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periodical. Lastly, there was a wealth of short story subjects in the rapidly changing civilization of this country, and, what was even more important, a disposition to grasp them on the part of American writers of fiction.
At first, although the short-story output was large, larger than England's, the quality was not high. In the mass of magazine stories published in the decade just before and just after the Civil War, there were many short stories of moderate excellence. But they are all highly inferior to the nouvelles of Dickens and the other experiments in short narrative of the English writers, although their subjects may make them interesting to an American reader. This, however, does not fully apply to work of two American writers of this period which is not only good in itself, but which continues that line of development which leads up from Poe and Hawthorne to the kind of story-writing which triumphed in the last third of the century. One of these men drew his inspiration from Poe. The other succeeded Hawthorne in the study of the situation.
Fitz-James O'Brien, an Irishman, migrated to America about 1852, and became a free-lance in journalism, poetry, and magazine fiction. His vigorous imagination, slightly morbid, and not untouched with Celtic mysticism, made him an easy victim to the spell of Poe. What Was It?, a story of an invisible monster who embarrasses the occupants of a New York boarding-house, and The Diamond Lens, the tale of the love of a youth for a microscopic creature who wrings his heart by dying in her world of a water drop, are his two best known stories. The stamp of the latter end of the romantic movement is upon these plots; the mark of Poe is upon the actors: morbid, abnormal people, who meddle with opium, or dally with scientific mysticism. And it is Poe's fine art of construction which makes the stories effective. Though O'Brien did not catch the solemn beauty of Poe's style, though he descended from Usher's and Ligeia's regions of Gothic romance to prosaic New York, he achieved, nevertheless, a strong emotional effect. He was too imitative to be great; but when he imitated Poe's short story his success was well deserved.
Edward Everett Hale carried on the American short story in a different fashion. Hale was a Unitarian minister of varied capabilities, who lived until 1909; a fact which shows how rapid has been the growth of our now superabundant short story. His one great narrative is The Man Without a Country (1863), a story in which a poignant situation unifies the whole. Thus, in technique, he was a successor of Hawthorne. But he was in no sense an imitator. The Man Without a Country develops the situation of an unhappy lieutenant of our army who, in a moment of temper, wished to throw off his allegiance, and in a manner no less terrible than pathetic was granted his wish. Here is no moral problem, no attempt to give flesh and blood to abstractions, nothing, in fact, that is Hawthornesque, except the choice of a situation for the unifying principle of the narrative. It is an intensely patriotic story, all afire with the agonized loyalty of the North of the Civil War. Perhaps it is because of the gripping power of the central situation, that this illordered narrative gives over the writer's intense emotion even to the readers of this later generation,
But one must regretfully note, in addition, for this mid-century in America, that of all its fertile story-tellers, none but these two have been kept in remembrance, and of these two, O'Brien has sadly needed a revival. N. P. Willis, Bayard Taylor, A. F. Webster, and many others have gone to the bookcase on the third-floor back. They had talent, wit; Willis, perhaps, a touch of genius. But
their materials were too slight, their art not sufficient. The fortunate chance which made O'Brien a link between Poe and the modern short story alone has saved him from the general decay of reputations once excellent, for he was little more than a clever journalist. And the intensity of Hale's one great story alone makes it worth noting that the method of the situation was carried on there and elsewhere by that writer. But the experiments of these authors were more significant than, at this point in the discussion, they may appear.
It is more than noteworthy, it is remarkable, that until some time after the Civil War no one seems to have recognized that the impressionistic short story was particularly fitted to express American subjects. Perhaps it was because this literary form had been so closely associated with the mystic and the terrible of ultra-romanticism. It was Bret Harte who first applied the technique of Poe to distinctively American life; or, if you prefer, it was Bret Harte who first interested himself in the impressionistic features of a life distinctively American, and tried to put them into short stories. Furthermore, he combined with the emotional effect which Poe had desired that a short, story should seek, the outlining of a distinct situation, in Hawthorne's fashion, and so established what might be called the normal method for the later short story.
A gold-mine as rich as the placer-beds was opened for this young American when, in 1857, he entered literature by the backdoor of a California typesetting room, and
began to write in a new world full of vivid contrasts and striking situations. Subjects for short stories must have flashed upon him by multitudes, as they flashed upon the writers of that far deeper tumult, the Renaissance. At first he could not use them. His earliest tales make little effect. California was in them, but they do not make you feel California. Then he began anew. Perhaps he had been reading Poe. Perhaps he was moved by the need of driving his keen impressions home to the reader. Probably both. At all events, he wrote stories which he called “sketches," and the first of these was the famous Luck of Roaring Camp (1868), which shocked, by its vividness, the lady proof-reader of the Overland Monthly—strange proof that pioneer California was turning bourgeois at the very moment that its picturesque barbarism was first being effectively recorded. The Luck, , with The Outcasts of Poker Flat and Tennessee's Partner, which followed in 1869, make up the great trilogy of Harte's stories. If all the rest of his prose had been left unwritten, his reputation would still rest quite securely, and, in truth, not much altered, on these three.
As literature, Harte's best stories crystallize the life of the mining-camp, a life where law was still a matter of personal opinion, and human nature could be seen working in the open, free for a time from many restraints. It is true that the wise say that Harte's California never existed. Naturally. He was a romancer, and, perhaps, a sentimentalist. He did not photograph, but paint. Certainly his version of this new world was sufficiently true to command applause, and more than sufficiently interesting. Few scenes in modern narrative are more convincing than the march of the exiles from Poker Flat, Tennessee's plea for his partner, or Roaring Camp's housewarming for its first baby. These glimpses of old human nature, revealing itself strangely in the midst of barbarism, lawlessness, license, and the Sierras, have a value which not even absolute untruthfulness to local conditions could utterly destroy. But, as H. C. Merwin, Harte's biographer, has recently proved, they are not untruthful; they are romantically true.
Again, there are the very memorable characters which Harte gave to fiction. There is the red-shirt miner with bad language, worse morals, and a big heart; the sweetsouled school-marm who serves as foil; and the generous gambler with steel-like nerve. These are not so American as the scenes and the life in which they move. Indeed, they belong to that world-wide family of sentimental characters in which the black and white of sin and virtue are mixed without being mingled. Dickens, Harte's chief literary master, was the adept among contemporaries in this art, and from Dickens, Harte learned much. Nevertheless, however sentimentalized, Kentuck, Oakhurst, Yuba Bill, were studied in California, and their reality is convincing. If the Forty-niners were to be presented typically, this method was, perhaps, most likely to catch the essential qualities of a society where the absence of conventions left human nature free.
Lastly, this interesting life, these picturesque characters and vivid situations, were embodied not in rambling tales from which half their flavor would have evaporated, but in well-ordered stories where incident led to incident, and the whole to a climax. Kentuck dead, with the baby's grasp still upon his great fingers; Tennessee pleading tearfully over the corpse of his villainous friend; Piney and the Duchess wrapped in each other's arms between the walls of Sierra snow, irresistibly make the desired emotional effect. Perhaps this is what Harte meant when he called these stories sketches. He knew that his purpose