Of Literature (Entire)
William Dean Howells

Part 7 out of 15

or articles desired; when the muse shall altogether withhold herself, or
shall respond only in a feeble dribble of verse which he might sell
indeed, but which it would not be good business for him to put on the
market. But supposing him to be a very diligent and continuous worker,
and so happy as to have fallen on a theme that delights him and bears him
along, he may please himself so ill with the result of his labors that he
can do nothing less in artistic conscience than destroy a day's work, a
week's work, a month's work. I know one man of letters who wrote to-day
and tore up tomorrow for nearly a whole summer. But even if part of the
mistaken work may be saved, because it is good work out of place, and not
intrinsically bad, the task of reconstruction wants almost as much time
as the production; and then, when all seems done, comes the anxious and
endless process of revision. These drawbacks reduce the earning capacity
of what I may call the high-cost man of letters in such measure that an
author whose name is known everywhere, and whose reputation is
commensurate with the boundaries of his country, if it does not transcend
them, shall have the income, say, of a rising young physician, known to a
few people in a subordinate city.

In view of this fact, so humiliating to an author in the presence of a
nation of business men like ours, I do not know that I can establish the
man of letters in the popular esteem as very much of a business man,
after all. He must still have a low rank among practical people; and he
will be regarded by the great mass of Americans as perhaps a little off,
a little funny, a little soft! Perhaps not; and yet I would rather not
have a consensus of public opinion on the question; I think I am more
comfortable without it.


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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

No, we literary men must learn, no matter how we boast ourselves in
business, that the distress we feel from our publisher's accounts is
simply idiopathic; and I for one wish to bear my witness to the constant
good faith and uprightness of publishers. It is supposed that because
they have the affair altogether in their hands they are apt to take
advantage in it; but this does not follow, and as a matter of fact they
have the affair no more in their own hands than any other business man
you have an open account with. There is nothing to prevent you from
looking at their books, except your own innermost belief and fear that
their books are correct, and that your literature has brought you so
little because it has sold so little.

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

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


Publishers have their little theories, their little superstitions, and
their blind faith in the great god Chance which we all worship. These
things lead them into temptation and adversity, but they seem to do
fairly well as business men, even in their own behalf. They do not make
above the usual ninety-five per cent. of failures, and more publishers
than authors get rich.

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

I myself am neither sorry nor ashamed for this; I am glad and proud to be
of those who eat their bread in the sweat of their own brows, and not the
sweat of other men's brows; I think my bread is the sweeter for it. In
the mean time, I have no blame for business men; they are no more of the
condition of things than we working-men are; they did no more to cause it
or create it; but I would rather be in my place than in theirs, and I
wish that I could make all my fellow-artists realize that economically
they are the same as mechanics, farmers, day-laborers. It ought to be
our glory that we produce something, that we bring into the world
something that was not choately there before; that at least we fashion or
shape something anew; and we ought to feel the tie that binds us to all
the toilers of the shop and field, not as a galling chain, but as a
mystic bond also uniting us to Him who works hitherto and evermore.
I know very well that to the vast multitude of our fellow-working-men we
artists are the shadows of names, or not even the shadows. I like to
look the facts in the face, for though their lineaments are often
terrible, yet there is light nowhere else; and I will not pretend, in
this light, that the masses care any more for us than we care for the
masses, or so much. Nevertheless, and most distinctly, we are not of the
classes. Except in our work, they have no use for us; if now and then
they fancy qualifying their material splendor or their spiritual dulness
with some artistic presence, the attempt is always a failure that bruises
and abashes. In so far as the artist is a man of the world, he is the
less an artist, and if he fashions himself upon fashion, he deforms his
art. We all know that ghastly type; it is more absurd even than the
figure which is really of the world, which was born and bred in it, and
conceives of nothing outside of it, or above it. In the social world, as
well as in the business world, the artist is anomalous, in the actual
conditions, and he is perhaps a little ridiculous.

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


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

LITERATURE AND LIFE--The Confessions of a Summer Colonist

by William Dean Howells


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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

The native compliance with any summer-visiting request is commonly in
some such form as, "Well, I don't know but what I can," or, "I guess
there ain't anything to hinder me." This compliance is so rarely, if
ever, carried to the point of domestic service that it may fairly be said
that all the domestic service, at least of the cottagers, is imported.
The natives will wait at the hotel tables; they will come in "to
accommodate"; but they will not "live out." I was one day witness of the
extreme failure of a friend whose city cook had suddenly abandoned him,
and who applied to a friendly farmer's wife in the vain hope that she
might help him to some one who would help his family out in their strait.
"Why, there ain't a girl in the Hollow that lives out! Why, if you was
sick abed, I don't know as I know anybody 't you could git to set up with
you." The natives will not live out because they cannot keep their self-
respect in the conditions of domestic service. Some people laugh at this
self-respect, but most summer folks like it, as I own I do.

In our partly mythical estimate of the native and his relation to us, he
is imagined as holding a kind of carnival when we leave him at the end of
the season, and it is believed that he likes us to go early. We have had
his good offices at a fair price all summer, but as it draws to a close
they are rendered more and more fitfully. From some, perhaps flattered,
reports of the happiness of the natives at the departure of the
sojourners, I have pictured them dancing a sort of farandole, and
stretching with linked hands from the farthest summer cottage up the
river to the last on the wooded point. It is certain that they get
tired, and I could not blame them if they were glad to be rid of their
guests, and to go back to their own social life. This includes church
festivals of divers kinds, lectures and shows, sleigh-rides, theatricals,
and reading-clubs, and a plentiful use of books from the excellently
chosen free village library. They say frankly that the summer folks have
no idea how pleasant it is when they are gone, and I am sure that the
gayeties to which we leave them must be more tolerable than those which
we go back to in the city. It may be, however, that I am too confident,
and that their gayeties are only different. I should really like to know
just what the entertainments are which are given in a building devoted to
them in a country neighborhood three or four miles from the village. It
was once a church, but is now used solely for social amusements.


The amusements of the summer colony I have already hinted at. Besides
suppers, there are also teas, of larger scope, both afternoon and
evening. There are hops every week at the two largest hotels, which are
practically free to all; and the bathing-beach is, of course, a supreme
attraction. The bath-houses, which are very clean and well equipped,
are not very cheap, either for the season or for a single bath, and there
is a pretty pavilion at the edge of the sands. This is always full of
gossiping spectators of the hardy adventurers who brave tides too remote
from the Gulf Stream to be ever much warmer than sixty or sixty-five
degrees. The bathers are mostly young people, who have the courage of
their pretty bathing-costumes or the inextinguishable ardor of their
years. If it is not rather serious business with them all, still I
admire the fortitude with which some of them remain in fifteen minutes.
Beyond our colony, which calls itself the Port, there is a far more
populous watering-place, east of the Point, known as the Beach, which is
the resort of people several grades of gentility lower than ours: so
many, in fact, that we never can speak of the Beach without averting our
faces, or, at the best, with a tolerant smile. It is really a succession
of beaches, all much longer and, I am bound to say, more beautiful than
ours, lined with rows of the humbler sort of summer cottages known as
shells, and with many hotels of corresponding degree. The cottages may
be hired by the week or month at about two dollars a day, and they are
supposed to be taken by inland people of little social importance. Very
likely this is true; but they seemed to be very nice, quiet people, and I
commonly saw the ladies reading, on their verandas, books and magazines,
while the gentlemen sprayed the dusty road before them with the garden
hose. The place had also for me an agreeable alien suggestion, and in
passing the long row of cottages I was slightly reminded of Scheveningen.
Beyond the cottage settlements is a struggling little park, dedicated to
the only Indian saint I ever heard of, though there may be others. His
statue, colossal in sheet-lead, and painted the copper color of his race,
offers any heathen comer the choice between a Bible in one of his hands
and a tomahawk in the other, at the entrance of the park; and there are
other sheet-lead groups and figures in the white of allegory at different
points. It promises to be a pretty enough little place in future years,
but as yet it is not much resorted to by the excursions which largely
form the prosperity of the Beach. The concerts and the "high-class
vaudeville" promised have not flourished in the pavilion provided for
them, and one of two monkeys in the zoological department has perished of
the public inattention. This has not fatally affected the captive bear,
who rises to his hind legs, and eats peanuts and doughnuts in that
position like a fellow-citizen. With the cockatoos and parrots, and the
dozen deer in an inclosure of wire netting, he is no mean attraction; but
he does not charm the excursionists away from the summer village at the
shore, where they spend long afternoons splashing among the waves, or in
lolling groups of men, women, and children on the sand. In the more
active gayeties, I have seen nothing so decided during the whole season
as the behavior of three young girls who once came up out of the sea, and
obliged me by dancing a measure on the smooth, hard beach in their

I thought it very pretty, but I do not believe such a thing could have
been seen on OUR beach, which is safe from all excursionists, and sacred
to the cottage and hotel life of the Port.

Besides our beach and its bathing, we have a reading-club for the men,
evolved from one of the old native houses, and verandaed round for summer
use; and we have golf-links and a golf club-house within easy trolley
reach. The links are as energetically, if not as generally, frequented
as the sands, and the sport finds the favor which attends it everywhere
in the decay of tennis. The tennis-courts which I saw thronged about by
eager girl-crowds, here, seven years ago, are now almost wholly abandoned
to the lovers of the game, who are nearly always men.

Perhaps the only thing (besides, of course, our common mortality) which
we have in common with the excursionists is our love of the trolley-line.
This, by its admirable equipment, and by the terror it inspires in
horses, has well-nigh abolished driving; and following the old country
roads, as it does, with an occasional short-cut though the deep, green-
lighted woods or across the prismatic salt meadows, it is of a
picturesque variety entirely satisfying. After a year of fervent
opposition and protest, the whole community--whether of summer or of
winter folks--now gladly accepts the trolley, and the grandest cottager
and the lowliest hotel dweller meet in a grateful appreciation of its
beauty and comfort.

Some pass a great part of every afternoon on the trolley, and one lady
has achieved celebrity by spending four dollars a week in trolley-rides.
The exhilaration of these is varied with an occasional apprehension when
the car pitches down a sharp incline, and twists almost at right angles
on a sudden curve at the bottom without slacking its speed. A lady who
ventured an appeal to the conductor at one such crisis was reassured, and
at the same time taught her place, by his reply: "That motorman's life,
ma'am, is just as precious to him as what yours is to you."

She had, perhaps, really ventured too far, for ordinarily the employees
of the trolley do not find occasion to use so much severity with their
passengers. They look after their comfort as far as possible, and seek
even to anticipate their wants in unexpected cases, if I may believe a
story which was told by a witness. She had long expected to see some one
thrown out of the open car at one of the sharp curves, and one day she
actually saw a woman hurled from the seat into the road. Luckily the
woman slighted on her feet, and stood looking round in a daze.

"Oh! oh!" exclaimed another woman in the seat behind, "she's left her

The conductor promptly threw it out to her.

"Why," demanded the witness, "did that lady wish to get out here?"

The conductor hesitated before he jerked the bellpull to go on: Then he
said, "Well, she'll want her umbrella, anyway."

The conductors are, in fact, very civil as well as kind. If they see a
horse in anxiety at the approach of the car, they considerately stop, and
let him get by with his driver in safety. By such means, with their
frequent trips and low fares, and with the ease and comfort of their
cars, they have conciliated public favor, and the trolley has drawn
travel away from the steam railroad in such measure that it ran no trains
last winter.

The trolley, in fact, is a fad of the summer folks this year; but what it
will be another no one knows; it may be their hissing and by-word. In
the mean time, as I have already suggested, they have other amusements.
These are not always of a nature so general as the trolley, or so
particular as the tea. But each of the larger hotels has been fully
supplied with entertainments for the benefit of their projectors, though
nearly everything of the sort had some sort of charitable slant. I
assisted at a stereopticon lecture on Alaska for the aid of some youthful
Alaskans of both sexes, who were shown first in their savage state, and
then as they appeared after a merely rudimental education, in the
costumes and profiles of our own civilization. I never would have
supposed that education could do so much in so short a time; and I gladly
gave my mite for their further development in classic beauty and a final
elegance. My mite was taken up in a hat, which, passed round among the
audience, is a common means of collecting the spectators' expressions of
appreciation. Other entertainments, of a prouder frame, exact an
admission fee, but I am not sure that these are better than some of the
hat-shows, as they are called.

The tale of our summer amusements would be sadly incomplete without some
record of the bull-fights given by the Spanish prisoners of war on the
neighboring island, where they were confined the year of the war.
Admission to these could be had only by favor of the officers in charge,
and even among the Elite of the colony those who went were a more elect
few. Still, the day I went, there were some fifty or seventy-five
spectators, who arrived by trolley near the island, and walked to the
stockade which confined the captives. A real bull-fight, I believe, is
always given on Sunday, and Puritan prejudice yielded to usage even in
the case of a burlesque bull-fight; at any rate, it was on a Sunday that
we crouched in an irregular semicircle on a rising ground within the
prison pale, and faced the captive audience in another semicircle, across
a little alley for the entrances and exits of the performers. The
president of the bull-fight was first brought to the place of honor in a
hand-cart, and then came the banderilleros, the picadores, and the
espada, wonderfully effective and correct in white muslin and colored
tissue-paper. Much may be done in personal decoration with advertising
placards; and the lofty mural crown of the president urged the public on
both sides to Use Plug Cut. The picador's pasteboard horse was attached
to his middle, fore and aft, and looked quite the sort of hapless jade
which is ordinarily sacrificed to the bulls. The toro himself was
composed of two prisoners, whose horizontal backs were covered with a
brown blanket; and his feet, sometimes bare and sometimes shod with
india-rubber boots, were of the human pattern. Practicable horns, of a
somewhat too yielding substance, branched from a front of pasteboard, and
a cloth tail, apt to come off in the charge, swung from his rear. I have
never seen a genuine corrida, but a lady present, who had, told me that
this was conducted with all the right circumstance; and it is certain
that the performers entered into their parts with the artistic gust of
their race. The picador sustained some terrific falls, and in his
quality of horse had to be taken out repeatedly and sewed up; the
banderilleros tormented and eluded the toro with table-covers, one red
and two drab, till the espada took him from them, and with due ceremony,
after a speech to the president, drove his blade home to the bull's
heart. I stayed to see three bulls killed; the last was uncommonly
fierce, and when his hindquarters came off or out, his forequarters
charged joyously among the aficionados on the prisoners' side, and made
havoc in their thickly packed ranks. The espada who killed this bull was
showered with cigars and cigarettes from our side.

I do not know what the Sabbath-keeping shades of the old Puritans made of
our presence at such a fete on Sunday; but possibly they had got on so
far in a better life as to be less shocked at the decay of piety among us
than pleased at the rise of such Christianity as had brought us, like
friends and comrades, together with our public enemies in this harmless
fun. I wish to say that the tobacco lavished upon the espada was
collected for the behoof of all the prisoners.

Our fiction has made so much of our summer places as the mise en scene of
its love stories that I suppose I ought to say something of this side of
our colonial life. But after sixty I suspect that one's eyes are poor
for that sort of thing, and I can only say that in its earliest and
simplest epoch the Port was particularly famous for the good times that
the young people had. They still have good times, though whether on just
the old terms I do not know. I know that the river is still here with
its canoes and rowboats, its meadowy reaches apt for dual solitude, and
its groves for picnics. There is not much bicycling--the roads are rough
and hilly--but there is something of it, and it is mighty pretty to see
the youth of both sexes bicycling with their heads bare. They go about
bareheaded on foot and in buggies, too, and the young girls seek the tan
which their mothers used so anxiously to shun.

The sail-boats, manned by weather-worn and weatherwise skippers, are
rather for the pleasure of such older summer folks as have a taste for
cod-fishing, which is here very good. But at every age, and in whatever
sort our colonists amuse themselves, it is with the least possible
ceremony. It is as if, Nature having taken them so hospitably to her
heart, they felt convention an affront to her. Around their cottages, as
I have said, they prefer to leave her primitive beauty untouched, and she
rewards their forbearance with such a profusion of wild flowers as I have
seen nowhere else. The low, pink laurel flushed all the stony fields to
the edges of their verandas when we first came; the meadows were milk-
white with daisies; in the swampy places delicate orchids grew, in the
pools the flags and flowering rushes; all the paths and way-sides were
set with dog-roses; the hollows and stony tops were broadly matted with
ground juniper. Since then the goldenrod has passed from glory to glory,
first mixing its yellow-powdered plumes with the red-purple tufts of the
iron-weed, and then with the wild asters everywhere. There has come
later a dwarf sort, six or ten inches high, wonderfully rich and fine,
which, with a low, white aster, seems to hold the field against
everything else, though the taller golden-rod and the masses of the high,
blue asters nod less thickly above it. But these smaller blooms deck the
ground in incredible profusion, and have an innocent air of being stuck
in, as if they had been fancifully used for ornament by children or

In a little while now, as it is almost the end of September, all the
feathery gold will have faded to the soft, pale ghosts of that
loveliness. The summer birds have long been silent; the crows, as if
they were so many exultant natives, are shouting in the blue sky above
the windrows of the rowan, in jubilant prescience of the depopulation of
our colony, which fled the hotels a fortnight ago. The days are growing
shorter, and the red evenings falling earlier; so that the cottagers'
husbands who come up every Saturday from town might well be impatient for
a Monday of final return. Those who came from remoter distances have
gone back already; and the lady cottagers, lingering hardily on till
October, must find the sight of the empty hotels and the windows of the
neighboring houses, which no longer brighten after the chilly nightfall,
rather depressing. Every one says that this is the loveliest time of
year, and that it will be divine here all through October. But there are
sudden and unexpected defections; there is a steady pull of the heart
cityward, which it is hard to resist. The first great exodus was on the
first of the month, when the hotels were deserted by four-fifths of their
guests. The rest followed, half of them within the week, and within a
fortnight none but an all but inaudible and invisible remnant were left,
who made no impression of summer sojourn in the deserted trolleys.

The days now go by in moods of rapid succession. There have been days
when the sea has lain smiling in placid derision of the recreants who
have fled the lingering summer; there have been nights when the winds
have roared round the cottages in wild menace of the faithful few who
have remained.

We have had a magnificent storm, which came, as an equinoctial storm
should, exactly at the equinox, and for a day and a night heaped the sea
upon the shore in thundering surges twenty and thirty feet high. I
watched these at their awfulest, from the wide windows of a cottage that
crouched in the very edge of the surf, with the effect of clutching the
rocks with one hand and holding its roof on with the other. The sea was
such a sight as I have not seen on shipboard, and while I luxuriously
shuddered at it, I had the advantage of a mellow log-fire at my back,
purring and softly crackling in a quiet indifference to the storm.

Twenty-four hours more made all serene again. Bloodcurdling tales of
lobster-pots carried to sea filled the air; but the air was as blandly
unconscious of ever having been a fury as a lady who has found her lost
temper. Swift alternations of weather are so characteristic of our
colonial climate that the other afternoon I went out with my umbrella
against the raw, cold rain of the morning, and had to raise it against
the broiling sun. Three days ago I could say that the green of the woods
had no touch of hectic in it; but already the low trees of the swamp-land
have flamed into crimson. Every morning, when I look out, this crimson
is of a fierier intensity, and the trees on the distant uplands are
beginning slowly to kindle, with a sort of inner glow which has not yet
burst into a blaze. Here and there the golden-rod is rusting; but there
seems only to be more and more asters sorts; and I have seen ladies
coming home with sheaves of blue gentians; I have heard that the orchids
are beginning again to light their tender lamps from the burning
blackberry vines that stray from the pastures to the edge of the swamps.

After an apparently total evanescence there has been a like resuscitation
of the spirit of summer society. In the very last week of September we
have gone to a supper, which lingered far out of its season like one of
these late flowers, and there has been an afternoon tea which assembled
an astonishing number of cottagers, all secretly surprised to find one
another still here, and professing openly a pity tinged with contempt for
those who are here no longer.

I blamed those who had gone home, but I myself sniff the asphalt afar;
the roar of the street calls to me with the magic that the voice of the
sea is losing. Just now it shines entreatingly, it shines winningly, in
the sun which is mellowing to an October tenderness, and it shines under
a moon of perfect orb, which seems to have the whole heavens to itself in
"the first watch of the night," except for "the red planet Mars." This
begins to burn in the west before the flush of sunset has passed from it;
and then, later, a few moon-washed stars pierce the vast vault with their
keen points. The stars which so powdered the summer sky seem mostly to
have gone back to town, where no doubt people take them for electric


Ladies make up the pomps which they (the men) forego
Summer folks have no idea how pleasant it is when they are gone
Their consciences needed no bossing in the performance

LITERATURE AND LIFE--The Young Contributor

by William Dean Howells


One of the trustiest jokes of the humorous paragrapher is that the editor
is in great and constant dread of the young contributor; but neither my
experience nor my observation bears out his theory of the case.

Of course one must not say anything to encourage a young person to
abandon an honest industry in the vain hope of early honor and profit
from literature; but there have been and there will be literary men and
women always, and these in the beginning have nearly always been young;
and I cannot see that there is risk of any serious harm in saying that it
is to the young contributor the editor looks for rescue from the old
contributor, or from his failing force and charm.

The chances, naturally, are against the young contributor, and vastly
against him; but if any periodical is to live, and to live long, it is by
the infusion of new blood; and nobody knows this better than the editor,
who may seem so unfriendly and uncareful to the young contributor. The
strange voice, the novel scene, the odor of fresh woods and pastures new,
the breath of morning, the dawn of tomorrow--these are what the editor is
eager for, if he is fit to be an editor at all; and these are what the
young contributor alone can give him.

A man does not draw near the sixties without wishing people to believe
that he is as young as ever, and he has not written almost as many books
as he has lived years without persuading himself that each new work of
his has all the surprise of spring; but possibly there are wonted traits
and familiar airs and graces in it which forbid him to persuade others.
I do not say these characteristics are not charming; I am very far from
wishing to say that; but I do say and must say that after the fiftieth
time they do not charm for the first time; and this is where the
advantage of the new contributor lies, if he happens to charm at all.


The new contributor who does charm can have little notion how much he
charms his first reader, who is the editor. That functionary may bide
his pleasure in a short, stiff note of acceptance, or he may mask his joy
in a check of slender figure; but the contributor may be sure that he has
missed no merit in his work, and that he has felt, perhaps far more than
the public will feel, such delight as it can give.

The contributor may take the acceptance as a token that his efforts have
not been neglected, and that his achievements will always be warmly
welcomed; that even his failures will be leniently and reluctantly
recognized as failures, and that he must persist long in failure before
the friend he has made will finally forsake him.

I do not wish to paint the situation wholly rose color; the editor will
have his moods, when he will not see so clearly or judge so justly as at
other times; when he will seem exacting and fastidious, and will want
this or that mistaken thing done to the story, or poem, or sketch, which
the author knows to be simply perfect as it stands; but he is worth
bearing with, and he will be constant to the new contributor as long as
there is the least hope of him.

The contributor may be the man or the woman of one story, one poem, one
sketch, for there are such; but the editor will wait the evidence of
indefinite failure to this effect. His hope always is that he or she is
the man or the woman of many stories, many poems, many sketches, all as
good as the first.

From my own long experience as a magazine editor, I may say that the
editor is more doubtful of failure in one who has once done well than of
a second success. After all, the writer who can do but one good thing is
rarer than people are apt to think in their love of the improbable; but
the real danger with a young contributor is that he may become his own

What would have been quite good enough from him in the first instance is
not good enough in the second, because he has himself fixed his standard
so high. His only hope is to surpass himself, and not begin resting on
his laurels too soon; perhaps it is never well, soon or late, to rest
upon one's laurels. It is well for one to make one's self scarce, and
the best way to do this is to be more and more jealous of perfection in
one's work.

The editor's conditions are that having found a good thing he must get as
much of it as he can, and the chances are that he will be less exacting
than the contributor imagines. It is for the contributor to be exacting,
and to let nothing go to the editor as long as there is the possibility
of making it better. He need not be afraid of being forgotten because he
does not keep sending; the editor's memory is simply relentless; he could
not forget the writer who has pleased him if he would, for such writers
are few.

I do not believe that in my editorial service on the Atlantic Monthly,
which lasted fifteen years in all, I forgot the name or the
characteristic quality, or even the handwriting, of a contributor who had
pleased me, and I forgot thousands who did not. I never lost faith in a
contributor who had done a good thing; to the end I expected another good
thing from him. I think I was always at least as patient with him as he
was with me, though he may not have known it.

At the time I was connected with that periodical it had almost a monopoly
of the work of Longfellow, Emerson, Holmes, Lowell, Whittier, Mrs. Stowe,
Parkman, Higginson, Aldrich, Stedman, and many others not so well known,
but still well known. These distinguished writers were frequent
contributors, and they could be counted upon to respond to almost any
appeal of the magazine; yet the constant effort of the editors was to
discover new talent, and their wish was to welcome it.

I know that, so far as I was concerned, the success of a young
contributor was as precious as if I had myself written his paper or poem,
and I doubt if it gave him more pleasure. The editor is, in fact, a sort
of second self for the contributor, equally eager that he should stand
well with the public, and able to promote his triumphs without egotism
and share them without vanity.


In fact, my curious experience was that if the public seemed not to feel
my delight in a contribution I thought good, my vexation and
disappointment were as great as if the work hod been my own. It was even
greater, for if I had really written it I might have had my misgivings of
its merit, but in the case of another I could not console myself with
this doubt. The sentiment was at the same time one which I could not
cherish for the work of an old contributor; such a one stood more upon
his own feet; and the young contributor may be sure that the editor's
pride, self-interest, and sense of editorial infallibility will all
prompt him to stand by the author whom he has introduced to the public,
and whom he has vouched for.

I hope I am not giving the young contributor too high an estimate of his
value to the editor. After all, he must remember that he is but one of a
great many others, and that the editor's affections, if constant, are
necessarily divided. It is good for the literary aspirant to realize
very early that he is but one of many; for the vice of our comparatively
virtuous craft is that it tends to make each of us imagine himself
central, if not sole.

As a matter of fact, however, the universe does not revolve around any
one of us; we make our circuit of the sun along with the other
inhabitants of the earth, a planet of inferior magnitude. The thing we
strive for is recognition, but when this comes it is apt to turn our
heads. I should say, then, that it was better it should not come in a
great glare and aloud shout, all at once, but should steal slowly upon
us, ray by ray, breath by breath.

In the mean time, if this happens, we shall have several chances of
reflection, and can ask ourselves whether we are really so great as we
seem to other people, or seem to seem.

The prime condition of good work is that we shall get ourselves out of
our minds. Sympathy we need, of course, and encouragement; but I am not
sure that the lack of these is not a very good thing, too. Praise
enervates, flattery poisons; but a smart, brisk snub is always rather

I should say that it was not at all a bad thing for a young contributor
to get his manuscript back, even after a first acceptance, and even a
general newspaper proclamation that he is one to make the immortals
tremble for their wreaths of asphodel--or is it amaranth? I am never
sure which.

Of course one must have one's hour, or day, or week, of disabling the
editor's judgment, of calling him to one's self fool, and rogue, and
wretch; but after that, if one is worth while at all, one puts the
rejected thing by, or sends it off to some other magazine, and sets about
the capture of the erring editor with something better, or at least
something else.


I think it a great pity that editors ever deal other than frankly with
young contributors, or put them off with smooth generalities of excuse,
instead of saying they do not like this thing or that offered them. It
is impossible to make a criticism of all rejected manuscripts, but in the
case of those which show promise I think it is quite possible; and if I
were to sin my sins over again, I think I should sin a little more on the
side of candid severity. I am sure I should do more good in that way,
and I am sure that when I used to dissemble my real mind I did harm to
those whose feelings I wished to spare. There ought not, in fact, to be
question of feeling in the editor's mind.

I know from much suffering of my own that it is terrible to get back a
manuscript, but it is not fatal, or I should have been dead a great many
times before I was thirty, when the thing mostly ceased for me. One
survives it again and again, and one ought to make the reflection that it
is not the first business of a periodical to print contributions of this
one or of that, but that its first business is to amuse and instruct its

To do this it is necessary to print contributions, but whose they are, or
how the writer will feel if they are not printed, cannot be considered.
The editor can consider only what they are, and the young contributor
will do well to consider that, although the editor may not be an
infallible judge, or quite a good judge, it is his business to judge, and
to judge without mercy. Mercy ought no more to qualify judgment in an
artistic result than in a mathematical result.


I suppose, since I used to have it myself, that there is a superstition
with most young contributors concerning their geographical position. I
used to think that it was a disadvantage to send a thing from a small or
unknown place, and that it doubled my insignificance to do so. I
believed that if my envelope had borne the postmark of New York, or
Boston, or some other city of literary distinction, it would have arrived
on the editor's table with a great deal more authority. But I am sure
this was a mistake from the first, and when I came to be an editor myself
I constantly verified the fact from my own dealings with contributors.
A contribution from a remote and obscure place at once piqued my
curiosity, and I soon learned that the fresh things, the original things,
were apt to come from such places, and not from the literary centres.
One of the most interesting facts concerning the arts of all kinds is
that those who wish to give their lives to them do not appear where the
appliances for instruction in them exist. An artistic atmosphere does
not create artists a literary atmosphere does not create literators;
poets and painters spring up where there was never a verse made or a
picture seen.

This suggests that God is no more idle now than He was at the beginning,
but that He is still and forever shaping the human chaos into the
instruments and means of beauty. It may also suggest to that scholar-
pride, that vanity of technique, which is so apt to vaunt itself in the
teacher, that the best he can do, after all, is to let the pupil teach
himself. If he comes with divine authority to the thing he attempts, he
will know how to use the appliances, of which the teacher is only the

The editor, if he does not consciously perceive the truth, will
instinctively feel it, and will expect the acceptable young contributor
from the country, the village, the small town, and he will look eagerly
at anything that promises literature from Montana or Texas, for he will
know that it also promises novelty.

If he is a wise editor, he will wish to hold his hand as much as
possible; he will think twice before he asks the contributor to change
this or correct that; he will leave him as much to himself as he can.
The young contributor; on his part, will do well to realize this, and to
receive all the editorial suggestions, which are veiled commands in most
cases, as meekly and as imaginatively as possible.

The editor cannot always give his reasons; however strongly he may feel
them, but the contributor, if sufficiently docile, can always divine
them. It behooves him to be docile at all times, for this is merely the
willingness to learn; and whether he learns that he is wrong, or that the
editor is wrong, still he gains knowledge.

A great deal of knowledge comes simply from doing, and a great deal more
from doing over, and this is what the editor generally means.

I think that every author who is honest with himself must own that his
work would be twice as good if it were done twice. I was once so
fortunately circumstanced that I was able entirely to rewrite one of my
novels, and I have always thought it the best written, or at least
indefinitely better than it would have been with a single writing. As a
matter of fact, nearly all of them have been rewritten in a certain way.
They have not actually been rewritten throughout, as in the case I speak
of, but they have been gone over so often in manuscript and in proof that
the effect has been much the same.

Unless you are sensible of some strong frame within your work, something
vertebral, it is best to renounce it, and attempt something else in which
you can feel it. If you are secure of the frame you must observe the
quality and character of everything you build about it; you must touch,
you must almost taste, you must certainly test, every material you
employ; every bit of decoration must undergo the same scrutiny as the

It will be some vague perception of the want of this vigilance in the
young contributor's work which causes the editor to return it to him for
revision, with those suggestions which he will do well to make the most
of; for when the editor once finds a contributor he can trust, he
rejoices in him with a fondness which the contributor will never perhaps

It will not do to write for the editor alone; the wise editor understands
this, and averts his countenance from the contributor who writes at him;
but if he feels that the contributor conceives the situation, and will
conform to the conditions which his periodical has invented for itself,
arid will transgress none of its unwritten laws; if he perceives that he
has put artistic conscience in every general and detail, and though he
has not done the best, has done the best that he can do, he will begin to
liberate him from every trammel except those he must wear himself, and
will be only too glad to leave him free. He understands, if he is at all
fit for his place, that a writer can do well only what he likes to do,
and his wish is to leave him to himself as soon as possible.


In my own case, I noticed that the contributors who could be best left to
themselves were those who were most amenable to suggestion and even
correction, who took the blue pencil with a smile, and bowed gladly to
the rod of the proof-reader. Those who were on the alert for offence,
who resented a marginal note as a slight, and bumptiously demanded that
their work should be printed just as they had written it, were commonly
not much more desired by the reader than by the editor.

Of course the contributor naturally feels that the public is the test of
his excellence, but he must not forget that the editor is the beginning
of the public; and I believe he is a faithfuller and kinder critic than
the writer will ever find again.

Since my time there is a new tradition of editing, which I do not think
so favorable to the young contributor as the old. Formerly the magazines
were made up of volunteer contributions in much greater measure than they
are now. At present most of the material is invited and even engaged; it
is arranged for a long while beforehand, and the space that can be given
to the aspirant, the unknown good, the potential excellence, grows
constantly less and less.

A great deal can be said for either tradition; perhaps some editor will
yet imagine a return to the earlier method. In the mean time we must
deal with the thing that is, and submit to it until it is changed. The
moral to the young contributor is to be better than ever, to leave
nothing undone that shall enhance his small chances of acceptance.
If he takes care to be so good that the editor must accept him in spite
of all the pressure upon his pages, he will not only be serving-himself
best, but may be helping the editor to a conception of his duty that
shall be more hospitable to all other young contributors. As it is,
however, it must be owned that their hope of acceptance is very, very
small, and they will do well to make sure that they love literature so
much that they can suffer long and often repeated disappointment in its

The love of it is the great and only test of fitness for it. It is
really inconceivable how any one should attempt it without this, but
apparently a great many do. It is evident to every editor that a vast
number of those who write the things he looks at so faithfully, and reads
more or less, have no artistic motive.

People write because they wish to be known, or because they have heard
that money is easily made in that way, or because they think they will
chance that among a number of other things. The ignorance of technique
which they often show is not nearly so disheartening as the palpable
factitiousness of their product. It is something that they have made; it
is not anything that has grown out of their lives.

I should think it would profit the young contributor, before he puts pen
to paper, to ask himself why he does so, and, if he finds that he has no
motive in the love of the thing, to forbear.

Am I interested in what I am going to write about? Do I feel it
strongly? Do I know it thoroughly? Do I imagine it clearly? The young
contributor had better ask himself all these questions, and as many more
like them as he can think of. Perhaps he will end by not being a young

But if he is able to answer them satisfactorily to his own conscience, by
all means let him begin. He may at once put aside all anxiety about
style; that is a thing that will take care of itself; it will be added
unto him if he really has something to say; for style is only a man's way
of saying a thing.

If he has not much to say, or if he has nothing to say, perhaps he will
try to say it in some other man's way, or to hide his own vacuity with
rags of rhetoric and tags and fringes of manner, borrowed from this
author and that. He will fancy that in this disguise his work will be
more literary, and that there is somehow a quality, a grace, imparted to
it which will charm in spite of the inward hollowness. His vain hope
would be pitiful if it were not so shameful, but it is destined to suffer
defeat at the first glance of the editorial eye.

If he really has something to say, however, about something he knows and
loves, he is in the best possible case to say it well. Still, from time
to time he may advantageously call a halt, and consider whether he is
saying the thing clearly and simply.

If he has a good ear he will say it gracefully, and musically; and I
would by no means have him aim to say it barely or sparely. It is not so
that people talk, who talk well, and literature is only the thought of
the writer flowing from the pen instead of the tongue.

To aim at succinctness and brevity merely, as some teach, is to practice
a kind of quackery almost as offensive as the charlatanry of rhetoric.
In either case the life goes out of the subject.

To please one's self, honestly and thoroughly, is the only way to please
others in matters of art. I do not mean to say that if you please
yourself you will always please others, but that unless you please
yourself you will please no one else. It is the sweet and sacred
privilege of work done artistically to delight the doer. Art is the
highest joy, but any work done in the love of it is art, in a kind, and
it strikes the note of happiness as nothing else can.

We hear much of drudgery, but any sort of work that is slighted becomes
drudgery; poetry, fiction, painting, sculpture, acting, architecture, if
you do not do your best by them, turn to drudgery sore as digging
ditches, hewing wood, or drawing water; and these, by the same blessings
of God, become arts if they are done with conscience and the sense of

The young contributor may test his work before the editor assays it, if
he will, and he may know by a rule that is pretty infallible whether it
is good or not, from his own experience in doing it. Did it give him
pleasure? Did he love it as it grew under his hand? Was he glad and
willing with it? Or did he force himself to it, and did it hang heavy
upon him?

There is nothing mystical in all this; it is a matter of plain, every-day
experience, and I think nearly every artist will say the same thing about
it, if he examines himself faithfully.

If the young contributor finds that he has no delight in the thing he has
attempted, he may very well give it up, for no one else will delight in
it. But he need not give it up at once; perhaps his mood is bad; let him
wait for a better, and try it again. He may not have learned how to do
it well, and therefore he cannot love it, but perhaps he can learn to do
it well.

The wonder and glory of art is that it is without formulas. Or, rather,
each new piece of work requires the invention of new formulas, which will
not serve again for another. You must apprentice yourself afresh at
every fresh undertaking, and our mastery is always a victory over certain
unexpected difficulties, and not a dominion of difficulties overcome

I believe, in other words, that mastery is merely the strength that comes
of overcoming and is never a sovereign power that smooths the path of all
obstacles. The combinations in art are infinite, and almost never the
same; you must make your key and fit it to each, and the key that unlocks
one combination will not unlock another.


There is no royal road to excellence in literature, but the young
contributor need not be dismayed at that. Royal roads are the ways that
kings travel, and kings are mostly dull fellows, and rarely have a good
time. They do not go along singing; the spring that trickles into the
mossy log is not for them, nor

"The wildwood flower that simply blows."

But the traveller on the country road may stop for each of these; and it
is not a bad condition of his progress that he must move so slowly that
he can learn every detail of the landscape, both earth and sky, by heart.

The trouble with success is that it is apt to leave life behind, or
apart. The successful writer especially is in danger of becoming
isolated from the realities that nurtured in him the strength to win
success. When he becomes famous, he becomes precious to criticism, to
society, to all the things that do not exist from themselves, or have not
the root of the matter in them.

Therefore, I think that a young writer's upward course should be slow and
beset with many obstacles, even hardships. Not that I believe in
hardships as having inherent virtues; I think it is stupid to regard them
in that way; but they oftener bring out the virtues inherent in the
sufferer from them than what I may call the 'softships'; and at least
they stop him, and give him time to think.

This is the great matter, for if we prosper forward rapidly, we have no
time for anything but prospering forward rapidly. We have no time for
art, even the art by which we prosper.

I would have the young contributor above all things realize that success
is not his concern. Good work, true work, beautiful work is his affair,
and nothing else. If he does this, success will take care of itself.

He has no business to think of the thing that will take. It is the
editor's business to think of that, and it is the contributor's business
to think of the thing that he can do with pleasure, the high pleasure
that comes from the sense of worth in the thing done. Let him do the
best he can, and trust the editor to decide whether it will take.

It will take far oftener than anything he attempts perfunctorily; and
even if the editor thinks it will not take, and feels obliged to return
it for that reason, he will return it with a real regret, with the honor
and affection which we cannot help feeling for any one who has done a
piece of good work, and with the will and the hope to get something from
him that will take the next time, or the next, or the next.


An artistic atmosphere does not create artists
Any sort of work that is slighted becomes drudgery
Put aside all anxiety about style
Should sin a little more on the side of candid severity
Trouble with success is that it is apt to leave life behind
Work would be twice as good if it were done twice

LITERATURE AND LIFE--Last Days in a Dutch Hotel

by William Dean Howells



When we said that we were going to Scheveningen, in the middle of
September, the portier of the hotel at The Hague was sure we should be
very cold, perhaps because we had suffered so much in his house already;
and he was right, for the wind blew with a Dutch tenacity of purpose for
a whole week, so that the guests thinly peopling the vast hostelry seemed
to rustle through its chilly halls and corridors like so many autumn
leaves. We were but a poor hundred at most where five hundred would not
have been a crowd; and, when we sat down at the long tables d'hote in the
great dining-room, we had to warm our hands with our plates before we
could hold our spoons. From time to time the weather varied, as it does
in Europe (American weather is of an exemplary constancy in comparison),
and three or four times a day it rained, and three or four times it
cleared; but through all the wind blew cold and colder. We were
promised, however, that the hotel would not close till October, and we
made shift, with a warm chimney in one room and three gas-burners in
another, if not to keep warm quite, yet certainly to get used to the


In the mean time the sea-bathing went resolutely on with all its forms.
Every morning the bathing machines were drawn down to the beach from the
esplanade, where they were secured against the gale every night; and
every day a half-dozen hardy invalids braved the rigors of wind and wave.
At the discreet distance which one ought always to keep one could not
always be sure whether these bold bathers were mermen or mermaids; for
the sea costume of both sexes is the same here, as regards an absence of
skirts and a presence of what are, after the first plunge, effectively
tights. The first time I walked down to the beach I was puzzled to make
out some object rolling about in the low surf, which looked like a
barrel, and which two bathing-machine men were watching with apparently
the purpose of fishing it out. Suddenly this object reared itself from


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