CONFESSIONS AND CRITICISMS
BY JULIAN HAWTHORNE
I. A PRELIMINARY CONFESSION II. NOVELS AND AGNOSTICISM III. AMERICANISM IN FICTION IV. LITERATURE FOR CHILDREN V. THE MORAL AIM IN FICTION VI. THE MAKER OF MANY BOOKS VII. MR. MALLOCK'S MISSING SCIENCE VIII. THEODORE WINTHROP'S WRITINGS IX. EMERSON AS AN AMERICAN X. MODERN MAGIC XI. AMERICAN WILD ANIMALS IN ART
CONFESSIONS AND CRITICISMS.
A PRELIMINARY CONFESSION.
In 1869, when I was about twenty-three years old, I sent a couple of sonnets to the revived Putnam's Magazine. At that period I had no intention of becoming a professional writer: I was studying civil engineering at the Polytechnic School in Dresden, Saxony. Years before, I had received parental warnings—unnecessary, as I thought—against writing for a living. During the next two years, however, when I was acting as hydrographic engineer in the New York Dock Department, I amused myself by writing a short story, called "Love and Counter-Love," which was published in Harper's Weekly, and for which I was paid fifty dollars. "If fifty dollars can be so easily earned," I thought, "why not go on adding to my income in this way from time to time?" I was aided and abetted in the idea by the late Robert Carter, editor of Appletons' Journal; and the latter periodical and Harper's Magazine had the burden, and I the benefit, of the result. When, in 1872, I was abruptly relieved from my duties in the Dock Department, I had the alternative of either taking my family down to Central America to watch me dig a canal, or of attempting to live by my pen. I bought twelve reams of large letter-paper, and began my first work,—"Bressant." I finished it in three weeks; but prudent counsellors advised me that it was too immoral to publish, except in French: so I recast it, as the phrase is, and, in its chastened state, sent it through the post to a Boston publisher. It was lost on the way, and has not yet been found. I was rather pleased than otherwise at this catastrophe; for I had in those days a strange delight in rewriting my productions: it was, perhaps, a more sensible practice than to print them. Accordingly, I rewrote and enlarged "Bressant" in Dresden (whither I returned with my family in 1872); but—immorality aside—I think the first version was the best of the three. On my way to Germany I passed through London, and there made the acquaintance of Henry S. King, the publisher, a charming but imprudent man, for he paid me one hundred pounds for the English copyright of my novel: and the moderate edition he printed is, I believe, still unexhausted. The book was received in a kindly manner by the press; but both in this country and in England some surprise and indignation were expressed that the son of his father should presume to be a novelist. This sentiment, whatever its bearing upon me, has undoubtedly been of service to my critics: it gives them something to write about. A disquisition upon the mantle of Nathaniel Hawthorne, and an analysis of the differences and similarities between him and his successor, generally fill so much of a notice as to enable the reviewer to dismiss the book itself very briefly. I often used to wish, when, years afterwards, I was myself a reviewer for the London Spectator, that I could light upon some son of his father who might similarly lighten my labors. Meanwhile, I was agreeably astonished at what I chose to consider the success of "Bressant," and set to work to surpass it in another romance, called (for some reason I have forgotten) "Idolatry." This unknown book was actually rewritten, in whole or in part, no less than seven times. Non sum qualis eram. For seven or eight years past I have seldom rewritten one of the many pages which circumstances have compelled me to inflict upon the world. But the discipline of "Idolatry" probably taught me how to clothe an idea in words.
By the time "Idolatry" was published, the year 1874 had come, and I was living in London. From my note-books and recollections I compiled a series of papers on life in Dresden, under the general title of "Saxon Studies." Alexander Strahan, then editor of the Contemporary Review, printed them in that periodical as fast as I wrote them, and they were reproduced in certain eclectic magazines in this country,—until I asserted my American copyright. Their publication in book form was followed by the collapse of both the English and the American firm engaging in that enterprise. I draw no deductions from that fact: I simply state it. The circulation of the "Studies" was naturally small; but one copy fell into the hands of a Dresden critic, and the manner in which he wrote of it and its author repaid me for the labor of composition and satisfied me that I had not done amiss.
After "Saxon Studies" I began another novel, "Garth," instalments of which appeared from month to month in Harper's Magazine. When it had run for a year or more, with no signs of abatement, the publishers felt obliged to intimate that unless I put an end to their misery they would. Accordingly, I promptly gave Garth his quietus. The truth is, I was tired of him myself. With all his qualities and virtues, he could not help being a prig. He found some friends, however, and still shows signs of vitality. I wrote no other novel for nearly two years, but contributed some sketches of English life to Appletons' Journal, and produced a couple of novelettes,—"Mrs. Gainsborough's Diamonds" and "Archibald Malmaison,"— which, by reason of their light draught, went rather farther than usual. Other short tales, which I hardly care to recall, belong to this period. I had already ceased to take pleasure in writing for its own sake,—partly, no doubt, because I was obliged to write for the sake of something else. Only those who have no reverence for literature should venture to meddle with the making of it,—unless, at all events, they can supply the demands of the butcher and baker from an independent source.
In 1879, "Sebastian Strome" was published as a serial in All the Year Round. Charley Dickens, the son of the great novelist, and editor of the magazine, used to say to me while the story was in progress, "Keep that red-haired girl up to the mark, and the story will do." I took a fancy to Mary Dene myself. But I uniformly prefer my heroines to my heroes; perhaps because I invent the former out of whole cloth, whereas the latter are often formed of shreds and patches of men I have met. And I never raised a character to the position of hero without recognizing in him, before I had done with him, an egregious ass. Differ as they may in other respects, they are all brethren in that; and yet I am by no means disposed to take a Carlylese view of my actual fellow-creatures.
I did some hard work at this time: I remember once writing for twenty-six consecutive hours without pausing or rising from my chair; and when, lately, I re-read the story then produced, it seemed quite as good as the average of my work in that kind. I hasten to add that it has never been printed in this country: for that matter, not more than half my short tales have found an American publisher. "Archibald Malmaison" was offered seven years ago to all the leading publishers in New York and Boston, and was promptly refused by all. Since its recent appearance here, however, it has had a circulation larger perhaps than that of all my other stories combined. But that is one of the accidents that neither author nor publisher can foresee. It was the horror of "Archibald Malmaison," not any literary merit, that gave it vogue,—its horror, its strangeness, and its brevity.
On Guy Fawkes's day, 1880, I began "Fortune's Fool,"—or "Luck," as it was first called,—and wrote the first ten of the twelve numbers in three months. I used to sit down to my table at eight o'clock in the evening and write till sunrise. But the two remaining instalments were not written and published until 1883, and this delay and its circumstances spoiled the book. In the interval between beginning and finishing it another long novel—"Dust"—was written and published. I returned to America in 1882, after an absence in Europe far longer than I had anticipated or desired. I trust I may never leave my native land again for any other on this planet.
"Beatrix Randolph," "Noble Blood," and "Love—or a Name," are the novels which I have written since my return; and I also published a biography, "Nathaniel Hawthorne and his Wife." I cannot conscientiously say that I have found the literary profession—in and for itself—entirely agreeable. Almost everything that I have written has been written from necessity; and there is very little of it that I shall not be glad to see forgotten. The true rewards of literature, for men of limited calibre, are the incidental ones,—the valuable friendships and the charming associations which it brings about. For the sake of these I would willingly endure again many passages of a life that has not been all roses; not that I would appear to belittle my own work: it does not need it. But the present generation (in America at least) does not strike me as containing much literary genius. The number of undersized persons is large and active, and we hardly believe in the possibility of heroic stature. I cannot sufficiently admire the pains we are at to make our work—embodying the aims it does— immaculate in form. Form without idea is nothing, and we have no ideas. If one of us were to get an idea, it would create its own form, as easily as does a flower or a planet. I think we take ourselves too seriously: our posterity will not be nearly so grave over us. For my part, I do not write better than I do, because I have no ideas worth better clothes than they can pick up for themselves. "Whatever is worth doing at all is worth doing with your best pains," is a saying which has injured our literature more than any other single thing. How many a lumber-closet since the world began has been filled by the results of this purblind and delusive theory! But this is not autobiographical,—save that to have written it shows how little prudence my life has taught me.
* * * * *
I remember wondering, in 1871, how anybody could write novels. I had produced two or three short stories; but to expand such a thing until it should cover two or three hundred pages seemed an enterprise far beyond my capacity. Since then, I have accomplished the feat only too often; but I doubt whether I have a much clearer idea than before of the way it is done; and I am certain of never having done it twice in the same way. The manner in which the plant arrives at maturity varies according to the circumstances in which the seed is planted and cultivated; and the cultivator, in this instance at least, is content to adapt his action to whatever conditions happen to exist.
While, therefore, it might be easy to formulate a cut-and-dried method of procedure, which should be calculated to produce the best results by the most efficient means, no such formula would truly represent the present writer's actual practice. If I ever attempted to map out my successive steps beforehand, I never adhered to the forecast or reached the anticipated goal. The characters develop unexpected traits, and these traits become the parents of incidents that had not been contemplated. The characters themselves, on the other hand, cannot be kept to any preconceived characteristics; they are, in their turn, modified by the exigencies of the plot.
In two or three cases I have tried to make portraits of real persons whom I have known; but these persons have always been more lifeless than the others, and most lifeless in precisely those features that most nearly reproduced life. The best results in this direction are realized by those characters that come to their birth simultaneously with the general scheme of the proposed events; though I remember that one of the most lifelike of my personages (Madge, in the novel "Garth") was not even thought of until the story of which she is the heroine had been for some time under consideration.
Speaking generally, I should suppose that the best novels are apt to be those that have been longest in the novelist's mind before being committed to paper; and the best materials to use, in the way of character and scenery, are those that were studied not less than seven or eight years previous to their reproduction. Thereby is attained that quality in a story known as atmosphere or tone, perhaps the most valuable and telling quality of all. Occasionally, however, in the rare case of a story that suddenly seizes upon the writer's imagination and despotically "possesses" him, the atmosphere is created by the very strength of the "possession." In the former instance, the writer is thoroughly master of his subject; in the latter, the subject thoroughly masters him; and both amount essentially to the same thing, harmony between subject and writer.
With respect to style, there is little to be said. Without a good style, no writer can do much; but it is impossible really to create a good style. A writer's style was born at the same time and under the same conditions that he himself was. The only rule that can be given him is, to say what he has to say in the clearest and most direct way, using the most fitting and expressive words. But often, of course, this advice is like that of the doctor who counsels his patient to free his mind from all care and worry, to live luxuriously on the fat of the land, and to make a voyage round the world in a private yacht. The patient has not the means of following the prescription. A writer may improve a native talent for style; but the talent itself he must either have by nature, or forever go without. And the style that rises to the height of genius is like the Phoenix; there is hardly ever more than one example of it in an age.
Upon the whole, I conceive that the best way of telling how a novel may be written will be to trace the steps by which some one novel of mine came into existence, and let the reader draw his own conclusions from the record. For this purpose I will select one of the longest of my productions, "Fortune's Fool."
It is so long that, rather than be compelled to read it over again, I would write another of equal length; though I hasten to add that neither contingency is in the least probable. In very few men is found the power of sustained conception necessary to the successful composition of so prolix a tale; and certainly I have never betrayed the ownership of such a qualification. The tale, nevertheless, is an irrevocable fact; and my present business it is to be its biographer.
When, in the winter of 1879, the opportunity came to write it, the central idea of it had been for over a year cooking in my mind. It was originally derived from a dream. I saw a man who, upon some occasion, caught a glimpse of a woman's face. This face was, in his memory, the ideal of beauty, purity, and goodness. Through many years and vicissitudes he sought it; it was his religion, a human incarnation of divine qualities.
At certain momentous epochs of his career, he had glimpses of it again; and the effect was always to turn him away from the wrong path and into the right. At last, near the end of his life, he has, for the first time, an opportunity of speaking to this mortal angel and knowing her; and then he discovers that she is mortal indeed, and chargeable with the worst frailties of mortality. The moral was that any substitute for a purely spiritual religion is fatal, and, sooner or later, reveals its rottenness.
This seemed good enough for a beginning; but, when I woke up, I was not long in perceiving that it would require various modifications before being suitable for a novel; and the first modifications must be in the way of rendering the plot plausible. What sort of a man, for example, must the hero be to fall into and remain in such an error regarding the character of the heroine? He must, I concluded, be a person of great simplicity and honesty of character, with a strong tinge of ideality and imagination, and with little or no education.
These considerations indicated a person destitute of known parentage, and growing up more or less apart from civilization, but possessing by nature an artistic or poetic temperament. Fore-glimpses of the further development of the story led me to make him the child of a wealthy English nobleman, but born in a remote New England village. His artistic proclivities must be inherited from his father, who was, therefore, endowed with a talent for amateur sketching in oils; which talent, again, led him, during his minority, to travel on the continent for purposes of artistic study. While in Paris, this man, Floyd Vivian, meets a young Frenchwoman, whom he secretly marries, and with whom he elopes to America. Then Vivian receives news of his father's death, compelling him to return to England; and he leaves his wife behind him.
A child (Jack, the hero of the story) is born during his absence, and the mother dies. Vivian, now Lord Castleman, finds reason to believe that his wife is dead, but knows nothing of the boy; and he marries again. The boy, therefore, is left to grow up in the Maine woods, ignorant of his parentage, but with one or two chances of finding it out hereafter. So far, so good.
But now it was necessary to invent a heroine for this hero. In order to make the construction compact, I made her Jack's cousin, the daughter, of Lord Vivian's younger brother, who came into being for that purpose. This brother (Murdock) was a black sheep; and his daughter, Madeleine, was adopted by Lord Vivian, because I now perceived that Lord Vivian's conscience was going to trouble him with regard to his dead wife and her possible child, and that he would make a pilgrimage to New England to settle his doubts, taking Madeleine with him; intending, if no child by the first marriage were forthcoming, to make Madeleine his heir; for he had no issue by his second marriage. This journey would enable Jack and Madeleine to meet as children. But it was necessary that they should have no suspicion of their cousinship. Consequently, Lord Vivian, who alone could acquaint them with this fact, must die in the very act of learning it himself. And what should be the manner of his death?
At first, I thought he should be murdered by his younger brother; but I afterwards hit upon another plan, that seemed less hackneyed and provided more interesting issues. Murdock should arrive at the Maine village at the same time as Lord Vivian, and upon the same errand, to get hold of Lord Vivian's son, of whose existence he had heard, and whom he wished to get out of the way, in order that his own daughter, Madeleine, might inherit the property. Murdock should find Jack, and Jack, a mere boy, should kill him, though not, of course, intentionally, or even consciously (for which purpose the machinery of the Witch's Head was introduced).
With Murdock's death, the papers that he carried, proving Jack's parentage, should disappear, to be recovered long afterward, when they were needed. Lord Vivian should quietly expire at the same time, of heart disease (to which he was forthwith made subject), and Madeleine should be left temporarily to her own devices. Thus was brought about her meeting with Jack in the cave. It was their first meeting; and Jack must remember her face, so as to recognize her when they meet, years later, in England. But, as it was beyond belief that the girl's face should resemble the woman's enough to make such a recognition possible, I devised the miniature portrait of her mother, which Madeleine gave to Jack for a keepsake, and which was the image of what Madeleine herself should afterward become.
Something more was needed, however, to complete the situation; and to meet this exigency, I created M. Jacques Malgre, the grandfather of Jack, who had followed his daughter to America, in the belief that she had been seduced by Vivian; who had brought up Jack, hating him for his father's sake, and loving him for his mother's sake; and who dwelt year after year in the Maine village, hoping some day to wreak his vengeance upon the seducer. But when M. Malgre and Vivian at last meet, this revenge is balked by the removal of its supposed motive; Vivian having actually married Malgre's daughter, and being prepared to make Jack heir of Castlemere. Moral: "'Vengeance is mine,' saith the Lord, 'I will repay.'"
The groundwork of the story was now sufficiently denned. Madeleine and Jack were born and accounted for. They had met and made friends with each other without either knowing who the other was; they were rival claimants for the same property, and would hereafter contend for it; still, without identifying each other as the little boy and girl that had met by chance in the cave so long ago. In the meanwhile, there might be personal meetings, in which they should recognize each other as persons though not by name; and should thus be cementing their friendship as man and woman, while, as Jack Vivian and Madeleine, they were at open war in the courts of law.
This arrangement would need careful handling to render it plausible; but it could be done. I am now of opinion, however, that I should have done well to have given up the whole fundamental idea of the story, as suggested by the dream. The dream had done its office when it had provided me with characters and materials for a more probable and less abstruse and difficult plot. All further dependence upon it should then have been relinquished, and the story allowed to work out its own natural and unforced conclusion. But it is easy to be wise after the event; and the event, at this time, was still in the future.
As Madeleine was to be the opposite of the sinless, ideal woman that Jack was to imagine her to be, it was necessary to subject her to some evil influence; and this influence was embodied in the form of Bryan Sinclair, who, though an afterthought, came to be the most powerful figure in the story. But, before he would bring himself to bear upon her, she must have reached womanhood; and I also perceived that Jack must become a man before the action of the story, as between him and Madeleine, could continue. An interval of ten or fifteen years must therefore occur; and this was arranged by sending Jack into the western wilderness of California, and fixing the period as just preceding the date of the California gold fever of '49.
Jack and Bryan were to be rivals for Madeleine; but artistic considerations seemed to require that they should first meet and become friends much in the same way that Jack and Madeleine had done. So I sent Bryan to California, and made him the original discoverer of the precious metal there; brought him and Jack together; and finally sent them to England in each other's company. Jack, of course, as yet knows nothing of his origin, and appears in London society merely as a natural genius and a sculptor of wild animals.
By this time, I had begun to make Madeleine's acquaintance, and, in consequence, to doubt the possibility of her becoming wholly evil, even under the influence of Bryan Sinclair. There would be a constant struggle between them; she would love him, but would not yield to him, though her life and happiness would be compromised by his means. He, on the other hand, would love her, and he would make some effort to be worthy of her; but his other crimes would weigh him down, until, at the moment when the battle cost her her life, he should be destroyed by the incarnation of his own wickedness, in the shape of Tom Berne.
This was not the issue that I had originally designed, and, whether better or worse than that, did not harmonize with what had gone before. The story lacked wholeness and continuous vitality. As a work of art, it was a failure. But I did not realize this fact until it was too late, and probably should not have known how to mend matters had it been otherwise. One of the dangers against which a writer has especially to guard is that of losing his sense of proportion in the conduct of a story. An episode that has little relative importance may be allowed undue weight, because it seems interesting intrinsically, or because he has expended special pains upon it. It is only long afterward, when he has become cool and impartial, if not indifferent or disgusted, that he can see clearly where the faults of construction lie.
I need not go further into the details of the story. Enough has been said to give a clew to what might remain to say. I began to write it in the winter of 1879-80, in London; and, in order to avoid noise and interruption, it was my custom to begin writing at eight in the evening, and continue at work until six or seven o'clock the next morning. In three months I had written as far as the 393d page, in the American edition. The remaining seventy pages were not completed, in their published form, until about three years later, an extraordinary delay, which did not escape censure at the time, and into the causes of which I will not enter here.
The title of the story also underwent various vicissitudes. The one first chosen was "Happy Jack"; but that was objected to as suggesting, to an English ear at least, a species of cheap Jack or rambling peddler. The next title fixed upon was "Luck"; but before this could be copyrighted, somebody published a story called "Luck, and What Came of It," and thereby invalidated my briefer version. For several weeks, I was at a loss what to call it; but one evening, at a representation of "Romeo and Juliet," I heard the exclamation of Romeo, "Oh, I am fortune's fool!" and immediately appropriated it to my own needs. It suited the book well enough, in more ways than one.
NOVELS AND AGNOSTICISM.
The novel of our times is susceptible of many definitions. The American publishers of Railway libraries think that it is forty or fifty double- column pages of pirated English fiction. Readers of the "New York Ledger" suppose it to be a romance of angelic virtue at last triumphant over satanic villany. The aristocracy of culture describe it as a philosophic analysis of human character and motives, with an agnostic bias on the analyst's part. Schoolboys are under the impression that it is a tale of Western chivalry and Indian outrage—price, ten cents. Most of us agree in the belief that it should contain a brace or two of lovers, a suspense, and a solution.
To investigate the nature of the novel in the abstract would involve going back to the very origin of things. It would imply the recognition of a certain faculty of the mind, known as imagination; and of a certain fact in history, called art. Art and imagination are correlatives,—one implies the other. Together, they may be said to constitute the characteristic badge and vindication of human nature; imagination is the badge, and art is the vindication. Reason, which gets so much vulgar glorification, is, after all, a secondary quality. It is posterior to imagination,—it is one of the means by which imagination seeks to realize its ends. Some animals reason, or seem to do so: but the most cultivated ape or donkey has not yet composed a sonnet, or a symphony, or "an arrangement in green and yellow." Man still retains a few prerogatives, although, like Aesop's stag, which despised the legs that bore it away from the hounds, and extolled the antlers that entangled it in the thicket,—so man often magnifies those elements of his nature that least deserve it.
But, before celebrating art and imagination, we should have a clear idea what those handsome terms mean. In the broadest sense, imagination is the cause of the effect we call progress. It marks all forms of human effort towards a better state of things. It embraces a perception of existing shortcomings, and an aspiration towards a loftier ideal. It is, in fact, a truly divine force in man, reminding him of his heavenly origin, and stimulating him to rise again to the level whence he fell. For it has glimpses of the divine Image within or behind the material veil; and its constant impulse is to tear aside the veil and grasp the image. The world, let us say, is a gross and finite translation of an infinite and perfect Word; and imagination is the intuition of that perfection, born in the human heart, and destined forever to draw mankind into closer harmony with it.
In common speech, however, imagination is deprived of this broader significance, and is restricted to its relations with art. Art is not progress, though progress implies art. It differs from progress chiefly in disclaiming the practical element. You cannot apply a poem, a picture, or a strain of music, to material necessities; they are not food, clothing, or shelter. Only after these physical wants are assuaged, does art supervene. Its sphere is exclusively mental and moral. But this definition is not adequate; a further distinction is needed. For such things as mathematics, moral philosophy, and political economy also belong to the mental sphere, and yet they are not art. But these, though not actually existing on the plane of material necessities, yet do exist solely in order to relieve such necessities. Unlike beauty, they are not their own excuse for being. Their embodiment is utilitarian, that of art is aesthetic. Political economy, for example, shows me how to buy two drinks for the same price I used to pay for one; while art inspires me to transmute a pewter mug into a Cellini goblet. My physical nature, perhaps, prefers two drinks to one; but, if my taste be educated, and I be not too thirsty, I would rather drink once from the Cellini goblet than twice from the mug. Political economy gravitates towards the material level; art seeks incarnation only in order to stimulate anew the same spiritual faculties that generated it. Art is the production, by means of appearances, of the illusion of a loftier reality; and imagination is the faculty which holds that loftier reality up for imitation.
The disposition of these preliminaries brings us once more in sight of the goal of our pilgrimage. The novel, despite its name, is no new thing, but an old friend in a modern dress. Ever since the time of Cadmus,—ever since language began to express thought as well as emotion,—men have betrayed the impulse to utter in forms of literary art,—in poetry and story,—their conceptions of the world around them. According to many philologists, poetry was the original form of human speech. Be that as it may, whatever flows into the mind, from the spectacle of nature and of mankind, that influx the mind tends instinctively to reproduce, in a shape accordant with its peculiar bias and genius. And those minds in which imagination is predominant, impart to their reproductions a balance and beauty which stamp them as art. Art—and literary art especially—is the only evidence we have that this universal frame of things has relation to our minds, and is a universe and not a poliverse. Outside revelation, it is our best assurance of an intelligent purpose in creation.
Novels, then, instead of being (as some persons have supposed) a wilful and corrupt conspiracy on the part of the evilly disposed, against the peace and prosperity of the realm, may claim a most ancient and indefeasible right to existence. They, with their ancestors and near relatives, constitute Literature,—without which the human race would be little better than savages. For the effect of pure literature upon a receptive mind is something more than can be definitely stated. Like sunshine upon a landscape, it is a kind of miracle. It demands from its disciple almost as much as it gives him, and is never revealed save to the disinterested and loving eye. In our best moments, it touches us most deeply; and when the sentiment of human brotherhood kindles most warmly within us, we discover in literature an exquisite answering ardor. When everything that can be, has been said about a true work of art, its finest charm remains,—the charm derived from a source beyond the conscious reach even of the artist.
The novel, then, must be pure literature; as much so as the poem. But poetry—now that the day of the broad Homeric epic is past, or temporarily eclipsed—appeals to a taste too exclusive and abstracted for the demands of modern readers. Its most accommodating metre fails to house our endless variety of mood and movement; it exacts from the student an exaltation above the customary level of thought and sentiment greater than he can readily afford. The poet of old used to clothe in the garb of verse his every observation on life and nature; but to-day he reserves for it only his most ideal and abstract conceptions. The merit of Cervantes is not so much that he laughed Spain's chivalry away, as that he heralded the modern novel of character and manners. It is the latest, most pliable, most catholic solution of the old problem,—how to unfold man to himself. It improves on the old methods, while missing little of their excellence. No one can read a great novel without feeling that, from its outwardly prosaic pages, strains of genuine poetry have ever and anon reached his ears. It does not obtrude itself; it is not there for him who has not skill to listen for it: but for him who has ears, it is like the music of a bird, denning itself amidst the innumerable murmurs of the forest.
So, the ideal novel, conforming in every part to the behests of the imagination, should produce, by means of literary art, the illusion of a loftier reality. This excludes the photographic method of novel-writing. "That is a false effort in art," says Goethe, towards the close of his long and splendid career, "which, in giving reality to the appearance, goes so far as to leave in it nothing but the common, every-day actual." It is neither the actual, nor Chinese copies of the actual, that we demand of art. Were art merely the purveyor of such things, she might yield her crown to the camera and the stenographer; and divine imagination would degenerate into vulgar inventiveness. Imagination is incompatible with inventiveness, or imitation. Imitation is death, imagination is life. Imitation is servitude, imagination is royalty. He who claims the name of artist must rise to that vision of a loftier reality—a more true because a more beautiful world—which only imagination can reveal. A truer world, —for the world of facts is not and cannot be true. It is barren, incoherent, misleading. But behind every fact there is a truth: and these truths are enlightening, unifying, creative. Fasten your hold upon them, and facts will become your servants instead of your tyrants. No charm of detail will be lost, no homely picturesque circumstance, no touch of human pathos or humor; but all hardness, rigidity, and finality will disappear, and your story will be not yours alone, but that of every one who feels and thinks. Spirit gives universality and meaning; but alas! for this new gospel of the auctioneer's catalogue, and the crackling of thorns under a pot. He who deals with facts only, deprives his work of gradation and distinction. One fact, considered in itself, has no less importance than any other; a lump of charcoal is as valuable as a diamond. But that is the philosophy of brute beasts and Digger Indians. A child, digging on the beach, may shape a heap of sand into a similitude of Vesuvius; but is it nothing that Vesuvius towers above the clouds, and overwhelms Pompeii?
* * * * *
In proceeding from the general to the particular,—to the novel as it actually exists in England and America,—attention will be confined strictly to the contemporary outlook. The new generation of novelists (by which is intended not those merely living in this age, but those who actively belong to it) differ in at least one fundamental respect from the later representatives of the generation preceding them. Thackeray and Dickens did not deliberately concern themselves about a philosophy of life. With more or less complacency, more or less cynicism, they accepted the religious and social canons which had grown to be the commonplace of the first half of this century. They pictured men and women, not as affected by questions, but as affected by one another. The morality and immorality of their personages were of the old familiar Church-of-England sort; there was no speculation as to whether what had been supposed to be wrong was really right, and vice versa. Such speculations, in various forms and degrees of energy, appear in the world periodically; but the public conscience during the last thirty or forty years had been gradually making itself comfortable after the disturbances consequent upon the French Revolution; the theoretical rights of man had been settled for the moment; and interest was directed no longer to the assertion and support of these rights, but to the social condition and character which were their outcome. Good people were those who climbed through reverses and sorrows towards the conventional heaven; bad people were those who, in spite of worldly and temporary successes and triumphs, gravitated towards the conventional hell. Novels designed on this basis in so far filled the bill, as the phrase is: their greater or less excellence depended solely on the veracity with which the aspect, the temperament, and the conduct of the dramatis personae were reported, and upon the amount of ingenuity wherewith the web of events and circumstances was woven, and the conclusion reached. Nothing more was expected, and, in general, little or nothing more was attempted. Little more, certainly, will be found in the writings of Thackeray or of Balzac, who, it is commonly admitted, approach nearest to perfection of any novelists of their time. There was nothing genuine or commanding in the metaphysical dilettanteism of Bulwer: the philosophical speculations of Georges Sand are the least permanently interesting feature of her writings; and the same might in some measure be affirmed of George Eliot, whose gloomy wisdom finally confesses its inability to do more than advise us rather to bear those ills we have than fly to others that we know not of. As to Nathaniel Hawthorne, he cannot properly be instanced in this connection; for he analyzed chiefly those parts of human nature which remain substantially unaltered in the face of whatever changes of opinion, civilization, and religion. The truth that he brings to light is not the sensational fact of a fashion or a period, but a verity of the human heart, which may foretell, but can never be affected by, anything which that heart may conceive. In other words, Hawthorne belonged neither to this nor to any other generation of writers further than that his productions may be used as a test of the inner veracity of all the rest.
But of late years a new order of things has been coming into vogue, and the new novelists have been among the first to reflect it; and of these the Americans have shown themselves among the most susceptible. Science, or the investigation of the phenomena of existence (in opposition to philosophy, the investigation of the phenomena of being), has proved nature to be so orderly and self-sufficient, and inquiry as to the origin of the primordial atom so unproductive and quixotic, as to make it convenient and indeed reasonable to accept nature as a self-existing fact, and to let all the rest—if rest there be—go. From this point of view, God and a future life retire into the background; not as finally disproved,—because denial, like affirmation, must, in order to be final, be logically supported; and spirit is, if not illogical, at any rate outside the domain of logic,—but as being a hopelessly vague and untrustworthy hypothesis. The Bible is a human book; Christ was a gentleman, related to the Buddha and Plato families; Joseph was an ill- used man; death, so far as we have any reason to believe, is annihilation of personal existence; life is—the predicament of the body previous to death; morality is the enlightened selfishness of the greatest number; civilization is the compromises men make with one another in order to get the most they can out of the world; wisdom is acknowledgment of these propositions; folly is to hanker after what may lie beyond the sphere of sense. The supporter of these doctrines by no means permits himself to be regarded as a rampant and dogmatic atheist; he is simply the modest and humble doubter of what he cannot prove. He even recognizes the persistence of the religious instinct in man, and caters to it by a new religion suited to the times—the Religion of Humanity. Thus he is secure at all points: for if the religion of the Bible turn out to be true, his disappointment will be an agreeable one; and if it turns out false, he will not be disappointed at all. He is an agnostic—a person bound to be complacent whatever happens. He may indulge a gentle regret, a musing sadness, a smiling pensiveness; but he will never refuse a comfortable dinner, and always wear something soft next his skin, nor can he altogether avoid the consciousness of his intellectual superiority.
Agnosticism, which reaches forward into nihilism on one side, and extends back into liberal Christianity on the other, marks, at all events, a definite turning-point from what has been to what is to come. The human mind, in the course of its long journey, is passing through a dark place, and is, as it were, whistling to keep up its courage. It is a period of doubt: what it will result in remains to be seen; but analogy leads us to infer that this doubt, like all others, will be succeeded by a comparatively definite belief in something—no matter what. It is a transient state—the interval between one creed and another. The agnostic no longer holds to what is behind him, nor knows what lies before, so he contents himself with feeling the ground beneath his feet. That, at least, though the heavens fall, is likely to remain; meanwhile, let the heavens take care of themselves. It may be the part of valor to champion divine revelation, but the better part of valor is discretion, and if divine revelation prove true, discretion will be none the worse off. On the other hand, to champion a myth is to make one's self ridiculous, and of being ridiculous the agnostic has a consuming fear. From the superhuman disinterestedness of the theory of the Religion of Humanity, before which angels might quail, he flinches not, but when it comes to the risk of being laughed at by certain sagacious persons he confesses that bravery has its limits. He dares do all that may become an agnostic,—who dares do more is none.
But, however open to criticism this phase of thought may be, it is a genuine phase, and the proof is the alarm and the shifts that it has brought about in the opposite camp. "Established" religion finds the foundation of her establishment undermined, and, like the lady in Hamlet's play, she doth protest too much. In another place, all manner of odd superstitions and quasi-miracles are cropping up and gaining credence, as if, since the immortality of the soul cannot be proved by logic, it should be smuggled into belief by fraud and violence—that is, by the testimony of the bodily senses themselves. Taking a comprehensive view of the whole field, therefore, it seems to be divided between discreet and supercilious skepticism on one side, and, on the other, the clamorous jugglery of charlatanism. The case is not really so bad as that: nihilists are not discreet and even the Bishop of Rome is not necessarily a charlatan. Nevertheless, the outlook may fairly be described as confused and the issue uncertain. And—to come without further preface to the subject of this paper—it is with this material that the modern novelist, so far as he is a modern and not a future novelist, or a novelist temporis acti, has to work. Unless a man have the gift to forecast the years, or, at least, to catch the first ray of the coming light, he can hardly do better than attend to what is under his nose. He may hesitate to identify himself with agnosticism, but he can scarcely avoid discussing it, either in itself or in its effects. He must entertain its problems; and the personages of his story, if they do not directly advocate or oppose agnostic views, must show in their lives either confirmation or disproof of agnostic principles. It is impossible, save at the cost of affectation or of ignorance, to escape from the spirit of the age. It is in the air we breathe, and, whether we are fully conscious thereof or not, our lives and thoughts must needs be tinctured by it.
Now, art is creative; but Mephistopheles, the spirit that denies, is destructive. A negative attitude of mind is not favorable for the production of works of art. The best periods of art have also been periods of spiritual or philosophical convictions. The more a man doubts, the more he disintegrates and the less he constructs. He has in him no central initial certainty round which all other matters of knowledge or investigation may group themselves in symmetrical relation. He may analyze to his heart's content, but must be wary of organizing. If creation is not of God, if nature is not the expression of the contact between an infinite and a finite being, then the universe and everything in it are accidents, which might have been otherwise or might have not been at all; there is no design in them nor purpose, no divine and eternal significance. This being conceded, what meaning would there be in designing works of art? If art has not its prototype in creation, if all that we see and do is chance, uninspired by a controlling and forming intelligence behind or within it, then to construct a work of art would be to make something arbitrary and grotesque, something unreal and fugitive, something out of accord with the general sense (or nonsense) of things, something with no further basis or warrant than is supplied by the maker's idle and irresponsible fancy. But since no man cares to expend the trained energies of his mind upon the manufacture of toys, it will come to pass (upon the accidental hypothesis of creation) that artists will become shy of justifying their own title. They will adopt the scientific method of merely collecting and describing phenomena; but the phenomena will no longer be arranged as parts or developments of a central controlling idea, because such an arrangement would no longer seem to be founded on the truth: the gratification which it gives to the mind would be deemed illusory, the result of tradition and prejudice; or, in other words, what is true being found no longer consistent with what we have been accustomed to call beauty, the latter would cease to be an object of desire, though something widely alien to it might usurp its name. If beauty be devoid of independent right to be, and definable only as an attribute of truth, then undoubtedly the cynosure to- day may be the scarecrow of to-morrow, and vice versa, according to our varying conception of what truth is.
And, as a matter of fact, art already shows the effects of the agnostic influence. Artists have begun to doubt whether their old conceptions of beauty be not fanciful and silly. They betray a tendency to eschew the loftier flights of the imagination, and confine themselves to what they call facts. Critics deprecate idealism as something fit only for children, and extol the courage of seeing and representing things as they are. Sculpture is either a stern student of modern trousers and coat-tails or a vapid imitator of classic prototypes. Painters try all manner of experiments, and shrink from painting beneath the surface of their canvas. Much of recent effort in the different branches of art comes to us in the form of "studies," but the complete work still delays to be born. We would not so much mind having our old idols and criterions done away with were something new and better, or as good, substituted for them. But apparently nothing definite has yet been decided on. Doubt still reigns, and, once more, doubt is not creative. One of two things must presently happen. The time will come when we must stop saying that we do not know whether or not God, and all that God implies, exists, and affirm definitely and finally either that he does not exist or that he does. That settled, we shall soon see what will become of art. If there is a God, he will be understood and worshipped, not superstitiously and literally as heretofore, but in a new and enlightened spirit; and an art will arise commensurate with this new and loftier revelation. If there is no God, it is difficult to see how art can have the face to show herself any more. There is no place for her in the Religion of Humanity; to be true and living she can be nothing which it has thus far entered into the heart of man to call beautiful; and she could only serve to remind us of certain vague longings and aspirations now proved to be as false as they were vain. Art is not an orchid: it cannot grow in the air. Unless its root can be traced as deep down as Yggdrasil, it will wither and vanish, and be forgotten as it ought to be; and as for the cowslip by the river's brim, a yellow cowslip it shall be, and nothing more; and the light that never was on sea or land shall be permanently extinguished, in the interests of common sense and economy, and (what is least inviting of all to the unregenerate mind) we shall speedily get rid of the notion that we have lost anything worth preserving.
This, however, is only what may be, and our concern at present is with things as they are. It has been observed that American writers have shown themselves more susceptible of the new influences than most others, partly no doubt from a natural sensitiveness of organization, but in some measure also because there are with us no ruts and fetters of old tradition from which we must emancipate ourselves before adopting anything new. We have no past, in the European sense, and so are ready for whatever the present or the future may have to suggest. Nevertheless, the novelist who, in a larger degree than any other, seems to be the literary parent of our own best men of fiction, is himself not an American, nor even an Englishman, but a Russian—Turguenieff. His series of extraordinary novels, translated into English and French, is altogether the most important fact in the literature of fiction of the last twelve years. To read his books you would scarcely imagine that their author could have had any knowledge of the work of his predecessors in the same field. Originality is a term indiscriminately applied, and generally of trifling significance, but so far as any writer may be original, Turguenieff is so. He is no less original in the general scheme and treatment of his stories than in their details. Whatever he produces has the air of being the outcome of his personal experience and observation. He even describes his characters, their aspect, features, and ruling traits, in a novel and memorable manner. He seizes on them from a new point of vantage, and uses scarcely any of the hackneyed and conventional devices for bringing his portraits before our minds; yet no writer, not even Carlyle, has been more vivid, graphic, and illuminating than he. Here are eyes that owe nothing to other eyes, but examine and record for themselves. Having once taken up a character he never loses his grasp on it: on the contrary, he masters it more and more, and only lets go of it when the last recesses of its organism have been explored. In the quality and conduct of his plots he is equally unprecedented. His scenes are modern, and embody characteristic events and problems in the recent history of Russia. There is in their arrangement no attempt at symmetry, nor poetic justice. Temperament and circumstances are made to rule, and against their merciless fiat no appeal is allowed. Evil does evil to the end; weakness never gathers strength; even goodness never varies from its level: it suffers, but is not corrupted; it is the goodness of instinct, not of struggle and aspiration; it happens to belong to this or that person, just as his hair happens to be black or brown. Everything in the surroundings and the action is to the last degree matter-of-fact, commonplace, inevitable; there are no picturesque coincidences, no providential interferences, no desperate victories over fate; the tale, like the world of the materialist, moves onward from a predetermined beginning to a helpless and tragic close. And yet few books have been written of deeper and more permanent fascination than these. Their grim veracity; the creative sympathy and steady dispassionateness of their portrayal of mankind; their constancy of motive, and their sombre earnestness, have been surpassed by none. This earnestness is worth dwelling upon for a moment. It bears no likeness to the dogmatism of the bigot or the fanaticism of the enthusiast. It is the concentration of a broadly gifted masculine mind, devoting its unstinted energies to depicting certain aspects of society and civilization, which are powerfully representative of the tendencies of the day. "Here is the unvarnished fact—give heed to it!" is the unwritten motto. The author avoids betraying, either explicitly or implicitly, the tendency of his own sympathies; not because he fears to have them known, but because he holds it to be his office simply to portray, and to leave judgment thereupon where, in any case, it must ultimately rest—with the world of his readers. He tells us what is; it is for us to consider whether it also must be and shall be. Turguenieff is an artist by nature, yet his books are not intentionally works of art; they are fragments of history, differing from real life only in presenting such persons and events as are commandingly and exhaustively typical, and excluding all others. This faculty of selection is one of the highest artistic faculties, and it appears as much in the minor as in the major features of the narrative. It indicates that Turguenieff might, if he chose, produce a story as faultlessly symmetrical as was ever framed. Why, then, does he not so choose? The reason can only be that he deems the truth-seeming of his narrative would thereby be impaired. "He is only telling a story," the reader would say, "and he shapes the events and persons so as to fit the plot." But is this reason reasonable? To those who believe that God has no hand in the ordering of human affairs, it undoubtedly is reasonable. To those who believe the contrary, however, it appears as if the story of no human life or complex of lives could be otherwise than a rounded and perfect work of art—provided only that the spectator takes note, not merely of the superficial accidents and appearances, but also of the underlying divine purpose and significance. The absence of this recognition in Turguenieff's novels is the explanation of them: holding the creed their author does, he could not have written them otherwise; and, on the other hand, had his creed been different, he very likely would not have written novels at all.
The pioneer, in whatever field of thought or activity, is apt to be also the most distinguished figure therein. The consciousness of being the first augments the keenness of his impressions, and a mind that can see and report in advance of others a new order of things may claim a finer organization than the ordinary. The vitality of nature animates him who has insight to discern her at first hand, whereas his followers miss the freshness of the morning, because, instead of discovering, they must be content to illustrate and refine. Those of our writers who betray Turguenieff's influence are possibly his superiors in finish and culture, but their faculty of convincing and presenting is less. Their interest in their own work seems less serious than his; they may entertain us more, but they do not move and magnetize so much. The persons and events of their stories are conscientiously studied, and are nothing if not natural; but they lack distinction. In an epitome of life so concise as the longest novel must needs be, to use any but types is waste of time and space. A typical character is one who combines the traits or beliefs of a certain class to which he is affiliated—who is, practically, all of them and himself besides; and, when we know him, there is nothing left worth knowing about the others. In Shakespeare's Hamlet and Enobarbus, in Fielding's Squire Western, in Walter Scott's Edie Ochiltree and Meg Merrilies, in Balzac's Pere Goriot and Madame Marneff, in Thackeray's Colonel Newcome and Becky Sharp, in Turguenieff's Bazarof and Dimitri Roudine, we meet persons who exhaust for us the groups to which they severally belong. Bazarof, the nihilist, for instance, reveals to us the motives and influences that have made nihilism, so that we feel that nothing essential on that score remains to be learnt.
The ability to recognize and select types is a test of a novelist's talent and experience. It implies energy to rise above the blind walls of one's private circle of acquaintance; the power to perceive what phases of thought and existence are to be represented as well as who represents them; the sagacity to analyze the age or the moment and reproduce its dominant features. The feat is difficult, and, when done, by no means blows its own trumpet. On the contrary, the reader must open his eyes to be aware of it. He finds the story clear and easy of comprehension; the characters come home to him familiarly and remain distinctly in his memory; he understands something which was, till now, vague to him: but he is as likely to ascribe this to an exceptional lucidity in his own mental condition as to any special merit in the author. Indeed, it often happens that the author who puts out-of-the-way personages into his stories— characters that represent nothing but themselves, or possibly some eccentricity of invention on their author's part, will gain the latter a reputation for cleverness higher than his fellow's who portrays mankind in its masses as well as in its details. But the finest imagination is not that which evolves strange images, but that which explains seeming contradictions, and reveals the unity within the difference and the harmony beneath the discord.
Were we to compare our fictitious literature, as a whole, with that of England, the balance must be immeasurably on the English side. Even confining ourselves to to-day, and to the prospect of to-morrow, it must be conceded that, in settled method, in guiding tradition, in training and associations both personal and inherited, the average English novelist is better circumstanced than the American. Nevertheless, the English novelist is not at present writing better novels than the American. The reason seems to be that he uses no material which has not been in use for hundreds of years; and to say that such material begins to lose its freshness is not putting the case too strongly. He has not been able to detach himself from the paralyzing background of English conventionality. The vein was rich, but it is worn out; and the half-dozen pioneers had all the luck.
There is no commanding individual imagination in England—nor, to say the truth, does there seem to be any in America. But we have what they have not—a national imaginative tendency. There are no fetters upon our fancy; and, however deeply our real estate may be mortgaged, there is freedom for our ideas. England has not yet appreciated the true inwardness of a favorite phrase of ours,—a new deal. And yet she is tired to death of her own stale stories; and when, by chance, any one of her writers happens to chirp out a note a shade different from the prevailing key, the whole nation pounces down upon him, with a shriek of half-incredulous joy, and buys him up, at the rate of a million copies a year. Our own best writers are more read in England, or, at any rate, more talked about, than their native crop; not so much, perhaps, because they are different as because their difference is felt to be of a significant and typical kind. It has in it a gleam of the new day. They are realistic; but realism, so far as it involves a faithful study of nature, is useful. The illusion of a loftier reality, at which we should aim, must be evolved from adequate knowledge of reality itself. The spontaneous and assured faith, which is the mainspring of sane imagination, must be preceded by the doubt and rejection of what is lifeless and insincere. We desire no resurrection of the Ann Radclyffe type of romance: but the true alternative to this is not such a mixture of the police gazette and the medical reporter as Emile Zola offers us. So far as Zola is conscientious, let him live; but, in so far as he is revolting, let him die. Many things in the world seem ugly and purposeless; but to a deeper intelligence than ours, they are a part of beauty and design. What is ugly and irrelevant, can never enter, as such, into a work of art; because the artist is bound, by a sacred obligation, to show us the complete curve only,—never the undeveloped fragments.
But were the firmament of England still illuminated with her Dickenses, her Thackerays, and her Brontes, I should still hold our state to be fuller of promise than hers. It may be admitted that almost everything was against our producing anything good in literature. Our men, in the first place, had to write for nothing; because the publisher, who can steal a readable English novel, will not pay for an American novel, for the mere patriotic gratification of enabling its American author to write it. In the second place, they had nothing to write about, for the national life was too crude and heterogeneous for ordinary artistic purposes. Thirdly, they had no one to write for: because, although, in one sense, there might be readers enough, in a higher sense there were scarcely any,—that is to say, there was no organized critical body of literary opinion, from which an author could confidently look to receive his just meed of encouragement and praise. Yet, in spite of all this, and not to mention honored names that have ceased or are ceasing to cast their living weight into the scale, we are contributing much that is fresh and original, and something, it may be, that is of permanent value, to literature. We have accepted the situation; and, since no straw has been vouchsafed us to make our bricks with, we are trying manfully to make them without.
It will not be necessary, however, to call the roll of all the able and popular gentlemen who are contending in the forlorn hope against disheartening odds; and as for the ladies who have honored our literature by their contributions, it will perhaps be well to adopt regarding them a course analogous to that which Napoleon is said to have pursued with the letters sent to him while in Italy. He left them unread until a certain time had elapsed, and then found that most of them no longer needed attention. We are thus brought face to face with the two men with whom every critic of American novelists has to reckon; who represent what is carefullest and newest in American fiction; and it remains to inquire how far their work has been moulded by the skeptical or radical spirit of which Turguenieff is the chief exemplar.
The author of "Daisy Miller" had been writing for several years before the bearings of his course could be confidently calculated. Some of his earlier tales,—as, for example, "The Madonna of the Future,"—while keeping near reality on one side, are on the other eminently fanciful and ideal. He seemed to feel the attraction of fairyland, but to lack resolution to swallow it whole; so, instead of idealizing both persons and plot, as Hawthorne had ventured to do, he tried to persuade real persons to work out an ideal destiny. But the tact, delicacy, and reticence with which these attempts were made did not blind him to the essential incongruity; either realism or idealism had to go, and step by step he dismissed the latter, until at length Turguenieff's current caught him. By this time, however, his culture had become too wide, and his independent views too confirmed, to admit of his yielding unconditionally to the great Russian. Especially his critical familiarity with French literature operated to broaden, if at the same time to render less trenchant, his method and expression. His characters are drawn with fastidious care, and closely follow the tones and fashions of real life. Each utterance is so exactly like what it ought to be that the reader feels the same sort of pleased surprise as is afforded by a phonograph which repeats, with all the accidental pauses and inflections, the speech spoken into it. Yet the words come through a medium; they are not quite spontaneous; these figures have not the sad, human inevitableness of Turguenieff's people. The reason seems to be (leaving the difference between the genius of the two writers out of account) that the American, unlike the Russian, recognizes no tragic importance in the situation. To the latter, the vision of life is so ominous that his voice waxes sonorous and terrible; his eyes, made keen by foreboding, see the leading elements of the conflict, and them only; he is no idle singer of an empty day, but he speaks because speech springs out of him. To his mind, the foundations of human welfare are in jeopardy, and it is full time to decide what means may avert the danger. But the American does not think any cataclysm is impending, or if any there be, nobody can help it. The subjects that best repay attention are the minor ones of civilization, culture, behavior; how to avoid certain vulgarities and follies, how to inculcate certain principles: and to illustrate these points heroic types are not needed. In other words, the situation being unheroic, so must the actors be; for, apart from the inspirations of circumstances, Napoleon no more than John Smith is recognizable as a hero.
Now, in adopting this view, a writer places himself under several manifest disadvantages. If you are to be an agnostic, it is better (for novel- writing purposes) not to be a complacent or resigned one. Otherwise your characters will find it difficult to show what is in them. A man reveals and classifies himself in proportion to the severity of the condition or action required of him, hence the American novelist's people are in considerable straits to make themselves adequately known to us. They cannot lay bare their inmost soul over a cup of tea or a picture by Corot; so, in order to explain themselves, they must not only submit to dissection at the author's hands, but must also devote no little time and ingenuity to dissecting themselves and one another. But dissection is one thing, and the living word rank from the heart and absolutely reeking of the human creature that uttered it—the word that Turguenieff's people are constantly uttering—is another. Moreover, in the dearth of commanding traits and stirring events, there is a continual temptation to magnify those which are petty and insignificant. Instead of a telescope to sweep the heavens, we are furnished with a microscope to detect infusoria. We want a description of a mountain; and, instead of receiving an outline, naked and severe, perhaps, but true and impressive, we are introduced to a tiny field on its immeasurable side, and we go botanizing and insect- hunting there. This is realism; but it is the realism of texture, not of form and relation. It encourages our glance to be near-sighted instead of comprehensive. Above all, there is a misgiving that we do not touch the writer's true quality, and that these scenes of his, so elaborately and conscientiously prepared, have cost him much thought and pains, but not one throb of the heart or throe of the spirit. The experiences that he depicts have not, one fancies, marked wrinkles on his forehead or turned his hair gray. There are two kinds of reserve—the reserve which feels that its message is too mighty for it, and the reserve which feels that it is too mighty for its message. Our new school of writers is reserved, but its reserve does not strike one as being of the former kind. It cannot be said of any one of Mr. James's stories, "This is his best," or "This is his worst," because no one of them is all one way. They have their phases of strength and veracity, and, also, phases that are neither veracious nor strong. The cause may either lie in a lack of experience in a certain direction on the writer's part; or else in his reluctance to write up to the experience he has. The experience in question is not of the ways of the world,—concerning which Mr. James has every sign of being politely familiar,—nor of men and women in their every-day aspect; still less of literary ways and means, for of these, in his own line, he is a master. The experience referred to is experience of passion. If Mr. James be not incapable of describing passion, at all events he has still to show that he is capable of it. He has introduced us to many characters that seem to have in them capacity for the highest passion,—as witness Christina Light,—and yet he has never allowed them an opportunity to develop it. He seems to evade the situation; but the evasion is managed with so much plausibility that, although we may be disappointed, or even irritated, and feel, more or less vaguely, that we have been unfairly dealt with, we are unable to show exactly where or how the unfairness comes in. Thus his novels might be compared to a beautiful face, full of culture and good breeding, but lacking that fire of the eye and fashion of the lip that betray a living human soul.
The other one of the two writers whose names are so often mentioned together, seems to have taken up the subject of our domestic and social pathology; and the minute care and conscientious veracity which he has brought to bear upon his work has not been surpassed, even by Shakespeare. But, if I could venture a criticism upon his productions, it would be to the effect that there is not enough fiction in them. They are elaborate and amiable reports of what we see around us. They are not exactly imaginative,—in the sense in which I have attempted to define the word. There are two ways of warning a man against unwholesome life—one is, to show him a picture of disease; the other is, to show him a picture of health. The former is the negative, the latter the positive treatment. Both have their merits; but the latter is, perhaps, the better adapted to novels, the former to essays. A novelist should not only know what he has got; he should also know what he wants. His mind should have an active, or theorizing, as well as a passive, or contemplative, side. He should have energy to discount the people he personally knows; the power to perceive what phases of thought are to be represented, as well as to describe the persons who happen to be their least inadequate representatives; the sagacity to analyze the age or the moment, and to reveal its tendency and meaning. Mr. Howells has produced a great deal of finely wrought tapestry; but does not seem, as yet, to have found a hall fit to adorn it with.
And yet Mr. James and Mr. Howells have done more than all the rest of us to make our literature respectable during the last ten years. If texture be the object, they have brought texture to a fineness never surpassed anywhere. They have discovered charm and grace in much that was only blank before. They have detected and described points of human nature hitherto unnoticed, which, if not intrinsically important, will one day be made auxiliary to the production of pictures of broader as well as minuter veracity than have heretofore been produced. All that seems wanting thus far is a direction, an aim, a belief. Agnosticism has brought about a pause for a while, and no doubt a pause is preferable to some kinds of activity. It may enable us, when the time comes to set forward again, to do so with better equipment and more intelligent purpose. It will not do to be always at a prophetic heat of enthusiasm, sympathy, denunciation: the coolly critical mood is also useful to prune extravagance and promote a sense of responsibility. The novels of Mr. James and of Mr. Howells have taught us that men and women are creatures of infinitely complicated structure, and that even the least of these complications, if it is portrayed at all, is worth portraying truthfully. But we cannot forget, on the other hand, that honest emotion and hearty action are necessary to the wholesomeness of society, because in their absence society is afflicted with a lamentable sameness and triviality; the old primitive impulses remain, but the food on which they are compelled to feed is insipid and unsustaining; our eyes are turned inward instead of outward, and each one of us becomes himself the Rome towards which all his roads lead. Such books as these authors have written are not the Great American Novel, because they take life and humanity not in their loftier, but in their lesser manifestations. They are the side scenes and the background of a story that has yet to be written. That story will have the interest not only of the collision of private passions and efforts, but of the great ideas and principles which characterize and animate a nation. It will discriminate between what is accidental and what is permanent, between what is realistic and what is real, between what is sentimental and what is sentiment. It will show us not only what we are, but what we are to be; not only what to avoid, but what to do. It will rest neither in the tragic gloom of Turguenieff, nor in the critical composure of James, nor in the gentle deprecation of Howells, but will demonstrate that the weakness of man is the motive and condition of his strength. It will not shrink from romance, nor from ideality, nor from artistic completeness, because it will know at what depths and heights of life these elements are truly operative. It will be American, not because its scene is laid or its characters born in the United States, but because its burden will be reaction against old tyrannies and exposure of new hypocrisies; a refutation of respectable falsehoods, and a proclamation of unsophisticated truths. Indeed, let us take heed and diligently improve our native talent, lest a day come when the Great American Novel make its appearance, but written in a foreign language, and by some author who— however purely American at heart—never set foot on the shores of the Republic.
AMERICANISM IN FICTION.
Contemporary criticism will have it that, in order to create an American Literature, we must use American materials. The term "Literature" has, no doubt, come to be employed in a loose sense. The London Saturday Review has (or used to have until lately) a monthly two-column article devoted to what it called "American Literature," three-fourths of which were devoted to an examination of volumes of State Histories, Statistical Digests, Records of the Census, and other such works as were never, before or since, suspected of being literature; while the remaining fourth mentioned the titles (occasionally with a line of comment) of whatever productions were at hand in the way of essays, novels, and poetry. This would seem to indicate that we may have—nay, are already possessed of—an American Literature, composed of American materials, provided only that we consent to adopt the Saturday Review's conception of what literature is.
Many of us believe, however, that the essays, the novels, and the poetry, as well as the statistical digests, ought to go to the making up of a national literature. It has been discovered, however, that the existence of the former does not depend, to the same extent as that of the latter, upon the employment of exclusively American material. A book about the census, if it be not American, is nothing; but a poem or a romance, though written by a native-born American, who, perhaps, has never crossed the Atlantic, not only may, but frequently does, have nothing in it that can be called essentially American, except its English and, occasionally, its ideas. And the question arises whether such productions can justly be held to form component parts of what shall hereafter be recognized as the literature of America.
How was it with the makers of English literature? Beginning with Chaucer, his "Canterbury Pilgrims" is English, both in scene and character; it is even mentioned of the Abbess that "Frenche of Paris was to her unknowe"; but his "Legende of Goode Women" might, so far as its subject-matter is concerned, have been written by a French, a Spanish, or an Italian Chaucer, just as well as by the British Daniel. Spenser's "Faerie Queene" numbers St. George and King Arthur among its heroes; but its scene is laid in Faerie Lande, if it be laid anywhere, and it is a barefaced moral allegory throughout. Shakespeare wrote thirty-seven plays, the elimination of which from English literature would undeniably be a serious loss to it; yet, of these plays twenty-three have entirely foreign scenes and characters. Milton, as a political writer, was English; but his "Paradise Lost and Regained," his "Samson," his "Ode on the Nativity," his "Comus," bear no reference to the land of his birth. Dryden's best-known work to- day is his "Alexander's Feast." Pope has come down to us as the translator of Homer. Richardson, Fielding, Smollett, and Sterne are the great quartet of English novelists of the last century; but Smollett, in his preface to "Roderick Random," after an admiring allusion to the "Gil Blas" of Le Sage, goes on to say: "The following sheets I have modelled on his plan"; and Sterne was always talking and thinking about Cervantes, and comparing himself to the great Spaniard: "I think there is more laughable humor, with an equal degree of Cervantic satire, if not more, than in the last," he writes of one of his chapters, to "my witty widow, Mrs. F." Many even of Walter Scott's romances are un-English in their elements; and the fame of Shelley, Keats, and Byron rests entirely upon their "foreign" work. Coleridge's poetry and philosophy bear no technical stamp of nationality; and, to come down to later times, Carlyle was profoundly imbued with Germanism, while the "Romola" of George Eliot and the "Cloister and the Hearth" of Charles Reade are by many considered to be the best of their works. In the above enumeration innumerable instances in point are, of course, omitted; but enough have been given, perhaps, to show that imaginative writers have not generally been disowned by their country on the ground that they have availed themselves, in their writings, of other scenes and characters than those of their own immediate neighborhoods.
The statistics of the work of the foremost American writers could easily be shown to be much more strongly imbued with the specific flavor of their environment. Benjamin Franklin, though he was an author before the United States existed, was American to the marrow. The "Leather-Stocking Tales" of Cooper are the American epic. Irving's "Knickerbocker" and his "Woolfert's Roost" will long outlast his other productions. Poe's most popular tale, "The Gold-Bug," is American in its scene, and so is "The Mystery of Marie Roget," in spite of its French nomenclature; and all that he wrote is strongly tinged with the native hue of his strange genius. Longfellow's "Evangeline" and "Hiawatha" and "Miles Standish," and such poems as "The Skeleton in Armor" and "The Building of the Ship," crowd out of sight his graceful translations and adaptations. Emerson is the veritable American eagle of our literature, so that to be Emersonian is to be American. Whittier and Holmes have never looked beyond their native boundaries, and Hawthorne has brought the stern gloom of the Puritan period and the uneasy theorizings of the present day into harmony with the universal and permanent elements of human nature. There was certainly nothing European visible in the crude but vigorous stories of Theodore Winthrop; and Bret Harte, the most brilliant figure among our later men, is not only American, but Californian,—as is, likewise, the Poet of the Sierras. It is not necessary to go any further. Mr. Henry James, having enjoyed early and singular opportunities of studying the effects of the recent annual influx of Americans, cultured and otherwise, into England and the Continent, has very sensibly and effectively, and with exquisite grace of style and pleasantness of thought, made the phenomenon the theme of a remarkable series of stories. Hereupon the cry of an "International School" has been raised, and critics profess to be seriously alarmed lest we should ignore the signal advantages for mise-en-scene presented by this Western half of the planet, and should enter into vain and unpatriotic competition with foreign writers on their own ground. The truth is, meanwhile, that it would have been a much surer sign of affectation in us to have abstained from literary comment upon the patent and notable fact of this international rapprochement,—which is just as characteristic an American trait as the episode of the Argonauts of 1849, —and we have every reason to be grateful to Mr. Henry James, and to his school, if he has any, for having rescued us from the opprobrium of so foolish a piece of know-nothingism. The phase is, of course, merely temporary; its interest and significance will presently be exhausted; but, because we are American, are we to import no French cakes and English ale? As a matter of fact, we are too timid and self-conscious; and these infirmities imply a much more serious obstacle to the formation of a characteristic literature than does any amount of gadding abroad.
That must be a very shallow literature which depends for its national flavor and character upon its topography and its dialect; and the criticism which can conceive of no deeper Americanism than this is shallower still. What is an American book? It is a book written by an American, and by one who writes as an American; that is, unaffectedly. So an English book is a book written by an unaffected Englishman. What difference can it make what the subject of the writing is? Mr. Henry James lately brought out a volume of essays on "French Poets and Novelists." Mr. E. C. Stedman recently published a series of monographs on "The Victorian Poets." Are these books French and English, or are they nondescript, or are they American? Not only are they American, but they are more essentially American than if they had been disquisitions upon American literature. And the reason is, of course, that they subject the things of the old world to the tests of the new, and thereby vindicate and illustrate the characteristic mission of America to mankind. We are here to hold up European conventionalisms and prejudices in the light of the new day, and thus afford everybody the opportunity, never heretofore enjoyed, of judging them by other standards, and in other surroundings than those amidst which they came into existence. In the same way, Emerson's "English Traits" is an American thing, and it gives categorical reasons why American things should be. And what is an American novel except a novel treating of persons, places, and ideas from an American point of view? The point of view is the point, not the thing seen from it.
But it is said that "the great American novel," in order fully to deserve its name, ought to have American scenery. Some thousands of years ago, the Greeks had a novelist—Homer—who evolved the great novel of that epoch; but the scenery of that novel was Trojan, not Greek. The story is a criticism, from a Greek standpoint, of foreign affairs, illustrated with practical examples; and, as regards treatment, quite as much care is bestowed upon the delineation of Hector, Priam, and Paris, as upon Agamemnon, Menelaus, and Achilles. The same story, told by a Trojan Homer, would doubtless have been very different; but it is by no means certain that it would have been any better told. It embodies, whether symbolically or literally matters not, the triumph of Greek ideas and civilization. But, even so, the sympathies of the reader are not always, or perhaps uniformly, on the conquering side. Homer was doubtless a patriot, but he shows no signs of having been a bigot. He described that great international episode with singular impartiality; what chiefly interested him was the play of human nature. Nevertheless, there is no evidence that the Greeks were backward in admitting his claims as their national poet; and we may legitimately conclude that were an American Homer—whether in prose or poetry—to appear among us, he might pitch his scene where he liked—in Patagonia, or on the banks of the Zambezi—and we should accept the situation with perfect equanimity. Only let him be a native of New York, or Boston, or San Francisco, or Mullenville, and be inspired with the American idea, and we ask no more. Whatever he writes will belong to our literature, and add lustre to it.
One hears many complaints about the snobbishness of running after things European. Go West, young man, these moralists say, or go down Fifth Avenue, and investigate Chatham Street, and learn that all the elements of romance, to him who has the seeing eye, lie around your own front doorstep and back yard. But let not these persons forget that he who fears Europe is a less respectable snob than he who studies it. Let us welcome Europe in our books as freely as we do at Castle Garden; we may do so safely. If our digestion be not strong enough to assimilate her, and work up whatever is valuable in her into our own bone and sinew, then America is not the thing we took her for. For what is America? Is it simply a reproduction of one of these Eastern nationalities, which we are so fond of alluding to as effete? Surely not. It is a new departure in history; it is a new door opened to the development of the human race, or, as I should prefer to say, of humanity. We are misled by the chatter of politicians and the bombast of Congress. In the course of ages, the time has at last arrived when man, all over this planet, is entering upon a new career of moral, intellectual, and political emancipation; and America is the concrete expression and theatre of that great fact, as all spiritual truths find their fitting and representative physical incarnation. But what would this huge western continent be, if America—the real America of the mind—had no existence? It would be a body without a soul, and would better, therefore, not be at all. If America is to be a repetition of Europe on a larger scale, it is not worth the pain of governing it. Europe has shown what European ideas can accomplish; and whatever fresh thought or impulse comes to birth in it can be nothing else than an American thought and impulse, and must sooner or later find its way here, and become naturalized with its brethren. Buds and blossoms of America are sprouting forth all over the Old World, and we gather in the fruit. They do not find themselves at home there, but they know where their home is. The old country feels them like thorns in her old flesh, and is gladly rid of them; but such prickings are the only wholesome and hopeful symptoms she presents; if they ceased to trouble her, she would be dead indeed. She has an uneasy experience before her, for a time; but the time will come when she, too, will understand that her ease is her disease, and then Castle Garden may close its doors, for America will be everywhere.