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Edgar Saltus
by [?]

“O no, we never mention him,

His name is never heard!”

Old Ballad.

To write about Edgar Saltus should be vieux jeu. The man is an American; he was born in 1858; he accomplished some of his best work in the Eighties and the Nineties, in the days when mutton-legged sleeves, whatnots, Rogers groups, cat-tails, peacock feathers, Japanese fans, musk-mellon seed collars, and big-wheeled bicycles were in vogue. He has written history, fiction, poetry, literary criticism, and philosophy, and to all these forms he has brought sympathy, erudition, a fresh point of view, and a radiant style. He has imagination and he understands the gentle art of arranging facts in kaleidoscopic patterns so that they may attract and not repel the reader. America, indeed, has not produced a round dozen authors who equal him as a brilliant stylist with a great deal to say. And yet this man, who wrote some of his best books in the Eighties and who is still alive, has been allowed to drift into comparative oblivion. Even his early reviewers shoved him impatiently aside or ignored him altogether; a writer in “Belford’s Magazine” for July, 1888, says: “Edgar Saltus should have his name changed to Edgar Assaulted.” Soon he became a literary leper. The doctors and professors would have none of him. To most of them, nowadays, I suppose, he is only a name. Many of them have never read any of his books. I do not even remember to have seen him mentioned in the works of James Huneker and you will not find his name in Barrett Wendell’s “A History of American Literature” (1901), “A Reader’s History of American Literature” by Thomas Wentworth Higginson and Henry Walcott Boynton (1903), Katherine Lee Bates’s “American Literature” (1898), “A Manual of American Literature,” edited by Theodore Stanton (1909), William B. Cairns’s “A History of American Literature” (1912), William Edward Simonds’s “A Student’s History of American Literature” (1909), Fred Lewis Pattee’s “A History of American Literature Since 1870” (1915), John Macy’s “The Spirit of American Literature” (1913), or William Lyon Phelps’s “The Advance of the English Novel” (1916). The third volume of “The Cambridge History of American Literature,” bringing the subject up to 1900, has not yet appeared but I should be amazed to discover that the editors had decided to include Saltus therein. Curiously enough he is mentioned in Oscar Fay Adams’s “A Dictionary of American Authors” (1901 edition) and, of all places, I have found a reference to him in one of Agnes Repplier’s books.

You will find few essays about the man or his work in current or anterior periodicals. There is, to be sure, the article by Ramsay Colles, entitled “A Publicist: Edgar Saltus,” published in the “Westminster Magazine” for October, 1904, but this essay could have won our author no adherents. If any one had the courage to wade through its muddy paragraphs he doubtless emerged vowing never to read Saltus. Besides only the novels are touched on. In 1903 G. F. Monkshood and George Gamble arranged a compilation from Saltus’s work which they entitled “Wit and Wisdom from Edgar Saltus” (Greening and Co., London). The work is done without sense or sensitiveness and the prefatory essay is without salt or flavour of any sort. An anonymous writer in “Current Literature” for July, 1907, asks plaintively why this author has been permitted to remain in obscurity and quotes from some of the reviews. In “The Philistine” for October, 1907, Elbert Hubbard takes a hand in the game. He says, “Edgar Saltus is the best writer in America–with a few insignificant exceptions,” but he deplores the fact that Saltus knows nothing about the cows and chickens; only cities and gods seem to interest him. Still there is some atmosphere in this study, which is devoted to one book, “The Lords of the Ghostland.” In the New York Public Library four of Saltus’s books and one of his translations (about one-sixth of his published work) are listed. You may also find there in a series of volumes entitled “Nations of the World” his supplementary chapters bringing the books up to date. That is all.