A Plea for the Vanishing Story
ONCE upon a time a story was written. It was not a great story, but it appealed to its author. The hero was an artist whose life in Bohemia had been flavored with a highly piquant sauce. He met a girl, dainty, sweet, and alluring, with all the perfect qualities that a heroine should have. Unfortunately certain condiments of the piquant sauce, some of the feminine atoms in Bohemia, made it seem to the hero that it was altogether impossible for him to ask the adorable, charming heroine to be his wife. Quixotic, on the part of the hero, perhaps, but some men are quixotic and it may have been simply as a study in quixotism that the tale appealed to its creator. He wrote the story and allowed the hero to live his whole life, quite to its close, loving and adoring his lady, working for her, saving her from innumerable trials and tribulations, but never permitting himself to take the reward of her love which she, poor soul, was ready enough to give him. So much for the story !
The author, Boylston by name, had climbed past the rung of the ladder upon which manuscripts are returned with printed slips. He was even a personal friend of many editors, and these added their opinions of the story to their rejections of it. Mr. Buncie, for instance, liked the story all but the end. He suggested that the artist might outgrow his morbid conscience and that the lovers should be married after many years of probation, perhaps.
Boylston appreciated the suggestion and changed the ending, making it cheerful, — cheerful, that is, from the standpoint of a capitalized public that demands wedding bells and never waits to hear if they jangle in or out of tune.
Stranglie’s Magazine found this marriage forced. Surely there should be some reason given for the artist’s change of mind! “Could you not intimate,” the editor wrote, “ just intimate, you know, some cloud on the lady’s life, some mysterious question concerning her past, something that would bring her more toward his level ? Your marriage comes too suddenly upon the intense renunciation in the earlier part of the story.”
A tiny shadow was now thrown on the hitherto unblemished past of the lady.
Mr. Blethen of Ridener’s had the story next. He regretted the tone of the first half. The analytical study was perfect, he said, but the public objected — and quite properly, too — to the liaisons of Bohemia. “ Might not the artist’s conscience,” he asked, “have been equally implacable over some other form of youthful indiscretion ? ”
Boylston recognized the justice of this criticism at once, and the hero was made to suffer his prohibitive pangs over some unexplained, indefinitely suggested guilt. A few paragraphs in the middle of the story were all that remained as the tale had originally been written.
When it came back from The Centurion the editor of that magazine told
Boylston quite frankly that the artist’s remorse was entirely overdone. No man who had lived in the world and with men could feel anything so intensely, and he advised that Boylston should eliminate much of the anguish and remorse, that he should merely suggest these feelings — if they must be in the story at all.
Theremorse was, therefore, diminished to an infinitesimal point, and the story set forth the facts that an artist whose Bohemian past had not been quite perfect loved a lady with a faintly shadowed past, wooed her, and married her.
In this state it was sent to The Metropolis. Here, the editor objected to the shadow on the lady’s past and could see no reason why even an insinuation of vice should be made against the artist. “Surely life in Bohemia is not always vicious,” he wrote. “Why should it always be so depicted ? Ought not those of us who have really lived in Bohemia to make a stand for our country ? ”
Once again the story underwent a transformation. An artist of great respectability loved a lady eminently virtuous, wooed her and wed her.
A most commonplace and ordinary story, no ? And yet most acceptable. A quick returning mail brought Boylston his check. With half of it he paid his rent. The other half he spent on a dinner — in Bohemia.