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The Saving Grace
by [?]

Once upon a time there was an editor of a magazine who had certain ideas concerning short stories. This is not wonderful, for editors have such ideas; and when they find a short story which corresponds, they accept it with joy and pay good sums for it. This particular editor believed that a short story should be realistic. “Let us have things as they are!” he was accustomed to cry to his best friend, or the printer’s devil, or the office cat, whichever happened to be the handiest. “Life is great enough to say things for itself, without having to be helped out by the mawkish sentimentality of an idiot! Permit us to see actual people, living actual lives, in actual houses, and I should hope we have common-sense enough to draw our own morals!” He usually made these chaotic exclamations after reading through several pages of very neat manuscript in which the sentences were long and involved, and in which were employed polysyllabic adjectives of a poetic connotation. This editor liked short, crisp sentences. He wanted his adjectives served hot. He despised poetic connotation. Being only an editor, his name was Brown. If he had been a writer, he would have had three names, beginning with successive letters of the alphabet.

Now, one day, it happened that there appeared before this editor, Brown, a young man bearing a roll of manuscript. How he had gotten by the office boy Brown could not conceive, and rolled manuscript usually gave him spasms. The youth, however, presented a letter of introduction from Brown’s best friend. He said he had a story to submit, and he said it with a certain appearance of breathlessness at the end of the sentence, which showed Brown that it was his first story. Brown frowned inwardly, and smiled outwardly. He begged the youth to take a seat. As all the seats were filled with unopened papers and unbound books, the youth said he preferred to stand.

Brown asked the youth questions, in a perfunctory manner, not because he cared to know anything about him, but because he liked the man who had written the letter. The youth’s name proved to be Severne, and he was the most serious-minded youth who had ever stepped from college into writing. He spoke of ideals. Brown concluded that the youth’s story probably dealt with the time of the Chaldaean astronomers, and contained a deep symbolical truth, couched in language of the school of Bulwer Lytton or Marie Corelli. So, after the youth had gone, he seized the roll of manuscript, for the purpose of glancing through it. If he had imagined the story of any merit, he would not have been in such haste; but as his best friend had introduced the writer, he thought he would like to get a disagreeable task over at once.

He glanced the story through. Then he read it carefully. Then he slammed it down hard on his desk–to the vast confusion of some hundreds of loose memoranda, which didn’t matter much, anyway–and uttered a big, bad word. The sentences in the story were short and crisp. The adjectives were served very hot indeed. There was not a single bit of poetic connotation. It described life as it really was.

Brown, the editor, published the story, and paid a good price for it. Severne, the author, wrote more stories, and sold them to Brown. The two men got to be very good friends, and Severne heard exactly how Brown liked short stories and why, and how his, Severne’s, stories were just that kind.

All this would have been quite an ideal condition of affairs, and an object-lesson to a harsh world and other editors, were it not that Severne was serious-minded. He had absolutely no sense of humour. Perspectives there were none for him, and due proportions did not exist. He took life hard. He looked upon himself gravely as a serious proposition, like the Nebular Hypothesis or Phonetic Reform. The immediate consequence was that, having achieved his success through realism, he placed realism on a pedestal and worshipped it as the only true (literary) god. Severne became a realist of realists. He ran it into the ground. He would not describe a single incident that he had not viewed from start to finish with his own eyes. He did not have much to do with feelings direct, but such as were necessary to his story he insisted on experiencing in his own person; otherwise the story remained unwritten. And as for emotions–such as anger, or religion, or fear–he would attempt none whose savour he had not tasted for himself. Unkind and envious rivals–not realists–insisted that once Severne had deliberately gotten very drunk on Bowery whiskey in order that he might describe the sensations of one of his minor characters in such a condition. Certain it is, he soon gained the reputation among the unintelligent of being a crazy individual, who paid people remarkably well to do strange and meaningless things for him. He was always experimenting on himself and others.