Page:The Cambridge History of American Literature, v3.djvu/108

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The Later Novel

vanguard of the Anglo-Saxon conquest. And the romance dominates the problem. For Mrs. Jackson, Spanish California had been a paradise of patriarchal estates set in fertile valleys, steeped in drowsy antiquity, and cherished by fine unworldly priests. Her tragic story derives much of its impressiveness from the pomp of its setting, the strength of its contrasts, its passionate colour and poetry. Mrs. Catherwood wrote graceful and engaging but not quite permanent tales, from The Romance of Dollard (1889) to Lazarre (1901), which added a definite little province to our historical fiction—the French in the interior of the continent.

But the later historical romance is best studied in the work of Dr. Silas Weir Mitchell (1829–1913) of Pennsylvania, who, on the advice of Oliver Wendell Holmes, early set aside his literary ambitions until he should have established himself in a profession, became one of the most eminent of medical specialists, particularly in nervous diseases, and only after he was fifty gave much time to verse or fiction, which, indeed, he continued to produce with no diminution of power until the very year of his death. His special knowledge enabled him to write authoritatively of difficult and wayward states of body and mind; as in The Case of George Dedlow (1880), so circumstantial in its impossibilities, Roland Blake (1886), which George Meredith greatly admired, The Autobiography of a Quack (1900), concerning the dishonourable fringes of the medical profession, and Constance Trescott (1905), considered by Dr. Mitchell his best-constructed novel and certainly his most thorough-going study of a pathological mood. His psychological stories, however, had on the whole neither the appeal nor the merit of his historical romances, which began with Hephzibah Guinness (1880) and extended to Westways (1913). Westways is a large and truthful chronicle of the effects of the Civil War in Pennsylvania, but Mitchell’s best work belongs to the Revolutionary and Washington cycle: Hugh Wynne Free Quaker Sometimes Brevet Lieutenant-Colonel on the Staff of his Excellency General Washington (1896), The Youth of Washington Told in the Form of an Autobiography (1904), and The Red City A Novel of the Second Administration of President Washington (1908). Dr. Mitchell’s own favourite among his books, The Adventures of François, Foundling, Thief,