is a modern thing, this Higher Journalism, a province
of artistic activity, in which the American genius is
well fitted to shine. It is familiar with every corner
of civilization; it is honest and gay and entertaining,
or it is honest and dull and heart-rending, as the truth
may require; it may or may not have opinions of its
own; it may or may not be touched with genius; its prime
business is to get at the facts and display them effectively;
and for this end no toil is too great for it, no daring
Higher Journalism has many brilliant devotees, and from
its ranks not a few original story tellers have sprung.
Of these Mr. Kipling may not be the greatest, and Mr.
Crane is certainly not the least. It was in the interests
of this Higher Journalism that he was wrecked off the
coast of Florida not so long ago, and barely escaped
with his life. Everyone was soberly thankful for his
safety, and everyone must have been eager to read the
account of that perilous experience, which appeared
in a magazine a few months later. It is under the fine
tempering pressure of just such danger and hardship
that the best copy is made for the Higher Journalism.
I doubt if anyone was prepared to find The Open Boat
so thoroughly impersonal, restrained and artistic as
it is. I confess it seemed to me a surprising masterpiece
in its way; faithful, picturesque, realistic to a degree,
and yet at the same time something more than all this.
To that censorious strain in us, which thinks it is
always looking for something new to praise, and is really
only looking for something new to blame, it must have
been a startling event. I cannot imagine even the most
self-confident criticism not being carried off its feet
by a surge of enthusiasm over that wonderful sea-tale.
It fills nearly all the requirements of the Higher Journalism,
with something omitted and something of its own added.
The omissions are as important as the details.
there was one peculiarity about the story that struck
me-a sort of transcendent realism, realism used so insistently
and selectively as to become no longer incidental and
particular, but typical and universal. It is realism
no longer, but symbolism pure and simple. I quote a
piece of the dialogue:
There's a man on the shore!"
"There! See 'im? See 'im?"
"Yes, sure! He's walking along."
"Now he's stopped. Look! He's facing us!"
"He's waving at us!"
"So he is! By thunder!"
"Ah, now we're all right! Now we're all right!
There'll be a boat out here for us in half an hour."
"He's going on. He's running. He's going up to
that house there."
. . .
he doing now?"
"He's standing still again. He's looking, I think.
There he goes again toward the house. Now he's stopped
"Is he waving at us?"
"No, not now; he was, though."
"Look! There comes another man!"
"Look at him go, would you!"
"Why, he's on a bicycle. Now he's met the other
man. They're both waving at us. Look!"
"There comes something up the beach."
"What the devil is that thing?"
"Why, it looks like a boat."
"Why, certainly, it's a boat."
"No; it's on wheels."
"Yes, so it is. Well, that must be the lifeboat.
They drag them along shore on a wagon."
"That's the lifeboat, sure!"
"No, by --, it's-it's an omnibus."
"I tell you it's a lifeboat."
"It is not!" It's an omnibus. I can see it
plain. See? One of these big hotel omnibus."
"Look at the fellow with the flag. Maybe he ain't
"That ain't a flag, is it? That's his coat. Why,
certainly, that's his coat."
"So it is; it's his coat. He's taken it off and
is waving it around his head. But would you look at
him swing it!"
"Oh, say, there isn't any life-saving station there.
That's just a winter resort hotel omnibus that has brought
over some of the boarders to see us drown."
"What's that idiot with the coat mean? What's he
"It looks as if he were trying to tell us to go
north. There must be a life-saving station up there."
"No; he thinks we're fishing. Just giving us a
merry hand. See? Ah, there, Willie!"
"Well, I wish I could make something out of those
signals. What do you suppose he means?"
"He don't mean anything; he's just playing."
so on, and so on. Mr. Crane has omitted to tell us specifically
how the wreck happened, how many hours they were on
the water, how many miles they were from land, how many
were lost on the sunk steamer; and yet he is at the
trouble to record at length this trivial chatter of
his men. Surely, you say, this is realism gone mad-a
mere detached, phonographic reproduction of actual speech.
It is more like Maeterlinck than anything else. It recalls
the dialogue between Princess Maicine and the nurse,
in the tower:
"Wait! I am beginning to see."
"Do you see the city?"
"And the castle?"
"It must be on the other side."
"And yet.There is the sea."
"There is the sea?"
"Yes, yes; the sea. It is green."
"But then you ought to see the city. Let me look."
"I see the lighthouse."
"You see the lighthouse?"
"Yes; I think it is the lighthouse."
"But, then, you ought to see the city."
"I do not see the city."
"You do not see the city?"
"I do not see the city!"
is this farrago of nonsense? says the reader. It is
true that M. Maeterlinck has had to stand not a little
ridicule of his style. And yet taken apart from its
context it is not much more vapid than Mr. Crane's dialogue
in the open boat. It is a curious coincidence of method-absolute
realism-as we call it, appearing identical with absolute
romanticism. Unless I mistake, the truth is that Mr.
Crane and M. Maeterlinck both wished to secure the same
results, and they employed the same means. In each case
the writer's object is to create an atmosphere, to make
a powerful spiritual impression; and he has resorted
to the weird haunting effect which repetition imposes
on the mind. M. Maeterlinck wished to give us the full
emotional experience of a wholly fanciful incident,
and he plays on our nerves with a maddening persistent
iteration. As a matter of fact he borrowed this trick
from the peasants, whose life he studies. Listen to
any conversation in the street, and count how many times
the same word is repeated. In The Open Boat Mr. Crane
wished to convey the full emotional experience of an
actual occurrence, and he uses precisely the same means.
In both cases the dialogue, so simple, so meaningless
apart from its context, acquires a mysterious and very
palpable force when the circumstances are recalled.
by itself, such a piece of dialogue is cheap and trivial
enough; but when reproduced upon a background so thrillingly
impressive, its very simplicity lends it an added sharpness.
In Mr. Crane as in M. Maeterlinck the incident is related
not so much for its own sake, as for its poetic value.
All that happened in that little boat from the time
it left the sinking steamer until its living freight
was flung up on the shore, is matter for a plain, straightforward
tale; but the spiritual experience of those hours side
by side with death-to give one any adequate idea of
that, is a task for a genius. And it seems to me that
Mr. Crane's genius is proved not by the vivid phrase
or the original adjective in which he depicts the outward
event, but by the power with which he moves us to a
comprehension of all the subtler mysterious play of
feeling which must have invested those momentous hours.
It was a fine Maeterlinckian situation, if you will
let me say so. Four men tossed on the open sea in a
tiny boat. What would they say, seated there face to
face with destiny? All the details which Mr. Crane has
omitted are absolutely insignificant in comparison to
the real tragedy there involved. And his treatment of
the story is at once a revelation of his own delicate
artistic sense and a confirmation of M. Maeterlinck's
theory of art.
that mystic volume, The Treasure of the Humble,
there is an essay on "The Tragical in Daily Life."
M. Maeterlinck has said: "There is a tragic element
in the life of every day that is far more real, far
more penetrating, far more akin to the true self that
is in us than the tragedy that lies in great adventure.
But, readily as we all may feel this, to prove it is
by no means easy, inasmuch as this essential tragic
element comprises more than that which is merely material
or merely psychological. It goes beyond the determined
struggle of man against man, and desire against desire;
it goes beyond the eternal conflict of duty and passion.
Its province is rather to reveal to us how truly wonderful
is the mere act of living, and to throw light upon the
existence of the soul, self-contained in the midst of
ever-restless immensities; to hush the discourse of
reason and sentiment, so that above the tumult may be
heard the solemn, uninterrupted whisperings of man and
his destiny. It is its province to point out to us the
uncertain, dolorous footsteps of the being, as he approaches,
or wanders from his truth, his beauty, or his God."
word of a mystical symbolistic writer might stand for
the aim of the realist at his best. It is a curious
overlapping of purposes, a curious meeting of extremes.
But it is very much a matter of selection and arrangement-this
ideal literary method over which so much ink has been
spilt. The minute reproduction of trifles may be either
very tedious or very telling; it all depends on their
significance and their relation to larger events. Realism,
I fancy its ablest champions will concede, merges inevitably
into symbolism; and symbolism, we have seen, makes free
use of realistic methods. Each of them, at its best,
is but endeavoring to grasp and portray something of
that element in daily life which, as M. Maeterlinck
say, is more real, more penetrating, more akin to the
true self than the tragedy of old romance. Mr. Crane
has called his book The Open Boat, and Other Tales
of Adventure. He need have no fear. He has been
a faithful contributor to the Higher Journalism, but
he has also made a brilliant mark in the more exacting
pages of literature.