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"literature of social betterment it is in this that the new note is struck in a fairly masterful and dominant manner. Perhaps not many of these books and writers will really endure, perhaps the permanent books of the last ten years will be those of our few detached poets and novelists and critics and scholars who serve art and scholarship with undivided allegiance; but assuredly it is the writers whose chief aim is public betterment that will mainly influence the life and thought of the future. Their names may survive only in encyclopedias, their books may stand dusty on the shelves of public libraries, but their influence will survive, and the philosophic historian of our literature will give their collective achievements an important place in his pages. American literature since 1865 has not been in any true sense a mere literature of the Epigoni-a mere literature of the successors of great men. It is the literature of an expanding democracy, endowed with the power of throwing off the effects of auto-intoxication.

It will readily be perceived that the views here expressed involve certain important assumptions. The word "literature," for example, is used in a very broad sense- used to include all forms of the written word that treat subjects of interest and value in a style fairly adequate to their presentation. If it were used to include only the literature of power," the books in which the imagination plays a high and permanent part, we should

find far less to say in favor of the period we are considering. Not that our people and period have been devoid of creative imagination, but that that great faculty has found expression, on the whole, rather in industrial achievements and in political and social development than in artistic creations of any kind. It has been diffused, rather than concentrated in a few great masters, which is perhaps what was to be expected in a thronging democracy educated more and more along utilitarian lines. With the practical abandonment of that cornerstone of the old aristocratic culture, the Greek and Latin classics, it was almost inevitable that standards of literary excellence should be lowered, and that competition for literary rewards should be so stimulated that the body of the country's writers would resemble a mob rather than a small compact army. Some of us may regret this state of affairs, we may sigh for a return of the day when there were a few great authors, each speaking with the authentic voice of genius to thousands of listening souls ready to translate into action the mandates, or to convert into character the precepts and conceptions, of the inspired prophet. We may resent the installation of a megaphone into the White House and into several gubernatorial mansions, we may doubt the value of the newspaper interviews and the magazine articles that every sort of celebrity is ready to bestow upon the public on


every occasion, we may question the propriety of exploiting by biography or autobiography every personality of more than passing importance to say nothing of the vulgarization of heroism by the exhibition of our few heroes on the lecture platform - we may object, in short, to the Barnumization of the country of Washington and Lincoln, to the prevailing misconception that advertising is a synonym for living; but, when all is said, what are we going to do about it? We are a growing nation and therefore optimistic; we are a democracy and therefore engaged in subverting everything that makes for really aristocratic distinction. The impulse is consequently irresistible to make the best of what we do in our wholesale way, and, in literature, to emphasize the utilitarian value of the total product rather than the æsthetic value of individual achievements.

Such conduct on the part of critic and reader and in these days of popular education we have gone beyond Byron's witty conceit, not only every poet being his own Aristotle, but every reader his own criticis curiously in line with a mode of thought that is said to be increasingly common among men and women who are taking the advice of all our preachers, clerical and lay, and devoting themselves to lives of public usefulness. We are told that these exemplary persons shun the thought of personal distinction as though it were a suggestion of the devil; that they


make absorption in the mass of humanity and the radiation of influence through personal contact the nirvana of their social-betterment Buddhism, the Beatific Vision of their modern Franciscanism. It looks as if authors would have to take a leaf out of the book of the neighborhood guild. They must be content with being an active -not to say a fermenting - part, of the mass into which they are born. They must put aside dreams of great personal distinction, thoughts of competition with the master writers of the past, and hopes of an apotheosis in the heaven of literary renown. They must find their satisfaction in the thought that they are modest, useful contributors to a literature that makes for the greatest good of the greatest number; that, to put it figuratively, they are workmen engaged in hewing stones and carrying mortar for a great popular cathedral of which the Genius of Democracy is the architect.

Will the genus irritabile submit to this fate? Does the author of to-day even conceive it possible, when he finds himself the hero of countless tea tables and has no difficulty in inserting in some newspaper an itinerary of his next vacation trip? Will human vanity ever succumb to human agglomerativeness? Who shall answer these questions? But who, glancing back on the history of American literature during the past half-century, can forbear asking them? One calls a distinguished roll of names, but one

has doubts with regard to how many of those names will be called by the critics of the next generation. One speaks of the verse, scarcely of the specific volumes, of a few poets, none of more than minor excellence; one names a few novels rather as representative of their writers or their class of fiction than as masterpieces in their own right; one mentions a few critics, not one of whom is greatly gifted in that chief essential, a large, inspiring interpretation of the supreme writers; one cites with respect certain historical investigators and a few good historians on an extended scale; one recalls the names of some interesting essayists; one speaks with respect of two or three really erudite scholars and of one or two distinguished philosophers and preachers-but before one has finished the roll, one recalls that one is dealing with a country the population of which has passed 90,000,000 and with a period extraordinarily well satisfied with itself, and one wonders whether it is not the part of discretion to lay one's emphasis rather upon the amount and the effects of the country's and the period's literature than upon the genius or the talents of particular writers or upon the unique power and charm of special books. This means that it probably makes little difference whether the vain and irritable race of authors likes or dislikes the democratic conditions under which it is doomed to work. You cannot expel nature with a fork; you cannot prevent the man or woman born to

write from expressing thoughts and feelings which it would be torture to conceal. And, as in all human things, there are compensations to be discovered even in the lot of the author doomed to write in a democratic age and land. Notoriety is cheap in a democracy and yet, paradoxically enough, it produces financial returns that secure most of those solid comforts of life for which many a now famous poet of the past sighed vainly in his garret. Better still, the spread of education and the refining processes in general that accompany the advance of civilization have vastly increased the number of truly cultivated readers sensitive to all that is worthy in literature and art. The writer still finds among these readers, provided he have something worth saying, his audience fit though few. If he is so sensitive and self-conscious that the mere sight of charlatans and philistines makes his heart sink or his wrath fly out, his plight is wretched. But, if he loves his work in and for itself, and if he believes that in answering the needs of a people literature fills a truly noble and beneficent function, he need not repine that his lot is cast in the day of the Carnegie public library instead of in that of the Globe Theatre.*

* Full treatment of the period 1865-1912 is not, of course, to be found in the histories of American literature, but the student may consult with profit the concluding chapters of Barrett Wendell's Literary History of America, George E. Woodberry's America in Literature, and J. L. Onderdonk's History of American Verse. A useful handbook for reading and reference brought nearly


Nos. 1-5 by courtesy of the Review of Reviews; No. 4 copyright 1906 by Haeseler Photographic Studios, Phila.


3. JOEL CHANDLER HARRIS ("Uncle Remus").



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