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and to it was added about 1825 a new (and a bad) periodical fashion, that of the annual, a Christmas giftbook made up of expensive engravings, sentimental poems, short familiai essays, usually trivial, and, most of all, short stories. That the vogue of the short story was a provocative of magazine and annual, is probable; that the existence of magazine and annual was a stimulus to shortstory production, no reader who seeks the place of first publication of the famous tales of the nineteenth century can doubt.
The romantic movement gave a fillip to fiction, and especially to fiction which dealt with love, adventure, horror, pathos-all the typically romantic themes. The first results for the short story were, to put it mildly, unfortunate. They are to be found in the magazines of the Twenties and a little earlier, where an increasing number of short tales of strained love, of mawkish grief, of wild adventure, and especially of morbid or exaggerated horror begin to usurp the pages given over to narrative. When the fashionable and expensive annuals, The Amaranth, The Keepsake, The Forget-me-not, come into being, the abundance of these bad romantic stories is positively alarming. They seem to be experimental in nature; experiments in the attempt to make the short story carry the romantic spirit, and not very successful experiments, even the best of them.' They lack body, and they lack art. There were other experimental stories also: the combination of reflective essay and gentle narrative upon which Lamb was trying his delicate hand; De Quincey's more sonorous attempts in meditative romance; the wise Miss Mitford's slight but charming studies in village life. All of these experimenters revealed the new spirit of romanticism in some form, but,
See The Short Story in English, pp. 212-216.
whatever else they may have accomplished, none of them can be said to have established a fertile type of short story.
Indeed, in the years between the beginning of this movement and Poe's first tale in 1833, only two writers really succeeded with the unadulterated short story. One of these was Scott, and though his Wandering Willie's Tale (1824) is a masterpiece of its kind, it is his only notable contribution. His unities were larger. But the other, Washington Irving, is first of all a writer of short stories. In the decade between 1820 and 1830, he accomplished what his many contemporaries of the magazines failed in; he took the romantic material of which his generation was so fond: the spooks, the marvelous happenings, hopeless love,“ temperament,'
t," "atmosphere " generally--and made it into admirable short stories. He succeeded where so many of his fellow workers failed, because he had four qualities, in one or more of which most of his rivals seemed to be lacking: he knew a good shortstory plot when he saw one; he knew how to develop it so as to preserve a perfect proportion of parts to the whole; he could grasp character; and he had a sense of humor. The humorous, reflective writers, Lamb and Mitford, had possessed little sense of plot; the romantic writers had been endowed with nothing but romance.
It is the admirable blend of humor and romance which keeps Rip Van Winkle and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow eternally fresh and eternally popular, while the lurid tales of mysterious horror which accompanied them rest undisturbed in the annuals and magazines. If you doubt the importance of humor, read some of Irving's unhumorous, over-romantic stories, such as The Young Italian. But form also played its part, form which was just what the short story of this period almost universally lacked. Form in the short story is not easily made manifest, and as we must take it up at some length when we come to Poe, we pass lightly here.
Yet all readers recognize grace in telling a tale, and can see the careful proportioning, due emphasis, and laudable restraint, of Irving's two famous stories. Indeed, that lovable writer was too good a student of the typical master of the century of restraint and proportion, Addison, to be led astray often by romanticism, as were so many others of his time. His task was easier than theirs, for he filled his romantic plots with the good stuff of humorous character observation, while they were striving merely to produce a romantic effect with their narrative, something difficult of accomplishment until Poe had shown the way. But the intrinsic difficulty of that task is measured by the few who, in his time, were able to give a romantic short story worth or weight. He told the classic American stories, and he has given us one of the few great characters in American fiction, but the lesson he learned from the eighteenth century he could not pass onward. He established no school of the short story, and bad romanticism in small packages continued to stuff the annuals and the magazines.
POE, AND THE FURTHER DEVELOPMENT OF THE
ROMANTIC SHORT STORY
IRVING, it would seem, was too classic, too reserved for a generation craving excitement in its fiction. To judge from the bulk of what was published, the age wanted something more purely romantic than Rip or The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, and this desire seemed to grow. As has been said above, the periodicals of the time are full of hideous attempts to thrill the very nerve of romance itself. Stories of awful death, of pathetic bereavement, of mysterious adventure, follow upon one another in mawkish or in lurid succession. And artistically they are all failures. They try to achieve in prose the sheer romance which Coleridge, Byron, Keats had grasped in verse—and fail so markedly that one wonders whether the slim young ladies who lean upon tombstones or simper over rose hedges in the steel engravings of the annuals, could have been more than mildly excited by such hys
Romantic periods are very prone to lack a sense of humor. A sense of humor is notably lacking in these stories. This, however, is not a serious charge, for the purest romance is also deficient in this quality, does not need it, in fact. The trouble with the sensational stories of the Twenties and the Thirties was not that they were unhumorous, but that, being unhumorous, they were not sufficiently romantic to make up for the absence of the good material of human nature which Irving, Scott, or Lamb could supply. They depended entirely upon a romantic effect, and this effect—it seems to us—they did not attain.
The people wanted it; that is clear from the number of attempts. Furthermore, to judge from the strained pathos, the exaggerated mysticism, the forced horror of the product, they wanted it "good and strong." There
. are many signs of decadent taste in the romanticism of between, say, 1830 and 1840. There is a touch of it in the lusciousness of Tennyson's early poems; still more in the romantic novel; most of all, perhaps, in short narrative. New effects are sought out to thrill jaded nerves, and the short story which now appeared was successful because it gave the greatest of new effects, because it made
a successful appeal to the taste of a decadent romanticism.
This new short story was practically an invention of Edgar Allan Poe. By this I do not mean that he created the modern short story out of nothing, and, as the shorter catechism has it, all very good. On the contrary, nearly all the materials, most of the subjects, all the interests, were there; but it was left to him to combine them, or, in other words, to devise a means of telling. His work in the short story, which began apparently about 1832, followed naturally from the response of his genius to the desire of a public which wished a stronger variety of romanticism. His success was the result of his knowledge that an impression made strongly upon the intellect of the reader was the best means of exciting romantic thrills; and of his discovery of the means for conveying this impression through a short story. The Germans of the Romantic School, especially Hoffmann and Tieck, had gone one step beyond the hair-raising but not soul-stirring stories of the English writers. They had put an idea into their narratives and given them worth and carrying power. But Poe went further. He drove home his idea with a new kind of story-telling, and so presented a romantic world asking for stronger stimulants with a completely new sensation.
There was every reason why he should wish to do this. His work, as I have tried to show, was a natural outcome of the romantic movement. And, as will later be evident, it was particularly natural in America. Some one would have done it later, though probably far less completely, if Poe had not. This remembered, the reader is less likely to be shocked when told that this muchheralded short story was not new in subject. Its materials were just the themes of decadent romanticism, and