Reference > Fiction > Nonfiction > Warner, et al., eds. > The Library

C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
Francis Hopkinson Smith (1838–1915)
Critical and Biographical Introduction
TO most American readers, the name of F. Hopkinson Smith has for a long time suggested a writer of pleasing stories. To a large number also, he has been known as an artist, from his drawings in Mexico and his water-colors of Venetian scenes, as an art critic, and as successful lecturer and pleasing after-dinner speaker. To a smaller number he is known as the marine engineer who built the sea-wall around Governor’s Island and the foundation for the Statue of Liberty in the harbor of New York. Thus his record of achievement is varied as well as solid.  1
  His purely literary work falls into three divisions: sketches of travel, short stories, and novels.  2
  In the first group are ‘Well-Worn Roads of Spain and Italy’ (1886); ‘A White Umbrella in Mexico’ (1889); ‘Gondola Days’ (1899), and ‘Venice of To-day’ (1897). The sub-title of ‘Well-Worn Roads’ might serve to express the spirit of them all: “Traveled by a painter in search of the picturesque.” For he is always the observant traveler of literary and artistic interests giving us the picturesque scene and the piquant bits of human life. Political and social currents, national ideals, sociological movements are touched only lightly and incidentally. The reader is taken in pleasant company through lands that are full of scenes and people that catch the eye, divert the mind, and remind him of a romantic past.  3
  His short stories are narrative sketches, not rigidly conforming to the technique of the short story as a type. He is a charming story-teller, a raconteur, relying for his effects upon interesting byplay of character, upon the social atmosphere of a group, upon the quality of the scenic setting, and but seldom upon violent action or the high lights of tragedy. Such are the collections in ‘The Wood Fire in Number 3’ (1905) and ‘The Chair at the Inn’ (1912). The latter is a collection of incidents happening and stories told among a collection of artists gathered, after the tourist season, at a charming old inn in Normandy. The host and servants, the guests, the notable and interesting neighbors in nearby châteaux, and particularly, the inn itself,—with its Norman architecture, its flowers, its customs and cuisine,—all combine to form an effect of artistic and social harmony. It is a glimpse into the cultivated Bohemia of the successful artists; a Bohemia without sordidness, want, ill-breeding, or envy; the Bohemia of the successful. This tone of easy prosperity without the chink of money, the intangible but quite positive results of success that appear as good company, good talk, and good feeling, is indeed the common note in Smith’s representations of life.  4
  The short story would seem to be his favorite form. Allowing for the difficulty of distinguishing between his sketches and his short stories, there are some seventy or more that may fairly be called stories. There are seven collections of them: ‘A Day at Laguerre’s’ (1892); ‘The Other Fellow’ (1899); ‘The Under Dog’ (1903); ‘The Veiled Lady of Stamboul’ (1907); ‘Forty Minutes Late’ (1909), and the two volumes mentioned above.  5
  The best known of his novels are ‘Colonel Carter of Cartersville’ (1891); ‘A Gentleman Vagabond’ (1895); ‘Tom Grogan’ (1896); ‘The Fortunes of Oliver Horn’ (1902); ‘The Tides of Barnegat’ (1906); ‘Kennedy Square’ (1911), and ‘Felix O’Day’ (1915).  6
  It was Colonel Carter that gave Smith his national reputation. The Colonel was a chivalrous, impractical, visionary old gentleman, trying vainly to adjust himself to a practical world while retaining the visions and the standards of the South of ante-bellum days. The creation seemed, whether rightly or not, to embody the traditional Southern gentleman. His famous scheme for a railroad, whose terminals and route would touch no other railroads and so have “the advantage of escaping competitors” tickled the fancy of readers with business instincts. His relations with his old slave and still faithful servant, Chad, who, as the Colonel said, “was bawn a gentleman and can’t get over it,” gave the touch of traditional poetry that even the North had always conceded to the institution of slavery. Hopkinson Smith, born in Baltimore, had abundant opportunity to know these ante-bellum traditions, the character of the old Southern planters, and the characteristics of the old-fashioned Southern negro. His representation of the accent of the cultivated Virginian and of the negro dialect was realistic and convincing. The story was dramatized and had a long and successful run in Northern cities.  7
  Like Morris, “the idle singer of an empty day,” Smith remained, during the vogue of the problem novel, its displacement by the pure romance, and its return in other forms, a teller of pleasing stories, serenely undeflected by the currents and cross-currents of contemporary fiction. Neither the problem novel, nor the novel of social criticism, nor the psychological novel, is his field. There is no subtle psychological analysis; no emphasis of the subjective beyond what is common in modern work, no exaggeration of any aspect of mental and moral life. Striking and morbid actions or characters do not interest him. His themes and people are wholesome, natural, and usual, so far as they may be, and yet hold the novel reader’s interest. He does not, on the other hand, choose the commonplace ostentatiously; he is not a Wordsworthian. The minor variations from the norm, such peculiarities as give individuality, he is quick to note, especially such whimsicalities of character or view as intellectual people see in their fellows. In general, his material and his point of view are such as might, in small amounts, appear in the table-talk of educated and cosmopolitan people.  8
  His style is easy, graceful, and not too self-conscious. It is the language of the finished raconteur, and is a part of the general effect of cultivation and finish which his books create.  9

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