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Parker Willis, was a clever and delicate sketcher in prose — witness his “ Dashes at Life” (1845). A genial woman, Mrs. Caroline M. Kirkland, went West
first to the New York frontier and, later, still farther westward to Michigan. The unusual and romantic tinge of her surroundings was the inspiration of “ Western Clearings ” (1846), a collection of sketches and stories, following the suggestion of Miss Mitford's “Our Village.” A more versatile writer, who in some ingenious tales showed the influence of Poe and Hawthorne, and was also a true poet, was the gallant IrishAmerican, Fitz-James O'Brien, who met death on the fields of Virginia while fighting in the Union ranks. “ The Diamond Lens,” “The Wondersmith,” and the tale chosen to represent him here, the weird“What Was It?” make us wonder why O'Brien is not better known.
The piquant, the fanciful, the unusual, have formed the most propitious material for the evolution of the short story in America, and the conditions and circumstances of the new life had not a little to do with this fact. In the Southern states, peculiarly rich in this native ore, we find the best exemplification of the truth of this statement. Judge Longstreet's racy “Georgia Scenes,” which were appearing as early as 1834, are as inimitable as the rough and course genre pictures of the Dutch painters. These were the prototypes of a number of similar productions in Georgia and its neighboring states. William T. Thompson's amusing stories in letter form, "Major Jones's Court
ship,” were similarly contributed to a remote Georgia periodical and published in book form in 1840. J. J. Hooper's "Adventures of Simon Suggs” and other sketches were contributed to Alabama newspapers, and appeared as a book in 1845. Joseph G. Baldwin's “ Flush Times of Alabama and Mississippi,” some of the sketches of which had previously been contributed to the Southern Literary Messenger and elsewhere, was brought out in 1853, and marked the culmination of a local school of writing which was as influential in the development of American humor as in that of realistic fiction.
The romance of the California forty-niners found expression in the short story, the most characteristic form yet taken by American literature, not during the disturbed period of the fifties and the early sixties, but immediately after the great Civil War. Twenty years after the discovery of the gold-fields and the American settlement of the Pacific Coast, The Overland Monthly was started in San Francisco. For the first three years, 1868-1871, its success was guaranteed by the writings of Bret Harte. Since Hawthorne and Poe, no such short stories had been written in American letters as “The Luck of Roaring Camp,' Outcasts of Poker Flat,” and “ Tennessee's Partner"; and they had the novelty besides of presenting strange and hitherto unknown experiences. But Bret Harte longed for the East and “civilization,” and his stay abroad as consul in Germany and in Scotland removed
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him too far from the scene of his earlier inspiration and best work.
Among Eastern writers in the seventies may be named Albert F. Webster, who wrote very human sketches for Appleton's Journal and the Atlantic Monthly, and died at twenty-eight on his way from San Francisco to Honolulu in search of health. The versatile Pennsylvanian, Bayard Taylor, is better known for his European travels and translations than for his short stories and novels.
At the same time in the Southern states a new school arose, portraying the romance and contrasted colors of Reconstruction days and the New South. The genius and memory of Judge Longstreet and W. T. Thompson still animated Richard Malcolm Johnston's “ Dukesborough Tales” and other stories of Middle Georgia cracker life. Many instances of an intense Southern and Southwestern activity in portraying types and reproducing local color may be found : Mark Twain's Mississippi River and Western reminiscences; George W. Cable's pictures of Creole life in New Orleans and Louisiana ; dialect stories of sentiment like Thomas Nelson Page's “ Marse Chan” and “Meh Lady"; folk-lore in Joel Chandler Harris's “Uncle Remus" and reconstructed patriotism in his tales of the Empire State of the New South ; Miss Murfree's use of the Tennessee mountaineer; James Lane Allen's love of the Blue Grass section and John Fox's of the Cumberland Mountains in Kentucky; Maurice Thompson's and Harry S. Edwards's phases of the Georgia negro; Mrs. Stuart's rare knowledge of the Louisiana negro and Italian immigrant; “Octave Thanet's” bits of Arkansas life — all these will be familiar to the reader.
In New England, also romantic and picturesque in setting, but with a tendency toward a sterner realism, we find names like Mrs. Stowe's “Old Town Folks," Dr. Edward Everett Hale's “ The Man Without a Country," here reprinted, Thomas Bailey Aldrich's “Marjorie Daw," and more recently the more intensely dramatic work of Sarah Orne Jewett and Mary Wilkins Freeman. The life in New York City was described in several delightful stories by the late Henry C. Bunner, former editor of Puck, and in Brander Matthews's “Vignettes of Manhattan." Richard Harding Davis's “Gallegher" came from its author's early Philadelphia experience; and another Philadelphian, Owen Wister, in “ Philosophy 4,” has drawn upon a Harvard College impression. In the Central West, Hamlin Garland's "Main Travelled Roads and other papers bear witness to a never failing interest in literary production manifested on the borderlands of settlement.
And the notes are still struck full and the register is widening. Stewart E. White, “O. Henry," Henry W. Phillips, Edith Wharton, Kate Douglas Wiggin, Josephine Dodge Daskam, Myra Kelly, Virginia Frazer Boyle, are a few of the names to be found of recent years signed to popular short stories in current American magazines.
The sorts and kinds are numerous. There is the sketch, revealing some emotion or other, but no action, giving a mere mood, or even portraying still life. There is the Tale proper; there is the Allegory, beloved of Hawthorne ; the Detective Story, invented by Poe, and reproduced in our day by Dr. Conan Doyle in England; the Burlesque, which Thackeray so much loved; the Story of Incident and of Local Colour, the latter particularly characteristic of the remote West and South. The Psychological Tale or Symbolic Story is a further development natural enough; and this in turn has lent itself to the Story of the Unexpected or the Surprise.
A thoroughly indigenous product of American soil, the short story, having found so many ramifications and divisions and species, and having become so popular in demand and supply, calls for mastery as never before. In its very popularity lies its greatest danger — the likelihood that the form will be degraded by too common usage.
The two most interesting periods in its history are the earlier ones- the period of Hawthorne and Poe and Longstreet, and the period of Bret Harte. Will it pass away with the advent of text-books showing how it may be written? Let us hope and believe that it will not.