material for countless generations of
birds. The fat cornfields were often littered with a varied wreckage
which the farmers must soon heap together and burn, to be rid of it, and
everywhere were proofs of the river's power to devastate as well as
enrich its shores. The dwellers there had no power against it, in its
moments of insensate rage, and the land no protection from its
encroachments except in the simple device of the willow hedges, which, if
planted, sometimes refused to grow, but often came of themselves and kept
the torrent from the loose, unfathomable soil of the banks, otherwise
crumbling helplessly into it.

The rafts were very well, and the house-boats and the traders' boats, but
the most majestic feature of the riverlife was the tow of coal-barges
which, going or coming, the 'Avonek' met every few miles. Whether going
or coming they were pushed, not pulled, by the powerful steamer which
gathered them in tens and twenties before her, and rode the mid-current
with them, when they were full, or kept the slower water near shore when
they were empty. They claimed the river where they passed, and the
'Avonek' bowed to an unwritten law in giving them the full right of way,
from the time when their low bulk first rose in sight, with the chimneys
of their steamer towering above them and her gay contours gradually
making themselves seen, till she receded from the encounter, with the
wheel at her stern pouring a cataract of yellow water from its blades.
It was insurpassably picturesque always, and not the tapering masts or
the swelling sails of any sea-going craft could match it.

V.

So at least the travellers thought who were here revisiting the earliest
scenes of childhood, and who perhaps found them unduly endeared. They
perused them mostly from an easy seat at the bow of the hurricane-deck,
and, whenever the weather favored them, spent the idle time in selecting
shelters for their declining years among the farmsteads that offered
themselves to their choice up and down the shores. The weather commonly
favored them, and there was at least one whole day on the lower river
when the weather was divinely flattering. The soft, dull air lulled
their nerves while it buffeted their faces, and the sun, that looked
through veils of mist and smoke, gently warmed their aging frames and
found itself again in their hearts. Perhaps it was there that the water-
elms and watermaples chiefly budded, and the red-birds sang, and the
drifting flocks of blackbirds called and clattered; but surely these also
spread their gray and pink against the sky and filled it with their
voices. There were meadow-larks and robins without as well as within,
and it was no subjective plough that turned the earliest furrows in those
opulent fields.

When they were tired of sitting there, they climbed, invited or
uninvited, but always welcomed, to the pilothouse, where either pilot of
the two who were always on watch poured out in an unstinted stream the
lore of the river on which all their days had been passed. They knew
from indelible association every ever-changing line of the constant
hills; every dwelling by the low banks; every aspect of the smoky towns;
every caprice of the river; every-tree, every stump; probably every bud
and bird in the sky. They talked only of the river; they cared for
nothing else. The Cuban cumber and the Philippine folly were equally far
from them; the German prince was not only as if he had never been here,
but as if he never had been; no public question concerned them but that
of abandoning the canals which the Ohio legislature was then foolishly
debating. Were not the canals water-ways, too, like the river, and if
the State unnaturally abandoned them would not it be for the behoof of
those railroads which the rivermen had always fought, and which would
have made a solitude of the river if they could?

But they could not, and there was nothing more surprising and delightful
in this blissful voyage than the evident fact that the old river traffic
had strongly survived, and seemed to be more strongly reviving. Perhaps
it was not; perhaps the fondness of those Ohio-river-born passengers was
abused by an illusion (as subjective as that of the buds and birds) of a
vivid variety of business and pleasure on the beloved stream. But again,
perhaps not. They were seldom out of sight of the substantial proofs of
both in the through or way packets they encountered, or the nondescript
steam craft that swarmed about the mouths of the contributory rivers, and
climbed their shallowing courses into the recesses of their remotest
hills, to the last lurking-places of their oil and coal.

VI.

The Avonek was always stopping to put off or take on merchandise or men.
She would stop for a single passenger, plaited in the mud with his
telescope valise or gripsack under the edge of a lonely cornfield, or to
gather upon her decks the few or many casks or bales that a farmer wished
to ship. She lay long hours by the wharf-boats of busy towns, exchanging
one cargo for another, in that anarchic fetching and carrying which we
call commerce, and which we drolly suppose to be governed by laws. But
wherever she paused or parted, she tested the pilot's marvellous skill;
for no landing, no matter how often she landed in the same place, could
be twice the same. At each return the varying stream and shore must be
studied, and every caprice of either divined. It was always a triumph,
a miracle, whether by day or by night, a constant wonder how under the
pilot's inspired touch she glided softly to her moorings, and without a
jar slipped from them again and went on her course.

But the landings by night were of course the finest. Then the wide fan
of the search-light was unfurled upon the point to be attained and the
heavy staging lowered from the bow to the brink, perhaps crushing the
willow hedges in it's fall, and scarcely touching the land before a
black, ragged deck-hand had run out through the splendor and made a line
fast to the trunk of the nearest tree. Then the work of lading or
unlading rapidly began in the witching play of the light that set into
radiant relief the black, eager faces and the black, eager figures of the
deck-hands struggling up or down the staging under boxes of heavy wares,
or kegs of nails, or bales of straw, or blocks of stone, steadily mocked
or cursed at in their shapeless effort, till the last of them reeled back
to the deck down the steep of the lifting stage, and dropped to his
broken sleep wherever he could coil himself, doglike, down among the
heaps of freight.

No dog, indeed, leads such a hapless life as theirs; and ah! and ah! why
should their sable shadows intrude in a picture that was meant to be all
so gay and glad? But ah! and ah! where, in what business of this hard
world, is not prosperity built upon the struggle of toiling men, who
still endeavor their poor best, and writhe and writhe under the burden of
their brothers above, till they lie still under the lighter load of their
mother earth?

ETEXT EDITOR'S BOOKMARKS:

Absence of distinction
Advertising
Aim at nothing higher than the amusement of your readers
Anise-seed bag
Any man's country could get on without him
Begun to fight with want from their cradles
Blasts of frigid wind swept the streets
Clemens is said to have said of bicycling
Could not, as the saying is, find a stone to throw at a dog
Disbeliever in punishments of all sorts
Do not want to know about such squalid lives
Early self-helpfulness of children is very remarkable
Encounter of old friends after the lapse of years
Even a day's rest is more than most people can bear
Eyes fixed steadfastly upon the future
Face that expresses care, even to the point of anxiety
For most people choice is a curse
General worsening of things, familiar after middle life
Happy in the indifference which ignorance breeds in us
Hard to think up anything new
Heart of youth aching for their stoical sorrows
Heighten our suffering by anticipation
If one were poor, one ought to be deserving
Lascivious and immodest as possible
Literary spirit is the true world-citizen
Look of challenge, of interrogation, almost of reproof
Malevolent agitators
Meet here to the purpose of a common ostentation
Neatness that brings despair
Noble uselessness
Openly depraved by shows of wealth
People have never had ideals, but only moods and fashions
People might oftener trust themselves to Providence
People of wealth and fashion always dissemble their joy
Plagiarism carries inevitable detection with it
Pure accident and by its own contributory negligence
Refused to see us as we see ourselves
Should be very sorry to do good, as people called it
So many millionaires and so many tramps
So touching that it brought the lump into my own throat
Solution of the problem how and where to spend the summer
Some of it's good, and most of it isn't
Some of us may be toys and playthings without reproach
Superiority one likes to feel towards the rich and great
Take our pleasures ungraciously
The old and ugly are fastidious as to the looks of others
They are so many and I am so few
Those who decide their fate are always rebelling against it
Those who work too much and those who rest too much
Unfailing American kindness
Visitors of the more inquisitive sex
We cannot all be hard-working donkeys
We who have neither youth nor beauty should always expect it
Whatever choice you make, you are pretty sure to regret it

MY LITERARY PASSIONS

By William Dean Howells

1895

BIBLIOGRAPHICAL.

I. THE BOOKCASE AT HOME
II. GOLDSMITH
III. CERVANTES
IV. IRVING
V. FIRST FICTION AND DRAMA
VI. LONGFELLOW'S "SPANISH STUDENT"
VII. SCOTT
VIII. LIGHTER FANCIES
IX. POPE
X. VARIOUS PREFERENCES
XI. UNCLE TOM'S CABIN
XII. OSSIAN
XIII. SHAKESPEARE
XIV. IK MARVEL
XV. DICKENS
XVI. WORDSWORTH, LOWELL, CHAUCER
XVII. MACAULAY.
XVIII. CRITICS AND REVIEWS.
XIX. A NON-LITERARY EPISODE
XX. THACKERAY
XXI. "LAZARILLO DE TORMES"
XXII. CURTIS, LONGFELLOW, SCHLEGEL
XXIII. TENNYSON
XXIV. HEINE
XXV. DE QUINCEY, GOETHE, LONGFELLOW.
XXVI. GEORGE ELIOT, HAWTHORNE, GOETHE, HEINE
XXVII. CHARLES READE
XXVIII. DANTE.
XXIX. GOLDONI, MANZONI, D'AZEGLIO
XXX. "PASTOR FIDO," "AMINTA," "ROMOLA," "YEAST," "PAUL FERROLL"
XXXI. ERCKMANN-CHATRIAN, BJORSTJERNE BJORNSON
XXXII. TOURGUENIEF, AUERBACH
XXXIII. CERTAIN PREFERENCES AND EXPERIENCES
XXXIV. VALDES, GALDOS, VERGA, ZOLA, TROLLOPE, HARDY
XXXV. TOLSTOY

BIBLIOGRAPHICAL

The papers collected here under the name of 'My Literary Passions' were
printed serially in a periodical of such vast circulation that they might
well have been supposed to have found there all the acceptance that could
be reasonably hoped for them. Nevertheless, they were reissued in a
volume the year after they first appeared, in 1895, and they had a
pleasing share of such favor as their author's books have enjoyed. But
it is to be doubted whether any one liked reading them so much as he
liked writing them--say, some time in the years 1893 and 1894, in a New
York flat, where he could look from his lofty windows over two miles and
a half of woodland in Central Park, and halloo his fancy wherever he
chose in that faery realm of books which he re-entered in reminiscences
perhaps too fond at times, and perhaps always too eager for the reader's
following. The name was thought by the friendly editor of the popular
publication where they were serialized a main part of such inspiration as
they might be conjectured to have, and was, as seldom happens with editor
and author, cordially agreed upon before they were begun.

The name says, indeed, so exactly and so fully what they are that little
remains for their bibliographer to add beyond the meagre historical
detail here given. Their short and simple annals could be eked out by
confidences which would not appreciably enrich the materials of the
literary history of their time, and it seems better to leave them to the
imagination of such posterity as they may reach. They are rather
helplessly frank, but not, I hope, with all their rather helpless
frankness, offensively frank. They are at least not part of the polemic
which their author sustained in the essays following them in this volume,
and which might have been called, in conformity with 'My Literary
Passions', by the title of 'My Literary Opinions' better than by the
vague name which they actually wear.

They deal, to be sure, with the office of Criticism and the art of
Fiction, and so far their present name is not a misnomer. It follows
them from an earlier date and could not easily be changed, and it may
serve to recall to an elder generation than this the time when their
author was breaking so many lances in the great, forgotten war between
Realism and Romanticism that the floor of the "Editor's Study" in
Harper's Magazine was strewn with the embattled splinters. The "Editor's
Study" is now quite another place, but he who originally imagined it in
1886, and abode in it until 1892, made it at once the scene of such
constant offence that he had no time, if he had the temper, for defence.
The great Zola, or call him the immense Zola, was the prime mover in the
attack upon the masters of the Romanticistic school; but he lived to own
that he had fought a losing fight, and there are some proofs that he was
right. The Realists, who were undoubtedly the masters of fiction in
their passing generation, and who prevailed not only in France, but in
Russia, in Scandinavia, in Spain, in Portugal, were overborne in all
Anglo-Saxon countries by the innumerable hosts of Romanticism, who to
this day possess the land; though still, whenever a young novelist does
work instantly recognizable for its truth and beauty among us, he is seen
and felt to have wrought in the spirit of Realism. Not even yet,
however, does the average critic recognize this, and such lesson as the
"Editor's Study" assumed to teach remains here in all its essentials for
his improvement.

Month after month for the six years in which the "Editor's Study"
continued in the keeping of its first occupant, its lesson was more or
less stormily delivered, to the exclusion, for the greater part, of other
prophecy, but it has not been found well to keep the tempestuous manner
along with the fulminant matter in this volume. When the author came to
revise the material, he found sins against taste which his zeal for
righteousness could not suffice to atone for. He did not hesitate to
omit the proofs of these, and so far to make himself not only a precept,
but an example in criticism. He hopes that in other and slighter things
he has bettered his own instruction, and that in form and in fact the
book is altogether less crude and less rude than the papers from which it
has here been a second time evolved.

The papers, as they appeared from month to month, were not the product of
those unities of time and place which were the happy conditioning of
'My Literary Passions.' They could not have been written in quite so
many places as times, but they enjoyed a comparable variety of origin.
Beginning in Boston, they were continued in a Boston suburb, on the
shores of Lake George, in a Western New York health resort, in Buffalo,
in Nahant; once, twice, and thrice in New York, with reversions to
Boston, and summer excursions to the hills and waters of New England,
until it seemed that their author had at last said his say, and he
voluntarily lapsed into silence with the applause of friends and enemies
alike.

The papers had made him more of the last than of the first, but not as
still appears to him with greater reason. At moments his deliverances
seemed to stir people of different minds to fury in two continents, so
far as they were English-speaking, and on the coasts of the seven seas;
and some of these came back at him with such violent personalities as it
is his satisfaction to remember that he never indulged in his attacks
upon their theories of criticism and fiction. His opinions were always
impersonal; and now as their manner rather than their make has been
slightly tempered, it may surprise the belated reader to learn that it
was the belief of one English critic that their author had "placed
himself beyond the pale of decency" by them. It ought to be less
surprising that, since these dreadful words were written of him, more
than one magnanimous Englishman has penitently expressed to the author
the feeling that he was not so far wrong in his overboldly hazarded
convictions. The penitence of his countrymen is still waiting
expression, but it may come to that when they have recurred to the
evidences of his offence in their present shape.

KITTERY POINT, MAINE, July, 1909.

MY LITERARY PASSIONS

I. THE BOOKCASE AT HOME

To give an account of one's reading is in some sort to give an account of
one's life; and I hope that I shall not offend those who follow me in
these papers, if I cannot help speaking of myself in speaking of the
authors I must call my masters: my masters not because they taught me
this or that directly, but because I had such delight in them that I
could not fail to teach myself from them whatever I was capable of
learning. I do not know whether I have been what people call a great
reader; I cannot claim even to have been a very wise reader; but I have
always been conscious of a high purpose to read much more, and more
discreetly, than I have ever really done, and probably it is from the
vantage-ground of this good intention that I shall sometimes be found
writing here rather than from the facts of the case.

But I am pretty sure that I began right, and that if I had always kept
the lofty level which I struck at the outset I should have the right to
use authority in these reminiscences without a bad conscience. I shall
try not to use authority, however, and I do not expect to speak here of
all my reading, whether it has been much or little, but only of those
books, or of those authors that I have felt a genuine passion for. I
have known such passions at every period of my life, but it is mainly of
the loves of my youth that I shall write, and I shall write all the more
frankly because my own youth now seems to me rather more alien than that
of any other person.

I think that I came of a reading race, which has always loved literature
in a way, and in spite of varying fortunes and many changes. From a
letter of my great-grandmother's written to a stubborn daughter upon some
unfilial behavior, like running away to be married, I suspect that she
was fond of the high-colored fiction of her day, for she tells the wilful
child that she has "planted a dagger in her mother's heart," and I should
not be surprised if it were from this fine-languaged lady that my
grandfather derived his taste for poetry rather than from his father, who
was of a worldly wiser mind. To be sure, he became a Friend by
Convincement as the Quakers say, and so I cannot imagine that he was
altogether worldly; but he had an eye to the main chance: he founded the
industry of making flannels in the little Welsh town where he lived, and
he seems to have grown richer, for his day and place, than any of us have
since grown for ours. My grandfather, indeed, was concerned chiefly in
getting away from the world and its wickedness. He came to this country
early in the nineteenth century and settled his family in a log-cabin in
the Ohio woods, that they might be safe from the sinister influences of
the village where he was managing some woollen-mills. But he kept his
affection for certain poets of the graver, not to say gloomier sort, and
he must have suffered his children to read them, pending that great
question of their souls' salvation which was a lifelong trouble to him.

My father, at any rate, had such a decided bent in the direction of
literature, that he was not content in any of his several economical
experiments till he became the editor of a newspaper, which was then the
sole means of satisfying a literary passion. His paper, at the date when
I began to know him, was a living, comfortable and decent, but without
the least promise of wealth in it, or the hope even of a much better
condition. I think now that he was wise not to care for the advancement
which most of us have our hearts set upon, and that it was one of his
finest qualities that he was content with a lot in life where he was not
exempt from work with his hands, and yet where he was not so pressed by
need but he could give himself at will not only to the things of the
spirit, but the things of the mind too. After a season of scepticism he
had become a religious man, like the rest of his race, but in his own
fashion, which was not at all the fashion of my grandfather: a Friend who
had married out of Meeting, and had ended a perfervid Methodist. My
father, who could never get himself converted at any of the camp-meetings
where my grandfather often led the forces of prayer to his support, and
had at last to be given up in despair, fell in with the writings of
Emanuel Swedenborg, and embraced the doctrine of that philosopher with a
content that has lasted him all the days of his many years. Ever since I
can remember, the works of Swedenborg formed a large part of his library;
he read them much himself, and much to my mother, and occasionally a
"Memorable Relation" from them to us children. But he did not force them
upon our notice, nor urge us to read them, and I think this was very
well. I suppose his conscience and his reason kept him from doing so.
But in regard to other books, his fondness was too much for him, and when
I began to show a liking for literature he was eager to guide my choice.

His own choice was for poetry, and the most of our library, which was not
given to theology, was given to poetry. I call it the library now, but
then we called it the bookcase, and that was what literally it was,
because I believe that whatever we had called our modest collection of
books, it was a larger private collection than any other in the town
where we lived. Still it was all held, and shut with glass doors, in a
case of very few shelves. It was not considerably enlarged during my
childhood, for few books came to my father as editor, and he indulged
himself in buying them even more rarely. My grandfather's book store
(it was also the village drug-store) had then the only stock of
literature for sale in the place; and once, when Harper & Brothers' agent
came to replenish it, be gave my father several volumes for review. One
of these was a copy of Thomson's Seasons, a finely illustrated edition,
whose pictures I knew long before I knew the poetry, and thought them the
most beautiful things that ever were. My father read passages of the
book aloud, and he wanted me to read it all myself. For the matter of
that he wanted me to read Cowper, from whom no one could get anything but
good, and he wanted me to read Byron, from whom I could then have got no
harm; we get harm from the evil we understand. He loved Burns, too, and
he used to read aloud from him, I must own, to my inexpressible
weariness. I could not away with that dialect, and I could not then feel
the charm of the poet's wit, nor the tender beauty of his pathos. Moore,
I could manage better; and when my father read "Lalla Rookh" to my mother
I sat up to listen, and entered into all the woes of Iran in the story of
the "Fire Worshippers." I drew the line at the "Veiled Prophet of
Khorassan," though I had some sense of the humor of the poet's conception
of the critic in "Fadladeen." But I liked Scott's poems far better, and
got from Ispahan to Edinburgh with a glad alacrity of fancy. I followed
the "Lady of the Lake" throughout, and when I first began to contrive
verses of my own I found that poem a fit model in mood and metre.

Among other volumes of verse on the top shelf of the bookcase, of which I
used to look at the outside without penetrating deeply within, were
Pope's translation of the Iliad and the Odyssey, and Dryden's Virgil,
pretty little tomes in tree-calf, published by James Crissy in
Philadelphia, and illustrated with small copper-plates, which somehow
seemed to put the matter hopelessly beyond me. It was as if they said to
me in so many words that literature which furnished the subjects of such
pictures I could not hope to understand, and need not try. At any rate,
I let them alone for the time, and I did not meddle with a volume of
Shakespeare, in green cloth and cruelly fine print, which overawed me in
like manner with its wood-cuts. I cannot say just why I conceived that
there was something unhallowed in the matter of the book; perhaps this
was a tint from the reputation of the rather profligate young man from
whom my father had it. If he were not profligate I ask his pardon. I
have not the least notion who he was, but that was the notion I had of
him, whoever he was, or wherever he now is. There may never have been
such a young man at all; the impression I had may have been pure
invention of my own, like many things with children, who do not very
distinctly know their dreams from their experiences, and live in the
world where both project the same quality of shadow.

There were, of course, other books in the bookcase, which my
consciousness made no account of, and I speak only of those I remember.
Fiction there was none at all that I can recall, except Poe's 'Tales of
the Grotesque and the Arabesque' (I long afflicted myself as to what
those words meant, when I might easily have asked and found out) and
Bulwer's Last Days of Pompeii, all in the same kind of binding. History
is known, to my young remembrance of that library, by a History of the
United States, whose dust and ashes I hardly made my way through; and by
a 'Chronicle of the Conquest of Granada', by the ever dear and precious
Fray Antonio Agapida, whom I was long in making out to be one and the
same as Washington Irving.

In school there was as little literature then as there is now, and I
cannot say anything worse of our school reading; but I was not really
very much in school, and so I got small harm from it. The printing-
office was my school from a very early date. My father thoroughly
believed in it, and he had his beliefs as to work, which he illustrated
as soon as we were old enough to learn the trade he followed. We could
go to school and study, or we could go into the printing-office and work,
with an equal chance of learning, but we could not be idle; we must do
something, for our souls' sake, though he was willing enough we should
play, and he liked himself to go into the woods with us, and to enjoy the
pleasures that manhood can share with childhood. I suppose that as the
world goes now we were poor. His income was never above twelve hundred a
year, and his family was large; but nobody was rich there or then; we
lived in the simple abundance of that time and place, and we did not know
that we were poor. As yet the unequal modern conditions were undreamed
of (who indeed could have dreamed of them forty or fifty years ago?) in
the little Southern Ohio town where nearly the whole of my most happy
boyhood was passed.

II. GOLDSMITH

When I began to have literary likings of my own, and to love certain
books above others, the first authors of my heart were Goldsmith,
Cervantes, and Irving. In the sharply foreshortened perspective of the
past I seem to have read them all at once, but I am aware of an order of
time in the pleasure they gave me, and I know that Goldsmith came first.
He came so early that I cannot tell when or how I began to read him, but
it must have been before I was ten years old. I read other books about
that time, notably a small book on Grecian and Roman mythology, which I
perused with such a passion for those pagan gods and goddesses that, if
it had ever been a question of sacrificing to Diana, I do not really know
whether I should have been able to refuse. I adored indiscriminately all
the tribes of nymphs and naiads, demigods and heroes, as well as the high
ones of Olympus; and I am afraid that by day I dwelt in a world peopled
and ruled by them, though I faithfully said my prayers at night, and fell
asleep in sorrow for my sins. I do not know in the least how Goldsmith's
Greece came into my hands, though I fancy it must have been procured for
me because of a taste which I showed for that kind of reading, and I can
imagine no greater luck for a small boy in a small town of Southwestern
Ohio well-nigh fifty years ago. I have the books yet; two little, stout
volumes in fine print, with the marks of wear on them, but without those
dishonorable blots, or those other injuries which boys inflict upon books
in resentment of their dulness, or out of mere wantonness. I was always
sensitive to the maltreatment of books; I could not bear to see a book
faced down or dogs-eared or broken-backed. It was like a hurt or an
insult to a thing that could feel.

Goldsmith's History of Rome came to me much later, but quite as
immemorably, and after I had formed a preference for the Greek Republics,
which I dare say was not mistaken. Of course I liked Athens best, and
yet there was something in the fine behavior of the Spartans in battle,
which won a heart formed for hero-worship. I mastered the notion of
their communism, and approved of their iron money, with the poverty it
obliged them to, yet somehow their cruel treatment of the Helots failed
to shock me; perhaps I forgave it to their patriotism, as I had to
forgive many ugly facts in the history of the Romans to theirs. There
was hardly any sort of bloodshed which I would not pardon in those days
to the slayers of tyrants; and the swagger form of such as despatched a
despot with a fine speech was so much to my liking that I could only
grieve that I was born too late to do and to say those things.

I do not think I yet felt the beauty of the literature which made them
all live in my fancy, that I conceived of Goldsmith as an artist using
for my rapture the finest of the arts; and yet I had been taught to see
the loveliness of poetry, and was already trying to make it on my own
poor account. I tried to make verses like those I listened to when my
father read Moore and Scott to my mother, but I heard them with no such
happiness as I read my beloved histories, though I never thought then of
attempting to write like Goldsmith. I accepted his beautiful work as
ignorantly as I did my other blessings. I was concerned in getting at
the Greeks and Romans, and I did not know through what nimble air and by
what lovely ways I was led to them. Some retrospective perception of
this came long afterward when I read his essays, and after I knew all of
his poetry, and later yet when I read the 'Vicar of Wakefield'; but for
the present my eyes were holden, as the eyes of a boy mostly are in the
world of art. What I wanted with my Greeks and Romans after I got at
them was to be like them, or at least to turn them to account in verse,
and in dramatic verse at that. The Romans were less civilized than the
Greeks, and so were more like boys, and more to a boy's purpose. I did
not make literature of the Greeks, but I got a whole tragedy out of the
Romans; it was a rhymed tragedy, and in octosyllabic verse, like the
"Lady of the Lake." I meant it to be acted by my schoolmates, but I am
not sure that I ever made it known to them. Still, they were not
ignorant of my reading, and I remember how proud I was when a certain
boy, who had always whipped me when we fought together, and so outranked
me in that little boys' world, once sent to ask me the name of the Roman
emperor who lamented at nightfall, when he had done nothing worthy, that
he had lost a day. The boy was going to use the story, in a composition,
as we called the school themes then, and I told him the emperor's name; I
could not tell him now without turning to the book.

My reading gave me no standing among the boys, and I did not expect it to
rank me with boys who were more valiant in fight or in play; and I have
since found that literature gives one no more certain station in the
world of men's activities, either idle or useful. We literary folk try
to believe that it does, but that is all nonsense. At every period of
life, among boys or men, we are accepted when they are at leisure, and
want to be amused, and at best we are tolerated rather than accepted.
I must have told the boys stories out of my Goldsmith's Greece and Rome,
or it would not have been known that I had read them, but I have no
recollection now of doing so, while I distinctly remember rehearsing the
allegories and fables of the 'Gesta Romanorum', a book which seems to
have been in my hands about the same time or a little later. I had a
delight in that stupid collection of monkish legends which I cannot
account for now, and which persisted in spite of the nightmare confusion
it made of my ancient Greeks and Romans. They were not at all the
ancient Greeks and Romans of Goldsmith's histories.

I cannot say at what times I read these books, but they must have been
odd times, for life was very full of play then, and was already beginning
to be troubled with work. As I have said, I was to and fro between the
schoolhouse and the printing-office so much that when I tired of the one
I must have been very promptly given my choice of the other. The
reading, however, somehow went on pretty constantly, and no doubt my love
for it won me a chance for it. There were some famous cherry-trees in
our yard, which, as I look back at them, seem to have been in flower or
fruit the year round; and in one of them there was a level branch where a
boy could sit with a book till his dangling legs went to sleep, or till
some idler or busier boy came to the gate and called him down to play
marbles or go swimming. When this happened the ancient world was rolled
up like a scroll, and put away until the next day, with all its orators
and conspirators, its nymphs and satyrs, gods and demigods; though
sometimes they escaped at night and got into the boy's dreams.

I do not think I cared as much as some of the other boys for the 'Arabian
Nights' or 'Robinson Crusoe,' but when it came to the 'Ingenious
Gentleman of La Mancha,' I was not only first, I was sole.

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