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

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mansion, after his wife had begun to get well enough for removal, and we
looked up toward a balcony where by-and-by that lovely presence made
itself visible, as if it had stooped there from a cloud. A hand frailly
waved a handkerchief; Clemens ran over the lawn toward it, calling
tenderly: "What? What?" as if it might be an asking for him instead of
the greeting it really was for me. It was the last time I saw her, if
indeed I can be said to have seen her then, and long afterward when I
said how beautiful we all thought her, how good, how wise, how
wonderfully perfect in every relation of life, he cried out in a breaking
voice: "Oh, why didn't you ever tell her? She thought you didn't like
her." What a pang it was then not to have told her, but how could we
have told her? His unreason endeared him to me more than all his wisdom.

To that Riverdale sojourn belong my impressions of his most violent anti-
Christian Science rages, which began with the postponement of his book,
and softened into acceptance of the delay till he had well-nigh forgotten
his wrath when it come out. There was also one of those joint episodes
of ours, which, strangely enough, did not eventuate in entire failure, as
most of our joint episodes did. He wrote furiously to me of a wrong
which had been done to one of the most helpless and one of the most
helped of our literary brethren, asking me to join with him in recovering
the money paid over by that brother's publisher to a false friend who had
withheld it and would not give any account of it. Our hapless brother
had appealed to Clemens, as he had to me, with the facts, but not asking
our help, probably because he knew he need not ask; and Clemens enclosed
to me a very taking-by-the-throat message which he proposed sending to
the false friend. For once I had some sense, and answered that this
would never do, for we had really no power in the matter, and I contrived
a letter to the recreant so softly diplomatic that I shall always think
of it with pride when my honesties no longer give me satisfaction, saying
that this incident had come to our knowledge, and suggesting that we felt
sure he would not finally wish to withhold the money. Nothing more,
practically, than that, but that was enough; there came promptly back a
letter of justification, covering a very substantial check, which we
hilariously forwarded to our beneficiary. But the helpless man who was
so used to being helped did not answer with the gladness I, at least,
expected of him. He acknowledged the check as he would any ordinary
payment, and then he made us observe that there was still a large sum due
him out of the moneys withheld. At this point I proposed to Clemens that
we should let the nonchalant victim collect the remnant himself. Clouds
of sorrow had gathered about the bowed head of the delinquent since we
began on him, and my fickle sympathies were turning his way from the
victim who was really to blame for leaving his affairs so unguardedly to
him in the first place. Clemens made some sort of grit assent, and we
dropped the matter. He was more used to ingratitude from those he helped
than I was, who found being lain down upon not so amusing as he found my
revolt. He reckoned I was right, he said, and after that I think we
never recurred to the incident. It was not ingratitude that he ever
minded; it was treachery, that really maddened him past forgiveness.


During the summer he spent at York Harbor I was only forty minutes away
at Kittery Point, and we saw each other often; but this was before the
last time at Riverdale. He had a wide, low cottage in a pine grove
overlooking York River, and we used to sit at a corner of the veranda
farthest away from Mrs. Clemens's window, where we could read our
manuscripts to each other, and tell our stories, and laugh our hearts out
without disturbing her. At first she had been about the house, and there
was one gentle afternoon when she made tea for us in the parlor, but that
was the last time I spoke with her. After that it was really a question
of how soonest and easiest she could be got back to Riverdale; but, of
course, there were specious delays in which she seemed no worse and
seemed a little better, and Clemens could work at a novel he had begun.
He had taken a room in the house of a friend and neighbor, a fisherman
and boatman; there was a table where he could write, and a bed where he
could lie down and read; and there, unless my memory has played me one of
those constructive tricks that people's memories indulge in, he read me
the first chapters of an admirable story. The scene was laid in a
Missouri town, and the characters such as he had known in boyhood; but as
often as I tried to make him own it, he denied having written any such
story; it is possible that I dreamed it, but I hope the MS. will yet be
found. Upon reflection I cannot believe that I dreamed it, and I cannot
believe that it was an effect of that sort of pseudomnemonics which I
have mentioned. The characters in the novel are too clearly outlined in
my recollection, together with some critical reservations of my own
concerning them. Not only does he seem to have read me those first
chapters, but to have talked them over with me and outlined the whole

I cannot say whether or not he believed that his wife would recover; he
fought the fear of her death to the end; for her life was far more
largely his than the lives of most men's wives are theirs. For his own
life I believe he would never have much cared, if I may trust a saying of
one who was so absolutely without pose as he was. He said that he never
saw a dead man whom he did not envy for having had it over and being done
with it. Life had always amused him, and in the resurgence of its
interests after his sorrow had ebbed away he was again deeply interested
in the world and in the human race, which, though damned, abounded in
subjects of curious inquiry. When the time came for his wife's removal
from York Harbor I went with him to Boston, where he wished to look up
the best means of her conveyance to New York. The inquiry absorbed him:
the sort of invalid car he could get; how she could be carried to the
village station; how the car could be detached from the eastern train at
Boston and carried round to the southern train on the other side of the
city, and then how it could be attached to the Hudson River train at New
York and left at Riverdale. There was no particular of the business
which he did not scrutinize and master, not only with his poignant
concern for her welfare, but with his strong curiosity as to how these
unusual things were done with the usual means. With the inertness that
grows upon an aging man he had been used to delegating more and more
things, but of that thing I perceived that he would not delegate the
least detail.

He had meant never to go abroad again, but when it came time to go he did
not look forward to returning; he expected to live in Florence always
after that; they were used to the life and they had been happy there some
years earlier before he went with his wife for the cure of Nauheim. But
when he came home again it was for good and all. It was natural that he
should wish to live in New York, where they had already had a pleasant
year in Tenth Street. I used to see him there in an upper room, looking
south over a quiet open space of back yards where we fought our battles
in behalf of the Filipinos and the Boers, and he carried on his campaign
against the missionaries in China. He had not yet formed his habit of
lying for whole days in bed and reading and writing there, yet he was a
good deal in bed, from weakness, I suppose, and for the mere comfort of

My perspectives are not very clear, and in the foreshortening of events
which always takes place in our review of the past I may not always time
things aright. But I believe it was not until he had taken his house at
21 Fifth Avenue that he began to talk to me of writing his autobiography.
He meant that it should be a perfectly veracious record of his life and
period; for the first time in literature there should be a true history
of a man and a true presentation of the men the man had known. As we
talked it over the scheme enlarged itself in our riotous fancy. We said
it should be not only a book, it should be a library, not only a library,
but a literature. It should make good the world's loss through Omar's
barbarity at Alexandria; there was no image so grotesque, so extravagant
that we did not play with it; and the work so far as he carried it was
really done on a colossal scale. But one day he said that as to veracity
it was a failure; he had begun to lie, and that if no man ever yet told
the truth about himself it was because no man ever could. How far he had
carried his autobiography I cannot say; he dictated the matter several
hours each day; and the public has already seen long passages from it,
and can judge, probably, of the make and matter of the whole from these.
It is immensely inclusive, and it observes no order or sequence. Whether
now, after his death, it will be published soon or late I have no means
of knowing. Once or twice he said in a vague way that it was not to be
published for twenty years, so that the discomfort of publicity might be
minimized for all the survivors. Suddenly he told me he was not working
at it; but I did not understand whether he had finished it or merely
dropped it; I never asked.

We lived in the same city, but for old men rather far apart, he at Tenth
Street and I at Seventieth, and with our colds and other disabilities we
did not see each other often. He expected me to come to him, and I would
not without some return of my visits, but we never ceased to be friends,
and good friends, so far as I know. I joked him once as to how I was
going to come out in his autobiography, and he gave me some sort of
joking reassurance. There was one incident, however, that brought us
very frequently and actively together. He came one Sunday afternoon to
have me call with him on Maxim Gorky, who was staying at a hotel a few
streets above mine. We were both interested in Gorky, Clemens rather
more as a revolutionist and I as a realist, though I too wished the
Russian Tsar ill, and the novelist well in his mission to the Russian
sympathizers in this republic. But I had lived through the episode of
Kossuth's visit to us and his vain endeavor to raise funds for the
Hungarian cause in 1851, when we were a younger and nobler nation than
now, with hearts if not hands, opener to the "oppressed of Europe"; the
oppressed of America, the four or five millions of slaves, we did not
count. I did not believe that Gorky could get the money for the cause of
freedom in Russia which he had come to get; as I told a valued friend of
his and mine, I did not believe he could get twenty-five hundred dollars,
and I think now I set the figure too high. I had already refused to sign
the sort of general appeal his friends were making to our principles and
pockets because I felt it so wholly idle, and when the paper was produced
in Gorky's presence and Clemens put his name to it I still refused. The
next day Gorky was expelled from his hotel with the woman who was not his
wife, but who, I am bound to say, did not look as if she were not, at
least to me, who am, however, not versed in those aspects of human

I might have escaped unnoted, but Clemens's familiar head gave us away to
the reporters waiting at the elevator's mouth for all who went to see
Gorky. As it was, a hunt of interviewers ensued for us severally and
jointly. I could remain aloof in my hotel apartment, returning answer to
such guardians of the public right to know everything that I had nothing
to say of Gorky's domestic affairs; for the public interest had now
strayed far from the revolution, and centred entirely upon these. But
with Clemens it was different; he lived in a house with a street door
kept by a single butler, and he was constantly rung for. I forget how
long the siege lasted, but long enough for us to have fun with it. That
was the moment of the great Vesuvian eruption, and we figured ourselves
in easy reach of a volcano which was every now and then "blowing a cone
off," as the telegraphic phrase was. The roof of the great market in
Naples had just broken in under its load of ashes and cinders, and
crashed hundreds of people; and we asked each other if we were not sorry
we had not been there, where the pressure would have been far less
terrific than it was with us in Fifth Avenue. The forbidden butler came
up with a message that there were some gentlemen below who wanted to see

"How many?" he demanded.

"Five," the butler faltered.


The butler feigned uncertainty.

"What would you do?" he asked me.

"I wouldn't see them," I said, and then Clemens went directly down to
them. How or by what means he appeased their voracity I cannot say, but
I fancy it was by the confession of the exact truth, which was harmless
enough. They went away joyfully, and he came back in radiant
satisfaction with having seen them. Of course he was right and I wrong,
and he was right as to the point at issue between Gorky and those who had
helplessly treated him with such cruel ignominy. In America it is not
the convention for men to live openly in hotels with women who are not
their wives. Gorky had violated this convention and he had to pay the
penalty; and concerning the destruction of his efficiency as an emissary
of the revolution, his blunder was worse than a crime.


To the period of Clemens's residence in Fifth Avenue belongs his
efflorescence in white serge. He was always rather aggressively
indifferent about dress, and at a very early date in our acquaintance
Aldrich and I attempted his reform by clubbing to buy him a cravat.
But he would not put away his stiff little black bow, and until he
imagined the suit of white serge, he wore always a suit of black serge,
truly deplorable in the cut of the sagging frock. After his measure had
once been taken he refused to make his clothes the occasion of personal
interviews with his tailor; he sent the stuff by the kind elderly woman
who had been in the service of the family from the earliest days of his
marriage, and accepted the result without criticism. But the white serge
was an inspiration which few men would have had the courage to act upon.
The first time I saw him wear it was at the authors' hearing before the
Congressional Committee on Copyright in Washington. Nothing could have
been more dramatic than the gesture with which he flung off his long
loose overcoat, and stood forth in white from his feet to the crown of
his silvery head. It was a magnificent coup, and he dearly loved a coup;
but the magnificent speech which he made, tearing to shreds the venerable
farrago of nonsense about nonproperty in ideas which had formed the basis
of all copyright legislation, made you forget even his spectacularity.

It is well known how proud he was of his Oxford gown, not merely because
it symbolized the honor in which he was held by the highest literary body
in the world, but because it was so rich and so beautiful. The red and
the lavender of the cloth flattered his eyes as the silken black of the
same degree of Doctor of Letters, given him years before at Yale, could
not do. His frank, defiant happiness in it, mixed with a due sense of
burlesque, was something that those lacking his poet-soul could never
imagine; they accounted it vain, weak; but that would not have mattered
to him if he had known it. In his London sojourn he had formed the top-
hat habit, and for a while he lounged splendidly up and down Fifth Avenue
in that society emblem; but he seemed to tire of it, and to return kindly
to the soft hat of his Southwestern tradition.

He disliked clubs; I don't know whether he belonged to any in New York,
but I never met him in one. As I have told, he himself had formed the
Human Race Club, but as he never could get it together it hardly counted.
There was to have been a meeting of it the time of my only visit to
Stormfield in April of last year; but of three who were to have come I
alone came. We got on very well without the absentees, after finding
them in the wrong, as usual, and the visit was like those I used to have
with him so many years before in Hartford, but there was not the old
ferment of subjects. Many things had been discussed and put away for
good, but we had our old fondness for nature and for each other, who were
so differently parts of it. He showed his absolute content with his
house, and that was the greater pleasure for me because it was my son who
designed it. The architect had been so fortunate as to be able to plan
it where a natural avenue of savins, the closeknit, slender, cypress-like
cedars of New England, led away from the rear of the villa to the little
level of a pergola, meant some day to be wreathed and roofed with vines.
But in the early spring days all the landscape was in the beautiful
nakedness of the northern winter. It opened in the surpassing loveliness
of wooded and meadowed uplands, under skies that were the first days
blue, and the last gray over a rainy and then a snowy floor. We walked
up and down, up and down, between the villa terrace and the pergola, and
talked with the melancholy amusement, the sad tolerance of age for the
sort of men and things that used to excite us or enrage us; now we were
far past turbulence or anger. Once we took a walk together across the
yellow pastures to a chasmal creek on his grounds, where the ice still
knit the clayey banks together like crystal mosses; and the stream far
down clashed through and over the stones and the shards of ice. Clemens
pointed out the scenery he had bought to give himself elbow-room, and
showed me the lot he was going to have me build on. The next day we came
again with the geologist he had asked up to Stormfield to analyze its
rocks. Truly he loved the place, though he had been so weary of change
and so indifferent to it that he never saw it till he came to live in it.
He left it all to the architect whom he had known from a child in the
intimacy which bound our families together, though we bodily lived far
enough apart. I loved his little ones and he was sweet to mine and was
their delighted-in and wondered-at friend. Once and once again, and yet
again and again, the black shadow that shall never be lifted where it
falls, fell in his house and in mine, during the forty years and more
that we were friends, and endeared us the more to each other.


My visit at Stormfield came to an end with tender relucting on his part
and on mine. Every morning before I dressed I heard him sounding my name
through the house for the fun of it and I know for the fondness; and if I
looked out of my door, there he was in his long nightgown swaying up and
down the corridor, and wagging his great white head like a boy that
leaves his bed and comes out in the hope of frolic with some one. The
last morning a soft sugarsnow had fallen and was falling, and I drove
through it down to the station in the carriage which had been given him
by his wife's father when they were first married, and been kept all
those intervening years in honorable retirement for this final use. Its
springs had not grown yielding with time; it had rather the stiffness and
severity of age; but for him it must have swung low like the sweet
chariot of the negro "spiritual" which I heard him sing with such fervor,
when those wonderful hymns of the slaves began to make their way
northward. 'Go Down, Daniel', was one in which I can hear his quavering
tenor now. He was a lover of the things he liked, and full of a passion
for them which satisfied itself in reading them matchlessly aloud. No
one could read 'Uncle Remus' like him; his voice echoed the voices of the
negro nurses who told his childhood the wonderful tales. I remember
especially his rapture with Mr. Cable's 'Old Creole Days,' and the
thrilling force with which he gave the forbidding of the leper's brother
when the city's survey ran the course of an avenue through the cottage
where the leper lived in hiding: "Strit must not pass!"

Out of a nature rich and fertile beyond any I have known, the material
given him by the Mystery that makes a man and then leaves him to make
himself over, he wrought a character of high nobility upon a foundation
of clear and solid truth. At the last day he will not have to confess
anything, for all his life was the free knowledge of any one who would
ask him of it. The Searcher of hearts will not bring him to shame at
that day, for he did not try to hide any of the things for which he was
often so bitterly sorry. He knew where the Responsibility lay, and he
took a man's share of it bravely; but not the less fearlessly he left the
rest of the answer to the God who had imagined men.

It is in vain that I try to give a notion of the intensity with which he
pierced to the heart of life, and the breadth of vision with which he
compassed the whole world, and tried for the reason of things, and then
left trying. We had other meetings, insignificantly sad and brief; but
the last time I saw him alive was made memorable to me by the kind, clear
judicial sense with which he explained and justified the labor-unions as
the sole present help of the weak against the strong.

Next I saw him dead, lying in his coffin amid those flowers with which we
garland our despair in that pitiless hour. After the voice of his old
friend Twichell had been lifted in the prayer which it wailed through in
broken-hearted supplication, I looked a moment at the face I knew so
well; and it was patient with the patience I had so often seen in it:
something of puzzle, a great silent dignity, an assent to what must be
from the depths of a nature whose tragical seriousness broke in the
laughter which the unwise took for the whole of him. Emerson,
Longfellow, Lowell, Holmes--I knew them all and all the rest of our
sages, poets, seers, critics, humorists; they were like one another and
like other literary men; but Clemens was sole, incomparable, the Lincoln
of our literature.


Absolute devotion to the day of her death,
Absolutely, so positively, so almost aggressively truthful
Addressed to their tenderness out of his tenderness
Amiable perception, and yet with a sort of remote absence
Amuse him, even when they wronged him
Amusingly realized the situation to their friends
But now I remember that he gets twenty dollars a month"
Christianity had done nothing to improve morals and conditions
Church: "Oh yes, I go It 'most kills me, but I go,"
Clemens was sole, incomparable, the Lincoln of our literature
Despair broke in laughter
Despised the avoidance of repetitions out of fear of tautology
Everlasting rock of human credulity and folly
Flowers with which we garland our despair in that pitiless hour
He did not care much for fiction
He did not paw you with his hands to show his affection
He was a youth to the end of his days
Heroic lies
His coming almost killed her, but it was worth it
Honest men are few when it comes to themselves
It was mighty pretty, as Pepys would say
Jane Austen
Left him to do what the cat might
Lie, of course, and did to save others from grief or harm
Liked to find out good things and great things for himself
Livy Clemens: nthe loveliest person I have ever seen
Marriages are what the parties to them alone really know
Mind and soul were with those who do the hard work of the world
Mock modesty of print forbids my repeating here
Most desouthernized Southerner I ever knew
Most serious, the most humane, the most conscientious of men
Nearly nothing as chaos could be
Never saw a dead man whom he did not envy
Never saw a man more regardful of negroes
No man ever yet told the truth about himself
No man more perfectly sensed and more entirely abhorred slavery
Not possible for Clemens to write like anybody else
Ought not to call coarse without calling one's self prudish
Polite learning hesitated his praise
Praised it enough to satisfy the author
Reparation due from every white to every black man
Shackles of belief worn so long
Some superstition, usually of a hygienic sort
Stupidly truthful
The ornament of a house is the friends who frequent it
Used to ingratitude from those he helped
Vacuous vulgarity of its texts
Walter-Scotticized, pseudo-chivalry of the Southern ideal
We have never ended before, and we do not see how we can end
Well, if you are to be lost, I want to be lost with you
What he had done he owned to, good, bad, or indifferent
Whether every human motive was not selfish
Wonder why we hate the past so--"It's so damned humiliating!"


Absolute devotion to the day of her death,
Absolutely, so positively, so almost aggressively truthful
Abstract, the air-drawn, afflicted me like physical discomforts
Act officiously, not officially
Addressed to their tenderness out of his tenderness
Always sumptuously providing out of his destitution
Amiable perception, and yet with a sort of remote absence
Amuse him, even when they wronged him
Amusingly realized the situation to their friends
Anglo-American genius for ugliness
Appeal, which he had come to recognize as invasive
Appeared to have no grudge left
Backed their credulity with their credit
Bayard Taylor: incomparable translation of Faust
Became gratefully strange
Best talkers are willing that you should talk if you like
But now I remember that he gets twenty dollars a month"
Candle burning on the table for the cigars
Celia Thaxter
Charles Reade
Charles F. Browne
Christianity had done nothing to improve morals and conditions
Church: "Oh yes, I go It 'most kills me, but I go,"
Clemens was sole, incomparable, the Lincoln of our literature
Collective opacity
Confidence I have nearly always felt when wrong
Could make us feel that our faults were other people's
Could easily believe now that it was some one else who saw it
Could only by chance be caught in earnest about anything
Couldn't fire your revolver without bringing down a two volumer
Dawn upon him through a cloud of other half remembered faces
Death of the joy that ought to come from work
Death's vague conjectures to the broken expectations of life
Despair broke in laughter
Despised the avoidance of repetitions out of fear of tautology
Did not feel the effect I would so willingly have experienced
Dinner was at the old-fashioned Boston hour of two
Discomfort which mistaken or blundering praise
Dollars were of so much farther flight than now
Edmund Quincy
Edward Everett Hale
Either to deny the substance of things unseen, or to affirm it
Enjoying whatever was amusing in the disadvantage to himself
Espoused the theory of Bacon's authorship of Shakespeare
Ethical sense, not the aesthetical sense
Everlasting rock of human credulity and folly
Expectation of those who will come no more
Express the appreciation of another's fit word
Feigned the gratitude which I could see that he expected
Fell either below our pride or rose above our purse
Felt that this was my misfortune more than my fault
Few men last over from one reform to another
First dinner served in courses that I had sat down to
Flowers with which we garland our despair in that pitiless hour
Forbearance of a wise man content to bide his time
Forebore to speak needlessly to him, or to shake his hand
Found life was not all poetry
Francis Parkman
Gay laugh comes across the abysm of the years
Generous lover of all that was excellent in literature
George William Curtis
Giggle which Charles Lamb found the best thing in life
Give him your best wine
Got out of it all the fun there was in it
Greeting of great impersonal cordiality
Grieving that there could be such ire in heavenly minds
Hard of hearing on one side. But it isn't deafness
Harriet Beecher Stowe and the Autocrat clashed upon homeopathy
Hate of hate, the scorn of scorn, The love of love
He was not bored because he would not be
He did not care much for fiction
He was not constructive; he was essentially observant
He had no time to make money
He was a youth to the end of his days
He did not paw you with his hands to show his affection
Heroic lies
His remembrance absolutely ceased with an event
His readers trusted and loved him
His enemies suffered from it almost as much as his friends
His coming almost killed her, but it was worth it
His plays were too bad for the stage, or else too good for it
Hollowness, the hopelessness, the unworthiness of life
Honest men are few when it comes to themselves
I find this young man worthy
I believe neither in heroes nor in saints
I did not know, and I hated to ask
If he was half as bad, he would have been too bad to be
If he was not there to your touch, it was no fault of his
In the South there was nothing but a mistaken social ideal
Incredible in their insipidity
Industrial slavery
Insatiable English fancy for the wild America no longer there
Intellectual poseurs
It is well to hold one's country to her promises
It was mighty pretty, as Pepys would say
Jane Austen
Julia Ward Howe
Left him to do what the cat might
Lie, of course, and did to save others from grief or harm
Liked being with you, not for what he got, but for what he gave
Liked to find out good things and great things for himself
Literary dislikes or contempts
Livy Clemens: nthe loveliest person I have ever seen
Long breath was not his; he could not write a novel
Looked as if Destiny had sat upon it
Love of freedom and the hope of justice
Love and gratitude are only semi-articulate at the best
Made all men trust him when they doubted his opinions
Man who may any moment be out of work is industrially a slave
Man who had so much of the boy in him
Marriages are what the parties to them alone really know
Mellow cordial of a voice that was like no other
Memory will not be ruled
Men who took themselves so seriously as that need
Men's lives ended where they began, in the keeping of women
Met with kindness, if not honor
Might so far forget myself as to be a novelist
Mind and soul were with those who do the hard work of the world
Mock modesty of print forbids my repeating here
Most desouthernized Southerner I ever knew
Most serious, the most humane, the most conscientious of men
Napoleonic height which spiritually overtops the Alps
Nearly nothing as chaos could be
Never saw a man more regardful of negroes
Never saw a dead man whom he did not envy
Never paid in anything but hopes of paying
No man ever yet told the truth about himself
No time to make money
No man more perfectly sensed and more entirely abhorred slavery
Not quite himself till he had made you aware of his quality
Not a man who cared to transcend; he liked bounds
Not much patience with the unmanly craving for sympathy
Not much of a talker, and almost nothing of a story-teller
Not possible for Clemens to write like anybody else
Now death has come to join its vague conjectures
NYC, a city where money counts for more and goes for less
Odious hilarity, without meaning and without remission
Offers mortifyingly mean, and others insultingly vague
Old man's tendency to revert to the past
Old man's disposition to speak of his infirmities
One could be openly poor in Cambridge without open shame
Only one concerned who was quite unconcerned
Ought not to call coarse without calling one's self prudish
Pathos of revolt from the colorless rigidities
Person who wished to talk when he could listen
Plain-speaking or Rude Speaking
Pointed the moral in all they did
Polite learning hesitated his praise
Praised it enough to satisfy the author
Praised extravagantly, and in the wrong place
Put your finger on the present moment and enjoy it
Quarrel was with error, and not with the persons who were in it
Quebec was a bit of the seventeenth century
Reformers, who are so often tedious and ridiculous
Remember the dinner-bell
Reparation due from every white to every black man
Secret of the man who is universally interesting
Seen through the wrong end of the telescope
Shackles of belief worn so long
Shy of his fellow-men, as the scholar seems always to be
So refined, after the gigantic coarseness of California
Some superstition, usually of a hygienic sort
Sometimes they sacrificed the song to the sermon
Sought the things that he could agree with you upon
Spare his years the fatigue of recalling your identity
Standards were their own, and they were satisfied with them
Study in a corner by the porch
Stupidly truthful
The world is well lost whenever the world is wrong
The ornament of a house is the friends who frequent it
Things common to all, however peculiar in each
Those who have sorrowed deepest will understand this best
Times when a man's city was a man's country
Tired themselves out in trying to catch up with him
True to an ideal of life rather than to life itself
Turn of the talk toward the mystical
Used to ingratitude from those he helped
Vacuous vulgarity of its texts
Visited one of the great mills
Walter-Scotticized, pseudo-chivalry of the Southern ideal
Wasted face, and his gay eyes had the death-look
We have never ended before, and we do not see how we can end
Welcome me, and make the least of my shyness and strangeness
Well, if you are to be lost, I want to be lost with you
What he had done he owned to, good, bad, or indifferent
When to be an agnostic was to be almost an outcast
Whether every human motive was not selfish
Whitman's public use of his privately written praise
Wit that tries its teeth upon everything
Women's rights
Wonder why we hate the past so--"It's so damned humiliating!"
Wonderful to me how it should remain so unintelligible
Work gives the impression of an uncommon continuity
Wrote them first and last in the spirit of Dickens


by William Dean Howells

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"

LITERATURE AND LIFE--The Man of Letters as a Man of Business

by William Dean Howells


Perhaps the reader may not feel in these papers that inner solidarity
which the writer is conscious of; and it is in this doubt that the writer
wishes to offer a word of explanation. He owns, as he must, that they
have every appearance of a group of desultory sketches and essays,
without palpable relation to one another, or superficial allegiance to
any central motive. Yet he ventures to hope that the reader who makes
his way through them will be aware, in the retrospect, of something like
this relation and this allegiance.

For my own part, if I am to identify myself with the writer who is here
on his defence, I have never been able to see much difference between
what seemed to me Literature and what seemed to me Life. If I did not
find life in what professed to be literature, I disabled its profession,
and possibly from this habit, now inveterate with me, I am never quite
sure of life unless I find literature in it. Unless the thing seen
reveals to me an intrinsic poetry, and puts on phrases that clothe it
pleasingly to the imagination, I do not much care for it; but if it will
do this, I do not mind how poor or common or squalid it shows at first
glance: it challenges my curiosity and keeps my sympathy. Instantly I
love it and wish to share my pleasure in it with some one else, or as
many ones else as I can get to look or listen. If the thing is something
read, rather than seen, I am not anxious about the matter: if it is like
life, I know that it is poetry, and take it to my heart. There can be no
offence in it for which its truth will not make me amends.

Out of this way of thinking and feeling about these two great things,
about Literature and Life, there may have arisen a confusion as to which
is which. But I do not wish to part them, and in their union I have
found, since I learned my letters, a joy in them both which I hope will
last till I forget my letters.

"So was it when my life began;
So is it, now I am a man;
So be it when I shall grow old."

It is the rainbow in the sky for me; and I have seldom seen a sky without
some bit of rainbow in it. Sometimes I can make others see it, sometimes
not; but I always like to try, and if I fail I harbor no worse thought of
them than that they have not had their eyes examined and fitted with
glasses which would at least have helped their vision.

As to the where and when of the different papers, in which I suppose
their bibliography properly lies, I need not be very exact. "The Man of
Letters as a Man of Business" was written in a hotel at Lakewood in the
May of 1892 or 1893, and pretty promptly printed in Scribner's Magazine;
"Confessions of a Summer Colonist" was done at York Harbor in the fall of
1898 for the Atlantic Monthly, and was a study of life at that pleasant
resort as it was lived-in the idyllic times of the earlier settlement,
long before motors and almost before private carriages; "American
Literary Centres," "American Literature in Exile," "Puritanism in
American Fiction," "Politics of American Authors," were, with three or
four other papers, the endeavors of the American correspondent of the
London Times's literary supplement, to enlighten the British
understanding as to our ways of thinking and writing eleven years ago,
and are here left to bear the defects of the qualities of their obsolete
actuality in the year 1899. Most of the studies and sketches are from an
extinct department of "Life and Letters" which I invented for Harper's
Weekly, and operated for a year or so toward the close of the nineteenth
century. Notable among these is the "Last Days in a Dutch Hotel," which
was written at Paris in 1897; it is rather a favorite of mine, perhaps
because I liked Holland so much; others, which more or less personally
recognize effects of sojourn in New York or excursions into New England,
are from the same department; several may be recalled by the longer-
memoried reader as papers from the "Editor's Easy Chair" in Harper's
Monthly; "Wild Flowers of the Asphalt" is the review of an ever-
delightful book which I printed in Harper's Bazar; "The Editor's
Relations with the Young Contributor" was my endeavor in Youth's
Companion to shed a kindly light from my experience in both seats upon
the too-often and too needlessly embittered souls of literary beginners.

So it goes as to the motives and origins of the collection which may
persist in disintegrating under the reader's eye, in spite of my well-
meant endeavors to establish a solidarity for it. The group at least
attests, even in this event, the wide, the wild, variety of my literary
production in time and space. From the beginning the journalist's
independence of the scholar's solitude and seclusion has remained with
me, and though I am fond enough of a bookish entourage, of the serried
volumes of the library shelves, and the inviting breadth of the library
table, I am not disabled by the hard conditions of a bedroom in a summer
hotel, or the narrow possibilities of a candle-stand, without a
dictionary in the whole house, or a book of reference even in the running
brooks outside.



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 sometime be different; I do not
believe it will till the conditions are different, and that is a long way


In the mean time 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. 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; 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 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 Civil War 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 Civil 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 imbittered 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, unless he is the author of
an historical romance.


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 then had at
least the purchasing power of sixty thousand now. Moore had three
thousand guineas for 'Lalla Rookh,' but what publisher would be rash
enough to pay fifteen 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 few
leading 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' judgment.

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 often have
wider acceptance as a book from having been a magazine serial.


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 contemporanics. 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 dry goods,
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 side.


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 young 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 any thing 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 not displeased with a new book that sells fifteen hundred
copies. Whether the author has as much reason to be pleased 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 at 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
ninepence. 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 every one 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; 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 now 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 men.


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.

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
and 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 the entire stock, that will be his
fault, and not the fault of the customer.

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 the 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 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

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 newspaper 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


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 two or three authors 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.
Some of 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. Perhaps he could if they would
let him alone; but the art of letting alone the creature of your favor,
when he has forfeited your favor, is yet in its infancy with 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 constancy, 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, Tourgunief, Zola, Hardy, and James is unworthy a moment's
comparison with the school of Rider Haggard. All this ought certainly to
unmake the author in question, 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 any wise 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 merits.

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 hard-pushed, poor 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.


There are some sorts of light literature once greatly in demand, but now
apparently no longer desired by magazine 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, Warner, Ik Marvell,
Longfellow, Lowell, Story, Mr. James, Mr. Aldrich, Mr. Hay, 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 that 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 any one were now to write
essays such as 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 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 a sculptor is only the gainer by all
the school he can give himself.


In view of this fact it becomes 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 towards forty, he will
hardly have assimilated the materials of a great novel, although he may
have amassed 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 or whose book sells five hundred
thousand copies or less. 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 in literature 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 tomorrow 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
am 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 working-man, and is
under the rule that governs the working-man'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 diligence.

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 mean time, I have no blame for business men; they are no more of the
condition of things than we working-men 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-working-men 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.


Artist has seasons, as trees, when he cannot blossom
Book that they are content to know at second hand
Business to take advantage of his necessity
Competition has deformed human nature
Conditions of hucksters imposed upon poets
Fate of a book is in the hands of the women
God of chance leads them into temptation and adversity
Historian, who is a kind of inferior realist
I do not think any man ought to live by an art
If he has not enjoyed writing no one will enjoy reading
Impropriety if not indecency promises literary success
Literature beautiful only through the intelligence
Literature has no objective value
Literature is Business as well as Art
Man is strange to himself as long as he lives
Men read the newspapers, but our women read the books
More zeal than knowledge in it
Most journalists would have been literary men if they could
Never quite sure of life unless I find literature in it
No man ought to live by any art
No rose blooms right along
Our huckstering civilization
Public whose taste is so crude that they cannot enjoy the best
Results of art should be free to all
Reward is in the serial and not in the book--19th Century
Rogues in every walk of life
There is small love of pure literature
Two branches of the novelist's trade: Novelist and Historian
Warner's Backlog Studies
Work not truly priced in money cannot be truly paid in money

LITERATURE AND LIFE--The Confessions of a Summer Colonist

by William Dean Howells


The season is ending in the little summer settlement on the Down East
coast where I have been passing the last three months, and with each
loath day the sense of its peculiar charm grows more poignant.
A prescience of the homesickness I shall feel for it when I go already
begins to torment me, and I find myself wishing to imagine some form of
words which shall keep a likeness of it at least through the winter; some
shadowy semblance which I may turn to hereafter if any chance or change
should destroy or transform it, or, what is more likely, if I should
never come back to it. Perhaps others in the distant future may turn to
it for a glimpse of our actual life in one of its most characteristic
phases; I am sure that in the distant present there are many millions of
our own inlanders to whom it would be altogether strange.


In a certain sort fragile is written all over our colony; as far as the
visible body of it is concerned it is inexpressibly perishable; a fire
and a high wind could sweep it all away; and one of the most American of
all American things is the least fitted among them to survive from the
present to the future, and impart to it the significance of what may soon
be a "portion and parcel" of our extremely forgetful past.

It is also in a supremely transitional moment: one might say that last
year it was not quite what it is now, and next year it may be altogether
different. In fact, our summer colony is in that happy hour when the
rudeness of the first summer conditions has been left far behind, and
vulgar luxury has not yet cumbrously succeeded to a sort of sylvan

The type of its simple and sufficing hospitalities is the seven-o'clock
supper. Every one, in hotel or in cottage, dines between one and two,
and no less scrupulously sups at seven, unless it is a few extremists who
sup at half-past seven. At this function, which is our chief social
event, it is 'de rigueur' for the men not to dress, and they come in any
sort of sack or jacket or cutaway, letting the ladies make up the pomps
which they forego. From this fact may be inferred the informality of the
men's day-time attire; and the same note is sounded in the whole range of
the cottage life, so that once a visitor from the world outside, who had
been exasperated beyond endurance by the absence of form among us (if
such an effect could be from a cause so negative), burst out with the
reproach, "Oh, you make a fetish of your informality!"

"Fetish" is, perhaps, rather too strong a word, but I should not mind
saying that informality was the tutelary genius of the place. American
men are everywhere impatient of form. It burdens and bothers them, and
they like to throw it off whenever they can. We may not be so very
democratic at heart as we seem, but we are impatient of ceremonies that
separate us when it is our business or our pleasure to get at one
another; and it is part of our splendor to ignore the ceremonies, as we
do the expenses. We have all the decent grades of riches and poverty in
our colony, but our informality is not more the treasure of the humble
than of the great. In the nature of things it cannot last, however, and
the only question is how long it will last. I think, myself, until some
one imagines giving an eight-o'clock dinner; then all the informalities
will go, and the whole train of evils which such a dinner connotes will
rush in.


The cottages themselves are of several sorts, and some still exist in the
earlier stages of mutation from the fishermen's and farmers' houses which
formed their germ. But these are now mostly let as lodgings to bachelors
and other single or semi-detached folks who go for their meals to the
neighboring hotels or boarding-houses. The hotels are each the centre of
this sort of centripetal life, as well as the homes of their own scores
or hundreds of inmates. A single boarding-house gathers about it half a
dozen dependent cottages which it cares for, and feeds at its table; and
even where the cottages have kitchens and all the housekeeping
facilities, their inmates sometimes prefer to dine at the hotels.
By far the greater number of cottagers, however, keep house, bringing
their service with them from the cities, and settling in their summer
homes for three or four or five months.

The houses conform more or less to one type: a picturesque structure of
colonial pattern, shingled to the ground, and stained or left to take a
weather-stain of grayish brown, with cavernous verandas, and dormer-
windowed roofs covering ten or twelve rooms. Within they are, if not
elaborately finished, elaborately fitted up, with a constant regard to
health in the plumbing and drainage. The water is brought in a system of
pipes from a lake five miles away, and as it is only for summer use the
pipes are not buried from the frost, but wander along the surface,
through the ferns and brambles of the tough little sea-side knolls on
which the cottages are perched, and climb the old tumbling stone walls of
the original pastures before diving into the cemented basements.

Most of the cottages are owned by their occupants, and furnished by them;
the rest, not less attractive and hardly less tastefully furnished,
belong to natives, who have caught on to the architectural and domestic
preferences of the summer people, and have built them to let. The
rugosities of the stony pasture land end in a wooded point seaward, and
curve east and north in a succession of beaches. It is on the point, and
mainly short of its wooded extremity, that the cottages of our settlement
are dropped, as near the ocean as may be, and with as little order as
birds' nests in the grass, among the sweet-fern, laurel, bay, wild
raspberries, and dog-roses, which it is the ideal to leave as untouched
as possible. Wheel-worn lanes that twist about among the hollows find
the cottages from the highway, but foot-paths approach one cottage from
another, and people walk rather than drive to each other's doors.
From the deep-bosomed, well-sheltered little harbor the tides swim
inland, half a score of winding miles, up the channel of a river which
without them would be a trickling rivulet. An irregular line of cottages
follows the shore a little way, and then leaves the river to the
schooners and barges which navigate it as far as the oldest pile-built
wooden bridge in New England, and these in their turn abandon it to the
fleets of row-boats and canoes in which summer youth of both sexes
explore it to its source over depths as clear as glass, past wooded
headlands and low, rush-bordered meadows, through reaches and openings of
pastoral fields, and under the shadow of dreaming groves.

If there is anything lovelier than the scenery of this gentle river I do
not know it; and I doubt if the sky is purer and bluer in paradise. This
seems to be the consensus, tacit or explicit, of the youth who visit it,
and employ the landscape for their picnics and their water parties from
the beginning to the end of summer.

The river is very much used for sunsets by the cottagers who live on it,
and who claim a superiority through them to the cottagers on the point.
An impartial mind obliges me to say that the sunsets are all good in our
colony; there is no place from which they are bad; and yet for a certain
tragical sunset, where the dying day bleeds slowly into the channel till
it is filled from shore to shore with red as far as the eye can reach,
the river is unmatched.

For my own purposes, it is not less acceptable, however, when the fog has
come in from the sea like a visible reverie, and blurred the whole valley
with its whiteness. I find that particularly good to look at from the
trolley-car which visits and revisits the river before finally leaving
it, with a sort of desperation, and hiding its passion with a sudden
plunge into the woods.


The old fishing and seafaring village, which has now almost lost the
recollection of its first estate in its absorption with the care of the
summer colony, was sparsely dropped along the highway bordering the
harbor, and the shores of the river, where the piles of the time-worn
wharves are still rotting. A few houses of the past remain, but the type
of the summer cottage has impressed itself upon all the later building,
and the native is passing architecturally, if not personally, into
abeyance. He takes the situation philosophically, and in the season he
caters to the summer colony not only as the landlord of the rented
cottages, and the keeper of the hotels and boarding-houses, but as
livery-stableman, grocer, butcher, marketman, apothecary, and doctor;
there is not one foreign accent in any of these callings. If the native
is a farmer, he devotes himself to vegetables, poultry, eggs, and fruit
for the summer folks, and brings these supplies to their doors; his
children appear with flowers; and there are many proofs that he has
accurately sized the cottagers up in their tastes and fancies as well as
their needs. I doubt if we have sized him up so well, or if our somewhat
conventionalized ideal of him is perfectly representative. He is,
perhaps, more complex than he seems; he is certainly much more self-
sufficing than might have been expected. The summer folks are the
material from which his prosperity is wrought, but he is not dependent,
and is very far from submissive. As in all right conditions, it is here
the employer who asks for work, not the employee; and the work must be
respectfully asked for. There are many fables to this effect, as, for
instance, that of the lady who said to a summer visitor, critical of the
week's wash she had brought home, "I'll wash you and I'll iron you, but I
won't take none of your jaw." A primitive independence is the keynote of
the native character, and it suffers no infringement, but rather boasts
itself. "We're independent here, I tell you," said the friendly person
who consented to take off the wire door. "I was down Bangor way doin' a
piece of work, and a fellow come along, and says he, 'I want you should
hurry up on that job.' 'Hello!' says I, 'I guess I'll pull out.' Well,
we calculate to do our work," he added, with an accent which sufficiently
implied that their consciences needed no bossing in the performance.

The native compliance with any summer-visiting request is commonly in
some such form as, "Well, I don't know but what I can," or, "I guess
there ain't anything to hinder me." This compliance is so rarely, if
ever, carried to the point of domestic service that it may fairly be said
that all the domestic service, at least of the cottagers, is imported.

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