Criticism and Fiction
William Dean Howells

This etext was produced by David Widger

[NOTE: There is a short list of bookmarks, or pointers, at the end of the
file for those who may wish to sample the author's ideas before making an
entire meal of them. D.W.]


By William Dean Howells

The question of a final criterion for the appreciation of art is one that
perpetually recurs to those interested in any sort of aesthetic endeavor.
Mr. John Addington Symonds, in a chapter of 'The Renaissance in Italy'
treating of the Bolognese school of painting, which once had so great
cry, and was vaunted the supreme exemplar of the grand style, but which
he now believes fallen into lasting contempt for its emptiness and
soullessness, seeks to determine whether there can be an enduring
criterion or not; and his conclusion is applicable to literature as to
the other arts. "Our hope," he says, "with regard to the unity of taste
in the future then is, that all sentimental or academical seekings after
the ideal having been abandoned, momentary theories founded upon
idiosyncratic or temporary partialities exploded, and nothing accepted
but what is solid and positive, the scientific spirit shall make men
progressively more and more conscious of these 'bleibende Verhaltnisse,'
more and more capable of living in the whole; also, that in proportion as
we gain a firmer hold upon our own place in the world, we shall come to
comprehend with more instinctive certitude what is simple, natural, and
honest, welcoming with gladness all artistic products that exhibit these
qualities. The perception of the enlightened man will then be the task
of a healthy person who has made himself acquainted with the laws of
evolution in art and in society, and is able to test the excellence of
work in any stage from immaturity to decadence by discerning what there
is of truth, sincerity, and natural vigor in it."


That is to say, as I understand, that moods and tastes and fashions
change; people fancy now this and now that; but what is unpretentious and
what is true is always beautiful and good, and nothing else is so. This
is not saying that fantastic and monstrous and artificial things do not
please; everybody knows that they do please immensely for a time, and
then, after the lapse of a much longer time, they have the charm of the
rococo. Nothing is more curious than the charm that fashion has.
Fashion in women's dress, almost every fashion, is somehow delightful,
else it would never have been the fashion; but if any one will look
through a collection of old fashion plates, he must own that most
fashions have been ugly. A few, which could be readily instanced, have
been very pretty, and even beautiful, but it is doubtful if these have
pleased the greatest number of people. The ugly delights as well as the
beautiful, and not merely because the ugly in fashion is associated with
the young loveliness of the women who wear the ugly fashions, and wins a
grace from them, not because the vast majority of mankind are tasteless,
but for some cause that is not perhaps ascertainable. It is quite as
likely to return in the fashions of our clothes and houses and furniture,
and poetry and fiction and painting, as the beautiful, and it may be from
an instinctive or a reasoned sense of this that some of the extreme
naturalists have refused to make the old discrimination against it, or to
regard the ugly as any less worthy of celebration in art than the
beautiful; some of them, in fact, seem to regard it as rather more
worthy, if anything. Possibly there is no absolutely ugly, no absolutely
beautiful; or possibly the ugly contains always an element of the
beautiful better adapted to the general appreciation than the more
perfectly beautiful. This is a somewhat discouraging conjecture, but I
offer it for no more than it is worth; and I do not pin my faith to the
saying of one whom I heard denying, the other day, that a thing of beauty
was a joy forever. He contended that Keats's line should have read,
"Some things of beauty are sometimes joys forever," and that any
assertion beyond this was too hazardous.


I should, indeed, prefer another line of Keats's, if I were to profess
any formulated creed, and should feel much safer with his "Beauty is
Truth, Truth Beauty," than even with my friend's reformation of the more
quoted verse. It brings us back to the solid ground taken by Mr.
Symonds, which is not essentially different from that taken in the great
Mr. Burke's Essay on the Sublime and the Beautiful--a singularly modern
book, considering how long ago it was wrote (as the great Mr. Steele
would have written the participle a little longer ago), and full of a
certain well-mannered and agreeable instruction. In some things it is of
that droll little eighteenth-century world, when philosophy had got the
neat little universe into the hollow of its hand, and knew just what it
was, and what it was for; but it is quite without arrogance. "As for
those called critics," the author says, "they have generally sought
the rule of the arts in the wrong place; they have sought among poems,
pictures, engravings, statues, and buildings; but art can never give the
rules that make an art. This is, I believe, the reason why artists in
general, and poets principally, have been confined in so narrow a circle;
they have been rather imitators of one another than of nature. Critics
follow them, and therefore can do little as guides. I can judge but
poorly of anything while I measure it by no other standard than itself.
The true standard of the arts is in every man's power; and an easy
observation of the most common, sometimes of the meanest things, in
nature will give the truest lights, where the greatest sagacity and
industry that slights such observation must leave us in the dark, or,
what is worse, amuse and mislead us by false lights."

If this should happen to be true and it certainly commends itself to
acceptance--it might portend an immediate danger to the vested interests
of criticism, only that it was written a hundred years ago; and we shall
probably have the "sagacity and industry that slights the observation" of
nature long enough yet to allow most critics the time to learn some more
useful trade than criticism as they pursue it. Nevertheless, I am in
hopes that the communistic era in taste foreshadowed by Burke is
approaching, and that it will occur within the lives of men now overawed
by the foolish old superstition that literature and art are anything but
the expression of life, and are to be judged by any other test than that
of their fidelity to it. The time is coming, I hope, when each new
author, each new artist, will be considered, not in his proportion to any
other author or artist, but in his relation to the human nature, known to
us all, which it is his privilege, his high duty, to interpret. "The
true standard of the artist is in every man's power" already, as Burke
says; Michelangelo's "light of the piazza," the glance of the common eye,
is and always was the best light on a statue; Goethe's "boys and
blackbirds" have in all ages been the real connoisseurs of berries; but
hitherto the mass of common men have been afraid to apply their own
simplicity, naturalness, and honesty to the appreciation of the
beautiful. They have always cast about for the instruction of some one
who professed to know better, and who browbeat wholesome common-sense
into the self-distrust that ends in sophistication. They have fallen
generally to the worst of this bad species, and have been "amused and
misled" (how pretty that quaint old use of amuse is!) "by the false
lights" of critical vanity and self-righteousness. They have been taught
to compare what they see and what they read, not with the things that
they have observed and known, but with the things that some other artist
or writer has done. Especially if they have themselves the artistic
impulse in any direction they are taught to form themselves, not upon
life, but upon the masters who became masters only by forming themselves
upon life. The seeds of death are planted in them, and they can produce
only the still-born, the academic. They are not told to take their work
into the public square and see if it seems true to the chance passer, but
to test it by the work of the very men who refused and decried any other
test of their own work. The young writer who attempts to report the
phrase and carriage of every-day life, who tries to tell just how he has
heard men talk and seen them look, is made to feel guilty of something
low and unworthy by people who would like to have him show how
Shakespeare's men talked and looked, or Scott's, or Thackeray's, or
Balzac's, or Hawthorne's, or Dickens's; he is instructed to idealize his
personages, that is, to take the life-likeness out of them, and put the
book-likeness into them. He is approached in the spirit of the pedantry
into which learning, much or little, always decays when it withdraws
itself and stands apart from experience in an attitude of imagined
superiority, and which would say with the same confidence to the
scientist: "I see that you are looking at a grasshopper there which you
have found in the grass, and I suppose you intend to describe it. Now
don't waste your time and sin against culture in that way. I've got a
grasshopper here, which has been evolved at considerable pains and
expense out of the grasshopper in general; in fact, it's a type. It's
made up of wire and card-board, very prettily painted in a conventional
tint, and it's perfectly indestructible. It isn't very much like a real
grasshopper, but it's a great deal nicer, and it's served to represent
the notion of a grasshopper ever since man emerged from barbarism. You
may say that it's artificial. Well, it is artificial; but then it's
ideal too; and what you want to do is to cultivate the ideal. You'll
find the books full of my kind of grasshopper, and scarcely a trace of
yours in any of them. The thing that you are proposing to do is
commonplace; but if you say that it isn't commonplace, for the very
reason that it hasn't been done before, you'll have to admit that it's

As I said, I hope the time is coming when not only the artist, but the
common, average man, who always "has the standard of the arts in his
power," will have also the courage to apply it, and will reject the ideal
grasshopper wherever he finds it, in science, in literature, in art,
because it is not "simple, natural, and honest," because it is not like a
real grasshopper. But I will own that I think the time is yet far off,
and that the people who have been brought up on the ideal grasshopper,
the heroic grasshopper, the impassioned grasshopper, the self-devoted,
adventureful, good old romantic card-board grasshopper, must die out
before the simple, honest, and natural grasshopper can have a fair field.
I am in no haste to compass the end of these good people, whom I find in
the mean time very amusing. It is delightful to meet one of them, either
in print or out of it--some sweet elderly lady or excellent gentleman
whose youth was pastured on the literature of thirty or forty years ago
--and to witness the confidence with which they preach their favorite
authors as all the law and the prophets. They have commonly read little
or nothing since, or, if they have, they have judged it by a standard
taken from these authors, and never dreamed of judging it by nature; they
are destitute of the documents in the case of the later writers; they
suppose that Balzac was the beginning of realism, and that Zola is its
wicked end; they are quite ignorant, but they are ready to talk you down,
if you differ from them, with an assumption of knowledge sufficient for
any occasion. The horror, the resentment, with which they receive any
question of their literary saints is genuine; you descend at once very
far in the moral and social scale, and anything short of offensive
personality is too good for you; it is expressed to you that you are one
to be avoided, and put down even a little lower than you have naturally

These worthy persons are not to blame; it is part of their intellectual
mission to represent the petrifaction of taste, and to preserve an image
of a smaller and cruder and emptier world than we now live in, a world
which was feeling its way towards the simple, the natural, the honest,
but was a good deal "amused and misled" by lights now no longer
mistakable for heavenly luminaries. They belong to a time, just passing
away, when certain authors were considered authorities in certain kinds,
when they must be accepted entire and not questioned in any particular.
Now we are beginning to see and to say that no author is an authority
except in those moments when he held his ear close to Nature's lips and
caught her very accent. These moments are not continuous with any
authors in the past, and they are rare with all. Therefore I am not
afraid to say now that the greatest classics are sometimes not at all
great, and that we can profit by them only when we hold them, like our
meanest contemporaries, to a strict accounting, and verify their work by
the standard of the arts which we all have in our power, the simple, the
natural, and the honest.

Those good people must always have a hero, an idol of some sort, and it
is droll to find Balzac, who suffered from their sort such bitter scorn
and hate for his realism while he was alive, now become a fetich in his
turn, to be shaken in the faces of those who will not blindly worship
him. But it is no new thing in the history of literature: whatever is
established is sacred with those who do not think. At the beginning of
the century, when romance was making the same fight against effete
classicism which realism is making to-day against effete romanticism, the
Italian poet Monti declared that "the romantic was the cold grave of the
Beautiful," just as the realistic is now supposed to be. The romantic of
that day and the real of this are in certain degree the same.
Romanticism then sought, as realism seeks now, to widen the bounds of
sympathy, to level every barrier against aesthetic freedom, to escape
from the paralysis of tradition. It exhausted itself in this impulse;
and it remained for realism to assert that fidelity to experience and
probability of motive are essential conditions of a great imaginative
literature. It is not a new theory, but it has never before universally
characterized literary endeavor. When realism becomes false to itself,
when it heaps up facts merely, and maps life instead of picturing it,
realism will perish too. Every true realist instinctively knows this,
and it is perhaps the reason why he is careful of every fact, and feels
himself bound to express or to indicate its meaning at the risk of
overmoralizing. In life he finds nothing insignificant; all tells for
destiny and character; nothing that God has made is contemptible. He
cannot look upon human life and declare this thing or that thing unworthy
of notice, any more than the scientist can declare a fact of the material
world beneath the dignity of his inquiry. He feels in every nerve the
equality of things and the unity of men; his soul is exalted, not by vain
shows and shadows and ideals, but by realities, in which alone the truth
lives. In criticism it is his business to break the images of false gods
and misshapen heroes, to take away the poor silly, toys that many grown
people would still like to play with. He cannot keep terms with "Jack
the Giant-killer" or "Puss-in-Boots," under any name or in any place,
even when they reappear as the convict Vautrec, or the Marquis de
Montrivaut, or the Sworn Thirteen Noblemen. He must say to himself that
Balzac, when he imagined these monsters, was not Balzac, he was Dumas; he
was not realistic, he was romanticistic.


Such a critic will not respect Balzac's good work the less for contemning
his bad work. He will easily account for the bad work historically, and
when he has recognized it, will trouble himself no further with it. In
his view no living man is a type, but a character; now noble, now
ignoble; now grand, now little; complex, full of vicissitude. He will
not expect Balzac to be always Balzac, and will be perhaps even more
attracted to the study of him when he was trying to be Balzac than when
he had become so. In 'Cesar Birotteau,' for instance, he will be
interested to note how Balzac stood at the beginning of the great things
that have followed since in fiction. There is an interesting likeness
between his work in this and Nicolas Gogol's in 'Dead Souls,' which
serves to illustrate the simultaneity of the literary movement in men of
such widely separated civilizations and conditions. Both represent their
characters with the touch of exaggeration which typifies; but in bringing
his story to a close, Balzac employs a beneficence unknown to the
Russian, and almost as universal and as apt as that which smiles upon the
fortunes of the good in the Vicar of Wakefield. It is not enough to have
rehabilitated Birotteau pecuniarily and socially; he must make him die
triumphantly, spectacularly, of an opportune hemorrhage, in the midst of
the festivities which celebrate his restoration to his old home. Before
this happens, human nature has been laid under contribution right and
left for acts of generosity towards the righteous bankrupt; even the king
sends him six thousand francs. It is very pretty; it is touching, and
brings the lump into the reader's throat; but it is too much, and one
perceives that Balzac lived too soon to profit by Balzac. The later men,
especially the Russians, have known how to forbear the excesses of
analysis, to withhold the weakly recurring descriptive and caressing
epithets, to let the characters suffice for themselves. All this does
not mean that 'Cesar Birotteau' is not a beautiful and pathetic story,
full of shrewdly considered knowledge of men, and of a good art
struggling to free itself from self-consciousness. But it does mean that
Balzac, when he wrote it, was under the burden of the very traditions
which he has helped fiction to throw off. He felt obliged to construct a
mechanical plot, to surcharge his characters, to moralize openly and
baldly; he permitted himself to "sympathize" with certain of his people,
and to point out others for the abhorrence of his readers. This is not
so bad in him as it would be in a novelist of our day. It is simply
primitive and inevitable, and he is not to be judged by it.


In the beginning of any art even the most gifted worker must be crude in
his methods, and we ought to keep this fact always in mind when we turn,
say, from the purblind worshippers of Scott to Scott himself, and
recognize that he often wrote a style cumbrous and diffuse; that he was
tediously analytical where the modern novelist is dramatic, and evolved
his characters by means of long-winded explanation and commentary; that,
except in the case of his lower-class personages, he made them talk as
seldom man and never woman talked; that he was tiresomely descriptive;
that on the simplest occasions he went about half a mile to express a
thought that could be uttered in ten paces across lots; and that he
trusted his readers' intuitions so little that he was apt to rub in his
appeals to them. He was probably right: the generation which he wrote
for was duller than this; slower-witted, aesthetically untrained, and in
maturity not so apprehensive of an artistic intention as the children of
to-day. All this is not saying Scott was not a great man; he was a great
man, and a very great novelist as compared with the novelists who went
before him. He can still amuse young people, but they ought to be
instructed how false and how mistaken he often is, with his mediaeval
ideals, his blind Jacobitism, his intense devotion to aristocracy and
royalty; his acquiescence in the division of men into noble and ignoble,
patrician and plebeian, sovereign and subject, as if it were the law of
God; for all which, indeed, he is not to blame as he would be if he were
one of our contemporaries. Something of this is true of another master,
greater than Scott in being less romantic, and inferior in being more
German, namely, the great Goethe himself. He taught us, in novels
otherwise now antiquated, and always full of German clumsiness, that it
was false to good art--which is never anything but the reflection of
life--to pursue and round the career of the persons introduced, whom he
often allowed to appear and disappear in our knowledge as people in the
actual world do. This is a lesson which the writers able to profit by it
can never be too grateful for; and it is equally a benefaction to
readers; but there is very little else in the conduct of the Goethean
novels which is in advance of their time; this remains almost their sole
contribution to the science of fiction. They are very primitive in
certain characteristics, and unite with their calm, deep insight, an
amusing helplessness in dramatization. "Wilhelm retired to his room, and
indulged in the following reflections," is a mode of analysis which would
not be practised nowadays; and all that fancifulness of nomenclature in
Wilhelm Meister is very drolly sentimental and feeble. The adventures
with robbers seem as if dreamed out of books of chivalry, and the
tendency to allegorization affects one like an endeavor on the author's
part to escape from the unrealities which he must have felt harassingly,
German as he was. Mixed up with the shadows and illusions are honest,
wholesome, every-day people, who have the air of wandering homelessly
about among them, without definite direction; and the mists are full of a
luminosity which, in spite of them, we know for common-sense and poetry.
What is useful in any review of Goethe's methods is the recognition of
the fact, which it must bring, that the greatest master cannot produce a
masterpiece in a new kind. The novel was too recently invented in
Goethe's day not to be, even in his hands, full of the faults of
apprentice work.


In fact, a great master may sin against the "modesty of nature" in many
ways, and I have felt this painfully in reading Balzac's romance--it is
not worthy the name of novel--'Le Pere Goriot,' which is full of a
malarial restlessness, wholly alien to healthful art. After that
exquisitely careful and truthful setting of his story in the shabby
boarding-house, he fills the scene with figures jerked about by the
exaggerated passions and motives of the stage. We cannot have a cynic
reasonably wicked, disagreeable, egoistic; we must have a lurid villain
of melodrama, a disguised convict, with a vast criminal organization at
his command, and

"So dyed double red"

indeed and purpose that he lights up the faces of the horrified
spectators with his glare. A father fond of unworthy children, and
leading a life of self-denial for their sake, as may probably and
pathetically be, is not enough; there must be an imbecile, trembling
dotard, willing to promote even the liaisons of his daughters to give
them happiness and to teach the sublimity of the paternal instinct.
The hero cannot sufficiently be a selfish young fellow, with alternating
impulses of greed and generosity; he must superfluously intend a career
of iniquitous splendor, and be swerved from it by nothing but the most
cataclysmal interpositions. It can be said that without such personages
the plot could not be transacted; but so much the worse for the plot.
Such a plot had no business to be; and while actions so unnatural are
imagined, no mastery can save fiction from contempt with those who really
think about it. To Balzac it can be forgiven, not only because in his
better mood he gave us such biographies as 'Eugenie Grandet,' but because
he wrote at a time when fiction was just beginning to verify the
externals of life, to portray faithfully the outside of men and things.
It was still held that in order to interest the reader the characters
must be moved by the old romantic ideals; we were to be taught that
"heroes" and "heroines" existed all around us, and that these abnormal
beings needed only to be discovered in their several humble disguises,
and then we should see every-day people actuated by the fine frenzy of
the creatures of the poets. How false that notion was, few but the
critics, who are apt to be rather belated, need now be told. Some of
these poor fellows, however, still contend that it ought to be done, and
that human feelings and motives, as God made them and as men know them,
are not good enough for novel-readers.

This is more explicable than would appear at first glance. The critics
--and in speaking of them one always modestly leaves one's self out of
the count, for some reason--when they are not elders ossified in
tradition, are apt to be young people, and young people are necessarily
conservative in their tastes and theories. They have the tastes and
theories of their instructors, who perhaps caught the truth of their day,
but whose routine life has been alien to any other truth. There is
probably no chair of literature in this country from which the principles
now shaping the literary expression of every civilized people are not
denounced and confounded with certain objectionable French novels, or
which teaches young men anything of the universal impulse which has given
us the work, not only of Zola, but of Tourguenief and Tolstoy in Russia,
of Bjornson and Ibsen in Norway, of Valdes and Galdos in Spain, of Verga
in Italy. Till these younger critics have learned to think as well as to
write for themselves they will persist in heaving a sigh, more and more
perfunctory, for the truth as it was in Sir Walter, and as it was in
Dickens and in Hawthorne. Presently all will have been changed; they
will have seen the new truth in larger and larger degree; and when it
shall have become the old truth, they will perhaps see it all.


In the mean time the average of criticism is not wholly bad with us.
To be sure, the critic sometimes appears in the panoply of the savages
whom we have supplanted on this continent; and it is hard to believe that
his use of the tomahawk and the scalping-knife is a form of conservative
surgery. It is still his conception of his office that he should assail
those who differ with him in matters of taste or opinion; that he must be
rude with those he does not like. It is too largely his superstition
that because he likes a thing it is good, and because he dislikes a thing
it is bad; the reverse is quite possibly the case, but he is yet
indefinitely far from knowing that in affairs of taste his personal
preference enters very little. Commonly he has no principles, but only
an assortment of prepossessions for and against; and this otherwise very
perfect character is sometimes uncandid to the verge of dishonesty. He
seems not to mind misstating the position of any one he supposes himself
to disagree with, and then attacking him for what he never said, or even
implied; he thinks this is droll, and appears not to suspect that it is
immoral. He is not tolerant; he thinks it a virtue to be intolerant; it
is hard for him to understand that the same thing may be admirable at one
time and deplorable at another; and that it is really his business to
classify and analyze the fruits of the human mind very much as the
naturalist classifies the objects of his study, rather than to praise or
blame them; that there is a measure of the same absurdity in his
trampling on a poem, a novel, or an essay that does not please him as in
the botanist's grinding a plant underfoot because he does not find it
pretty. He does not conceive that it is his business rather to identify
the species and then explain how and where the specimen is imperfect and
irregular. If he could once acquire this simple idea of his duty he
would be much more agreeable company than he now is, and a more useful
member of society; though considering the hard conditions under which he
works, his necessity of writing hurriedly from an imperfect examination
of far more books, on a greater variety of subjects, than he can even
hope to read, the average American critic--the ordinary critic of
commerce, so to speak--is even now very, well indeed. Collectively he is
more than this; for the joint effect of our criticism is the pretty
thorough appreciation of any book submitted to it


The misfortune rather than the fault of our individual critic is that he
is the heir of the false theory and bad manners of the English school.
The theory of that school has apparently been that almost any person of
glib and lively expression is competent to write of almost any branch of
polite literature; its manners are what we know. The American, whom it
has largely formed, is by nature very glib and very lively, and commonly
his criticism, viewed as imaginative work, is more agreeable than that of
the Englishman; but it is, like the art of both countries, apt to be
amateurish. In some degree our authors have freed themselves from
English models; they have gained some notion of the more serious work of
the Continent: but it is still the ambition of the American critic to
write like the English critic, to show his wit if not his learning, to
strive to eclipse the author under review rather than illustrate him.
He has not yet caught on to the fact that it is really no part of his
business to display himself, but that it is altogether his duty to place
a book in such a light that the reader shall know its class, its
function, its character. The vast good-nature of our people preserves us
from the worst effects of this criticism without principles. Our critic,
at his lowest, is rarely malignant; and when he is rude or untruthful,
it is mostly without truculence; I suspect that he is often offensive
without knowing that he is so. Now and then he acts simply under
instruction from higher authority, and denounces because it is the
tradition of his publication to do so. In other cases the critic is
obliged to support his journal's repute for severity, or for wit, or for
morality, though he may himself be entirely amiable, dull, and wicked;
this necessity more or less warps his verdicts.

The worst is that he is personal, perhaps because it is so easy and so
natural to be personal, and so instantly attractive. In this respect our
criticism has not improved from the accession of numbers of ladies to its
ranks, though we still hope so much from women in our politics when they
shall come to vote. They have come to write, and with the effect to
increase the amount of little-digging, which rather superabounded in our
literary criticism before. They "know what they like"--that pernicious
maxim of those who do not know what they ought to like and they pass
readily from censuring an author's performance to censuring him. They
bring a stock of lively misapprehensions and prejudices to their work;
they would rather have heard about than known about a book; and they take
kindly to the public wish to be amused rather than edified. But neither
have they so much harm in them: they, too, are more ignorant than


Our criticism is disabled by the unwillingness of the critic to learn
from an author, and his readiness to mistrust him. A writer passes his
whole life in fitting himself for a certain kind of performance; the
critic does not ask why, or whether the performance is good or bad, but
if he does not like the kind, he instructs the writer to go off and do
some other sort of thing--usually the sort that has been done already,
and done sufficiently. If he could once understand that a man who has
written the book he dislikes, probably knows infinitely more about its
kind and his own fitness for doing it than any one else, the critic might
learn something, and might help the reader to learn; but by putting
himself in a false position, a position of superiority, he is of no use.
He is not to suppose that an author has committed an offence against him
by writing the kind of book he does not like; he will be far more
profitably employed on behalf of the reader in finding out whether they
had better not both like it. Let him conceive of an author as not in any
wise on trial before him, but as a reflection of this or that aspect of
life, and he will not be tempted to browbeat him or bully him.

The critic need not be impolite even to the youngest and weakest author.
A little courtesy, or a good deal, a constant perception of the fact that
a book is not a misdemeanor, a decent self-respect that must forbid the
civilized man the savage pleasure of wounding, are what I would ask for
our criticism, as something which will add sensibly to its present


I would have my fellow-critics consider what they are really in the world
for. The critic must perceive, if he will question himself more
carefully, that his office is mainly to ascertain facts and traits of
literature, not to invent or denounce them; to discover principles, not
to establish them; to report, not to create.

It is so much easier to say that you like this or dislike that, than to
tell why one thing is, or where another thing comes from, that many
flourishing critics will have to go out of business altogether if the
scientific method comes in, for then the critic will have to know
something besides his own mind. He will have to know something of the
laws of that mind, and of its generic history.

The history of all literature shows that even with the youngest and
weakest author criticism is quite powerless against his will to do his
own work in his own way; and if this is the case in the green wood, how
much more in the dry! It has been thought by the sentimentalist that
criticism, if it cannot cure, can at least kill, and Keats was long
alleged in proof of its efficacy in this sort. But criticism neither
cured nor killed Keats, as we all now very well know. It wounded, it
cruelly hurt him, no doubt; and it is always in the power of the critic
to give pain to the author--the meanest critic to the greatest author--
for no one can help feeling a rudeness. But every literary movement has
been violently opposed at the start, and yet never stayed in the least,
or arrested, by criticism; every author has been condemned for his
virtues, but in no wise changed by it. In the beginning he reads the
critics; but presently perceiving that he alone makes or mars himself,
and that they have no instruction for him, he mostly leaves off reading
them, though he is always glad of their kindness or grieved by their
harshness when he chances upon it. This, I believe, is the general
experience, modified, of course, by exceptions.

Then, are we critics of no use in the world? I should not like to think
that, though I am not quite ready to define our use. More than one sober
thinker is inclining at present to suspect that aesthetically or
specifically we are of no use, and that we are only useful historically;
that we may register laws, but not enact them. I am not quite prepared
to admit that aesthetic criticism is useless, though in view of its
futility in any given instance it is hard to deny that it is so.
It certainly seems as useless against a book that strikes the popular
fancy, and prospers on in spite of condemnation by the best critics,
as it is against a book which does not generally please, and which no
critical favor can make acceptable. This is so common a phenomenon that
I wonder it has never hitherto suggested to criticism that its point of
view was altogether mistaken, and that it was really necessary to judge
books not as dead things, but as living things--things which have an
influence and a power irrespective of beauty and wisdom, and merely as
expressions of actuality in thought and feeling. Perhaps criticism has a
cumulative and final effect; perhaps it does some good we do not know of.
It apparently does not affect the author directly, but it may reach him
through the reader. It may in some cases enlarge or diminish his
audience for a while, until he has thoroughly measured and tested his own
powers. If criticism is to affect literature at all, it must be through
the writers who have newly left the starting-point, and are reasonably
uncertain of the race, not with those who have won it again and again in
their own way.


Sometimes it has seemed to me that the crudest expression of any creative
art is better than the finest comment upon it. I have sometimes
suspected that more thinking, more feeling certainly, goes to the
creation of a poor novel than to the production of a brilliant criticism;
and if any novel of our time fails to live a hundred years, will any
censure of it live? Who can endure to read old reviews? One can hardly
read them if they are in praise of one's own books.

The author neglected or overlooked need not despair for that reason, if
he will reflect that criticism can neither make nor unmake authors; that
there have not been greater books since criticism became an art than
there were before; that in fact the greatest books seem to have come much

That which criticism seems most certainly to have done is to have put a
literary consciousness into books unfelt in the early masterpieces,
but unfelt now only in the books of men whose lives have been passed in
activities, who have been used to employing language as they would have
employed any implement, to effect an object, who have regarded a thing to
be said as in no wise different from a thing to be done. In this sort I
have seen no modern book so unconscious as General Grant's 'Personal
Memoirs.' The author's one end and aim is to get the facts out in words.
He does not cast about for phrases, but takes the word, whatever it is,
that will best give his meaning, as if it were a man or a force of men
for the accomplishment of a feat of arms. There is not a moment wasted
in preening and prettifying, after the fashion of literary men; there is
no thought of style, and so the style is good as it is in the 'Book of
Chronicles,' as it is in the 'Pilgrim's Progress,' with a peculiar,
almost plebeian, plainness at times. There is no more attempt at
dramatic effect than there is at ceremonious pose; things happen in that
tale of a mighty war as they happened in the mighty war itself, without
setting, without artificial reliefs one after another, as if they were
all of one quality and degree. Judgments are delivered with the same
unimposing quiet; no awe surrounds the tribunal except that which comes
from the weight and justice of the opinions; it is always an unaffected,
unpretentious man who is talking; and throughout he prefers to wear the
uniform of a private, with nothing of the general about him but the
shoulder-straps, which he sometimes forgets.


Canon Fairfax,'s opinions of literary criticism are very much to my
liking, perhaps because when I read them I found them so like my own,
already delivered in print. He tells the critics that "they are in no
sense the legislators of literature, barely even its judges and police";
and he reminds them of Mr. Ruskin's saying that "a bad critic is probably
the most mischievous person in the world," though a sense of their
relative proportion to the whole of life would perhaps acquit the worst
among them of this extreme of culpability. A bad critic is as bad a
thing as can be, but, after all, his mischief does not carry very far.
Otherwise it would be mainly the conventional books and not the original
books which would survive; for the censor who imagines himself a law-
giver can give law only to the imitative and never to the creative mind.
Criticism has condemned whatever was, from time to time, fresh and vital
in literature; it has always fought the new good thing in behalf of the
old good thing; it has invariably fostered and encouraged the tame, the
trite, the negative. Yet upon the whole it is the native, the novel, the
positive that has survived in literature. Whereas, if bad criticism were
the most mischievous thing in the world, in the full implication of the
words, it must have been the tame, the trite, the negative, that

Bad criticism is mischievous enough, however; and I think that much if
not most current criticism as practised among the English and Americans
is bad, is falsely principled, and is conditioned in evil. It is falsely
principled because it is unprincipled, or without principles; and it is
conditioned in evil because it is almost wholly anonymous. At the best
its opinions are not conclusions from certain easily verifiable
principles, but are effects from the worship of certain models. They are
in so far quite worthless, for it is the very nature of things that the
original mind cannot conform to models; it has its norm within itself; it
can work only in its own way, and by its self-given laws. Criticism does
not inquire whether a work is true to life, but tacitly or explicitly
compares it with models, and tests it by them. If literary art travelled
by any such road as criticism would have it go, it would travel in a
vicious circle, and would arrive only at the point of departure. Yet
this is the course that criticism must always prescribe when it attempts
to give laws. Being itself artificial, it cannot conceive of the
original except as the abnormal. It must altogether reconceive its
office before it can be of use to literature. It must reduce this to the
business of observing, recording, and comparing; to analyzing the
material before it, and then synthetizing its impressions. Even then, it
is not too much to say that literature as an art could get on perfectly
well without it. Just as many good novels, poems, plays, essays,
sketches, would be written if there were no such thing as criticism in
the literary world, and no more bad ones.

But it will be long before criticism ceases to imagine itself a
controlling force, to give itself airs of sovereignty, and to issue
decrees. As it exists it is mostly a mischief, though not the greatest
mischief; but it may be greatly ameliorated in character and softened in
manner by the total abolition of anonymity.

I think it would be safe to say that in no other relation of life is so
much brutality permitted by civilized society as in the criticism of
literature and the arts. Canon Farrar is quite right in reproaching
literary criticism with the uncandor of judging an author without
reference to his aims; with pursuing certain writers from spite and
prejudice, and mere habit; with misrepresenting a book by quoting a
phrase or passage apart from the context; with magnifying misprints and
careless expressions into important faults; with abusing an author for
his opinions; with base and personal motives.

Every writer of experience knows that certain critical journals will
condemn his work without regard to its quality, even if it has never been
his fortune to learn, as one author did from a repentent reviewer, that
in a journal pretending to literary taste his books were given out for
review with the caution, "Remember that the Clarion is opposed to Mr.
Blank's books."

The final conclusion appears to be that the man, or even the young lady,
who is given a gun, and told to shoot at some passer from behind a hedge,
is placed in circumstances of temptation almost too strong for human


As I have already intimated, I doubt the more lasting effects of unjust
criticism. It is no part of my belief that Keats's fame was long delayed
by it, or Wordsworth's, or Browning's. Something unwonted, unexpected,
in the quality of each delayed his recognition; each was not only a poet,
he was a revolution, a new order of things, to which the critical
perceptions and habitudes had painfully to adjust themselves: But I have
no question of the gross and stupid injustice with which these great men
were used, and of the barbarization of the public mind by the sight of
the wrong inflicted on them with impunity. This savage condition still
persists in the toleration of anonymous criticism, an abuse that ought to
be as extinct as the torture of witnesses. It is hard enough to treat a
fellow-author with respect even when one has to address him, name to
name, upon the same level, in plain day; swooping down upon him in the
dark, panoplied in the authority of a great journal, it is impossible.
Every now and then some idealist comes forward and declares that you
should say nothing in criticism of a man's book which you would not say
of it to his face. But I am afraid this is asking too much. I am afraid
it would put an end to all criticism; and that if it were practised
literature would be left to purify itself. I have no doubt literature
would do this; but in such a state of things there would be no provision
for the critics. We ought not to destroy critics, we ought to reform
them, or rather transform them, or turn them from the assumption of
authority to a realization of their true function in the civilized state.
They are no worse at heart, probably, than many others, and there are
probably good husbands and tender fathers, loving daughters and careful
mothers, among them.

It is evident to any student of human nature that the critic who is
obliged to sign his review will be more careful of an author's feelings
than he would if he could intangibly and invisibly deal with him as the
representative of a great journal. He will be loath to have his name
connected with those perversions and misstatements of an author's meaning
in which the critic now indulges without danger of being turned out of
honest company. He will be in some degree forced to be fair and just
with a book he dislikes; he will not wish to misrepresent it when his sin
can be traced directly to him in person; he will not be willing to voice
the prejudice of a journal which is "opposed to the books" of this or
that author; and the journal itself, when it is no longer responsible for
the behavior of its critic, may find it interesting and profitable to
give to an author his innings when he feels wronged by a reviewer and
desires to right himself; it may even be eager to offer him the
opportunity. We shall then, perhaps, frequently witness the spectacle of
authors turning upon their reviewers, and improving their manners and
morals by confronting them in public with the errors they may now commit
with impunity. Many an author smarts under injuries and indignities
which he might resent to the advantage of literature and civilization,
if he were not afraid of being browbeaten by the journal whose nameless
critic has outraged him.

The public is now of opinion that it involves loss of dignity to creative
talent to try to right itself if wronged, but here we are without the
requisite statistics. Creative talent may come off with all the dignity
it went in with, and it may accomplish a very good work in demolishing

In any other relation of life the man who thinks himself wronged tries to
right himself, violently, if he is a mistaken man, and lawfully if he is
a wise man or a rich one, which is practically the same thing. But the
author, dramatist, painter, sculptor, whose book, play, picture, statue,
has been unfairly dealt with, as he believes, must make no effort to
right himself with the public; he must bear his wrong in silence; he is
even expected to grin and bear it, as if it were funny. Every body
understands that it is not funny to him, not in the least funny, but
everybody says that he cannot make an effort to get the public to take
his point of view without loss of dignity. This is very odd, but it is
the fact, and I suppose that it comes from the feeling that the author,
dramatist, painter, sculptor, has already said the best he can for his
side in his book, play, picture, statue. This is partly true, and yet if
he wishes to add something more to prove the critic wrong, I do not see
how his attempt to do so should involve loss of dignity. The public,
which is so jealous for his dignity, does not otherwise use him as if he
were a very great and invaluable creature; if he fails, it lets him
starve like any one else. I should say that he lost dignity or not as he
behaved, in his effort to right himself, with petulance or with
principle. If he betrayed a wounded vanity, if he impugned the motives
and accused the lives of his critics, I should certainly feel that he was
losing dignity; but if he temperately examined their theories, and tried
to show where they were mistaken, I think he would not only gain dignity,
but would perform a very useful work.


I would beseech the literary critics of our country to disabuse
themselves of the mischievous notion that they are essential to the
progress of literature in the way critics have imagined. Canon Farrar
confesses that with the best will in the world to profit by the many
criticisms of his books, he has never profited in the least by any of
them; and this is almost the universal experience of authors. It is not
always the fault of the critics. They sometimes deal honestly and fairly
by a book, and not so often they deal adequately. But in making a book,
if it is at all a good book, the author has learned all that is knowable
about it, and every strong point and every weak point in it, far more
accurately than any one else can possibly learn them. He has learned to
do better than well for the future; but if his book is bad, he cannot be
taught anything about it from the outside. It will perish; and if he has
not the root of literature in him, he will perish as an author with it.
But what is it that gives tendency in art, then? What is it makes people
like this at one time, and that at another? Above all, what makes a
better fashion change for a worse; how can the ugly come to be preferred
to the beautiful; in other words, how can an art decay?

This question came up in my mind lately with regard to English fiction
and its form, or rather its formlessness. How, for instance, could
people who had once known the simple verity, the refined perfection of
Miss Austere, enjoy, anything less refined and less perfect?

With her example before them, why should not English novelists have gone
on writing simply, honestly, artistically, ever after? One would think
it must have been impossible for them to do otherwise, if one did not
remember, say, the lamentable behavior of the actors who support Mr.
Jefferson, and their theatricality in the very presence of his beautiful
naturalness. It is very difficult, that simplicity, and nothing is so
hard as to be honest, as the reader, if he has ever happened to try it,
must know. "The big bow-wow I can do myself, like anyone going," said
Scott, but he owned that the exquisite touch of Miss Austere was denied
him; and it seems certainly to have been denied in greater or less
measure to all her successors. But though reading and writing come by
nature, as Dogberry justly said, a taste in them may be cultivated, or
once cultivated, it may be preserved; and why was it not so among those
poor islanders? One does not ask such things in order to be at the pains
of answering them one's self, but with the hope that some one else will
take the trouble to do so, and I propose to be rather a silent partner in
the enterprise, which I shall leave mainly to Senor Armando Palacio
Valdes. This delightful author will, however, only be able to answer my
question indirectly from the essay on fiction with which he prefaces one
of his novels, the charming story of 'The Sister of San Sulpizio,' and I
shall have some little labor in fitting his saws to my instances. It is
an essay which I wish every one intending to read, or even to write, a
novel, might acquaint himself with; for it contains some of the best and
clearest things which have been said of the art of fiction in a time when
nearly all who practise it have turned to talk about it.

Senor Valdes is a realist, but a realist according to his own conception
of realism; and he has some words of just censure for the French
naturalists, whom he finds unnecessarily, and suspects of being sometimes
even mercenarily, nasty. He sees the wide difference that passes between
this naturalism and the realism of the English and Spanish; and he goes
somewhat further than I should go in condemning it. "The French
naturalism represents only a moment, and an insignificant part of life."
. . . It is characterized by sadness and narrowness. The prototype of
this literature is the 'Madame Bovary' of Flaubert. I am an admirer of
this novelist, and especially of this novel; but often in thinking of it
I have said, How dreary would literature be if it were no more than this!
There is something antipathetic and gloomy and limited in it, as there is
in modern French life; but this seems to me exactly the best possible
reason for its being. I believe with Senor Valdes that "no literature
can live long without joy," not because of its mistaken aesthetics,
however, but because no civilization can live long without joy. The
expression of French life will change when French life changes; and
French naturalism is better at its worst than French unnaturalism at its
best. "No one," as Senor Valdes truly says, "can rise from the perusal
of a naturalistic book . . . without a vivid desire to escape" from
the wretched world depicted in it, "and a purpose, more or less vague,
of helping to better the lot and morally elevate the abject beings who
figure in it. Naturalistic art, then, is not immoral in itself, for then
it would not merit the name of art; for though it is not the business of
art to preach morality, still I think that, resting on a divine and
spiritual principle, like the idea of the beautiful, it is perforce
moral. I hold much more immoral other books which, under a glamour of
something spiritual and beautiful and sublime, portray the vices in which
we are allied to the beasts. Such, for example, are the works of Octave
Feuillet, Arsene Houssaye, Georges Ohnet, and other contemporary
novelists much in vogue among the higher classes of society."

But what is this idea of the beautiful which art rests upon, and so
becomes moral? "The man of our time," says Senor Valdes, "wishes to know
everything and enjoy everything: he turns the objective of a powerful
equatorial towards the heavenly spaces where gravitates the infinitude of
the stars, just as he applies the microscope to the infinitude of the
smallest insects; for their laws are identical. His experience, united
with intuition, has convinced him that in nature there is neither great
nor small; all is equal. All is equally grand, all is equally just, all
is equally beautiful, because all is equally divine." But beauty, Senor
Valdes explains, exists in the human spirit, and is the beautiful effect
which it receives from the true meaning of things; it does not matter
what the things are, and it is the function of the artist who feels this
effect to impart it to others. I may add that there is no joy in art
except this perception of the meaning of things and its communication;
when you have felt it, and portrayed it in a poem, a symphony, a novel,
a statue, a picture, an edifice, you have fulfilled the purpose for which
you were born an artist.

The reflection of exterior nature in the individual spirit, Senor Valdes
believes to be the fundamental of art. "To say, then, that the artist
must not copy but create is nonsense, because he can in no wise copy, and
in no wise create. He who sets deliberately about modifying nature,
shows that he has not felt her beauty, and therefore cannot make others
feel it. The puerile desire which some artists without genius manifest
to go about selecting in nature, not what seems to them beautiful, but
what they think will seem beautiful to others, and rejecting what may
displease them, ordinarily produces cold and insipid works. For, instead
of exploring the illimitable fields of reality, they cling to the forms
invented by other artists who have succeeded, and they make statues of
statues, poems of poems, novels of novels. It is entirely false that the
great romantic, symbolic, or classic poets modified nature; such as they
have expressed her they felt her; and in this view they are as much
realists as ourselves. In like manner if in the realistic tide that now
bears us on there are some spirits who feel nature in another way, in the
romantic way, or the classic way, they would not falsify her in
expressing her so. Only those falsify her who, without feeling classic
wise or romantic wise, set about being classic or romantic, wearisomely
reproducing the models of former ages; and equally those who, without
sharing the sentiment of realism, which now prevails, force themselves to
be realists merely to follow the fashion."

The pseudo-realists, in fact, are the worse offenders, to my thinking,
for they sin against the living; whereas those who continue to celebrate
the heroic adventures of "Puss-in-Boots" and the hair-breadth escapes of
"Tom Thumb," under various aliases, only cast disrespect upon the
immortals who have passed beyond these noises.


"The principal cause," our Spaniard says, "of the decadence of
contemporary literature is found, to my thinking, in the vice which has
been very graphically called effectism, or the itch of awaking at all
cost in the reader vivid and violent emotions, which shall do credit to
the invention and originality of the writer. This vice has its roots in
human nature itself, and more particularly in that of the artist; he has
always some thing feminine in him, which tempts him to coquet with the
reader, and display qualities that he thinks will astonish him, as women
laugh for no reason, to show their teeth when they have them white and
small and even, or lift their dresses to show their feet when there is no
mud in the street . . . . What many writers nowadays wish, is to
produce an effect, grand and immediate, to play the part of geniuses.
For this they have learned that it is only necessary to write exaggerated
works in any sort, since the vulgar do not ask that they shall be quietly
made to think and feel, but that they shall be startled; and among the
vulgar, of course, I include the great part of those who write literary
criticism, and who constitute the worst vulgar, since they teach what
they do not know .. . . There are many persons who suppose that the
highest proof an artist can give of his fantasy is the invention of a
complicated plot, spiced with perils, surprises, and suspenses; and that
anything else is the sign of a poor and tepid imagination. And not only
people who seem cultivated, but are not so, suppose this, but there are
sensible persons, and even sagacious and intelligent critics, who
sometimes allow themselves to be hoodwinked by the dramatic mystery and
the surprising and fantastic scenes of a novel. They own it is all
false; but they admire the imagination, what they call the 'power' of the
author. Very well; all I have to say is that the 'power' to dazzle with
strange incidents, to entertain with complicated plots and impossible
characters, now belongs to some hundreds of writers in Europe; while
there are not much above a dozen who know how to interest with the
ordinary events of life, and by the portrayal of characters truly human.
If the former is a talent, it must be owned that it is much commoner than
the latter . . . . If we are to rate novelists according to their
fecundity, or the riches of their invention, we must put Alexander Dumas
above Cervantes. Cervantes wrote a novel with the simplest plot, without
belying much or little the natural and logical course of events. This
novel which was called 'Don Quixote,' is perhaps the greatest work of
human wit. Very well; the same Cervantes, mischievously influenced
afterwards by the ideas of the vulgar, who were then what they are now
and always will be, attempted to please them by a work giving a lively
proof of his inventive talent, and wrote the 'Persiles and Sigismunda,'
where the strange incidents, the vivid complications, the surprises, the
pathetic scenes, succeed one another so rapidly and constantly that it
really fatigues you . . . . But in spite of this flood of invention,
imagine," says Seflor Valdes, "the place that Cervantes would now occupy
in the heaven of art, if he had never written 'Don Quixote,'" but only
'Persiles and Sigismund!'

From the point of view of modern English criticism, which likes to be
melted, and horrified, and astonished, and blood-curdled, and goose-
fleshed, no less than to be "chippered up" in fiction, Senor Valdes were
indeed incorrigible. Not only does he despise the novel of complicated
plot, and everywhere prefer 'Don Quixote' to 'Persiles and Sigismunda,'
but he has a lively contempt for another class of novels much in favor
with the gentilities of all countries. He calls their writers "novelists
of the world," and he says that more than any others they have the rage
of effectism. "They do not seek to produce effect by novelty and
invention in plot . . . they seek it in character. For this end they
begin by deliberately falsifying human feelings, giving them a
paradoxical appearance completely inadmissible . . . . Love that
disguises itself as hate, incomparable energy under the cloak of
weakness, virginal innocence under the aspect of malice and impudence,
wit masquerading as folly, etc., etc. By this means they hope to make an
effect of which they are incapable through the direct, frank, and
conscientious study of character." He mentions Octave Feuillet as the
greatest offender in this sort among the French, and Bulwer among the
English; but Dickens is full of it (Boffin in 'Our Mutual Friend' will
suffice for all example), and most drama is witness of the result of this
effectism when allowed full play.

But what, then, if he is not pleased with Dumas, or with the effectists
who delight genteel people at all the theatres, and in most of the
romances, what, I ask, will satisfy this extremely difficult Spanish
gentleman? He would pretend, very little. Give him simple, lifelike
character; that is all he wants. "For me, the only condition of
character is that it be human, and that is enough. If I wished to know
what was human, I should study humanity."

But, Senor Valdes, Senor Valdes! Do not you know that this small
condition of yours implies in its fulfilment hardly less than the gift of
the whole earth? You merely ask that the character portrayed in fiction
be human; and you suggest that the novelist should study humanity if he
would know whether his personages are human. This appears to me the
cruelest irony, the most sarcastic affectation of humility. If you had
asked that character in fiction be superhuman, or subterhuman, or
preterhuman, or intrahuman, and had bidden the novelist go, not to
humanity, but the humanities, for the proof of his excellence, it would
have been all very easy. The books are full of those "creations," of
every pattern, of all ages, of both sexes; and it is so much handier to
get at books than to get at Men; and when you have portrayed "passion"
instead of feeling, and used "power" instead of common-sense, and shown
yourself a "genius" instead of an artist, the applause is so prompt and
the glory so cheap, that really anything else seems wickedly wasteful of
one's time. One may not make one's reader enjoy or suffer nobly, but one
may give him the kind of pleasure that arises from conjuring, or from a
puppet-show, or a modern stage-play, and leave him, if he is an old fool,
in the sort of stupor that comes from hitting the pipe; or if he is a
young fool, half crazed with the spectacle of qualities and impulses like
his own in an apotheosis of achievement and fruition far beyond any
earthly experience.

But apparently Senor Valdes would not think this any great artistic
result. "Things that appear ugliest in reality to the spectator who is
not an artist, are transformed into beauty and poetry when the spirit of
the artist possesses itself of them. We all take part every day in a
thousand domestic scenes, every day we see a thousand pictures in life,
that do not make any impression upon us, or if they make any it is one of
repugnance; but let the novelist come, and without betraying the truth,
but painting them as they appear to his vision, he produces a most
interesting work, whose perusal enchants us. That which in life left us
indifferent, or repelled us, in art delights us. Why? Simply because
the artist has made us see the idea that resides in it. Let not the
novelists, then, endeavor to add anything to reality, to turn it and
twist it, to restrict it. Since nature has endowed them with this
precious gift of discovering ideas in things, their work will be
beautiful if they paint these as they appear. But if the reality does
not impress them, in vain will they strive to make their work impress


Which brings us again, after this long way about, to Jane Austen and her
novels, and that troublesome question about them. She was great and they
were beautiful, because she and they were honest, and dealt with nature
nearly a hundred years ago as realism deals with it to-day. Realism is
nothing more and nothing less than the truthful treatment of material,
and Jane Austen was the first and the last of the English novelists to
treat material with entire truthfulness. Because she did this, she
remains the most artistic of the English novelists, and alone worthy to
be matched with the great Scandinavian and Slavic and Latin artists. It
is not a question of intellect, or not wholly that. The English have
mind enough; but they have not taste enough; or, rather, their taste has
been perverted by their false criticism, which is based upon personal
preference, and not upon, principle; which instructs a man to think that
what he likes is good, instead of teaching him first to distinguish what
is good before he likes it. The art of fiction, as Jane Austen knew it,
declined from her through Scott, and Bulwer, and Dickens, and Charlotte
Bronte, and Thackeray, and even George Eliot, because the mania of
romanticism had seized upon all Europe, and these great writers could not
escape the taint of their time; but it has shown few signs of recovery in
England, because English criticism, in the presence of the Continental
masterpieces, has continued provincial and special and personal, and has
expressed a love and a hate which had to do with the quality of the
artist rather than the character of his work. It was inevitable that in
their time the English romanticists should treat, as Senor Valdes says,
"the barbarous customs of the Middle Ages, softening and distorting them,
as Walter Scott and his kind did;" that they should "devote themselves to
falsifying nature, refining and subtilizing sentiment, and modifying
psychology after their own fancy," like Bulwer and Dickens, as well as
like Rousseau and Madame de Stael, not to mention Balzac, the worst of
all that sort at his worst. This was the natural course of the disease;
but it really seems as if it were their criticism that was to blame for
the rest: not, indeed, for the performance of this writer or that, for
criticism can never affect the actual doing of a thing; but for the
esteem in which this writer or that is held through the perpetuation of
false ideals. The only observer of English middle-class life since Jane
Austen worthy to be named with her was not George Eliot, who was first
ethical and then artistic, who transcended her in everything but the form
and method most essential to art, and there fell hopelessly below her.
It was Anthony Trollope who was most like her in simple honesty and
instinctive truth, as unphilosophized as the light of common day; but he
was so warped from a wholesome ideal as to wish at times to be like
Thackeray, and to stand about in his scene, talking it over with his
hands in his pockets, interrupting the action, and spoiling the illusion
in which alone the truth of art resides. Mainly, his instinct was too
much for his ideal, and with a low view of life in its civic relations
and a thoroughly bourgeois soul, he yet produced works whose beauty is
surpassed only by the effect of a more poetic writer in the novels of
Thomas Hardy. Yet if a vote of English criticism even at this late day,
when all Continental Europe has the light of aesthetic truth, could be
taken, the majority against these artists would be overwhelmingly in
favor of a writer who had so little artistic sensibility, that he never
hesitated on any occasion, great or small, to make a foray among his
characters, and catch them up to show them to the reader and tell him how
beautiful or ugly they were; and cry out over their amazing properties.

"How few materials," says Emerson, "are yet used by our arts! The mass of
creatures and of qualities are still hid and expectant," and to break new
ground is still one of the uncommonest and most heroic of the virtues.
The artists are not alone to blame for the timidity that keeps them in
the old furrows of the worn-out fields; most of those whom they live to
please, or live by pleasing, prefer to have them remain there; it wants
rare virtue to appreciate what is new, as well as to invent it; and the
"easy things to understand" are the conventional things. This is why the
ordinary English novel, with its hackneyed plot, scenes, and figures, is
more comfortable to the ordinary American than an American novel, which
deals, at its worst, with comparatively new interests and motives. To
adjust one's self to the enjoyment of these costs an intellectual effort,
and an intellectual effort is what no ordinary person likes to make. It
is only the extraordinary person who can say, with Emerson: "I ask not
for the great, the remote, the romantic . . . . I embrace the common;
I sit at the feet of the familiar and the low . . . . Man is
surprised to find that things near are not less beautiful and wondrous
than things remote . . . . The perception of the worth of the vulgar
is fruitful in discoveries . . . . The foolish man wonders at the
unusual, but the wise man at the usual . . . . To-day always looks
mean to the thoughtless; but to-day is a king in disguise . . . .
Banks and tariffs, the newspaper and caucus, Methodism and Unitarianism,
are flat and dull to dull people, but rest on the same foundations of
wonder as the town of Troy and the temple of Delphos."

Perhaps we ought not to deny their town of Troy and their temple of
Delphos to the dull people; but if we ought, and if we did, they would
still insist upon having them. An English novel, full of titles and
rank, is apparently essential to the happiness of such people; their weak
and childish imagination is at home in its familiar environment; they
know what they are reading; the fact that it is hash many times warmed
over reassures them; whereas a story of our own life, honestly studied
and faithfully represented, troubles them with varied misgiving. They
are not sure that it is literature; they do not feel that it is good
society; its characters, so like their own, strike them as commonplace;
they say they do not wish to know such people.

Everything in England is appreciable to the literary sense, while the
sense of the literary worth of things in America is still faint and weak
with most people, with the vast majority who "ask for the great, the
remote, the romantic," who cannot "embrace the common," cannot "sit at
the feet of the familiar and the low," in the good company of Emerson.
We are all, or nearly all, struggling to be distinguished from the mass,
and to be set apart in select circles and upper classes like the fine
people we have read about. We are really a mixture of the plebeian
ingredients of the whole world; but that is not bad; our vulgarity
consists in trying to ignore "the worth of the vulgar," in believing that
the superfine is better.


Another Spanish novelist of our day, whose books have given me great
pleasure, is so far from being of the same mind of Senor Valdes about
fiction that he boldly declares himself, in the preface to his 'Pepita
Ximenez,' "an advocate of art for art's sake." I heartily agree with him
that it is "in very bad taste, always impertinent and often pedantic, to
attempt to prove theses by writing stories," and yet if it is true that
"the object of a novel should be to charm through a faithful
representation of human actions and human passions, and to create by this
fidelity to nature a beautiful work," and if "the creation of the
beautiful" is solely "the object of art," it never was and never can be
solely its effect as long as men are men and women are women. If ever
the race is resolved into abstract qualities, perhaps this may happen;
but till then the finest effect of the "beautiful" will be ethical and
not aesthetic merely. Morality penetrates all things, it is the soul of
all things. Beauty may clothe it on, whether it is false morality and an
evil soul, or whether it is true and a good soul. In the one case the
beauty will corrupt, and in the other it will edify, and in either case
it will infallibly and inevitably have an ethical effect, now light, now
grave, according as the thing is light or grave. We cannot escape from
this; we are shut up to it by the very conditions of our being. For the
moment, it is charming to have a story end happily, but after one has
lived a certain number of years, and read a certain number of novels, it
is not the prosperous or adverse fortune of the characters that affects
one, but the good or bad faith of the novelist in dealing with them.
Will he play us false or will he be true in the operation of this or that
principle involved? I cannot hold him to less account than this: he must
be true to what life has taught me is the truth, and after that he may
let any fate betide his people; the novel ends well that ends faithfully.
The greater his power, the greater his responsibility before the human
conscience, which is God in us. But men come and go, and what they do in
their limited physical lives is of comparatively little moment; it is
what they say that really survives to bless or to ban; and it is the evil
which Wordsworth felt in Goethe, that must long sur vive him. There is a
kind of thing--a kind of metaphysical lie against righteousness and
common-sense which is called the Unmoral; and is supposed to be different
from the Immoral; and it is this which is supposed to cover many of the
faults of Goethe. His 'Wilhelm Meister,' for example, is so far removed
within the region of the "ideal" that its unprincipled, its evil
principled, tenor in regard to women is pronounced "unmorality," and is
therefore inferably harmless. But no study of Goethe is complete without
some recognition of the qualities which caused Wordsworth to hurl the
book across the room with an indignant perception of its sensuality.
For the sins of his life Goethe was perhaps sufficiently punished in his
life by his final marriage with Christiane; for the sins of his
literature many others must suffer. I do not despair, however, of the
day when the poor honest herd of man kind shall give universal utterance
to the universal instinct, and shall hold selfish power in politics, in
art, in religion, for the devil that it is; when neither its crazy pride
nor its amusing vanity shall be flattered by the puissance of the
"geniuses" who have forgotten their duty to the common weakness, and have
abused it to their own glory. In that day we shall shudder at many
monsters of passion, of self-indulgence, of heartlessness, whom we still
more or less openly adore for their "genius," and shall account no man
worshipful whom we do not feel and know to be good. The spectacle of
strenuous achievement will then not dazzle or mislead; it will not
sanctify or palliate iniquity; it will only render it the more hideous
and pitiable.

In fact, the whole belief in "genius" seems to me rather a mischievous
superstition, and if not mischievous always, still always a superstition.
From the account of those who talk about it, "genius" appears to be the
attribute of a sort of very potent and admirable prodigy which God has
created out of the common for the astonishment and confusion of the rest
of us poor human beings. But do they really believe it? Do they mean
anything more or less than the Mastery which comes to any man according
to his powers and diligence in any direction? If not, why not have an
end of the superstition which has caused our race to go on so long
writing and reading of the difference between talent and genius? It is
within the memory of middle-aged men that the Maelstrom existed in the
belief of the geographers, but we now get on perfectly well without it;
and why should we still suffer under the notion of "genius" which keeps
so many poor little authorlings trembling in question whether they have
it, or have only "talent"?

One of the greatest captains who ever lived [General U. S. Grant D.W.]
--a plain, taciturn, unaffected soul--has told the story of his wonderful
life as unconsciously as if it were all an every-day affair, not
different from other lives, except as a great exigency of the human race
gave it importance. So far as he knew, he had no natural aptitude for
arms, and certainly no love for the calling. But he went to West Point
because, as he quaintly tells us, his father "rather thought he would
go"; and he fought through one war with credit, but without glory. The
other war, which was to claim his powers and his science, found him
engaged in the most prosaic of peaceful occupations; be obeyed its call
because he loved his country, and not because he loved war. All the
world knows the rest, and all the world knows that greater military
mastery has not been shown than his campaigns illustrated. He does not
say this in his book, or hint it in any way; he gives you the facts, and
leaves them with you. But the Personal Memoirs of U. S. Grant, written
as simply and straightforwardly as his battles were fought, couched in
the most unpretentious phrase, with never a touch of grandiosity or
attitudinizing, familiar, homely in style, form a great piece of
literature, because great literature is nothing more nor less than the
clear expression of minds that have some thing great in them, whether
religion, or beauty, or deep experience. Probably Grant would have said
that he had no more vocation to literature than he had to war. He owns,
with something like contrition, that he used to read a great many novels;
but we think he would have denied the soft impeachment of literary power.
Nevertheless, he shows it, as he showed military power, unexpectedly,
almost miraculously. All the conditions here, then, are favorable to
supposing a case of "genius." Yet who would trifle with that great heir
of fame, that plain, grand, manly soul, by speaking of "genius" and him
together? Who calls Washington a genius? or Franklin, or Bismarck, or
Cavour, or Columbus, or Luther, or Darwin, or Lincoln? Were these men
second-rate in their way? Or is "genius" that indefinable, preternatural
quality, sacred to the musicians, the painters, the sculptors, the
actors, the poets, and above all, the poets? Or is it that the poets,
having most of the say in this world, abuse it to shameless self-
flattery, and would persuade the inarticulate classes that they are on
peculiar terms of confidence with the deity?


In General Grant's confession of novel-reading there is a sort of
inference that he had wasted his time, or else the guilty conscience of
the novelist in me imagines such an inference. But however this may be,
there is certainly no question concerning the intention of a
correspondent who once wrote to me after reading some rather bragging
claims I had made for fiction as a mental and moral means. "I have very
grave doubts," he said, "as to the whole list of magnificent things that
you seem to think novels have done for the race, and can witness in
myself many evil things which they have done for me. Whatever in my
mental make-up is wild and visionary, whatever is untrue, whatever is
injurious, I can trace to the perusal of some work of fiction. Worse
than that, they beget such high-strung and supersensitive ideas of life
that plain industry and plodding perseverance are despised, and matter-
of-fact poverty, or every-day, commonplace distress, meets with no
sympathy, if indeed noticed at all, by one who has wept over the
impossibly accumulated sufferings of some gaudy hero or heroine."

I am not sure that I had the controversy with this correspondent that he
seemed to suppose; but novels are now so fully accepted by every one
pretending to cultivated taste and they really form the whole
intellectual life of such immense numbers of people, without question of
their influence, good or bad, upon the mind that it is refreshing to have
them frankly denounced, and to be invited to revise one's ideas and
feelings in regard to them. A little honesty, or a great deal of
honesty, in this quest will do the novel, as we hope yet to have it, and
as we have already begun to have it, no harm; and for my own part I will
confess that I believe fiction in the past to have been largely
injurious, as I believe the stage-play to be still almost wholly
injurious, through its falsehood, its folly, its wantonness, and its
aimlessness. It may be safely assumed that most of the novel-reading
which people fancy an intellectual pastime is the emptiest dissipation,
hardly more related to thought or the wholesome exercise of the mental
faculties than opium-eating; in either case the brain is drugged, and
left weaker and crazier for the debauch. If this may be called the
negative result of the fiction habit, the positive injury that most
novels work is by no means so easily to be measured in the case of young
men whose character they help so much to form or deform, and the women of
all ages whom they keep so much in ignorance of the world they
misrepresent. Grown men have little harm from them, but in the other
cases, which are the vast majority, they hurt because they are not true--
not because they are malevolent, but because they are idle lies about
human nature and the social fabric, which it behooves us to know and to
understand, that we may deal justly with ourselves and with one another.
One need not go so far as our correspondent, and trace to the fiction
habit "whatever is wild and visionary, whatever is untrue, whatever is
injurious," in one's life; bad as the fiction habit is it is probably not
responsible for the whole sum of evil in its victims, and I believe that
if the reader will use care in choosing from this fungus-growth with
which the fields of literature teem every day, he may nourish himself as
with the true mushroom, at no risk from the poisonous species.

The tests are very plain and simple, and they are perfectly infallible.
If a novel flatters the passions, and exalts them above the principles,
it is poisonous; it may not kill, but it will certainly injure; and this
test will alone exclude an entire class of fiction, of which eminent
examples will occur to all. Then the whole spawn of so-called unmoral
romances, which imagine a world where the sins of sense are unvisited by
the penalties following, swift or slow, but inexorably sure, in the real
world, are deadly poison: these do kill. The, novels that merely tickle
our prejudices and lull our judgment, or that coddle our sensibilities or
pamper our gross appetite for the marvellous, are not so fatal, but they
are innutritious, and clog the soul with unwholesome vapors of all kinds.
No doubt they too help to weaken the moral fibre, and make their readers
indifferent to "plodding perseverance and plain industry," and to
"matter-of-fact poverty and commonplace distress."

Without taking them too seriously, it still must be owned that the "gaudy
hero and heroine" are to blame for a great deal of harm in the world.
That heroine long taught by example, if not precept, that Love, or the
passion or fancy she mistook for it, was the chief interest of a life,
which is really concerned with a great many other things; that it was
lasting in the way she knew it; that it was worthy of every sacrifice,
and was altogether a finer thing than prudence, obedience, reason; that
love alone was glorious and beautiful, and these were mean and ugly in
comparison with it. More lately she has begun to idolize and illustrate
Duty, and she is hardly less mischievous in this new role, opposing duty,
as she did love, to prudence, obedience, and reason. The stock hero,
whom, if we met him, we could not fail to see was a most deplorable
person, has undoubtedly imposed himself upon the victims of the fiction
habit as admirable. With him, too, love was and is the great affair,
whether in its old romantic phase of chivalrous achievement or manifold
suffering for love's sake, or its more recent development of the
"virile," the bullying, and the brutal, or its still more recent agonies
of self-sacrifice, as idle and useless as the moral experiences of the
insane asylums. With his vain posturings and his ridiculous splendor he
is really a painted barbarian, the prey of his passions and his
delusions, full of obsolete ideals, and the motives and ethics of a
savage, which the guilty author of his being does his best--or his worst
--in spite of his own light and knowledge, to foist upon the reader as
something generous and noble. I am not merely bringing this charge
against that sort of fiction which is beneath literature and outside of
it, "the shoreless lakes of ditch-water," whose miasms fill the air below
the empyrean where the great ones sit; but I am accusing the work of some
of the most famous, who have, in this instance or in that, sinned against
the truth, which can alone exalt and purify men. I do not say that they
have constantly done so, or even commonly done so; but that they have
done so at all marks them as of the past, to be read with the due
historical allowance for their epoch and their conditions. For I believe
that, while inferior writers will and must continue to imitate them in
their foibles and their errors, no one here after will be able to achieve
greatness who is false to humanity, either in its facts or its duties.
The light of civilization has already broken even upon the novel, and no
conscientious man can now set about painting an image of life without
perpetual question of the verity of his work, and without feeling bound
to distinguish so clearly that no reader of his may be misled, between
what is right and what is wrong, what is noble and what is base, what is
health and what is perdition, in the actions and the characters he

The fiction that aims merely to entertain--the fiction that is to serious
fiction as the opera-bouffe, the ballet, and the pantomime are to the
true drama--need not feel the burden of this obligation so deeply; but
even such fiction will not be gay or trivial to any reader's hurt, and
criticism should hold it to account if it passes from painting to
teaching folly.

I confess that I do not care to judge any work of the imagination without
first of all applying this test to it. We must ask ourselves before we
ask anything else, Is it true?--true to the motives, the impulses, the
principles that shape the life of actual men and women? This truth,
which necessarily includes the highest morality and the highest artistry-
this truth given, the book cannot be wicked and cannot be weak; and
without it all graces of style and feats of invention and cunning of
construction are so many superfluities of naughtiness. It is well for
the truth to have all these, and shine in them, but for falsehood they
are merely meretricious, the bedizenment of the wanton; they atone for
nothing, they count for nothing. But in fact they come naturally of
truth, and grace it without solicitation; they are added unto it. In the
whole range of fiction I know of no true picture of life--that is, of
human nature--which is not also a masterpiece of literature, full of
divine and natural beauty. It may have no touch or tint of this special
civilization or of that; it had better have this local color well
ascertained; but the truth is deeper and finer than aspects, and if the
book is true to what men and women know of one another's souls it will be
true enough, and it will be great and beautiful. It is the conception of
literature as something apart from life, superfinely aloof, which makes
it really unimportant to the great mass of mankind, without a message or
a meaning for them; and it is the notion that a novel may be false in its
portrayal of causes and effects that makes literary art contemptible even
to those whom it amuses, that forbids them to regard the novelist as a
serious or right-minded person. If they do not in some moment of
indignation cry out against all novels, as my correspondent does, they
remain besotted in the fume of the delusions purveyed to them, with no
higher feeling for the author than such maudlin affection as the
frequenter of an opium-joint perhaps knows for the attendant who fills
his pipe with the drug.

Or, as in the case of another correspondent who writes that in his youth
he "read a great many novels, but always regarded it as an amusement,
like horse racing and card-playing," for which he had no time when he
entered upon the serious business of life, it renders them merely
contemptuous. His view of the matter may be commended to the brotherhood
and sisterhood of novelists as full of wholesome if bitter suggestion;
and I urge them not to dismiss it with high literary scorn as that of
some Boeotian dull to the beauty of art. Refuse it as we may, it is
still the feeling of the vast majority of people for whom life is
earnest, and who find only a distorted and misleading likeness of it in
our books. We may fold ourselves in our scholars' gowns, and close the
doors of our studies, and affect to despise this rude voice; but we
cannot shut it out. It comes to us from wherever men are at work, from
wherever they are truly living, and accuses us of unfaithfulness, of
triviality, of mere stage-play; and none of us can escape conviction
except he prove himself worthy of his time--a time in which the great
masters have brought literature back to life, and filled its ebbing veins
with the red tides of reality. We cannot all equal them; we need not
copy them; but we can all go to the sources of their inspiration and
their power; and to draw from these no one need go far--no one need
really go out of himself.

Fifty years ago, Carlyle, in whom the truth was always alive, but in whom
it was then unperverted by suffering, by celebrity, and by despair, wrote
in his study of Diderot: "Were it not reasonable to prophesy that this
exceeding great multitude of novel-writers and such like must, in a new
generation, gradually do one of two things: either retire into the
nurseries, and work for children, minors, and semi-fatuous persons of
both sexes, or else, what were far better, sweep their novel-fabric into
the dust-cart, and betake themselves with such faculty as they have to
understand and record what is true, of which surely there is, and will
forever be, a whole infinitude unknown to us of infinite importance to
us? Poetry, it will more and more come to be understood, is nothing but
higher knowledge; and the only genuine Romance (for grown persons),

If, after half a century, fiction still mainly works for "children,
minors, and semi-fatuous persons of both sexes," it is nevertheless one
of the hopefulest signs of the world's progress that it has begun to work
for "grown persons," and if not exactly in the way that Carlyle might
have solely intended in urging its writers to compile memoirs instead of
building the "novel-fabric," still it has, in the highest and widest
sense, already made Reality its Romance. I cannot judge it, I do not
even care for it, except as it has done this; and I can hardly conceive
of a literary self-respect in these days compatible with the old trade of
make-believe, with the production of the kind of fiction which is too
much honored by classification with card-playing and horse-racing. But
let fiction cease to lie about life; let it portray men and women as they
are, actuated by the motives and the passions in the measure we all know;
let it leave off painting dolls and working them by springs and wires;
let it show the different interests in their true proportions; let it
forbear to preach pride and revenge, folly and insanity, egotism and
prejudice, but frankly own these for what they are, in whatever figures
and occasions they appear; let it not put on fine literary airs; let it
speak the dialect, the language, that most Americans know--the language
of unaffected people everywhere--and there can be no doubt of an
unlimited future, not only of delightfulness but of usefulness, for it.


This is what I say in my severer moods, but at other times I know that,
of course, no one is going to hold all fiction to such strict account.
There is a great deal of it which may be very well left to amuse us, if
it can, when we are sick or when we are silly, and I am not inclined to
despise it in the performance of this office. Or, if people find
pleasure in having their blood curdled for the sake of having it
uncurdled again at the end of the book, I would not interfere with their
amusement, though I do not desire it.

There is a certain demand in primitive natures for the kind of fiction
that does this, and the author of it is usually very proud of it. The
kind of novels he likes, and likes to write, are intended to take his
reader's mind, or what that reader would probably call his mind, off
himself; they make one forget life and all its cares and duties; they are
not in the least like the novels which make you think of these, and shame
you into at least wishing to be a helpfuller and wholesomer creature than
you are. No sordid details of verity here, if you please; no wretched
being humbly and weakly struggling to do right and to be true, suffering
for his follies and his sins, tasting joy only through the mortification
of self, and in the help of others; nothing of all this, but a great,
whirling splendor of peril and achievement, a wild scene of heroic
adventure and of emotional ground and lofty tumbling, with a stage
"picture" at the fall of the curtain, and all the good characters in a
row, their left hands pressed upon their hearts, and kissing their right
hands to the audience, in the old way that has always charmed and always
will charm, Heaven bless it!

In a world which loves the spectacular drama and the practically
bloodless sports of the modern amphitheatre the author of this sort of
fiction has his place, and we must not seek to destroy him because he
fancies it the first place. In fact, it is a condition of his doing well
the kind of work he does that he should think it important, that he
should believe in himself; and I would not take away this faith of his,
even if I could. As I say, he has his place. The world often likes to
forget itself, and he brings on his heroes, his goblins, his feats, his
hair-breadth escapes, his imminent deadly breaches, and the poor,
foolish, childish old world renews the excitements of its nonage.
Perhaps this is a work of beneficence; and perhaps our brave conjurer in
his cabalistic robe is a philanthropist in disguise.

Within the last four or five years there has been throughout the whole
English-speaking world what Mr. Grant Allen happily calls the
"recrudescence" of taste in fiction. The effect is less noticeable in
America than in England, where effete Philistinism, conscious of the dry-
rot of its conventionality, is casting about for cure in anything that is
wild and strange and unlike itself. But the recrudescence has been
evident enough here, too; and a writer in one of our periodicals has put
into convenient shape some common errors concerning popularity as a test
of merit in a book. He seems to think, for instance, that the love of
the marvellous and impossible in fiction, which is shown not only by
"the unthinking multitude clamoring about the book counters" for fiction
of that sort, but by the "literary elect" also, is proof of some
principle in human nature which ought to be respected as well as
tolerated. He seems to believe that the ebullition of this passion forms
a sufficient answer to those who say that art should represent life, and
that the art which misrepresents life is feeble art and false art. But
it appears to me that a little carefuller reasoning from a little closer
inspection of the facts would not have brought him to these conclusions.
In the first place, I doubt very much whether the "literary elect" have
been fascinated in great numbers by the fiction in question; but if I
supposed them to have really fallen under that spell, I should still be
able to account for their fondness and that of the "unthinking multitude"
upon the same grounds, without honoring either very much. It is the
habit of hasty casuists to regard civilization as inclusive of all the
members of a civilized community; but this is a palpable error. Many
persons in every civilized community live in a state of more or less
evident savagery with respect to their habits, their morals, and their
propensities; and they are held in check only by the law. Many more yet
are savage in their tastes, as they show by the decoration of their
houses and persons, and by their choice of books and pictures; and these
are left to the restraints of public opinion. In fact, no man can be
said to be thoroughly civilized or always civilized; the most refined,
the most enlightened person has his moods, his moments of barbarism, in
which the best, or even the second best, shall not please him. At these
times the lettered and the unlettered are alike primitive and their
gratifications are of the same simple sort; the highly cultivated person
may then like melodrama, impossible fiction, and the trapeze as sincerely
and thoroughly as a boy of thirteen or a barbarian of any age.

I do not blame him for these moods; I find something instructive and
interesting in them; but if they lastingly established themselves in him,
I could not help deploring the state of that person. No one can really
think that the "literary elect," who are said to have joined the
"unthinking multitude" in clamoring about the book counters for the
romances of no-man's land, take the same kind of pleasure in them as they
do in a novel of Tolstoy, Tourguenief, George Eliot, Thackeray, Balzac,
Manzoni, Hawthorne, Mr. Henry James, Mr. Thomas Hardy, Senor Palacio
Valdes, or even Walter Scott. They have joined the "unthinking
multitude," perhaps because they are tired of thinking, and expect to
find relaxation in feeling--feeling crudely, grossly, merely. For once
in a way there is no great harm in this; perhaps no harm at all. It is
perfectly natural; let them have their innocent debauch. But let us
distinguish, for our own sake and guidance, between the different kinds
of things that please the same kind of people; between the things that
please them habitually and those that please them occasionally; between
the pleasures that edify them and those that amuse them. Otherwise we
shall be in danger of becoming permanently part of the "unthinking
multitude," and of remaining puerile, primitive, savage. We shall be so
in moods and at moments; but let us not fancy that those are high moods
or fortunate moments. If they are harmless, that is the most that can be
said for them. They are lapses from which we can perhaps go forward more
vigorously; but even this is not certain.

My own philosophy of the matter, however, would not bring me to
prohibition of such literary amusements as the writer quoted seems to
find significant of a growing indifference to truth and sanity in
fiction. Once more, I say, these amusements have their place, as the
circus has, and the burlesque and negro minstrelsy, and the ballet, and
prestidigitation. No one of these is to be despised in its place; but we
had better understand that it is not the highest place, and that it is
hardly an intellectual delight. The lapse of all the "literary elect"
in the world could not dignify unreality; and their present mood, if it
exists, is of no more weight against that beauty in literature which
comes from truth alone, and never can come from anything else, than the
permanent state of the "unthinking multitude."

Yet even as regards the "unthinking multitude," I believe I am not able
to take the attitude of the writer I have quoted. I am afraid that I
respect them more than he would like to have me, though I cannot always
respect their taste, any more than that of the "literary elect."
I respect them for their good sense in most practical matters; for their
laborious, honest lives; for their kindness, their good-will; for that
aspiration towards something better than themselves which seems to stir,
however dumbly, in every human breast not abandoned to literary pride or
other forms of self-righteousness. I find every man interesting, whether
he thinks or unthinks, whether he is savage or civilized; for this reason
I cannot thank the novelist who teaches us not to know but to unknow our
kind. Yet I should by no means hold him to such strict account as
Emerson, who felt the absence of the best motive, even in the greatest of
the masters, when he said of Shakespeare that, after all, he was only
master of the revels. The judgment is so severe, even with the praise
which precedes it, that one winces under it; and if one is still young,
with the world gay before him, and life full of joyous promise, one is
apt to ask, defiantly, Well, what is better than being such a master of
the revels as Shakespeare was? Let each judge for himself. To the heart
again of serious youth, uncontaminate and exigent of ideal good, it must
always be a grief that the great masters seem so often to have been
willing to amuse the leisure and vacancy of meaner men, and leave their
mission to the soul but partially fulfilled. This, perhaps, was what
Emerson had in mind; and if he had it in mind of Shakespeare, who gave
us, with his histories and comedies and problems, such a searching homily
as "Macbeth," one feels that he scarcely recognized the limitations of
the dramatist's art. Few consciences, at times, seem so enlightened as
that of this personally unknown person, so withdrawn into his work, and
so lost to the intensest curiosity of after-time; at other times he seems
merely Elizabethan in his coarseness, his courtliness, his imperfect


Of the finer kinds of romance, as distinguished from the novel, I would
even encourage the writing, though it is one of the hard conditions of
romance that its personages starting with a 'parti pris' can rarely be
characters with a living growth, but are apt to be types, limited to the
expression of one principle, simple, elemental, lacking the God-given
complexity of motive which we find in all the human beings we know.

Hawthorne, the great master of the romance, had the insight and the power
to create it anew as a kind in fiction; though I am not sure that 'The
Scarlet Letter' and the 'Blithedale Romance' are not, strictly speaking,
novels rather than romances. They, do not play with some old
superstition long outgrown, and they do not invent a new superstition to
play with, but deal with things vital in every one's pulse. I am not
saying that what may be called the fantastic romance--the romance that
descends from 'Frankenstein' rather than 'The Scarlet Letter'--ought not
to be. On the contrary, I should grieve to lose it, as I should grieve
to lose the pantomime or the comic opera, or many other graceful things
that amuse the passing hour, and help us to live agreeably in a world
where men actually sin, suffer, and die. But it belongs to the
decorative arts, and though it has a high place among them, it cannot be
ranked with the works of the imagination--the works that represent and
body forth human experience. Its ingenuity, can always afford a refined
pleasure, and it can often, at some risk to itself, convey a valuable

Perhaps the whole region of historical romance might be reopened with
advantage to readers and writers who cannot bear to be brought face to
face with human nature, but require the haze of distance or a far
perspective, in which all the disagreeable details shall be lost. There
is no good reason why these harmless people should not be amused, or
their little preferences indulged.

But here, again, I have my modest doubts, some recent instances are so
fatuous, as far as the portrayal of character goes, though I find them
admirably contrived in some respects. When I have owned the excellence
of the staging in every respect, and the conscience with which the
carpenter (as the theatrical folks say) has done his work, I am at the
end of my praises. The people affect me like persons of our generation
made up for the parts; well trained, well costumed, but actors, and
almost amateurs. They have the quality that makes the histrionics of
amateurs endurable; they are ladies and gentlemen; the worst, the
wickedest of them, is a lady or gentleman behind the scene.

Yet, no doubt it is well that there should be a reversion to the earlier
types of thinking and feeling, to earlier ways of looking at human
nature, and I will not altogether refuse the pleasure offered me by the
poetic romancer or the historical romancer because I find my pleasure
chiefly in Tolstoy and Valdes and Thomas Hardy and Tourguenief, and
Balzac at his best.


It used to be one of the disadvantages of the practice of romance in
America, which Hawthorne more or less whimsically lamented, that there
were so few shadows and inequalities in our broad level of prosperity;
and it is one of the reflections suggested by Dostoievsky's novel, 'The
Crime and the Punishment,' that whoever struck a note so profoundly
tragic in American fiction would do a false and mistaken thing--as false
and as mistaken in its way as dealing in American fiction with certain
nudities which the Latin peoples seem to find edifying. Whatever their
deserts, very few American novelists have been led out to be shot, or
finally exiled to the rigors of a winter at Duluth; and in a land where
journeymen carpenters and plumbers strike for four dollars a day the sum
of hunger and cold is comparatively small, and the wrong from class to
class has been almost inappreciable, though all this is changing for the
worse. Our novelists, therefore, concern themselves with the more
smiling aspects of life, which are the more American, and seek the
universal in the individual rather than the social interests. It is
worth while, even at the risk of being called commonplace, to be true to
our well-to-do actualities; the very passions themselves seem to be
softened and modified by conditions which formerly at least could not be
said to wrong any one, to cramp endeavor, or to cross lawful desire.
Sin and suffering and shame there must always be in the world, I suppose,
but I believe that in this new world of ours it is still mainly from one
to another one, and oftener still from one to one's self. We have death,
too, in America, and a great deal of disagreeable and painful disease,
which the multiplicity of our patent medicines does not seem to cure;
but this is tragedy that comes in the very nature of things, and is not
peculiarly American, as the large, cheerful average of health and success
and happy life is. It will not do to boast, but it is well to be true to
the facts, and to see that, apart from these purely mortal troubles,
the race here has enjoyed conditions in which most of the ills that have
darkened its annals might be averted by honest work and unselfish

Fine artists we have among us, and right-minded as far as they go; and we
must not forget this at evil moments when it seems as if all the women
had taken to writing hysterical improprieties, and some of the men were
trying to be at least as hysterical in despair of being as improper.
Other traits are much more characteristic of our life and our fiction.
In most American novels, vivid and graphic as the best of them are, the
people are segregated if not sequestered, and the scene is sparsely
populated. The effect may be in instinctive response to the vacancy of
our social life, and I shall not make haste to blame it. There are few
places, few occasions among us, in which a novelist can get a large
number of polite people together, or at least keep them together. Unless
he carries a snap-camera his picture of them has no probability; they
affect one like the figures perfunctorily associated in such deadly old
engravings as that of "Washington Irving and his Friends." Perhaps it is
for this reason that we excel in small pieces with three or four figures,
or in studies of rustic communities, where there is propinquity if not
society. Our grasp of more urbane life is feeble; most attempts to
assemble it in our pictures are failures, possibly because it is too
transitory, too intangible in its nature with us, to be truthfully
represented as really existent.

I am not sure that the Americans have not brought the short story nearer
perfection in the all-round sense that almost any other people, and for
reasons very simple and near at hand. It might be argued from the
national hurry and impatience that it was a literary form peculiarly
adapted to the American temperament, but I suspect that its extraordinary
development among us is owing much more to more tangible facts.
The success of American magazines, which is nothing less than prodigious,
is only commensurate with their excellence. Their sort of success is not
only from the courage to decide which ought to please, but from the
knowledge of what does please; and it is probable that, aside from the
pictures, it is the short stories which please the readers of our best
magazines. The serial novels they must have, of course; but rather more
of course they must have short stories, and by operation of the law of
supply and demand, the short stories, abundant in quantity and excellent
in quality, are forthcoming because they are wanted. By another
operation of the same law, which political economists have more recently
taken account of, the demand follows the supply, and short stories are
sought for because there is a proven ability to furnish them, and people
read them willingly because they are usually very good. The art of
writing them is now so disciplined and diffused with us that there is no
lack either for the magazines or for the newspaper "syndicates" which
deal in them almost to the exclusion of the serials.

An interesting fact in regard to the different varieties of the short
story among us is that the sketches and studies by the women seem
faithfuller and more realistic than those of the men, in proportion to
their number. Their tendency is more distinctly in that direction, and
there is a solidity, an honest observation, in the work of such women,
which often leaves little to be desired. I should, upon the whole,
be disposed to rank American short stories only below those of such
Russian writers as I have read, and I should praise rather than blame
their free use of our different local parlances, or "dialects," as people
call them. I like this because I hope that our inherited English may be
constantly freshened and revived from the native sources which our
literary decentralization will help to keep open, and I will own that as
I turn over novels coming from Philadelphia, from New Mexico, from
Boston, from Tennessee, from rural New England, from New York, every
local flavor of diction gives me courage and pleasure. Alphonse Daudet,
in a conversation with H. H. Boyesen said, speaking of Tourguenief,
"What a luxury it must be to have a great big untrodden barbaric language
to wade into! We poor fellows who work in the language of an old
civilization, we may sit and chisel our little verbal felicities, only to
find in the end that it is a borrowed jewel we are polishing. The crown-
jewels of our French tongue have passed through the hands of so many
generations of monarchs that it seems like presumption on the part of any
late-born pretender to attempt to wear them."

This grief is, of course, a little whimsical, yet it has a certain
measure of reason in it, and the same regret has been more seriously
expressed by the Italian poet Aleardi:

"Muse of an aged people, in the eve
Of fading civilization, I was born.
. . . . . . Oh, fortunate,
My sisters, who in the heroic dawn
Of races sung! To them did destiny give
The virgin fire and chaste ingenuousness
Of their land's speech; and, reverenced, their hands
Ran over potent strings."

It will never do to allow that we are at such a desperate pass in
English, but something of this divine despair we may feel too in thinking
of "the spacious times of great Elizabeth," when the poets were trying
the stops of the young language, and thrilling with the surprises of
their own music. We may comfort ourselves, however, unless we prefer a
luxury of grief, by remembering that no language is ever old on the lips
of those who speak it, no matter how decrepit it drops from the pen.
We have only to leave our studies, editorial and other, and go into the
shops and fields to find the "spacious times" again; and from the
beginning Realism, before she had put on her capital letter, had divined
this near-at-hand truth along with the rest. Lowell, almost the greatest
and finest realist who ever wrought in verse, showed us that Elizabeth
was still Queen where he heard Yankee farmers talk. One need not invite
slang into the company of its betters, though perhaps slang has been
dropping its "s" and becoming language ever since the world began, and is
certainly sometimes delightful and forcible beyond the reach of the
dictionary. I would not have any one go about for new words, but if one
of them came aptly, not to reject its help. For our novelists to try to
write Americanly, from any motive, would be a dismal error, but being
born Americans, I then use "Americanisms" whenever these serve their
turn; and when their characters speak, I should like to hear them speak
true American, with all the varying Tennesseean, Philadelphian,
Bostonian, and New York accents. If we bother ourselves to write what
the critics imagine to be "English," we shall be priggish and artificial,
and still more so if we make our Americans talk "English." There is also
this serious disadvantage about "English," that if we wrote the best
"English" in the world, probably the English themselves would not know
it, or, if they did, certainly would not own it. It has always been
supposed by grammarians and purists that a language can be kept as they
find it; but languages, while they live, are perpetually changing. God
apparently meant them for the common people; and the common people will
use them freely as they use other gifts of God. On their lips our
continental English will differ more and more from the insular English,
and I believe that this is not deplorable, but desirable.

In fine, I would have our American novelists be as American as they
unconsciously can. Matthew Arnold complained that he found no
"distinction" in our life, and I would gladly persuade all artists
intending greatness in any kind among us that the recognition of the fact
pointed out by Mr. Arnold ought to be a source of inspiration to them,
and not discouragement. We have been now some hundred years building up
a state on the affirmation of the essential equality of men in their
rights and duties, and whether we have been right or been wrong the gods
have taken us at our word, and have responded to us with a civilization
in which there is no "distinction" perceptible to the eye that loves and
values it. Such beauty and such grandeur as we have is common beauty,
common grandeur, or the beauty and grandeur in which the quality of
solidarity so prevails that neither distinguishes itself to the
disadvantage of anything else. It seems to me that these conditions
invite the artist to the study and the appreciation of the common, and to
the portrayal in every art of those finer and higher aspects which unite
rather than sever humanity, if he would thrive in our new order of
things. The talent that is robust enough to front the every-day world
and catch the charm of its work-worn, care-worn, brave, kindly face, need
not fear the encounter, though it seems terrible to the sort nurtured in
the superstition of the romantic, the bizarre, the heroic, the
distinguished, as the things alone worthy of painting or carving or
writing. The arts must become democratic, and then we shall have the
expression of America in art; and the reproach which Arnold was half
right in making us shall have no justice in it any longer; we shall be


In the mean time it has been said with a superficial justice that our
fiction is narrow; though in the same sense I suppose the present English
fiction is as narrow as our own; and most modern fiction is narrow in a
certain sense. In Italy the best men are writing novels as brief and
restricted in range as ours; in Spain the novels are intense and deep,
and not spacious; the French school, with the exception of Zola, is
narrow; the Norwegians are narrow; the Russians, except Tolstoy, are
narrow, and the next greatest after him, Tourguenief, is the narrowest
great novelist, as to mere dimensions, that ever lived, dealing nearly
always with small groups, isolated and analyzed in the most American
fashion. In fact, the charge of narrowness accuses the whole tendency of
modern fiction as much as the American school. But I do not by any means
allow that this narrowness is a defect, while denying that it is a
universal characteristic of our fiction; it is rather, for the present,
a virtue. Indeed, I should call the present American work, North and
South, thorough rather than narrow. In one sense it is as broad as life,
for each man is a microcosm, and the writer who is able to acquaint us
intimately with half a dozen people, or the conditions of a neighborhood
or a class, has done something which cannot in any, bad sense be called
narrow; his breadth is vertical instead of lateral, that is all; and this
depth is more desirable than horizontal expansion in a civilization like
ours, where the differences are not of classes, but of types, and not of
types either so much as of characters. A new method was necessary in
dealing with the new conditions, and the new method is worldwide, because
the whole world is more or less Americanized. Tolstoy is exceptionally
voluminous among modern writers, even Russian writers; and it might be
said that the forte of Tolstoy himself is not in his breadth sidewise,
but in his breadth upward and downward. 'The Death of Ivan Ilyitch'
leaves as vast an impression on the reader's soul as any episode of
'War and Peace,' which, indeed, can be recalled only in episodes, and not
as a whole. I think that our writers may be safely counselled to
continue their work in the modern way, because it is the best way yet
known. If they make it true, it will be large, no matter what its
superficies are; and it would be the greatest mistake to try to make it
big. A big book is necessarily a group of episodes more or less loosely
connected by a thread of narrative, and there seems no reason why this
thread must always be supplied. Each episode may be quite distinct, or
it may be one of a connected group; the final effect will be from the
truth of each episode, not from the size of the group.

The whole field of human experience as never so nearly covered by
imaginative literature in any age as in this; and American life
especially is getting represented with unexampled fulness. It is true
that no one writer, no one book, represents it, for that is not possible;
our social and political decentralization forbids this, and may forever
forbid it. But a great number of very good writers are instinctively
striving to make each part of the country and each phase of our
civilization known to all the other parts; and their work is not narrow
in any feeble or vicious sense. The world was once very little, and it
is now very large. Formerly, all science could be grasped by a single
mind; but now the man who hopes to become great or useful in science must
devote himself to a single department. It is so in everything--all arts,
all trades; and the novelist is not superior to the universal rule
against universality. He contributes his share to a thorough knowledge
of groups of the human race under conditions which are full of inspiring
novelty and interest. He works more fearlessly, frankly, and faithfully
than the novelist ever worked before; his work, or much of it, may be
destined never to be reprinted from the monthly magazines; but if he
turns to his book-shelf and regards the array of the British or other
classics, he knows that they, too, are for the most part dead; he knows
that the planet itself is destined to freeze up and drop into the sun at
last, with all its surviving literature upon it. The question is merely
one of time. He consoles himself, therefore, if he is wise, and works
on; and we may all take some comfort from the thought that most things
cannot be helped. Especially a movement in literature like that which
the world is now witnessing cannot be helped; and we could no more turn
back and be of the literary fashions of any age before this than we could
turn back and be of its social, economical, or political conditions.

If I were authorized to address any word directly to our novelists I
should say, Do not trouble yourselves about standards or ideals; but try
to be faithful and natural: remember that there is no greatness, no
beauty, which does not come from truth to your own knowledge of things;
and keep on working, even if your work is not long remembered.

At least three-fifths of the literature called classic, in all languages,
no more lives than the poems and stories that perish monthly in our
magazines. It is all printed and reprinted, generation after generation,
century after century; but it is not alive; it is as dead as the people
who wrote it and read it, and to whom it meant something, perhaps; with
whom it was a fashion, a caprice, a passing taste. A superstitious piety
preserves it, and pretends that it has aesthetic qualities which can
delight or edify; but nobody really enjoys it, except as a reflection of
the past moods and humors of the race, or a revelation of the author's
character; otherwise it is trash, and often very filthy trash, which the
present trash generally is not.


One of the great newspapers the other day invited the prominent American
authors to speak their minds upon a point in the theory and practice of
fiction which had already vexed some of them. It was the question of how
much or how little the American novel ought to deal with certain facts of
life which are not usually talked of before young people, and especially
young ladies. Of course the question was not decided, and I forget just
how far the balance inclined in favor of a larger freedom in the matter.
But it certainly inclined that way; one or two writers of the sex which
is somehow supposed to have purity in its keeping (as if purity were a
thing that did not practically concern the other sex, preoccupied with
serious affairs) gave it a rather vigorous tilt to that side. In view of
this fact it would not be the part of prudence to make an effort to dress
the balance; and indeed I do not know that I was going to make any such
effort. But there are some things to say, around and about the subject,
which I should like to have some one else say, and which I may myself
possibly be safe in suggesting.

One of the first of these is the fact, generally lost sight of by those
who censure the Anglo-Saxon novel for its prudishness, that it is really
not such a prude after all; and that if it is sometimes apparently
anxious to avoid those experiences of life not spoken of before young
people, this may be an appearance only. Sometimes a novel which has this
shuffling air, this effect of truckling to propriety, might defend
itself, if it could speak for itself, by saying that such experiences
happened not to come within its scheme, and that, so far from maiming or
mutilating itself in ignoring them, it was all the more faithfully
representative of the tone of modern life in dealing with love that was
chaste, and with passion so honest that it could be openly spoken of
before the tenderest society bud at dinner. It might say that the guilty
intrigue, the betrayal, the extreme flirtation even, was the exceptional
thing in life, and unless the scheme of the story necessarily involved
it, that it would be bad art to lug it in, and as bad taste as to
introduce such topics in a mixed company. It could say very justly that
the novel in our civilization now always addresses a mixed company, and
that the vast majority of the company are ladies, and that very many, if
not most, of these ladies are young girls. If the novel were written for
men and for married women alone, as in continental Europe, it might be
altogether different. But the simple fact is that it is not written for
them alone among us, and it is a question of writing, under cover of our
universal acceptance, things for young girls to read which you would be
put out-of-doors for saying to them, or of frankly giving notice of your
intention, and so cutting yourself off from the pleasure--and it is a
very high and sweet one of appealing to these vivid, responsive
intelligences, which are none the less brilliant and admirable because
they are innocent.

One day a novelist who liked, after the manner of other men, to repine at
his hard fate, complained to his friend, a critic, that he was tired of
the restriction he had put upon himself in this regard; for it is a
mistake, as can be readily shown, to suppose that others impose it. "See
how free those French fellows are!" he rebelled. "Shall we always be
shut up to our tradition of decency?"

"Do you think it's much worse than being shut up to their tradition of
indecency?" said his friend.

Then that novelist began to reflect, and he remembered how sick the
invariable motive of the French novel made him. He perceived finally
that, convention for convention, ours was not only more tolerable, but on
the whole was truer to life, not only to its complexion, but also to its
texture. No one will pretend that there is not vicious love beneath the
surface of our society; if he did, the fetid explosions of the divorce
trials would refute him; but if he pretended that it was in any just
sense characteristic of our society, he could be still more easily
refuted. Yet it exists, and it is unquestionably the material of
tragedy, the stuff from which intense effects are wrought. The question,
after owning this fact, is whether these intense effects are not rather
cheap effects. I incline to think they are, and I will try to say why I
think so, if I may do so without offence. The material itself, the mere
mention of it, has an instant fascination; it arrests, it detains, till
the last word is said, and while there is anything to be hinted. This is
what makes a love intrigue of some sort all but essential to the
popularity of any fiction. Without such an intrigue the intellectual
equipment of the author must be of the highest, and then he will succeed
only with the highest class of readers. But any author who will deal
with a guilty love intrigue holds all readers in his hand, the highest
with the lowest, as long as he hints the slightest hope of the smallest
potential naughtiness. He need not at all be a great author; he may be a
very shabby wretch, if he has but the courage or the trick of that sort
of thing. The critics will call him "virile" and "passionate"; decent
people will be ashamed to have been limed by him; but the low average
will only ask another chance of flocking into his net. If he happens to
be an able writer, his really fine and costly work will be unheeded, and
the lure to the appetite will be chiefly remembered. There may be other
qualities which make reputations for other men, but in his case they will
count for nothing. He pays this penalty for his success in that kind;
and every one pays some such penalty who deals with some such material.

But I do not mean to imply that his case covers the whole ground. So far
as it goes, though, it ought to stop the mouths of those who complain
that fiction is enslaved to propriety among us. It appears that of a
certain kind of impropriety it is free to give us all it will, and more.
But this is not what serious men and women writing fiction mean when they
rebel against the limitations of their art in our civilization. They
have no desire to deal with nakedness, as painters and sculptors freely
do in the worship of beauty; or with certain facts of life, as the stage
does, in the service of sensation. But they ask why, when the
conventions of the plastic and histrionic arts liberate their followers
to the portrayal of almost any phase of the physical or of the emotional
nature, an American novelist may not write a story on the lines of 'Anna
Karenina' or 'Madame Bovary.' They wish to touch one of the most serious
and sorrowful problems of life in the spirit of Tolstoy and Flaubert, and
they ask why they may not. At one time, they remind us, the Anglo-Saxon
novelist did deal with such problems--De Foe in his spirit, Richardson in
his, Goldsmith in his. At what moment did our fiction lose this
privilege? In what fatal hour did the Young Girl arise and seal the lips
of Fiction, with a touch of her finger, to some of the most vital
interests of life?

Whether I wished to oppose them in their aspiration for greater freedom,
or whether I wished to encourage them, I should begin to answer them by
saying that the Young Girl has never done anything of the kind. The
manners of the novel have been improving with those of its readers; that
is all. Gentlemen no longer swear or fall drunk under the table, or
abduct young ladies and shut them up in lonely country-houses, or so
habitually set about the ruin of their neighbors' wives, as they once
did. Generally, people now call a spade an agricultural implement; they
have not grown decent without having also grown a little squeamish, but
they have grown comparatively decent; there is no doubt about that. They
require of a novelist whom they respect unquestionable proof of his
seriousness, if he proposes to deal with certain phases of life; they
require a sort of scientific decorum. He can no longer expect to be
received on the ground of entertainment only; he assumes a higher
function, something like that of a physician or a priest, and they expect
him to be bound by laws as sacred as those of such professions; they hold
him solemnly pledged not to betray them or abuse their confidence. If he
will accept the conditions, they give him their confidence, and he may
then treat to his greater honor, and not at all to his disadvantage, of
such experiences, such relations of men and women as George Eliot treats
in 'Adam Bede,' in 'Daniel Deronda,' in 'Romola,' in almost all her
books; such as Hawthorne treats in 'The Scarlet Letter;' such as Dickens
treats in 'David Copperfield;' such as Thackeray treats in 'Pendennis,'
and glances at in every one of his fictions; such as most of the masters
of English fiction have at same time treated more or less openly. It is
quite false or quite mistaken to suppose that our novels have left
untouched these most important realities of life. They have only not
made them their stock in trade; they have kept a true perspective in
regard to them; they have relegated them in their pictures of life to the
space and place they occupy in life itself, as we know it in England and
America. They have kept a correct proportion, knowing perfectly well
that unless the novel is to be a map, with everything scrupulously laid
down in it, a faithful record of life in far the greater extent could be
made to the exclusion of guilty love and all its circumstances and

I justify them in this view not only because I hate what is cheap and
meretricious, and hold in peculiar loathing the cant of the critics who
require "passion" as something in itself admirable and desirable in a
novel, but because I prize fidelity in the historian of feeling and
character. Most of these critics who demand "passion" would seem to have
no conception of any passion but one. Yet there are several other
passions: the passion of grief, the passion of avarice, the passion of
pity, the passion of ambition, the passion of hate, the passion of envy,
the passion of devotion, the passion of friendship; and all these have a
greater part in the drama of life than the passion of love, and
infinitely greater than the passion of guilty love. Wittingly or
unwittingly, English fiction and American fiction have recognized this
truth, not fully, not in the measure it merits, but in greater degree
than most other fiction.


Who can deny that fiction would be incomparably stronger, incomparably
truer, if once it could tear off the habit which enslaves it to the
celebration chiefly of a single passion, in one phase or another, and
could frankly dedicate itself to the service of all the passions, all the
interests, all the facts? Every novelist who has thought about his art
knows that it would, and I think that upon reflection he must doubt
whether his sphere would be greatly enlarged if he were allowed to treat
freely the darker aspects of the favorite passion. But, as I have shown,
the privilege, the right to do this, is already perfectly recognized.
This is proved again by the fact that serious criticism recognizes as
master-works (I will not push the question of supremacy) the two great
novels which above all others have, moved the world by their study of
guilty love. If by any chance, if by some prodigious miracle, any
American should now arise to treat it on the level of 'Anna Karenina' and
'Madame Bovary,' he would be absolutely sure of success, and of fame and
gratitude as great as those books have won for their authors.

But what editor of what American magazine would print such a story?

Certainly I do not think any one would; and here our novelist must again
submit to conditions. If he wishes to publish such a story (supposing
him to have once written it), he must publish it as a book. A book is
something by itself, responsible for its character, which becomes quickly
known, and it does not necessarily penetrate to every member of the
household. The father or the mother may say to the child, "I would
rather you wouldn't read that book"; if the child cannot be trusted, the
book may be locked up. But with the magazine and its serial the affair
is different. Between the editor of a reputable English or American
magazine and the families which receive it there is a tacit agreement
that he will print nothing which a father may not read to his daughter,
or safely leave her to read herself.

After all, it is a matter of business; and the insurgent novelist should
consider the situation with coolness and common-sense. The editor did
not create the situation; but it exists, and he could not even attempt to
change it without many sorts of disaster. He respects it, therefore,
with the good faith of an honest man. Even when he is himself a
novelist, with ardor for his art and impatience of the limitations put
upon it, he interposes his veto, as Thackeray did in the case of Trollope
when a contributor approaches forbidden ground.

It does not avail to say that the daily papers teem with facts far fouler
and deadlier than any which fiction could imagine. That is true, but it
is true also that the sex which reads the most novels reads the fewest
newspapers; and, besides, the reporter does not command the novelist's
skill to fix impressions in a young girl's mind or to suggest conjecture.
The magazine is a little despotic, a little arbitrary; but unquestionably
its favor is essential to success, and its conditions are not such narrow
ones. You cannot deal with Tolstoy's and Flaubert's subjects in the
absolute artistic freedom of Tolstoy and Flaubert; since De Foe, that is
unknown among us; but if you deal with them in the manner of George
Eliot, of Thackeray, of Dickens, of society, you may deal with them even
in the magazines. There is no other restriction upon you. All the
horrors and miseries and tortures are open to you; your pages may drop
blood; sometimes it may happen that the editor will even exact such
strong material from you. But probably he will require nothing but the
observance of the convention in question; and if you do not yourself
prefer bloodshed he will leave you free to use all sweet and peaceable
means of interesting his readers.

It is no narrow field he throws open to you, with that little sign to
keep off the grass up at one point only. Its vastness is still almost
unexplored, and whole regions in it are unknown to the fictionist. Dig
anywhere, and do but dig deep enough, and you strike riches; or, if you
are of the mind to range, the gentler climes, the softer temperatures,
the serener skies, are all free to you, and are so little visited that
the chance of novelty is greater among them.


While the Americans have greatly excelled in the short story generally,
they have almost created a species of it in the Thanksgiving story.
We have transplanted the Christmas story from England, while the
Thanksgiving story is native to our air; but both are of Anglo-Saxon
growth. Their difference is from a difference of environment; and the
Christmas story when naturalized among us becomes almost identical in
motive, incident, and treatment with the Thanksgiving story. If I were
to generalize a distinction between them, I should say that the one dealt
more with marvels and the other more with morals; and yet the critic
should beware of speaking too confidently on this point. It is certain,
however, that the Christmas season is meteorologically more favorable to
the effective return of persons long supposed lost at sea, or from a
prodigal life, or from a darkened mind. The longer, darker, and colder
nights are better adapted to the apparition of ghosts, and to all manner
of signs and portents; while they seem to present a wider field for the
intervention of angels in behalf of orphans and outcasts. The dreams of
elderly sleepers at this time are apt to be such as will effect a lasting
change in them when they awake, turning them from the hard, cruel, and
grasping habits of a lifetime, and reconciling them to their sons,
daughters, and nephews, who have thwarted them in marriage; or softening
them to their meek, uncomplaining wives, whose hearts they have trampled
upon in their reckless pursuit of wealth; and generally disposing them to
a distribution of hampers among the sick and poor, and to a friendly
reception of gentlemen with charity subscription papers.

Ships readily drive upon rocks in the early twilight, and offer exciting
difficulties of salvage; and the heavy snows gather quickly round the
steps of wanderers who lie down to die in them, preparatory to their
discovery and rescue by immediate relatives. The midnight weather is
also very suitable for encounter with murderers and burglars; and the
contrast of its freezing gloom with the light and cheer in-doors promotes
the gayeties which merge, at all well-regulated country-houses, in love
and marriage. In the region of pure character no moment could be so
available for flinging off the mask of frivolity, or imbecility, or
savagery, which one has worn for ten or twenty long years, say, for the
purpose of foiling some villain, and surprising the reader, and helping
the author out with his plot. Persons abroad in the Alps, or Apennines,
or Pyrenees, or anywhere seeking shelter in the huts of shepherds or the
dens of smugglers, find no time like it for lying in a feigned slumber,
and listening to the whispered machinations of their suspicious looking
entertainers, and then suddenly starting up and fighting their way out;
or else springing from the real sleep into which they have sunk
exhausted, and finding it broad day and the good peasants whom they had
so unjustly doubted, waiting breakfast for them.

We need not point out the superior advantages of the Christmas season for
anything one has a mind to do with the French Revolution, of the Arctic
explorations, or the Indian Mutiny, or the horrors of Siberian exile;
there is no time so good for the use of this material; and ghosts on
shipboard are notoriously fond of Christmas Eve. In our own logging
camps the man who has gone into the woods for the winter, after
quarrelling with his wife, then hears her sad appealing voice, and is
moved to good resolutions as at no other period of the year; and in the
mining regions, first in California and later in Colorado, the hardened
reprobate, dying in his boots, smells his mother's doughnuts, and
breathes his last in a soliloquized vision of the old home, and the
little brother, or sister, or the old father coming to meet him from
heaven; while his rude companions listen round him, and dry their eyes on
the butts of their revolvers.

It has to be very grim, all that, to be truly effective; and here,
already, we have a touch in the Americanized Christmas story of the
moralistic quality of the American Thanksgiving story. This was seldom
written, at first, for the mere entertainment of the reader; it was meant
to entertain him, of course; but it was meant to edify him, too, and to
improve him; and some such intention is still present in it. I rather
think that it deals more probably with character to this end than its
English cousin, the Christmas story, does. It is not so improbable that
a man should leave off being a drunkard on Thanksgiving, as that he
should leave off being a curmudgeon on Christmas; that he should conquer
his appetite as that he should instantly change his nature, by good
resolutions. He would be very likely, indeed, to break his resolutions
in either case, but not so likely in the one as in the other.

Generically, the Thanksgiving story is cheerfuller in its drama and
simpler in its persons than the Christmas story. Rarely has it dealt
with the supernatural, either the apparition of ghosts or the
intervention of angels. The weather being so much milder at the close of
November than it is a month later, very little can be done with the
elements; though on the coast a northeasterly storm has been, and can be,
very usefully employed. The Thanksgiving story is more restricted in its
range; the scene is still mostly in New England, and the characters are
of New England extraction, who come home from the West usually, or New
York, for the event of the little drama, whatever it may be. It may be
the reconciliation of kinsfolk who have quarrelled; or the union of
lovers long estranged; or husbands and wives who have had hard words and
parted; or mothers who had thought their sons dead in California and find
themselves agreeably disappointed in their return; or fathers who for old
time's sake receive back their erring and conveniently dying daughters.
The notes are not many which this simple music sounds, but they have a
Sabbath tone, mostly, and win the listener to kindlier thoughts and
better moods. The art is at its highest in some strong sketch of Rose
Terry Cooke's, or some perfectly satisfying study of Miss Jewett's, or
some graphic situation of Miss Wilkins's; and then it is a very fine art.
But mostly it is poor and rude enough, and makes openly, shamelessly, for
the reader's emotions, as well as his morals. It is inclined to be
rather descriptive. The turkey, the pumpkin, the corn-field, figure
throughout; and the leafless woods are blue and cold against the evening
sky behind the low hip-roofed, old-fashioned homestead. The parlance is
usually the Yankee dialect and its Western modifications.

The Thanksgiving story is mostly confined in scene to the country; it
does not seem possible to do much with it in town; and it is a serious
question whether with its geographical and topical limitations it can
hold its own against the Christmas story; and whether it would not be
well for authors to consider a combination with its elder rival.

The two feasts are so near together in point of time that they could be
easily covered by the sentiment of even a brief narrative. Under the
agglutinated style of 'A Thanksgiving-Christmas Story,' fiction
appropriate to both could be produced, and both could be employed
naturally and probably in the transaction of its affairs and the
development of its characters. The plot for such a story could easily be
made to include a total-abstinence pledge and family reunion at
Thanksgiving, and an apparition and spiritual regeneration over a bowl of
punch at Christmas.


It would be interesting to know the far beginnings of holiday literature,
and I commend the quest to the scientific spirit which now specializes
research in every branch of history. In the mean time, without being too
confident of the facts, I venture to suggest that it came in with the
romantic movement about the beginning of this century, when mountains
ceased to be horrid and became picturesque; when ruins of all sorts, but
particularly abbeys and castles, became habitable to the most delicate
constitutions; when the despised Gothick of Addison dropped its "k," and
arose the chivalrous and religious Gothic of Scott; when ghosts were
redeemed from the contempt into which they had fallen, and resumed their
place in polite society; in fact, the politer the society; the welcomer
the ghosts, and whatever else was out of the common. In that day the
Annual flourished, and this artificial flower was probably the first
literary blossom on the Christmas Tree which has since borne so much
tinsel foliage and painted fruit. But the Annual was extremely Oriental;
it was much preoccupied with, Haidees and Gulnares and Zuleikas, with
Hindas and Nourmahals, owing to the distinction which Byron and Moore had
given such ladies; and when it began to concern itself with the
actualities of British beauty, the daughters of Albion, though inscribed
with the names of real countesses and duchesses, betrayed their descent
from the well-known Eastern odalisques. It was possibly through an
American that holiday literature became distinctively English in
material, and Washington Irving, with his New World love of the past, may
have given the impulse to the literary worship of Christmas which has
since so widely established itself. A festival revived in popular
interest by a New-Yorker to whom Dutch associations with New-year's had
endeared the German ideal of Christmas, and whom the robust gayeties of
the season in old-fashioned country-houses had charmed, would be one of
those roundabout results which destiny likes, and "would at least be
Early English."

If we cannot claim with all the patriotic confidence we should like to
feel that it was Irving who set Christmas in that light in which Dickens
saw its aesthetic capabilities, it is perhaps because all origins are
obscure. For anything that we positively know to the contrary, the
Druidic rites from which English Christmas borrowed the inviting
mistletoe, if not the decorative holly, may have been accompanied by the
recitations of holiday triads. But it is certain that several plays of
Shakespeare were produced, if not written, for the celebration of the
holidays, and that then the black tide of Puritanism which swept over
men's souls blotted out all such observance of Christmas with the
festival itself. It came in again, by a natural reaction, with the
returning Stuarts, and throughout the period of the Restoration it
enjoyed a perfunctory favor. There is mention of it; often enough in the
eighteenth-century essayists, in the Spectators and Idlers and Tatlers;
but the world about the middle of the last century laments the neglect
into which it had fallen. Irving seems to have been the first to observe
its surviving rites lovingly, and Dickens divined its immense advantage
as a literary occasion. He made it in some sort entirely his for a time,
and there can be no question but it was he who again endeared it to the
whole English-speaking world, and gave it a wider and deeper hold than it
had ever had before upon the fancies and affections of our race.

The might of that great talent no one can gainsay, though in the light of
the truer work which has since been done his literary principles seem
almost as grotesque as his theories of political economy. In no one
direction was his erring force more felt than in the creation of holiday
literature as we have known it for the last half-century. Creation, of
course, is the wrong word; it says too much; but in default of a better
word, it may stand. He did not make something out of nothing; the
material was there before him; the mood and even the need of his time
contributed immensely to his success, as the volition of the subject
helps on the mesmerist; but it is within bounds to say that he was the
chief agency in the development of holiday literature as we have known
it, as he was the chief agency in universalizing the great Christian
holiday as we now have it. Other agencies wrought with him and after
him; but it was he who rescued Christmas from Puritan distrust, and
humanized it and consecrated it to the hearts and homes of all.

Very rough magic, as it now seems, he used in working his miracle, but
there is no doubt about his working it. One opens his Christmas stories
in this later day--'The Carol, The Chimes, The Haunted Man, The Cricket
on the Hearth,' and all the rest--and with "a heart high-sorrowful and
cloyed," asks himself for the preternatural virtue that they once had.
The pathos appears false and strained; the humor largely horseplay; the
character theatrical; the joviality pumped; the psychology commonplace;
the sociology alone funny. It is a world of real clothes, earth, air,
water, and the rest; the people often speak the language of life, but
their motives are as disproportioned and improbable, and their passions
and purposes as overcharged, as those of the worst of Balzac's people.
Yet all these monstrosities, as they now appear, seem to have once had
symmetry and verity; they moved the most cultivated intelligences of the
time; they touched true hearts; they made everybody laugh and cry.

This was perhaps because the imagination, from having been fed mostly
upon gross unrealities, always responds readily to fantastic appeals.
There has been an amusing sort of awe of it, as if it were the channel of
inspired thought, and were somehow sacred. The most preposterous
inventions of its activity have been regarded in their time as the
greatest feats of the human mind, and in its receptive form it has been
nursed into an imbecility to which the truth is repugnant, and the fact
that the beautiful resides nowhere else is inconceivable. It has been
flattered out of all sufferance in its toyings with the mere elements of
character, and its attempts to present these in combinations foreign to
experience are still praised by the poorer sort of critics as
masterpieces of creative work.

In the day of Dickens's early Christmas stories it was thought admirable
for the author to take types of humanity which everybody knew, and to add
to them from his imagination till they were as strange as beasts and
birds talking. Now we begin to feel that human nature is quite enough,
and that the best an author can do is to show it as it is. But in those
stories of his Dickens said to his readers, Let us make believe so-and-
so; and the result was a joint juggle, a child's-play, in which the
wholesome allegiance to life was lost. Artistically, therefore, the
scheme was false, and artistically, therefore, it must perish. It did
not perish, however, before it had propagated itself in a whole school of
unrealities so ghastly that one can hardly recall without a shudder those
sentimentalities at secondhand to which holiday literature was abandoned
long after the original conjurer had wearied of his performance.

Under his own eye and of conscious purpose a circle of imitators grew up
in the fabrication of Christmas stories. They obviously formed
themselves upon his sobered ideals; they collaborated with him, and it
was often hard to know whether it was Dickens or Sala or Collins who was
writing. The Christmas book had by that time lost its direct application
to Christmas. It dealt with shipwrecks a good deal, and with perilous
adventures of all kinds, and with unmerited suffering, and with ghosts
and mysteries, because human nature, secure from storm and danger in a
well-lighted room before a cheerful fire, likes to have these things
imaged for it, and its long-puerilized fancy will bear an endless
repetition of them. The wizards who wrought their spells with them
contented themselves with the lasting efficacy of these simple means;
and the apprentice-wizards and journeyman-wizards who have succeeded them
practise the same arts at the old stand; but the ethical intention which
gave dignity to Dickens's Christmas stories of still earlier date has
almost wholly disappeared. It was a quality which could not be worked so
long as the phantoms and hair-breadth escapes. People always knew that
character is not changed by a dream in a series of tableaux; that a ghost
cannot do much towards reforming an inordinately selfish person; that a
life cannot be turned white, like a head of hair, in a single night, by
the most allegorical apparition; that want and sin and shame cannot be
cured by kettles singing on the hob; and gradually they ceased to make
believe that there was virtue in these devices and appliances. Yet the
ethical intention was not fruitless, crude as it now appears.

It was well once a year, if not oftener, to remind men by parable of the
old, simple truths; to teach them that forgiveness, and charity, and the
endeavor for life better and purer than each has lived, are the
principles upon which alone the world holds together and gets forward.
It was well for the comfortable and the refined to be put in mind of the
savagery and suffering all round them, and to be taught, as Dickens was
always teaching, that certain feelings which grace human nature, as
tenderness for the sick and helpless, self-sacrifice and generosity,
self-respect and manliness and womanliness, are the common heritage of
the race; the direct gift of Heaven, shared equally by the rich and poor.
It did not necessarily detract from the value of the lesson that, with
the imperfect art of the time, he made his paupers and porters not only
human, but superhuman, and too altogether virtuous; and it remained true
that home life may be lovely under the lowliest roof, although he liked
to paint it without a shadow on its beauty there. It is still a fact
that the sick are very often saintly, although he put no peevishness into
their patience with their ills. His ethical intention told for manhood
and fraternity and tolerance, and when this intention disappeared from
the better holiday literature, that literature was sensibly the poorer
for the loss.


But if the humanitarian impulse has mostly disappeared from Christmas
fiction, I think it has never so generally characterized all fiction.
One may refuse to recognize this impulse; one may deny that it is in any
greater degree shaping life than ever before, but no one who has the
current of literature under his eye can fail to note it there. People
are thinking and feeling generously, if not living justly, in our time;
it is a day of anxiety to be saved from the curse that is on selfishness,
of eager question how others shall be helped, of bold denial that the
conditions in which we would fain have rested are sacred or immutable.
Especially in America, where the race has gained a height never reached
before, the eminence enables more men than ever before to see how even
here vast masses of men are sunk in misery that must grow every day more
hopeless, or embroiled in a struggle for mere life that must end in
enslaving and imbruting them.

Art, indeed, is beginning to find out that if it does not make friends
with Need it must perish. It perceives that to take itself from the many
and leave them no joy in their work, and to give itself to the few whom
it can bring no joy in their idleness, is an error that kills. The men
and women who do the hard work of the world have learned that they have a
right to pleasure in their toil, and that when justice is done them they
will have it. In all ages poetry has affirmed something of this sort,
but it remained for ours to perceive it and express it somehow in every
form of literature. But this is only one phase of the devotion of the
best literature of our time to the service of humanity. No book written
with a low or cynical motive could succeed now, no matter how brilliantly
written; and the work done in the past to the glorification of mere
passion and power, to the deification of self, appears monstrous and
hideous. The romantic spirit worshipped genius, worshipped heroism, but
at its best, in such a man as Victor Hugo, this spirit recognized the
supreme claim of the lowest humanity. Its error was to idealize the
victims of society, to paint them impossibly virtuous and beautiful; but
truth, which has succeeded to the highest mission of romance, paints
these victims as they are, and bids the world consider them not because
they are beautiful and virtuous, but because they are ugly and vicious,
cruel, filthy, and only not altogether loathsome because the divine can
never wholly die out of the human. The truth does not find these victims
among the poor alone, among the hungry, the houseless, the ragged; but it
also finds them among the rich, cursed with the aimlessness, the satiety,
the despair of wealth, wasting their lives in a fool's paradise of shows
and semblances, with nothing real but the misery that comes of
insincerity and selfishness.

I do not think the fiction of our own time even always equal to this
work, or perhaps more than seldom so. But as I once expressed, to the
long-reverberating discontent of two continents, fiction is now a finer
art than it, has been hitherto, and more nearly meets the requirements of
the infallible standard. I have hopes of real usefulness in it, because
it is at last building on the only sure foundation; but I am by no means
certain that it will be the ultimate literary form, or will remain as
important as we believe it is destined to become. On the contrary, it is
quite imaginable that when the great mass of readers, now sunk in the
foolish joys of mere fable, shall be lifted to an interest in the meaning
of things through the faithful portrayal of life in fiction, then fiction
the most faithful may be superseded by a still more faithful form of
contemporaneous history. I willingly leave the precise character of this
form to the more robust imagination of readers whose minds have been
nurtured upon romantic novels, and who really have an imagination worth
speaking of, and confine myself, as usual, to the hither side of the
regions of conjecture.

The art which in the mean time disdains the office of teacher is one of
the last refuges of the aristocratic spirit which is disappearing from
politics and society, and is now seeking to shelter itself in aesthetics.
The pride of caste is becoming the pride of taste; but as before, it is
averse to the mass of men; it consents to know them only in some
conventionalized and artificial guise. It seeks to withdraw itself, to
stand aloof; to be distinguished, and not to be identified. Democracy in
literature is the reverse of all this. It wishes to know and to tell the
truth, confident that consolation and delight are there; it does not care
to paint the marvellous and impossible for the vulgar many, or to
sentimentalize and falsify the actual for the vulgar few. Men are more
like than unlike one another: let us make them know one another better,
that they may be all humbled and strengthened with a sense of their
fraternity. Neither arts, nor letters, nor sciences, except as they
somehow, clearly or obscurely, tend to make the race better and kinder,
are to be regarded as serious interests; they are all lower than the
rudest crafts that feed and house and clothe, for except they do this
office they are idle; and they cannot do this except from and through the


A Thanksgiving-Christmas Story
Anthony Trollope
Browbeat wholesome common-sense into the self-distrust
Canon Fairfax,'s opinions of literary criticism
Comfort from the thought that most things cannot be helped
Concerning popularity as a test of merit in a book
Critical vanity and self-righteousness
Critics are in no sense the legislators of literature
Dickens rescued Christmas from Puritan distrust
Fact that it is hash many times warmed over reassures them
Forbear the excesses of analysis
Glance of the common eye, is and always was the best light
Greatest classics are sometimes not at all great
Holiday literature
Imitators of one another than of nature
Jane Austen
Languages, while they live, are perpetually changing
Let fiction cease to lie about life
Long-puerilized fancy will bear an endless repetition
Made them talk as seldom man and never woman talked
Michelangelo's "light of the piazza,"
No greatness, no beauty, which does not come from truth
Novels hurt because they are not true
Plain industry and plodding perseverance are despised
Public wish to be amused rather than edified
Teach what they do not know
Tediously analytical
To break new ground
Unless we prefer a luxury of grief
Vulgarity: bad art to lug it in
What makes a better fashion change for a worse
Whatever is established is sacred with those who do not think


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