in modulations, in subtile phrases that touch the edge of an assertion and yet stop short of it. He is like a skater who executes a hundred graceful curves within the limits of a pool a few yards square.
, the novelist, once described her art as a little bit of ivory, on which she produced small effect after much labor.
She underrated her own skill, as the comparison in some respects underrates that of Howells
; but his field is — or has until lately seemed to be — the little bit of ivory.
This is attributing to him only what he has been careful to claim for himself.
He tells his methods very frankly, and his first literary principle has been to look away from great passions, and rather to elevate the commonplace by minute touches.
Not only does he prefer this, but he does not hesitate to tell us sometimes, half jestingly, that it is the only thing to do. “As in literature the true artist will shun the use even of real events if they are of an improbable character, so the sincere observer of man will not desire to look upon his heroic or occasional phases, but will seek him in his habitual moods of vacancy and tiresomeness.”
He may not mean to lay this down as a canon of universal authority, but he accepts it himself; and he accepts with it the risk involved of a too-limited and microscopic