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The Jewett Journal
 


THE AMERICAN WOMAN OF LETTERS

from THE WOMEN OF AMERICA
BY
ELIZABETH MCCRACKEN

New York
THE MACMILLAN COMPANY
LONDON: MACMILLAN & CO., LTD,
MCMV

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
COPYRIGHT 1903
BY THE OUTLOOK CO.

COPYRIGHT 1904
BY THE MACMILLAN COMPANY

SET UP AND ELECTROTYPED. PUBLISHED NOVEMBER, 1904

REPRINTED MAY, 1905


TO MY SISTER

ANNIE L. TOWNE


PREFACE

IN the autumn of 1902, at the request of The Outlook Company, I began the long journey so frequently mentioned in the following pages. The purpose of the journey was an investigation, as nearly complete as the brief time at command should permit; of the ideals and achievements of American women -- in the professions, in municipal affairs, in the arts, and, above all, in the home and things pertaining to home-making.

     Even at the very beginning of my travels, this object had appeared to me sufficiently large to give soberness to the glowing enthusiasm with which I entered upon my task: but, as my journey, with its multiplicity of new and unexpected experiences assumed proportions far beyond its originally planned limits, so also did its purpose grow in breadth and in depth of meaning; with this difference: that, whereas my travels eventually were ended, my investigation increasingly seemed merely to have been begun. One of my friends to whom before leaving New York I confided the object of my quest, exclaimed: "It isn't an especially small object!" And, even while I agreed with her, I could not refrain from adding: "It is related to a not particularly small subject!"

     In a journey extending over very nearly the entire United States, and occupying only six months in time, but little beyond observations of the subject, too often hasty and not infrequently casual, could be made. Almost at the very outset, I realized that if I devoted the few days which were all I usually was able to spend even in a city of great size, to collecting statistics concerning the women of that city and their occupations, I should be obliged to forego the more vivid advantage of personal meetings with these women, and personal visits to the actual scenes of those occupations. Whenever, therefore, it became necessary to choose between an experience, however minute, and a report of that experience, however comprehensive, I almost invariably chose the former. The choice, to be sure, was usually more involuntary than premeditated; a woman appealed to me so much more keenly than did an account of her attainments; a glimpse of her work had for me far more interest than any report of its processes possibly could have.

     Statistics and reports, it is true, I did gather in great abundance. But, when finally, my journey, if not my investigation, was quite finished, and I began to write an account of its happenings and discoveries, I found that not my note-books with their arrays of figures, not the pamphlets and calendars with which my trunk was well-nigh filled, but the memories of the women whom I had met comprised the significant, and the real, results of my travels.

     A little white pearl button, from a baby's cloak, held more suggestions of the lives of women on remote Western ranches than were contained in all my laboriously acquired statistics. A small purple flower, from a pine-grown mountain-side in Oregon, falling one day from between the pages of the volume of Keats which had borne me company in that far-away country, recalled more definitely to my mind those women whom I had met on farms, than the ample reports with which I was furnished.

     And so it has happened that when I have in the forth-coming pages, used my note books* at all, I have used them only as backgrounds, trusting that to my readers, as to me people are more interesting than things, and that the comparatively few women of whom I have written in these chapters may prove to them more appealing than would such statistical accounts of a larger number of women as I, after a so short preparation, could have made.

     As often was said to me, my object was not small. For that assistance in its pursuance, lacking which I could scarcely have so much as begun my happy labor, my thanks are due to many persons; first of all, and most of all, to the editorial staff of The Outlook, and the members of The Outlook Company for whose courtesy, kindness, generosity, and loyalty it would be difficult to find adequate words of appreciation; next, to all my old friends, who helped me with a sweet and unwearied zest which was in itself a lovely and a constant inspiration; last, but by no means least, to those many, many new friends and acquaintances with whom I met along the way of my far journey; their patience, their ready sympathy and their gracious hospitality, it would not be possible to remember too gratefully.

     And now, it only remains for me to bid farewell -- somewhat affectionately -- to my chapters and to express the hope that, because they are few and brief, they may find the reader like the reader of olden times-- "gentle."

E. M.

Arlington, Massachusetts,

November, 1904.
 



 


VIII

THE AMERICAN WOMAN OF LETTERS



IN reading the various lengthy volumes, and the even more widely various brief essays, written by Americans and by foreigners with regard to the development and characteristics of American literature, it is interesting to note that, however irreconcilably their opinions concerning certain aspects of the subject may differ, upon two points at least, they are apt to be invariably in entire agreement. These two points, it need scarcely be said, are: that into the making of the literature of America has entered much that is neither of America nor for America; and that in the use of their favorite literary form, the short story, not only American men of letters, but American women of letters too, have acquired a peculiar and particular excellence.

     The influence exerted by the Old World upon the literature and art of our New World has long been a topic of comment-- comment as diverse as it is tentative. What is the nature of this mysterious influence? does it affect the method or the spirit of the American worker? Is it an influence touching mere craftsmanship? or does it penetrate and affect, not the manner of making a picture, but the picture itself? In Mr. Howells's delightful story, "The Coast of Bohemia," there is a description of an impressionistic painting of a distinctly and completely American subject which may not inaptly apply to many of the literary results achieved in America by Americans. "It's like it," says the girl in the story, of the scene depicted in the painting; "that's the way I've always seen it; and it's beautiful. But somehow -- it looks as if it were somewhere else."

     If men of letters in America have -- as even their most friendly critics must admit -- so made their verbal pictures of American life as to cause that life to look, sometimes, "as if it were somewhere else," American women of letters have occasionally gone somewhat further in the same direction. Even the American studies of Mr. Henry James do not equal those of Mrs. Wharton in the continental quality of their treatment. On the other hand, not even that most broadly American of all Mr. Howells's novels, "The Rise of Silas Lapham," is recognized by Americans of all conditions of life as being so deeply national in spirit as Miss Sarah Orne Jewett's stories of the coast of the single, and markedly provincial, State of Maine.

     In journeying about the United States, I was more than once amazed to find, not that Miss Jewett's books were more widely read than those of any other woman of letters in America, but that they were read with a certain fullness of appreciation by persons to whom their peculiarly local background was utterly unfamiliar; by Westerners, to whom the East was at most but a tradition; by Southerners, to whom the actual New England, and much more, the New England of the books of New Englanders, has been by no means easy of comprehension. How shall we explain this, except by saying that the New England of Miss Jewett's stories is in America, not "somewhere else "? And, however we may chance to differ in that we are Northerners or Southerners, Westerners or Easterners, we are all alike in that we are Americans, possessing more mutual grounds of understanding and sympathy than we always quite realize. If other writers of America are at times prone to forget this, Miss Jewett never is; her exquisite pictures have for us all a sweet and subtle familiarity, whether we see them from the West or from the South, or with native New England eyes.

     From many discussions regarding the literary work of American women which I heard last year in various parts of the United States, it was proven to me many times over that circumstances of American life as remotely removed as possible from any similarity to New England conditions and habits of thought were still no real hindrances to a feeling of actual kinship with the people and the environment of Miss Jewett's stories. Memories of those discussions linger in my thoughts only less vividly than a series of experiences which I had in connection with that loveliest to me of all Miss Jewett's pictures, "The Country of the Pointed Firs."

     In the train, on my way from Denver to Portland, Oregon, I met a woman who, as she shortly told me, lived on a ranch in Montana. As I soon discovered, she had a remarkably intimate knowledge, not only of Montana, but of the neighboring States of Wyoming and Idaho. Her journey lasted only one day of the several days of my journey, but during that time she told me more concerning the far Northwest than I could otherwise have learned in as many years. "You know it well!" I exclaimed.

     "I ought to," she replied; "I was born out here; I've always lived out here. I've never had the opportunity of knowing anything else."

     "Have you never been East," I asked her, "nor in the South?"

     "No," she answered, with a smile; "I've only been West -- in the three States I've been telling you about. What is the East like?" she inquired, with sudden interest. "Nothing like this, I suppose?"

     She turned and gazed out of the car window as she spoke. It was late in the afternoon of a March day, on a plain in Wyoming. Excepting for the low sage-brush and the buildings of a far-off ranch, the plain was empty. It met the sky at the horizon, as the sky and the ocean meet off the shores of New England.

     "Nothing like this, I suppose?" repeated my companion; and I tried to tell her how unlike it was.

     One of my friends had advised me, while traveling over the Northwest, to read "The Virginian," and, mindful of the pleasant counsel, I had taken it with me on that journey from Colorado to Oregon. My new acquaintance had read the book, and we had discussed it at some length during the morning of her day's journey. She had, in fact, opened conversation with me with some question concerning it. As I paused, after my attempt to answer her queries regarding the East, she said, indicating "The Virginian," and reverting to her own opinion respecting the verity of its delineation of Western frontier life, "Is there any book that describes the East as well as this one describes the West?"

     "There is indeed," I replied; "and I will send it to you, if I may; if ever you go to Maine, you will see how well it describes it."

     She gave me her address; and, so soon as I was able to procure it, I sent her a copy of "The Country of the Pointed Firs." After a considerable lapse of time, she wrote in acknowledgment of the book. Her entire letter was interesting and suggestive, but one or two sentences in its last paragraph were of especial significance. "You said that if I ever went to Maine I'd see how truly the book tells about it," she wrote, "but I can see it without going there. I can see it all; Mrs. Todd's house, and the pasture on her mother's island where the pennyroyal grew, and the sea, and the boats, and the island where poor Joanna lived. I can see the people, too; I feel like I knew how they felt about things." After a few more references to various characters in the book, she concluded with this unconscious and beautiful tribute to Miss Jewett's rare achievement: "I had no idea people in Maine were so much like people out West, at heart."

     Her letter reached me just as I was about to go from a somewhat large city in the far South to an isolated Southern town of small size. A suddenly awakened desire to read "The Country of the Pointed Firs" in the new light given me by the letter from the ranch in Montana led me to replace the book in my small library without the delay usually attendant upon similar replenishings.

     Very nearly the first question put to me by my hostess in the small town was an inquiry which I had already learned to expect from those persons in the South whom I had formerly known: "What is New England really like?"

     The question was a formidable one, and my difficulties in trying to answer it had not been slight.

     "Tell me what New England is really like," my hostess said again one day, as we searched for early violets beneath the trees in the avenue leading to the quaint old house of her grandfather.

     I was about to begin as usual by pleading my inability to make anything but a hopelessly inadequate reply, when I remembered the book which I brought in my traveling bag.

     "Have you read 'The Country of the Pointed Firs'?" I asked.

     "No," returned my hostess regretfully; "you know we see so few new books here; that is new, isn't it? What is it, a New England story? I've read dozens of them, but I can't tell from them what New Endland really is like."

     When we returned to the house I offered her the book, which she received with courteous interest, but without any evidence of particular enthusiasm. Obviously, stories of New England had never hitherto appealed to her very greatly, notwithstanding the number of them that she had perused. She read "The Country of the Pointed Firs" one evening while I was absent engaged in my investigation. When I returned I found her sitting with the closed book in her hand, her brightened eyes gazing unseeingly into the cheerful open fire.

     "Oh, you have been reading it!" I exclaimed.

     "Yes," she said; "and I know now what New England is like and what kind of people New Englanders are!"

     "You haven't been there?" I ventured, but my friend interposed.

     "Reading that book is very much the same as being there," she affirmed, and I agreed with her. She had recognized the truth of the spirit of the book with the same unassailable certainty with which even those of us who are not French and have never been in France recognized the verity of George Sand's "La Petite Fadette."

     She had read many other books dealing with New England and the people of New England; she had, indeed, read two or three others of Miss Jewett's books, but "The Country of the Pointed Firs" gave her a delight and satisfaction charming to see. Its pages were turned by her very frequently during the course of my visit. As I went about the house the day before my departure gathering together my scattered possessions, I observed the small volume lying on the library table near the windows which opened upon the old avenue of Southern trees leading up to the old Southern house in which is lived still the gracious and graceful life of the Old South.

     "I am glad you care for 'The Country of the Pointed Firs,'" I said to my friend. "May I leave it for a farewell gift?"

     "Oh, I've been longing to ask you if you would!" my hostess exclaimed impulsively. "It has brought New England nearer to me than anything I have ever read." She reflected for a moment, and then she added, meditatively: "It is so intensely local, and yet some way it doesn't exclude one -- I suppose because it takes even a Southerner's perfect understanding for granted."

     More than a month afterward I was telling one of my friends in the East something of the happy welcome with which "The Country of the Pointed Firs" had been received in two such different sections of the United States. In the days of my brief visit with her our conversation returned often to a further discussion of the significance of both incidents; and when she bade me good-by at the train she gave me another copy of the book.

     "Being the third copy," she said with a smile, "perhaps you may be able to keep it."

     But I kept it for even a shorter time than I had kept either of the other two copies. The train was crowded. As I sat reading again the account of the Bowden Reunion I was dimly conscious that my immediate neighbor, a woman of middle age, was no less deeply interested than I in the pages before me. Presently I said to her:

     "Would you like to look at my book? I have already read it a number of times."

     "It has a kind of interesting look to it," she confessed as she turned to the first chapter.

     Our journey was nearing its end before my companion had reached in its due order the Bowden Reunion. Reluctantly she closed the book.

     "I'd like to read it all," she said, with involuntary wistfulness. "It sounds so natural to me -- like I was talking with old friends. I'm a State of Maine woman myself."

     Needless to say, I urged upon her the acceptance of the so recently acquired volume; and when she demurred, I sought to dissolve her polite objections by saying to her that, being a State of Maine woman, it really belonged to her rather than to me. As she had not at once accepted the book, neither did she immediately accept this reasoning. She considered for a moment, and then she said, holding the book in both her hands and turning kindly eyes upon me:     "I guess it belongs where it's given, anyway."

     Does not the potency of Miss Jewett's work rest in this very fact -- the fact that anywhere in America it may be given, that anywhere in America it may be received; that to every one in America, in other words, it belongs?

     A tendency towards the employment of the short-story form as a medium of literary expression has almost from the beginning of the history of American literature been characteristic, not only of American men of letters, but even more decidedly of women of letters in America. The exigencies of American life have given rise to the American magazine, which, while it may or may not be a "book of all time," is always a "book of the hour" -- that dubiously leisure hour of the too frequently overcrowded American day. The magazine has demanded the short story; the complete, if brief, expression. The uncertainty attaching itself to the leisure hour of the next week, the next month, is impatient of the uncomprehending presupposition of surety suggested by the complaisant words, To be Continued. To most American readers a novel in the form of a magazine serial is tantalizing.

     "I never read a serial story," a woman said to me recently in the most sober fashion imaginable, "until it is published in book form!"

     Most of us, however, have never been convinced that a mere question of expediency has been more than superficially instrumental in impelling in America the creation of such short stories as those written by Mrs. Deland and Miss Alice Brown and Mrs. Stuart. The distinctive quality of the work of the American woman of letters is the vividness and force of its characterization; a quality so essentially dramatic that its presence in a story which contains no vestige of that other dramatic requirement, plot, will sometimes be sufficient reason for converting that story into an acting play -- as in the case of Mrs. Rice's widely popular account of "Mrs. Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch." Not in the recording of the processes of character-development, not in the setting forth of the myriads of influences and counter-influences which have made or marred an individual, but rather in a presentation, so life-like at times as to be startling, of the individual himself or herself, has the woman of letters in America most signally excelled. She has not called upon us to follow her through the intricacies of a series of mental and spiritual phases; she has introduced to us a person, and commended that person to our affection, our sympathy, our reverence, or, at worst, our pity. To effect such meetings between the reader and the scarcely less real individual of the writer's imagination three long volumes are scarcely needed. Sometimes, as in real life, it happens that a few brief words suffice, that a mere glance into a new face fixes it unfadingly in the memory. Such a person is the mother of Mrs. Stuart's "Sonny"; and the girl-wife Letty in Miss Brown's Tiverton tale, "The Stolen Festival"; and Evelina in Miss Wilkins's story, "Evelina's Garden"; above all, such is Rachel King, in Mrs. Deland's town of Old Chester.

     My own impression as to the especially vivid actuality of Rachel King I might in time have regarded as partly personal had it not chanced to be corroborated by one of my friends, a woman living in a city tenement, whose response to literary beauty and truth I had invariably found to be singularly trustworthy. One evening several years ago, hearing that she was ill, I went to see her, taking with me for companionship in the trolley car the current number of "Harper's Magazine," which number contained "The Child's Mother," that one of the "Old Chester Tales" in which the reader is permitted to meet Rachel's eyes for the first time-- "mild and brooding gray eyes -- the eyes of a woman who was essentially, and always, and deeply, a mother."

     My friend, herself a good mother, asked me, as was usual when she was ill and I called, to read to her; and because the story in the magazine seemed to me more likely to appeal to her than either of the two books I happened also to have with me, I read it. The description of the childless woman's eyes led the mother of the tenements to exclaim, "It was too bad she didn't have no children, being a woman like that!"

     The meaning of the daughter's brooding care for her mother my friend did not perhaps quite grasp; but the no less subtle expression of the unsatisfied maternal longing of the woman who was "essentially and always and deeply a mother" found her keenly and utterly appreciative:

     "If there was sickness in a neighbor's family, Rachel King took possession in a tranquil, sensible way; when there was death, her large, gentle hands were ready with those sacred touches that are so often left to hirelings; when there was sorrow, her soft breast was a most comforting pillow."

     The woman of the tenements interrupted me at this point in the story. "She needed a child to do for!" she said.

     But when the little Anna of the story was given to Rachel, my friend was still not content, though she requested me to read again these tender and intimate words:

     "The baby slept, warm and quiet, on Rachel's bed; she bent over it to feel its soft breath on her cheek; then she gathered its feet into her hand to be sure that they were warm, and lifted the arm which was thrown up over its head and put it under the cover. It seemed as though she could not take her eyes away from the child, even that she might undress and lie down beside it. And when she did, it was not to sleep; a dozen times she raised herself on her elbow to look down at the little figure beside her and listen for its breathing, and lift its small relaxed hand to her lips."

     When the end of the last sentence was reached for the second time, the woman of the tenements, the mother of four children, said softly: "She should'er had a child of her own!"

     So often have I seen my friend since the evening I read this story to her, so many other stories have we read together since then, and regarding so many other things have we conferred, that the remembrance of her instant acceptance of Rachel King as an actual person for whom her comprehending affection was ready, returned to me only a few days ago. I met her in a street-car; and chancing to have with me a photograph of another friend, wonderful in its Madonna-like suggestiveness, I showed it to the mother of the tenements, feeling sure that its rare beauty would appeal to her.

     She gazed at it for a long time; and then she said, gently, "She looks like Rachel King would'er looked, if she'd had a child of her own!"

     "You still remember Rachel!" I exclaimed, in surprise.

      "Yes," said the woman; and even if I didn't I could read about her. I've still got the magazine that tells about her -- you know you gave it to me, 'cause I liked Rachel. I like her yet."

     And the story that tells about Rachel is a short story, not two fifths of which is concerned with Rachel at all!

     No doubt this almost instantaneous portraiture has it disadvantages. If a picture is drawn with a few swift strokes, the necessity for making those lines firm may tend to make them hard; and a type, rather than an individual, may be the artistic result. American women of letters have produced many "types of characters" -- Southern types, Western types, and, perhaps most profusely, New England types; types in which the outlines are uniformly accentuated, and the modifying gradations of light and shade are omitted. American life, even when it is most complex, lends itself to this method of representation; it is the life of a youthful nation, a nation still so young that its face is unshadowed, and without the deep furrows and seams of an older world's face. Excepting in their more extreme examples, the simple and definite pictures of it made by women of letters in America are not without a happy appropriateness. Whatever these portraits may have missed of true likeness, they are unmistakably successful in that they have caught that look of youth, eager, sturdy, and warm, which the face of the American Nation yet wears.

     American women have written but little verse; and that which they have written has more often than not suggested with especial emphasis a foreign influence. Occasionally, nevertheless, it chances that out of many songs not of us may come one which we can claim as our own. In Miss Josephine Preston Peabody's book of verse, "The Singing Leaves," for example, one finds numerous intimations and echoes of the world across the seas. The small pages of the little volume are still large enough to recall to one's mind Robert Louis Stevenson, and Swinburne, and Mrs. Browning, and the Rossettis. One hears a multitude of alien refrains; and then, suddenly, unexpectedly, one hears this song indigenous to our own land:

OPEN HOUSE

My home is not so great;
     But open heart I keep.
The sorrows come to me
     That they may sleep.

The little bread I have
     I share, and gladly pray
To-morrow may give more;
     To give away.

Yes, in the dark sometimes
     The childish fear will haunt;
How long, how long, before
     I die of want?

But all the bread I have,
     I share, and ever say,
To-morrow shall bring more
     To give away.

Is not this indeed a song of our own people; so beautifully, so utterly true a voicing of one of the most deeply rooted of our national feelings that we listen to it with a certain glowing warmth of appreciation? It is, to be sure, an essentially dramatic song; it appeals with that curiously personal appeal, only one half of which is of the song, the other half being of the singer; real, or, as in this instance, fancied.

     So dramatic, in fact, is the literary manner and method and impulse of the American woman of letters, that her so frequent choice of the short or long story, in preference to the drama, as a means of expression, is a matter for surprise and conjecture. The reason for the seeming preference may be the great difficulty connected with the mastering of the technical skill required for play-writing; it may be -- as has been explained -- a disinclination to cope with the perplexities attendant upon stage-representation -- which the playwright must needs eventually consider; or perhaps more probably -- it may be that a prospective spectator induces a constraint not imposed by the vision of a "gentle reader."

     Occasionally, however, an American woman overcomes all these obstacles and writes an American play, a play which does not look "as if it were somewhere else;" a play, too, which is notable chiefly, not for plot-construction, not for minute character-analysis, but for vivid character-portrayal. One of the most finished dramas yet written by an American woman is, curiously, a drama with but a single act -- the play by Mrs. Sutherland entitled "Po' White Trash."

     "The place" -- to quote the directions to players -- "is Georgia. The period is the present. The scene is the exterior of Suke Dury's cabin, on the edge of Oloochee Swamp." Suke Dury is "of the class known as 'po' white trash;"'and Drent Dury, a half-grown boy, the principal person in the play, is her nephew. His mother had been of the station of Suke, but his father was of the dominant class.

     Thus much do the other persons of the play tell one of the boy, who "moves listlessly and is pale," but sings with a voice like "a mocking-bird's;" who shrank from the iron while it was heating to brand a calf, but fearlessly pressed it against the snake-bite in his own flesh; who one moment "picks upon his banjo again, with a listless, tired sigh," and the next instant "suddenly starts erect," and, flinging himself before Carol Payne-- a woman of the play -- receives in her stead the strike of the snake in her path. The drama is subtitled "A study of a little-known phase of American life;" but it is less a study of that phase than it is that phase itself. It does not speculate with respect to the possibilities and probabilities of the consequences to Drent Dury of his inheritance on the one side of the unquenchable vitality and over-keen feeling of his father's race, and on the other of the acquiescent languor and dullness of sensibility of his mother's class; it brings forward the boy; and he lives and speaks for himself; and we see him and hear him as we should hear and see him in actual life, on the edge of Oloochee Swamp.

     A finer, more subtly faithful bit of characterization than that effected in Drent's explanation to the doctor of his empty game-bag it would not be easy to find:

     "An' then, Doctor, I saw that coon's eyes -- I saw that coon's eyes. Doctor, I -- I never saw a coon's eyes befo'. I reckon -- I reckon -- thar wouldn't be so much hurtin' done in this world ef jes' befo' yo' hurted yo' saw the thing's eyes! An' I looked at him -- an' he looked at me -- an' his eyes said, 'Be yo' goin' to kill me? Be yo' goin' to kill me?' Thar worn't no trees --- no sky -- no nothin'-- jes' only that coon's eyes. 'It's on'y cowards kill what can't fight,' they says. 'It's on'y devils kill fo' fun,' they says. Everythin' thet hed ever been 'fraid -- an' I've been 'fraid!-- looked out o' that coon's eyes. Everythin' thet hed ever got beat -- an' I've got beat!-- looked out o' that coon's eyes. Everythin' thet ever been hurt -- an', God-a-mighty! I've been hurt! -- looked out o' that coon's eyes. 'Be yo' goin' to kill me?' they says. 'Be yo' goin' to kill me?' An' I flinged my gun 's far 's she'd flew, an' I says, 'No, yo' mean, scared, hunted critter, yo'!"'

     I recently read that one fragment of the play to a Southern woman who had devoted a number of years to the assisting and befriending of as many persons in Georgia of the "class known as 'po' white trash'" as she could possibly reach.

     "It is true to the life, isn't it?" I asked.

     "It is the life," she said with the convincing emphasis of one who knew whereof she spoke.

     The propensity to value the literary or artistic result of an American the more highly if it be an embodiment of some aspect of American life, true not merely to the semblance, but also to the spirit, of its prototype, is occasionally condemned as an exhibition of a provincial bias which should without delay be straightened. "Art," we occasionally hear, "should not be narrow." But in that it has been, intangibly but surely, of the nation whose people produced it, has not great art always been narrow? The Madonnas of Raphael are first of all Italian; the plays of Shakespeare are predominantly English, and the sculpture of the Greeks became feeble in proportion as it permitted itself to be shaped by extraneous influences.

     As a preparation for writing stories of America, are we wise in applying ourselves so assiduously to a long course in the decadent school of present-day English fiction? That we may make dramas dealing with American life, are we justified in looking so confidently to the plays of Maeterlinck and Ibsen for assistance? Are the pre-Raphaelites safe teachers, when we seek to instruct ourselves in order that we may compose American songs?

     It may be that this instinctive turning toward the elders of the nations for help is but another attribute of our own youth. There can be little question, however, that only in so far as America has looked to itself has it produced abiding literature; and that only to the degree to which she has chosen to make her work narrow, in the sense of making it of her nation, has the woman of letters in America wrought that which shall endure.


* The text is not consistent in presenting "note books." You also will find "note-books."

Edited by Terry Heller, Coe College.


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The Jewett Journal