Nov. 12, 1892. Mr. Gilbert Parker.
Mr. Gilbert Parker’s book of Canadian tales, “Pierre and His People” (Methuen and Co.), is delightful for more than one reason. To begin with, the tales themselves are remarkable, and the language in which they are told, though at times it overshoots the mark by a long way and offends by what I may call an affected virility, is always distinguished. You feel that Mr. Parker considers his sentences, not letting his bolts fly at a venture, but aiming at his effects deliberately. It is the trick of promising youth to shoot high and send its phrases in parabolic curves over the target. But a slight wildness of aim is easily corrected, and to see the target at all is a more conspicuous merit than the public imagines. Now Mr. Parker sees his target steadily; he has a thoroughly good notion of what a short story ought to be: and more than two or three stories in his book are as good as can be.
Open Air v. Clubs.
But to me the most pleasing quality in the book is its open-air flavor. Here is yet another young author, and one of the most promising, joining the healthy revolt against the workshops. Though for my sins I have to write criticism now and then, and use the language of the workshops, I may claim to be one of the rebels, having chosen to pitch a small tent far from cities and to live out of doors: and it rejoices me to see the movement growing, as it undoubtedly has grown during the last few years, and find yet one more of the younger men refusing, in Mr. Stevenson’s words, to cultivate restaurant fat, to fall in mind “to a thing perhaps as low as many types of bourgeois–the implicit or exclusive artist.” London is an alluring dwelling-place for an author, even for one who desires to write about the country. He is among the paragraph-writers, and his reputation swells as a cucumber under glass. Being in sight of the newspaper men, he is also in their mind. His prices will stand higher than if he go out into the wilderness. Moreover, he has there the stimulating talk of the masters in his profession, and will be apt to think that his intelligence is developing amazingly, whereas in fact he is developing all on one side; and the end of him is–the Exclusive Artist:–
“When the flicker of London sun falls faint on the
Club-room’s green and gold
The sons of Adam sit them down and scratch with their
pens in the mould–
They scratch with their pens in the mould of their
graves and the ink and the anguish start,
For the Devil mutters behind the leaves: ‘It’s pretty,
but is it Art?'”
The spirit of our revolt is indicated clearly enough on that page of Mr. Stevenson’s “Wrecker,” from which I have already quoted a phrase:–
“That was a home word of Pinkerton’s, deserving to be writ in letters of gold on the portico of every School of Art: ‘What I can’t see is why you should want to do nothing else.’ The dull man is made, not by the nature, but by the degree of his immersion in a single business. And all the more if that be sedentary, uneventful, and ingloriously safe. More than half of him will then remain unexercised and undeveloped; the rest will be distended and deformed by over-nutrition, over-cerebration and the heat of rooms. And I have often marvelled at the impudence of gentlemen who describe and pass judgment on the life of man, in almost perfect ignorance of all its necessary elements and natural careers. Those who dwell in clubs and studios may paint excellent pictures or write enchanting novels. There is one thing that they should not do: they should pass no judgment on man’s destiny, for it is a thing with which they are unacquainted. Their own life is an excrescence of the moment, doomed, in the vicissitude of history, to pass and disappear. The eternal life of man, spent under sun and rain and in rude physical effort, lies upon one side, scarce changed since the beginning.”