Зображення сторінки
PDF
ePub

He was the apostle of a new romanticism. It was a romanticism of the present instead of the past. For the medieval knight or the eighteenth-century Jacobite he substituted the Englishman, bewildered but omnipotent in the mysterious Orient. For the romantic appeal of history he substituted the equally romantic appeal of vivid local color. Instead of reacting against contemporary impulses, he combined with them, exalting English virility and English self-control, and turning the land hunger of the late nineteenth century into sheer romance. Stevenson was just showing how strong and how enduring was the taste for the romantic story. But Kipling went much further; for by giving to his characters, to his plots, to his scenes, the air of a vivid and current realism, he seized upon the imagination of a great class who, being neither children nor people of literary sensibility, were not easily affected by literary romance. And this is one reason why his influence upon the taste of this English-reading generation has been almost beyond measure.

His means—if we disregard his verse—was the short story, which he took as the Americans, especially as Bret Harte, had left it: a highly unified narrative, made up usually of a striking situation, and driving towards one vivid impression as the result of the whole. This short story was an admirable instrument, unquestionably the best instrument for the work he had to do; but he exaggerated both its merits and its defects. His characters are always immensely striking people: freebooters, exiles, heroic drummer-boys, black panthers, adepts, express engines; their actions are vivid and unusual: a dash for a crown, a love affair with an elephant, the war of the jungle upon man; and the setting is flashed upon the inward eye with all the power of a master of the specific word. Journalism—the gospel of the interesting-is mighty in them, and with admirable effect. With bad effects also; especially upon the numerous imitators who have filled the magazines for twenty years. For journalism means emphasis, and emphasis applied without discrimination leads to one long scream for attention which pains the judicious ear and wearies even the lover of sensationalism. In Kipling's earliest stories, notably in those of the Plain Tales from the Hills, where his observation was still immature, and his materials thin, this insistence upon the emphatic leads to a smartness of diction which may be compared to the kind of dressing called “loud.” In later and stronger stories it is only of a lack of restraint that one complains-of unnecessary emphasis upon virility, vulgarity, upon all the showy attributes. Read Pride and Prejudice before The Strange Ride of Morrowbie Jukes, and form the criticism for yourself.

Thus, in his pursuit of a contemporary romance, Kipling journalized the short story. · He opened the way for those who have vulgarized it, he is responsible for an infinite amount of superlative high color and extreme action in current fiction; but his service is not to be judged by its faults. The impressionistic short story is clearly an issue of the movement which produced modern journalism; it is part of the modern attempt to get at the truth and get at it quickly. The short story and journalism have grown up together; America among Englishspeaking nations has been most influential for good and evil upon both. Kipling, whose first inspiration was American, who applied more fully than ever before the methods of one art to the other, was following a true instinct; and our contemporary literature, if it might be more dignified,

le rich without the result.

In journalizing the short story, Kipling raised one kind of journalism to the level of literature. This is the reason for his success and the chief attribute of his genius. The wearing qualities of his frontier-stories, and the permanent fascination of his Jungle Books bear witness to this achievement; but it is the later work of Kipling which best illustrates it. There is no sharp division, as some critics would have us believe, between Kipling's earlier and his later periods. The difference lies only in a maturing, a chastening, and a logical development of tendencies already present; with a natural change of subject. Kipling is a greater man than Harte, who worked the California soil after the gold was exhausted. The development has been along several lines, and in every instance the instinct of journalism is manifest. Problems at issue, questions of the day interest Kipling; he has turned to fact-crammed narratives of the "special-article type, as in The Army of a Dream, or the anti-socialistic allegory, The Mother-Hive. In these instances the modern journalist's call to preach has been unfortunate, for in such work he has subordinated art, just as in his overemphatic days he marred it. But in the midst of the new volumes, Traffics and Discoveries, Actions and Reactions, come stories of soldiers, of natives, of machines, which exhibit all his old craftsmanship; and, more significantly, with them other tales that reveal the journalist upon a new track. This seeker after the interesting has heard the call of modern mysticism, and begun to delve. He has entered the psychological country of Henry James, and has told of his discoveries in a more interesting fashion. The Brushwood Boy (1895), They (1904), An Habitation Enforced (1905), are thus far the masterpieces of this endeavor. In the first, Kipling writes of dreams come true. The Brushwood Boy takes the imaginative sentiment of a young soldier, and makes a

[ocr errors]

the new

story of that; not by analysis, but through a delicate, difficult history of dreams, where this thoroughly healthy person meets his childish fancy, Annieanlouise, and rides with her down the Thirty-Mile Ride, until, in the daytime and awake, he meets her in the flesh. They is that incomparable tale of the blind and childless woman whose love brings back the souls of dead children: a story so moving, so delicate, so subtly fine, as to make ridiculous the criticism which disposes of Kipling as the apostle of the primitive, the strenuous, and the loud. An Habitation Enforced does not dip into the supernormal, but it probes no less into the human spirit. The grip of the land upon its owners is its theme; more especially the grip of old land rich in human rights and wrongs upon comer, who thinks that he has purchased only so many English acres with his price. It is all the more interesting because it represents, with unusual sympathy, what an Englishman might call the Colonial point of view. Journalism seems at a far remove from these excellent stories. Not it is a prime factor in their success.

Other men have entered these particular borderlands before; none have made them so realizable, so concrete. Kipling's journalistic instinct for what, in such subtle matters, the reader can grasp and feel, has helped him to write the most interesting report.

Again, there is imaginative history, the last field in which Kipling's genius has wandered. Puck of Pook's Hill (1906), Rewards and Fairies (1910), are, in the language of journalism, interviews with England's dead. The British captain of Roman legionaries tells the children of the defense of the great wall; Queen Elizabeth strolls and talks in their grove; the man of the stone age recounts his sacrifice for cold iron; and Puck, the super-reporter, manages each interview with veteran skill.

[ocr errors]

Journalism in the service of literature I call this—and if good journalism, so much the better literature.

We are fortunate to have had our Kipling; and to have him, for these later stories promise rare achievements to come. The journalizing of the short story which he stands for has had an unfortunate effect; it has given rise to a school of magazine writers to whom vividness and immediate interest are the whole of art. But it was a logical, an inevitable development; and must run its

Just at present the conservative reader is appalled by the avalanche of cheap and easy stories of the Kipling kind. But neither the thousand machine-made imitations, nor the imperfect vessels from the master's wheel, impair the value of the perfect vase. We may disagree with Kiplingism, and deplore the Kiplingesque in literature, but only those who hate the romantic in any form will cry down the type romanticist of the turn of the century.

Finally, Kipling is the most American of all English writers; and his stories belong in everything but the accident of subject-matter to the tradition of the American

course,

short story.

XVI

THE CONTEMPORARY SHORT STORY

The great authority of Stevenson and Kipling has not prevented the contemporary short story from being strongly American in type; and when the debt of these two writers to Hawthorne, to James, and to Harte is properly weighed, this is not surprising. Furthermore, while it is true that good short stories are being written in England, notably by Locke, by Merrick, and by Doyle,

« НазадПродовжити »