The Project Gutenberg eBook, The Great English Short-Story Writers, Vol. 1, by Various, et al
This eBook is for the use of anyone anywhere at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg License included with this eBook or online at www.gutenberg.net
Title: The Great English Short-Story Writers, Vol. 1
Release Date: November 19, 2003 [eBook #10135]
Chatacter set encoding: ISO-8859-1
***START OF THE PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK THE GREAT ENGLISH SHORT-STORY WRITERS, VOL. 1***
E-text prepared by Juliet Sutherland, Josephine Paolucci, and the Project Gutenberg Online Distributed Proofreading Team
THE READERS'S LIBRARY
THE GREAT ENGLISH SHORT-STORY WRITERS
WITH INTRODUCTORY ESSAYS BY
WILLIAM J. DAWSON AND CONINGSBY W. DAWSON
To the publishers and authors who have courteously permitted the use of copyrighted material in these two volumes, a word of grateful acknowledgment is hereby given by the editors.
I. THE EVOLUTION OF THE SHORT-STORY
II. THE APPARITION OF MRS. VEAL. By Daniel Defoe (1661-1731)
III. THE MYSTERIOUS BRIDE. By James Hogg (1770-1835)
IV. THE DEVIL AND TOM WALKER. By Washington Irving (1783-1859)
V. DR. HEIDEGGER'S EXPERIMENT. By Nathaniel Hawthorne (1807-1864)
VI. THE PURLOINED LETTER. By Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849)
VII. RAB AND HIS FRIENDS. By Dr. John Brown (1810-1882)
VIII. THE BOOTS AT THE HOLLY-TREE INN. By Charles Dickens (1812-1870)
IX. A STORY OF SEVEN DEVILS. By Frank R. Stockton. (1834-1902)
X. A DOG'S TALE. By Mark Twain (1835)
XI. THE OUTCASTS OF POKER FLAT. By Bret Harte (1839-1902)
XII. THE THREE STRANGERS. By Thomas Hardy (1840)
XIII. JULIA BRIDE. By Henry James (1843)
XIV. A LODGING FOR THE NIGHT. By Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894)
The Evolution of the Short-Story
The short-story commenced its career as a verbal utterance, or, as Robert Louis Stevenson puts it, with "the first men who told their stories round the savage camp-fire."
It bears the mark of its origin, for even to-day it is true that the more it creates the illusion of the speaking-voice, causing the reader to listen and to see, so that he forgets the printed page, the better does it accomplish its literary purpose. It is probably an instinctive appreciation of this fact which has led so many latter-day writers to narrate their short-stories in dialect. In a story which is communicated by the living voice our attention is held primarily not by the excellent deposition of adjectives and poise of style, but by the striding progress of the plot; it is the plot, and action in the plot, alone which we remember when the combination of words which conveyed and made the story real to us has been lost to mind. "Crusoe recoiling from the foot-print, Achilles shouting over against the Trojans, Ulysses bending the great bow, Christian running with his fingers in his ears; these are each culminating moments, and each has been printed on the mind's eye for ever."
[Footnote 1: A Gossip on Romance, from Memories and Portraits, by
The secondary importance of the detailed language in which an incident is narrated, when compared with the total impression made by the naked action contained in the incident, is seen in the case of ballad poetry, where a man may retain a vivid mental picture of the localities, atmosphere, and dramatic moments created by Coleridge's Ancient Mariner, or Rossetti's White Ship, and yet be quite incapable of repeating two consecutive lines of the verse. In literature of narration, whether prose or verse, the dramatic worth of the action related must be the first consideration.
In earlier days, when much of the current fiction was not written down, but travelled from mouth to mouth, as it does in the Orient to-day, this fact must have been realized—that, in the short-story, plot is superior to style. Among modern writers, however, there has been a growing tendency to make up for scantiness of plot by high literary workmanship; the result has been in reality not a short-story, but a descriptive sketch or vignette, dealing chiefly with moods and landscapes. So much has this been the case that the writer of a recent Practical Treatise on the Art of the Short-Story has found it necessary to make the bald statement that "the first requisite of a short-story is that the writer have a story to tell."
[Footnote 2: Short-Story Writing, by Charles Raymond Barrett.]
However lacking the stories which have come down to us from ancient times may be in technique, they invariably narrate action—they have something to tell. If they had not done so, they would not have been interesting to the men who first heard them, and, had they not been interesting, they would not have survived. Their paramount worth in this respect of action is proved by the constant borrowings which modern writers have made from them. Take one case in illustration. In the twenty-eighth chapter of Aristotle's Secretum Secretorum appears a story in which "a queen of India is said to have treacherously sent to Alexander, among other costly presents, the pretended testimonies of friendship, a girl of exquisite beauty, who, having been fed with serpents from her infancy, partook of their nature." It comes to light again, in an altered and expanded form, in the Gesta Romanorum, as the eleventh tale, being entitled Of the Poison of Sin.
"Alexander was a prince of great power, and a disciple of Aristotle, who instructed him in every branch of learning. The Queen of the North, having heard of his proficiency, nourished her daughter from the cradle upon a certain kind of deadly poison; and when she grew up, she was considered so beautiful, that the sight of her alone affected many to madness. The queen sent her to Alexander to espouse. He had no sooner beheld her than he became violently enamoured, and with much eagerness desired to possess her; but Aristotle, observing his weakness, said: 'Do not touch her, for if you do, you will certainly perish. She has been nurtured upon the most deleterious food, which I will prove to you immediately. Here is a malefactor who is already condemned to death. He shall be united to her, and you shall soon see the truth of what I advance.'
"Accordingly the culprit was brought without delay to the girl; and scarcely had he touched her lips, before his whole frame was impregnated with poison, and he expired. Alexander, glad at his escape from such imminent destruction, bestowed all thanks on his instructor, and returned the girl to her mother."
After which follows the monkish application of the moral, as long as the entire story: Alexander being made to stand for a good Christian; the Queen of the North for "a superfluity of the things of life, which