Random 4

A Visit to a Short Story Factory

H.L. Mencken

The Smart Set/December, 1912

“LET us assume,” says the learned Prof. Henry Albert Phillips, in his sagacious treatise on “The Plot of the Short Story” (Stanhope-Dodge), “that the author of our proposed story has merely arrived at the point where he has determined to write a story. He has not a single specific idea as to either a particular plot or a definite kind of a story. He is obsessed by no particular mood. All he knows is that he is going to write a story.”

And then, with the utmost particularity and naiveté and without the slightest trace of humor, Prof. Phillips proceeds to show how the trick is done—how the sweating fictioneer, spitting on his hands, turns to his stock of plots, all neatly indexed under five heads and thirty-six sub-heads; and how, after examining fifty of them, he fails to find anything to inflame him; and how he then turns to his stock of titles, two thousand strong, and is struck dumb by the originality and pungency of “The Long Bow”; and how this title arouses in him a memory of a girl he once met at a party, a “weird sort of creature” who lied like a stockbroker . . . “interesting girl, tho . . . had a way about her that almost excited pity, tho”; and how he then builds up around this “weird creature tho” a plot which runs aground on the fact that he doesn’t know why she lies and can’t arrive to a plausible theory; and how he despairs of the enterprise and is on the point of abandoning her altogether when “in a moment of self-distrust” he picks up his book of plots again and is arrested by a clipping of a newspaper article about two drug fiends, and how he then jumps up with a whoop (I quote literally) and sees his way to a masterpiece; and how, his homeric labors ended at last, the sweat drying upon his brow, the agonies of parturition ceasing, he dashes off the following “skeleton”:

 

“The Long Bow” — Margaret, who deceives all her friends . . . a visionary and worse . . . is finally discovered taking a dope pill . . . people, community, friends, relatives, in family where Margaret lives, decide to go to Margaret’s town . . . they find even that non existent … a figment of her brain . . . they feel as if a cataclysm has wiped out a community of friends . . . when they return to the house, Margaret is gone, and all they find in her room is a hypodermic and complete dope outfit . . . she and her village never again heard of, but always spoken of with reverence as of honored dead.

 

This skeleton, of course, is not marketable as it stands. Editors want fat as well as bones. The short story of commerce, as everyone knows, must be “not less than 1,500 words in length, and not more than 5,000.” Very well; the laying on of the necessary tissue, the padding of the hips, the building of the shoulders, the development of the bust—all this is a labor of no great difficulty to a union man.

First of all, he changes the name of the heroine. “ ‘Margaret’ is too substantial for her character. He scans thru his list of a hundred or more temperamental names and picks out ‘Muriel.’” Then he changes the title. “The Long Bow,” true enough, has in flamed and fecundated him, but he wants something dismal, unearthly, edgarallanpoetical. So he hits upon “Arden—The Village of Despair,” and this profound title “gives him a quantity of new inspiration.” After that his sailing is easy. All he has to guard against is giving away his story. He must hold off the morphine as long as possible. When the secret is revealed at last, it must have the force of a mule kick, a boiler explosion, the arrival of twins. So he puts it at the very end: Morphine! Bang!! Whoop-ee-e-e-e !!! Quick curtain! The orchestra strikes up a march in C major. A fat woman has fainted. A critic is bleeding at the nose.

Thus the process of manufacturing stimulating fiction for the great and ammoniacal masses of the plain people, as revealed by a self-confessed master of the craft. With the absurd pretensions of highbrow authors, long of hair and unclean of cuff, that craft has nothing whatever to do. It is a well organized and respectable business, and fit for family men. One may practice it in an office building, aided by a stenographer, a steel filing cabinet and an adding machine. Its customary office hours are from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., with a hiatus of one hour for luncheon and a half-holiday on Saturday. A man so engaged, if he be sober and industrious, may eventually build up a trade of $5,000 a year and hold himself the equal of any master paperhanger or Bismarck herring importer in Christendom. He is no common author. He needs no poppy nor mandragora to give him ideas. He has his stock of 2,000 plots, elaborately cross-indexed. He does not have to dredge inspiration out of his experience, like Conrad or Kipling or Bret Harte; he has his book of newspaper clippings. Inspiration, indeed, is to him a mere name for folly, the symbol of a childish affectation, a refuge for asses. Does a motorman need inspiration to keep his car on its lawful route? Does a plumber wait for inspiration to wipe a joint? Does it take inspiration for a judge to decide in favor of the man with the mazuma? Of course not. Then why should a manufacturer of short stories need it? The demand is for such-and-such a quality of goods. O. Henry’s, let us say, are off ten points. Richard Harding Davises and Edgar Allan Poes are bearish, with little demand. Only Montague Glasses show any response to the favorable bank statement and the optimistic crop reports. Well, then, why not clear the shelves of dead stock and turn out some marketable goods? Why not let the customer decide what he wants, and then give him an honest, hardwood article, as sound as he can get in the next shop?

I advise you to read Prof. Phillips’s sapient and chatty book. What is more, I urge and implore you to read it. It is a liberal education in custom-made literature. It is a masterpiece of professional indelicacy. Once you have got it down, you will understand better than I can ever hope to expound it to you the cheapness, the childishness, the unspeakable trashiness of most of the so-called fiction that we of this club try to wade through each month. To find its equal for naive balderdash you must go to the tomes of the New Thoughters, with their gay directions for tapping the Subconscious and entering the Silence. To find its better for platitudes solemnly mouthed, you must go to the International Sunday School Lessons.

I beg pardon? Did the tall gentle men in the third row say anything? Am I unaware that the short story which Prof. Phillips manufactures before our eyes, carefully stuffing its tummy with excelsior and padding out its hips and pinking its cheeks and sticking on its ears—am I unaware that this creaking and incredible story was printed in The Smart Set of December, 1910? No, I am not unaware of it; and neither am I apologizing for it. Nothing is perfect in this senile and spavined old world, not even the unconscious humor of Prof. Phillips’s book. There are genii in Indiana who need only confess the whole truth to make the Professor seem a very pallbearer. I, myself, could write a more alkaline and appalling volume upon book reviewing. George Jean Nathan—but let George pass: the secrets of his lewd trade are too awful to think of. Meanwhile, what I wanted to say is that The Smart Set does its darndest. It tries to get the best stories in Christendom, at whatever cost in blood, sweat or treasure. But sometimes, alas, Christendom produces no best for six weeks running. Then to Terre Haute, to Bayonne, to Connellsville for trade goods!

More bosh. To wit, in “The Dream of Love and Death,” by Edward Carpenter (Kennerley), an English platitudinarian who seems to be arousing a good deal of excitement of late among the virgin reviewers. What is genuinely valuable in the book is a wordy paraphrase of chapter eleven of the last volume of Havelock Ellis’s exhaustive “Studies in the Psychology of Sex.” What Ellis pleads for there is a frank recognition of the essential decency of passion, a recognition granted as a matter of course by the Turks, the Hindoos, the Japanese and all other truly clean-minded races. It is only among Christian peoples that so palpable a fact is denied. We alone make the supreme experience of life a shame and a hissing, to be mentioned, when mentioned at all, as something intolerably disgraceful and degrading. Ellis, of course, speaks plainly, but Carpenter, having a chemically base audience in front of him, must needs put his argument in the form of vague hints and obfuscatory half-statements. How many readers, unacquainted with Ellis beforehand, will ever know what Carpenter is driving at on Page 41, in the paragraph beginning “And if the man”? Not many, I respectfully opine. And yet it would be unwise, I suppose, if not downright dangerous, to speak more plainly. I, myself, in this present paragraph, hem, haw and keep off the actual subject. Carpenter, at worst, has courage enough to touch its outermost frontiers. But why, having tackled so brave a job, does he then turn his book into a treatise on the occult, with anecdotes about spooks, spectral hands, poltergeists and other such preposterous fowl? Why drag in Katie King, that ancient fraud? Why try to make it appear that the proper ties of radium give support to the puerile tricks of spiritualist mediums? Why destroy whatever value the book may have by leading it from sense into platitudes and from platitudes into piffle?

One indubitable use, however, remains to its credit: it may inspire the more intelligent reader to go to Havelock Ellis himself and so make him drink of a spring truly Pierian. Ellis is one of the most learned and clear-minded Englishmen of our time. A psychiatrist, a psychologist and a sociologist of very high rank, he is also a charming writer and a sound critic. He is the editor of the invaluable Contemporary Science Series, and has himself contributed several volumes to it. He is one of the editors of the excellent Mermaid Series of old English dramatists. He was one of the first Englishmen to write intelligently about Ibsen. His book on the causes and processes of dreams is the best in any language. Saving only Sir Francis Galton, he has made a more valuable contribution to the statistical study of genius than any other man. His great monograph on “Man and Woman” is the starting point of every current discussion of secondary sexual differences.

But above and beyond all these works are his six volumes of “Studies in the Psychology of Sex.” Here we have the labor of years, the labor of a scientific Hercules. Every pertinent fact and observation, in whatever language, is set down, weighed, appraised. The abysmal delvings of Germans and Russians, the gay flights of Frenchmen and Italians, the tedious figurings of Englishmen and Americans, even the views and traditions of Arabs and Chinese, are put in order, compared, digested, studied. And to all this staggering welter of material, to all this homeric accumulation of data, Ellis brings the path-finding faculty of a trained and penetrating mind. He has that supreme sort of common sense which is the mother and father of genuine science. He discerns the general fact in the Alpine rubbish heap of special facts. The result is a magnificent contribution to human knowledge—a contribution not immediately assimilable, of course, by the folk of Christendom, but one that they must eventually get down, in the sugar-coated pills of lesser sages, if they are ever to shake off their abominable doctrine that the only decent way to discuss the most important of all the facts of life is by silly indirection and with nasty giggles.

Another professor of sex who leans heavily upon Ellis is Earl Barnes, author of “Woman in Modern Society” (Huebsch). Mr. Barnes, it appears, is a discreet and modest fellow; he does not attempt to solve the woman question in one volume duodecimo, but contents himself with stating it. In that effort, however, he finds it needful to criticize the solutions of more confident sages, and here he writes intelligently and persuasively. The trouble with most of our tub-thumpers and mad mullahs, he points out, is that they forget the abysmal and incurable difference between man and woman. What is sauce for the gander should be sauce for the goose: so these amateur messiahs argue. But, in point of fact, it seldom is. You may give the girls the vote, you may admit them to universities, pulpits and rathskellers, you may grant them the inestimable boon of working in sweatshops, you may let them drink, smoke and swear like archdeacons, but the fact will always remain that, head for head, they are weaker than men, and less enterprising than men, and so less fitted for the battle of life than men. Not long ago the suffragettes down in Maryland were arguing for the cause on the ground that, given the vote, women would not have to stand up in street cars! There you have it. On the one hand they reach out fatuously for man’s privileges; on the other hand they cling hunkerously to woman’s privileges. George Bernard Shaw, the most serious man in the world, once stated the case so clearly that the English people, wholly unaccustomed to serious discussion, rocked with mirth. “I am in favor,” said he, “of equal rights for the two sexes. Why should I be forbidden to knock a woman down when she insults me?” In the whole world, I dare say, there are not ten women, setting aside grand opera contraltos, who dare follow him so far. They roar and they rage for rights, and bit by bit they get what they demand, but all the while a sharp sense of dependence, of biological inferiority, or, at all events, of indelible difference remains.

“Man’s happiness is I will’; woman’s happiness is ‘He will’!” So said the late Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche, a lunatic and a scoundrel. Not quite a truth, perhaps, but still a very respectable half-truth. Give any normal woman her choice between a good job and a good marriage, and she will choose so surely and so explosively that the prospective bridegroom will be lucky if he doesn’t lose an eye. But here, of course, I merely state platitudes, as Mr. Barnes does in his book. Where he strikes out into greener fields is in his argument that the women of our civilization still lack certain large and valuable rights, for all their absurd reaching for the rights of men. Why should any civilized woman submit to motherhood unwillingly? Why should her share of the family funds be determined, not by her own needs and desires, but by her partner’s generosity? Why should it be assumed that the man she is willing to obey and venerate today is the same man she will want to obey and venerate tomorrow? Here, it must be plain, there is room for genuine progress. Woman the dependent must cease to be woman the parasite and slave. The so-called “lady” is as offensive to the decencies as the rest of the pediculidae. The ideal of the years to come is a woman emancipated from convention and superstition, a free agent in human society, the full equal of her man—not a grotesque parody of that man, arrayed absurdly in his toga virilis, smoking his bad cigars, monkeying with his labors and vices, but a creature standing squarely on her own rotund legs, not a pseudo-man but an authentic woman, not a grotesque blend of angel and grafter, but a free equal. That woman, of course, will not submit to tyranny, whether gross or petty. She will not live with her man ten days after she has ceased wanting to live with him. But who but a scoundrel or a cry baby, on that brighter and better tomorrow, will ever ask her to do so?

To the novels, b’gosh ! Soaring to the empyrean heights of philosophy, manufacturing strange and racy syllogisms, plucking the bass harp of the transcendental ethic, we have quite forgotten the novels. Alack, how they smirk and leer at us in their prismatic rows—blue, yellow, orange, violet, purple, green, scar let, vermilion—each with its elegant gilt stamping, each with its canned review attached, every second one with its flaming pictures by Arthur I. Keller, Howard Chandler Christy and Andre Castaigne! And how flat and pifflish we sometimes find the fare within!

For instance, in “Pansy Mears,” by Horace W. C. Newte (Lane), an incredibly stupid yarn about a country girl’s seduction in London and the ensuing running amuck of her peasant lover, young George Tarling. Mr. Newte has one shining talent: he writes quite the worst dialogue I have encountered in years. And when he comes to scenes of conflict and passion—e. g., the scene wherein George essays to strangle Pansy and is dissuaded by her maidenly tears—he contrives to be almost as stagey and ridiculous as the honest lads who compose “pathetic” acts for vaudeville. Even sillier stuff is to be found in—But I spare your feelings by heaving the volume at a passing police man. There it goes—and good rid dance! Another after it! And yet another! Half a dozen more! Good! The shelf clears. Better stuff grows visible, tales sanely and divertingly told. For example, “Mrs. Ames,” by E. F. Benson (Doubleday-Page).

This Benson is the same who wrote “Dodo,” that perennial model of the more bilious lady authors, and here again he concerns himself with the eternal triangle, but that is as far as the resemblance goes. “Dodo” showed the bitterness of youth; “Mrs. Ames” has the mellow glow of middle age. But though he has thus changed his outlook upon life, Mr. Benson has by no means changed his method of describing it. He is still more concerned with the motive than with the act, a great deal more with the character than with the event. His best pages are those in which the static element completely overlays the dynamic. Not much happens, in the objective sense, in this delightful story of an English country town. Major Lyndhurst Ames, true enough, involves himself in a lamentable flirtation with Millicent Evans, the doctor’s wife, and in a moment of weakness (regretted almost instanter) he allows her to inveigle him into plans for an elopement, but after all, no such elopement actually takes place. It is Amy, the Major’s wife, who saves the day, Amy who is ten long years his senior, Amy who has had her spree and her repentance, too, for didn’t she once bawl “Votes for women!” at a political meeting, and so give Riseborough an enchanting sensation, and her husband a memory to live down? Amy saves the elopers at the brink. Her good sense, the grace and curse of her seniority, rout romance. And Riseborough, unsuspecting, goes on in its rut. Nothing happens.

But with what fine art Mr. Benson has adorned and enlivened that nothing! How sharply and humorously he sets that little group of dull folk before us— Mrs. Ames and her dumb fear of the passing years, the Major and his half hearted philandering, young Harry Ames and his calf love, Millie Evans and her ill-starred revolt, her doctor-husband and his fatuous good nature, Mrs. Altham and her gossiping, Henry Altham and his preposterous golfing, old General Fortescue and his discreet boozing! Dull folk, but only on the surface. Get under their hides, be privy to their yearnings, look into their hearts, and you will find the whole drama of life and death in progress there. It is only, of course, the farthest ripple of great adventure that reaches them, but that ripple is sufficient to bring peril to such fragile craft. Mr. Benson’s virtue is that he makes the fact plain. He throws these pygmies up, as it were, upon a large screen. He gives stature and bulk to these small town Cleopatras and Antonys, these mute, inglorious Romeos and Juliets. He achieves, in brief, a genuine novel in this day of quasi-novels and pseudonovels, for he shows us a group of human beings reacting plausibly against their environment and dragged through a devil’s dance by their destiny; and to the picture he adds a penetrating and illuminating interpretation. The book, of course, is no masterpiece. Its limitations are the eternal limitations of the small canvas. It is too close to the particular to leave much sense of the general. But so far as it goes, it goes clearly and delightfully, for it is the work of a man who has looked upon the human comedy with a seeing eye and who knows how to write.

“Alexander’s Bridge,” by Willa S. Cather (Houghton-Mifflin), has the influence of Edith Wharton written all over it, and there is no need for the canned review on the cover to call attention to the fact—the which remark, let me hasten to add, is not to be taken as a sneer but as hearty praise, for the novelizing novice who chooses Mrs. Wharton as her model is at least one who knows a hawk from a handsaw, an artist from an artisan. The majority of beginners in this our fair land choose E. Phillips Oppenheim or Marie Corelli; if we have two schools, then one is the School of Plot and the other is the School of Piffle. But Miss Cather, as I have said, is intelligent enough to aim higher, and the thing she offers must be set down as very promising piece of writing. Its chief defect is a certain triteness in structure. When Bartley Alexander, the great engineer, discovers that he is torn hopelessly between a genuine affection for his wife, Winifred, and a wild passion for his old flame, Hilda Burgoyne, it seems a banal device to send him out on his greatest bridge a moment before it falls, and so drown him in the St. Lawrence. This is not a working out of the problem; it is a mere evasion of the problem. In real life how would such a man solve it for himself? Winifred, remember, is in Boston and Hilda is in London, and business takes Bartley across the ocean four or five times a year. No doubt the authentic male would let the situation drift. In the end he would sink into the lean and slippered pantaloon by two firesides, a highly respectable and reasonably contented bigamist (unofficially, of course), a more or less successful and satisfied wrestler with fate. Such things happen. I could tell you tales. But I tell them not. All I do is to throw out the suggestion that the shivering of the triangle is far from inevitable. Sometimes, for all the hazards of life, it holds together for years. But the fictioneers are seldom content until they have destroyed it by catastrophe. That way is the thrilling way, and more important still, it is the easy way.

Aside from all this, Miss Cather gives a very good account of herself indeed. She writes carefully, skillfully, artistically. Her dialogue has life in it and gets her story ahead. Her occasional paragraphs of description are full of feeling and color. She gives us a well drawn picture of the cold Winifred, a better one of the emotional and alluring Hilda and a fairly credible one of Bartley himself—this last a difficult business, for the genius grows flabby in a book. It is seldom, indeed, that fiction can rise above second-rate men. The motives and impulses and processes of mind of the superman are too recondite for plausible analysis. It is easy enough to ex plain how John Smith courted and won his wife, and even how William Jones fought and died for his country, but it would be impossible to explain (or, at any rate, to convince by explaining) how Beethoven wrote the Fifth Symphony, or how Pasteur reasoned out the hydrophobia vaccine, or how Stonewall Jackson arrived at his miracles of strategy. The thing has been tried often, but it has always ended in failure. Those supermen of fiction who are not mere shadows and dummies are supermen reduced to saving ordinariness. Shakespeare made Hamlet a comprehensible and convincing man by diluting that half of him which was Shakespeare by a half, which was a college sophomore. In the same way he saved Lear by making him, in large part, a silly and obscene old man—the blood brother of any average ancient of any average English tap room. Tackling Caesar, he was rescued from disaster by Brutus’s knife. George Bernard Shaw, facing the same difficulty, resolved it by drawing a composite portrait of two or three London actor managers and half a dozen English politicians.

In “A Woman of Genius” (Doubleday-Page), Mary Austin makes her escape by sliding down the fact that Olivia May Lattimore is really not a genius at all, but merely an actress who thinks she is. Most good actresses, I dare say, think they are; the belief is one of the principal signs of that sublime assurance which lies at the heart of competent acting. But the truth is, of course, that genius is altogether too fine a word to apply to stage players, just as it is too fine a word to apply to opera singers, fiddlers, piano thumpers, college professors and other such retailers of better men’s ideas. A first rate actress, true enough, may be measurably better than a mere interpreter, a phonograph in skirts, a sentient marionette; she may actually add a valuable something to the thing created by the dramatist. But that something, after all, is no more than a good painter adds to a house. It is the architect and not the painter that creates the house, and in the same way it is the dramatist and not the actress that creates the character the actress plays. Creation is an act of the highest cerebral centers. It takes out of any man who attempts it the best that is in him. When it is essayed by a true genius it takes out of him the best that is in the human race. But interpretation is usually as much a physical as a psychic matter. An actress with only one eye would be in worse case than an actress with only one cerebral hemisphere; a Mischa Elman with defective hearing and clumsy thumbs would simply cease to exist as a Mischa Elman. And yet Lafcadio Hearn, with only one eye, created works of undoubted genius, and Ludwig Van Beethoven, with defective hearing, and Richard Wagner, with clumsy thumbs, each revolutionized the art of music. The test of a creative genius is that he creates something great and different. The test of an interpreter is that he does not reduce that greatness to the commonplace and that differentness to rote. The one is greatest when he gives us most of himself; the other is greatest when he best effaces himself.

By all of which it appears that Olivia May Lattimore is not a genius, whatever she herself may think of it. But nevertheless, as Mrs. Austin sets her before us, she is an extraordinarily attractive and entertaining woman. Her account of her childhood and introduction to the stage (the story is autobiographical in form) is full of reality; we see clearly the geese who hatch this swan; the shoddy little town of Taylorville becomes as vivid as Mr. Benson’s Riseborough. And there is sharp observation and satisfying interpretation, too, in the chapters which deal with Olivia’s early struggles as an actress —her first, deceptive success, her weary siege of the managers’ offices, her close encounter with actual starvation. But with the beginnings of her celebrity, the birth of her notion that she is a genius, the chronicle begins to lose its grip. The Jew who grubstakes and press-agents her has the creaky joints of a god from the machine; the great engineer who later wins her and discards her is never half so real as the country bumpkin who was the lover and husband of her youth. But allowing for all this, it must be granted that Mrs. Austin has given us a genuinely distinguished piece of work. In the midst of gaseous nothings it is a novel with bone and sinew. It deals frankly with realities. It gets away from the customary rumble-bumble. It is as unlike the conventional best seller as an American novel may be—and get published.

Ethel Sidgwick, an English novelist lately “discovered” with a considerable flourish of blasmusik, is a graceful water colorist, a fair match in letters for Cecile Chaminade in music, the mistress of a very pretty technique. But I am unable to report that she brings much that is new or anything that is profound to her inquiry into human motives. Of the three stories that she offers in a group, the most entertaining, I think, is “Le Gentleman” (Small-Maynard), and here we have nothing more than the old conflict between love and duty, with duty winning irritatingly and somewhat incredibly. Why does Alexander Fergusson, the hard-headed Scotchman, submit to the tyrannies and infidelities of the silly Meysie Lampeter? And why does the intelligent Gilberte Morny yield herself so docilely to family orders? It is romantic, of course, but is it sense? I do not deny, mark you, that such things must be; in point of fact they often are. But it is the business of a serious novelist to account for them, to elucidate and enforce them, to make them not only possible but also inevitable. This, I fear, Miss Sidgwick fails to do. She has a fine hand for the lighter shades of character—she makes Alexander interesting, and Meysie and Gilberte, too, and also the musical prodigy of “Promise” and the Irish folk of “Herself” —but in the greater clashes of will and emotion she falls a bit short. A clever reporter, an ingratiating writer, but one who still lacks a comprehensible philosophy of life.

“My Lady’s Garter,” by Jacques Futrelle (Rand-McNally), is the last novel that we shall ever have from Mr. Futrelle’s pen, for he was one of the staunch fellows who helped the women and children into the Titanic’s boats and then went down with the ship. A capital maker of galloping and unserious romances was lost in that memorable tragedy of the sea. He had a fine hand for devising astounding plots; he knew men and women; he wrote with plausibility and aplomb; and above all, he tempered the hot steel of derring-do in the oil of humor. It was as a humorist, indeed, that he made his first success. No doubt you remember the story—an extravagant and hilarious tale about a Kentuckian who bred a race horse with hind legs like a kangaroo’s, and struck the bookmakers dead by running the beast a mile in 1:01. That story was a little masterpiece, perfectly planned and superbly written, and it made Mr. Futrelle a popular author overnight. Then he tried the larger form of the light romance and succeeded again, but I doubt that he had got within sight of his best work when he died. “My Lady’s Garter,” however, shows the way he was going. With its vixenish, red-haired heroine, its poetizing sub-hero, its sentimental villain and its five thumbed detectives, it assays a good deal more humor than sugar. There are still plenty of concessions, true enough, to the form and its conventions, but in most of them there are evidences of an effort to break away, and in the course of time, I have no doubt, Mr. Futrelle would have moulded that form into something better fitting his talents. His true field was humor: he had in him the making of a first rate satirist, a species of scrivener very rare among us—and it is a pity that he did not five long enough wholly to find himself. As it is, he left behind him three or four long stories of unusual ingenuity and charm, and a public which must sincerely mourn his passing. To die at thirty-seven in the full blush of health, with the door of opportunity wide open and skill just showing its quality—this, surely, was a fate too cruel for understanding.

And so we come to the end, with oh so many books remaining. Grab “The New Humpty Dumpty,” by Daniel Chaucer (Lane), and you will not lament it. A burlesque novel with genuine humor in it: a sort of elaborate parody of the Zenda tale of yesteryear. Or “Caviare,” by Grant Richards (Houghton-Mifflin), another wholly merry concoction. Or “Smoke Bellew,” by Jack London (Century Co.), a tale of dashing doings in the Klondike. Or “The White Blackbird,” by Hudson Douglas (Little-Brown), a rip-snorting chronicle of villainy and high adventure. Or “A Romance of Billy Goat Hill,” by Alice Hegan Rice (Century Co.), a rambling story enlivened by vivid and amusing character sketches. Or “Over the Pass,” by Frederick Palmer (Scribner), an Arizona rendering of the story of Romeo Montague and Julia Capulet, with considerable embellishment. Or “Pleasures and Palaces,” by Juliet Wilbor Tompkins (Doubleday-Page), an idyl of young love with humor in it and a Howard Christy hero seven feet, three inches in height. Or—

But there goes the whistle. Next month, which is January, but magazinely about December 15, we’ll be among the Christmas books.

(Source: Hathitrust.org, https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=njp.32101076380441;view=1up;seq=718)