"A Few Epigrams," "Ensign Epps, the Color Bearer," "A Wonderful Country Par Away," and "In Bohemia." The New York Herald, after the fashion of the period, wrote to several leading authors of the country for expressions of opinion on the question of morality in novels. The answers were published in its edition of March 24, 1889. O'Reilly's reply was entitled "A Philistine's Views":
Romantic literature belongs to the domain of art, on the same level as sculpture, painting, and the drama. In none of these other expressions is the abnormal, the corrupt, the wantonly repulsive allowable. The line of treatment on these subjects is definitely drawn and generally acknowledged. The unnecessarily foul is unpardonable.
Why should not the same limit be observed in romantic literature? All art deals with nature and truth, but not with all nature and all truth. A festering sore is part of nature; it directly affects the thought and action of the sufferer, and it is as unsightly, as deplorable, and as potent as the festering vice on the soul. Why should the latter be allowed and the bodily sore forbidden? The average middle-class American reader, male or female, is a Philistine—unquestionably the most impervious and cloaked conventionality known to all nations, not even excepting the "lower middle-class" English. He wants his fiction to be as proper, as full of small exactitudes' in demeanor, as "good an example" on the outside, as he is himself. Humbug as he is, he is far preferable to the "natural" type of the morbid morality mongers, who teach the lesson of an hour by a life-long corruption. The Philistine has a right to his taste, and he is right in voting down the Zola school as the best for his children. Being a Philistine myself, I vote with him.
He was anything but the Philistine which he calls himself above, save only in the matter of clean thought and speech and writing. Living in an age of so-called realism in literature, when the "poetry of passion" had leaped its sewer banks and touched some very high ground, John Boyle O' Reilly' s feet were never for an instant contaminated by the filthy flood. He never wrote a line which the most innocent might not read with safety. He never used a vile word; there was none such in his vocabulary. This means much, when we remember that he left his home, when only a child, to spend the formative years of his life, first, in the rough school of the composing-room, next in the grosser environment of the barrack-room, and finally in