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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Brander Matthews (1852–1929)
Critical and Biographical Introduction by Ernest Hunter Wright (1882–1968)
 
BORN at New Orleans February 21st, 1852, Brander Matthews was educated in New York, where he was graduated from Columbia College in 1871 and from the Columbia Law School two years later. He was admitted to the bar, but a fortunate choice soon turned him to the profession of letters. His first book was published in 1879, and since that date he has contributed uninterruptedly to literature, in drama, fiction, biography, and perhaps most signally, in criticism. In recognition of the distinction of his books he was called to Columbia as lecturer in English in 1891, and in the following year was appointed professor of literature. In 1899 he became the professor of dramatic literature, and in this professorate he has been, since 1903, the senior member of the Department of English in the university.  1
  He has been a prolific author in several fields. Beginning with a volume on ‘The Theatres of Paris’ in 1880, he continued his studies of the French stage with ‘French Dramatists of the Nineteenth Century’ in 1881. Without taking leave of the field of criticism, he then devoted himself principally for more than ten years to the drama, the novel, and the short story. His comedy of ‘Margery’s Lovers,’ produced in 1884, was followed by ‘This Picture and That’ in 1887 and ‘The Decision of the Court’ in 1893; and he also collaborated with George H. Jessop in ‘A Gold Mine’ (1887) and ‘On Probation’ (1889), and with Bronson Howard in ‘Peter Stuyvesant’ (1898). In fiction he was more productive; the titles of the novels and short stories in his seventeen volumes of narrative are too numerous for full citation here. They include ‘Tom Paulding’ (1892), ‘His Father’s Son’ (1895), ‘Tales of Fantasy and Fact’ (1896), ‘Outlines in Local Color’ (1897), ‘A Confident To-morrow’ (1899), and ‘Vistas of New York’ (1912). Without delivering himself to the rigors of realistic theory, Professor Matthews consistently wrote of the life that passed before his eyes; and if one type of his fiction should be selected more than another for especial mention, it should probably be such stories as the ‘Vignettes of Manhattan’ (1894), in which, over and above the tale that is told, he has given us faithful etchings of certain characters and certain modes of living which the hurried growth of the metropolis has all but obliterated and which now endure dimly in the memories of men turned gray.  2
  During the years devoted largely to drama and to fiction, Professor Matthews was also steadily producing in the essay form, using it principally for literary and dramatic criticism, and in the last twenty years the bulk of his work has been done in this field. In the total product of his pen his criticisms form the major part, and probably will prove his most valuable work. ‘Pen and Ink,’ from 1888, is a sheaf of essays on various subjects, grave and gay. ‘Americanisms and Briticisms’ (1892) presents, among other things, an unbiassed study of variant diction in which information is seasoned with amusement. ‘Studies of the Stage’ (1894) treats various aspects of the art to which the author has given most thought and devotion. ‘Bookbindings, Old and New’ (1895) betrays by its title another interest of the author which is reflected here and there in others of his works. The ‘Introduction to the Study of American Literature’ (1896) has been a companion to thousands of students through school and college courses. ‘Aspects of Fiction’ (1896) contains, beside much else, studies in the technic of the novel and the short story, an art to which, incidentally, the author has contributed in criticism a body of doctrine comparable with the more extended doctrine of the drama of which he has been a leading formulator. Criticism of this and other kinds he carries on into ‘The Historical Novel and Other Essays’ in 1901. In ‘Parts of Speech,’ from the same year, he returns to a study somewhat similar to that of the title-essay in ‘Americanisms and Briticisms.’ In ‘The Development of the Drama’ (1903) he traces the history of dramatic art from its beginnings among barbarian tribes to its full development in modern society. Then, after two volumes of essays on various subjects in ‘Inquiries and Opinions’ (1907) and ‘The American of the Future, and Other Essays’ (1909), he returns to the art of play-making in ‘A Study of the Drama’ in 1910. ‘A Study of Versification’ followed this in the next year. Miscellaneous treatises on literary topics were combined in ‘Gateways to Literature’ in 1913. And ‘A Book About the Theatre,’ in 1916, is the author’s latest volume of studies in his favorite art.  3
  Within the limits of this article it is not possible to mention, even by name, all the works of Professor Matthews. A list that should include, besides those already mentioned and others similar in kind, his various pamphlets and booklets, his numerous prefaces and extensive editorial work, and the chapters he has contributed to volumes written in collaboration, would be impressive for its length; and it is superfluous to say that the exceptionally sustained quality of work so varied has long since assured him a position in the front rank of contemporary authors in America. But two at least of his later volumes call for especial notice. In more than one sense his biography of ‘Molière,’ from 1910, and his ‘Shakespeare as a Playwright,’ from 1913, are the work of a lifetime. The one he had actually planned in youth, and the other voices with equal emphasis a lifelong interest. But more than this, the matured critical gifts of the author, which had always been devoted most willingly and most valuably to the drama, find here their amplest opportunity in the two leading dramatists of modern times; and the principles of the dramatic art, which the author has derived from the study of its entire history and which he has formulated in a score of other works, are here given their fullest application and illustration. To Professor Matthews the drama has always been much more than a literary art. It is the picture of an action shown not merely in words, but in the flesh, in the persons of certain actors before a certain audience in a certain kind of theatre. It is a plastic as well as a literary art. For the kind of criticism that recognizes it as such, Professor Matthews has been one of the leading spokesmen in America, and possibly his success in this endeavor has been his main achievement as a critic. It is therefore natural that the most original chapters of his ‘Molière’ and of his ‘Shakespeare’ should be those that attempt to show—what had been too often neglected—how the plays of these dramatists were molded, in accordance with the cardinal laws of all drama, with an eye upon the actors who were to produce them, upon the audiences who were to witness them, and upon the theatres which aided and limited the presentation of them.  4
  The work of Professor Matthews has not failed of recognition. Since the days when he used to write for the Saturday Review his reputation has been international. He is a member of many clubs and societies in America and abroad. Of several of these he was a founder, among them the Authors and the Players in New York, and the Kinsmen in New York and London. He was also an organizer of the American Copyright League, of the Columbia University Press, of the Dunlap Society, of the National Institute of Arts and Letters, and of the Simplified Spelling Board. The last three of these he has served as president or chairman. He bears the honorary doctorate from several universities, wears the ribbon of the Legion of Honor, and sits in the American Academy of Arts and Letters. His friends form a host; the list of them is like a roll-call of the great men of three nations in the last half-century. It is not necessary to add that he knows himself how to be a friend. In conversation he is one of the foremost of American wits. In his work he has been at once a scholar and a man of letters—one of the few men of his time who has given to scholarship the voice of literature. That voice, above all else, has been one of clarity. They say in France that if a sentence is not clear it is not French. Certainly we of the English tongue can boast no such distinction. But the author whose work we have here been reviewing has been a lifelong reader of French prose, and whether this be part of the reason or not, there is no exaggeration in the statement that if a sentence fails of clarity it was not written by Brander Matthews. And clarity in diction, here as usually, is the token of lucidity of mind and sincerity of purpose.  5
 
 
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