In the last decades of the eighteenth century, England had been purged, mentally and socially, by strong draughts of French ideas, and literature was turbulent with romanticism. Thus, at the beginning of the new era, there was more to think of than manners and morals. Novel writers were experimenting in every direction. There was the political, social, or educational novel of Godwin and his group, the Gothic romance, the historical novel, the novel of sensibility.
With all Poe’s tremendous versatility, his obscure phases of a complex genius, and his manifold debts to universal literature, it is not to be forgotten that, at the beginning of his career, in 1833, he belonged distinctly to the school of romantic emotionalism where the Landons and the Shelleys had been experimenting. Nevertheless, though born of this school, he had already overtopped its most strenuous efforts.
Critical subtlety has so far been chiefly busied with the difference between short story and merely short story and with all which would serve to define what Poe and his successors had given us. Nor have unnecessary complications been wanting in a not very simple matter, for each succeeding writer has tried to make his definition a new one.
The use of Bret Harte to separate two literary periods is more convenient than inevitable. Harte was the great advertiser of the short story, and accomplished with it certain remarkable things, but only in a restricted sense did he begin a new era. The years of which we have now to write, the two score in which the American short story has grown from an infant industry to a national avocation, do not date from The Luck of Roaring Camp.
Kipling is, on the whole, the most vigorous, versatile, and highly endowed among contemporary writers of fiction, … because his colonial life, and his transatlantic connections make him more Anglo-Saxon than British. And, finally, for the reason that, in his time, no English-writing author has shown such consummate mastery of the short story.
Regarded as an artist in narrative, [Stevenson] is probably indebted to France, and his admirations there, for the influence which made him cope, and cope successfully, with the artistic problems presented by the short story. This influence is not so gross as to be reckoned in terms of a specific source. It is to be traced through his artistic conscience and still more through his conception of what should be done in the telling of a story.
Hawthorne, in his search for wisdom’s pearl by means of fancy, resembles this contemporary Englishman. He is related to the German romanticists in his fondness for the weird, the mystical, and the supernormal manifestations of the spirit. It is unnecessary to establish more definitely his connection with the romantic movement, and we may, therefore, pass on to more important matters.