previous next

[377] permanently into the channels that it has followed in France, is doubtful. The great success in the middle seventies of the anonymous Saxe Holm's stories, with their mid-century sentiment and romantic atmosphere, would imply that America at heart was still what it was in the days of Hawthorne and the annuals. What might have happened had James and Howells and Aldrich had full control it is idle to speculate; what did happen was the sudden appearance of a short story that stampeded America and for two decades set the style in short fiction. Bret Harte's The luck of Roaring camp, whatever one may think of its merits, must be admitted to be the most influential short story ever written in America.

Francis Bret Harte1 was born in 1839 at Albany, where his father, a scholar and an itinerant teacher of languages, happened at the time to be stationed. A youth of frail physique, he became a precocious reader, preferring a Hawthorne-like seclusion among books to playground activities among boys of his own age. From his childhood he was predisposed to literature; he dreamed over it, and he began to make poems even in his early school days. His removal to California at the age of fifteen, five years after the first gold rush, came from no initiative of his. To the delicate youth dreaming over his books it was an exile at the barbarous ends of the world. For a time he lived at his mother's home at Oakland—after a nine years widowhood she had married again—and then half heartedly he began to support himself as a school teacher, as a private tutor, as a druggist's clerk, and later as a type-setter on a rural newspaper. There is little doubt that for a time he saw something of mining life during a visit to Humboldt County, but the experience was brief. He had no taste for the rough life of the border. The greater part of his seventeen years in California he spent in San Francisco, first as type-setter, then as editor in various newspaper and magazine establishments. He was a man of the city, a professional literary worker, a poet, and a dreamer over the work of the older poets and romancers.

Harte came to the short story by way of Irving. His first dream was to do for the lands of the Spanish missions what Irving had done for the highlands of the Hudson. As early as

1 See also Book III, Chap. V.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide Places (automatically extracted)
hide People (automatically extracted)
Sort people alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a person to search for him/her in this document.
Washington Irving (2)
Francis Bret Harte (2)
William Dean Howells (1)
Saxe Holm (1)
John Hawthorne (1)
Bret Harte (1)
T. B. Aldrich (1)
hide Dates (automatically extracted)
Sort dates alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a date to search for it in this document.
1839 AD (1)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: