The Dial/Volume 15/Number 170/The Congress of Authors


It is hardly possible, at a date when the Literature Congresses have but just completed their work, to take anything like a philosophical survey of the week's proceedings. We have, however, thought it best, even at the risk of offering our readers an incomplete and imperfectly digested report, to summarize the series of events that have made the week just ended noteworthy in the intellectual history of Chicago. If we may not tell the whole story, and if our coign of vantage be too near the object for realization of the proper perspective, our report may at least embody the salient features of the Congresses, and point a possible moral here and there. As has already been stated in these pages, Congresses to the number of five were planned for the week ending July 15, their subjects being Literature proper, Philology, Folk-lore, History, and Libraries. They have provided an intellectual repast bewildering in variety, and quite beyond the assimilative powers of such rash mortals as may have attempted to partake of all the courses. They have been characterized by many notable contributions to both general and special culture, as well as by many of those discussions and comparisons of diverse views from which a subject often receives more light than from some more formal method of treatment.
The Congresses were happily opened on Monday evening, July 10, by a general reception given to such of the participants in the week's work as had at that time reached the city. The reception began with the usual introductions and handshakings, and ended with a few speeches of welcome by representatives of the World's Congress Auxiliary, followed by responses from some of the more distinguished guests. Under the latter category come the remarks made by Mr. Charles Dudley Warner, Mr. Richard Watson Gilder, Mr. George W. Cable, Mr. Walter Besant, and Dr. Max Richter. In the course of Mr. Warner's remarks, a tribute was paid to the beauties of the World's Fair, and the speaker concluded with these words :

"I fear all the time that the Fair will disappear, and,

as I say, I grudge every moment spent away from it, for it will go, like everything else that we have created by hand. And when it has gone these poor scribblers who have not money enough to create it and many of them not imagination enough to put it into poetry or into romance even because I don't know anybody, except St. John in the Apocalypse, who has hit it off at all so far these poor scribblers will have to take up the task of perpetuating this creation of beauty and of splendor, and the next generation that wanders about Lake Michigan looking at the ruins of Chicago the distant generation, of course will have to depend upon some wandering bard who even then won't be half paid, I dare say for the remembrance, for the description of

the great achievement of this city of Chicago in 1893."

Mr. Gilder, in a few well-chosen words, contrasted the literary art with the arts of form and color, pointing out that the very subtlety of the former makes its discussion difficult. Hence the speaker concluded that a Congress of Authors must of necessity for the most part deal with the physical side of literature, with "the relation of that art to its presentation through books to the public." Probably the most noteworthy incident of all this speech-making was to be found in the applause that interrupted Mr. Gilder when he said : "I, for one, would not have the countenance to stand up before a World's Congress of Authors if within a short time we, as a nation, had not wiped out the unbearable disgrace of international piracy."
The sentiment thus expressed by Mr. Gilder had many an echo in the subsequent proceedings of the Congress of Authors. The Tuesday session of this Congress was devoted to the general subject of Copyright, and it was peculiarly fitting that Mr. George E. Adams should serve as the presiding officer. The enactment of the Copyright Law of 1891 was, as our readers will remember, largely due to the efforts of Mr. Adams, then a member of the House of Representatives. Major Kirkland, who introduced Mr. Adams to the audience, gracefully alluded to this fact, as did also Mr. Gilder, when his turn came to share in the general discussion. That the services of Mr. Adams had been appreciated, and were still remembered by those present, appeared in the applause that followed every allusion made to them. The discussion was opened by the presiding officer himself, who read an admirable paper upon our copyright legislation, past and future. He took an eminently sane and practical view of the question, making clear the fundamental distinction between a copyright and a patent (a distinction too often neglected), but still averring that our future legislation is sure to be based upon the broad considerations of public policy rather than upon purely theoretical grounds. "The question of the so-called moral right of an author in his book is not likely to arise in any future movement in this country for the enlargement of authors' rights by Congress. Such legislation will be supported on the ground of public policy rather than on the ground of just protection of property." Dr. S. S. Sprigge, late Secretary of the London Society of Authors, followed Mr. Adams with a brief paper on "The International Copyright Union," sent to the Congress by Sir Henry Bergne, the British Commissioner at the Berne Conference of 1886. Dr. Sprigge also read a paper of his own upon the present complicated condition of copyright legislation, English and international. The remainder of the session was given up to an informal discussion, among the parti- cipants being Mr. Gilder, Mr. George W. Cable, Mr. Charles Dudley Warner, Professor T. R. Lounsbury of Yale, President C. K. Adams of the University of Wisconsin, and Gen- eral A. C. McClurg. There was general agreement among the speakers in deprecating the necessity of the "manufacturing clause " of the Act of 1891, but there was an equally general agreement in the admission that the law, with all its defects, is vastly better than no law at all. Even Professor Lounsbury, who proclaimed himself one of the irreconcilables, admitted the justice of this view. The injury done to writers by the condition of simultaneous publication also came up for discussion, as well as the inadequacy of the term at present provided. "Nearly all our great American authors have outlived their copyrights, which is a ridiculous perversion of justice," said Mr. Gilder ; and Mr. Warner, echoing the opinion, allowed his wit to play upon the thought, greatly to the delight of his hearers.
The copyright question was again brought forward, at the Wednesday session, by Mr. R. R. Bowker, editor of "The Publishers' Weekly," who read a carefully prepared paper upon "The Limitations of Copyright." We may also mention in this connection, as an illustration of the interest taken by foreign countries in the work of the Congress, that a representative of the French Syndicat pour la Protection de la Propriété Littéraire et Artistique placed in the hands of the Committee, for distribution among the members of the Congress, a pamphlet " Note sur 1'Acte du 3 Mars 1891," especially prepared and printed for the purpose. After congratulating the Copyright League upon the successful outcome of its labors, the pamphlet adds : "II ne saurait se presenter une occasion plus favorable que celle de la reunion du Congrès de 1893 pour exprimer les remerciements des interéssés a tous ceux qui ont eu confiance en 1'esprit de justice du peuple americain." The special subject of the Wednesday session, "The Rights and Interests of Authors," was introduced by Mr. Walter Besant, who also presided over the session. Mr. Besant's paper summarized the history of the London Society of Authors, explaining also the reasons for its existence and the difficulties with which it has had to contend. A recent editorial in The Dial, upon the subject of the Society, gave the principal facts embodied in Mr. Besant's statement, and it is unnecessary to repeat them here. To the majority of those who heard them upon this occasion, they were doubtless new, and, as presented by Mr. Besant, they were given the added force that always characterizes a man's spoken words upon some subject to which he has devoted years of active thought. The following is one of the passages of more general interest contained in Mr. Besant's paper:

"We have made a careful and prolonged inquiry into the very difficult subject of the present nature and extent of literary property. A writer of importance in our language may address an audience drawn from a hundred millions of English-speaking people. Remember that never before in the history of the world has there been such an audience. There were doubtless more than a hundred millions under the Roman rule around the shores of the Mediterranean, but they spoke many different languages. We have now this enormous multitude, all, with very few exceptions, able to read, and all reading. Twenty years ago they read the weekly paper ; there are many who still read nothing more. Now that no longer satisfies the majority. Every day makes it plainer and clearer that we have arrived at a time when the whole of this multitude, which in fifty years' time will be two hundred millions, will very soon be reading books. What kind of books ? All kinds, good and bad, but mostly good ; we may be very sure that they will prefer good books to bad. Even now the direct road to popularity is by dramatic strength, clear vision, clear dialogue, whether a man write a play, a poem, a history, or a novel. We see magazines suddenly achieving a circulation reckoned by hundreds of thousands, while our old magazines creep along with their old circulation of from two to ten thousands. Hundreds of thousands ? How is this popularity achieved? Is it by pandering to the low, gross, coarse taste commonly attributed to the multitude? Not so. It is mainly accomplished by giving them dramatic work stories which hold and interest them essays which speak clearly work that somehow seems to have a message. If we want a formula or golden rule for arriving at popularity, I should propose this: Let the work have a Message. Let it have a thing to say, a story to tell, a living Man or Woman to present, a lesson to deliver, clear, strong, unmistakable. "The demand for reading is enormous, and it increases every day. I see plainly—as plainly as eyes can see—a time—it is even now already upon us—when the popular writer—the novelist, the poet, the dramatist, the historian, the physicist, the essayist—will command such an audience—so vast an audience—as he has never yet even conceived as possible. Such a writer as Dickens, if he were living now, would command an audience all of whom would buy his works—of twenty millions at least. The world has never yet witnessed such a popularity—so wide-spread … as awaits the successor of Dickens in the affections of the English speaking races. The consideration must surely encourage us to persevere in our endeavors after the independence and therefore the nobility of our calling, and therefore the nobility of our work. But you must not think that this enormous demand is for fiction alone. One of the things charged upon our Society is that we exist for novelists alone. That is because literary property is not understood at all. As a fact educational literature is a much larger and more valuable branch than fiction. But for science, history—everything—except, perhaps, poetry—the demand is leaping forward year after year in a most surprising manner. Now, in order to meet this enormous demand, which has actually begun and will increase more and more—a demand which we alone can meet and satisfy—I say that we must claim and that we must have a readjustment of the old machinery a reconsideration of the old methods—a new appeal to principles of equity and fair play."

The remainder of this session was taken up by a paper on " Syndicate Publishing," sent by Mr. W. Morris Colles, of London, by "Some Considerations on Publishing," a paper sent by Sir Frederick Pollock, and by a discussion in which part was taken by Mr. Besant, Mr. Charles Carleton Coffin, Mrs. Mary Hartwell Catherwood, and Mrs. D. Lothrop. The general subject of "Criticism and Literature" occupied the Thursday session of the Congress. Over this session Mr. Charles Dudley Warner presided, and read the opening paper, his subject being "The Function of Literary Criticism in the United States." Mr. Warner's paper is so sound and so suggestive that we feel justified in reproducing a somewhat lengthy extract.

"There seems to be a general impression that in a new country like the United States, where everything grows freely, almost spontaneously, as by a new creative impulse, literature had better be left to develop itself without criticism, as practically it has been left every tree to get as high as it can without reference to shape or character. I say, as practically it has been left. For while there has been some good criticism in this country of other literatures, an application of sound scholarship and wide comparison, there has been very little of this applied to American literature. There has been some fault-finding, some ridicule, a good deal of the slashing personality and the expression of individual prejudice and like or dislike, which characterized so much of the British review criticism of the beginning of this century much of it utterly conventional and blind judgment but almost no attempt to ascertain the essence and purport of our achievement and to arraign it at the bar of comparative excellence, both as to form and substance. I do not deny that there has been some ingenious and even just exploiting of our literature, with note of its defects and its excellences, but it will be scarcely claimed for even this that it is cosmopolitan. How little of the application of universal principles to specific productions! We thought it bad taste when Matthew Arnold put his finger on Emerson as he would put his finger on Socrates or on Milton. His judgment may have been wrong, or it may have. been right; matter of individual taste we would have been indifferent to; it seemed as if it were the universality of the test from which our national vanity shrank. We have our own standards; if we choose, a dollar is sixty-five cents, and we resent the commercial assertion that a dollar is one hundred cents.

"It seems to me that the thing the American literature needs just now, and needs more than any other literature in the world, is criticism. In the essay by Matthew Arnold to which I have referred, and in which, as you remember, he defines criticism to be 'a disinterested endeavor to learn and propagate the best that is known and thought in the world,' he would have had smooth sailing if he had not attempted to apply his principles of criticism to the current English literature. And this application made the essay largely an exposition of the British Philistine. The Philistine is, in his origin and character, a very respectable person, whether he is found in Parliament, or in Exeter Hall, or in a newspaper office; he is incased in tradition. The epithet, borrowed from the German, would not have stung as it did if Arnold had not further defined the person to be, what Ruskin found him also in England and Wagner in Germany, one inaccessible to new ideas.

"Now, we have not in the United States the Philistine, or Philistinism, at least not much of it, and for the reason that we have no tradition. We have thrown away, or tried to throw away, tradition. We are growing in the habit of being sufficient unto ourselves. We have not Philistinism, but we have something else. There has been no name for it yet invented. Some say it is satisfaction in superficiality, and they point to the common school and to Chautauqua; the French say that it is satisfaction in mediocrity. At any rate it is a satisfaction that has a large element of boastfulness in it, and boastfulness based upon a lack of enlightenment, in literature especially a want of discrimination, of fine discernment of quality. It is a habit of looking at literature as we look at other things ; literature in national life never stands alone if we condone crookedness in politics and in business under the name of smartness, we apply the same sort of test, that is the test of success, to literature. It is the test of the late Mr. Barnum. There is in it a disregard of moral as well as of artistic values and standards. You see it in the press, in sermons even, the effort to attract attention, the lack of moderation, the striving to be sensational in poetry, in the novel, to shock, to advertise the performance. Everything is on a strain. No, this is not Philistinism. I am sure, also, that it is not the final expression of the American spirit, that which will represent its life or its literature. I trust it is a transient disease, which we may perhaps call by a transient name,—Barnumism."

Another paper of importance, sent by Mr. Hamilton W. Mabie (who was unfortunately absent), had for its subject "Criticism as an Educational Force." Speaking of the change that has of late years come over the spirit of criticism, Mr. Mabie writes:

"It was not until criticism passed into the hands of men of insight and creative power that it discovered its chief function to be that of comprehension, and its principal service that of interpretation. Not that it has surrendered its function of judging according to the highest standards, but that it has discovered that the forms of excellence change from time to time, and that the question with regard to a work of art is not whether it conforms to types of excellence already familiar, but whether it is an ultimate expression of beauty or power. In every case the artist creates the type and the critic proves his competency by recognizing it; so that while the critic holds the artist to rigid standards of veracity and craftsmanship it is the artist who lays down the law to the critic. As an applied art, based on induction and constructing its canons apart from the material which literature furnishes, criticism was notable mainly for its fallability. As an art based on deduction, and framing its laws in accordance with the methods and principles illustrated in the best literature, it has advanced from a secondary to a leading place among the literary forms now most widely employed and most widely influential."

Mr. H. D. Traill, of Oxford, sent to the Congress a paper upon "The Relations of Literature and Journalism," from which we quote the opening paragraph:

"There never was a more promising subject for people who are fond of a good discursive debate, not likely to be brought to an abrupt and disappointing close by a sudden agreement between the disputants, than the subject of the relations between Literature and Journalism. A discussion of it combines almost every possible attraction ambiguity of terms, indefiniteness of area, uncertainty of aim everything in short that the heart of the most ardent controversialist could desire. I have been privileged to hear many such discussions and to take part in some of them, and on no occasion can I remember to have met with any debater so pedantic as to ask for a definition either of Literature or Journalism, at any stage of the argument. A sound instinct seems to warn people that if they were to do that, the particular debate engaged in would immediately branch off either into a prolonged and probably technical inquiry into the precise meaning and limits of the term Journalism or into an interminable and almost certainly violent dispute as to what constitutes Literature. The latter question in especial is full of "excellent differences" for those who care to discuss it: because according to some theorists on the subject there would seem to be scarcely any written or printed matter— when once you have risen above the Postoffice Directory—which is not literature; while with the very superfine class of critics, the difficulty is to find anything that is. Literature begins for the former almost where it began with Dogberry. Anyone who could have "pleaded his clergy" in the middle ages, would in their view apparently have been a literary man. Between this estimate and that of the Superfine Critic who claims to confine the name of literature to some limited class of composition which he happens himself to admire, or perhaps affect, the gap yawns enormous : and I for one have no intention of attempting to bridge it. The true definition of literature no doubt lies somewhere between them; and will be fixed on that auspicious day when it is found possible to determine the exact proportions in which Form and Matter enter into the constitution of literary merit. In the meantime we must content ourselves with admitting that form is certainly, if in an undefined degree, the more important of the two. It would be dangerous to admit any more than this in a day when so many minor poets are abroad; for a considerable number of these, while particularly careful of form, have reduced the value of their matter to a vanishing point, and any encouragement to them to carry the process yet further is to be strongly deprecated. Still this much, as I have said, must be admitted: that it is primarily form rather than matter which constitutes literature."

Among other papers presented at the Thursday session was that sent by Mr. Henry Arthur Jones, who took for his subject "The Future of the English Drama," and forecast it with an optimism quite excusable in the writer of so many serious and successful plays. While this session was in progress, the subject of "Literature for Children" was under consideration in another hall of the building, and papers were read by Mrs. D. Lothrop, Mrs. Elia W. Peattie, and Mr. Hezekiah Butterworth. In the afternoon, a programme of authors' reading for children was carried out in the presence of a very large audience, composed mostly of young people.

"Aspects of Modern Fiction " was the general subject of the Friday session of the Congress. Mr. George W. Cable was asked to preside, and the choice was no less happy than that of the chairmen for the three preceding sessions. Mr. Cable followed the example of his predecessors in the chair, and read the opening paper, his subject being : "The Uses and Methods of Fiction." We extract a passage from the close of this paper:

"We live in a day unparalleled by any earlier time in its love and jealousy for truth. In no field of search after truth have we been more successful than in science. Our triumphs here have kindled in us such energy and earnest enthusiasm, we have been tempted, both readers and writers, to forget that facts are not the only vehicle of truth. In our almost daily triumphant search, through the simple study of facts as they are, for the human race's betterment, we have learned to yield our imaginations too subserviently to the rule and discipline of the fact-hunters, and a depiction of desirable but as yet unrealized conditions across a chasm of impracticability is often unduly and unwisely resented.

"The world will do well to let its story-tellers be as at their best they have ever been, ambassadors of hope. The fealty they owe is not a scientific adherence and confinement to facts and their photographic display, however benevolently such an attitude may be inspired, save in so far as they may help them the more delightfully to reveal the divine perfections of eternal truth and beauty.

"Yet if it is true that there is no more law to compel the fictionist to teach truth than there is to require the scientist to be a poet, there are reasons why in more or less degree, and in the great majority of cases, he will choose to teach. One of these reasons lies on the surface. It is that in fictional literature, at least, Truth, duly subordinated to Beauty as the queen of the realm, is her greatest possible auxiliary and ally. No page of fiction ought ever to contain a truth without which the page would be more beautiful than with it. As certainly when truth ignores beauty as when beauty ignores truth, a discount falls upon the value of both in the economy of the universe. Yet on the other hand beauty in the story-teller's art, while it may as really, can never so largely and nobly, minister to the soul's delight without the inculcation of truth as with it. " Hence it is that fiction's peculiar ministry to the human soul is the prose depiction, through the lens of beauty, to the imagination and the emotions, of conflicts of human passions, wills, duties, and fates ; a depiction unaccompanied by any tax of intellectual labor, but consistent with all known truth, though without any necessary intervention of actual facts. Or, more briefly, it is the contemplation of the truths of human life as it ought to be, compared with the facts as they are.

"If this is the fictionist's commission, is not his commission his passport also in the economist's world ? It would be easy to follow out the radiations of this function and show their value by their simple enumeration. In the form of pure romance it fosters that spirit of adventure which seeks and finds new worlds and which cannot be lightly spoken of while we celebrate the discoveries of Columbus. In all its forms it helps to exercise, expand, and refresh those powers of the imagination whose decay is the hectic fever and night-sweat of all search for truth and beauty; of science and invention, art, enterprise, and true religion. Often it gives to the soul otherwise imprisoned by the cramped walls of the commonplace, spiritual experiences of life refined from some of their deadliest risks, and cuts windows in the walls of cramped and commonplace environments. At its best it elevates our conceptions of the heroic and opens our eyes to the presence, actuality, and value of a world of romance that is, and ought to be, in our own lives and fates."

Mrs. Mary Hartwell Catherwood followed Mr. Cable with a paper on "Form and Condensation in the Novel." We print a portion of Mrs. Catherwood's remarks, regretting that we have not space for them all.

"Whoever attempts a novel is supposed to have a

story to tell; and the manner of his telling it is almost as important as the story itself. It is always whatever variations the theme may take the story of a man and a woman ; often a sad, often an absurd story ; but one which is as fresh with every generation as new grass with the spring. The dear little maid whom you now call the light of your house will soon reach her version of it. She tells you in confidence, and with a stammer on the long word, that she has a prejudice against boys, and you know what that prejudice in the course of a few years will do with the incipient men who are hanging May-baskets or doing sums for her.
"It seems to me the best form for this story is the dramatic form. We want intensified life. 'It is the quality of the moment that imports,' says Emerson. Of what interest are our glacial periods, our slow transitions that change us we know not why ? Everyone can look back on many differing persons he has been in his time. And everyone is conscious of undeveloped identities hampered yet within him. The sweetest and sincerest natures have repressions and concealments. It is the result of these things which makes the story of life. You may put a microscope over a man and follow his trail day by day; but unless he reaches some stress of loving, suffering, doing, you soon lose interest in him. I delight in Jane Austen for the quality of her work. In the same way I enjoy the work of Mr. Howells. It is their dramatic grasp on the commonplace which makes these realists great.
"The most dramatic treatment cannot wholly present the beauty of one human soul, and the sternest analysis cannot reach all its convolutions of evil. Shakespeare knew his human soul. When we are very young we complain that he pictures us unfairly; but when we are older, we know. He took the great moments, that counted; and presented his men and women intensely alive.
"I have heard there are authors who do not rewrite and condense, who set down at the first stroke the word they want to use; the word which creates. But I never absolutely laid hands on one. The growth of a story is usually slow, like the growth of most plants. It is labor and delight, pain and pleasure, despair and hope. You cannot escape a pang. You must absolutely live it through ; and then try it by the test of ridicule of common standards, by the guage of human nature. I heard a judge say when he was a college student he kicked all the bark off a log in the campus, and wore out the backs of a new pair of trousers, trying to write a poem; and he made up his mind he was no poet. If the spirit of art had really been in him he would have recognized these agonies. It is not easy to speak the word except when it is easy ; when you

have those moments of clear seeing and that condensing grasp of your material which sometimes pay for days of worthless labor."

The remaining papers of the session were as follows: "The Short Story," by Miss Alice French; "The New Motive in Fiction," by Mrs. Anna B. McMahan; "Local Color in Fiction," by Mr. Hamlin Garland ; and " Ebb-Tide in Realism," by Mr. Joseph Kirkland. The Friday session of the Congress seemed to arouse a more general public interest than any of the others, and was distinguished from them by the fact that all the papers presented upon this occasion were read by their authors. Our account has thus far dealt almost exclusively with the special subject of the Congress of Authors. When we consider the fact that this Congress has been the first of the sort to be held by writers in the English language, and the other fact that there existed in this country no definite association of literary workers to take charge of the arrangements, there is reason to congratulate the committees in charge upon the outcome of their enterprise. To the non-resident Committee of Cooperation, and particularly to its secretary, Professor George E. Woodberry, who labored long and strenuously for the success of the work, a special and hearty word of recognition is due. It is true that there have been many disappointments that some who should have taken part in the work declined the invitation to do so, and that others who had promised their help and their presence failed to come forward at the final moment, but, with allowance for all these mishaps, it must be admitted that the Congress achieved a distinct success, that its sessions were dignified and thought-provoking, that it attracted the serious attention of a considerable and influential public, and that it has paved the way for a better organization of authorship, and a better understanding of literature both in its commercial and its artistic aspects. The proceedings of the Congress of Authors will have many echoes in the periodical literature of the coming weeks ; and, if they shall be subsequently published, as is hoped, in permanent form, their effect will be felt far beyond the moment, and is likely to make itself apparent both in predicable and in unpredicable ways.
Of the four remaining Congresses of the week we have not, upon the present occasion, space to speak in detail. We must be content with saying that they brought to Chicago exceptionally large gatherings of the four classes of specialists to whom appeal was made, including many European scholars of the first rank ; that their programmes covered a very wide range of original research ; and that, in spite of the tropical temperature of the week, and the counter attractions of the World's Fair, they were attended by audiences commensurate with the interest and importance of what the proceedings had to offer.