Brander Matthews.

Pen and ink; papers on subjects of more or less importance online

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soluble query, the ' Lady or the Tiger ? ' it may be


'A Bundle of Letters,' like Mr. Henry James's
story, or 'A Letter and a Paragraph,' like Mr.
Banner's ; it may be a medley of letters and tele
grams and narrative, like Mr. Aldrich's ' Margery
Daw ' ; it may be cast in any one of these forms,
or in a combination of all of them, or in a wholly
new form, if haply such may yet be found by
diligent search. Whatever its form, it should
have symmetry of design. If it have also wit or
humor, pathos or poetry, and especially a dis
tinct and unmistakable flavor of individuality, so
much the better. But the chief requisites are
compression, originality, ingenuity, with now and
again a touch of fantasy. Sometimes we may de
tect in a writer of Short-stories a tendency toward
the over-elaboration of ingenuity, toward the ex
hibition of ingenuity for its own sake, as in a
Chinese puzzle. But mere cleverness is incom
patible with greatness, and to commend a writer
as "very clever" is not to give him high praise.
From this fault of supersubtlety, women are free
for the most part. They are more likely than men
to rely on broad human emotion, and their ten
dency in error is toward the morbid analysis of a
high-strung moral situation.

The more carefully we study the history of fic
tion the more clearly we perceive that the Novel
and the Short-story are essentially different that



the difference between them is not one of mere
length only, but fundamental. The Short-story
seeks one set of effects in its own way, and
the Novel seeks a wholly distinct set of effects
in a wholly distinct way. We are led also to
the conclusion that the Short-storyin spite of
the fact that in our language it has no name
of its own is one of the few sharply defined
literary forms. It is a genre, as M. Brunetiere
terms it, a species, as a naturalist might call it,
as individual as the Lyric itself and as vari
ous. It is as distinct an entity as the Epic, as
Tragedy, as Comedy. Now the Novel is not a
form of the same sharply defined individuality ; it
is or at least it may be anything. It is the
child of the Epic and the heir of the Drama ; but
it is a hybrid. And one of the foremost of living
American novelists, who happens also to be one
of the most acute and sympathetic of American
critics, has told me that he was often distracted
by the knowledge of this fact even while he was
writing a novel.

In the history of literature the Short-story was
developed long before the Novel, which indeed is
but a creature of yesterday. The Short-story also
seems much easier of accomplishment than the
Novel, if only because it is briefer. And yet the
list of the masters of the Short-story is far less


crowded than the list of the masters of the longer
form. There are a dozen or more very great nov
elists recorded in the history of fiction ; but there
are scarcely more than half a dozen Short-story
writers. From Chaucer and Boccaccio we pass to
Hawthorne and Poe almost without finding an
other name that insists upon enrolment. A little
later we light upon Merimee and Turgenef, whose
title to be recorded there is none to dispute.
Now at the end of the nineteenth century we find
two more that no competent critic would dare to
omit Guy de Maupassant and Rudyard Kipling.

P. S. So far as the author is aware, he had no
predecessor in asserting that the Short-story differs
from the Novel essentially, and not merely in
matter of length. So far as he knows, it was in
the present paper the suggestion was first made
that the Short-story is in reality a genre, a separate
kind, a genus by itself. But although this dis
tinction may not have been made explicitly by
any earlier critic, there is little doubt that Poe felt
it, even if he did not formulate it in set terms. It
seems to be implicit in more than one of his criti
cal essays, more particularly in that on Haw
thorne's tales. And it is from this essay that the
following quotations are taken :



"The ordinary novel is objectionable from its
length, for reasons already stated in substance-
As it cannot be read at one sitting, it deprives it
self, of course, of the immense force derivable from
totality. Worldly interests intervening during the
pauses of perusal modify, annul, or contract, in a
greater or less degree, the impressions of the book.
But simply cessation in reading would, of itself,
be sufficient to destroy the true unity. In the
brief tale, however, the author is enabled to carry
out the fullness of his intention, be it what it may.
During the hour of perusal the soul of the reader is
at the writer's control. There are no external or
extrinsic influences resulting from weariness or

"A skilful literary artist has constructed a tale.
If wise, he has not fashioned his thoughts to ac
commodate his incidents; but having conceived,
with deliberate care, a certain unique or single
effect to be wrought out, he then invents such
incidents, he then combines such events, as may
best aid him in establishing this preconceived effect.
If his very initial sentence tend not to the out-
bringing of this effect, then he has failed in his
first step. In the whole composition there should
be no word written of which the tendency, direct
or indirect, is not to the one preestablished design.
As by such means, with such care and skill, a


picture is at length painted which leaves in the
mind of him who contemplates it with a kindred
art a sense of the fullest satisfaction. The idea of
the tale has been presented unblemished, because
undisturbed ; and this is an end unattainable by
the novel. Undue brevity is just as exceptiona
ble here as in the poem ; but undue length is yet
more to be avoided."

In one of his ' Vailima Letters ' Stevenson de
clares his adherence to what Poe called the princi
ple of " totality ":

"Make another end to it? Ah, yes, but that's
not the way I write; the whole tale is implied ; I
never use an effect when I can help it, unless it
prepares the effects that are to follow ; that's
what a story consists in. To make another end,
that is to make the beginning all wrong. The de
nouement of a long story is nothing; it is just 'a
full close,' which you may approach and accom
pany as you please it is a coda, not an essential
member in the rhythm ; but the body and end of a
short story is bone of the bone and blood of the
blood of the beginning." ('Vailima Letters,' vol.
i., p. 147.)




OWADAYS fiction may seem to some
of us the most many-sided depart
ment of literature, for it is no longer
content to tell a story only ; it insists
at least in pointing a moral, even
when it does not undertake also to give instruction
in history and in theology. But I doubt if the
Novel is really as protean as the Essay. Mr. Owen
Wister is not further removed from Mrs. Hum
phry Ward, Mark Twain is not more widely sep
arated from George Sand, than Thoreau is from
Charles Lamb, or Dr. Johnson from Montaigne.
It would be difficult, indeed, to frame a definition
wide enough to include the essays of Bacon and
Emerson, of Steele and Goldsmith and Irving, of
Hazlitt and Bagehot and Lowell, of Stevenson and
Mr. Howells. The dictionary declares that an
Essay is "a discursive composition concerned with
a particular subject, usually shorter and less me
thodical and finished than a treatise." Few things

in literature are more methodical and finished than


most of Macaulay's essays, and few things are less
discursive than most of Matthew Arnold's essays,
wherein a skeleton of logical structure is always
to be laid bare not far below the surface.

One lexicographer quotes from Bacon his asser
tion that he chose "to write certain brief notes,
set down rather significantly than curiously,
which I have called essays," following this with
the explanation that "the word is late, but the
thing is ancient." How ancient it is we can see
for ourselves when we find another writer seeking
its origin in the "dispersed meditations" of Sen
eca's 'Epistles to Lucilius,'and when we reflect that
if the germ of the Essay is to be sought in any
collection of " dispersed meditations," it can surely
be found in the Proverbs of Solomon, the son of
David, King of Israel to know wisdom and in
struction; to perceive the words of understanding;
to receive the instruction of wisdom, justice and
judgment, and equity; to give subtlety to the
simple, to the young man knowledge and dis

So abiding is the influence of Montaigne that a
certain doubtful suggestion of desultoriness still
attaches itself to the Essay, as though it were fit
reading only for the days when, in Thoreau's
phrase, idleness is "the most attractive and pro
ductive industry." A content so modest as this


tends to unfit it for the adequate description of
writing as strenuous as Carlyle's or as whimsically
elaborated as Lamb's, however accurately it may
apply to the playful pleasantry of Steele and Irving,
for instance. It is hard to draw the line between
the Essay on the one side and the Treatise or Dis
quisition or Thesis on the other. It is not hard,
however, to discover in the Essay itself at least
two broad divisions, in one of which we find the
names of Montaigne, Bacon, and Emerson, while
in the other we have Steele and Addison, Oliver
Goldsmith, and Washington Irving. This second
group it is that we have in mind when we talk
of the English essayists, and yet it is the first
group that has the securer title, or at least the

Wherever Montaigne may have got the hint,
whether from Plutarch or from Cicero's Letters
or from Seneca, he devised a new literary form,
which Bacon borrowed from him, and which
Emerson in turn claimed as his own also. These
are the three great masters of the wandering and
shapeless medley of thoughts more or less relating
to a single topic. The charm in their essays is
not in any artful arrangement; it is in the pithy
sayings partly, and partly in the writers' self-reve
lation. They were all three of them kindly and
frank, tolerant and shrewd, keen-eyed and quick -


witted. Montaigne was more a man of the world,
Bacon more a man of affairs, and Emerson more a
man of the library.

Steele, aided by Addison, took the Essay where
Montaigne and Bacon had left it, and gave it an un
expected development, influenced perhaps by Wal
ton and perhaps by La Bruyere. The eighteenth-
century Essay, as we have it in the Tatter and the
Spectator and in all the cloud of their copyists, seems
to me sometimes almost as though it were a
definite literary form, as distinct as the Short-story
or the Elegy. It has in prose the characteristics
which we ask in rhyme from versde societe the
"familiar verse" of Cowper. Like that, it is
brief and brilliant and buoyant; it has ease and
elegance; it only hints its pathos, and it never in
sists on its wit; it reveals the gentleman and the
scholar, and yet it recalls always the man about

In the most of the successes of Steele and Addi
son the effort of imitation is obvious; a copy
has been set which they are trying to follow, often
awkwardly and sometimes even clumsily. Dr.
Johnson's grace is but elephantine when he tries to
dance in these fetters; and even Dr. Johnson's foe,
Lord Chesterfield, clever as he was, failed to hit
the mark, giving to the Essay a metallic hardness


and a cynical brilliance not quite in keeping. But
Goldsmith was perfectly at ease, and he handled
the form as naturally as though he had invented
it for his own use. With all his individuality
in life, Oliver Goldsmith was in literature of
the lineage of Richard Steele, and so also was
Washington Irving. It was in the shop Gold
smith had inherited from Steele that Irving
served his apprenticeship; but he soon set up for
himself; and in its delicacy and its grace and its
ease, Irving's best work is quite worthy of com
parison with the masterpieces of the elder brothers
of the craft.

Slight and airy as the Essay was in the hands of
Steele and Addison, the service it rendered in the
development of the art of character-drawing can
not easily be overestimated. If Steele and Addi
son descended from Montaigne on one side, on
the other they were the heirs of Cervantes also.
Sir Roger de Coverley is the great-grandnephew
of the Knight of the Sorrowful Countenance. This
fertile Cervantine tradition they transmitted to
those who came after them. The richly colored
portrait of the Tory Foxhunter had been hung in
Addison's studio years before Fielding painted
the robustious Squire Western. Ned Softly the
Poet had exhibited his pleasant pedantry in the


pages of the Tatter years before Jane Austen
had etched the imperturbable Mr. Collins. The
' Fine Lady's Journal ' had been printed in the
Spectator years before Miss Edgeworth drew the
character of the flighty Mrs. Delacour.

And here, if a discursive inquiry be not debarred,
occasion serves to put a puzzling question. When
the Essay is at its best, it has the spontaneity,
the unstudied charm, the pleasantly personal flavor
of a good letter. Now, it is notorious that women
have ever been the most artistic, as they are the
most abundant, of letter-writers. Nowadays at
least women are the only masters of the art of
epistolary correspondence, since men no longer
take pen in hand to gossip leisurely with a distant
friend. Men dictate to a type-writer when they
are not content to condense their communication
into a peremptory telegram. Women also are
more interested than men in the minor points of
manners and of morals, which are of the essence
of the Essay; and in detecting these as well as
in dissecting them their eyes are sharper. Yet
there is no woman's name inscribed high upon
the roll of the essayists. The fact is indisputable,
whatever the reason for it. Woman never gave
her mind to the Essay, and so she has left no
mark upon it. She waited rather until the modern
Novel had been invented, and in that she seems


to have found the best medium for her self-expres

Not only fiction was aided in its development
by the labors of Steele and Addison and of their
allies, but formal criticism also and more than one
other branch of literature now flourishing abun
dantly in our magazines. The eighteenth-century
Essay was not monotonous; indeed, it was very
varied in its attack. From the Spectator alone
one could pick out a typical character-sketch, a
typical Short-story, a typical humorous skit, a
typical Essay in criticism, a typical theatrical re
view, and even a typical obituary notice.

Mr. Henry James's brief memorial of the late
George du Maurier might have had for its uncon
scious model Steele's 'Dick Estcourt: In Memori-
am ' ; alike in method, the two papers are alike
also in the warmth of affectionate regret that
prompted them. Mr. Howells's recent ' East Side
Ramble ' may be matched by Steele's ' Day's
Ramble in London'; and in both Essays can be
seen a kindred keenness of observation, a kindred
interest in the little things of which life is made
up, and a kindred kindliness of spirit in the ob
server who is making the record. Mr. Frank R.
Stockton's ' Casting Away of Mrs. Leeks and
Mrs. Aleshine ' (or any other of his marvellously
matter-of-fact impossibilities) is compounded ac-

1 1 6 PEN AND INK.

cording to a recipe very like that which served
Addison when he wrote out the details of the
traveller's tale of the ' Frozen Voices.' The sim
ple pathos of the two papers in which Mr. Bick-
erstaff visits a friend, and the homely touches of
human nature that make the people real to us and
alive these are qualities we can duplicate in
many an American Short-story and character-
sketch in Mr. Page's ' Marse Chan' and ' Meh
Lady,' for example; in Miss Wilkins's ' Revolt of
Mother,' in Mr. Garland's 'Return of the Private.'
So also we cannot but see that it was Addison's
rather labored and rather empty papers on ' Para
dise Lost' that helped to make it possible for
Macaulay afterward to write his trenchant criti
cism of Milton.

Perhaps it is this very versatility of the Essay as
we find it in the Tatter and the Spectator that
has misled some of us into thinking that the form
is not as popular to-day as it was once. The
Essay, as it was then, has now differentiated itself
into the Short-story and into criticism, neither of
which is remembered to have had any connection
with it; and the name has been narrowed again
to indicate chiefly the paper of "dispersed medi
tations." It may be said of the Essay that the
stream flows nowadays with a fuller current than
ever before, but as it has worn several new mouths



for itself, no one of them has the prominence or
the importance of the old single channel. Yet,
even when we take the word in its most reduced
meaning, the Essay has not lacked masters in the
last half of the nineteenth century Thoreau and
Lowell and Stevenson.






ATRICIAN rhymes" is the apt phrase
Mr. Stedman coined to characterize
that kind of vers de societe, name
less in English, which is more than
mere society-verse. It describes Mr.
Locker's poetry more accurately than Mr. Austin
Dobson's, for example, or Mr. Calverley's, since
Mr. Locker confines himself more strictly within
the circle of " good society," of Park Lane, and of
fashion. Mr. Locker is the du Maurier of song,
and his ' London Lyrics ' are as entertaining and
as instructive to the student of Victorian manners
as Mr. du Maurier's 'Pictures of English Society.'
Mr. Locker has succeeded Praed as the laureate of
the world, and he ignores the flesh, and is igno
rant of the devil, just like Praed, and just like so
ciety itself. But it seems to me that Mr. Locker's
range is wider than Praed's, whose success lay


almost altogether in his songs of society; Praed
was out of place when he ventured far from May-
fair and beyond the sound of St. George's in Han
over Square ; while Mr. Locker's Pegasus pauses
at the mouth of Cite Fadette as gracefully as it
treads the gravel of Rotten Row. The later poet
has wider sympathies than the elder, who, indeed,
may be said to have had but one note. The
' Vicar ' is a beautiful bit of verse, but its touch of
tenderness sets it apart from all Praed's other
work, which is brilliant with a hard and metallic
brilliancy. Praed dazzles almost to weariness ;
his lines stand out sharply like fireworks at mid
night. More brilliant than Praed no poet could
well be. More pleasing Mr. Locker is, and he
gives a higher pleasure. He has wit like Praed,
but far more humor; and the soft radiance of
humor never tires the eye like the quick flashes of
wit. With broader humor, he has a broader
humanity and a finer individuality. In short, the
difference between the two may be summed up
in favor of the younger man, by saying that Mr.
Locker can write Praedesque poems, compare
the ' Belle of the Ball-room,' for instance, and
'A Nice Correspondent,' while it may well be
doubted whether Praed could have emulated Mr.
Locker's ' To My Mistress' and 'At Her Window.'


Of course, it is easy to say that Mr. Locker con
tinues the tradition of Prior and Praed ; it is easy
also to see that, in two respects, at least, the pro
gression shows the progress of the age. One im
provement is in the form used by the poet ; the
other in the feeling, the temper of the poet him
self. Praed contented himself with putting his
best work into the eight-line stanza, now a little
worn from overwork :

Our love was like most other loves ;

A little glow, a little shiver,
A rosebud and a pair of gloves,

And 'Fly not yet' upon the river;
Some jealousy of some one's heir,

Some hopes of dying broken-hearted,
A miniature, a lock of hair,

The usual vows and then we parted.

In this metre, Mr. Locker and Mr. Austin Dob-
son, in England, and Mr. Saxe, in America, have
written verses that Praed might not disown ;
but though the metal was theirs, the mould was
Praed's. Mr. Locker's best work has not gone
into any one form ; he has wisely varied his
metre; he has invented of his own, and he has
borrowed from his neighbor. ' A Nice Corre
spondent' is Swinburnian in its rhythm, and


'To My Grandmother' repeats the measures of
Holmes's 'Last Leaf/ a delightful and most diffi
cult metre, lending itself easily to intricate har
monies, and not to be attempted now by meaner
hands :

This Relative of mine,
Was she seventy-and-nine

When she died?
By the canvas may be seen
How she looked at seventeen,

As a Bride.

Beneath a summer tree
Her maiden reverie

Has a charm :
Her ringlets are in taste ;
What an arm ! . . . what a waist

For an arm !

Is not this the perfection of daintiness and deli
cacy? Is it not delightful this mingling of sly
fun and playful banter? And this brings us to
the second quality, in which Mr. Locker and Mr.
Dobson are plainly superior to Prior and Praed
in their treatment of woman. Prior thought of
women with little feeling, and he wrote of them
with little respect ; however much he might pre
tend to worship a dame or a damsel, he kept a


keen and unkind eye on her failings. At all times
his tone toward women is one of good-natured
contempt, often ill-concealed. With Praed, a
complete change had come in the attitude ; he
is avowedly a friendly critic, and yet his verse
catches no tinge of warmth from his friendliness.
Though he may have felt deeply, he lets his scep
ticism and his wit hide his feeling until we are
well-nigh forced to doubt whether he had any
feeling to hide. The lively beauties who figure in
Praed's glittering verse are far more true to life
than the French fictions of Prior, but the ladies of
Mr. Locker and Mr. Dobson are quite as charm
ing and indubitably more natural. They are true
women, too, not mere figments of the fancy ;
they are the result of later and deeper observation ;
and they have far more variety from the given
prototype. Prior wrote of women at large, and
Praed rang the changes on the * Belle of the Ball
room.' Now, Mr. Locker has a gallery of girls, all
fresh and ingenuous young maidens. Prior did
not respect women ; Praed admired them coldly ;
Mr. Locker has a warm regard for them and a
manly respect, and also a demure humor which
sees into their wiles and their weaknesses quite as
sharply as did Prior or Praed.

Having set forth thus some of the things which


Mr. Locker, the poet, is and is not, it may be well
to give a few facts about Mr. Locker, the man. He
was born in 1821. His father, Edward Hawke
Locker, was in the public service, and took a
warm interest in literature and art. His grand
father, Captain W. Locker, R. N., was an old
friend of Lord Nelson's ; and both Collingwood
and Nelson served under him. Mr. Locker com
posed little until late in life, or at least until he was
thirty ; and he found great difficulty, so he wrote
to a friend, "in persuading editors to have any
thing to say to my verses ; but Thackeray believed
in me, and used to say, ' Never mind, Locker, our
verse may be small beer, but at any rate it is the
right tap.' ' Thus encouraged, Mr. Locker wrote
on, and in time editors began to relent. In 1857
he gathered his scattered poems and put them forth
in a single volume as 'London Lyrics.' As edition
followed edition he has added the few poems he
has written of late years, and has dropped those of
his earlier poems that he thought unworthy. The
latest published edition the eighth, I think it
is is scarcely any heavier than the first. Later
than this, however, is a little book,, beautifully
printed and beautifully bound, which Mr. Locker
has recently given to his friends, and which con
tains a special selection of his very best work,


made by Mr. Austin Dobson, who has prefixed
this friendly little sextain :

Apollo made, one April day,
A new thing in the rhyming way ;
Its turn was neat, its wit was clear,
It wavered 'twixt a smile and tear ;
Then Momus gave a touch satiric,
And it became a 'London Lyric.'

Besides putting his own vers de societe into a

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Online LibraryBrander MatthewsPen and ink; papers on subjects of more or less importance → online text (page 6 of 14)