Nathaniel Hillyer. Egleston.

The North American review (Volume 139) online

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the term " medicated' 7 applied to his tales; but surely the adjec-


tive is not reproachful j it indicates one of the most charming
and also, alas ! inimitable features of his work.

Bret Harte is probably as valuable a witness as could be sum
moned in this case. His touch is realistic, and yet his imagina
tion is poetic and romantic. He has discovered something. He
has done something both new and good. Within the space of
some fifty pages, he has painted a series of pictures which will
last as long as anything in the fifty thousand pages of Dickens.
Taking "The Outcasts of Poker Flat 7 ' as perhaps the most
nearly perfect of the tales, as well as the most truly representa
tive of the writer's powers, let us try to guess its secret. In the
first place, it is very short,' a single episode, succinctly and
eloquently told. The descriptions of scenery and persons are
masterly and memorable. The characters of these persons, their
actions, and the circumstances of their lives, are as rugged, as
grotesque, as terrible, and also as beautiful, as the scenery.
Thus an artistic harmony is established, the thing which is
lacking in so much of our literature. The story moves swiftly
on, through humor, pathos, and tragedy, to its dramatic close.
It is given with perfect literary taste, and naught in its phases
of human nature is either extenuated or set down in malice.
The little narrative can be read in a few minutes, and can never
be forgotten. But it is only an episode ; and it is an episode of
an episode, that of the Calif ornian gold-fever. The story of the
Argonauts is only one story, after all, and these tales of Harte's
are but so many facets of the same gem. They are not, however,
like chapters in a romance ; there is no such vital connection
between them as develops a cumulative force. We are no more
impressed after reading half a dozen of them than after the first ;
they are variations of the same theme. They discover to us no
new truth about human nature ; they only show us certain
human beings so placed as to act out their naked selves, to be
neither influenced nor protected by the rewards and screens of
conventional civilization. The affectation and insincerity of
our daily life make such a spectacle fresh and pleasing to us.
But we enjoy it because of its unexpectedness, its separateness, its
unlikeness to the ordinary course of existence. It is like a huge,
strange, gorgeous flower, an exaggeration and intensification of
such flowers as we know ; but a flower without roots, unique,
never to be reproduced. It is fitting that its portrait should be
painted ; but, once done, it is done with; we cannot fill our


picture-gallery with it. Carlyle wrote the History of the French
Revolution, and Bret Harte has written the History of the
Argonauts 5 but it is absurd to suppose that a national literature
could be founded on either episode.

But though Mr. Harte has not left his fellow-craftsmen any
thing to gather from the lode which he opened and exhausted,
we may still learn something, from his method. He took things
as he found them, and he found them disinclined to weave them
selves into an elaborate and balanced narrative. He recognized
the deficiency of historical perspective, but he saw that what was
lost in slowly-growing, culminating power was gained in vivid,
instant force. The deeds of his character could not be repre
sented as the final result of long-inherited proclivities ; but
thev could appear between their motive and their consequence,
like the draw aim fire ! of the Western desperado, as
short, sharp, and conclusive. In other words, the conditions
of American life, as he saw it, justified a short story, or any
number of them, but not a novel ; and the fact that he did after
ward attempt a novel only served to confirm his original posi
tion. I think that the limitation that he discovered is of much
wider application than we are prone to realize. American life
has been, as yet, nothing but a series of episodes, of experi
ments. There has been no such thing as a fixed and settled
condition of society, not subject to change itself, and there
fore affording a foundation and contrast to minor or indi
vidual vicissitudes. We cannot write American-grown novels,
because a novel is not an episode, nor an aggregation of
episodes; we cannot write romances in the Hawthorne sense,
because, as yet, we do not seem to be clever enough. Several
courses are, however, open to us, and we are pursuing them
all. First, we are writing " short stories, 7 ' accounts of episodes
needing no historical perspective, and not caring for any;
but so far as one may judge, we write the best short stories
in the world. Secondly, we may spin out our short stories
into long-short stories, just as we may imagine a baby six
feet high; it takes up more room, but is just as much a baby
as one of twelve inches. Thirdly, we may graft our flower of
romance on a European stem, and enjoy ourselves as much as the
European novelists do, and with as clear a conscience. We are
stealing that which enriches us and does not impoverish them.
It is silly and childish to make the boundaries of the America of


the mind coincide with those of the United States. We need
not dispute about free trade and protection here ; literature is
not commerce, nor is it politics. America is not a petty nation
ality, like France, England, and Germany; but whatever in
such nationalities tends toward enlightenment and freedom is
American. Let us not, therefore, confirm, ourselves in a false
and ignoble conception of our meaning and mission in the
world. Let us not carry into the temple of the Muse the
jealousies, the prejudice, the ignorance, the selfishness of our
" Senate " and " Representatives," strangely so called ! Let us
not refuse to breathe the air of Heaven, lest there be something
European or Asian in it. If we cannot have a national lit
erature in the narrow, geographical sense of the phrase, it is
because our inheritance transcends all geographical definitions.
The 'great American novel may not be written this year, or even
in this century. Meanwhile, let us not fear to ride, and ride to
death, whatever species of Pegasus we can catch. It can do us
no harm, and it may help us to acquire a firmer seat against the
time when our own, our very own winged steed makes his



" We have suffered more in our time from intemperance than from war,
pestilence, and famine combined, those three great scourges of mankind."

So SPOKE Mr. Gladstone, in the House of Commons, in a
debate upon a bill the purpose of which was to remit to the
people of the cities, towns, and parishes of the kingdom the right
to prohibit the liquor traffic in their several localities. For more
than four hundred years since the time of Edward YI. the
British Government has been endeavoring, through the policy of
licensing the liquor traffic, to diminish the evils coming from it
to the nation and the people. To this end more than four
hundred and fifty separate acts of Parliament have been adopted,
but with no appreciable benefit in any way ; on the contrary, the
condition of the country has been growing constantly worse,
so far as intemperance is concerned, and the poverty, crime, and
insanity coming from it have steadily increased.

The governments of all civilized countries agree that the
liquor traffic must not be left free, because it is dangerous to
the public welfare. The only question concerning the legal con
trol of it has been, to what extent it should be restrained, and in
popular governments this has been determined by the public
opinion of the time. In Liverpool, some years ago, the city
authorities adopted a new policy in relation to it, that of grant
ing license for the sale of liquors to all persons who asked for it.
The purpose was to test the theory of some prominent members
of the council, that to multiply temptations to intemperance
would not extend that habit among the people. This policy was
persisted in until its results became so marked for evil that
Liverpool was known throughout the kingdom as " The dark
spot upon the Mersey," and England was acknowledged to be
the most drunken country in the world, with more poverty,
pauperism, suffering, and crime coming from intemperance than



any other. All this, notwithstanding the honest, earnest, and
persistent endeavors of the Government to diminish the evil, by
the only remedy known at that time, to wit, stringent license

Royal commissions were appointed to inquire into British
intemperance, its cause and its cure. Elaborate reports were
made of the results of their inquiries, but not one of them
recommended the adoption of the only possible remedy for the
tremendous evils of intemperance, viz. : the prohibition and sup
pression of the liquor traffic. Many earnest men in England
turned their attention to this subject, as being more important
than any other to the prosperity of the nation and the welfare
of the people. Intemperance, with all its evils, was increasing
in the country much more rapidly than the population. Pauper
ism, crime, insanity, and the expenses to the country growing
out of them, were shown by the Government Blue-books to
be increasing with frightful rapidity.

English temperance men were startled by an announcement
in the London " Times," that the Legislature of Maine had re
versed the policy of license to the liquor traffic, and had substi
tuted for it the policy of prohibition and " The Times " added, that
if the State of Maine persisted in that policy, it would show better
than any other thing could do that its people were qualified
for self-government. A minister of the Society of Friends,
from Maine, was in England at the time on a religious mis
sion. When crossing George's Channel, on his way to Ireland,
a Friend from Manchester inquired of the particulars of this
extraordinary movement in Maine. As the result of that con
versation, a meeting of seven persons, specially invited, was held
in an upper room in Merchants' Exchange, Manchester, and
a society was formed with the title, " The United Kingdom
Alliance, for the Immediate Legal Prohibition of the Liquor
Traffic." From that insignificant beginning, this society has
become great, rich, and influential, having, through its parlia
mentary champion, Sir Wilfred Lawson, its President, obtained
from the House of Commons, at three succeeding sessions, a
declaration in favor of its proposition to remit to the people the
right of prohibiting the liquor traffic in their several localities.
Mr. Gladstone, Mr. Bright, and a majority of the Cabinet voted
for it, and Mr. Gladstone, on the part of the Government, prom
ised to bring in a bill to give effect to the vote of the House.


It was only after a contest of more than twenty years that
Sir Wilfred obtained this victory. At the first division he had
only thirty votes, and at the last session of the late Parliament
he was beaten by a majority of one hundred and twenty-seven.
A general election followed, the question of prohibition being a
leading issue, and at the first session of the new Parliament the
adverse majority was changed to a victory by a majority of
twenty-six votes. Mr. Low, an eminent member of Parliament,
objected to prohibition on the ground that is was an interference
with personal liberty. Many other leading members of the
House followed his lead in opposition to the measure. Mr. Low
attempted to make a distinction between vice and crime, and he
maintained that as the liquor traffic was not a crime, it could
not rightfully be prohibited by law.

About that time I was the guest of a gentleman in the suburbs
of London, a warm friend of prohibition and a special friend of
John Stuart Mill, who objected to it. My host wished me to
meet Mr. Mill, and he was invited to the house. In the course
of the conversation Mr. Mill said :

" Do you deny that people have a right to drink whatever
they like and as much as they like, provided they do not inter
fere with the rights of others ? "

" No, we do not deny that. 7 '

" Very well, then it follows that those who drink have a right
to the establishment of places, or at least to the toleration of
places, where they can obtain what they wish."

" I beg pardon, Mr. Mill, I do not think that follows. The
liquor traffic does interfere with the rights of others in many
ways, and to a greater extent than any other evil. If the per
sons who wish to drink can devise some way to obtain what
they desire that is not inconsistent with the general good, we
cannot object. The liquor traffic is a great public nuisance,
a greater nuisance than any other; it inflicts a thousand mis
chiefs upon the community ; and our contention is, that those
who drink have no just claim to the toleration of places for
their benefit, which, in fact, are a greater mischief to the com
munity and a greater danger to the state than all other evils

" But I do not see that the state has a right to interfere with
the personal habits of the people so far as to prescribe what
they may or may not eat or drink. Personal liberty should
VOL. cxxxix. NO. 333. 13


not be trenched upon under pretense of providing for the
general good."

" Prohibition does not prescribe what persons may or may
not eat or drink, though indirectly it seeks to put out of the
way what persons may desire to drink. Prohibition deals with
trade like a hundred other laws which prescribe what may or
may not be sold and the way in which things may or may not
be kept for sale. The sale but not the use of unwholesome food
is forbidden, and the keeping for sale of such food is prohibited
under severe penalties. In 1832, when the cholera was in my
country, all our city governments forbade the sale of certain
articles of food which were always found in our markets in
ordinary conditions of public health. These municipal regula
tions said not a word about the personal habits of the people as
to food, but they forbade the sale of such articles as were deemed
inconsistent with public health. In connection with this ques
tion of prohibiting the liquor traffic, a great deal is said in this
country about personal liberty, and it is urged by able men, and
even by lawyers, that the suppression of the traffic would be an
arbitrary exercise of despotic power ; and it is insisted that it
would be a violent interference with a great trade, involving a
vast capital and employing a great many men, and affording
means of subsistence to a great many people. The prohibition
of the liquor traffic involves no principle of law and no exer
cise of power that are not found in many, if not in all, our
statutes. It is the duty, as it is the undoubted right, of govern
ment to require to be done whatever is necessary to the common
good, and to forbid whatever is believed to be inconsistent with
it. This objection to prohibition on the ground that it is in
consistent with personal liberty is never heard in my country
among intelligent men. While we value personal, civil, and
religious liberty as highly as any other people, we understand
that there is really no such thing as a personal liberty that is
inconsistent with the general good. 'The welfare, the safety
of the people, is the supreme law. ? That is a principle of law
as thoroughly established in this country as it is in mine, and
no person can claim any liberty whatever that is inconsistent
with it. No one can do anything, or have anything, or be any
thing that is inconsistent with the general good. That is the
1 supreme law.' There is no principle of law more firmly estab
lished than that. In every-day life, there are many illus-


trations of that principle carried out to the extremest limit.
Taxes are inexorably required of us ; our property is confis
cated in that way to any extent that the authorities may choose
to require. A man is brought up before the court, the case is
heard, the verdict rendered ; a forced contribution (fine) is levied .
upon him, which he must pay. Another is before the court,
and after the hearing he is sent to jail for months, or for
years, or for life, as the case may be. There is no plea put in
for him that his personal rights are trenched upon. He is sent
to jail because his personal liberty is inconsistent with the gen
eral good, and only for that reason. Another is before the court j
the verdict is rendered ; the judge says to the sheriff, hang this
man, his life is inconsistent with the general good. Saluspopuli
suprema lex"

Prohibition of any trade is an extreme measure, and cannot
be justly resorted to except the public good requires it. Some
trades are useful, but dangerous ; others are useful, but liable to
abuse. These are regulated and restrained by license, by which
it is sharply prescribed how they shall be conducted. The manu
facture and sale and keeping for sale of gunpowder is one of the
former ; the keeping and driving carriages and carts for hire is
one of the latter, and slaughter-houses are another. The manu
facture and sale of obscene books and prints is inconsistent with
the general good; it is not regulated and restrained by license, it
is forbidden. Lotteries are forbidden. Gambling houses and
houses of ill fame are forbidden. Many other things, not harm
ful in themselves, are forbidden under certain circumstances.
A man may not drive his strong, fast horse rapidly through the
streets of a city. Nor may any one set fire to his chimney and
burn it out in any city ; in the country he may do it. In order
to determine, then, whether prohibition of the liquor traffic may
be resorted to justly, it is only necessary to ascertain whether it
is or is not consistent with the general good.

John Wesley said : a Liquor-sellers are poisoners general ;
they drive the people to hell like sheep ; their gain is the blood
of the people." Earl Chesterfield, in 1727, said, in the House of
Lords, in a speech on the gin bill : " Vice, my lords, is not to be
licensed, but forbidden. Instead of encouraging the sale of
these liquors, which degrade and brutify the people, we ought
to burst the phials that contain them, and repress the dealers in
them, those artists in human slaughter. 77 Mr. Senator Lot M.


Morrill said, on the floor of the United States Senate : " The
liquor traffic is the gigantic crime of crimes." It inflicts upon
society more evils than come from any other crime j more evils
than come from all other crimes. No one, so far as I know, has
ever denied that all this is true. Is there any compensating
good coming from it to the state or the people that should restrain
us from resorting to prohibition ?

A leading New York journal stated the case very sharply
and tersely when it said :

" Directly and indirectly this country spends in the liquor traffic, every
year, a sum exceeding half the national debt. The cost of that traffic to the
country, direct and indirect, is greater than the profits of all its capital not
invested in real estate. It costs every year more than our wh,ole civil service,
our army, our navy, our Congress, including the River and Harbor and Pen
sion bills, our wasteful local governments, and all national, state, county,
and local debts, beside all the schools in the country. In fact, this nation
pays more for liquor than for every function of every kind of government."

How is a question of that magnitude to be lightly put aside ?
There is certainly spent for drink annually more than eight
hundred millions of dollars, and the entire sum raised by taxes
of all kinds national, state, county, town, and school district
is stated, on authority of the Census Bureau to be not more
than about seven hundred millions of dollars.

The journal continues :

"But the cost of the liquor drunk is not by any means the whole cost of
the liquor traffic. An official report, prepared with much labor by the
Bureau of Statistics of Massachusetts, under authority from the Legislature,
states that eighty-four per cent, of all the crime and criminal expenses in
that State comes directly from the abuse of liquor. There are at least one
in twenty of the able-bodied men in this country who are rendered idle by
their habits or incapacitated for work ; and these persons, at the ordinary
wages of workingmen, would earn, if industrious and fairly employed, over
two hundred millions of dollars yearly. The proportion of persons in hospitals,
who reach them because of excessive drink, is very large, but cannot be defi
nitely ascertained. A traffic that costs in actual payment and in loss of pro
ductive labor more than half the national debt every year is not to be ignored
by the economist. It may be assumed that the entire wealth of the country
has risen from $30,000,000,000 in 1870 to $50,000,000,000 in 1880,
about one-half being in real estate. Probably it does not average profits
exceeding four per cent, yearly, taking bad investments with good ; but, at
that rate, the yearly interest on all personal property of all kinds is only
$1,000,000,000, and the direct and indirect cost of the liquor traffic must
be greater. . . . The time has gone by in this country when a serious dis
cussion of a question that involves such a vast expense to the nation can be


prevented by bullying, intolerance, insolence, or ridicule. . . . It is cer
tain that the entire savings of the people and all additions to their wealth are
not twice as much as the sum expended for liquor and because of the abuse
of liquor."

The liquor traffic earns nothing ; it creates no value ; it adds
not a dollar to the national wealth, nor in any way to the wel
fare and prosperity of the country. The money obtained by the
trade is not earned as honest industries earn money by
giving a valuable return for it. It obtains money from those
who earn it by their labor, giving in return for it what is not only
of no value, but far worse than that something which leads to
poverty, pauperism, wretchedness, and crime ; which disinclines
men to honest industry, and finally unfits them for it. This
traffic, like war, wastes the products of industry and kills the
worker, or so mutilates and maims him that he is unfitted for
work ; and then he and his family and dependents are pensioned
upon the honest industries of the country. It is like conflagra
tion; it destroys, leaving only the blackened ruins of all which
it attacks. It is like pestilence j ravaging any community
where it is tolerated, cutting down the brightest, bravest,
and best, It destroys more than sixty thousand of our
people every year, cutting short their lives upon an average
more than ten years each. It makes wretched, beyond all
power of expression, more than five hundred thousand homes,
which, but for it, would be peaceful, prosperous, and happy.
It threatens the existence of our institutions, which cannot
live except among an educated and virtuous people, because,
more than all other influences for evil, it reduces men to
ignorance, brutality, and savagery.

Have I overstated or in any way misstated ? Is such a trade
to be established and protected by law, or shall it be forbidden,
and by sufficient pains and penalties suppressed as being incon
sistent with the general good ?


ANGLO-SAXON civilization staggers under strong drink. If
we could rid our country of it by the annihilation of all who are
engaged in the bad traffic it would be the best of Yankee

More than a dozen of our States have tried prohibition.
Most of them have abandoned it. Under exceptionally favor-


able conditions Massachusetts tried prohibition for twenty years,
and finally gave it up, but not for lack of interest in the temper
ance cause. That interest had grown deeper and wiser.

About the success of prohibition in Maine, we have various
statements. From the friends of prohibition we learn that the
law has proved triumphant. From various other sources we
hear that it has proved a failure. From the " Portland Daily
Press," in a Monday morning issue, I have just read that on the
previous day Rev. Dr. Me Keown spoke on "The Church, and
what it should do to Arrest Social Evils.' 7 The " Press n says :

" In the course of his remarks, in touching upon the subject of intemper

Online LibraryNathaniel Hillyer. EglestonThe North American review (Volume 139) → online text (page 18 of 60)