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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Harriet Prescott Spofford (1835–1921)
Critical and Biographical Introduction
 
THE WORK of Harriet Prescott Spofford possesses to a high degree the quality of distinction. About her prose and her verse is the atmosphere of spiritual aristocracy, of rarity, as of that which emanates from one elect in mind and soul; yet this refinement of vision in no sense implies coldness. Mrs. Spofford, like Pater, combines an almost austere spirituality with the warm sensuousness of the artist, who lives in full and blissful consciousness of color and light and form. These characteristics receive their completest expression in her greatest short story, ‘The Amber Gods.’ Seldom or never has the appreciation of the imperiousness of the senses been blended so perfectly with the recognition of the authority of the soul. These two elements, of flesh and of spirit, are again fused in ‘In Titian’s Garden,’ a poem itself like some great flower.  1
  A New England Puritan by descent, Harriet Prescott was born in Calais, Maine, April 3d, 1835. During her childhood the family removed to the quaint old coast-town of Newburyport, Massachusetts, where her early girlhood passed, and where she attended school,—her unfolding genius attracting the attention of T. W. Higginson, who, afterwards known as a distinguished man of letters, was at that time a clergyman and the young girl’s pastor. It is related that when she sent to the Atlantic Monthly her first contribution,—a brilliant and subtle study of French life, called ‘In a Cellar,’—the editor wrote to Newburyport for an assurance that this ingenious tale of love and diplomacy was not a translation from some French master of the short story; and that Mr. Higginson cheerfully gave the necessary guarantee of good faith, adding that the young author had never been out of New England, and that her brilliant Paris was a city of the imagination. At twenty she had finished a romance, ‘Sir Rohan’s Ghost’; and she was only a year or two older when ‘The Amber Gods’ appeared in the Atlantic. The sustained strength, intense dramatic movement, psychic perception, and rich vocabulary, so prodigally displayed therein, became the obvious characteristics of her later work. If she has done many other things as well, during a long and scarcely interrupted literary career, she has done nothing better. Her fiction is characterized not alone by opulent style, mastery of plot, charm of quick transition from the gay to the sad, from the tragic to the comic, by skill in dialogue and management of climax; but by that quality of distinction already spoken of. Moreover, in everyday themes of everyday existence she has the happy art of transfiguring the commonplace.  2
  Among her stories of greater length than the ordinary magazine sketch are ‘Sir Rohan’s Ghost’; ‘The Thief in the Night’; ‘The Master-Spirit,’ which reveals a deep knowledge of the history of music and comprehension of its divine language; and ‘The Inheritance,’ which deals both keenly and tenderly with an appalling problem of human destiny.  3
  In 1865 Miss Prescott married Mr. Richard Spofford; a brilliant young lawyer of the Massachusetts bar, whose literary tastes and cultivated critical judgment encouraged her gifts to a fine and constant flowering.  4
  Mrs. Spofford’s published volumes cover a period of fifty years and include several volumes of poems and ballads; ‘In Titian’s Garden,’ displaying the rich maturity of her powers,—for it is in poetry that her mind finds its fullest expression. Her literary masters have been Homer, Shakespeare, Milton, and Browning.  5
  As an essayist, and a writer of forcible editorials on current events, she has great skill; having the courage of her convictions, and a manner at once energetic, sincere, and winning. Among her latest volumes are ‘The Children of the Valley’ (1901); ‘The Great Procession’ (1902); ‘Old Washington’ (1906); ‘A Fairy Changeling’ (1910); ‘The Making of a Fortune’ (1911).  6
 
 
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