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Entire PG Edition of The Works of William Dean Howells by William Dean Howells

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three categories: Studies, Novels, and Plays. As more of his works are
produced and posted as etexts they will be inserted into this file.


Henry James, Jr.
The Man of Letters as a Man of Business
A Psychological Counter-current in Recent Fiction.
Emile Zola
Literary Friends and Acquaintances
My First Visit to New England
First Impressions of Literary New York
Roundabout to Boston
Literary Boston As I Knew It
Oliver Wendell Holmes
The White Mr. Longfellow
Studies of Lowell
Cambridge Neighbors
A Belated Guest
My Mark Twain

Literature and Life
Man of Letters in Business
Confessions of a Summer Colonist
The Young Contributor
Last Days in a Dutch Hotel
Anomalies of the Short Story
Spanish Prisoners of War
American Literary Centers
Standard Household Effect Co.
Notes of a Vanished Summer
Worries of a Winter Walk
Summer Isles of Eden
Wild Flowers of the Asphalt
A Circus in the Suburbs
A She Hamlet
The Midnight Platoon
The Beach at Rockaway
Sawdust in the Arena
At a Dime Museum
American Literature in Exile
The Horse Show
The Problem of the Summer
Aesthetic New York Fifty-odd Years Ago
From New York into New England
The Art of the Adsmith
The Psychology of Plagiarism
Puritanism in American Fiction
The What and How in Art
Politics in American Authors
"Floating down the River on the O-hi-o"

My Literary Passions
The Bookcase at Home
First Fiction and Drama
Longfellow's "Spanish Student"
Lighter Fancies
Various Preferences
Uncle Tom's Cabin
Ik Marvel
Wordsworth, Lowell, Chaucer
Critics and Reviews.
A Non-literary Episode
"Lazarillo De Tormes"
Curtis, Longfellow, Schlegel
De Quincey, Goethe, Longfellow.
George Eliot, Hawthorne, Goethe, Heine
Charles Reade
Goldoni, Manzoni, D'azeglio
"Pastor Fido," "Aminta," "Romola," "Yeast," "Paul Ferroll"
Erckmann-chatrian, Bjorstjerne Bjornson
Tourguenief, Auerbach
Certain Preferences and Experiences
Valdes, Galdos, Verga, Zola, Trollope, Hardy

Criticism and Fiction

The Rise of Silas Lapham
An Open-eyed Conspiracy--an Idyl of Saratoga
The Landlord at Lions Head, v1
The Landlord at Lions Head, v2
Their Wedding Journey
The Outset
A Midsummer-day's Dream
The Night Boat
A Day's Railroading
The Enchanted City, and Beyond
Down the St. Lawrence
The Sentiment of Montreal
Homeward and Home
Niagara Revisited Twelve Years after Their Wedding
A Hazard of New Fortunes
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5
Their Silver Wedding Journey
Volume 1
Volume 2
Volume 3
Dr. Breen's Practice
Fennel and Rue,
The Kentons
Ragged Lady, v1
Ragged Lady, v2
April Hopes
The Sleeping-Car
The Garotters
The Elevator
The Parlor-Car
The Register



by William Dean Howells

This etext was created by Anthony J. Adam of Houston, Texas.

The events of Mr. James's life--as we agree to understand
events--may be told in a very few words. His race is Irish on
his father's side and Scotch on his mother's, to which mingled
strains the generalizer may attribute, if he likes, that union of
vivid expression and dispassionate analysis which has
characterized his work from the first. There are none of those
early struggles with poverty, which render the lives of so many
distinguished Americans monotonous reading, to record in his
case: the cabin hearth-fire did not light him to the youthful
pursuit of literature; he had from the start all those advantages
which, when they go too far, become limitations.

He was born in New York city in the year 1843, and his first
lessons in life and letters were the best which the
metropolis--so small in the perspective diminishing to that
date--could afford. In his twelfth year his family went abroad,
and after some stay in England made a long sojourn in France and
Switzerland. They returned to America in 1860, placing
themselves at Newport, and for a year or two Mr. James was at the
Harvard Law School, where, perhaps, he did not study a great deal
of law. His father removed from Newport to Cambridge in 1866,
and there Mr. James remained till he went abroad, three years
later, for the residence in England and Italy which, with
infrequent visits home, has continued ever since.

It was during these three years of his Cambridge life that I
became acquainted with his work. He had already printed a
tale--"The Story of a Year"--in the "Atlantic Monthly," when I
was asked to be Mr. Fields's assistant in the management, and it
was my fortune to read Mr. James's second contribution in
manuscript. "Would you take it?" asked my chief. "Yes, and all
the stories you can get from the writer." One is much securer of
one's judgment at twenty-nine than, say, at forty-five; but if
this was a mistake of mine I am not yet old enough to regret it.
The story was called "Poor Richard," and it dealt with the
conscience of a man very much in love with a woman who loved his
rival. He told this rival a lie, which sent him away to his
death on the field,--in that day nearly every fictitious
personage had something to do with the war,--but Poor Richard's
lie did not win him his love. It still seems to me that the
situation was strongly and finely felt. One's pity went, as it
should, with the liar; but the whole story had a pathos which
lingers in my mind equally with a sense of the new literary
qualities which gave me such delight in it. I admired, as we
must in all that Mr. James has written, the finished workmanship
in which there is no loss of vigor; the luminous and uncommon use
of words, the originality of phrase, the whole clear and
beautiful style, which I confess I weakly liked the better for
the occasional gallicisms remaining from an inveterate habit of
French. Those who know the writings of Mr. Henry James will
recognize the inherited felicity of diction which is so striking
in the writings of Mr. Henry James, Jr. The son's diction is not
so racy as the father's; it lacks its daring, but it is as
fortunate and graphic; and I cannot give it greater praise than
this, though it has, when he will, a splendor and state which is
wholly its own.

Mr. James is now so universally recognized that I shall seem to
be making an unwarrantable claim when I express my belief that
the popularity of his stories was once largely confined to Mr.
Field's assistant. They had characteristics which forbade any
editor to refuse them; and there are no anecdotes of
thrice-rejected manuscripts finally printed to tell of him; his
work was at once successful with all the magazines. But with the
readers of "The Atlantic," of "Harper's," of "Lippincott's," of
"The Galaxy," of "The Century," it was another affair. The
flavor was so strange, that, with rare exceptions, they had to
"learn to like" it. Probably few writers have in the same degree
compelled the liking of their readers. He was reluctantly
accepted, partly through a mistake as to his attitude--through
the confusion of his point of view with his private opinion--in
the reader's mind. This confusion caused the tears of rage which
bedewed our continent in behalf of the "average American girl"
supposed to be satirized in Daisy Miller, and prevented the
perception of the fact that, so far as the average American girl
was studied at all in Daisy Miller, her indestructible innocence,
her invulnerable new-worldliness, had never been so delicately
appreciated. It was so plain that Mr. James disliked her vulgar
conditions, that the very people to whom he revealed her
essential sweetness and light were furious that he should have
seemed not to see what existed through him. In other words, they
would have liked him better if he had been a worse artist--if he
had been a little more confidential.

But that artistic impartiality which puzzled so many in the
treatment of Daisy Miller is one of the qualities most valuable
in the eyes of those who care how things are done, and I am not
sure that it is not Mr. James's most characteristic quality. As
"frost performs the effect of fire," this impartiality comes at
last to the same result as sympathy. We may be quite sure that
Mr. James does not like the peculiar phase of our civilization
typified in Henrietta Stackpole; but he treats her with such
exquisite justice that he lets US like her. It is an extreme
case, but I confidently allege it in proof.

His impartiality is part of the reserve with which he works in
most respects, and which at first glance makes us say that he is
wanting in humor. But I feel pretty certain that Mr. James has
not been able to disinherit himself to this degree. We Americans
are terribly in earnest about making ourselves, individually and
collectively; but I fancy that our prevailing mood in the face of
all problems is that of an abiding faith which can afford to be
funny. He has himself indicated that we have, as a nation, as a
people, our joke, and every one of us is in the joke more or
less. We may, some of us, dislike it extremely, disapprove it
wholly, and even abhor it, but we are in the joke all the same,
and no one of us is safe from becoming the great American
humorist at any given moment. The danger is not apparent in Mr.
James's case, and I confess that I read him with a relief in the
comparative immunity that he affords from the national
facetiousness. Many of his people are humorously imagined, or
rather humorously SEEN, like Daisy Miller's mother, but these do
not give a dominant color; the business in hand is commonly
serious, and the droll people are subordinated. They abound,
nevertheless, and many of them are perfectly new finds, like Mr.
Tristram in "The American," the bill-paying father in the
"Pension Beaurepas," the anxiously Europeanizing mother in the
same story, the amusing little Madame de Belgarde, Henrietta
Stackpole, and even Newman himself. But though Mr. James
portrays the humorous in character, he is decidedly not on
humorous terms with his reader; he ignores rather than recognizes
the fact that they are both in the joke.

If we take him at all we must take him on his own ground, for
clearly he will not come to ours. We must make concessions to
him, not in this respect only, but in several others, chief among
which is the motive for reading fiction. By example, at least,
he teaches that it is the pursuit and not the end which should
give us pleasure; for he often prefers to leave us to our own
conjectures in regard to the fate of the people in whom he has
interested us. There is no question, of course, but he could
tell the story of Isabel in "The Portrait of a Lady" to the end,
yet he does not tell it. We must agree, then, to take what seems
a fragment instead of a whole, and to find, when we can, a name
for this new kind in fiction. Evidently it is the character, not
the fate, of his people which occupies him; when he has fully
developed their character he leaves them to what destiny the
reader pleases.

The analytic tendency seems to have increased with him as his
work has gone on. Some of the earlier tales were very dramatic:
"A Passionate Pilgrim," which I should rank above all his other
short stories, and for certain rich poetical qualities, above
everything else that he has done, is eminently dramatic. But I
do not find much that I should call dramatic in "The Portrait of
a Lady," while I do find in it an amount of analysis which I
should call superabundance if it were not all such good
literature. The novelist's main business is to possess his
reader with a due conception of his characters and the situations
in which they find themselves. If he does more or less than this
he equally fails. I have sometimes thought that Mr. James's
danger was to do more, but when I have been ready to declare this
excess an error of his method I have hesitated. Could anything
be superfluous that had given me so much pleasure as I read?
Certainly from only one point of view, and this a rather narrow,
technical one. It seems to me that an enlightened criticism will
recognize in Mr. James's fiction a metaphysical genius working to
aesthetic results, and will not be disposed to deny it any method
it chooses to employ. No other novelist, except George Eliot,
has dealt so largely in analysis of motive, has so fully
explained and commented upon the springs of action in the persons
of the drama, both before and after the facts. These novelists
are more alike than any others in their processes, but with
George Eliot an ethical purpose is dominant, and with Mr. James
an artistic purpose. I do not know just how it should be stated
of two such noble and generous types of character as Dorothea and
Isabel Archer, but I think that we sympathize with the former in
grand aims that chiefly concern others, and with the latter in
beautiful dreams that primarily concern herself. Both are
unselfish and devoted women, sublimely true to a mistaken ideal
in their marriages; but, though they come to this common
martyrdom, the original difference in them remains. Isabel has
her great weaknesses, as Dorothea had, but these seem to me, on
the whole, the most nobly imagined and the most nobly intentioned
women in modern fiction; and I think Isabel is the more subtly
divined of the two. If we speak of mere characterization, we
must not fail to acknowledge the perfection of Gilbert Osmond.
It was a profound stroke to make him an American by birth. No
European could realize so fully in his own life the ideal of a
European dilettante in all the meaning of that cheapened word; as
no European could so deeply and tenderly feel the sweetness and
loveliness of the English past as the sick American, Searle, in
"The Passionate Pilgrim."

What is called the international novel is popularly dated from
the publication of "Daisy Miller," though "Roderick Hudson" and
"The American" had gone before; but it really began in the
beautiful story which I have just named. Mr. James, who invented
this species in fiction, first contrasted in the "Passionate
Pilgrim" the New World and Old World moods, ideals, and
prejudices, and he did it there with a richness of poetic effect
which he has since never equalled. I own that I regret the loss
of the poetry, but you cannot ask a man to keep on being a poet
for you; it is hardly for him to choose; yet I compare rather
discontentedly in my own mind such impassioned creations as
Searle and the painter in "The Madonna of the Future" with "Daisy
Miller," of whose slight, thin personality I also feel the
indefinable charm, and of the tragedy of whose innocence I
recognize the delicate pathos. Looking back to those early
stories, where Mr. James stood at the dividing ways of the novel
and the romance, I am sometimes sorry that he declared even
superficially for the former. His best efforts seem to me those
of romance; his best types have an ideal development, like Isabel
and Claire Belgarde and Bessy Alden and poor Daisy and even
Newman. But, doubtless, he has chosen wisely; perhaps the
romance is an outworn form, and would not lend itself to the
reproduction of even the ideality of modern life. I myself waver
somewhat in my preference--if it is a preference--when I think of
such people as Lord Warburton and the Touchetts, whom I take to
be all decidedly of this world. The first of these especially
interested me as a probable type of the English nobleman, who
amiably accepts the existing situation with all its possibilities
of political and social change, and insists not at all upon the
surviving feudalities, but means to be a manly and simple
gentleman in any event. An American is not able to pronounce as
to the verity of the type; I only know that it seems probable and
that it is charming. It makes one wish that it were in Mr.
James's way to paint in some story the present phase of change in
England. A titled personage is still mainly an inconceivable
being to us; he is like a goblin or a fairy in a storybook. How
does he comport himself in the face of all the changes and
modifications that have taken place and that still impend? We
can hardly imagine a lord taking his nobility seriously; it is
some hint of the conditional frame of Lord Warburton's mind that
makes him imaginable and delightful to us.

It is not my purpose here to review any of Mr. James's books; I
like better to speak of his people than of the conduct of his
novels, and I wish to recognize the fineness with which he has
touched-in the pretty primness of Osmond's daughter and the mild
devotedness of Mr. Rosier. A masterly hand is as often manifest
in the treatment of such subordinate figures as in that of the
principal persons, and Mr. James does them unerringly. This is
felt in the more important character of Valentin Belgarde, a
fascinating character in spite of its defects,--perhaps on
account of them--and a sort of French Lord Warburton, but
wittier, and not so good. "These are my ideas," says his
sister-in-law, at the end of a number of inanities. "Ah, you
call them ideas!" he returns, which is delicious and makes you
love him. He, too, has his moments of misgiving, apparently in
regard to his nobility, and his acceptance of Newman on the basis
of something like "manhood suffrage" is very charming. It is of
course difficult for a remote plebeian to verify the pictures of
legitimist society in "The American," but there is the probable
suggestion in them of conditions and principles, and want of
principles, of which we get glimpses in our travels abroad; at
any rate, they reveal another and not impossible world, and it is
fine to have Newman discover that the opinions and criticisms of
our world are so absolutely valueless in that sphere that his
knowledge of the infamous crime of the mother and brother of his
betrothed will have no effect whatever upon them in their own
circle if he explodes it there. This seems like aristocracy
indeed! and one admires, almost respects, its survival in our
day. But I always regretted that Newman's discovery seemed the
precursor of his magnanimous resolution not to avenge himself; it
weakened the effect of this, with which it had really nothing to
do. Upon the whole, however, Newman is an adequate and
satisfying representative of Americanism, with his generous
matrimonial ambition, his vast good-nature, and his thorough good
sense and right feeling. We must be very hard to please if we
are not pleased with him. He is not the "cultivated American"
who redeems us from time to time in the eyes of Europe; but he is
unquestionably more national, and it is observable that his
unaffected fellow-countrymen and women fare very well at Mr.
James's hand always; it is the Europeanizing sort like the
critical little Bostonian in the "Bundle of Letters," the ladies
shocked at Daisy Miller, the mother in the "Pension Beaurepas"
who goes about trying to be of the "native" world everywhere,
Madame Merle and Gilbert Osmond, Miss Light and her mother, who
have reason to complain, if any one has. Doubtless Mr. James
does not mean to satirize such Americans, but it is interesting
to note how they strike such a keen observer. We are certainly
not allowed to like them, and the other sort find somehow a place
in our affections along with his good Europeans. It is a little
odd, by the way, that in all the printed talk about Mr.
James--and there has been no end of it--his power of engaging
your preference for certain of his people has been so little
commented on. Perhaps it is because he makes no obvious appeal
for them; but one likes such men as Lord Warburton, Newman,
Valentin, the artistic brother in "The Europeans," and Ralph
Touchett, and such women as Isabel, Claire Belgarde, Mrs.
Tristram, and certain others, with a thoroughness that is one of
the best testimonies to their vitality. This comes about through
their own qualities, and is not affected by insinuation or by
downright petting, such as we find in Dickens nearly always and
in Thackeray too often.

The art of fiction has, in fact, become a finer art in our day
than it was with Dickens and Thackeray. We could not suffer the
confidential attitude of the latter now, nor the mannerism of the
former, any more than we could endure the prolixity of Richardson
or the coarseness of Fielding. These great men are of the
past--they and their methods and interests; even Trollope and
Reade are not of the present. The new school derives from
Hawthorne and George Eliot rather than any others; but it studies
human nature much more in its wonted aspects, and finds its
ethical and dramatic examples in the operation of lighter but not
really less vital motives. The moving accident is certainly not
its trade; and it prefers to avoid all manner of dire
catastrophes. it is largely influenced by French fiction in
form; but it is the realism of Daudet rather than the realism of
Zola that prevails with it, and it has a soul of its own which is
above the business of recording the rather brutish pursuit of a
woman by a man, which seems to be the chief end of the French
novelist. This school, which is so largely of the future as well
as the present, finds its chief exemplar in Mr. James; it is he
who is shaping and directing American fiction, at least. It is
the ambition of the younger contributors to write like him; he
has his following more distinctly recognizable than that of any
other English-writing novelist. Whether he will so far control
this following as to decide the nature of the novel with us
remains to be seen. Will the reader be content to accept a novel
which is an analytic study rather than a story, which is apt to
leave him arbiter of the destiny of the author's creations? Will
he find his account in the unflagging interest of their
development? Mr. James's growing popularity seems to suggest
that this may be the case; but the work of Mr. James's imitators
will have much to do with the final result.

In the meantime it is not surprising that he has his imitators.
Whatever exceptions we take to his methods or his results, we
cannot deny him a very great literary genius. To me there is a
perpetual delight in his way of saying things, and I cannot
wonder that younger men try to catch the trick of it. The
disappointing thing for them is that it is not a trick, but an
inherent virtue. His style is, upon the whole, better than that
of any other novelist I know; it is always easy, without being
trivial, and it is often stately, without being stiff; it gives a
charm to everything he writes; and he has written so much and in
such various directions, that we should be judging him very
incompletely if we considered him only as a novelist. His book
of European sketches must rank him with the most enlightened and
agreeable travelers; and it might be fitly supplemented from his
uncollected papers with a volume of American sketches. In his
essays on modern French writers he indicates his critical range
and grasp; but he scarcely does more, as his criticisms in "The
Atlantic" and "The Nation" and elsewhere could abundantly

There are indeed those who insist that criticism is his true
vocation, and are impatient of his devotion to fiction; but I
suspect that these admirers are mistaken. A novelists he is not,
after the old fashion, or after any fashion but his own; yet
since he has finally made his public in his own way of
story-telling--or call it character-painting if you prefer,--it
must be conceded that he has chosen best for himself and his
readers in choosing the form of fiction for what he has to say.
It is, after all, what a writer has to say rather than what he
has to tell that we care for nowadays. In one manner or other
the stories were all told long ago; and now we want merely to
know what the novelist thinks about persons and situations. Mr.
James gratifies this philosophic desire. If he sometimes
forbears to tell us what he thinks of the last state of his
people, it is perhaps because that does not interest him, and a
large-minded criticism might well insist that it was childish to
demand that it must interest him.

I am not sure that any criticism is sufficiently large-minded for
this. I own that I like a finished story; but then also I like
those which Mr. James seems not to finish. This is probably the
position of most of his readers, who cannot very logically
account for either preference. We can only make sure that we
have here an annalist, or analyst, as we choose, who fascinates
us from his first page to his last, whose narrative or whose
comment may enter into any minuteness of detail without fatiguing
us, and can only truly grieve us when it ceases.


by William Dean Howells

This etext was created by Anthony J. Adam of Houston, Texas.

[NOTE: This study is duplicated later in the collection as part of the
series Literature and Life where bookmarks are appended. D.W.]

I think that every man ought to work for his living, without
exception, and that when he has once avouched his willingness to
work, society should provide him with work and warrant him a
living. I do not think any man ought to live by an art. A man's
art should be his privilege, when he has proven his fitness to
exercise it, and has otherwise earned his daily bread; and its
results should be free to all. There is an instinctive sense of
this, even in the midst of the grotesque confusion of our
economic being; people feel that there is something profane,
something impious, in taking money for a picture, or a poem, or a
statue. Most of all, the artist himself feels this. He puts on
a bold front with the world, to be sure, and brazens it out as
Business; but he knows very well that there is something false
and vulgar in it; and that the work which cannot be truly priced
in money cannot be truly paid in money. He can, of course, say
that the priest takes money for reading the marriage service, for
christening the new-born babe, and for saying the last office for
the dead; that the physician sells healing; that justice itself
is paid for; and that he is merely a party to the thing that is
and must be. He can say that, as the thing is, unless he sells
his art he cannot live, that society will leave him to starve if
he does not hit its fancy in a picture, or a poem, or a statue;
and all this is bitterly true. He is, and he must be, only too
glad if there is a market for his wares. Without a market for
his wares he must perish, or turn to making something that will
sell better than pictures, or poems, or statues. All the same,
the sin and the shame remain, and the averted eye sees them
still, with its inward vision. Many will make believe otherwise,
but I would rather not make believe otherwise; and in trying to
write of Literature as Business I am tempted to begin by saying
that Business is the opprobrium of Literature.


Literature is at once the most intimate and the most articulate
of the arts. It cannot impart its effect through the senses or
the nerves as the other arts can; it is beautiful only through
the intelligence; it is the mind speaking to the mind; until it
has been put into absolute terms, of an invariable significance,
it does not exist at all. It cannot awaken this emotion in one,
and that in another; if it fails to express precisely the meaning
of the author, if it does not say HIM, it says nothing, and is
nothing. So that when a poet has put his heart, much or little,
into a poem, and sold it to a magazine, the scandal is greater
than when a painter has sold a picture to a patron, or a sculptor
has modelled a statue to order. These are artists less
articulate and less intimate than the poet; they are more
exterior to their work; they are less personally in it; they part
with less of themselves in the dicker. It does not change the
nature of the case to say that Tennyson and Longfellow and
Emerson sold the poems in which they couched the most mystical
messages their genius was charged to bear mankind. They
submitted to the conditions which none can escape; but that does
not justify the conditions, which are none the less the
conditions of hucksters because they are imposed upon poets. If
it will serve to make my meaning a little clearer we will suppose
that a poet has been crossed in love, or has suffered some real
sorrow, like the loss of a wife or child. He pours out his
broken heart in verse that shall bring tears of sacred sympathy
from his readers, and an editor pays him a hundred dollars for
the right of bringing his verse to their notice. It is perfectly
true that the poem was not written for these dollars, but it is
perfectly true that it was sold for them. The poet must use his
emotions to pay his provision bills; he has no other means;
society does not propose to pay his bills for him. Yet, and at
the end of the ends, the unsophisticated witness finds the
transaction ridiculous, finds it repulsive, finds it shabby.
Somehow he knows that if our huckstering civilization did not at
every moment violate the eternal fitness of things, the poet's
song would have been given to the world, and the poet would have
been cared for by the whole human brotherhood, as any man should
be who does the duty that every man owes it.

The instinctive sense of the dishonor which money-purchase does
to art is so strong that sometimes a man of letters who can pay
his way otherwise refuses pay for his work, as Lord Byron did,
for a while, from a noble pride, and as Count Tolstoy has tried
to do, from a noble conscience. But Byron's publisher profited
by a generosity which did not reach his readers; and the Countess
Tolstoy collects the copyright which her husband foregoes; so
that these two eminent instances of protest against business in
literature may be said not to have shaken its money basis. I
know of no others; but there may be many that I am culpably
ignorant of. Still, I doubt if there are enough to affect the
fact that Literature is Business as well as Art, and almost as
soon. At present business is the only human solidarity; we are
all bound together with that chain, whatever interests and tastes
and principles separate us, and I feel quite sure that in writing
of the Man of Letters as a Man of Business, I shall attract far
more readers than I should in writing of him as an Artist.
Besides, as an artist he has been done a great deal already; and
a commercial state like ours has really more concern in him as a
business man. Perhaps it may sometimes be different; I do not
believe it will till the conditions are different, and that is a
long way off.


In the meantime I confidently appeal to the reader's imagination
with the fact that there are several men of letters among us who
are such good men of business that they can command a hundred
dollars a thousand words for all they write; and at least one
woman of letters who gets a hundred and fifty dollars a thousand
words. It is easy to write a thousand words a day, and supposing
one of these authors to work steadily, it can be seen that his
net earnings during the year would come to some such sum as the
President of the United States gets for doing far less work of a
much more perishable sort. If the man of letters were wholly a
business man this is what would happen; he would make his forty
or fifty thousand dollars a year, and be able to consort with
bank presidents, and railroad officials, and rich tradesmen, and
other flowers of our plutocracy on equal terms. But,
unfortunately, from a business point of view, he is also an
artist, and the very qualities that enable him to delight the
public disable him from delighting it uninterruptedly. "No rose
blooms right along," as the English boys at Oxford made an
American collegian say in a theme which they imagined for him in
his national parlance; and the man of letters, as an artist, is
apt to have times and seasons when he cannot blossom. Very often
it shall happen that his mind will lie fallow between novels or
stories for weeks and months at a stretch; when the suggestions
of the friendly editor shall fail to fruit in the essays or
articles desired; when the muse shall altogether withhold
herself, or shall respond only in a feeble dribble of verse which
he might sell indeed, but which it would not be good business for
him to put on the market. But supposing him to be a very
diligent and continuous worker, and so happy as to have fallen on
a theme that delights him and bears him along, he may please
himself so ill with the result of his labors that he can do
nothing less in artistic conscience than destroy a day's work, a
week's work, a month's work. I know one man of letters who wrote
to-day, and tore up tomorrow for nearly a whole summer. But even
if part of the mistaken work may be saved, because it is good
work out of place, and not intrinsically bad, the task of
reconstruction wants almost as much time as the production; and
then, when all seems done, comes the anxious and endless process
of revision. These drawbacks reduce the earning capacity of what
I may call the high-cost man of letters in such measure that an
author whose name is known everywhere, and whose reputation is
commensurate with the boundaries of his country, if it does not
transcend them, shall have the income, say, of a rising young
physician, known to a few people in a subordinate city.

In view of this fact, so humiliating to an author in the presence
of a nation of business men like ours, I do not know that I can
establish the man of letters in the popular esteem as very much
of a business man after all. He must still have a low rank among
practical people; and he will be regarded by the great mass of
Americans as perhaps a little off, a little funny, a little soft!

Perhaps not; and yet I would rather not have a consensus of
public opinion on the question; I think I am more comfortable
without it.


There is this to be said in defence of men of letters on the
business side, that literature is still an infant industry with
us, and so far from having been protected by our laws it was
exposed for ninety years after the foundation of the republic to
the vicious competition of stolen goods. It is true that we now
have the international copyright law at last, and we can at least
begin to forget our shame; but literary property has only
forty-two years of life under our unjust statutes, and if it is
attacked by robbers the law does not seek out the aggressors and
punish them, as it would seek out and punish the trespassers upon
any other kind of property; but it leaves the aggrieved owner to
bring suit against them, and recover damages, if he can. This
may be right enough in itself; but I think, then, that all
property should be defended by civil suit, and should become
public after forty-two years of private tenure. The Constitution
guarantees us all equality before the law, but the law-makers
seem to have forgotten this in the case of our infant literary
industry. So long as this remains the case, we cannot expect the
best business talent to go into literature, and the man of
letters must keep his present low grade among business men.

As I have hinted, it is but a little while that he has had any
standing at all. I may say that it is only since the was that
literature has become a business with us. Before that time we
had authors, and very good ones; it is astonishing how good they
were; but I do not remember any of them who lived by literature
except Edgar A. Poe, perhaps; and we all know how he lived; it
was largely upon loans. They were either men of fortune, or they
were editors, or professors, with salaries or incomes apart from
the small gains of their pens; or they were helped out with
public offices; one need not go over their names, or classify
them. Some of them must have made money by their books, but I
question whether any one could have lived, even very simply, upon
the money his books brought him. No one could do that now,
unless he wrote a book that we could not recognize as a work of
literature. But many authors live now, and live prettily enough,
by the sale of the serial publication of their writings to the
magazines. They do not live so nicely as successful
tradespeople, of course, or as men in the other professions when
they begin to make themselves names; the high state of brokers,
bankers, railroad operators, and the like is, in the nature of
the case, beyond their fondest dreams of pecuniary affluence and
social splendor. Perhaps they do not want the chief seats in the
synagogue; it is certain they do not get them. Still, they do
very fairly well, as things go; and several have incomes that
would seem riches to the great mass of worthy Americans who work
with their hands for a living--when they can get the work. Their
incomes are mainly from serial publication in the different
magazines; and the prosperity of the magazines has given a whole
class existence which, as a class, was wholly unknown among us
before the war. It is not only the famous or fully recognized
authors who live in this way, but the much larger number of
clever people who are as yet known chiefly to the editors, and
who may never make themselves a public, but who do well a kind of
acceptable work. These are the sort who do not get reprinted
from the periodicals; but the better recognized authors do get
reprinted, and then their serial work in its completed form
appeals to the readers who say they do not read serials. The
multitude of these is not great, and if an author rested his
hopes upon their favor he would be a much more embittered man
than he now generally is. But he understands perfectly well that
his reward is in the serial and not in the book; the return from
that he may count as so much money found in the road--a few
hundreds, a very few thousands, at the most.


I doubt, indeed, whether the earnings of literary men are
absolutely as great as they were earlier in the century, in any
of the English-speaking countries; relatively they are nothing
like as great. Scott had forty thousand dollars for "Woodstock,"
which was not a very large novel, and was by no means one of his
best; and forty thousand dollars had at least the purchasing
powers of sixty thousand then. Moore had three thousand guineas
for "Lalla Rookh," but what publisher would be rash enough to pay
twenty-five thousand dollars for the masterpiece of a minor poet
now? The book, except in very rare instances, makes nothing like
the return to the author that the magazine makes, and there are
but two or three authors who find their account in that form of
publication. Those who do, those who sell the most widely in
book form, are often not at all desired by editors; with
difficulty they get a serial accepted by any principal magazine.
On the other hand, there are authors whose books, compared with
those of the popular favorites, do not sell, and yet they are
eagerly sought for by editors; they are paid the highest prices,
and nothing that they offer is refused. These are literary
artists; and it ought to be plain from what I am saying that in
belles-lettres, at least, most of the best literature now first
sees the light in the magazines, and most of the second best
appears first in book form. The old-fashioned people who flatter
themselves upon their distinction in not reading magazine
fiction, or magazine poetry, make a great mistake, and simply
class themselves with the public whose taste is so crude that
they cannot enjoy the best. Of course this is true mainly, if
not merely, of belles-lettres; history, science, politics,
metaphysics, in spite of the many excellent articles and papers
in these sorts upon what used to be called various emergent
occasions, are still to be found at their best in books. The
most monumental example of literature, at once light and good,
which has first reached the public in book form is in the
different publications of Mark Twain; but Mr. Clemens has of late
turned to the magazines too, and now takes their mint mark before
he passes into general circulation. All this may change again,
but at present the magazines--we have no longer any reviews--form
the most direct approach to that part of our reading public which
likes the highest things in literary art. Their readers, if we
may judge from the quality of the literature they get, are more
refined than the book readers in our community; and their taste
has no doubt been cultivated by that of the disciplined and
experienced editors. So far as I have known these they are men
of aesthetic conscience, and of generous sympathy. They have
their preferences in the different kinds, and they have their
theory of what kind will be most acceptable to their readers; but
they exercise their selective function with the wish to give them
the best things they can. I do not know one of them--and it has
been my good fortune to know them nearly all--who would print a
wholly inferior thing for the sake of an inferior class of
readers, though they may sometimes decline a good thing because
for one reason or another they believe it would not be liked.
Still, even this does not often happen; they would rather chance
the good thing they doubted of than underrate their readers'

New writers often suppose themselves rejected because they are
unknown; but the unknown man of force and quality is of all
others the man whom the editor welcomes to his page. He knows
that there is always a danger that the reigning favorite may fail
to please; that at any rate, in the order of things, he is
passing away, and that if the magazine is not to pass away with
the men who have made it, there must be a constant infusion of
fresh life. Few editors are such fools and knaves as to let
their personal feeling disable their judgment; and the young
writer who gets his manuscript back may be sure that it is not
because the editor dislikes him, for some reason or no reason.
Above all, he can trust me that his contribution has not been
passed unread, or has failed of the examination it merits.
Editors are not men of infallible judgment, but they do use their
judgment, and it is usually good.

The young author who wins recognition in a first-class magazine
has achieved a double success, first, with the editor, and then
with the best reading public. Many factitious and fallacious
literary reputations have been made through books, but very few
have been made through the magazines, which are not only the best
means of living, but of outliving, with the author; they are both
bread and fame to him. If I insist a little upon the high office
which this modern form of publication fulfils in the literary
world, it is because I am impatient of the antiquated and
ignorant prejudice which classes the magazines as ephemeral.
They are ephemeral in form, but in substance they are not
ephemeral, and what is best in them awaits its resurrection in
the book, which, as the first form, is so often a lasting death.
An interesting proof of the value of the magazine to literature
is the fact that a good novel will have wider acceptance as a
book from having been a magazine serial.

I am not sure that the decay of the book is not owing somewhat to
the decay of reviewing. This does not now seem to me so
thorough, or even so general as it was some years ago, and I
think the book oftener comes to the buyer without the warrant of
a critical estimate than it once did. That is never the case
with material printed in a magazine of high class. A
well-trained critic, who is bound by the strongest ties of honor
and interest not to betray either his employer or his public, has
judged it, and his practical approval is a warrant of quality.


Under the regime of the great literary periodicals the prosperity
of literary men would be much greater than it actually is, if the
magazines were altogether literary. But they are not, and this
is one reason why literature is still the hungriest of the
professions. Two-thirds of the magazines are made up of material
which, however excellent, is without literary quality. Very
probably this is because even the highest class of readers, who
are the magazine readers, have small love of pure literature,
which seems to have been growing less and less in all classes. I
say seems, because there are really no means of ascertaining the
fact, and it may be that the editors are mistaken in making their
periodicals two-thirds popular science, politics, economics, and
the timely topics which I will call contemporanies; I have
sometimes thought they were. But however that may be, their
efforts in this direction have narrowed the field of literary
industry, and darkened the hope of literary prosperity kindled by
the unexampled prosperity of their periodicals. They pay very
well indeed for literature; they pay from five or six dollars a
thousand words for the work of the unknown writer, to a hundred
and fifty dollars a thousand words for that of the most famous,
or the most popular, if there is a difference between fame and
popularity; but they do not, altogether, want enough literature
to justify the best business talent in devoting itself to belles-
lettres, to fiction, or poetry, or humorous sketches of travel,
or light essays; business talent can do far better in drygoods,
groceries, drugs, stocks, real estate, railroads, and the like.
I do not think there is any danger of a ruinous competition from
it in the field which, though narrow, seems so rich to us poor
fellows, whose business talent is small, at the best.

The most of the material contributed to the magazines is the
subject of agreement between the editor and the author; it is
either suggested by the author, or is the fruit of some
suggestion from the editor; in any case the price is stipulated
beforehand, and it is no longer the custom for a well-known
contributor to leave the payment to the justice or the generosity
of the publisher; that was never a fair thing to either, nor ever
a wise thing. Usually, the price is so much a thousand words, a
truly odious method of computing literary value, and one well
calculated to make the author feel keenly the hatefulness of
selling his art at all. It is as if a painter sold his picture
at so much a square inch, or a sculptor bargained away a group of
statuary by the pound. But it is a custom that you cannot always
successfully quarrel with, and most writers gladly consent to it,
if only the price a thousand words is large enough. The sale to
the editor means the sale of the serial rights only, but if the
publisher of the magazine is also a publisher of books, the
republication of the material is supposed to be his right, unless
there is an understanding to the contrary; the terms for this are
another affair. Formerly something more could be got for the
author by the simultaneous appearance of his work in an English
magazine, but now the great American magazines, which pay far
higher prices than any others in the world, have a circulation in
England so much exceeding that of any English periodical, that
the simultaneous publication can no longer be arranged for from
this side, though I believe it is still done here from the other


I think this is the case of authorship as it now stands with
regard to the magazines. I am not sure that the case is in every
way improved for young authors. The magazines all maintain a
staff for the careful examination of manuscripts, but as most of
the material they print has been engaged, the number of volunteer
contributions that they can use is very small; one of the
greatest of them, I know, does not use fifty in the course of a
year. The new writer, then, must be very good to be accepted,
and when accepted he may wait long before he is printed. The
pressure is so great in these avenues to the public favor that
one, two, three years, are no uncommon periods of delay. If the
writer has not the patience for this, or has a soul above cooling
his heels in the courts of fame, or must do his best to earn
something at once, the book is his immediate hope. How slight a
hope the book is I have tried to hint already, but if a book is
vulgar enough in sentiment, and crude enough in taste, and flashy
enough in incident, or, better or worse still, if it is a bit hot
in the mouth, and promises impropriety if not indecency, there is
a very fair chance of its success; I do not mean success with a
self-respecting publisher, but with the public, which does not
personally put its name to it, and is not openly smirched by it.
I will not talk of that kind of book, however, but of the book
which the young author has written out of an unspoiled heart and
an untainted mind, such as most young men and women write; and I
will suppose that it has found a publisher. It is human nature,
as competition has deformed human nature, for the publisher to
wish the author to take all the risks, and he possibly proposes
that the author shall publish it at his own expense, and let him
have a percentage of the retail price for managing it. If not
that, he proposes that the author shall pay for the stereotype
plates, and take fifteen per cent. of the price of the book; or
if this will not go, if the author cannot, rather than will not
do it (he is commonly only too glad to do anything he can), then
the publisher offers him ten per cent. of the retail price after
the first thousand copies have been sold. But if he fully
believes in the book, he will give ten per cent. from the first
copy sold, and pay all the costs of publication himself. The
book is to be retailed for a dollar and a half, and the publisher
is very well pleased with a new book that sells fifteen hundred
copies. Whether the author has as much reason to be so is a
question, but if the book does not sell more he has only himself
to blame, and had better pocket in silence the two hundred and
twenty-five dollars he gets for it, and bless his publisher, and
try to find work somewhere at five dollars a week. The publisher
has not made any more, if quite as much as the author, and until
a book has sold two thousand copies the division is fair enough.
After that, the heavier expenses of manufacturing have been
defrayed, and the book goes on advertising itself; there is
merely the cost of paper, printing, binding, and marketing to be
met, and the arrangement becomes fairer and fairer for the
publisher. The author has no right to complain of this, in the
case of his first book, which he is only too grateful to get
accepted at all. If it succeeds, he has himself to blame for
making the same arrangement for his second or third; it is his
fault, or else it is his necessity, which is practically the same
thing. It will be business for the publisher to take advantage
of his necessity quite the same as if it were his fault; but I do
not say that he will always do so; I believe he will very often
not do so.

At one time there seemed a probability of the enlargement of the
author's gains by subscription publication, and one very
well-known American author prospered fabulously in that way. The
percentage offered by the subscription houses was only about half
as much as that paid by the trade, but the sales were so much
greater that the author could very well afford to take it. Where
the book-dealer sold ten, the book-agent sold a hundred; or at
least he did so in the case of Mark Twain's books; and we all
thought it reasonable he could do so with ours. Such of us as
made experiment of him, however, found the facts illogical. No
book of literary quality was made to go by subscription except
Mr. Clemens's books, and I think these went because the
subscription public never knew what good literature they were.
This sort of readers, or buyers, were so used to getting
something worthless for their money, that they would not spend it
for artistic fiction, or indeed for any fiction all, except Mr.
Clemens's, which they probably supposed bad. Some good books of
travel had a measurable success through the book agents, but not
at all the success that had been hoped for; and I believe now the
subscription trade again publishes only compilations, or such
works as owe more to the skill of the editor than the art of the
writer. Mr. Clemens himself no longer offers his books to the
public in that way.

It is not common, I think, in this country, to publish on the
half-profits system, but it is very common in England, where,
owing probably to the moisture in the air, which lends a fairy
outline to every prospect, it seems to be peculiarly alluring.
One of my own early books was published there on these terms,
which I accepted with the insensate joy of the young author in
getting any terms from a publisher. The book sold, sold every
copy of the small first edition, and in due time the publisher's
statement came. I did not think my half of the profits was very
great, but it seemed a fair division after every imaginable cost
had been charged up against my poor book, and that frail venture
had been made to pay the expenses of composition, corrections,
paper, printing, binding, advertising, and editorial copies. The
wonder ought to have been that there was anything at all coming
to me, but I was young and greedy then, and I really thought
there ought to have been more. I was disappointed, but I made
the best of it, of course, and took the account to the junior
partner of the house which employed me, and said that I should
like to draw on him for the sum due me from the London
publishers. He said, Certainly; but after a glance at the
account he smiled and said he supposed I knew how much the sum
was? I answered, Yes; it was eleven pounds nine shillings, was
not it? But I owned at the same time that I never was good at
figures, and that I found English money peculiarly baffling. He
laughed now, and said, It was eleven shillings and nine pence.
In fact, after all those charges for composition, corrections,
paper, printing, binding, advertising, and editorial copies,
there was a most ingenious and wholly surprising charge of ten
per cent. commission on sales, which reduced my half from pounds
to shillings, and handsomely increased the publisher's half in
proportion. I do not now dispute the justice of the charge. It
was not the fault of the half-profits system, it was the fault of
the glad young author who did not distinctly inform himself of
its mysterious nature in agreeing to it, and had only to reproach
himself if he was finally disappointed.

But there is always something disappointing in the accounts of
publishers, which I fancy is because authors are strangely
constituted, rather than because publishers are so. I will
confess that I have such inordinate expectations of the sale of
my books which I hope I think modestly of, that the sales
reported to me never seem great enough. The copyright due me, no
matter how handsome it is, appears deplorably mean, and I feel
impoverished for several days after I get it. But then, I ought
to add that my balance in the bank is always much less than I
have supposed it to be, and my own checks, when they come back to
me, have the air of having been in a conspiracy to betray me.

No, we literary men must learn, no matter how we boast ourselves
in business, that the distress we feel from our publisher's
accounts is simply idiopathic; and I for one wish to bear my
witness to the constant good faith and uprightness of publishers.

It is supposed that because they have the affair altogether in
their hands they are apt to take advantage in it; but this does
not follow, and as a matter of fact they have the affair no more
in their own hands than any other business man you have an open
account with. There is nothing to prevent you from looking at
their books, except your own innermost belief and fear that their
books are correct, and that your literature has brought you so
little because it has sold so little.

The author is not to blame for his superficial delusion to the
contrary, especially if he has written a book that has set
everyone talking, because it is of a vital interest. It may be
of a vital interest, without being at all the kind of book people
want to buy; it may be the kind of book that they are content to
know at second hand; there are such fatal books; but hearing so
much, and reading so much about it, the author cannot help hoping
that it has sold much more than the publisher says. The
publisher is undoubtedly honest, however, and the author had
better put away the comforting question of his integrity.

The English writers seem largely to suspect their publishers (I
cannot say with how much reason, for my English publisher is
Scotch, and I should be glad to be so true a man as I think him);
but I believe that American authors, when not flown with
flattering reviews, as largely trust theirs. Of course there are
rogues in every walk of life. I will not say that I ever
personally met them in the flowery paths of literature, but I
have heard of other people meeting them there, just as I have
heard of people seeing ghosts, and I have to believe in both the
rogues and the ghosts, without the witness of my own senses. I
suppose, upon such grounds mainly, that there are wicked
publishers, but in the case of our books that do not sell, I am
afraid that it is the graceless and inappreciative public which
is far more to blame than the wickedest of the publishers. It is
true that publishers will drive a hard bargain when they can, or
when they must; but there is nothing to hinder an author from
driving a hard bargain, too, when he can, or when he must; and it
is to be said of the publisher that he is always more willing to
abide by the bargain when it is made than the author is; perhaps
because he has the best of it. But he has not always the best of
it; I have known publishers too generous to take advantage of the
innocence of authors; and I fancy that if publishers had to do
with any race less diffident than authors, they would have won a
repute for unselfishness that they do not now enjoy. It is
certain that in the long period when we flew the black flag of
piracy there were many among our corsairs on the high seas of
literature who paid a fair price for the stranger craft they
seized; still oftener they removed the cargo, and released their
capture with several weeks' provision; and although there was
undoubtedly a good deal of actual throat-cutting and scuttling,
still I feel sure that there was less of it than there would have
been in any other line of business released to the unrestricted
plunder of the neighbor. There was for a long time even a comity
among these amiable buccaneers, who agreed not to interfere with
each other, and so were enabled to pay over to their victims some
portion of the profit from their stolen goods. Of all business
men publishers are probably the most faithful and honorable, and
are only surpassed in virtue when men of letters turn business

Publishers have their little theories, their little
superstitions, and their blind faith in the great god Chance,
which we all worship. These things lead them into temptation and
adversity, but they seem to do fairly well as business men, even
in their own behalf. They do not make above the usual
ninety-five per cent. of failures, and more publishers than
authors get rich. I have known several publishers who kept their
carriages, but I have never known even one author to keep his
carriage on the profits of his literature, unless it was in some
modest country place where one could take care of one's own
horse. But this is simply because the authors are so many, and
the publishers are so few. If we wish to reverse their
positions, we must study how to reduce the number of authors and
increase the number of publishers; then prosperity will smile our


Some theories or superstitions publishers and authors share
together. One of these is that it is best to keep your books all
in the hands of one publisher if you can, because then he can
give them more attention ad sell more of them. But my own
experience is that when my books were in the hands of three
publishers they sold quite as well as when one had them; and a
fellow author whom I approached in question of this venerable
belief, laughed at it. This bold heretic held that it was best
to give each new book to a new publisher, for then the fresh man
put all his energies into pushing it; but if you had them all
together, the publisher rested in a vain security that one book
would sell another, and that the fresh venture would revive the
public interest in the stale ones. I never knew this to happen,
and I must class it with the superstitions of the trade. It may
be so in other and more constant countries, but in our fickle
republic, each last book has to fight its own way to public
favor, much as if it had no sort of literary lineage. Of course
this is stating it rather largely, and the truth will be found
inside rather than outside of my statement; but there is at least
truth enough in it to give the young author pause. While one is
preparing to sell his basket of glass, he may as well ask himself
whether it is better to part with all to one dealer or not; and
if he kicks it over, in spurning the imaginary customer who asks
the favor of taking entire stock, that will be his fault, and not
the fault of the question.

However, the most important question of all with the man of
letters as a man of business, is what kind of book will sell the
best of itself, because, at the end of the ends, a book sells
itself or does not sell at all; kissing, after long ages of
reasoning and a great deal of culture, still goes by favor, and
though innumerable generations of horses have been led to water,
not one horse has yet been made to drink. With the best, or the
worst, will in the world, no publisher can force a book into
acceptance. Advertising will not avail, and reviewing is
notoriously futile. If the book does not strike the popular
fancy, or deal with some universal interest, which need by no
means be a profound or important one, the drums and the cymbals
shall be beaten in vain. The book may be one of the best and
wisest books in the world, but if it has not this sort of appeal
in it, the readers of it, and worse yet, the purchasers, will
remain few, though fit. The secret of this, like most other
secrets of a rather ridiculous world, is in the awful keeping of
fate, and we can only hope to surprise it by some lucky chance.
To plan a surprise of it, to aim a book at the public favor, is
the most hopeless of all endeavors, as it is one of the
unworthiest; and I can, neither as a man of letters nor as a man
of business, counsel the young author to do it. The best that
you can do is to write the book that it gives you the most
pleasure to write, to put as much heart and soul as you have
about you into it, and then hope as hard as you can to reach the
heart and soul of the great multitude of your fellow-men. That,
and that alone, is good business for a man of letters.

The failures in literature are no less mystifying than the
successes, though they are upon the whole not so mortifying. I
have seen a good many of these failures, and I know of one case
so signal that I must speak of it, even to the discredit of the
public. It is the case of a novelist whose work seems to me of
the best that we have done in that sort, whose books represent
our life with singular force and singular insight, and whose
equipment for his art, through study, travel, and the world, is
of the rarest. He has a strong, robust, manly style; his stories
are well knit, and his characters are of the flesh and blood
complexion which we know in our daily experience; and yet he has
failed to achieve one of the first places in our literature; if I
named his name here, I am afraid that it would be quite unknown
to the greatest part of my readers. I have never been able to
account for his want of success, except through the fact that his
stories did not please women, though why they did not, I cannot
guess. They did not like them for the same reason that they did
not like Dr. Fell; and that reason was quite enough for them. It
must be enough for him, I am afraid; but I believe that if this
author had been writing in a country where men decided the fate
of books, the fate of his books would have been different.

The man of letters must make up his mind that in the United
States the fate of a book is in the hands of the women. It is
the women with us who have the most leisure, and they read the
most books. They are far better educated, for the most part,
than our men, and their tastes, if not their minds, are more
cultivated. Our men read the newspapers, but our women read the
books; the more refined among them read the magazines. If they
do not always know what is good, they do know what pleases them,
and it is useless to quarrel with their decisions, for there is
no appeal from them. To go from them to the men would be going
from a higher to a lower court, which would be honestly surprised
and bewildered, if the thing were possible. As I say, the author
of light literature, and often the author of solid literature,
must resign himself to obscurity unless the ladies choose to
recognize him. Yet it would be impossible to forecast their
favor for this kind or that. Who could prophesy it for another,
who guess it for himself? We must strive blindly for it, and
hope somehow that our best will also be our prettiest; but we
must remember at the same time that it is not the ladies' man who
is the favorite of the ladies.

There are of course a few, a very few, of our greatest authors,
who have striven forward to the first place in our Valhalla
without the help of the largest reading-class among us; but I
should say that these were chiefly the humorists, for whom women
are said nowhere to have any warm liking, and who have generally
with us come up through the newspapers, and have never lost the
favor of the newspaper readers. They have become literary men,
as it were, without the newspapers' readers knowing it; but those
who have approached literature from another direction, have won
fame in it chiefly by grace of the women, who first read them,
and then made their husbands and fathers read them. Perhaps,
then, and as a matter of business, it would be well for a serious
author, when he finds that he is not pleasing the women, and
probably never will please them, to turn humorous author, and aim
at the countenance of the men. Except as a humorist he certainly
never will get it, for your American, when he is not making
money, or trying to do it, is making a joke, or trying to do it.


I hope that I have not been hinting that the author who
approaches literature through journalism is not as fine and high
a literary man as the author who comes directly to it, or through
some other avenue; I have not the least notion of condemning
myself by any such judgment. But I think it is pretty certain
that fewer and fewer authors are turning from journalism to
literature, though the entente cordiale between the two
professions seems as great as ever. I fancy, though I may be as
mistaken in this as I am in a good many other things, that most
journalists would have been literary men if they could, at the
beginning, and that the kindness they almost always show to young
authors is an effect of the self-pity they feel for their own
thwarted wish to be authors. When an author is once warm in the
saddle, and is riding his winged horse to glory, the case is
different: they have then often no sentiment about him; he is no
longer the image of their own young aspiration, and they would
willingly see Pegasus buck under him, or have him otherwise
brought to grief and shame. They are apt to gird at him for his
unhallowed gains, and they would be quite right in this if they
proposed any way for him to live without them; as I have allowed
at the outset, the gains ARE unhallowed. Apparently it is
unseemly for an author or two to be making half as much by their
pens as popular ministers often receive in salary; the public is
used to the pecuniary prosperity of some of the clergy, and at
least sees nothing droll in it; but the paragrapher can always
get a smile out of his readers at the gross disparity between the
ten thousand dollars Jones gets for his novel, and the five
pounds Milton got for his epic. I have always thought Milton was
paid too little, but I will own that he ought not to have been
paid at all, if it comes to that. Again, I say that no man ought
to live by any art; it is a shame to the art if not to the
artist; but as yet there is no means of the artist's living
otherwise, and continuing an artist.

The literary man has certainly no complaint to make of the
newspaper man, generally speaking. I have often thought with
amazement of the kindness shown by the press to our whole
unworthy craft, and of the help so lavishly and freely given to
rising and even risen authors. To put it coarsely, brutally, I
do not suppose that any other business receives so much
gratuitous advertising, except the theatre. It is enormous, the
space given in the newspapers to literary notes, literary
announcements, reviews, interviews, personal paragraphs,
biographies, and all the rest, not to mention the vigorous and
incisive attacks made from time to time upon different authors
for their opinions of romanticism, realism, capitalism,
socialism, Catholicism, and Sandemanianism. I have sometimes
doubted whether the public cared for so much of it all as the
editors gave them, but I have always said this under my breath,
and I have thankfully taken my share of the common bounty. A
curious fact, however, is that this vast newspaper publicity
seems to have very little to do with an author's popularity,
though ever so much with his notoriety. Those strange
subterranean fellows who never come to the surface in the
newspapers, except for a contemptuous paragraph at long
intervals, outsell the famousest of the celebrities, and secretly
have their horses and yachts and country seats, while immodest
merit is left to get about on foot and look up summer board at
the cheaper hotels. That is probably right, or it would not
happen; it seems to be in the general scheme, like millionairism
and pauperism; but it becomes a question, then, whether the
newspapers, with all their friendship for literature, and their
actual generosity to literary men, can really help one much to
fortune, however much they help one to fame. Such a question is
almost too dreadful, and though I have asked it, I will not
attempt to answer it. I would much rather consider the question
whether if the newspapers can make an author they can also unmake
him, and I feel pretty safe in saying that I do not think they
can. The Afreet once out of the bottle can never be coaxed back
or cudgelled back; and the author whom the newspapers have made
cannot be unmade by the newspapers. They consign him to oblivion
with a rumor that fills the land, and they keep visiting him
there with an uproar which attracts more and more notice to him.
An author who has long enjoyed their favor, suddenly and rather
mysteriously loses it, through his opinions on certain matters of
literary taste, say. For the space of five or six years he is
denounced with a unanimity and an incisive vigor that ought to
convince him there is something wrong. If he thinks it is his
censors, he clings to his opinions with an abiding constance,
while ridicule, obloquy, caricature, burlesque, critical
refutation and personal detraction follow unsparingly upon every
expression, for instance, of his belief that romantic fiction is
the highest form of fiction, and that the base, sordid,
photographic, commonplace school of Tolstoy, Tourguenief, Zola,
Hardy, and James, are unworthy a moment's comparison with the
school of Rider Haggard. All this ought certainly to unmake the
author in question, and strew his disjecta membra wide over the
realm of oblivion. But this is not really the effect. Slowly
but surely the clamor dies away, and the author, without
relinquishing one of his wicked opinions, or in anywise showing
himself repentant, remains apparently whole; and he even returns
in a measure to the old kindness: not indeed to the earlier day
of perfectly smooth things, but certainly to as much of it as he

I would not have the young author, from this imaginary case,
believe that it is well either to court or to defy the good
opinion of the press. In fact, it will not only be better taste,
but it will be better business for him to keep it altogether out
of his mind. There is only one whom he can safely try to please,
and that is himself. If he does this he will very probably
please other people; but if he does not please himself he may be
sure that he will not please them; the book which he has not
enjoyed writing, no one will enjoy reading. Still, I would not
have him attach too little consequence to the influence of the
press. I should say, let him take the celebrity it gives him
gratefully but not too seriously; let him reflect that he is
often the necessity rather than the ideal of the paragrapher, and
that the notoriety the journalists bestow upon him is not the
measure of their acquaintance with his work, far less his
meaning. They are good fellows, those poor, hard-pushed fellows
of the press, but the very conditions of their censure, friendly
or unfriendly, forbid it thoroughness, and it must often have
more zeal than knowledge in it.


Whether the newspapers will become the rivals of the magazines as
the vehicle of literature is a matter that still remains in doubt
with the careful observer, after a decade of the newspaper
syndicate. Our daily papers never had the habit of the
feuilleton as those of the European continent have it; they
followed the English tradition in this, though they departed from
it in so many other things; and it was not till the Sunday
editions of the great dailies arose that there was any real hope
for the serial in the papers. I suspect that it was the vast
demand for material in their pages--twelve, eighteen,
twenty-four, thirty-six--that created the syndicate, for it was
the necessity of the Sunday edition not only to have material in
abundance, but, with all possible regard for quality, to have it
cheap; and the syndicate, when it came into being, imagined a
means of meeting this want. It sold the same material to as many
newspapers as it could for simultaneous publication in their
Sunday editions, which had each its special field, and did not
compete with another.

I do not think the syndicate began with serials, and I do not
think it is likely to end with them. It has rather worked the
vein of interviews, personal adventure, popular science, useful
information, travel, sketches, and short stories. Still it has
placed a good many serial stories, and at pretty good prices, but
not generally so good as those the magazines pay the better sort
of writers; for the worse sort it has offered perhaps the best
market they have had out of book form. By the newspapers, the
syndicate conceives, and perhaps justly, that something
sensational is desired; yet all the serial stories it has placed
cannot be called sensational. It has enlarged the field of
belles-lettres, certainly, but not permanently, I think, in the
case of the artistic novel. As yet the women, who form the
largest, if not the only cultivated class among us, have not
taken very cordially to the Sunday edition, except for its social
gossip; they certainly do not go to it for their fiction, and its
fiction is mainly of the inferior sort with which boys and men
beguile their leisure.

In fact the newspapers prefer to remain newspapers, at least in
quality if not in form; and I heard a story the other day from a
charming young writer of his experience with them, which may have
some instruction for the magazines that less wisely aim to become
newspapers. He said that when he carried his work to the editors
they struck out what he thought the best of it, because it was
what they called magaziny; not contemptuously, but with an
instinctive sense of what their readers wanted of them, and did
not want. It was apparent that they did not want literary art,
or even the appearance of it; they wanted their effects primary;
they wanted their emotions raw, or at least saignantes from the
joint of fact, and not prepared by the fancy or the taste.

The syndicate has no doubt advanced the prosperity of the short
story by increasing the demand for it. We Americans had already
done pretty well in that kind, for there was already a great
demand for the short story in the magazines; but the syndicate of
Sunday editions particularly cultivated it, and made it very
paying. I have heard that some short-story writers made the
syndicate pay more for their wares than they got from the
magazines for them, considering that the magazine publication
could enhance their reputation, but the Sunday edition could do
nothing for it. They may have been right or not in this; I will
not undertake to say, but that was the business view of the case
with them.

In spite of the fact that short stories when gathered into a
volume and republished would not sell so well as a novel, the
short story flourished, and its success in the periodicals began
to be felt in the book trade: volumes of short stories suddenly
began to sell. But now again, it is said the bottom has dropped
out, and they do not sell, and their adversity in book form
threatens to affect them in the magazines; an editor told me the
other day that he had more short stories than he knew what to do
with; and I was not offering him a short story of my own, either.

A permanent decline in the market for a kind of literary art
which we have excelled in, or if we have not excelled, have done
some of our most exquisite work, would be a pity.

There are other sorts of light literature once greatly in demand,
but now apparently no longer desired by editors, who ought to
know what their readers desire. Among these is the travel
sketch, to me a very agreeable kind, and really to be regretted
in its decline. There are some reasons for its decline besides a
change of taste in readers, and a possible surfeit. Travel
itself has become so universal that everybody, in a manner, has
been everywhere, and the foreign scene has no longer the charm of
strangeness. We do not think the Old World either so romantic or
so ridiculous as we used; and perhaps from an instinctive
perception of this altered mood writers no longer appeal to our
sentiment or our humor with sketches of outlandish people and
places. Of course this can hold true only in a general way; the
thing is still done, but not nearly so much done as formerly.
When one thinks of the long line of American writers who have
greatly pleased in this sort, and who even got their first fame
in it, one must grieve to see it obsolescent. Irving, Curtis,
Bayard Taylor, Herman Melville, Ross Browne, Ik Marvell,
Longfellow, Lowell, Story, Mr. James, Mr. Aldrich, Colonel Hay,
Mr. Warner, Mrs. Hunt, Mr. C.W. Stoddard, Mark Twain, and many
others whose names will not come to me at the moment, have in
their several ways richly contributed to our pleasure in it; but
I cannot now fancy a young author finding favor with an editor in
a sketch of travel, or a study of foreign manners and customs;
his work would have to be of the most signal importance and
brilliancy to overcome the editor's feeling that the thing had
been done already; and I believe that a publisher if offered a
book of such things, would look at it askance, and plead the
well-known quiet of the trade. Still, I may be mistaken.

I am rather more confident about the decline of another literary
species, namely, the light essay. We have essays enough and to
spare, of certain soberer and severer sorts, such as grapple with
problems and deal with conditions; but the kind I mean, the
slightly humorous, gentle, refined, and humane kind, seems no
longer to abound as it once did. I do not know whether the
editor discourages them, knowing his readers' frame, or whether
they do not offer themselves, but I seldom find them in the
magazines. I certainly do not believe that if anyone were now to
write essays such as Mr. Warner's "Backlog Studies," an editor
would refuse them; and perhaps nobody really writes them. Nobody
seems to write the sort that Colonel Higginson formerly
contributed to the periodicals, or such as Emerson wrote.
Without a great name behind it, I am afraid that a volume of
essays would find few buyers, even after the essays had made a
public in the magazines. There are, of course, instances to the
contrary, but they are not so many or so striking as to make me
think that the essay could not be offered as a good opening for
business talent.

I suspect that good poetry by well-known hands was never better
paid in the magazines than it is now. I must say, too, that I
think the quality of the minor poetry of our day is better than
that of twenty-five or thirty years ago. I could name half a
score of young poets whose work from time to time gives me great
pleasure, by the reality of its feeling, and the delicate
perfection of its art, but I will not name them, for fear of
passing over half a score of others equally meritorious. We have
certainly no reason to be discouraged, whatever reason the poets
themselves have to be so, and I do not think that even in the
short story our younger writers are doing better work than they
are doing in the slighter forms of verse. Yet the notion of
inviting business talent into this field would be as preposterous
as that of asking it to devote itself to the essay. What book of
verse by a recent poet, if we except some such peculiarly gifted
poet as Mr. Whitcomb Riley, has paid its expenses, not to speak
of any profit to the author? Of course, it would be rather more
offensive and ridiculous that it should do so than that any other
form of literary art should do so; and yet there is no more
provision in our economic system for the support of the poet
apart from his poems, than there is for the support of the
novelist apart from his novel. One could not make any more money
by writing poetry than by writing history, but it is a curious
fact that while the historians have usually been rich men, and
able to afford the luxury of writing history, the poets have
usually been poor men, with no pecuniary justification in their
devotion to a calling which is so seldom an election.

To be sure, it can be said for them that it costs far less to set
up poet than to set up historian. There is no outlay for copying
documents, or visiting libraries, or buying books. In fact,
except as historian, the man of letters, in whatever walk, has
not only none of the expenses of other men of business, but none
of the expenses of other artists. He has no such outlay to make
for materials, or models, or studio rent as the painter or the
sculptor has, and his income, such as it is, is immediate. If he
strikes the fancy of the editor with the first thing he offers,
as he very well may, it is as well with him as with other men
after long years of apprenticeship. Although he will always be
the better for an apprenticeship, and the longer apprenticeship
the better, he may practically need none at all. Such are the
strange conditions of his acceptance with the public, that he may
please better without it than with it. An author's first book is
too often not only his luckiest, but really his best; it has a
brightness that dies out under the school he puts himself to, but
a painter or sculptor is only the gainer by all the school he can
give himself.


In view of this fact it become again very hard to establish the
author's status in the business world, and at moments I have
grave question whether he belongs there at all, except as a
novelist. There is, of course, no outlay for him in this sort,
any more than in any other sort of literature, but it at least
supposes and exacts some measure of preparation. A young writer
may produce a brilliant and very perfect romance, just as he may
produce a brilliant and very perfect poem, but in the field of
realistic fiction, or in what we used to call the novel of
manners, a writer can only produce an inferior book at the
outset. For this work he needs experience and observation, not
so much of others as of himself, for ultimately his characters
will all come out of himself, and he will need to know motive and
character with such thoroughness and accuracy as he can acquire
only through his own heart. A man remains in a measure strange
to himself as long as he lives, and the very sources of novelty
in his work will be within himself; he can continue to give it
freshness in no other way than by knowing himself better and
better. But a young writer and an untrained writer has not yet
begun to be acquainted even with the lives of other men. The
world around him remains a secret as well as the world within
him, and both unfold themselves simultaneously to that experience
of joy and sorrow that can come only with the lapse of time.
Until he is well on toward forty, he will hardly have assimilated
the materials of a great novel, although he may have accumulated
them. The novelist, then, is a man of letters who is like a man
of business in the necessity of preparation for his calling,
though he does not pay store-rent, and may carry all his affairs
under his hat, as the phrase is. He alone among men of letters
may look forward to that sort of continuous prosperity which
follows from capacity and diligence in other vocations; for
story-telling is now a fairly recognized trade, and the
story-teller has a money-standing in the economic world. It is
not a very high standing, I think, and I have expressed the
belief that it does not bring him the respect felt for men in
other lines of business. Still our people cannot deny some
consideration to a man who gets a hundred dollars a thousand
words. That is a fact appreciable to business, and the man of
letters in the line of fiction may reasonably feel that his place
in our civilization, though he may owe it to the women who form
the great mass of his readers, has something of the character of
a vested interest in the eyes of men. There is, indeed, as yet
no conspiracy law which will avenge the attempt to injure him in
his business. A critic, or a dark conjuration of critics, may
damage him at will and to the extent of their power, and he has
no recourse but to write better books, or worse. The law will do
nothing for him, and a boycott of his books might be preached
with immunity by any class of men not liking his opinions on the
question of industrial slavery or antipaedobaptism. Still the
market for his wares is steadier than the market for any other
kind of literary wares, and the prices are better. The
historian, who is a kind of inferior realist, has something like
the same steadiness in the market, but the prices he can command
are much lower, and the two branches of the novelist's trade are
not to be compared in a business way. As for the essayist, the
poet, the traveller, the popular scientist, they are nowhere in
the competition for the favor of readers. The reviewer, indeed,
has a pretty steady call for his work, but I fancy the reviewers
who get a hundred dollars a thousand words could all stand upon
the point of a needle without crowding one another; I should
rather like to see them doing it. Another gratifying fact of the
situation is that the best writers of fiction who are most in
demand with the magazines, probably get nearly as much money for
their work as the inferior novelists who outsell them by tens of
thousands, and who make their appeal to the innumerable multitude
of the less educated and less cultivated buyers of fiction in
book-form. I think they earn their money, but if I did not think
all of the higher class of novelists earned so much money as they
get, I should not be so invidious as to single out for reproach
those who did not.

The difficulty about payment, as I have hinted, is that
literature has no objective value really, but only a subjective
value, if I may so express it. A poem, an essay, a novel, even a
paper on political economy, may be worth gold untold to one
reader, and worth nothing whatever to another. It may be
precious to one mood of the reader, and worthless to another mood
of the same reader. How, then, is it to be priced, and how is it
to be fairly marketed? All people must be fed, and all people
must be clothed, and all people must be housed; and so meat,
raiment, and shelter are things of positive and obvious
necessity, which may fitly have a market price put upon them.
But there is no such positive and obvious necessity, I am sorry
to say, for fiction, or not for the higher sort of fiction. The
sort of fiction which corresponds to the circus and the variety
theatre in the show-business seems essential to the spiritual
health of the masses, but the most cultivated of the classes can
get on, from time to time, without an artistic novel. This is a
great pity, and I should be very willing that readers might feel
something like the pangs of hunger and cold, when deprived of
their finer fiction; but apparently they never do. Their dumb
and passive need is apt only to manifest itself negatively, or in
the form of weariness of this author or that. The publisher of
books can ascertain the fact through the declining sales of a
writer; but the editor of a magazine, who is the best customer of
the best writers, must feel the market with a much more delicate
touch. Sometimes it may be years before he can satisfy himself
that his readers are sick of Smith, and are pining for Jones;
even then he cannot know how long their mood will last, and he is
by no means safe in cutting down Smith's price and putting up
Jones's. With the best will in the world to pay justly, he
cannot. Smith, who has been boring his readers to death for a
year, may write to- morrow a thing that will please them so much
that he will at once be a prime favorite again; and Jones, whom
they have been asking for, may do something so uncharacteristic
and alien that it will be a flat failure in the magazine. The
only thing that gives either writer positive value is his
acceptance with the reader; but the acceptance is from month to
month wholly uncertain. Authors are largely matters of fashion,
like this style of bonnet, or that shape of gown. Last spring
the dresses were all made with lace berthas, and Smith was read;
this year the butterfly capes are worn, and Jones is the favorite
author. Who shall forecast the fall and winter modes?


In this inquiry it is always the author rather than the
publisher, always the contributor rather than the editor, whom I
am concerned for. I study the difficulties of the publisher and
editor only because they involve the author and the contributor;
if they did not, I will not say with how hard a heart I should
turn from them; my only pang now in scrutinizing the business
conditions of literature is for the makers of literature, not the
purveyors of it.

After all, and in spite of my vaunting title, is the man of
letters ever a business man? I suppose that, strictly speaking,
he never is, except in those rare instances where, through need
or choice, he is the publisher as well as the author of his
books. Then he puts something on the market and tries to sell it
there, and is a man of business. But otherwise he is an artist
merely, and is allied to the great mass of wage-workers who are
paid for the labor they have put into the thing done or the thing
made; who live by doing or making a thing, and not by marketing a
thing after some other man has done it or made it. The quality
of the thing has nothing to do with the economic nature of the
case; the author is, in the last analysis, merely a workingman,
and is under the rule that governs the workingman's life. If he
is sick or sad, and cannot work, if he is lazy or tipsy and will
not, then he earns nothing. He cannot delegate his business to a
clerk or a manager; it will not go on while he is sleeping. The
wage he can command depends strictly upon his skill and

I myself am neither sorry nor ashamed for this; I am glad and
proud to be of those who eat their bread in the sweat of their
own brows, and not the sweat of other men's brows; I think my
bread is the sweeter for it. In the meantime I have no blame for
business men; they are no more of the condition of things than we
workingmen are; they did no more to cause it or create it; but I
would rather be in my place than in theirs, and I wish that I
could make all my fellow-artists realize that economically they
are the same as mechanics, farmers, day-laborers. It ought to be
our glory that we produce something, that we bring into the world
something that was not choately there before; that at least we
fashion or shape something anew; and we ought to feel the tie
that binds us to all the toilers of the shop and field, not as a
galling chain, but as a mystic bond also uniting us to Him who
works hitherto and evermore.

I know very well that to the vast multitude of our
fellow-workingmen we artists are the shadows of names, or not
even the shadows. I like to look the facts in the face, for
though their lineaments are often terrible, yet there is light
nowhere else; and I will not pretend, in this light, that the
masses care any more for us than we care for the masses, or so
much. Nevertheless, and most distinctly, we are not of the
classes. Except in our work, they have no use for us; if now and
then they fancy qualifying their material splendor or their
spiritual dulness with some artistic presence, the attempt is
always a failure that bruises and abashes. In so far as the
artist is a man of the world, he is the less an artist, and if he
fashions himself upon fashion, he deforms his art. We all know
that ghastly type; it is more absurd even than the figure which
is really of the world, which was born and bred in it, and
conceives of nothing outside of it, or above it. In the social
world, as well as in the business world, the artist is anomalous,
in the actual conditions, and he is perhaps a little ridiculous.

Yet he has to be somewhere, poor fellow, and I think that he will
do well to regard himself as in a transition state. He is really
of the masses, but they do not know it, and what is worse, they
do not know him; as yet the common people do not hear him gladly
or hear him at all. He is apparently of the classes; they know
him, and they listen to him; he often amuses them very much; but
he is not quite at ease among them; whether they know it or not,
he knows that he is not of their kind. Perhaps he will never be
at home anywhere in the world as long as there are masses whom he
ought to consort with, and classes whom he cannot consort with.
The prospect is not brilliant for any artist now living, but
perhaps the artist of the future will see in the flesh the
accomplishment of that human equality of which the instinct has
been divinely planted in the human soul.


by William Dean Howells

This etext was created by Anthony J. Adam of Houston, Texas.

It is consoling as often as dismaying to find in what seems a
cataclysmal tide of a certain direction a strong drift to the
opposite quarter. It is so divinable, if not so perceptible,
that its presence may usually be recognized as a beginning of the
turn in every tide which is sure, sooner or later, to come. In
reform, it is the menace of reaction; in reaction, it is the
promise of reform; we may take heart as we must lose heart from
it. A few years ago, when a movement which carried fiction to
the highest place in literature was apparently of such onward
and upward sweep that there could be no return or descent, there
was a counter-current in it which stayed it at last, and pulled
it back to that lamentable level where fiction is now sunk, and
the word "novel" is again the synonym of all that is morally
false and mentally despicable. Yet that this, too, is partly
apparent, I think can be shown from some phases of actual
fiction which happen to be its very latest phases, and which are
of a significance as hopeful as it is interesting. Quite as
surely as romanticism lurked at the heart of realism, something
that we may call "psychologism" has been present in the
romanticism of the last four or five years, and has now begun to
evolve itself in examples which it is the pleasure as well as the
duty of criticism to deal with.


No one in his day has done more to popularize the romanticism,
now decadent, than Mr. Gilbert Parker; and he made way for it at
its worst just because he was so much better than it was at its
worst, because he was a poet of undeniable quality, and because
he could bring to its intellectual squalor the graces and the
powers which charm, though they could not avail to save it from
final contempt. He saves himself in his latest novel, because,
though still so largely romanticistic, its prevalent effect is
psychologistic, which is the finer analogue of realistic, and
which gave realism whatever was vital in it, as now it gives
romanticism whatever will survive it. In "The Right of Way" Mr.
Parker is not in a world where mere determinism rules, where
there is nothing but the happening of things, and where this one
or that one is important or unimportant according as things are
happening to him or not, but has in himself no claim upon the
reader's attention. Once more the novel begins to rise to its
higher function, and to teach that men are somehow masters of
their fate. His Charley Steele is, indeed, as unpromising
material for the experiment, in certain ways, as could well be
chosen. One of the few memorable things that Bulwer said, who
said so many quotable things, was that pure intellectuality is
the devil, and on his plane Charley Steele comes near being pure
intellectual. He apprehends all things from the mind, and does
the effects even of goodness from the pride of mental strength.
Add to these conditions of his personality that pathologically he
is from time to time a drunkard, with always the danger of
remaining a drunkard, and you have a figure of which so much may
be despaired that it might almost be called hopeless. I confess
that in the beginning this brilliant, pitiless lawyer, this
consciencelessly powerful advocate, at once mocker and poseur,
all but failed to interest me. A little of him and his monocle
went such a great way with me that I thought I had enough of him
by the end of the trial, where he gets off a man charged with
murder, and then cruelly snubs the homicide in his gratitude; and
I do not quite know how I kept on to the point where Steele in
his drunkenness first dazzles and then insults the gang of
drunken lumbermen, and begins his second life in the river where
they have thrown him, and where his former client finds him.
From that point I could not forsake him to the end, though I
found myself more than once in the world where things happen of
themselves and do not happen from the temperaments of its
inhabitants. In a better and wiser world, the homicide would not
perhaps be at hand so opportunely to save the life of the
advocate who had saved his; but one consents to this, as one
consents to a great deal besides in the story, which is
imaginably the survival of a former method. The artist's affair
is to report the appearance, the effect; and in the real world,
the appearance, the effect, is that of law and not of miracle.
Nature employs the miracle so very sparingly that most of us go
through life without seeing one, and some of us contract such a
prejudice against miracles that when they are performed for us we
suspect a trick. When I suffered from this suspicion in "The
Right of Way" I was the more vexed because I felt that I was in
the hands of a connoisseur of character who had no need of

I have liked Mr. Parker's treatment of French-Canadian life, as
far as I have known it; and in this novel it is one of the
principal pleasures for me. He may not have his habitant, his
seigneur or his cure down cold, but he makes me believe that he
has, and I can ask no more than that of him. In like manner, he
makes the ambient, physical as well as social, sensible around
me: the cold rivers, the hard, clear skies, the snowy woods and
fields, the little frozen villages of Canada. In this book,
which is historical of the present rather than the past, he gives
one a realizing sense of the Canadians, not only in the country
but in the city, at least so far as they affect each other
psychologically in society, and makes one feel their interesting
temperamental difference from Americans. His Montrealers are
still Englishmen in their strenuous individuality; but in the
frank expression of character, of eccentricity, Charley Steele is
like a type of lawyer in our West, of an epoch when people were
not yet content to witness ideals of themselves, but when they
wished to be their poetry rather than to read it. In his second
life he has the charm for the imagination that a disembodied
spirit might have, if it could be made known to us in the
circumstances of another world. He has, indeed, made almost as
clean a break with his past as if he had really been drowned in
the river. When, after the term of oblivion, in which he knows
nothing of his past self, he is restored to his identity by a
famous surgeon too opportunely out of Paris, on a visit to his
brother, the cure, the problem is how he shall expiate the errors
of his past, work out his redemption in his new life; and the
author solves it for him by appointing him to a life of unselfish
labor, illumined by actions of positive beneficence. It is
something like the solution which Goethe imagines for Faust, and
perhaps no other is imaginable. In contriving it, Mr. Parker
indulges the weaker brethren with an abundance of accident and a
luxury of catastrophe, which the reader interested in the
psychology of the story may take as little account of as he
likes. Without so much of them he might have made a
sculpturesque romance as clearly and nobly definite as "The
Scarlet Letter"; with them he has made a most picturesque
romantic novel. His work, as I began by saying, or hinting, is
the work of a poet, in conception, and I wish that in some
details of diction it were as elect as the author's verse is.
But one must not expect everything; and in what it is, "The Right
of Way" satisfies a reasonable demand on the side of literature,
while it more than meets a reasonable expectation on the side of
psychological interest. Distinctly it marks an epoch in
contemporary noveling, and mounts far above the average best
toward the day of better things which I hope it is not rash to
image dawning.


I am sure I do not merely fancy the auroral light in a group of
stories by another poet. "The Ruling Passion," Dr. Henry Van Dyke
calls his book, which relates itself by a double tie to Mr.
Parker's novel through kinship of Canadian landscape and
character, and through the prevalence of psychologism over
determinism in it. In the situations and incidents studied with
sentiment that saves itself from sentimentality sometimes with
greater and sometimes with less ease, but saves itself, the
appeal is from the soul in the character to the soul in the
reader, and not from brute event to his sensation. I believe
that I like best among these charming things the two
sketches--they are hardly stories--"A Year of Nobility" and "The
Keeper of the Dight," though if I were asked to say why, I should
be puzzled. Perhaps it is because I find in the two pieces named
a greater detachment than I find in some others of Dr. Van Dyke's
delightful volume, and greater evidence that he has himself so
thoroughly and finally mastered his material that he is no longer
in danger of being unduly affected by it. That is a danger which
in his very quality of lyrical poet he is most liable to, for he
is above all a lyrical poet, and such drama as the chorus usually
comments is the drama next his heart. The pieces, in fact, are
so many idyls, and their realism is an effect which he has felt
rather than reasoned his way to. It is implicational rather than
intentional. It is none the worse but all the better on that
account, and I cannot say that the psychologism is the worse for
being frankly, however uninsistently, moralized. A humor,
delicate and genuine as the poetry of the stories, plays through
them, and the milde macht of sympathy with everything human
transfers to the pleasant pages the foresters and fishermen from
their native woods and waters. Canada seems the home of
primitive character; the seventeenth century survives there among
the habitants, with their steadfast faith, their picturesque
superstitions, their old world traditions and their new world
customs. It is the land not only of the habitant, but of his
oversoul, the good cure, and his overlord the seigneur, now faded
economically, but still lingering socially in the scene of his
large possessions. Their personality imparts a charm to the many
books about them which at present there seems to be no end to the
making of; and such a fine touch as Dr. Van Dyke's gives us a
likeness of them, which if it is idealized is idealized by
reservation, not by attribution.


Mr. William Allen White's method is the reverse of Dr. Van
Dyke's. If he has held his hand anywhere the reader does not
suspect it, for it seems, with its relentless power of
realization, to be laid upon the whole political life of Kansas,
which it keeps in a clutch so penetrating, so comprehensive, that
the reader does not quite feel his own vitals free from it. Very
likely, it does not grasp the whole situation; after all, it is a
picture, not a map, that Mr. White has been making, and the
photograph itself, though it may include, does not represent
everything. Some years ago there was a silly attempt to reproach
the true painters of manners by calling them photographic, but I
doubt if even then Mr. White would have minded any such censure
of his conscientious work, and I am sure that now he would count
it honor. He cannot be the admirable artist he is without
knowing that it is the inwardness as well as the outwardness of
men that he photographs, and if the reader does not know it, the
worse for the reader. He is not the sort of reader who will rise
from this book humiliated and fortified, as any reader worthy of
it will.

The author has put his best foot forward in the opening story,
"The Man on Horseback," which, when I read it a few years ago in
the magazine where it first appeared, seemed to me so perfect in
its way that I should not have known how to better it. Of
course, this is a good deal for a critic to say; it is something
like abdicating his office; but I repeat it. It takes rather
more courage for a man to be honest in fiction than out of it,
for people do not much expect it of him, or altogether like it in
him; but in "The Man on Horseback" Mr. White is at every moment
honest. He is honest, if not so impressively honest, in the
other stories, "A Victory for the People," "A Triumph's
Evidence," "The Mercy of Death," and "A Most Lamentable Comedy;"
and where he fails of perfect justice to his material, I think it
is because of his unconscious political bias, rather than
anything wilfuller. In the story last named this betrays itself
in his treatment of a type of man who could not be faithful to
any sort of movement, and whose unfaithfulness does not
necessarily censure the movement Mr. White dislikes. Wonderfully
good as the portrait of Dan Gregg is, it wants the final touch
which could have come only from a little kindness. His story
might have been called "The Man on Foot," by the sort of
antithesis which I should not blame Mr. White for scorning, and I
should not say anything of it worse than that it is pitilessly
hard, which the story of "The Man on Horseback" is not, or any of
the other stories. Sentimentality of any kind is alien to the
author's nature, but not tenderness, especially that sparing sort
which gives his life to the man who is down.

Most of the men whom Mr. White deals with are down, as most men
in the struggle of life are. Few of us can be on top morally,
almost as few as can be on top materially; and probably nothing
will more surprise the saints at the judgment day than to find
themselves in such a small minority. But probably not the saints
alone will be saved, and it is some such hope that Mr. White has

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