Зображення сторінки

the story.

serve, for example, The Gold-Bug. There is first the mysterious insect, and then the mysterious actions of the finder, and then the mystery of the parchment, and so on, until the hero at last satisfies our curiosity and ends

This suspense, it is true, though it is like the suspense of the impressionistic stories, is not used for the same purpose. No vivid impression of an intense emotion is planned for in these detective tales; the author cares only to increase the reader's interest with each step of the plot. And although they have given rise to a numerous progeny, they have scarcely been so influential as the impressionistic short story, which brought eventually not one, but many provinces to fiction. However, it is an error to consider these two varieties of Poe stories separately. Both sprang from one imagination and one mind. The stories of ratiocination reveal the keen sense of cause and effect which alone could have made Poe able to devise the construction upon which Usher and Eleanora depend for their success.

Of Poe the man, Poe the stylist, and Poe the student of supernormal human nature there is, unfortunately, no room here to speak. Again, his lack of humor and his occasional bad taste, although they affect slightly, if at all, his masterpieces, are instances of characteristics personal to him, or belonging to his time, which should accompany a complete analysis of his work. But whatever may be the final opinion of the critics who now so clamorously disagree, one fact should be clear-that Poe's work is decadent, that its romanticism is exaggerated, sensational, strained, if not overstrained. And, furthermore, whatever else they may decide, it should be equally clear that his artistic powers, which were far saner than his imagination, transformed his decadent material into beauty, which is often impressive and sometimes perfect.


Thus, while it will never be possible to place him in the first rank of the literary hierarchy, they do not wisely who would thrust him out. They are not wise because, when all is said, his decadent imagination was controlled by a vigorous reason. His stories, although the substance is often questionable, arouse in high measure the legitimate emotions of horror, terror, and awe; and both America and Europe have gone to school to his art.



THE short stories of Poe and of Hawthorne are almost exactly contemporary.

Both men came to artistic maturity in fiction about 1835, the date of publication of Berenice and Hawthorne's The Ambitious Guest, and Hawthorne's contributions to the short story ended a few years after the death of Poe in 1849. Furthermore, both writers were children of the romantic movement. Here the resemblance ceases. A closer relationship had never begun, for nothing is more significant of the originality of the American short story than the absolute independence of these contemporary masters, one of the other. Poe cared chiefly for emotional effects, and made in William Wilson (1839) almost his only experiment in moral analysis. Hawthorne moved in a world of moral thought, colored, but not dominated, by emotion. Poe devised a perfect technique in order that he might hold his stories together. Hawthorne's tales were prevented from flying apart only by his constant grip upon the moral situation, which was the nucleus of his story. The first was an artist working with the materials of decadent romance: the second a preacher employing as best he could the methods of art.

Heredity has seldom been more interestingly manifested than in the mind of Hawthorne. The single-mindedness of his Puritan ancestors, their deep concern with problems of grace, salvation, and of conscience, descended to him in full force, but in interesting transformation. Sin in its relations to salvation, questions of dogma, and the possibility of God's grace, no longer stir this liberal-minded Unitarian; problems of character, ethics, and the nature of the soul, have taken their place; but the habit of mind, the conscious introspectiveness of the Puritan, remains and becomes the prime characteristic of Hawthorne the man, the thinker, and the creative artist. In The Ambitious Guest it is the effect and the futility of ambition which interests him; in The Birthmark (1843) the failure of the search for human perfection; in The Great Stone Face (1850) the ennobling power of loyalty to a high ideal; in Rappaccini's Daughter (1844) the result of a poisoning of the mind. Upon such themes he dwells with an al

most unexampled intensity. The stories which embody · them have a little of the conventional and the common

place, but they assume not a little of that moral majesty which we associate with the great Puritan work of the seventeenth century.

If Hawthorne had lived in the seventeenth century he would probably have preached. The romantic movement

. made a story-teller of him. His note-books show that he was constantly trying to clothe his moral themes in the garments of possible experience; and these garments were nearly always those of romance. Aylmer, in The Birthmark, is a magician who has all but conquered the secrets of life; Ernest, in The Great Stone Face, lives among wild mountains beneath a great face on a crag; the am


bitious guest is swallowed up in an avalanche; Rappaccini's daughter is a Paduan nourished upon the poison of mysterious flowers; and no scene in literature is more romantic than the last hour in the life of Ethan Brand. The weird, the majestic, the awful, and the horrible: these familiar moods of the romantic movement all appear in such stories; and are quite as evident in the historical narratives. In The Gray Champion (1835), where the spiritual grandeur of the old Puritan subdues the pride of a royal governor, or Legends of the Province House (1838), his subjects, like Scott's, come from romantic periods of history, and the setting is in complete accord with what we recognize as the machinery of ro

Speculation upon moral problems is necessarily abstract: romance which is, in its' essence, sensuous, demands the concrete. Over the bridge of romantic narrative, Hawthorne's thoughts upon human nature passed to the fullest artistic expression of which he was capable.

The passage was difficult. Take The Birthmark for an example. The moral idea at the root of this story is, as has been said, the futility of the search for human perfection. It was first expressed by Hawthorne in the form of a situation, and is recorded in The American NoteBooks, under date of 1840, as follows: “A person to be the death of his beloved in trying to raise her to more than mortal perfection; yet this should be a comfort to him for having aimed so highly and so holily.” As it stands, this moral situation could be made into either an allegory or a story. Hawthorne's romantic mind chose the latter. He imagined the wonderful laboratory of Aylmer, hung with gorgeous curtains; he imagined the tiny birthmark on the cheek of Georgiana; the foul dwarf, Aminadab, to play the cynic's part in the experiment; and then began the story of the fatal hand. If he could have made it all story! But no, he started with an abstract speculation, and he will not or cannot drop it. He enlarges upon his moral; he varies it; and then, at the very climax, when Georgiana's birthmark fades away in death, and the artist's work is done, "a hoarse chuckling laugh was heard again! Thus ever does the gross fatality of earth exult in its invariable triumph over the immortal essence, which, in this sphere of half-development, demands the completeness of a higher state. Yet had Aylmer ... and so on to the didactic conclusion. The moral intensity of the writer is too great for his art. In the language of rhetoric, his narrative contains too much exposi

In the language of esthetics, he errs in subordinating art to the drawing of a moral. Smug the Joiner's head would peep from beneath the lion mask, and Hawthorne the preacher will interrupt even at the moment when Hawthorne the story-teller and romanticist is just casting his powerful spells. And, in varying degrees, this same error is to be found throughout The Twice-Told Tales, Mosses from an Old Manse, and The Snow Image and Other Tales, the volumes which contain his short stories.

So much for detraction. Yet it cannot be denied, even by the most bigoted believer in art for art's sake, that these solemn tales of Hawthorne have tremendous force. Their moral intensity, even when uncontrolled, gives them a weight and a dignity scarcely equaled in the short story, and the measured elevation of their style lifts them far above the banal and the trite. Even without the rolling music of Hawthorne's powerful style, it is questionable whether they could be trite. Hawthorne felt these familiar themes too deeply to be anything but impressive in his delivery of them. There was nothing novel in his thinking: no new speculations upon human nature seem

« НазадПродовжити »