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Little Literary Lights
Short stories I have always considered vaudeville of literature, to be indulged in during our moments of leisure. They are a regular panacea for ennui and their brief, efficient, pithy, active composition a tonic for the weary, mentally or physically.
We start in childhood with lullabies, fables and folklore and a real admirer of narrative never outgrows the form or tires of vivid, homeopathic sketches of art. They contain the essence of life in an abbreviated shape and illustrate rather than detail their incidents, presenting a view rather than a description of the subject under discussion, which, in this busy age, is quite satisfactory to the majority of readers who wish the mass of trivial details offered in the modern novel, through which they refuse to wade, eliminated, and are looking for the maximum quantity of plot in the minimum amount of space; and there are many gems among these pastels appreciated by lovers of good literature.
Turgenieff is the recognized leader in the shorter form of prose. In his "Old Portraits" he gives an excellent view of the ancient Russian customs, but his best efforts are what is termed his "Poems in Prose," epitomes of sentiment. Similar in style and quality is Gorky with his "Tales of Two Countries." Of the other Russians, Tolstoi, to me, with his tragic realities, has always been ponderous. It is acknowledged that he has had a hard road and up-hill fight and his efforts show it in his pieces like "Where Love Is, There God Is Also," and "A Candle." Pushkin is popular, and one of his best is "The Shot." A younger author is Andreiyeff, whose tale entitled "Silence" is one of the strongest and most powerful I have ever read.
Not any of the stories from the North have much, if any, humor in them. From Scotland we get Stevenson's psychological tale of "Markheim" and Maclaren's "Doctor of the Old School," one of sentiment; the Scandinavian "Fisher Lassie" by Bjornson, "Love and Bread" of Strindberg, "Adventures of Nils" by Selma Lagerlof, and "The Two Friends" by Kielland; the German "Maria Francisca" of Heyse, and "Fountain of Youth" of Baumbach.
The Irish tales in themselves are rather weird; as, for instance, William Butler Yeat's "Kidnappers" or "The Wayfarer" of William Sharp (Fiona Macleod). The more typical stories are those of William Carleton.
In the sunny South there is more dreamy action. Take "A Tragedy" by Antonio More, and "The Poet's Christmas Eve" by Pedro de Alcarean from the Spanish, "The End of Candia" by Gabrielle d' Annunzio, or "College Friends" by Edmando De Amicis from the Italian.
The home of the short story, where it thrives and has received the attention of the greatest artists, is France - for it is there looked upon as an art and considered a school or profession in itself. To name the masterpieces is to enumerate the renowned authors of that country.
First comes Alphonse Daudet in his inimitable style with "The Death of the Dauphin," "The Francs-Tireurs," and many others too numerous to mention. Like him follows Guy de Maupassant with "The Necklace" and "The Piece of String"; Balzac's "The Hidden Masterpiece," Gautier's "The Mummy's Foot," Merimee's "The Venus of Ille," Hugo's "Fight with a Cannon," Souvestre's "The Virgin's Godchild," Coppee's "The Louis - D'or"; then Halevy who has sketched in "Blacky" and "The Circus Charger" - delightful anecdotes of animals of which he was, evidently, fond; or, the dainty bit by Bertrand entitled "Madame De Montbazan," or "I take Supper with my Wife" by Gustave Droz.
The French create an atmosphere, whose artificial construction is so masterful, that one becomes absorbed in it as though in fact it was an actual reality and follows the trend of the incident to the end.
The English, too, like the abbreviated tale and have many excellent writers. With them, though, it has been more of subject than style to which they have devoted their laborious attention.
Dickens' "Christmas Carol" and "Cricket on the Hearth" will likely remain for all time the most popular of English short stories, as also George Macdonald's "The Light Princess," "Walton Redivivus" by Thomas Hood, "The O'Connors" by Trollope, "The Snobs" by Thackeray, "Rab" by Dr. Brown, "The Two Householders" of Quiller-Couch, "Dilemmas" by Dowson, and "The Happy Prince" by Wilde. Old-fashioned stories are Mrs. Gaskell's "Cranford" and Miss Mitford's "Village Tales." "The Caldron of Oil" by Wilkie Collins, "The Stickit Minister" by Crockett, "Passing of the Third Floor Back" by Jerome, and "Magpie Over the Hill" by Galsworthy are all good, while "Alpyarius Island" by H. G. Wells, "A Benefit Performance" by Jacobs, and Hope's "Dolly Dialogues" are truly humorous.
Much of the sentiment and life of Japan has been brought out in the sketches written by Lafcadio Hearn, two of the best of which are "The Soul of the Great Bell" and "The Case of O-Dai." Redesdale's "Tales of Old Japan" are more typical. An idea of the Chinese stories may be had from, the translations by Geo. Soulie of the "Ghost in Love" and "Childless." While Hearn brought out the native sentiment of Japan, Kipling confined himself principally to the foreign life of India. His tales have been made famous, especially "The Man Who Would be King," "The Courting of Dinah Shadd," and "Rikki-Tikki-Tavi."
Some ancient stories that have managed to retain their interest and popularity through the course of time are: "Abelard and Heloise," "Aucassin and Nicolette," "Sylvie: Souvenirs du Valois," and those fables from the national epics like the "Iliad," "Odyssey," "Aeneid," "Beowulf," "Nibelungenlied," "Cid," "Volsunga Saga," "Lusiad," those of the Orient, and "Robin Hood."
What more beautiful tale is there than "Ruth," or more comforting than that of "Job," from the Bible?
A modern class of authors has sprung up recently whose writings are in rather a short, sharp, concise, staccato form of crystallized thought, clearly defined, among whom are Chesterton, Belloc, Leacock, Huneker, Dunsay and Merrick. They would not do for continuous reading, but should be picked up when one feels like having some refreshing mental tidbit.
Of Jewish stories, Zangwill writes "Anglicization" and "The Sabbath Question in Sudminster" as comedies, which prompts one to inquire what must their tragedies be like. Of the Yiddish type are "The New Tune" and "The Dead Town" by Isaac Perez - mournful notes, full, however, of hope.
Some years ago, one of the magazines offered a prize for the twenty best American short stories, which was won on the following list I submitted: Washington Irving, "Rip Van Winkle"; Nathaniel Hawthorne, "The Snow Image"; Edgar Allan Poe, "The Murder in the Rue Morgue"; Mark Twain, "The Celebrated Jumping Frog"; Thos. Nelson Page, "Marse Chan"; Bret Harte, "The Luck of Roaring Camp"; Charles Warren Stoddard, "Chumming with a Savage"; Frank R. Stockton, "The Lady or the Tiger"; Richard Harding Davis, "Gallegher"; Charles Dudley Warner, "A Fight with a Trout"; Mary E. Wilkins, "The Revolt of Mother"; J. S. Stimson, "Mrs. Knollys"; Ambrose Bierce, "A Horseman in the Sky"; Joseph G. Baldwin, "Ovid Bolus, Esq."; George W. Cable, "'Sieur George"; Ruth M. Stuart, "The Widder Johnsing"; Henry Cuyler Bunner, "Love in Old Clothes"; Thomas B. Aldrich, "Marjorie Daw"; Bayard Taylor, "The Chiropodist"; Joel Chandler Harris, "Rabbit and the Fox."
These are merely a preference to which might be added "The Mountain and the Sea" of Eugene Field; "Next to Reading Matter," by O. Henry; "The Bachelor's Christmas," Robert Grant; "Mule Artillery," John Phoenix; "The Ploughed Land," Mary Austin; "Breaking Into Society," George Ade; "Chimmie Fadden," E. W. Townsend; "New Year's Resolutions," by Mr. Dooley; "The Corpus Delecti," Melville Post; "Battle of Acoma," C. F. Lummis, and "The Gilded Man," by Bandelier.
A man enjoys action and mystery. The best men's stories are: "The Two Householders," by A. T. Quiller-Couch; "Youth," Joseph Conrad; "In the Midst of Life," Ambrose Bierce; "With the Night Mail," Rudyard Kipling; "Love of Life," Jack London; "The Permanent Stiletto," W. C. Morrow; "The Celebrated Jumping Frog," Mark Twain; "The Sheriff of Gullmore," Melville D. Post; "Murder in the Rue Morgue," Edgar Allan Poe; "Alpyarius Island," H. G. Wells; "The Diamond Lens," Fitz-James O'Brien, and "The Contented Man," Ivan Turgenieff.
Women prefer sentiment and problems. The best women's stories are: "Death of the Dauphin," by Alphonse Daudet; "Meh Lady," Thos. Nelson Page; "The Revolt of Mother," Mary E. Wilkins; "A Case of Conscience," Mary Austin; "The Widder Johnsing," Ruth McEnery Stuart; "The Necklace," Guy de Maupassant; "Case of O-Dai," Lafcadio Hearn; "The Lady or the Tiger," Frank R. Stockton; "Silence," Leonidas Andreiyeff; "Passing of the Third Floor Back," Jerome K. Jerome; "A Christmas Carol," Charles Dickens, and "Ruth," from the Bible.
I have avoided selections from long works as it is a field in itself and would take in an army of writers. The foregoing covers reading for all moods and includes everything from the tragic to the humorous. They are as delightful almost as personal intercourse and certainly more restful and companionable and serve the purpose of making a spare half-hour profitable and enjoyable.