Page:The Cambridge History of American Literature, v3.djvu/105

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F. Marion Crawford

but soon left it to study in Europe, successively at Cambridge, Heidelberg, and Rome. Having become interested in Sanscrit, and having lost his expectations of a fortune, he went to India and there edited The Indian Herald at Allahabad. In 1881 he returned to America, spent another year upon Sanscrit with Professor Lanman of Harvard, and wrote his first novel, Mr. Isaacs (1882), on the advice of an uncle who had been struck by Crawford’s oral account of the central personage. The success of the experiment was so prompt and complete that its author recognized his vocation once for all, much as does George Wood in The Three Fates (1892), a novel admitted to be partly autobiographical. Crawford went to Italy in 1883, and thereafter spent most of his life at Sorrento. He still travelled, grew wealthy from the sale of his novels, became a Roman Catholic, and died in 1909.

Except that toward the end of his life he partly turned from fiction to sober—and not remarkably spirited—history, Crawford can hardly be said to have changed his methods from his earliest novel to his latest. Improvisation was his knack and forte; he wrote much and speedily. His settings he took down, for the most part, from personal observation in the many localities he knew at first hand; his characters, too, are frequently studies from actual persons. In his plots, commonly held his peculiar merit, Crawford cannot be called distinctly original: he employs much of the paraphernalia of melodrama—lost or hidden wills, forgeries, great persons in disguise, sudden legacies, physical violence; moreover, it is almost a formula with him to carry a story by natural motives until about the last third, when melodrama enters to perplex the narrative and to arouse due suspense until the triumphant and satisfying dènouement. And yet so fresh, strong, and veracious is the movement that it nearly obscures these conventional elements. Movement, indeed, not plot in the stricter sense, is Crawford’s chief excellence. He could not tell a story badly, but flowed on without breaking or faltering, managing his material and disposing his characters and scenes without apparent effort, in a style always clear and bright. This lightness of movement is accompanied, perhaps accounted for, by an absence of profound ideas or of any of that rich colour of life which comes only—as in Scott, Balzac, Tolstoy—when