Misinforming a Nation/Chapter 02
Let us inspect first the manner in which the world's great modern novelists and story-tellers are treated in the Encyclopædia Britannica. No better department could be selected for the purpose; for literature is the most universal and popular art. The world's great figures in fiction are far more widely known than those in painting or music; and since it is largely through literature that a nation absorbs its cultural ideas, especial interest attaches to the way that writers are interpreted and criticised in an encyclopædia.
It is disappointing, therefore, to discover the distorted and unjust viewpoint of the Britannica. An aggressive insular spirit is shown in both the general literary articles and in the biographies. The importance of English writers is constantly exaggerated at the expense of foreign authors. The number of biographies of British writers included in the Encyclopædia far overweighs the biographical material accorded the writers of other nations. And superlatives of the most sweeping kind are commonly used in describing the genius of these British authors, whereas in the majority of cases outside of England, criticism, when offered at all, is cool and circumscribed and not seldom adverse. There are few British writers of any note whatever who are not taken into account; but many authors of very considerable importance belonging to France, Germany, Italy, Russia, and the United States are omitted entirely.
In the Encyclopædia's department of literature, as in other departments of the arts, the pious middle-class culture of England is carefully and consistently forced to the front. English provincialism and patriotism not only dominate the criticism of this department, but dictate the amount of space which is allotted the different nations. The result is that one seeking in this encyclopædia adequate and unprejudiced information concerning literature will fail completely in his quest. No mention whatever is made of many of the world's great novelists (provided, of course, they do not happen to be British); and the information given concerning the foreign authors who are included is, on the whole, meagre and biased. If, as is natural, one should judge the relative importance of the world's novelists by the space devoted to them, one could not escape the impression that the literary genius of the world resides almost exclusively in British writers.
This prejudiced and disproportionate treatment of literature would not be so regrettable if the Britannica's criticisms were cosmopolitan in character, or if its standard of judgment was a purely literary one. But the criteria of the Encyclopædia's editors are, in the main, moral and puritanical. Authors are judged not so much by their literary and artistic merits as by their bourgeois virtue, their respectability and inoffensiveness. Consequently it is not even the truly great writers of Great Britain who are recommended the most highly, but those middle-class literary idols who teach moral lessons and whose purpose it is to uplift mankind. The Presbyterian complex, so evident throughout the Encyclopædia's critiques, finds in literature a fertile field for operation.
Because of the limitations of space, I shall confine myself in this chapter to modern literature. I have, however, inspected the manner in which the older literature is set forth in the Encyclopædia Britannica; and there, as elsewhere, is discernible the same provincialism, the same theological point of view, the same flamboyant exaggeration of English writers, the same neglect of foreign genius. As a reference book the Britannica is chauvinistic, distorted, inadequate, disproportioned, and woefully behind the times. Despite the fact that the Eleventh Edition is supposed to have been brought up to date, few recent writers are included, and those few are largely second-rate writers of Great Britain.
Let us first regard the gross discrepancies in space between the biographies of English authors and those of the authors of other nations. To begin with, the number of biographies of English writers is nearly as many as is given all the writers of France and Germany combined. Sir Walter Scott is given no less than thirteen columns, whereas Balzac has only seven columns, Victor Hugo only a little over four columns, and Turgueniev only a little over one column. Samuel Richardson is given nearly four columns, whereas Gustave Flaubert has only two columns, Dostoievsky less than two columns, and Daudet only a column and a third! Mrs. Oliphant is given over a column, more space than is allotted to Anatole France, Coppée, or the Goncourts. George Meredith is given six columns, more space than is accorded Flaubert, de Maupassant and Zola put together! Bulwer-Lytton has two columns, more space than is given Dostoievsky. Dickens is given two and a half times as much space as Victor Hugo; and George Eliot, Trollope, and Stevenson each has considerably more space than de Maupassant, and nearly twice as much space as Flaubert. Anthony Hope has almost an equal amount of space with Turgueniev, nearly twice as much as Gorky, and more than William Dean Howells. Kipling, Barrie, Mrs. Gaskell, Mrs. Humphry Ward, and Felicia Hemans are each accorded more space than either Zola or Mark Twain. . . . Many more similar examples of injustice could be given, but enough have been set down to indicate the manner in which British authors are accorded an importance far beyond their deserts.
Of Jane Austen, to whom is given more space than to either Daudet or Turgueniev, we read that “it is generally agreed by the best critics that Miss Austen has never been approached in her own domain.” What, one wonders, of Balzac's stories of provincial life? Did he, after all, not even approach Miss Austen? Mrs. Gaskell's Cranford “is unanimously accepted as a classic”; and she is given an equal amount of space with Dostoievsky and Flaubert!
George Eliot's biography draws three and a half columns, twice as much space as Stendhal's, and half again as much as de Maupassant's. In it we encounter the following astonishing specimen of criticism: No right estimate of her as an artist or a philosopher “can be formed without a steady recollection of her infinite capacity for mental suffering, and her need of human support.” Just what these conditions have to do with an æsthetic or philosophic judgment of her is not made clear; but the critic finally brings himself to add that “one has only to compare Romola or Daniel Deronda with the compositions of any author except herself to realize the greatness of her designs and the astonishing gifts brought to their final accomplishment.”
The evangelical motif enters more strongly in the biography of George Macdonald, who draws about equal space with Gorky, Huysmans, and Barrès. Here we learn that Macdonald's “moral enthusiasm exercised great influence upon thoughtful minds.” Ainsworth, the author of those shoddy historical melodramas, Jack Sheppard and Guy Fawkes, is also given a biography equal in length to that of Gorky, Huysmans, and Barrès; and we are told that he wrote tales which, despite all their shortcomings, were “invariably instructive, clean and manly.” Mrs. Ewing, too, profited by her pious proclivities, for her biography takes up almost as much space as that of the “moral” Macdonald and the “manly” Ainsworth. Her stories are “sound and wholesome in matter,” and besides, her best tales “have never been surpassed in the style of literature to which they belong.”
Respectability and moral refinement were qualities also possessed by G. P. R. James, whose biography is equal in length to that of William Dean Howells. In it there is quite a long comparison of James with Dumas, though it is frankly admitted that as an artist James was inferior. His plots were poor, his descriptions were weak, and his dialogue was bad. Therefore “his very best books fall far below Les Trois Mousquetaires.” But, it is added, “James never resorted to illegitimate methods to attract readers, and deserves such credit as may be due to a purveyor of amusement who never caters to the less creditable tastes of his guests.” In other words, say what you will about James's technique, he was, at any rate, an upright and impeccable gentleman!
Even Mrs. Sarah Norton's lofty moral nature is rewarded with biographical space greater than that of Huysmans or Gorky. Mrs. Norton, we learn, “was not a mere writer of elegant trifles, but was one of the priestesses of the “reforming’ spirit.” One of her books was “a most eloquent and rousing condemnation of child labor”; and her poems were “written with charming tenderness and grace.” Great, indeed, are the rewards of virtue, if not in life, at least in the Encyclopædia Britannica.
On the other hand, several English authors are condemned for their lack of nicety and respectability. Trollope, for instance, lacked that elegance and delicacy of sentiment so dear to the Encyclopædia editor's heart. “He is,” we read, “sometimes absolutely vulgar that is to say, he does not deal with low life, but shows, though always robust and pure in morality, a certain coarseness of taste.”
Turning from the vulgar but pure Trollope to Charles Reade, we find more of this same kind of criticism: “His view of human life, especially of the life of women, is almost brutal . . . and he cannot, with all his skill as a story-teller, be numbered among the great artists who warm the heart and help to improve the conduct.” (Here we have the Britannica's true attitude toward literature. That art, in order to be great, must warm the heart, improve the conduct, and show one the way to righteousness.) Nor is Ouida to be numbered among the great uplifters. In her derogatory half-column biography we are informed that “on grounds of morality of taste Ouida's novels may be condemned” as they are “frequently unwholesome.”
Two typical examples of the manner in which truly great English writers, representative of the best English culture, are neglected in favor of those writers who epitomize England's provincial piety, are to be found in the biographies of George Moore and Joseph Conrad, neither of whom is concerned with improving the readers' conduct or even with warming their hearts. These two novelists, the greatest modern authors which England has produced, are dismissed peremptorily. Conrad's biography draws but eighteen lines, about one-third of the space given to Marie Corelli; and the only praise accorded him is for his vigorous style and brilliant descriptions. In this superficial criticism we have an example of ineptitude, if not of downright stupidity, rarely equaled even by newspaper reviewers. Not half of Conrad's books are mentioned, the last one to be recorded being dated 1906, nearly eleven years ago! Yet this is the Encyclopædia which is supposed to have been brought up to date and to be adequate for purposes of reference!
In the case of George Moore there is less excuse for such gross injustice (save that he is Irish), for Moore has long been recognized as one of the great moderns. Yet his biography draws less space than that of Jane Porter, Gilbert Parker, Maurice Hewlett, Rider Haggard, or H. G. Wells; half of the space given to Anthony Hope; and only a fourth of the space given to Mrs. Gaskell and to Mrs. Humphry Ward! A Mummer's Wife, we learn, has “decidedly repulsive elements”; and the entire criticism of Esther Waters, admittedly one of the greatest of modern English novels, is that it is “a strong story with an anti-gambling motive.” It would seem almost incredible that even the tin-pot evangelism of the Encyclopædia Britannica would be stretched to such a length, — but there you have the criticism of Esther Waters set down word for word. The impelling art of this novel means nothing to the Encyclopædia's critic: he cannot see the book's significance; nor does he recognize its admitted importance to modern literature. To him it is an anti-gambling tract! And because, perhaps, he can find no uplift theme in A Mummer's Wife, that book is repulsive to him. Such is the culture America is being fed on — at a price.
Thomas Hardy, another one of England's important moderns, is condemned for his attitude toward women: his is a “man's point of view” and “more French than English.” (We wonder if this accounts for the fact that the sentimental James M. Barrie is accorded more space and greater praise.) Samuel Butler is another intellectual English writer who has apparently been sacrificed on the altar of Presbyterian respectability. He is given less than a column, a little more than half the space given the patriotic, tub-thumping Kipling, and less than half the space given Felicia Hemans. Nor is there any criticism of his work. The Way of all Flesh is merely mentioned in the list of his books. Gissing, another highly enlightened English writer, is accorded less space than Jane Porter, only about half the space given Anthony Hope, and less space than is drawn by Marie Corelli! There is almost no criticism of his work — a mere record of facts.
Mrs. M. E. Braddon, however, author of The Trail of the Serpent and Lady Audley's Secret, is criticised in flattering terms. The biography speaks of her “large and appreciative public,” and apology is made for her by the statement that her works give “the great body of readers of fiction exactly what they require.” But why an apology is necessary one is unable to say since Aurora Floyd is “a novel with a strong affinity to Madame Bovary.” Mrs. Braddon and Flaubert! Truly a staggering alliance!
Mrs. Henry Wood, the author of East Lynne, is given more space than Conrad; and her Johnny Ludlow tales are “the most artistic” of her works. But the “artistic” Mrs. Wood has no preference over Julia Kavanagh. This latter lady, we discover, draws equal space with Marcel Prévost; and she “handles her French themes with fidelity and skill.” Judging from this praise and the fact that Prévost gets no praise but is accused of having written an “exaggerated” and “revolting” book, we can only conclude that the English authoress handles her French themes better than does Prévost.
George Meredith is accorded almost as much biographical space as Balzac; and in the article there appears such qualifying words as “seer,” “greatness,” and “master.” The impression given is that he was greater than Balzac. In Jane Porter's biography, which is longer than that of Huysmans, we read of her “picturesque power of narration.” Even of Samuel Warren, to whom three-fourths of a column is allotted (more space than is given to Bret Harte, Lafcadio Hearn, or Gorky), it is said that the interest in Ten Thousand a Year “is made to run with a powerful current.”
Power also is discovered in the works of Lucas Malet. The Wages of Sin was “a powerful story” which “attracted great attention”; and her next book “had an even greater success.” Joseph Henry Shorthouse, who is given more space than Frank Norris and Stephen Crane combined, possessed “high earnestness of purpose, a luxuriant style and a genuinely spiritual quality.” Though lacking dramatic facility and a workmanlike conduct of narrative, “he had almost every other quality of the born novelist.” After this remark it is obviously necessary to revise our æsthetic judgment in regard to the religious author of John Inglesant.
Grant Allen, alas! lacked the benevolent qualities of the “spiritual” Mr. Shorthouse, and — as a result, no doubt — he is given less space, and his work and vogue are spoken of disparagingly. One of his books was a succès de scandale “on account of its treatment of the sexual problem.” Mr. Allen apparently neither “warmed the heart” nor “improved the conduct” of his audience. On the other hand, Mrs. Oliphant, in a long biography, is praised for her “sympathetic touch”; and we learn furthermore that she was long and “honorably” connected with the firm of Blackwood. Maurice Hewlett has nearly a half-column biography full of praise. Conan Doyle, also, is spoken of highly. Kipling's biography, longer than Mark Twain's, Bourget's, Daudet's, or Gogol's, also contains praise. In H. G. Wells's biography, which is longer than that of George Moore, “his very high place” as a novelist is spoken of; and Anthony Hope draws abundant praise in a biography almost as long as that of Turgueniev!
In the treatment of Mrs. Humphry Ward, however, we have the key to the literary attitude of the Encyclopædia. Here is an author who epitomizes that middle-class respectability which forms the Britannica's editors' standard of artistic judgment, and who represents that virtuous suburban culture which colors the Encyclopædia's art departments. It is not surprising therefore that, of all recent novelists, she should be given the place of honor. Her biography extends to a column and two-thirds, much longer than the biography of Turgueniev, Zola, Daudet, Mark Twain, or Henry James; and over twice the length of William Dean Howells's biography. Even more space is devoted to her than is given to the biography of Poe!
Nor in this disproportionate amount of space alone is Mrs. Ward's superiority indicated. The article contains the most fulsome praise, and we are told that her “eminence among latter-day women novelists arises from her high conception of the art of fiction and her strong grasp on intellectual and social problems, her descriptive power . . . and her command of a broad and vigorous prose style.” (The same enthusiastic gentleman who wrote Mrs. Ward's biography also wrote the biography of Oscar Wilde. The latter is given much less space, and the article on him is a petty, contemptible attack written from the standpoint of a self-conscious puritan.)
Thackeray is given equal space with Balzac, and in the course of his biography it is said that some have wanted to compare him with Dickens but that such a comparison would be unprofitable. “It is better to recognize simply that the two novelists stood, each in his own way, distinctly above even their most distinguished contemporaries.” (Both Balzac and Victor Hugo were their contemporaries, and to say that Thackeray stood “distinctly above” them is to butcher French genius to make an English holiday.)
In Dickens's biography, which is nearly half again as long as that of Balzac and nearly two and a half times as long as that of Hugo, we encounter such words and phrases as “masterpieces” and “wonderful books.” No books of his surpassed the early chapters of Great Expectations in “perfection of technique or in the mastery of all the resources of the novelist's art.” Here, as in many other places, patriotic license has obviously been permitted to run wild. Where, outside of provincial England, will you find another critic, no matter how appreciative of Dickens's talent, who will agree that he possessed “perfection of technique” and a “mastery of all the resources of the novelist's art”? But, as if this perfervid rhetoric were not sufficiently extreme, Swinburne is quoted as saying that to have created Abel Magwitch alone is to be a god indeed among the creators of deathless men. (This means that Dickens was a god beside the mere mundane creator of Lucien de Rubempré, Goriot, and Eugénie Grandet.) And, again, on top of this unreasoned enthusiasm, it is added that in “intensity and range of creative genius he can hardly be said to have any modern rival.”
Let us turn to Balzac who was not, according to this encyclopædia, even Dickens's rival in intensity and range of creative genius. Here we find derogatory criticism which indeed bears out the contention of Dickens's biographer that the author of David Copperfield was superior to the author of Lost Illusions. Balzac, we read, “is never quite real.” His style “lacks force and adequacy to his own purpose.” And then we are given this final bit of insular criticism: “It is idle to claim for Balzac an absolute supremacy in the novel, while it may be questioned whether any single book of his, or any scene of a book, or even any single character or situation, is among the very greatest books, scenes, characters, situations in literature.” Alas, poor Balzac! — the inferior of both Dickens and Thackeray — the writer who, if the judgment of the Encyclopædia Britannica is to be accepted, created no book, scene, character or situation which is among the greatest! Thus are the world's true geniuses disparaged for the benefit of moral English culture.
De Vigny receives adverse criticism. He is compared unfavorably to Sir Walter Scott, and is attacked for his “pessimistic” philosophy. De Musset “had genius, though not genius of that strongest kind which its possessor can always keep in check” — after the elegant and repressed manner of English writers, no doubt. De Musset's own character worked “against his success as a writer,” and his break with George Sand “brought out the weakest side of his moral character.” (Again the church-bell motif.) Gautier, that sensuous and un-English Frenchman, wrote a book called Mademoiselle de Maupin which was “unfitted by its subject, and in parts by its treatment, for general perusal.”
Dumas père is praised, largely we infer, because his work was sanctioned by Englishmen: “The three musketeers are as famous in England as in France. Thackeray could read about Athos from sunrise to sunset with the utmost contentment of mind, and Robert Louis Stevenson and Andrew Lang have paid tribute to the band.” Pierre Loti, however, in a short biography, hardly meets with British approval. “Many of his best books are long sobs of remorseful memory, so personal, so intimate, that an English reader is amazed to find such depth of feeling compatible with the power of minutely and publicly recording what is felt.” Loti, like de Musset, lacked that prudish restraint which is so admirable a virtue in English writers. Daudet, in a short and very inadequate biography, is written down as an imitator of Dickens; and in Anatole France's biography, which is shorter than Marryat's or Mrs. Oliphant's, no adequate indication of his genius is given.
Zola is treated with greater unfairness than perhaps any other French author. Zola has always been disliked in England, and his English publisher was jailed by the guardians of British morals. But it is somewhat astonishing to find to what lengths this insular prejudice has gone in the Encyclopædia Britannica. Zola's biography, which is shorter than Mrs. Humphry Ward's, is written by a former Accountant General of the English army, and contains adverse comment because he did not idealize “the nobler elements in human nature,” although, it is said, “his later books show improvement.” Such scant treatment of Zola reveals the unfairness of extreme prejudice, for no matter what the nationality, religion, or taste of the critic, he must, in all fairness, admit that Zola is a more important and influential figure in modern letters than Mrs. Humphry Ward.
In the biography of George Sand we learn that “as a thinker, George Eliot is vastly [sic] superior; her knowledge is more profound, and her psychological analysis subtler and more scientific.” Almost nothing is said of Constant's writings; and in the mere half-column sketch of Huysmans there are only a few biographical facts with a list of his books. Of Stendhal there is practically no criticism; and Coppée “exhibits all the defects of his qualities.” René Bazin draws only seventeen lines — a bare record of facts; and Édouard Rod is given a third of a column with no criticism.
Despite the praise given Victor Hugo, his biography, from a critical standpoint, is practically worthless. In it there is no sense of critical proportion: it is a mere panegyric which definitely states that Hugo was greater than Balzac. This astonishing and incompetent praise is accounted for when we discover that it was written by Swinburne who, as is generally admitted, was a better poet than critic. In fact, turning to Swinburne's biography, we find the following valuation of Swinburne as critic: “The very qualities which gave his poetry its unique charm and character were antipathetic to his success as a critic. He had very little capacity for cool and reasoned judgment, and his criticism is often a tangled thicket of prejudices and predilections. . . . Not one of his studies is satisfactory as a whole; the faculty for the sustained exercise of the judgment was denied him, and even his best appreciations are disfigured by error in taste and proportion.”
Here we have the Encyclopædia's own condemnation of some of its material — a personal and frank confession of its own gross inadequacy and bias! And Swinburne, let it be noted, contributes no less than ten articles on some of the most important literary men in history! If the Encyclopædia Britannica was as naïf and honest about revealing the incapacity of all of its critics as it is in the case of Swinburne, there would be no need for me to call attention to those other tangled thickets of prejudices and predilections which have enmeshed so many of the gentlemen who write for it.
But the inadequacy of the Britannica as a reference book on modern French letters can best be judged by the fact that there appears no biographical mention whatever of Romain Rolland, Pierre de Coulevain, Tinayre, René Boylesve, Jean and Jérôme Tharaud, Henry Bordeaux, or Pierre Mille. Rolland is the most gifted and conspicuous figure of the new school of writers in France to-day, and the chief representative of a new phase of French literature. Pierre de Coulevain stands at the head of the women novelists in modern France; and her books are widely known in both England and America. Madame Tinayre's art, to quote an eminent English critic, “reflects the dawn of the new French spirit.” Boylesve stands for the classic revival in French letters, and ranks in the forefront of contemporary European writers. The Tharauds became famous as novelists as far back as 1902, and hold a high place among the writers of Young France. Bordeaux's novels have long been familiar in translation even to American readers; and Pierre Mille holds very much the same place in France that Kipling does in England. Yet not only does not one of these noteworthy authors have a biography, but their names do not appear throughout the entire Encyclopædia!
In the article on French Literature the literary renaissance of Young France is not mentioned. There apparently has been no effort at making the account modern or up-to-date in either its critical or historical side; and if you desire information on the recent activities in French letters — activities of vital importance and including several of the greatest names in contemporary literature — you need not seek it in the Britannica, that “supreme” book of knowledge; for apparently only modern English achievement is judged worthy of consideration.
Modern Russian literature suffers even more from neglect. Dostoievsky has less than two columns, less space than Charles Reade, George Borrow, Mrs. Gaskell, or Charles Kingsley. Gogol has a column and a quarter, far less space than that given Felicia Hemans, James M. Barrie, of Mrs. Humphry Ward. Gorky is allotted little over half a column, one-third of the space given Kipling, and equal space with Ouida and Gilbert Parker. Tolstoi, however, seems to have inflamed the British imagination. His sentimental philosophy, his socialistic godliness, his capacity to “warm the heart” and “improve the conduct” has resulted in a biography which runs to nearly sixteen columns!
The most inept and inadequate biography in the whole Russian literature department, however, is that of Turgueniev. Turgueniev, almost universally conceded to be the greatest, and certainly the most artistic, of the Russian writers, is accorded little over a column, less space than is devoted to the biography of Thomas Love Peacock, Kipling, or Thomas Hardy; and only a half or a third of the space given to a dozen other inferior English writers. And in this brief biography we encounter the following valuation: “Undoubtedly Turgueniev may be considered one of the great novelists, worthy to be ranked with Thackeray, Dickens and George Eliot; with the genius of the last of these he has many affinities.” It will amuse, rather than amaze, the students of Slavonic literature to learn that Turgueniev was the George Eliot of Russia.
But those thousands of people who have bought the Encyclopædia Britannica, believing it to be an adequate literary reference work, should perhaps be thankful that Turgueniev is mentioned at all, for many other important modern Russians are without biographies. For instance, there is no biographical mention of Andreiev, Garshin, Kuprin, Tchernyshevsky, Grigorovich, Artzybasheff, Korolenko, Veressayeff, Nekrasoff, or Tchekhoff. And yet the work of nearly all these Russian writers had actually appeared in English translation before the Eleventh Edition of the Encyclopædia Britannica went to press!
Italian fiction also suffers from neglect at the hands of the Britannica's critics. Giulio Barrili receives only thirteen lines; Farina, only nine lines; and Giovanni Verga, only twelve. Fogazzaro draws twenty-six lines; and in the biography we learn that his “deeply religious spirit” animates his literary productions, and that he contributed to modern Italian literature “wholesome elements of which it would otherwise be nearly destitute.” He also was “Wordsworthian” in his simplicity and pathos. Amicis and Serao draw twenty-nine lines and half a column respectively; but there are no biographies of Emilio de Marchi, the prominent historical novelist; Enrico Butti, one of the foremost respresentatives of the psychological novel in modern Italy; and Grazia Deledda.
The neglect of modern German writers in the Encyclopædia Britannica is more glaring than that of any other European nation, not excluding Russia. So little information can one get from this encyclopædia concerning the really important German authors that it would hardly repay one to go to the Britannica. Eckstein — five of whose novels were issued in English before 1890 — is denied a biography. So is Meinhold; so is Luise Mühlbach; so is Wachenroder; — all well known in England long before the Britannica went to press. Even Gabriele Reuter, whose far-reaching success came as long ago as 1895, is without a biography. And — what is less excusable — Max Kretzer, the first of Germany's naturalistic novelists, has no biographical mention in this great English encyclopedia!
But the omission of even these important names do not represent the Britannica's greatest injustice to Germany's literature; for one will seek in vain for biographies of Wilhelm von Polenz and Ompteda, two of the foremost German novelists, whose work marked a distinct step in the development of their nation's letters. Furthermore, Clara Viebig, Gustav Frenssen, and Thomas Mann, who are among the truly great figures in modern imaginative literature, are without biographies. These writers have carried the German novel to extraordinary heights. Mann's Buddenbrooks (1901) represents the culmination of the naturalistic novel in Germany; and Viebig and Frenssen are of scarcely less importance. There are few modern English novelists as deserving as these three Germans; and yet numerous comparatively insignificant English writers are given long critical biographies in the Britannica while Viebig, Frenssen and Mann receive no biographies whatever! Such unjust discrimination against non-British authors would hardly be compatible with even the narrowest scholarship.
And there are other important and eminent German novelists who are far more deserving of space in an international encyclopedia than many of the Englishmen who receive biographies in the Britannica — for instance, Heinz Tovote, Hermann Hesse, Ricarda Huch, Helene Bohlau, and Eduard von Keyserling — not one of whom is given biographical consideration!
When we come to the American literary division of the Britannica however, prejudice and neglect reach their highest point. Never have I seen a better example of the contemptuous attitude of England toward American literature than the Encyclopædia's treatment of the novelists of the United States. William Dean Howells, in three-quarters-of-a-column biography, gets scant praise and is criticised with not a little condescension. F. Marion Crawford, in an even shorter biography, receives only lukewarm and apologetic praise. Frank Norris is accorded only twenty lines, less space than is given the English hack, G. A. Henty! McTeague is “a story of the San Francisco slums”; and The Octopus and The Pit are “powerful stories.” This is the extent of the criticism. Stephen Crane is given twelve lines; Bret Harte, half a column with little criticism; Charles Brockden Brown and Lafcadio Hearn, two-thirds of a column each; H. C. Bunner, twenty-one lines; and Thomas Nelson Page less than half a column.
What there is in Mark Twain's biography is written by Brander Matthews and is fair as far as it goes. The one recent American novelist who is given adequate praise is Henry James; and this may be accounted for by the fact of James's adoption of England as his home. The only other adequate biography of an American author is that of Nathaniel Hawthorne. But the few biographies of other United States writers who are included in the Encyclopædia are very brief and insufficient.
In the omissions of American writers, British prejudice has overstepped all bounds of common justice. In the following list of names only one (Churchill's) is even mentioned in the entire Encyclopædia: Edith Wharton, David Graham Phillips, Gertrude Atherton, Winston Churchill, Owen Wister, Ambrose Bierce, Theodore Dreiser, Margaret Deland, Jack London, Robert Grant, Ellen Glasgow, Booth Tarkington, Alice Brown and Robert Herrick. And yet there is abundant space in the Britannica, not only for critical mention, but for detailed biographies, of such English writers as Hall Caine, Rider Haggard, Maurice Hewlett, Stanley Weyman, Flora Annie Steel, Edna Lyall, Elizabeth Charles, Annie Keary, Eliza Linton, Mrs. Henry Wood, Pett Ridge, W. C. Russell, and still others of less consequence than many of the American authors omitted.
If the Encyclopædia Britannica was a work whose sale was confined to England, there could be little complaint of the neglect of the writers of other nationalities. But unjust pandering to British prejudice and a narrow contempt for American culture scarcely become an encyclopædia whose chief profits are derived from the United States. So inadequate is the treatment of American fiction that almost any modern text-book on our literature is of more value; for, as I have shown, all manner of inferior and little-known English authors are given eulogistic biographies, while many of the foremost American authors receive no mention whatever.
As a reference book on modern fiction, the Encyclopædia Britannica is hopelessly inadequate and behind the times, filled with long eulogies of bourgeois English authors, lacking all sense of proportion, containing many glaring omissions, and compiled and written in a spirit of insular prejudice. And this is the kind of culture that America is exhorted, not merely to accept, but to pay a large price for.