It would be difficult to find any single purpose running through the sketches which fill most of his books. His characteristic book is a medley of cosmopolitan “things seen” and comments grouped together under a title in which irony lurks. Take the volume called Charity, for example. Both the title of the book and the subject-matter of several of the sketches may be regarded as a challenge to the unco’ guid (if there are any left) and to respectability (from which even the humblest are no longer safe). On the other hand, his title may be the merest lucky-bag accident. It seems likely enough, however, that in choosing it the author had in mind the fact that the supreme word of charitableness in the history of man was spoken concerning a woman who was taken in adultery. It is scarcely an accident that in Charity a number of the chapters relate to women who make a profession of sin.
Mr. Graham is unique in his treatment of these members of the human family. If he does not throw stones at them, as the Pharisees of virtue did, neither does he glorify them as the Pharisees of vice have done in a later generation. He simply accepts them as he would accept a broken-down nation or a wounded animal, and presents them as characters in the human drama. It would be more accurate to say “as figures in the human picture,” for he is far more of a painter than a dramatist. But the point to be emphasized is that these stories are records, tragic, grim or humorous, as the portraits in Chaucer are—acceptances of life as it is—at least, of life as it is outside the vision of policemen and other pillars of established interests. For Mr. Graham can forgave you for anything but two things—being successful (in the vulgar sense of the term) or being a policeman.
It would be wrong, however, to suggest that Mr. Graham achieves the very finest things in charity. It is the charity of tolerance, or the minor charity, that is most frequent in his pages. The larger charity which we find in Tolstoi and the great teachers is not here. We could not imagine Mr. Graham forgetting himself so far in his human sympathies as Ruskin did when he stooped and kissed the filthy beggar outside the church door in Rome. Nor do we find in any of these sketches of outcasts that sense of humanity bruised and exiled that we get in such a story as Maupassant’s Boule de Suif. Mr. Graham gloriously insists upon our recognizing our human relations, but many of them he introduces to us as first cousins once removed rather than as brothers and sisters by the grace of God.