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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Hamilton Wright Mabie (1846–1916)
Critical and Biographical Introduction
 
HAMILTON WRIGHT MABIE, one of the original editors of this LIBRARY and for thirty-seven years a member of the editorial staff of The Outlook and for thirty-two years Associate Editor, was known in many parts of the country not only as a writer and critic, but as a lecturer. He was in constant demand to address college audiences on educational and anniversary occasions, and his personal acquaintance with such men as Lowell and Oliver Wendell Holmes added to the popular quality of his presentation of literature and ideals. The last literary contribution from his pen, published in The Outlook for January 10th, 1917, ten days after his death at his home in Summit, New Jersey, entitled ‘Essays Old and New,’ and reviewing briefly essayists from the Old Testament writers, Bacon, and Montaigne to such current critics as Bliss Perry, Paul Elmer More, Brander Matthews, and Agnes Repplier, is characteristic of his work; for he was primarily an essayist himself.  1
  Born in Cold Spring, New York, in 1846, Hamilton Wright Mabie was of Huguenot descent on his father’s side, and on his mother’s, Scotch. He was graduated from Williams College in 1867, later receiving the degree of L.H.D. from this college as well as that of LL.D. from Union, Western Reserve, and Washington and Lee Colleges. He had first taken up the study of law at Columbia University, but after practising for a short time, joined the staff of The Outlook in 1879, then known as The Christian Union. He contributed to this periodical discussions of social and ethical subjects as well as hundreds of reviews and literary articles. He was a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters and of the National Institute of Arts and Letters, was President of the New York Kindergarten Association, and a trustee of Williams College.  2
  Of his more than a score of books, several were made up of articles separately published dealing interpretatively rather than critically with books and religion, nature and culture. Seldom analytic, his large human sympathy enabled him to enter into the author’s point of view to such a degree that he almost never actually condemned any book that he reviewed. In his religious articles, he refrained from argument, emphasizing aspects of concrete conduct, because of his belief that reverence and kindliness were of more importance than definitions and formulas. His point of view as a writer was therefore primarily impressionistic, and the gentleness of his statements imparted an almost feminine quality to his style.  3
  His earliest book (1882), ‘Norse Stories Retold,’ was a forerunner of a later series (1905–6) of four books on ‘Myths,’ ‘Fairy Tales,’ ‘Heroes,’ and ‘Legends Every Child Should Know.’ Of the collected essays, the two series entitled ‘My Study Fire’ (1890 and ’94) and the volume called ‘American Ideals’ (1913) are among the best known. The missionary spirit of a man who believed in preaching culture is evident in the majority of them; and the facility of his expression is noticeably backed by a wide reading and a kindly observation.  4
  His book on Shakespeare, ‘William Shakespeare—Poet, Dramatist, and Man’ (1900), adds nothing new to the accumulated knowledge about the great Elizabethan, nor does it defend any special hypothesis nor pretend to possess any value as a work of scientific research. There are no footnotes; not a single definite reference to volume and page. But as a popular presentation of the man, it is graceful without being severe or too concise, and stresses the picturesque, sometimes at the expense of the essentials. There is an apparent lack of thorough knowledge occasionally, as in the chapters dealing with Shakespeare’s forerunners and contemporaries, and when he does relate necessary facts, the tone is somewhat apologetic. But it is a very readable humanization of the times and the man.  5
  In ‘Backgrounds of Literature’ (1903), there are seven essays, in which he discusses with his usual tolerance, geniality, and smoothly woven periods Blackmore, Whitman, Goethe, Scott, Wordsworth, Irving, and Emerson. ‘Japan, To-day and To-morrow’ (1914) was the result of the author’s visit to that country under the auspices of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Mr. Mabie went as an American “exchange professor” to deliver lectures in the Japanese universities and cities on the spirit and ideals of the American people. Cordially received by the officials of that country, he was accorded a notable interview by the Premier, Mr. Okuma, which has been said to have materially improved the friendly feelings between the two countries. The book itself has been shown to contain inaccuracies, but its conclusion that there is no new Japan, only an unchanging national spirit however differently manifested, is the keynote.  6
  To Theodore Roosevelt’s estimate of Mr. Mabie as “one of the sweetest-tempered and highest-minded men I ever met,” may be added the tribute of a French critic, that he “ranks as one of the foremost of American essayists for his intellectuality as well as his delicacy of feeling.”  7
 
 
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