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Index, I found that the authors' names were given there, and that the writer of the articles which had interested me most was “F. B. Harte.” With the first number of the second volume, “the Holiday Number," he resumed the “Roaring Camp " vein, in “The Outcasts of Poker Flat.”
From that time he became a writer to be looked for, and he never disappointed me. In prose or verse he was sure to be good, whether he was humorous or pathetic. In Vol. 3, the Index made a further revelation of his name as “Fr. Bret Harte.”
In the number for September, 1870, appeared, not the best, but the most popular of his writings, “Plain Language from Truthful James, or, as it is now called, “The Heathen Chinee." It came at a time when all America was debating “the Chinese cheap labour” question, some of the disputants appealing to such strong arguments as brickbats and revolvers. But the poem had a vitality beyond the mere timeliness of its appearance, or it would scarcely have achieved the immediate success which it won in England.
At the close of 1870, Bret Harte's connection with “The Overland" came to an end. It was hardly to be expected that a genius so distinctively American, could escape being drawn to the intellectual capital of the country. Messrs. Osgood and Company (late Ticknor and Fields), of Boston, lost no time in securing the new writer's exclusive services, and “The Atlantic Monthly” is enriched
by his pen. Bret Harte is a native of the state of New York, and was born, I believe, in Albany. While still a young man, he went out West, and became connected with a San Francisco paper. When “ The Overland Monthly” was started by Messrs. Roman & Co., he was installed in the Editorial chair ; from which we may fairly conclude that he had made his mark while working on the paper, or at any rate had shewn to the experienced the promise that was in him. I do not think that as yet the public had discovered him ; for Joaquin Miller, when in London, told me a volume of his poems entitled “The Lost Galleon,” published in 1867, had not met the success it deserved.
It was for the journal I have mentioned thatif rumour tells truth—“The Heathen Chinee” was written, but the printer's foreman * protested against its being thrown away on a daily paper, and it was accordingly transferred to the magazine, to establish its writer's reputation and fortune. As he is still a young man (hardly thirty, I am told), we have reason to expect even greater things, and to regard him with a liberal gratitude for favours to come.
The genius of Bret Harte is distinct and original. Its most marked characteristic is its dramatic
* It is to be noted, that many American writers have worked at case, and served their apprenticeship to literature in the composing-room. Artemus Ward had been a "type-sticker," and Mr. Leland's knowledge of the mystery is clearly shown in his famous “ Battle in the Printing Office."
vividness. As in “ Jim," the few lines of apostrophe or "aside" to the bar-keeper, put before us at once the effect which the news of his friend's death has on the speaker; so in his other writings, a few happy words here and there paint a picture to the mind's eye, which it would take others a page to conjure up. In “ Brown of Calaveras”-not before published in England, I believe—this dramatic vigour is strongly evidenced. I may note also, that the “Iliad of Sandy Bar" and “Mr. Thompson's Prodigal,” will be found new to English readers.
I must, in concluding this brief Preface, acknowledge my indebtedness for the chief facts in it to my friend Mr. Justin McCarthy, who on his recent return from America, brought a few pleasant words from Bret Harte to me, in allusion to my having been one of the first to take note of his work in England, a fact due rather to my good luck in receiving early copies of “The Overland,” than to any merit in recognizing what any one who read his contributions must have recognized—the undoubted genius of Bret Harte.
A GOSSIPING GLOSSARY.
THE remarkably miscellaneous assemblage
which Bret Harte describes as sitting outside the cabin of Cherokee Sal, in the first story in this volume, comes opportunely, as at once the figure and the reason of the strange varieties of slang which occur in these pages. Almost every nation and almost every human pursuit, as they gave individuals to the gold-seeking, contributed, like the visitors of the new-born Tommy Luck, something towards the support of the infant language. The technical phrases of the miner, and the formula of the gambler, are the most liberal subscribers; the travellers of a very locomotive race have given their mite ; and the French settlers of Canada, and the Spanish settlers of Mexico, flung in a few foreign coins to the general pile. The result of the accumulation is a language very rich and very vivid—in a word, thoroughly poetical. For, after all, if the language of poetry is, as it is defined, essentially picturesque and figurative, slang is decidedly the language of poetry! But, seriously, it is the happy use of a bit of slang which often gives such force to Bret Harte's poems.
It seems to me that the simplest way of getting over the ground will be to take the slang of each various source as it flows from its native fount; and that of course “mining” should have the place of honour.
The localities of mining are described in these tales as “Flats," low-lying alluvial lands; “Bars,” of which no definition seems necessary; and “Gulches,” that is to say “Gorges ” (which words oddly enough in their first meaning apply to the throat) wherein gold is deposited. It is worked by “flumes,” or washing in “ ditches ” (“flumes," or watercourses, apparently being at times rough wooden aqueducts), or in “tunnels.” The gold may be found in “streaks,” or in “pockets,” both self-explanatory terms. The “sluice-robber” is the man who helps himself to the gold in his neighbour's “ditch," from which, at the end of work, the water is “let out" when the “clean-up,” has given its contribution to the “pile.” To “strike a lead” is to find indications which lead to a discovery of gold; whereon the miner "goes for it,” “goes through it,” and “strikes luck." The nuggets or dust he procures are “specimens.” After a longer or shorter time, he gets down to the “bed-rock ;” that is, exhausts the find, which then "peters out,” a term which seems to point to a derivation (probably through the Spanish) from petra. Of course, when the ditch is ex