Our books of short stories this season show a higher average than the novels. The short story used to be considered the more difficult test of an author's power; but it was only necessary after all to catch a trick of condensation, and it was much the easier art, as a quatrain or song is easier than an ode, once the elementary fault of diffuseness is conquered. Nowadays, more writers of good short stories than of good novels are to be found.

Foremost among those before us for review is T. B. Aldrich's Two Bites at a Cherry,[1]—half a dozen most readable and refined little stories, ranging from grave to gay in topic; but however grave, never without the light, fine touch by which Mr. Aldrich holds himself above altogether giving up to the pathos he suggests. One must read these stories over more than once to appreciate how clear and nice is the workmanship; and yet if one does this, he realizes that the flavor is evanescent, for like others of Mr. Aldrich's tales, they depend on a surprise at the end for their effect, and that is spoiled after the first reading. Most of the stories, if not all, have been in magazines before being collected into this book.

The latest collection of Miss Jewett's stories goes farther afield than many of her books. There are two Irish stories and the scene of another is mostly set in St. Augustine,—a sailor tale, on the same strain that Mrs. Phelps Ward touches in "A Madonna of the Tubs" and similar stories. Miss Jewett's is more true to life, it seems, than Mrs. Ward's and its pathos is certainly less evidently sought. The name story is a touching sketch of a prosperous politician and an old-time school sweetheart, who, cooped up in her little native hamlet, yet follows his career and in intellectual matters keeps herself the peer of this senator and man of the world. "Decoration Day" is a pretty story of the veteran of thirty years after the war; and "The Flight of Betsy Lane" is a narrative of a little woman who goes from a poorhouse to the Centennial. But it is unnecessary to tell the charm of each of Miss Jewett's stories, they are her stories and in her best vein, and that is enough for the discerning reader to know.[2]

A book of short stories, absolutely new in its field to most American readers,—unless indeed they go back far enough into childhood days to recall Jack the Giant-killer and his honest Cornish giants,—is The Delectable Duchy.[3] The tales have more of variety than Miss Jewett's and yet they fill much the same field. They tell of the honest poor, but with a touch of the ancient folk lore that is charming and foreign to Miss Jewett's work. There is broad fun in the Irish St. Piran legends, touching pathos in "The Conspiracy Aboard the Midas" and "Mr. Punch's Understudy." "The Paupers" might have been written by Miss Jewett herself so close and sympathetic is its study into the feelings of the old couple on their way to the poorhouse, and the little final touch where the poor old people walk beyond the gate, that the man in the cart may not see them enter, is exquisite. In this story is shown strikingly the difference between the old country poverty and that of even the oldest and most barren parts of America. Country people here go to the poorhouse times it is true, but it is generally the plain result of unusual misfortune or shiftlessness; but the Cornish peasantry seem to look upon the poorhouse as their natural home when old age shall have lessened their earning capacity,—an unpleasant ending of a long and laborious life, perhaps, but one absolutely unavoidable. Altogether it is a book that will toll its reader on from tale to tale till the whole book is done, whether he reads it by himself or to a sympathetic friend or group of friends.

Three collections of short stories by California writers close our list. The Confessional and the Following,[4] by Dr. Danziger, of this city, has a good deal of ingenuity in plots, a little too much effort after the tragic or startling, and a plain literary style, which lays itself open to no criticism, yet lacks the grace of a strong and finished simplicity, and is rather bald in its effect. Another Juanita[5] is by an old-time contributor to the Overland, and a number of the stories have appeared in these pages. In them also, it might be said, there is too much effort at the tragic, but it does not seem effort, it seems very spontaneous; nevertheless, it sometimes makes the stories what is called loosely " morbid," and they are in places overcolored in diction. Nevertheless, they are unquestionably strong, and leave an abiding impression in the mind; one finds them remembered long after reading. They are very Californian in subject. Mr. Henry S. Brooks's stories are well known to Overland readers, and of the dozen in A Catastrophe in Bohemia[6] seven have been printed in this magazine, "The Arrival of the Magpie," "La Tiburona," "At Don Ignacio's," "The Virgin of the Pearls," "The Don in Pauper Alley," "The Crazy Professor," and the name story, which is rightfully given the place of honor. These names will call up to our readers, therefore, the remembrance of stories that are carefully and sympathetically wrought, whether they deal with the Spanish American life, the days of gold-seeking in California, or with London, as "A Catastrophe in Bohemia" does. They have what is common in Western work a sense of an unlimited amount of material, of new regions to be made part of the literary world so large that there is no need to dole out incident and description sparingly, but rather a difficulty of choosing where to begin. The most novel field touched is that of Lower California, of which Mr. Brooks is perhaps the finest literary explorer.

Coming now to novels, The Shadow of Desire[7] and My Wickedness[8] are stories of the slenderest possible quality, whose sensationalism even is mainly in the titles. Both show an honest desire to be startling, but neither is successful in it. The Shadow of Desire is vague and rambling, without clear narrative structure; and the other is a repetition of an old theme,—the psychology of an insane criminal, who commits crimes from a sort of fascination.

The Russian Refugee,[9] Rachel Stanwood,[10] and None-such?[11] are not unpleasant books to read, even if they have no very conclusive reasons for existence. All three have a sincere and sympathetic spirit, and an interest in social questions; possibly all three might be called somewhat unsophisticated, but neither is ignorant. The first has, in spite of its title, nothing to do with Russian questions, the refugee being merely a conveniently romantic figure for a plot of old-fashioned ingenuity, mystery, and long-drawn detail. The second is a story of the early abolitionists and underground railway. The third is an ideal study of a good millionaire, and its full title is "None-such? There will yet be Thousands." The moral is that millionaires should not leave their property to colleges, which are too rich already, but to favorite heirs, who will devote the whole to philanthropy: the man who makes the money is disqualified for philanthropies himself by the necessary hardness and absorption of the money-getter. The story is absurd, but there are clever points in it.

Among studies of social questions might also be named A Complication in Hearts.[12] Public life in Washington has served as the background for many novels, some of them very good novels. "Through One Administration" will readily occur as an example of these. In many respects like that story is A Complication in Hearts. Its hero is that modern knight, the Mugwump leader, sent to Congress as a reformer by a strangely mingled constituency. The interest in the story turns on his love affair with the unhappy wife of an elderly man. The story lacks the delicacy and reserve in treatment that was the charm of "Through One Administration," and for that reason has more of directness and dramatic power. It offers several strong situations should it be put on the boards, especially the one where Yates Wolfe, the hero, stands behind the heavy curtain of the window, during the colloquy between Madame De la Tour and her husband, while O'Toole, Wolfe's enemy and the heavy villain of the plot, is peering in through the same window from the outside.

Mr. Peterson McBriar Hedge, the Kentucky gentleman of classical speech, is rather a good character though over- drawn. The whole book is open to the charge that its color and light and shade are laid on with a too liberal brush. It lacks finish and delicacy in many ways, both as a picture of modern political life and a study of individual character.

Mrs. Falchion[13] is a book of much intelligence and force, but so rambling and unordered that no one will keep a connected recollection of it for many days after reading. Its purpose is as a character study, but while original and in a measure interesting, the study falls short of being powerful, and does not strike one as being true, or even made with much effort to be true. The local color, which is taken from various quarters of the world, for the characters are travelers, is fresh and pleasing, and seems real.

Matilda Betham-Edwards is certainly no new hand at story-writing, and would not have kept on publishing novel after novel had not people been found to buy and read them; but it is hard to see why any considerable number of readers should be expected for The Curb of Honor.[14] With its unnatural, exaggerated characters, its labored humor, its stilted style, it is, to the critical, not even agreeable reading by way of pastime; while the uncritical will fail to find in it the lively narrative, or involved plot, or penetrating sentiment, they like. Yet it is an honest, high-minded little story, with honest, high-minded people in it, and a sound enough moral. The Great Chin Episode[15] may be dismissed in but few words. It is an English detective story of the sort turned out by the better grade of hack novelists. Its denouement is fairly intelligible long before it is meant so to be, and the real murderer rather clumsily revealed at the end. Probably it is easier to make this criticism than to suggest an improvement on the way it is managed, as in the case of Doctor Johnson's strictures on the catastrophe in Hamlet. Told by the Colonel[16] is not bad as a take-off on the traveling American. Its fun is not of the delicate or subtle sort, but good, broad, apparent humor, which may be retold with effect to any audience that has not read the book; and this means that many of the stories are on themes sufficiently familiar on their general lines to have all the audience ready to laugh when the time comes,—a great advantage in a funny story. They are told, however, with a style and tang that is new enough to carry off the familiar basis. The plot of Elisabeth: Christian Scientist,[17] recalls strongly Grace Denio Litchfield's story, "A Hard Won Victory." There is the same struggle of the young woman with a mission to proclaim it to the world by taking service as a nurse to an aged and wealthy invalid lady. The most eligible young man in the family connection promptly falls in love with her, as usual, and the trouble begins. The present book has several differences, however, from its predecessors, mainly the peculiar beliefs of the young woman as shown in the sub-title. As a propaganda of the doctrine it is to be feared that the book will not meet with much success, for the reader's interest is more in the heroine as a heroine than as a missionary, and when she at last yields in the good old way, the book is laid down with a sigh of satisfaction.

The list of Archibald Clavering Gunter's "celebrated novels" beginning with "Mr. Barnes of New York" and "Mr. Potter of Texas" and ending, (let us hope), with Baron Montez of Panama and Paris[18] is a steady anti-climax. Not but that the technical workmanship of style may have improved with practice, but the more important points of subject matter, of artistic proportion, of truth to nature and to the unities of art, are more and more sacrificed to the haste that must follow one successful book with another before the public has been able to forget its predecessor. These books are usually sold in the paper-covered edition, and that becomes them far better than the more enduring binding, for it is hardly possible to imagine anybody caring to read Baron Montez twice. It is true the snow-storm scene in New York is cleverly done, but the greater part of the heroine's diary is sickening, and the scene where she snatches Montez's pocketbook is ludicrous.

"The Lady of Fort St. John" fixed Mary Hartwell Catherwood in the minds of many people as a writer that had found a new field for fiction, a field that she worked with great skill and loving care. The result of her work is the bringing to literary life the old semi-French civilization of the upper Mississippi in the somewhat vague limits of the Territory of Illinois. Old Kaskaskia[19] deepens that feeling and will add to the number of people that will look for books by this author, sure that they will contain the results of conscientious study wrought out with a really fine and delicate art. Father Baby, Angelique Saucier, Pierre Menard and Rice Jones ("Reece Zhone,") are new figures in the world of art, and they are living figures, who will make good their claim to length of days.

In a preface to The Soul of the Bishop,[20] "John Strange Winter" says frankly: "I am aware that I have the reputation of being a writer of light stories, of pretty trifles, pour passer le temps, which is one of the disadvantages of beginning to write novels while very young, as it often creates a difficulty in more mature years, when the author wishes to be taken seriously, feeling strongly that the work has grown in quality or in strength with the years that have gone by." This is a frank statement of an honorable motive for the book; and the present reviewer would like to have seen it justified by work that was really an improvement upon the entertaining cavalry stories to which this author first set her pen-name. It cannot be said that The Soul of the Bishop is such work. The topic is akin to that of Robert Elsmere, but the treatment is not nearly so earnest, so strong, or so intelligent. It is a matter of course that it is in a way well-written, with good conversations, and clearly defined characters; and where the main points of the controversy are made, they are well made. The story is possible, its experiences by no means unnatural. It has the falsity to life that all novels concerning intense emotional experience must have: namely, that they are essentially episodic; they take no account of the immense healing and changing influences of long spaces of time. In the mere love story that is no serious objection, for after all the reader does not care to see the heroine of twenty in her resigned and somewhat portly forties,—he would rather leave her desolate in the last chapter, facing the unendurable years. But a novel of religious storm and stress should not end by ignoring the fact that honest and reasonable young souls,—as this one in the story was,—come to some sort of tenable theory of life by mature years. Probably the mischiefs played by religious differences in Cecil's personal life and relations were irremediable; but she did not live all her days tossed and torn with agitation, or brooding in desolation, either over the religious questions themselves or the consequences they had wrought. The dull, but sane and not unhelpful, after-chapter of young despair is worth writing; and especially necessary, if one would make a just study of the sort of problems here taken up. The book is a step in the right direction, — that of treating all things in which high human emotion is involved, all things on which vital human experience turns, as proper subject matter for fiction. The theory of art that can find the experiences least human—the side of life that we have in common with the beasts—the most congenial material, while those spiritual agitations that have shaken the world are ruled out as mere didacticism, is a singularly blind one. Nevertheless, it takes a stronger mind and a finer insight to write a good religious novel than a gossipy tale of manners or romance,—by as much as Rabbi Ben Ezra, or O May I Join the Choir Invisible, or Dover Beach, are better poetry than Austin Dobson's verselets; and The Soul of the Bishop cannot be called an altogether successful effort at this difficult type of writing.

We may mention, before closing this review, a child's book, Everybody's Fairy Godmother,[21] which is really a parable rather than a story. It is Californian in subject, written by a Californian lady; it is pretty, even for a grown person's reading, and in spite of a little sentimentality that a critical grown person will feel in it; and children will probably like it unqualifiedly. Little girls will, at least; little boys are not as willing to receive moral lessons in a story. This particular moral lesson is a wise and sweet one, and the story is decidedly above the average of children's books.

  1. Two Bites at a Cherry. By T. B. Aldrich. Boston: Houghton, Mfflin, & Co.: 1893.
  2. A Native of Winby. By Sarah Orne Jewett. Boston: Houghton, Mifflin & Co.: 1893.
  3. The Delectable Duchy. By Q. New York: Macmillan & Co.: 1893.
  4. In the Confessional and the Following. By Adolph Danziger.
  5. Another Juanita. By Josephine Clifford. Buffalo: Charles Wells Moulton: 1893.
  6. A Catastrophe in Bohemia and Other Stories. By Henry S. Brooks. New York: Chas. L. Webster & Co.: 1893.
  7. The Shadow of Desire. By Irene Osgood. New York: The Cleveland Publishing Co.: 1893.
  8. My Wickedness. Ibid.
  9. The Russian Refugee. By Henry R. Wilson. Chicago: Charles H. Kerr: 1893.
  10. Rachel Stanwood. By Lucy Gibbons Morse. Boston: Houghton, Mifflin & Co.: 1893.
  11. Nonesuch? By Emery J. Haynes. Boston: The North Publishing Company: 1893.
  12. A Complication in Hearts. By Edmund Pendleton. New York: The Home Publishing Company. 1893.
  13. Mrs. Falchion. By Gilbert Parker. New York: The Home Publishing Company: 1893.
  14. The Curb of Honor. By M. Betham-Edwards. New York: J. S. Tail & Sons.
  15. The Great Chin Episode. By Paul Cushing. New York: Macmillan & Co.: 1893.
  16. Told by the Colonel. By W. L. Alden. New York: J. Selwin Tail & Sons: 1894.
  17. Elizabeth: Christian Scientist. By Matt. Crimm. New York: Charles L. Webster & Co.: 1893.
  18. Baron Montez of Panama and Paris. By Archibald Clavering Gunter. New York: The Home Publishing Co.: 1893.
  19. Old Kaskaskia. By Mary Hartwell Catherwood. Boston: Houghton, Miffln & Co.: 1893.
  20. The Soul of the Bishop. By John Strange Winter New York: J. S. Tail & Sons.
  21. Everybody's Fairy Godmother. By Dorothy Q. New York: Tail Sons & Co.: 1893.