The “carpet-bagger” still lingers among us. We know him, with his “tourist’s return” ticket, and the ready-made “plot” in his head, and his note-book and pencil for jotting down “local color.” We still find him working up the scenery of Bolivia in the Reading Room of the British Museum. But he is going rapidly out of fashion; and it is as well to put his features on record and pigeon-hole them, if only that we may recognize him on that day when the pendulum shall swing him triumphantly back into our midst, and “locality” shall in its turn pass out of vogue.
I submit this simile of the pendulum with some diffidence to those eager theorists who had rather believe that their art is advancing steadily, but at a fair rate of speed, towards perfection. My own less cheerful—yet not altogether cheerless view—is that the various fashions in art swing to and fro upon intersecting curves. Some of the points of intersection are fortunate points—others are obviously the reverse; and generally the fortunate points lie near the middle of each arc, or the mean; while the less fortunate ones lie towards the ends, that is, towards excess upon one side or another. I have already said that, in the amount of attention they pay to locality just now, the novelists seem to be running into excess. If I must choose between one excess and the other—between the carpet-bagger and the writer of “dialect-stories,” each at his worst—I unhesitatingly choose the latter. But that is probably because I happened to be born in the ’sixties.
Let us get back (I hear you implore) to the historical point of view, if possible: anywhere, anywhere, out of the Poetics! And I admit that a portion of the preceding paragraph reads like a bad parody of that remarkable work. Well, then, I believe that our imaginary historian—I suppose he will be a German: but we need not let our imagination dwell upon that—will find a dozen reasons in contemporary life to account for the attention now paid by novelists to “locality.” He will find one of them, no doubt, in the development of locomotion by steam. He will point out that any cause which makes communication easier between two given towns is certain to soften the difference in the characteristics of their inhabitants: that the railway made communication easier and quicker year by year; and its tendency was therefore to obliterate local peculiarities. He will describe how at first the carpet-bagger went forth in railway-train and steamboat, rejoicing in his ability to put a girdle round the world in a few weeks, and disposed to ignore those differences of race and region which he had no time to consider and which he was daily softening into uniformity. He will then relate that towards the close of the nineteenth century, when these differences were rapidly perishing, people began to feel the loss of them and recognize their scientific and romantic value; and that a number of writers entered into a