"I am as ever your disciple": the friendship of Hamlin Garland and W. D. Howells.
So wrote William Dean Howells in his fullest public account of his life-long friendship with Hamlin Garland ("Mr. Garland's Books" 523). And Garland too remembered their friendship with affection and respect:
During our long friendship I have never heard him utter an unjust criticism or an ill-natured jest. His sympathy, his insight, his soundness of judgment, and especially the dignity and sweetness of his nature have been an inspiration as well as a regulative influence to me as to many others. ("Meetings with Howells" 7)
But when they met in 1887, few would have imagined that the two would become close friends for more than thirty years, with Howells having a profound influence upon Garland at every stage of his career. When they met in the parlor of Lee's Hotel in Auburndale, Massachusetts, on a spring day, the fifty -year old Howells was at the height of his influence, and the twenty-six-year old Garland had only a vague aspiration to become a writer. Although he was filling notebooks with sketches and poems, he had so far managed to publish only a few book reviews, two poems, and one short story.
Garland had first learned of Howells in 1881 when he bought from a disappointed shopkeeper a second-hand copy of The Undiscovered Country. A half-hour's reading impressed him with the "grace and precision" of its style--but apparently not enough to finish the book, for, as Garland later recalled, Howells's style "made some of my literary heroes seem either crude or stilted" and aroused "resentment." As Garland remembered, "I was just young enough and conservative enough to be irritated and repelled by the modernity of William Dean Howells" (Son 227). (1) When Garland arrived in Boston in the fall of 1884 determined to enter the literary profession in some capacity--either as poet, novelist, dramatist, or "professor," he hardly knew what--he discovered the magazines embroiled in a debate over the virtues of realism, whose chief spokesman was Howells. He soon found himself in the anti-Howells camp, for his hero was Hawthorne.2 But in preparing one of his lectures against the new realism he returned to The Undiscovered Country, and this time he finished it. He read The Minister's Charge and liked it enough to review it for the Boston Evening Transcript, where he commended Howells's treatment of character and situation. His enthusiastic response to Howells's unconventional conclusion, in which Lemuel Barker achieves neither the success nor the marriage he had desired, reveals he had decidedly switched to the Howells camp:
To those who like to have all the villains killed and the honest men rewarded, the heroines all married to their respective lovers, and everything comfortably arranged in the last chapter, his ending of the "Minister's Charge" is aggravating, to put it mildly. [...] Art that can be verified is in the ascendancy, with heroes that are actual and heroines that are real. The time will yet come, if it has not already, when the public will recognize Mr. Howells as a public benefactor for replacing morbid, unnatural and hysterical fiction with pure, wholesome and natural studies of real life. ("Lemuel Barker")
The effect of this review, Garland recounts, was far-reaching. The editor of the Transcript, Edward Clement, supplied Garland with a letter of introduction to Howells and with a warning to wait until the smoke from the latest skirmish in the realist war had died down before acting upon it. When Garland presented himself, letter in hand, to Howells, he was both intimidated by the novelist's fame and eager to try out on him his latest theories concerning realism. He described, apparently in some detail, his manuscript of "The Evolution of American Thought," a book-length discussion of American literature based on scientific principles. "In my judgment," he told Howells,
the men and women of the South and West and East are working, without knowing it, in accordance with a great principle which is this: American literature, in order to be great, must be national, and in order to be national must be spontaneous and deal with the conditions peculiar to our own land and climate. Every sincere writer must write of the life which he knows best and for which he cares most.
Howells's response to the earnest tyro's declaiming was both supportive and flattering to a tender ego: "'You are doing a fine and valuable work,' he said, and I thought he meant it. 'Each of us has had some perception of this movement, but no one so far as I know has up to this time correlated it as definitely as you have done. I hope you will go on and finish and publish your book.'" Garland left this meeting exalted and eager to press onward with his ambition:
My apprenticeship seemed over. To America's chief literary man I was also a writer, a literary historian, and with this recognition the current of my ambition changed. I began to hope that I too might some day become a The Friendship of Hamlin Garland and W. D. Howells PLL 267 novelist and put some part of the Middle West into fiction" ("Meetings With Howells" 4-5). (3)
Garland's recollection, coming thirty years and thirty-two books after their initial meeting, might be suspected of egotism and fame seeking. But Howells similarly records being impressed with young Garland in a 2 May 1887 letter to Whitelaw Reid, the editor of the New York Tribune, written soon after their meeting: "A Mr. Hamlin Garland has called upon me, and has greatly interested and impressed me by his view of literature. He tells me that he has offered you a paper, and the present business is to bespeak your attention, not favor" (Selected Letters 3: 187). (4) Thus began a thirty-year pattern of Howells interceding on Garland's behalf.
While critics and historians have long castigated Garland for his social climbing--Edwin Cady, for example, describes him as "tumbling and buzzing around Howells like a drunken bumblebee," a lesser talent who "hounded Howells with visits, letters, introductions, invitations, solicitations, appeals for criticism, appeals for help" (142-43)--Howells seems to have had genuine affection for Garland that would deepen over the years and is amply revealed in his letters to him.
What accounted for that friendship? On Garland's part, he was no doubt in awe of Howells's achievement, flattered that this national leader of American letters deigned to converse with him and grateful for his generosity of spirit aided by a penetrating intellect. He was also struck by Howells's humility, for few men of his stature could resist the pomp that attains to celebrity: "He was always of a quiet, unassailable dignity and yet was unassuming, almost shy. [...] He pretended to nothing," he recorded in his lecture notes ("Meetings with Authors" 152). One must speculate about Howells's interest in Garland, for he left few comments of a personal nature. (5) Perhaps he respected Garland's energy and ambition, his enthusiastic and sincere efforts to promote a version of realism near to his heart. Perhaps he sought a protege, for Garland clearly needed the guidance of an experienced writer to shape and focus his many enthusiasms. Probably he responded to Garland's warmth and gregariousness, so unlike his own reserve.
Garland has been derided as a Howells disciple, of writing a derivative art, but in fact he arrived at his literary creed before he met Howells and differed sharply from him on the matter of the purpose of realism. (6) Prior to his review of The Minister's Charge, Garland held E. W. Howe to be "the strongest man in fiction that the great West has yet produced" ("Moonlight Boy"), explaining in a 15 July 1886 letter to Howe that "You go deeper than Howells. You have not his exquisite art for you lack his leisure and his temperament but you have what moves me more, the ability to perceive and to voice the passions that shake the soul" (Selected Letters 17). Garland differed from Howells most significantly over the issue of whether a realistic novel ought to instruct. Prior to the fall of 1887, Garland had concentrated on elements of local color as the chief criteria for "truth" in fiction.
But after a visit to Iowa and South Dakota during the summer, he was newly-impressed by the wretched conditions he witnessed on the farms and returned to Boston with a conviction that not only should art reflect present conditions; it should also work to improve them. He promptly enlisted in Henry George's single tax campaign, and his political interests began to influence his writing and his criticism. That emphasis on the social effects of fiction influenced his review of Howells's April Hopes. After praising the novel for its unromantic portrayal of love, its style, and its characters, he chastised Howells for not making the purpose clear:
So far as I am concerned I believe in "novels of purpose." And my criticism upon "April Hopes" is that Mr. Howells has not made sufficient open statement of what I know he must have felt regarding this amiable, useless and heartless manner of life. So far from under-estimating his readers' intelligence, Mr. Howells's error is in over-estimating it. He takes it for granted that preaching about life is absolutely unnecessary and bad art, and that making a transcript of real life is enough. But the fact is the most of people enjoy easy, impassioned preaching. Just as the scent of human life escapes them, so in a novel approaching a transcript of real life the intent of the author escapes them unless the writer preaches a little. ("April Hopes")
Howells, of course, was a strong advocate of unobtrusive, non-didactic instruction, as he remarked in an 1899 lecture: "The novel can teach, and for shame's sake, it must teach, but only by painting life truly" ("Novel-Writing" 222). Garland, filled with the single tax theories of Henry George, in late 1887 primarily conceived of realism as a means to raise the social consciences of his readers. Moreover, his Whitmanesque romanticism led him to conceive of literature as an expression of the writer's personality, and he chided Howells for writing too objectively. "Those who know Mr. Howells feel a loss in a book like 'April Hopes,'" he remarked, "because he does not allow his strong, fine and tender personality to appear in overt fashion, feeling that his beneficial effect would have a wider reach" ("April Hopes").
Given his later, often strident, call that realistic writing should avoid overt preaching and should focus on depicting local conditions accurately, Garland's criticism of Howells is curious. What accounted for the change in Garland's conception of how realism ought best to achieve its effects? Howells's letter in reply to Garland's review of April Hopes suggests that perhaps his most influential effect on the younger writer was to steer him away from a conception of realism as a mode for propaganda. "I read your criticisms with great interest and respect," Howells wrote on 11 March 1888.
I supposed that the social intent of the book--the teaching that love is not enough in love affairs, but that there must be parity of ideal, training and disposition, in order to ensure happiness--was only too obvious. I meant to show that an engagement made from mere passion had better be broken, if it does not bear the strain of temperament; every such broken engagement I consider a blessing and an escape.--To infuse, or to declare, more of my personality in a story, would be a mistake, to my thinking: it should rather be the novelist's business to keep out of the way. My work must take its chance with readers. It was written from a sincere sense of the equality of men, and a real trust in them. I can't do more. (SL 3: 220)
Always receptive to Howells's opinion, Garland apparently pondered Howells's remarks. In his review of Annie Kilburn later that year, Garland was less insistent on the necessity for an "open statement" of purpose and more cognizant of manifesting the "lesson" in the interaction of the characters. Annie Kilburn, he claimed, "is artistic in that it nowhere preaches. All shades of opinion are impartially represented." After a year of campaigning for the single tax on the lecture platform, he had a pretty good idea of the limitations of art and the advantages of more overt methods of swaying an audience. "The book might have appealed to a wider audience, perhaps," he noted, "had the author consented to be a little less artistic; that is to say, had he preached in person, his meaning might have been a little more obvious to the careless reader; but the artistic impartiality of the book is, after all, its strong point, its lasting value." Garland then concluded the point by showing he had thoroughly absorbed the master's lesson: "The author does not solve the problem; he is content to set it before us as it is in life, and let us draw our own conclusions. [...] He should teach, but concretely, objectively, not by stopping in the midst of his story to deliver harangues in the manner of the old school" ("Annie Kilburn").
By December 1889, Garland was claiming Howells as "the first American novelist" and "our greatest and truest novelist" in his review of A Hazard of New Fortunes for the Boston Evening Transcript ("Mr. Howells's Latest Novel"). He did so because Howells addressed an issue dear to his heart: social reform. In a second review for the Henry George's single tax weekly the Standard, one focusing more on Howells the writer than on the book, Garland attributes Howells's greatness to the fact that
His books are now dealing with the most vital of all questions, the persistence of poverty, vice and crime in an age of invention, art and abundance. He has not forsaken art; he has made art his means of expression--expression for his whole life and the thought and feeling mature life has brought to him.
After quoting passages that show Howells's attention to these issues, Garland concludes, "The author nowhere speaks in his own person, nowhere preaches, and yet the lesson is there for all who will read. [...] By this book Mr. Howells has become that which I long considered him--OUR novelist--the greatest delineator of American life" ("A Great Book" 5, 6).
With the publication of A Hazard of New Fortunes, Garland seems to have fully recognized the wedding of his two desiderata for art: that it be "true" and that it address a vital social issue without overt preaching. As Donald Pizer points out, Howells himself was devoting increased attention to social issues in his fiction, and Garland "found his critical beliefs reflected in Howells, whose developing ideas closely paralleled his own" (Hamlin Garland's Early Work 64). (7) Thereafter, he held Howells as the touchstone for realism and began to invoke his name in his essays. While Garland, whose deep commitment to the single tax amounted to religious fervor, was never able to rid his own work of the strain of didacticism, he learned through Howells's example that social problems need not be expressed overtly. And that example he trumpeted at every opportunity, whether on the lecture platform, in letters to other writers, or through polemical essays in the nation's leading magazines. In May 1890, for example, Garland offered a systematic defense and exposition of Howellsian realism in New England Magazine. Incorporating parts of his reviews of the novels, the article is a promotional piece whose aim is to lobby for Howells. Ironically, given the charges levied at Garland about his own discipleship, he ends by noting that Howellsian realism
discourages discipleship. It says to the young writer: "Look to nature and actuality for your model--not to any book, or man, or number of men. Be true to yourself. Write of that which you know the most and feel the most, and follow faithfully the changes in your feeling. Put yourself down before common realities, common hopes, common men [...] then all idea of discipleship will be at an end. ("Mr. Howells's Latest Novels" 250)
Howells's response to Garland's tribute does not survive, but he must have been pleased. When Garland published Main-Travelled Roads in June 1891, Howells returned the favor by writing a highly favorable review. The stories "are full of the bitter and burning dust, the foul and trampled slush of the common avenues of life," he noted. With his desire to be recognized as an artist, Garland must have been especially gratified to read that the collection "is a work of art, first of all, and we think of fine art." After commenting on each of the six stories, Howells signaled what was to become a constant thread in his published and unpublished commentary about Garland's work: his lack of attention to nuances of style. "He has a certain harshness and bluntness," he wrote, "an indifference to the more delicate charms of style; and he has still to learn that though the thistle is full of an unrecognized poetry, the rose has a poetry too, that even overpraise cannot spoil" ("Editor's Study" 639, 640). Garland had now arrived: America's foremost critic had praised his inaugural volume. Aware of the publicity value of such an estimation, when he reissued the volume in December 1893 with the new publishing firm of Stone and Kimball, Garland wrote to Howells for permission to use the review as an introduction to the book. Howells attempted to dissuade him: "A fellow who stands as strong upon his legs as you, wanting a hand from a dotard like me! I think the public would say, 'Who is this paltering fool, who introduces a book of Garland's to us?'" (23 Aug. 1893; SL 4: 49). Nonetheless, he allowed Garland to profit from his estimation, and the "introduction" appeared in all subsequent editions of the book.
Thus began a life-long pattern of reading and responding to each other's work as the volumes appeared. In all, Howells published seven reviews of Garland's books and commented privately about most of the others. In turn, while Garland for the most part ceased reviewing Howells's novels after the publication of A Hazard of New Fortunes, he continued to champion the older writer as America's foremost novelist in his lecturing and writing, publishing thirteen pieces devoted to Howells as well as devoting ample space to him in his autobiographical writing. (8)
With the publication of Main-Travelled Roads, Garland's literary career was firmly launched, and it inaugurated an onslaught of polemical articles promoting realism, together with an outpouring of stories, novels, and poems in which Garland sought to embody his theories of art. Garland soon became recognized as one of the most zealous and passionate advocates of realism--and he was often derided for the vehemence of his pronouncements. As his friend and mentor, Howells was ever ready to help promote the career of his advocate, occasionally writing to editors to arrange notices of his work, at times accepting some of his work for publication, and at other times politely but firmly rejecting those works he regarded as too polemical for the readership of his magazines. Above all else, Howells functioned as Garland's chief morale-booster, literary confidante, and figurative father-confessor, to whom Garland turned for advice at several key moments.
One such moment occurred in May 1894 with the publication of Crumbling Idols, Garland's passionate exposition of his critical theories. While Garland had fully expected the book to arouse controversy, he had to be hurt by the jeering tone and ad hominem attacks of the reviews. One called him "a trifle hysterical" ("On Various Topics"); another accused him of possessing "sophomoric rhetoric" ("Crumbling Idols"); and still another accused this former "professor of American literature" of lacking knowledge of his subject and overwrought expression: "We do not find Mr. Garland a clear reasoner; he does not seem to be familiar with the history of literatures; he evidently speaks from the emotional centers, not from rich treasures of knowledge" ("Mr. Hamlin Garland's Essays"). Early in the controversy, Howells wrote to reassure him: "You are getting plenty of abuse from the critics these days, but you are getting respect, too. They all know there is an honest man inside your book, and a strong one. You go further than I do, but you are in the right way, and you will arrive! You have arrived, in fact" (30 May 1894; Life in Letters 2: 51). Later, after a summer's worth of abuse, Howells again consoled him:
The kites that draw the electricity are the kites that go up. The kites that stay down are safe. You have written a book that has made people talk against it; if it were not a strong book they would not talk of it. Of course it was very bold, and it was largely true, and people like neither courage nor truth; yet they are the things that are worth while. You will not lose either--I know you! [...] Nothing makes me write this but the hope of having another [letter] from you, and a long one. I miss you abominably.... (28 Oct. 1894; SL 4: 79-80)
While Garland had expected a controversial reception, he had also planned Crumbling Idols to be his swan song as a controversial advocate for "truth" in art. The largely negative reception of Rose of Dutcher's Coolly a year later further cemented his resolve. Even Howells, while faintly praising Garland's depiction of Rose's student days, faulted him for a "strain of sentimentality" and sacrificing accurate characterization to "the lesson he wished to convey" ("Life and Letters"). Small wonder, then, that Garland was intrigued when in January 1896 Samuel McClure made an offer the financially-strapped author couldn't refuse: Ida Tarbell's "Life of Abraham Lincoln" was such a success in McClure's Magazine that McClure wanted to follow it with a "humanized" life of Ulysses S. Grant. Garland's compensation would be generous: $50 per thousand words, paid out at $50 per week, up to a maximum of $5,000, plus expenses and, later, book royalties. Garland was attracted by the commission for several reasons: he was supporting his ailing parents and needed the cash. He was also ready for a change of literary direction, for while his books had occasioned considerable comment, sales had been poor. His three most successful books--Main-Travelled Roads, Jason Edwards, and A Spoil of Office--by February 1893 had netted him a mere $360 and no longer had sales of any consequence. Sales of his Stone and Kimball books were also small. Then, too, he was tired of the realism wars and vowed to retreat from the battle. Grant had also been his boyhood hero, and he greatly admired what he called Grant's "pioneer spirit," seeing in him the qualities he so admired in the westerner. (9)
For the next year and a half, Garland immersed himself in his subject. He traveled across the country to interview family members and men under Grant's command; he visited scenes of significant battles; he journeyed to the various places Grant had lived; he went to Mexico to better understand Grant's role in the war with Mexico over the annexation of Texas; and he ensconced himself in the Library of Congress studying papers related to Grant's presidency. When the first two installments of the serial appeared in McClure's, Garland discovered that the magazine's editors were drastically cutting his material. For advice he turned to Howells, who had noticed that his young friend's prose had become less-polished than usual, and wrote,
If the papers have been cut, that accounts for a certain roughness and abruptness that troubled me. You have got some newspaper diction in your penpoint, and you must shake it out. [...] It is a shame for McClure to touch your work. You ought to make a mighty row whenever he does it." (8 Jan. 1897; SL 4: 139)
To demonstrate the butchery McClure's was performing on his carefully-researched text, Garland sent Howells the proof of the next installment, "Grant's Life in Missouri." Howells noted a marked falling off from Garland's usual style and wrote to guide him back to the true path:
This is very interesting, and lets one see the man plainly. But it lacks texture, and compared with your work in fiction I find a poorness in the diction which I do not like. No doubt you feel the McClures sitting on your head, but you must be good and strong in spite of them. Read Taine's French Revolution a little, and see how he packs his material, and yet makes every word tell. You ought to have put that long Fishback interview into your own language. The effect of it is to cheapen your page as it now stands. How could a newspaper have done worse?
But he also reminded Garland to maintain his integrity and of the importance of this book to his career:
About the personal matters which the McCs. have marked out, you must use your judgment. I think them interesting, but you know best your own point of view, and how much you are bound to the sources of your information and to the Grant family, whose feelings, if they are open and kind to you, must be regarded. You must not consider my stets as final opinions. They are meant rather to remand the question to your farther reflection.
Your very best is the least you can give to this work. It is a great chance for you, and you must take yourself by the collar and rise to it. You are man enough to excuse my bluntness. (24 Jan. 1897; SL 4: 143)
By June 1897, the disagreement with McClure's over the editing had worsened, and a notice appeared that the July installment would be the last (Holloway 140-41).
The two years' laboring over the biography and the squabbling with McClure's took its toll on Garland's energy and optimism for his future. But then came word of a gold strike in the Klondike, and Garland saw an opportunity for escape and rejuvenation, as he remarked in his diary on Thanksgiving day 1897:
After two months in the city I am feeling the effect of it in my weak muscles and seeing it in the increasing pallor of my face. There is no place for me here. I need the outdoor life. I must have a horse and a chance to get out where the sky can be seen.
I am feeling already a growing restlessness. I would like to start next spring across the land to the Klondike--just for the wonder and the grandeur of the ride over a thousand miles of untracked land. ("Literary Notes" 29)
As was by now his custom for major changes in his life and career, Garland visited Howells to outline his plans. He went over his itinerary and maps of the largely unexplored region, remarking to Howells, "At this point I go in, and at this point I come out, over a thousand miles of unknown territory." Garland described Howells's response as a look of "wonder. In his glance I saw my action reflected as a dangerous as well as a foolish project. [...] Suppose I broke an ankle? Suppose I fell sick in that wilderness?" (Roadside 373). This meeting, though Garland did not know it at the time, was to be a career-maker, for it set into motion a series of events that would lead to his best book, a Pulitzer Prize, and national fame. Garland's realization that, at age 37, he was about to undertake a potentially life-threatening trip prompted him to begin dictating his autobiography to a shorthand stenographer, which he began on 27 February 1898. Now skilled at the genre of "fictional autobiography," which he claimed he had invented to tell the story of Ulysses S. Grant, he cast his life under the title "The Story of Grant McLane," wedding the name of his most recent enthusiasm to his own life. (10) In April, when he departed for his wilderness adventure, he took comfort that if he did not return a "record" would be preserved for posterity.
This "record" provided the seed for A Son of the Middle Border, which many consider to be his best book in his most accomplished genre, autobiography. When Garland emerged from the Canadian wilderness in September 1898, the press of other literary projects caused him to put aside the story of his life, to which he was not to return until October 1911, when he was wearying of cranking out romances and tiring of club life, bored by his profession and disappointed by his achievement. (11) By spring 1912 he had completed a draft, which at this time was in the first person, and had brought it to his publishers, Harper and Brothers. His editor and the vice-president of the firm, Frederick T. Leigh, worried about the effect on future sales of Garland's books and troubled by Garland's use of first person, counseled delay. Garland again turned to Howells for advice.
Now the problem is this, Major Leigh is afraid that the publication of this book will [be] taken to be my "swan song" as a novelist, and he is therefore reluctant to bring it out. On the other hand, the book interests me very much, and as I have been just a quarter of a century a writer of fiction, it seems to me that I could, with perfect propriety, bring out a book of this character. As I tell the Major, it is all a question of whether the book is worth while in itself. I think it highly probable that I shall never write another novel, for the reason that love stories no longer seem to me worth while. However that may be, I see no good reason why I should not put a period in my career by the publication of this partial autobiography. What is your own feeling about it. I wish you would write me at your earliest convenience, for if the book is to be brought out, it will have to go into the mill very soon.
I don't think it is an egotistic book, because I have gone beyond that stage. It is rather an attempt to catch for my children some part of the beauty and significance of the life of the border during the forty years of my remembrance. You have been my constant advisor during these twenty-five later years, and I very much wish you would let me know precisely how the plan strikes you. (29 June 1912; Selected Letters 212-13)
Howells replied on 2 July 1912: "I understand why Major Leigh should have pause, but not why he should remain in it. It seems to me that such a book as you contemplate would be important and delightful, and would add to the interest in your other books. I for one should like to read it" (Selected Letters 213 n).
Encouraged by Howells's words, Garland continued revising his manuscript and shopping it to such magazines as the Century, Youth's Companion, and Ladies' Home Journal for serial publication, enduring polite rejections of editors worried about the degree of interest in a writer whose best work was 20 years in the past. By 14 January 1914 he had completed another revision, noting in his diary, "It is now entirely in the third person. My fear of being called egotistic led me to this change." Five days later he succeeded in interesting Mark Sullivan, the editor of Collier's Magazine, and on 2 February he accepted a contract that would pay him $2,500 for six installments.
By the time A Son of the Middle Border appeared in book form in August 1917, it had been through a series of revisions: from first to third person while in manuscript, to alternating first and third person for the serial, and then back to first person for book publication. Each time Garland refined his style and deepened his story. As the time neared for publication, he became edgy, apprehensive of how his life story would be received, aware of the high stakes of his gamble. He recorded in his diary,
As I near the last chapter of 'the Border' I am in a panic. At times I have a feeling that the book is of no value whatsoever. Then I think of certain passages and find them good. Probably it is good in spots and bad in spots. My brain is pretty clear now--too clear I am afraid--enabling me to see the faults in the book. (7 July 1917)
For consolation, he again turned to his faithful friend, sending him the galley proofs. Howells replied on 20 July 1917: "Unless the first 24 pages deceive me you have written one of the truest and greatest books in the world. Now indeed our life is getting into our literature. But now and then your literosity gets the better of your life, and then I want to kill you. More anon" (USC). Two days later Howells finished the book and had high praise indeed, though tempered with his characteristic admonition about Garland's lack of attention to details. "So far as I know your book is without its like in literature," he wrote.
It is perfectly true to life, and beautiful with right feeling, from first to last. I wish every American, every human being might read it. Never before has any man told our mortal story so manfully so kindly. I would like it to go on forever. But I miss two galley slips, 160-161, and where are they? It often needs proof reading. (SL 6: 118-19)
Pleased by this tribute from America's foremost man of letters and aware of the effects of such praise on the sales of the book, Garland immediately wrote to ask whether he could use Howells's letter, together with similar letters of praise from Theodore Roosevelt and John Burroughs, in the marketing of the book. He must have been abashed at Howells's reply of 4 August 1917: "I have most decidedly refused to let MacMillans quote from my letter to you. I hope to be your friendliest critic, but not their advance agent. To let a publisher advertise from such a letter as I like to write to a brother-writer would take all heart and trust out of friendship, and I never do it" (USC). While he might not want his private correspondence used to market his old friend's book, Howells did contribute a lengthy and highly laudatory review to the New York Times Review of Books. Appearing on the front page and accompanied by distinguished portrait of Garland, Howells began, "In all the region of autobiography, so far as I know it, I do not know quite the like of Mr. Garland's story of his life, and I should rank it with the very greatest of its kind in literature." He described Garland's method of making his personal story stand for a nation's westering movement as "a psychological synthesis of personal and general conditions in a new country, such as has not got into our literature before. That in itself, if it were nothing else, is a precious contribution to human knowledge." After noting the minor "fault" of Garland's lack of development of the character of his father, he concluded that the story is both "the memorial of a generation, of a whole order of American experience" and "an epic of such mood and make as has not been imagined before" ("A Son of the Middle Border" 309, 317).
Ever without confidence in his abilities, Garland wryly noted in his diary that day, "Howells beautiful article was in the Times and the publication of this review undoubtedly marks an epoch in my literary life. [...] His tribute also marks the high mark of my achievement." Yet even high praise from Howells was not enough, for the concluding lines reveal his perennial dissatisfaction, the constant striving for artistic perfection that he would seldom achieve--and perhaps even a covert desire to surpass his mentor: "To have won a place with Howells and his like ought to satisfy me--but it doesn't. I had hoped to go farther and do better. [...] I am still the learner."
Garland, of course, would have been aghast at the Freudian implications a later generation might derive from a private document recorded at such a vulnerable time. Garland was ever the faithful defender and the dutiful literary son, always respectful and polite, a proper formality seemingly at odds with his militantly obstreperous public reputation. But here, too, he took his cue from Howells, who himself was reserved. In an article written soon after Howells's death, Garland made a pilgrimage to Boston to pay homage to his mentor, visiting Howells's former homes and writing of the memories they conjured. "No man of his distinction could have been more approachable than Howells," he noted,
and yet no one--in my presence--ever presumed to familiarity in addressing him. Wholly without pomp of manner or egotism of speech, he nevertheless held even old friends like Clemens and Charles Dudley Warner at a distance. It took me over 30 years to bring myself to calling him merely by his surname. I always used the words 'Dear Mr. Howells' at the beginning of my letters. I never thought of him as 'Dear William' [...] [yet] there was nothing stiff or formal about him. [...] I always went away from a talk with Howells with a renewed resolution to do better work. ("William Dean Howells's Boston" 5)
On his part, Howells seems to have had a genuine fondness for Garland, for his letters are peppered with affectionate phrases. Shortly before Garland left for the Klondike, for example, Howells wrote to congratulate him on completing his life of Grant and remarked, "The only thing I have to complain of is you are not here. I miss you more than I can tell, for life doesn't widen a man's circle when it gets him where it has me, and I hate the narrowing by the absence of such a large segment as you were" (Life in Letters 2: 88). Or he would close his letters with an "Affectionately yours" or simply "Your friend."
Such was their respect for each other's honesty and generosity that each could speak freely and candidly about their strengths and limitations. Upon the publication of Garland's Cavanagh, Forest Ranger (1910), for example, written when Garland was struggling to maintain interest in a profession with which he had become bored, Howells gently chided him for not doing more with his theme:
I wish you had given us the drama of the epoch more deeply and largely than you have done. It was a pity to have cramped so noble a scheme to the measure of a contemporaneous incident. But I liked your people, and I followed them to the end, only wishing there were more of the tale, and more circumstance and detail both in respect to the dirty little cow-town and the sublime mountain country.
"You have in you greater things than you have done," he reminded him, "and you owe the world which has welcomed you the best you have in you. 'Be true to the dream of thy youth'--the dream of an absolute and unsparing 'veritism'; the word is yours" (27 March 1910; SL 5: 313). In his reply two days later, Garland acknowledged the truth of Howells's judgment, for it accorded with his own:
Your letter came this morning and I gratefully acknowledge and welcome your criticism. I have not measured up to my opportunity but perhaps waiting would have been of no avail. The plain truth is I watched the Forestry Service develop for sixteen years and it was only last summer that the motive to use it came. I'm running low on motives. I don't care to write love-stories or stories of adventure and I can not revert to the prairie life without falling into the reminiscent sadness of the man of fifty.
My own belief is that my work is pretty well done but as I remember the cordial endorsement of men like yourself and [Richard Watson] Gilder I have no reason to complain.
And then, as if to pay homage to the wisdom of Howells's perception, he closed with "I am as ever your disciple," adding a postscript to remind Howells to "please speak your mind with the utmost plainness" if he should review the book (Selected Letters 199-200).
While Garland always respected Howells's professional judgment, he eagerly sought his counsel for personal matters too and clearly regarded Howells as a paternal figure. In the fall of 1899, for example, when he finally persuaded Zulime Taft to marry him, Garland rushed to Howells to tell him the good news. "He was profoundly interested in Z. and made most minute inquiries about her," he recorded in his diary on 24 October. The next day, he brought his fiancee to meet his benefactor. Howells proffered his congratulations and then remarked, Garland later wrote, "You see [...] your husband-elect is one of my boys. I am particularly concerned with his good fortune." Garland could not have hoped for a better benediction, as he remembered, "In a literary sense this was my paternal blessing, for 'Mr. Howells' had been a kind of spiritual progenitor and guide ever since my first meeting with him in '87. [...] We both went away, rich in the honor of his approval of our prospective union" (Daughter 123). (12) And Zulime certainly recognized the shared warmth of the friendship, recording in her diary about a subsequent luncheon on 2 January 1900, "He is Hamlin's hero, in a way--and I admire the personal side equally much. His evident fondness for Hamlin--has quite won my heart."
One of the myths of the Garland-Howells relationship is that it was mostly one-sided. Howells, so the perception goes, greatly aided Garland's career while Garland gratefully but passively sopped up all the assistance Howells cared to offer on his climb up the social and literary ladder. While Howells indeed deeply affected the development of Garland's professional life and reputation, Garland also assisted Howells, sometimes directly by supplying "local knowledge" for some of the scenes in the novels--as, for instance, describing an old-fashioned threshing for New Leaf Mills (1913)--or by reading the manuscript of The Leatherwood God (1916). (13) More often, however, he helped indirectly by promoting Howells's reputation. And he did so largely as a public relations man, stumping for Howells on the lecture platform, holding Howells as the measure other writers should strive for, and promoting Howells through public commemorations. A 1903 essay, published in the North American Review, was among the earliest of Garland's syntheses of Howells's principles and set the tone for later articles. "Sanity in Fiction" is a lucid, specific, and exceptionally clear exposition of the plots, characters, narrative methods, and assumptions of realism, focused on Howells as the genre's most successful example. Drawing upon the elder writer's best-known novels for illustration, Garland contrasts the weaknesses of romantic exaggeration with the "sanity" of an art that holds the average as the ideal. Howells, he concludes, "is the most American, the most sympathetic, the truest writer in American fiction" who can "challenge the world to produce his equal in sanity, sympathy and humorous insight" (348). Garland had apparently shown Howells a draft, and upon publication, Howells was greatly pleased by Garland's encomium, as he wrote on 11 March 1903,
Let me tell you that if it had not been the kindest sort of criticism, I should still have thought it the ablest. I felt that you had meant me for an illustration, and that you were proving a thesis rather than proving me, as was best. It was greatly improved from the first draught; and as it stands I believe it stands unassailable. I thank you for the friendship of it with all my heart. (SL 5: 49)
But Garland had his most significant effect as the unofficial public voice for the public-shy Howells, and he spread the word largely through the lecture platform. Garland early realized that he could make more money by lecturing than through the sales of his books, and he lectured widely, with the aid of various lecture bureaus and managers, throughout his long life. Howells figured largely in his lectures during the 1890s as the foremost exemplar of realism (in a popular lecture entitled "Americanism in Literature"), and in the 1920s, after the success of A Son of the Middle Border, Garland turned to lecturing about his literary acquaintances to audiences across the country, and again Howells loomed large--this time as one of the "Makers of American Literature." Of course, it is difficult to gauge the consequence of such lecturing on the sales of Howells's books or on the popular estimation of Howells, and one suspects that, with Howells's declining reputation, it was largely a lost cause.
Ironically, he may have had more of an effect after Howells's death as he fought a largely futile rear-guard action to keep Howells and the literature he valued before the public eye. In 1930 he moved to California to be near his daughters, both of whom had recently married. There, a continent away from the club life and literary acquaintances who had comprised such a central role in his life, he spent much of his day writing letters, many of them to the new crop of scholars who were composing histories and interpretations of the literature he had helped to fashion. One of these scholars was Van Wyck Brooks who had, as John W. Crowley points out, done more to skewer Howells's reputation than any other critic (103-09). In The Ordeal of Mark Twain (1920), Brooks had cast Howells as a school-marmish censor, the representative of New England Puritanism responsible for "taming the unbridled imagination of a great writer and sapping his natural virility" (Crowley 106). Garland initiated what was to become one of the most important of his late friendships after reading Brooks's The Pilgrimage of Henry James (1925). But the aging and increasingly conservative writer pointed out in an early letter that he had made a point of not reading The Ordeal of Mark Twain because "it was someone said a brief for the suppressed obscenity and profanity which are the negligible sides of Clemens' genius" (Garland to Brooks, 28 March 1925; Selected Letters 323-25).
During the remaining years of his life, Garland wrote with increasing frequency to Brooks, fascinated with the younger writer's prodigious energy and, as his books appeared, increasingly enthralled with his emerging portrait of American literary culture. They would arrange to meet in various clubs, and at times Brooks would be a houseguest of the Garlands, where Garland could relay to a receptive ear his now-consuming passion of reminiscing. When Brooks turned to the manuscript of what would become New England: Indian Summer (1940), Garland began to supply him with his recollections of writers and events. First among these, of course, was Howells, and in late 1938 Garland sent Brooks his collection of over 100 Howells letters, off-prints of his own writing about Howells, and a thick sheaf of clippings. Garland's .les enabled Brooks to return to the Howells's chapters, which he had put aside due to the complexity of the subject, and he wrote Garland on 27 January 1939 that "The letters and your articles brought the whole subject to life in my mind and made me feel again how much I love that man" (Selected Letters 414 n). If, as Crowley remarks, Brooks later shifted from being a Howells critic to a "Howells advocate" (109), Garland may have had some hand in the transformation. (14)
It is fitting that after Howells died on 11 May 1920, Garland was among his chief memorializers, for the Dean of American Letters had not only helped launch his career, but he had, over the years, become one of Garland's closest friends, the one to whom he first turned at every major juncture in his life, the counselor whose sage advice he most trusted, the man with whom he shared those dark moments of self-doubt that came to plague him in the 1910s. It is also fitting that when Sinclair Lewis, the first American to win the Nobel Prize for Literature (in 1930), was vilifying Howells on the occasion of his Nobel acceptance speech and casting about for his likely successor that Garland's name should arise. Howells's "influence is not altogether gone today," Lewis declaimed. "He is still worshipped by Hamlin Garland, an author who should have been in every way greater than Howells, but who, under Howells's influence, changed from a harsh and magnificent realist into a genial, insignificant lecturer." Garland must have been pained by Lewis's contemptuous reference to himself and his misconstruing of their relationship, for the surviving correspondence does not indicate that Howells shaped his literary practice in any significant way. Twenty-five years younger than Garland and representing a modernism so radically at odds with the elder writer's own practice, Lewis went on to describe his disappointment in the trajectory of Garland's career, for he noted that Main-Travelled Roads and Rose of Dutcher's Coolly had "made it possible for me to write of America as I see it and not as Mr. William Dean Howells so sunnily saw it. And it is a completely revelatory American tragedy," he continued, "that in our land of freedom men like Garland, who first blast the roads to freedom, become themselves the most bound." But pained though he must have been at Lewis's denunciation, his depiction of him as a has-been sell-out, Garland also accepted, as if it were his due, Lewis's passing of the mantle. "Mr. Garland is, so far as we have one," Lewis proclaimed, albeit with disdain, "the dean of American letters today" ("Text"). Thereafter, until he died on 4 March 1940, Garland's lecture circulars and periodical notices billed him as "The Dean of American Letters."
Brooks, Van Wyck. New England: Indian Summer, 1865-1915. New York: Dutton, 1940.
Cady, Edwin. The Realist at War: The Mature Years, 1885-1920, of William Dean Howells. Syracuse: Syracuse UP, 1958.
"A Chat With Hamlin Garland." Illustrated American 19 (21 Mar. 1896): 367.
Crowley, John W. The Dean of American Letters: The Late Career of William Dean Howells. Amherst: U Massachusetts P, 1999.
"Crumbling Idols." Rev. of Crumbling Idols, by Hamlin Garland. Literary World 25 (2 June 1894): 164.
Garland, Hamlin. "Annie Kilburn." Rev. of Annie Kilburn, by W. D. Howells. Boston Evening Transcript 27 Dec. 1888: 6.
--. "April Hopes." Rev. of April Hopes, by W. D. Howells. Boston Evening Transcript 1 Mar. 1888: 6.
--. A Daughter of the Middle Border. New York: Macmillan, 1921.
--. Diaries, 1898-1940. Items GD 1-42, Huntington Library, San Marino, CA.
--. "A Great American." New York Evening Post Literary Review 5 Mar. 1921: 1-2.
--. "A Great Book." Rev. of A Hazard of New Fortunes, by W. D. Howells. Standard 5 Feb. 1890: 5-6.
--. "Howells." American Writers on American Literature: By Thirty-Seven Contemporary Writers. Ed. John Macy. New York: Liveright, 1931. 285-97.
--. "Howells Discussed at Avon-By-The-Sea." New York Tribune 18 Aug. 1891: 5. [Lecture, reported by Stephen Crane.]
--. "In Honor of Howells." New York Times 27 Feb. 1921, sec. 4: 6.
--. "Lemuel Barker." Rev. of The Minister's Charge, by W. D. Howells. Boston Evening Transcript 31 Jan. 1887: 6.
--. "Literary Notes." Item 50, Hamlin Garland Papers. University of Southern California, Los Angeles.
--. "Meetings with Authors. Lecture Notes." Pizer, Hamlin Garland's Diaries. 152.
--. "Meetings with Howells." Bookman 45 (Mar. 1917): 1-7.
--. "Mr. Howells's Latest Novel." Rev. of A Hazard of New Fortunes, by W. D. Howells. Boston Evening Transcript 14 Dec. 1889: 10.
--. "Mr. Howells's Latest Novels." New England Magazine ns 2 (May 1890): 243-50.
--. "Mr. Howells's Plans." Boston Evening Transcript 1 Jan. 1892: 6.
--. Roadside Meetings. New York: Macmillan, 1930.
--. "Sanity in Fiction." North American Review 176 (Mar. 1903): 336-48.
--. Selected Letters of Hamlin Garland. Ed. Keith Newlin and Joseph B. Mc- Cullough. Lincoln: U of Nebraska P, 1998.
--. A Son of the Middle Border. New York: Macmillan, 1917.
--. "William Dean Howells's Boston: A Posthumous Pilgrimage." Boston Evening Transcript 22 May 1920, pt. 3: 4-5.
--. "William Dean Howells: Master Craftsman." Art World 1 (Mar. 1917): 411-12.
Garland, Zulime. Diary. Item 712c,5, Hamlin Garland Papers. University of Southern California, Los Angeles.
Holloway, Jean. Hamlin Garland, A Biography. Austin: U of Texas P, 1960. Howells, W. D. "Editor's Easy Chair." Rev. of They of the High Trails, by Hamlin Garland. Harper's Monthly 133 (Sep. 1916): 627-29. [Rpt. as introduction to 1917 edition of They of the High Trails.]
--. "Editor's Study." Rev. of Main-Travelled Roads, by Hamlin Garland. Harper's Monthly 83 (Sep. 1891): 638-42.
--. "Garland's Grant." Rev. of Ulysses S. Grant: His Life and Character, by Hamlin Garland. Literature [New York] ns 1 (3 Feb. 1899): 73-74.
--. Letters to Hamlin Garland, 20 July 1917, 4 Aug. 1917. Hamlin Garland Papers. University of Southern California, Los Angeles.
--. "Life and Letters." Rev. of Rose of Dutcher's Coolly, by Hamlin Garland. Harper's Weekly 7 Mar. 1896: 223.
--. Life in Letters of William Dean Howells. Ed. Mildred Howells. 2 vols. 1928; New York: Russell and Russell, 1968.
--. "Mr. Garland's Books." Rev. of Sunset Edition. North American Review (Oct. 1912): 523-28.
--. "Novel-Writing and Novel-Reading." Selected Literary Criticism. Vol. 3: 1898-1920. Ed. Ronald Gottesman. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1993.
--. Selected Letters of W. D. Howells. Ed. George Arms, Christoph K. Lohmann, et al. 6 vols. Boston: Twayne, 1976-83.
--. "A Son of the Middle Border, An Appreciation." Rev. of A Son of the Middle Border, by Hamlin Garland. New York Times Review of Books 26 Aug. 1917: 309, 315.
--. "The Southwest and Northwest in Recent Poetry. Second Paper." Rev. of the poems in The Trail of the Gold-Seekers, by Hamlin Garland. Literature [New York] ns 2 (1 Sep. 1899): 177-78.
"Mr. Hamlin Garland's Essays." Rev. of Crumbling Idols, by Hamlin Garland. Independent 46 (21 June 1894): 801.
"On Various Topics." Rev. of Crumbling Idols, by Hamlin Garland. Book Buyer 11 (July 1894): 308.
Pizer, Donald, ed. Hamlin Garland's Diaries. San Marino: Huntington Library P, 1968.
--. Hamlin Garland's Early Work and Career. Berkeley: U of California P, 1960.
"Text of Sinclair Lewis's Nobel Prize Address at Stockholm." New York Times 13 Dec. 1930: 12.
KEITH NEWLIN is Professor of English at the University of North Carolina Wilmington and co-editor of Studies in American Naturalism. He is the editor of A Theodore Dreiser Encyclopedia (2003) and coeditor of The Collected Plays of Theodore Dreiser (2000) and Selected Letters of Hamlin Garland (1998). His biography of Hamlin Garland will appear in 2008.
(1) Garland published several accounts, with slight variations, of his initial meeting, which was also a favorite topic of his lectures. His article "Meetings With Howells" provides the most detail; see also Roadside Meetings 24-25, 55-61. Compare with an 1896 interview:
One day I happened to pick up "The Undiscovered Country." I glanced At it at first, supposing that it was a scientific work of some sort. I read it and became attracted at once. "This," I said to myself, "is what I've been looking for." I couldn't afford to buy the book, so I had to content myself with what I could get at the counter. It made an indelible impression on me, though it didn't immediately affect my literary ideals. It stole insidiously into my mind. I knew it was the best English I had ever read, but I wouldn't admit that then, as I was fresh from Hawthorne and Victor Hugo. I afterward grew very indignant over some statement of Mr. Howells concerning Hugo's faults. ... ("A Chat With Hamlin Garland" 367)
(2) See Garland's first publication, the Hawthornesque "Ten Years Dead," Every Other Saturday 2 (28 Mar. 1885): 97-99.
(3) Garland never published "The Evolution of American Thought," which remains in manuscript (item 465) in the Hamlin Garland Papers, Specialized Libraries and Archival Collections, University of Southern California. I am grateful to USC for permission to quote from unpublished materials. Quotations to items in this collection are hereafter designated as "USC."
(4) Hereafter abbreviated as SL.
(5) Howells's estimation of Garland may be gleaned primarily from the over 130 letters he wrote to him, held in the Hamlin Garland Papers (USC), a portion of which have been published. Howells seems not to have retained Garland's letters to him (only 12 are extant), nor did he keep a diary, and he detested lecturing. One must therefore reconstruct the nature of the friendship largely from Garland's many published and unpublished remarks as well as from Howells's letters to Garland.
(6) The fullest account of the development of Garland's literary aesthetic remains Donald Pizer's Hamlin Garland's Early Work and Career. See especially 4-30.
(7) In 1925, as Mildred Howells was preparing the Life in Letters of William Dean Howells (1928), she wrote to Garland to inquire about her father's interest in Henry George. Garland replied that while he "was a disciple of Henry George," he was unable to win Howells to George's theories, although he did influence Howells "sufficiently to put into THE HAZARD OF NEW FORTUNES occasional notes on the 'unearned increment'" (2 Dec. 1925; Selected Letters 326).
(8) A complete list of each writer's published commentary about the other may be found in the Works Cited.
(9) See Holloway 128-29, as well as publishers' records, item 669, Hamlin Garland Papers (USC).
(10) Garland's dictated "The Story of Grant McLane" is preserved as item 8c, Hamlin Garland Papers (USC). Before his Klondike trek Garland kept diaries intermittently. He made a transcript of his journal for 1895-99 (item 7a) when he was preparing Roadside Meetings, and this transcript records his dictation of his autobiography. "Grant McLane" is also a character in "Up the Coule."
(11) Garland began revision on 23 October 1911, as noted in his diary, which is held in the Garland Papers at the Huntington Library, San Marino, CA. All references to Garland's diaries are quoted by permission of the Huntington Library and are to the original entries before Garland revised them in preparation of his memoirs rather than to the excerpts published in Pizer's Hamlin Garland's Diaries.
(12) See also Garland's letter to Mildred Howells, 21 Jan. 1921; Selected Letters 282.
(13) See Howells to Garland, 29 May 1911 (SL 5: 354) and Back-Trailers from the Middle Border (New York: Macmillan, 1928) 9.
(14) Ironically, despite Brooks's "love" for Howells, the portrait of Howells that emerges in New England: Indian Summer is that of a sissy: his limitations are a "tendency to the namby-pamby, his prudery and his timorous over-niceness" (212); he "was singularly preoccupied with domestic matters, and had a tendency to fuss" (215).
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|Publication:||Papers on Language & Literature|
|Date:||Jun 22, 2006|
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