Slike stranica

the soul speaks with the authority of perfect truth. So we turn to the great passages of the Bible for the clearest glimpses of the Hebrew spirit; to Homer and the tragedies for the fullest unveiling of the genius of the Greek; to Spenser and Shakespeare for the secret of the tremendous vitality of the English spirit in the age of Elizabeth.

It is to the literature of the American people, therefore, and not to their manifold and consuming activities, that we turn when we try to discover what they care for most; those ultimate aims which we call ideals. There is more of New England in Hawthorne's books than in the formal histories; more of the secret hopes of America in Emerson's essays than in all political documents and orations; more of the spirit and quality of the old social order in the South in the stories of Mr. Page, Mr. Allen, Mr. Harris than in contemporary records. It is genius alone which divines what is in the heart of a people, and genius alone has the skill to lay that heart bare to the world. The older America has left its record in the pages of Emerson, Irving, Hawthorne, Bryant, Lowell, Poe, Whittier, Holmes, Thoreau; the America of the period which followed the Civil war wrote much of its inner history in the prose and verse of Whitman, Lanier, Taylor, Sill, Warner, Higginson, Hale; the spirit and life of the America of today is reflected in the work of Aldrich, Stedman, Howells, Cable, Page, Allen, Miss Jewett, Miss Wilkins, Mrs. Deland and their contemporaries.

In our earlier books there was a certain unity which revealed a common stock of ideas, sentiments, literary tradition. Poe stands by himself, but neither in mood nor in feeling for his art is he wholly separated from Hawthorne, with whom he shares the highest honors of distinctly artistic achievement. In a general way Irving, Hawthorne and Poe express American life at the period when that life first came to consciousness in literature. The introspection of New England and the subtlety of self-analysis which was bred in the Puritan; the cosmopolitan urbanity, humor and regard for diversities of taste and charm of New York; the refinement of feeling for women,

the susceptibility to grace and beauty, of the Old South, have left their record in those writers whose contributions to our literature are of permanent value; for while Irving does not rank with Hawthorne or Poe his place beside them as a sensitive and winning reporter of the taste and manner of his time and locality is secure. The range of this early writing is not wide nor are its elements many. It is true, Poe and Hawthorne are subtle in perception and method, and Emerson's thought is often elusive and his paragraphs perplexing in face of the perfect clearness of his sentences; nevertheless, a certain quality which is distinctly American runs through their work, and while its elevation is great its area is relatively small. The earlier literature represented only a narrow strip of the continent and a comparatively limited experience. Its delicacy, refinement and purity gave it the distinction of rare spirituality; it was a record of the soul of a people made with singular insight and with the deep fidelity of sympathy; but it did not and could not report the depth and breadth of American life. The time was not ripe; that life had not yet broadened to cover the continent.

That life has not yet come to clear knowledge of itself and has not yet definitely formulated itself, and a full report of it is still to be made. It may be many decades before an adequate account of the spirit, that is, the ideals, of the American people can be written; but the striking fact about contemporary literature in this country is its approximation to the completeness and complexity of an adequate report of national life. This is the first thing that strikes us as we turn from the old books to the new. That the old books were better, in some ways, than the new, does not diminish the significance of the fact that the books of today are far more inclusive of national types and experience than were the books written during the period which ended with the Civil war. At the close of that war American literature was practically the literature of the Atlantic seaboard; today it is the literature of a continent. It is not evenly distributed; but every geographical section has found

a reporter and every distinct group of people a secretary. This notable extension of literary interest and activity is most strikingly shown in the field of fiction, and especially in the production of the short story, in the writing of which Americans have put themselves quite on a level with the makers of this kind of literature in those older countries which have fostered the arts for many centuries. There are short stories from American hands which may be placed beside the best work of the French writers, whose mastery of form has given them high authority in almost all the arts. In the short story is to be found, therefore, not only the most complete picture of what Americans care for and seek after, but the fullest disclosure of their aims and standards as writers.

Art is a very subtle and elusive thing when one tries to analyze and describe it, to lay bare its psychology and to master its secrets of skill; but, for this purpose, it is enough to define it as the best way of reporting a phase of Nature, recording an experience or portraying a character. Sometimes its methods are very subtle, sometimes they are very simple; at all times it is the best way of doing or saying a thing. In reporting a fact or drawing a figure there is room, however, for the widest variation of method; and, especially, for great differences of emphasis. Some artists are so possessed by their subject that their whole effort is to render that subject in the most direct and sincere manner, in the simplest possible terms. Other artists are so absorbed in the process of transcription from life to art, so keenly sensitive to the resources that lie in their hands, so enamored of the joys of skill, that they are concerned chiefly with the subtle, sensitive report which grows to perfection under their touch, and the weight of emphasis rests not on the fact or truth communicated but on the method of communication. Those who hold in an extreme form the view that art exists for itself, attach immense importance to the way in which a thing is said and slight importance to the thing that is said; those who hold, on the other hand, that art is language and that the chief use of language is to convey impressions, truths,

facts, temperament, place the weight of emphasis on the content of the language rather than on the language. As a rule American writers have cared supremely for the life, character, Nature they interpreted, portrayed, described. They have not been indifferent to form, as the work of Hawthorne, Poe and Mr. Aldrich abundantly shows; but their chief concern has been with the matter of their art rather than with the art itself. They have been enamored of beauty, after the manner of all their predecessors; but they have not been wholly absorbed by it; they have used the art of writing not as a form of esoteric skill, practiced by a privileged class for their own pleasure, but as a delicate and capacious medium for the disclosure of individual and national ideals.

From one point of view this fundamental regard for ethical standards rather than for aesthetic effects brings out the limitation of American literature; from another it is a prime source of its vitality and influence. However one may interpret it, the fact remains that American writers, from Bryant to Dr. Henry van Dyke and Mr. William Vaughan Moody, have been enamored of moral ideals, and American writing has been saturated with ethical feeling. Hawthorne, the most sensitive artistic temperament among the New England writers, was concerned all his life with the moral aspects of experience. After a long escape from the New England environment and a long absorption of old world influences, when he wrote "The Marble Faun," with its exquisite Italian background, his mind was still fastened on the changes wrought by what we call sin in the nature of man. Donatello has nothing in common with Dimmesdale and Judge Pyncheon and the long line of solitary figures in Hawthorne's tales save his experience of the transforming power of sin. In Italy, where standards of life were so different from those which shaped the conscience of the great romancer, Hawthorne did not escape the domination of the moral ideal.

It may be suspected that there is a hidden connection between the conviction that conduct is a prime factor in the problem of life

and that other conviction of the dignity and authority of man as man, without regard to station or possessions or opportunity, which lies at the foundation of our political system. For many generations this belief has been the first article in the creed of Americans. Like

all other creedal statements it has been often "more honored in the breach than in the observance;"' it is, nevertheless, wrought not only into the structure of our government but into the fiber of our thought. That a man is to be honored for what he is rather than for what he possesses; that in the open field of American society a man goes where he belongs and gets what is his own; that he succeeds because he has force, industry and skill, and fails because he lacks these qualities, are beliefs which are very closely related to the conviction that what a man sows he reaps, and that what a man does is determined, shaped and limited by what a man is. Respect for men as men, and provision for their rights and duties on a basis of common humanity, inevitably tends to intensify the sense of moral obligation and to give life in any field, ethical definiteness and authority.

We take it for granted that there is something divine in men or we should not trust them as we do. This is the substance of Emerson's teaching, and it is implicit in the work of every American writer. The form in which the faith is held varies from the spiritual idealism of Emerson to the broad, human idealism of Whitman; from Hawthorne's subtle conception of the return of every man's deed upon his character to the passionate reproach and warning of the nation by Mr. Moody for what he regards as unfaithfulness to the moral ideals of the Republic. Under many forms the faith is universal.

Reverence for man as man and a deep sense of the moral responsibility rooted in his freedom and a certain exaltation of spirit in defining his possible development reveal themselves in the tender and beautiful reverence for the sanctity of the home which is shared and expressed by American poets with winning simplicity and sweetness. If the individual man is to be held to such rigid accounting there

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