Confessions of a "Best-Seller"

THAT my name has adorned best-selling lists is more of a joke than my harshest critics can imagine. I had dallied a while at the law; I had given ten full years to journalism; I had written criticism, and not a little verse; two or three short stories of the slightest had been my only adventure in fiction; and I had spent a year writing an essay in history, which, from the publisher’s reports, no one but my neighbor and my neighbor’s wife ever read. My frugal output of poems had pleased no one half so much as myself; and having reached years of discretion I carefully analyzed samples of the ore that remained in my bins, decided that I had exhausted my poetical vein, and thereupon turned rather soberly to the field of fiction.

In order to qualify myself to speak to my text, I will say that in a period of six years, that closed in January, 1909, my titles were included fifteen times in the Bookman list of best-selling books. Two of my titles appeared five times each; one of them headed the list three months successively. I do not presume to speak for others with whom I have crossed swords in the best-selling lists, but I beg to express my strong conviction that the compilation of such statistics is quite as injurious as it is helpful to authors. There may have been a time, when the “ six best-selling ” phrase was new, when the monthly statement carried some weight; but for several years it has really had little significance. Critical purchasers are likely to be wary of books so listed. It is my impression, based on talks with retail dealers in many parts of the country, that they often report as “ best-sellers ” books of which they may have made large advance purchases but which are selling slowly. Their aim is, of course, to force the book into the list, and thereby create a false impression of its popularity.

I think that most publishers, and many authors who, like myself, have profited by the making of these lists, would gladly see them discontinued. The fact remains, however, that the best novels by the best English and American writers have generally been included in these lists. Mrs. Wharton, Mrs. Ward, Mr. Winston Churchill, Mr. Wister, “ Kate Douglas Wiggin,” Miss Johnston, and Mr. William de Morgan have, for example, shared with inferior writers the ignominy of popular success. I do not believe that my American fellow citizens prefer trash to sound literature. There are not enough novels of the first order, not enough books of the style and solidity of The House of Mirth and Joseph Vance, to satisfy the popular demand for fiction; and while the people wait, they take inferior books, like several bearing my own name, which have no aim but to amuse. I know of nothing more encouraging to those who wish to see the American novel go high and far than the immediate acceptance among us of the writings of Mr. William de Morgan, who makes no concession, not even of brevity, to the everincreasing demand for fiction.

I spent the greater part of two years on my first novel, which dealt with aspects of life in an urban community which interested me; and the gravest fault of the book, if I am entitled to an opinion, is its self-consciousness. — I was too anxious, too painstaking, with the result that those pages seem frightfully stiff to me now. The book was launched auspiciously; my publisher advertised it generously, and it landed safely among the “ six bestsellers.” The critical reception of the book was cordial and friendly, not only in the newspaper press but in the more cautious weekly journals. My severest critic dealt far more amiably with my book than I should have done myself, if I had sat in judgment upon it. I have been surprised to find the book still remembered, and its quality has been flung in my face by critics who have deplored my later performances.

I now wrote another novel, to which I gave even greater care, and into it I put, I think, the best characterizations I have ever done; but the soupcon of melodrama with which I flavored the first novel was lacking in the second, and it went dead a little short of fifteen thousand — the poorest sale any of my books has had.

A number of my friends were, at this time, rather annoyingly directing my attention to the great popular successes of several other American writers, whose tales were, I felt, the most contemptible pastiche, without the slightest pretense to originality, and having neither form nor style. It was in some bitterness of spirit that I resolved to try my hand at a story that should be a story and nothing else. Nor should I storm the capitals of imaginary kingdoms, but set the scene on my own soil. Most, it was clear, could grow the flowers of Zenda when once the seed had been scattered by Mr. Hawkins. Whether Mr. Hawkins got his inspiration from the flora of Prince Otto’s gardens, and whether the Prince was indebted in his turn to Harry Richmond, is not my affair. I am, no doubt, indebted to all three of these creations; but I set my scene in an American commonwealth, a spot that derived nothing from historical association, and sent my hero on his adventures armed with nothing more deadly than a suit-case and an umbrella. The idea is not original with me that you can make anything interesting if you know how. It was Stevenson, I believe, who said that a kitchen table is a fair enough subject for any writer who knows his trade. I do not cite myself as a person capable of proving this; but I am satisfied that the chief fun of story-telling lies in trying, by all the means in a writer’s power, to make plausible the seemingly impossible. And here, of course, I am referring to the story for the story’s sake, — not to the novel of life and manners.

My two earliest books were clearly too deliberate. They were deficient in incident, and I was prone to wander into blind alleys, and not always ingenious enough to emerge again upon the main thoroughfare. I felt that while I might fail in my attempt to produce a romantic yarn, the experience might help me to a better understanding of the mechanics of the novel, — that I might gain directness, movement, and ease.

For my third venture, I hit upon a device that took strong hold upon my imagination. The idea of laying a trap for the reader tickled me; and when once I had written the first chapter and outlined the last, I yielded myself to the story and bade it run its own course. I was never more honestly astonished in my life than to find my half-dozen characters taking matters in their own hands, and leaving me the merest spectator and reporter. I had made notes for the story, but in looking them over to-day, I find that I made practically no use of them. I never expect to experience again the delight of the winter I spent over that tale. The sight of white paper had no terrors for me. The hero, constantly cornered, had always in his pocket the key to his sue ccssive dilemmas; the heroine, misunderstood and misjudged, was struck at proper intervals by the spot-light that revealed her charm and reestablished faith in her honorable motives. No other girl in my little gallery of heroines exerts upon me the spell of that young lady, who, on the day I began the story, as I waited for the ink to thaw in my work-shop, passed under my window, by one of those kindly orderings of providence that keep alive the superstition of inspiration in the hearts of all fiction-writers. She never came my way again, — but she need not! She was the bright particular star of my stage, — its dea ex machina. She is of the sisterhood of radiant goddesses who are visible from any window, even though its prospect be only a commonplace city street. Always, and everywhere, the essential woman for any tale is passing by with grave mien, if the tale be sober; with upturned chin and a saucy twinkle in the eye, if such be the seeker’s need!

I think I must have begun every morn ing’s work with a grin on my face, for it was all fun, and I entered with zest into all the changes and chances of the story. I was embarrassed, not by any paucity of incident, but by my own fecundity and dexterity. The audacity of my project used sometimes to give me pause; it was almost too bold a thing to carry through; but my curiosity as to just how the ultimate goal would be reached kept my interest keyed high. At times, feeling that I was going too fast, I used to pause and write a purple patch or two for my own satisfaction, — a harmless diversion to which I am prone, and which no one could be cruel enough to deny me. There are pages in that book over which I dallied for a week, and in looking at them now I find that I still think them — as Mr. James would say — “ rather nice.” And once, while thus amusing myself, a phrase slipped from the pen which I saw at once had been, from all time, ordained to be the title of my book.

When I had completed the first draft, I began retouching. I liked my tale so much that I was reluctant to part with it; I enjoyed playing with it, and I think I rewrote the most of it three times. Contumelious critics have spoken of me as one of the typewriter school of fictionists, picturing me as lightly flinging off a few chapters before breakfast, and spending the rest of the day on the golf links; but I have never in my life written in a first draft more than a thousand words a day, and I have frequently thrown away a day’s work when I came to look it over. I have refused enough offers for short stories, serials, and book rights, to have kept half a dozen typewriters busy, and my output has not been large, considering that writing has been, for nearly ten years, my only occupation. I can say, with my hand on my heart, that I have written for my own pleasure first and last, and that those of my books that have enjoyed the greatest popularity were written really in a spirit of play, without any illusions as to their importance or their quick and final passing into the void.

When I had finished my story, I still had a few incidents and scenes in my inkpot ; but I could not for the life of me get the curtain up, once it was down. My little drama had put itself together as tight as wax, and even when I had written an additional incident that pleased me particularly, I could find no place to thrust it in. I was interested chiefly in amusing myself, and I never troubled myself in the least as to whether any one else would care for the story. I was astonished by its sale, which exceeded a quarter of a million copies in this country; it has been translated into French, Italian, German, Danish, Swedish, and Norwegian. I have heard of it all the way from Tokyo to Teheran. It was dramatized,and anactorof distinction appeared in the stage version; and stock companies have lately presented the play in Boston and San Francisco. It was subsequently serialized by newspapers, and later appeared in “ patent ” supplements. The title was paraphrased by advertisers, several of whom continue to pay me this flattering tribute.

I have speculated a good deal as to the success of this book. The title had, no doubt, much to do with it; clever advertising helped it further; the cover was a lure to the eye. The name of a popular illustrator may have helped, but it is certain that his pictures did not! I think I am safe in saying that the book received no helpful reviews in any newspapers of the first class, and I may add that I am skeptical as to the value of favorable notices in stimulating the sale of such books. Serious novels are undoubtedly helped by favorable reviews; stories of the kind I describe depend primarily upon persistent and ingenious advertising, in which a single striking line from the Gem City Evening Gazette is just as valuable as the opinion of the most scholarly review. Nor am I unmindful of the publisher’s labors and risks, — the courage, confidence, and genius essential to a successful campaign with a book from a new hand, with no prestige of established reputation to command instant recognition. The self-selling book may become a “best-seller;” it may appear mysteriously, a “ dark horse ” in the eternal battle of the books; but miracles are as rare in the book trade as in other lines of commerce. The man behind the counter is another important factor. The retail dealer, when he finds the publisher supporting him with advertising. can do much to prolong a sale. A publisher of long experience in promoting large sales has told me that advertising is valuable chiefly for its moral effect on the retailer, who, feeling that the publisher is strongly backing a book, bends his own energies toward keeping it alive.

It would be absurd for me to pretend that the leap from a mild succès d’estime with sales of forty and fourteen thousand, to a delirious gallop into six figures is not without its effect on an author, unless he be much less human than I am. Those gentle friends who had intimated that I could not do it once, were equally sanguine that I could not do it again. The temptation to try a second throw of the dice after a success, is strong, but I debated long whether I should try my hand at a second romance. I resolved finally to do a better book in the same kind, and with even more labor I produced a yarn whose title — and the gods have several times favored me in the matter of titles — adorned the best-selling lists for an even longer period, though the total sales aggregated less.

The second romance was, I think, better than the first, and its dramatic situations were more picturesque. The reviews averaged better in better places, and may have aroused the prejudices of those who shun books that are countenanced or praised by the literary “ high brows.” It sold largely; it enjoyed the glory and the shame of a “ best-seller; ” but here, I pondered, was the time to quit. Not to shock my “ audience,” to use the term of the trade, I resolved to try for more solid ground by paying more attention to characterizations, and cutting down the allowance of blood and thunder. I expected to lose heavily with the public, and I was not disappointed. I crept into the best-selling list, but my sojourn there was brief. It is manifest that people who like shots in the dark will not tamely acquiesce in the mild placing of the villain’s hand upon his hip pocket on the moon-washed terrace. The difference between the actual shot and the mere menace, I could, from personal knowledge, compute in the coin of the republic.

When your name on the bill-board suggests battle, murder, and sudden death, hair-breadth ’scapes, the imminent deadly breach, and that sort of thing, you need not be chagrined if, once inside, the eager throng resents bitterly your perfidy in offering nothing more blood-curdling than the heroine’s demand (the scene being set for five o’clock tea) for another lump of sugar. You may, and you will, leave Hamlet out of his own play; but do not, on peril of your fame, cut out your ghost, or neglect to provide some one to stick a sword into Polonius behind the arras. I can take up that particular book now and prove to any fairminded man how prettily I could, by injecting a little paprika into my villains, have quadrupled its sale.

Having, I hope, some sense of humor, I resolved to bid farewell to cloak and pistols in a farce-comedy, which should be a take-off on my own popular performances. Humor being something that no one should tamper with who is not ready for the gibbet, I was not surprised that many hasty samplers of the book should entirely miss the joke, or that a number of joyless critics should have dismissed it hastily as merely another machine-made romance written for boarding-school girls and the weary commercial traveler yawning in the smoking-car. Yet this book also has been a “best-seller”! I have seen it, within a few weeks, prominently displayed in bookshop windows in half a dozen cities.

It was, I think, Mr. Clyde Fitch who complained, a few years ago, that the current drama is seriously affected by the demand of “ the tired business man ” to be amused at the theatre. The same may be said of fiction. A very considerable number of our toiling millions sit down wearily at night, and if the evening paper does not fully satisfy or social diversion offer, a story that will hold the attention without too great a tax upon the mind is welcomed. I have myself had some experience of business of the most exacting sort, and I must confess that my sympathies go out to the tired man, who, after standing on the firing-line all day, wants to yield himself to forgetfulness before he goes to bed. It is indisputably true that this tired man might derive greater benefit by reading biography or poetry or disquisitions on government; but I do not know of any means by which men may be compelled to read things for which they have no taste at any time, and which only bore and vex them when they are tired. I should be happy to think that our eighty millions sit down at the close of every day with zest for “ improving ” literature; but the tired brain follows the line of least resistance, which unfortunately does not lead to alcoves where the one hundred best books wear their purple in solemn pomp. Even in my present mood of contrition, I am not, behind the mask of anonymity, sneering at that considerable body of my countrymen who have laid one dollar and eighteen cents upon the counter and borne home my little fictions. They took grave chances of my boring them; and when they rapped a second time on the counter and murmured another of my titles, they were expressing a confidence in me which I strove hard never to betray.

No one will, I am sure, deny me the satisfaction I have in the reflection that I put a good deal of sincere work into those stories, — for they are stories, not novels, and were written frankly to entertain; that they are not wholly illwritten; that they contain pages that are not without their grace; or that there is nothing prurient or morbid in any of them. And no matter how jejune stories of the popular romantic type may be, — a fact, O haughty critic, of which I am well aware, — I take some satisfaction as a good American in the knowledge that, in spite of their worthlessness as literature, they are essentially clean. The heroes may be too handsome, and too sure of themselves; the heroines too adorable in their sweet distress, as they wave the white handkerchief from the grated window of the ivied tower, — but their adventures are, in the very nature of things, in usum Delphini.

Some of my friends of the writing guild boast that they never read criticisms of their work. I have read and filed all the notices of my stories that bore any marks of honesty or intelligence. Having served my own day as reviewer for a newspaper, I know the dreary drudgery of such work. I recall, with shame, having averaged a dozen books an afternoon; and some of my critics have clearly averaged two dozen, with my poor candidates for oblivion on the bottom of the heap! Much American criticism is stupid or ignorant; but the most depressing, from my standpoint, is the flippant sort of thing which many newspapers print habitually. The stage, also, suffers like treatment, even in some of the more decent metropolitan journals.

Unless your book affords a text for a cynical newspaper “ story,” it is quite likely to be ignored. I cannot imagine that any writer who takes his calling seriously ever resents a sincere, intelligent, adverse notice. I have never written a book in less than a year, devoting all my time to it; and I resent being dismissed in a line, and called a writer of drivel, by some one who did not take the trouble to say why. A newspaper which is particularly jealous of its good name once pointed out with elaborate care that an incident, described in one of my stories as occurring in broad daylight, could not have been observed in moonlight by one of the characters at the distance I had indicated. The same reviewer transferred the scene of this story halfway across the continent, in order to make another point against its plausibility. If the aim of criticism be to aid the public in its choice of books, then the press should deal fairly with both author and public. And if the critics wish to point out. to authors their failures and weaknesses, then it should be done in a spirit of justice. The bestselling of my books caused a number of critics to remark that it had clearly been inspired by a number of old romances — which I had not only never read, but of several of them I had never even heard.

A Boston newspaper, which I greatly admire, published within the year an editorial in which I was pilloried as a type of writer who basely commercializes his talent. It was a cruel stab; for, unlike my heroes, I do not wear a mail-shirt under my dress-coat. Once, wandering into a church in my own city, at a time when a dramatized version of one of my stories was offered at a local theatre, I listened to a sermon that dealt in the harshest terms with such fiction and drama.

Extravagant or ignorant praise is, to most of us, as disheartening as stupid and unjust criticism. The common practice of invoking great names to praise some new arrival at the portal of fame cannot fail to depress the subject of it. When my first venture in fiction was flatteringly spoken of by a journal — which takes its criticisms seriously — as evidencing the qualities that distinguish Mr. Howells, I shuddered at the hideous injustice to a gentleman for whom I have the greatest love and reverence; and when, in my subsequent experiments, a critic somewhere gravely (it seemed, at least, to be in a spirit of sobriety!) asked whether a fold of Stevenson’s mantle had not wrapped itself about me, the awfulness of the thing made me ill, and I fled from felicity until my publisher had dropped the heart-breaking phrase from his advertisements. For I may be the worst living author, and at times I am convinced of it; but I hope I am not an immitigable and irreclaimable ass.

American book reviewers, I am convinced from a study of my returns from the clipping bureaus for ten years, dealing with my offerings in two kinds of fiction, are a solid phalanx of realists where they are anything at all. This attitude is due, I imagine, to the fact that journalism deals, or is supposed to deal, with facts. Realism is certainly more favorably received than romance. I personally subscribe to the doctrine that fiction that lays strong hands upon aspects of life as we are living it, is a nobler achievement than tales that provide merely an evening’s entertainment. Mr. James has, however, simplified this whole matter. He says, “The only classification of the novel that I can understand is into that which has life, and that which has not; ” and if we must reduce this matter of fiction to law, his dictum might well be accepted as the first and last canon.

I will say, of myself, that I value style beyond most things; and that if I could command it, I should be glad to write for so small an audience, “ the fit though few,” that the best-selling lists should never know me again; but with style go many of the requisites of great fiction, — fineness and sureness of feeling, and a power over language by which characters cease to be bobbing marionettes and become veritable beings, no matter whether they are Beatrix Esmonds, or strutting D’Artagnans, or rascally Bartley Hubbards, or luckless Lily Barts. To toss a ball into the air, and keep it there, as Stevenson did so charmingly in such pieces as “ Providence and the Guitar,”—this is a respectable achievement; to mount Roy Richmond as an equestrian statue, — that, too, is something we would not have had Mr. Meredith leave undone. Mr. Rassendyll, an English gentleman playing at being king, thrills the surviving drop of medievalism that is in all of us. “ The tired business man” yields himself to the belief that the staccato of hoofs on the asphalt street, which steals in to him faintly at his fireside, really marks the hero’s mad ride to save the king. The joy in kings dies hard in us.

Given a sprightly tale with a lost message to recover, throw in a fight on the stair, scatter here and there pretty dialogues between the lover and the princess he serves, and we are all, as we breathlessly follow, the rankest, royalists. Tales of real Americans, kodaked “in the sun’s hot eye,” much as they refresh me, — and I speak of myself now, not as a writer or critic, but as the man in the street, — never so completely detach the weary spirit from mundane things as tales of events that never were on sea or land. Why should I read of Silas Lapham tonight, when only an hour ago I was his competitor in the mineral-paint business ? The greatest fiction must be a criticism of life; but there are times when we crave forgetfulness, and lift our eyes confidently to the flag of Zenda.

But the creator of Zenda, it is whispered, is not an author of the first or even of the second rank, and the adventure story, at its best, is only for the second table. I am quite aware of this. But pause a moment, O cheerless one! Surely Homer is respectable; and the Iliad, the most strenuous, the most glorious and sublime of fictions, with the very gods drawn into the moving scenes, has, by reason of its tremendous energy and its tumultuous drama, not less than for its majesty as literature, established its right to be called the longest-selling fiction of the ages.

All the world loves a story; the regret is that the great novelists — great in penetration and sincerity and style — do not always have the story-telling knack. Mr. Marion Crawford was, I should say, a far better story-teller than Mr. James or Mr. Howells; but I should not call him a better novelist. A lady of my acquaintance makes a point of bestowing copies of Mr. Meredith’s novels upon young working-women whom she seeks to uplift. I am myself the most ardent of Meredithians, and yet I must confess to a lack of sympathy with this lady’s high purpose. I will not press the point, but a tired working-girl would, I think be much happier with one of my own beribboned confections than with even Diana the delectable.

Pleasant it is, I must confess, to hear your wares cried by the train-boy; to bend a sympathetic ear to his recital of your merits, as he appraises them; and to watch him beguile your fellow travelers with the promise of felicity contained between the covers of the book which you yourself have devised, pondered, and committed to paper. The train-boy’s ideas of the essentials of entertaining fiction are radically unacademic, but he is apt in hitting off the commercial requirements. A good book, one of the guild told me, should always begin with “talking.” He was particularly contemptuous of novels that open upon landscape and moonlight, — these, in the bright lexicon of his youth fid experience, are well-nigh unsalable. And he was equally scornful of the unhappy ending. The sale of a book that did not, as he put it, “come out right,” that is, with the merry jingle of wedding-bells, was no less than a fraud upon the purchaser. Sitting in the secret confessional afforded by these pages, a cloaked and masked figure, I frankly admit that, on one well-remembered occasion, dating back three or four years, my vanity was gorged by the sight of many copies of my latest offering in the hands of my fellow travelers, as I sped from Washington to New York. A poster, announcing my new tale, greeted me at the station as I took flight; four copies of my book were within comfortable range of my eye in the chair-car. Before the train started, I was given every opportunity to add my own book to my impedimenta.

The sensation awakened by the sight of utter strangers taking up your story, tasting it warily, clinging to it if it be to their liking, or dropping it wearily or contemptuously if it fail to please, is one of the most interesting of the experiences of popular authorship. On the journey mentioned, one man slept sweetly through what I judged to be the most intense passage in the book; others paid me the tribute of absorbed attention. On the ferry-boat at Jersey City, several copies of the book were interposed between seemingly enchanted readers and the towers and citadels of the metropolis. No one, I am sure, will deny to such a poor worm as I the petty joys of popular recognition. To see one’s tale on many counters, to hear one’s name and titles recited on boats and trains, to find in midocean that your works go with you down to the sea in ships, to see the familiar cover smiling welcome on the table of an obscure foreign inn, — surely the most grudging critic would not deprive a writer of these rewards and delights.

There is also that considerable army of readers who write to an author in various keys of condemnation or praise. I have found my correspondence considerably augmented by the large sales of a book. There are persons who rejoice to hold before your eyes your inconsistencies ; or who test you, to your detriment, in the relentless scale of fact. Some one in the Connecticut hills once criticised severely my use of “ that ” and “ which,” — a case where an effort at precision was the offense, — and I was involved, before I knew it, in a long correspondence. I have several times been taken severely to task by foes of tobacco for permitting my characters to smoke. Wine, I have found, should be administered to one’s characters sparingly, and one’s hero must never produce a flask except for restorative uses — after, let us say, a wild gallop, by night, in the teeth of a storm to relieve a beleaguered citadel, or when the heroine has been rescued at great peril from the clutch of the multitudinous sea. Those strange spirits who pour out their souls in anonymous letters have not ignored me. I salute them with much courtesy, and wish them well of the gods. Young ladies, whose names I have inadvertently applied to my heroines, have usually dealt with me in agreeable fashion. The impression that authors have an unlimited supply of their own wares to give away is responsible for the importunity of managers of church fairs, philanthropic institutions, and the like, who assail one cheerfully through the mails. Before autograph-hunters I have always been humble: I have felt myself honored by their attentions; and in spite of their dread phrase, “ Thanking you in advance ” — which might be the shibboleth of their fraternity, from its prevalence — I greet them joyfully, and never filch their stamps.

Now, after all, could anything be less harmful than my tales? The casual meeting of my hero and heroine in the first chapter has always been marked by the gravest circumspection. My melodrama has never been offensively gory, — in fact, I have been ridiculed for my bloodless combats. My villains have been the sort that any one with any kind of decent bringing-up would hiss. A girl in white, walking beside a lake, with a blue parasol swinging back of her head, need offend no one. That the young man emerging from the neighboring wood should not recognize her at once as the young woman ordained in his grandfather’s will as the person he must marry to secure the estate, seems utterly banal, I confess; but it is the business of romance to maintain illusions. Realism, with the same agreed state of facts, recognizes the girl immediately — and spoils the story. Or I might put it thus: in realism, much or all is obvious in the first act; in romance. nothing is quite clear until the third. This is why romance is more popular than realism, for we are all children and want to be surprised. Why villains should always be so stupid, and why heroines should so perversely misunderstand the noble motives of heroes, are questions I cannot answer. Likewise before dear old Mistaken Identity — the most ancient of devices — I stand dumbly grateful.

On the stage, where a plot is most severely tested, but where the audience must, we are told, always be in the secret, we see constantly how flimsy a mask the true prince need wear. And the reason for this lies in the primal and — let us hope — eternal childlikeness of the race. The Zeitgeist will not grind us underfoot so long as we are capable of joy in make-believe, and can renew our youth in the frolics of Peter Pan.

You, sir, who re-read The Newcomes every year, and you, madam, reverently dusting your Jane Austen, — I am sadder than you can be that my talent is so slender; but is it not a fact that you have watched me at my little tricks on the mimic stage, and been just a little astonished when the sparrow, and not the dove, emerged from the handkerchief? But you prefer the old writers; and so, dear friends, do I!

Having, as I have confessed, deliberately tried my hand at romance merely to see whether I could swim the moat under a cloud of the enemy’s arrows, and to gain experience in the mechanism of story-writing, I now declare (though with no feeling that the statement is important) that I have hung my sword over the fireplace; that I shall not again thunder upon the tavern door at midnight; that not much fine gold could tempt me to seek, by means however praiseworthy, to bring that girl with the blue parasol to a proper appreciation of the young gentleman with the suit-case, who even now is pursuing her through the wood to restore her lost handkerchief. It has been pleasant to follow the bright guidon of romance; even now, from the window of the tall office-building in which I close these reflections, I can hear the bugles blowing and look upon

Strangest skies and unbeholden seas.

But I feel reasonably safe from temptation. Little that men do is, I hope, alien to me; and the life that surges round me, and whose sounds rise from the asphalt below, or the hurrying feet on the tiles in my own corridor of this steel-boned tower, — the faint tinkle of telephones, the click of elevator doors, — these things, and the things they stand for, speak with deep and thrilling eloquence; and he who would serve best the literature of his time and country will not ignore them.