Зображення сторінки


but a reappearance of the exemplum, and usually of the apologue appearing as an exemplum. But in art, and in its plot and characters, it differed from all English story types before or since.

The contributing elements which made possible this new experiment in fiction were all present by 1700. It was in the decades before the turn of the century that a critical spirit began to show itself in English literature. Writers such as Dryden, Congreve, Swift, Pope, are the products of a peaceful, settled, quite civilized society. In its essence their literary work, which was largely satirical, may be considered as a survey of English civilization to determine who is fit to live in such society, who is not. This critical attitude towards life brought with it an increased interest in the manners of the town, where civilization was more and more centering, and opened wide the gates for a study of morals in fiction. Next came a greater realism in narrative art, most strikingly manifested in the work of a journalist like Defoe, but, after all, only the reflex of a strong reaction against religious and romantic enthusiasms. Last, but this came later, and began not much before 1700, was a revolt against the rakishness which had been so fashionable in Restoration society, and the unregulated habits which accompanied it, a revolt which was not so much against immorality as against bad taste in the conduct of life.

These three influences are all to be noted in what were perhaps the most notable literary productions of the eighteenth century, and in the new short story which they contained. In The Tatler (1709-11), and in The Spectator (1711-14), where the periodical essay took shape, the short story is often only imperfectly distin

5 For a discussion of Defoe as writer of realistic short narrative, see The Short Story in English, pp. 184-188.

[ocr errors]

guished from the graceful discussions of the quirks and quibbles of life which count for so much in these charming papers. Even so, it is clearly something new in narrative. A pendant to the essay, oftentimes no more than an anecdote telling how Flavia and her mother, Honoria, compete in the game of love (Spectator 91), it preserves in one crystal drop an essence of Queen Anne manners in a solution of human nature. It is studied from life, yet told for the lesson it carries. The famous De Coverley papers are not the best examples. They are too rich in imagination, too little shaped to the purposes of didacticism, to be typical of this periodical short story. The novel with its wealth of characters, and broad field unrestricted by the need of driving home a moral reflection, was the goal towards which they tended. But there are hundreds of little narratives in these two famous periodicals, and in the many succeeding imitations, which are so well directed towards a chastening of the follies of the day, that, although stories in miniature, and rich neither in characters nor in plot, their brevity in no sense brings triviality with it.

Addison's are the ripest and most graceful of these. And when he borrowed the Oriental apologue from the wealth of Oriental literature then rolling into England, or imitated it, as in The Vision of Mirza (Spectator 159), he was at his best in narrative. Yet the Eastern tales of The Spectator are necessarily deprived of the close application to contemporary England which was so characteristic elsewhere of this short story.

6 In all the short narrative of the period the Oriental apologue, borrowed or invented, is to be found beside the English tales. It differs from the other periodical narratives only in this: that while the English stories attempt to mirror English life, the Oriental deal with universal human nature under a thin disguise of Eastern names, customs, and setting. Together, as they appear in the work of the periodical essayists, they make up what may be called the eighteenth-century type of the short story. See The Short Story in English, pp. 196-202.

But it was Dr. Johnson who crystallized this apologue of the periodicals. His stories in The Rambler (1750) are the finest example of this minor art. In the Lingering Expectation of an Heir (Rambler 73), or the bitter tale of Misella (Rambler 170-171), the narrative and the moral exactly balance, each lending point to the other; and one reads with pleasure and profit a well-balanced story which would never have been written save for the essay-often a dull one—which accompanies it. The art was minor, and yet, in its lesser way, it was admirable. Nowhere has reflection upon human nature been more perfectly and more unpretentiously embodied in narrative form. The best of modern short stories, with all their advantages of vividness, study of personality, and novelty of plot, may envy the measured adaptation of means to end, and the clear and simple development of these eighteenth-century apologues.

The successors of Dr. Johnson in this art of the didactic short story were such men as Hawkesworth in The Adventurer, Goldsmith in his Citizen of the World, and many of lesser fame and lesser excellence. In general, it was in close connection with the periodical essay that the most perfect work was accomplished. There are, it is true, many stories of independent composition, but either, like Rasselas and Vathek, they are scarcely short stories, or they are of inferior artistic merit. Naturally, then, the history of this short story continues as long as the periodical essay lasted, which was until the first years of the nineteenth century, and ends when the romantic revolt against the eighteenth-century attitude towards life had conquered literature. The custom of didacticism is reflected strongly in the highly moral tales which were a part of Hannah More's Cheap Repository Tracts (1795-98), and less obviously in the very different kind of moral story which Miss Edgeworth wrote in the first decades of the next century. But, on the whole, the type, as established by Addison and Steele, and perfected by Dr. Johnson, continues with very little change until its extinction, and is not successfully imitated, or in its own field rivaled, by the moral stories which succeeded it. The reason for its relative excellence is the reason, also, for the narrowness of its development. In this century the true English novel had started upon its glorious career. To this novel the narratives of the periodicals had lent a study of manners, as the old novella had contributed the idea of a unified plot. The novel developed freely. But the short story, by custom, remained a pendant to the essay; was restricted to the purposes of illustration. In this age, as never before or since, it was bound up to the service of didacticism. Its range was small. Its success was remarkable.

[ocr errors][merged small]

The short story of the nineteenth century, most distinctive and most fertile of all short-story varieties, was a very direct result of the so-called romantic movement in English temperament and English literature, a movement which, gathering headway all through the eighteenth century, reached its height in the days of Scott, Byron, and Keats. It was in pursuit of romanticism in the short story that America first produced fiction of excellent merit. It was in the romantic short story, which Americans were instrumental in perfecting, that the most interesting technical victories of nineteenth-century fiction

were won.

The shaping influences were, if one treats the subject broadly, three in number. First, and by far the most important-indeed, a true creative force--the aforesaid romantic movement, generated in England, reinforced from Germany, and triumphing in the English poetry of the first decades of the century. It was the pressure of this romantic emotionalism, this new feeling towards life, upon all forms of activity, but most of all upon literature, which caused the new short story. Next in importance was a circumstance which strangely illustrated the energy with which this romanticism sought an outlet in fiction. In poetry, both lyrical and narrative, romanticism was eminently successful, and gave to English literature such masterpieces as the passionate odes and narratives of Keats, the weird tales of Coleridge, and the adventurous stories of Byron. In the novel it was no less successful, with the Waverley series as a supreme achievement. But the romantic short story in prose, except for the stately tales of Irving, which were modeled upon forms of an earlier epoch, failed, and, in general, failed dismally, because it lacked art.

And it was, in a sense, this failure which made way for the commanding genius of Edgar Allan Poe. Finally, and this is a minor, but a very practical consideration, the vogue of periodical literature increased with every decade of the new century. The periodical essay, with its included short story, had passed, but the magazine, which likewise had its birth in the eighteenth century, was more elastic, and grew. It increased enormously in scope and influence in the early years of the century,

« НазадПродовжити »