Page:The Cambridge History of American Literature, v3.djvu/99

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Howells and Tolstoy

approached the next year in the exquisite interlude Indian Summer, gayly, lightly, sweetly, pungently narrating the loves of a man of forty, and not quite approached in The Minister’s Charge (1887), which shows a homespun poet moving in the direction of comfortable prose. But Howells had not yet shaped his final philosophy, which grew up within him after he had left Boston for New York in 1886 and had established his connection with Harper’s Magazine. Again, as from the Atlantic literary notices, light falls upon his growth from the monthly articles which he wrote for “The Editor’s Study” between 1886 and 1891. Chiefly discussions of current books, concerned with poetry, history, biography nearly as much as with fiction, these essays remarkably encouraged the growth of realism in America, and most eloquently commended to native readers such Latin realists as Valera, Valdés, Galdós, and Verga, and the great Russians Turgenev, Dostoevsky, and Tolstoy. It will not do to say that these foreign realists moulded Howells, for his development, whatever his readiness to assimilate, was always from within outward, but it helps to distinguish between the Howells who lived before 1886 and the one who lived after that date, to say that the earlier man had one of his supreme literary passions for the art of Turgenev, and that the later Howells, knowing Tolstoy, had become impatient of even the most secret artifice. For Tolstoy was Howells’s great passion. “As much as one merely human being can help another I believe,” said Howells, “that he has helped me; he has not influenced me in æsthetics only, but in ethics, too, so that I can never again see life in the way I saw it before I knew him.” Tolstoy’s novels seemed to Howells as perfect as his doctrine. “To my thinking they transcend in truth, which is the highest beauty, all other works of fiction that have been written … [He] has a method which not only seems without artifice, but is so.”

This was some ten years after Howells had first read Tolstoy, ten years during which, in spite of Tolstoy’s example, he had not at all reverted to the preacher but had published many merry farces and had begun to be sunnily reminiscent in A Boy’s Town (1890). But though too much himself to be converted from his artistic practice, Howells had broadened his field and deepened his inquiries. A Hazard of New Fortunes