But to my mind Mr. Stockton’s characters are even more original than the machinery of his stories. And in their originality they reflect not only Mr. Stockton himself, but the race from which they and their author spring. In fact, they seem to me about the most genuinely American things in American fiction. After all, when one comes to think of it, Mrs. Lecks and Captain Horn merely illustrate that ready adaptation of Anglo-Saxon pluck and businesslike common sense to savage and unusual circumstances which has been the real secret of the colonization of the North American Continent. Captain Horn’s discovery and winning of the treasure may differ accidentally, but do not differ in essence, from a thousand true tales of commercial triumph in the great Central Plain or on the Pacific Slope. And in the heroine of the book we recognize those very qualities and aptitudes for which we have all learnt to admire and esteem the American girl. They are hero and heroine, and so of course we are presented with the better side of a national character; but then it has been the better side which has done the business. The bitterest critic of things American will not deny that Mr. Stockton’s characters are typical Americans, and could not belong to any other nation in the world. Nor can he deny that they combine sobriety with pluck, and businesslike behavior with good feeling; that they are as full of honor as of resource, and as sportsmanlike as sagacious. That people with such characteristics should be recognizable by us as typical Americans is a sufficient answer to half the nonsense which is being talked just now a propos of a recent silly contest for the America Cup.
Nationality apart, if anyone wants a good stirring story, Captain Horn is the story for his money. It has loose ends, and the concluding chapter ties up an end that might well have been left loose; but if a better story of adventure has been written of late I wish somebody would tell me its name.
August 26, 1893. Dauntless Anthology.
It is really very difficult to know what to say to Mr. Maynard Leonard, editor of The Dog in British Poetry (London: David Nutt). His case is something the same as Archdeacon Farrar’s. The critic who desires amendment in the Archdeacon’s prose, and suggests that something might be done by a study of Butler or Hume or Cobbett or Newman, is met with the cheerful retort, “But I have studied these writers, and admire them even more than you do.” The position is impregnable; and the Archdeacon is only asserting that two and two make four when he goes on to confess that, “with the best will in the world to profit by the criticisms of his books, he has never profited in the least by any of them.”
Now, Mr. Leonard has at least this much in common with Archdeacon Farrar, that before him criticism must sit down with folded hands. In the lightness of his heart he accepts every fresh argument against such and such a course as an added reason for following it:—