Francis Bret Harte (18361902). The Luck of Roaring Camp, The Outcasts of Poker Flat & The Idyl of Red Gulch.
The Harvard Classics Shelf of Fiction. 1917.
Criticisms and Interpretations
I. By Parke Godwin
JUST as we were saying to each other, How much we need a story-writer who shall treat our American life in an artistic form, satisfying to the most exacting sense of the highest literary meritjust as we were deploring that Irving, and Hawthorne, and Poe, men of another generation, who were retrospective, and not on a level with the present hour, were the only men of fine talent among our story-writersFrancis Bret Harte, in the newest and remotest part of our land, gives us an expression of its early, rude, and lawless life, at once unexpected and potent, and which shames our distrust of the genius of our race in its new home. It is an expression so honest, so free from cant, so exactly corresponding with its subject, so unsqueamish and hearty, so manly, that it is to be accepted like a bit of nature. His stories are like so many convincing facts; they need no argument; they lodge themselves in our minds, and germinate like living things.
We are struck by the varied power which he exhibits, and the diverse emotions which he touches, in such narrow dramatic limits. Within the little frame of a sketch he is terse, graphic, vivid; his humor and pathos are irresistible; his sentiment delicate and true; his poetry magical and suggestive; his feeling of out-of-door life constant and delightful. His use of the minor key of nature, as a contrast to the soiled and troubled lives of his men and women, is comparable to the accidental influences which touch and soothe an unhappy man when his attention is caught by sunlight in wood-paths, or by the sound of the wind in trees, or by any of the silencing and flood-like influences that sweep over us when we are open to the beautiful, the unnamable, and mysterious.
Bret Harte has deepened and broadened our literary and moral sympathies; he has broken the sway of the artificial and conventional; he has substituted actualities for idealitiesbut actualities that manifest the grandeur of self-sacrifice, the beauty of love, the power of childhood, and the ascendancy of nature.From Editorial Notes, in Putnams Magazine (July, 1870).