Bret Harte had a very unusual combination of sympathetic insight, emotional feeling, and keen sense of the dramatic. In the expression of the result of these powers he commanded a literary style individually developed, expressive of a rare personality. He was vividly imaginative, and he had exacting ideals of precision in expression. His taste was unerring. The depth and power of the great soul were not his. He was the artist, not the prophet. He was a delightful painter of the life he saw, an interpreter of the romance of his day, a keen but merciful satirist, a humorist without reproach, a patriot, a critic, and a kindly, modest gentleman. He was versatile, doing many things exceedingly well, and some things supremely well. He discerned the significance of the remarkable social conditions of early days in California and developed a marvelous power of presenting them in vivid and attractive form. His humor is unsurpassed. It is pervasive, like the perfume of the rose, never offending by violence. His style is a constant surprise and a never-ending delight. His spirit is kindly and generous. He finds good in unsuspected places, and he leaves hope for all mankind. He was sensitive, peace-loving, and indignant at wrong, a scorner of pretense, independent in thought, just in judgment. He surmounted many difficulties, bore suffering without complaint, and left with those who really knew him a pleasant memory. It would seem that he was a greater artist and a better man than is commonly conceded.
In failing to honor him California suffers. He should be cherished as her early interpreter, if not as her spirit’s discoverer, and ranked high among those who have contributed to her fame. He is the representative literary figure of the state. In her imaginary Temple of Fame or Hall of Heroes he deserves a prominent, if not the foremost, niche. As the generations move forward he must not be forgotten. Bret Harte at our hands needs not to be idealized, but he does deserve to be justly, gratefully, and fittingly realized.
SAN FRANCISCO—THE SIXTIES
We are familiar with the romantic birth of San Francisco and its precocious childhood; we are well acquainted with its picturesque background of Spanish history and the glorious days of ’49; but I doubt if we are as well informed as to the significant and perhaps equally important second decade.
It was my fortune to catch a hurried glance of San Francisco in 1855, when the population was about forty-five thousand. I was then on the way from New England to my father’s home in Humboldt County. I next saw it in 1861 while on my way to and from attendance at the State Fair. In 1864 I took up my residence in the city and it has since been continuous.