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Outlines of English and American Literature
Miscellaneous Prose
by Long, William J.

The historian who is perplexed by our recent poetry or fiction must be overwhelmed by the flood of miscellaneous works covering every field of human endeavor. As one who wanders through a forest has no conception of the forest itself but only of individual trees, so the reader of latter-day literature can form no distinct impression of it as a whole but must linger over the individual authors who happen to attract his attention. Hence in all studies of contemporary literature we have the inevitable confusion of what is important with what merely seems so because of its nearness or newness or appeal to our personal interests. The reader is amused by a David Harum, or made thoughtful by a Looking Backward, or wonderstruck by a Life of Lincoln as big as a ten-volume history; and he thinks, "This is surely a book to live." But a year passes and David Harum is eclipsed by a more popular hero of fiction, Looking Backward is relegated to the shelf of forgotten tracts, and Nicolay and Hay's "monumental" biography becomes a source book, which someone, it is to be hoped, will some day use in making a life of Lincoln that will be worthy of the subject and of the name of literature.


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