Obrazy na stronie




Two facts about the short story are very significant: it is probably the oldest literary form, and it was the latest in point of time to receive exact definition of its purpose and scope, and full unfolding of its artistic and dramatic resources. The first fact means that the short story is a vital and not an artificial form of literature, and fits itself instinctively to certain impulses and interests of men; the second fact the fact that the short story had to wait for the insight and skill of men of the genius of Poe, Hawthorne, Stevenson, Kipling, and Maupassant - means that as a literary form the short story ranks with the highest and most exacting forms of art.- Hamilton W. Mabie. Introduc tion to "Stories New and Old."

MONG unlettered people of our own time the prac


tice of telling and retelling stories of their experiences, stories that they have heard, or stories that they have imagined is a most common form of diversion. This custom of telling brief tales is perhaps as old as oral speech, for man seems to find in fiction, however crude, a means of diversion and entertainment. Men dwelling in caves in the stone age, men gathered around savage camp fires, men sitting at the gates of Damascus or Bagdad" whiled away the time and entertained those


within earshot with diverting tales-crude pieces of fiction; but the evolution of the Short Story from these earliest pieces of oral fiction to the artistic Short Story of the present day has been a long and slow process reaching its culmination in the tales and stories of Poe and Hawthorne, not more than seventy years agowithin the memory of men now living—and coming to its perfection in those of De Maupassant, Stevenson, and Kipling in the time of the present generation.

Dr. William J. Dawson in his Makers of English Fiction calls fiction a kind of lie told in such a manner as to seem true. With some such idea in mind Professor Charles F. Horne in The Technique of the Novel shows that fiction is literally older than speech, for even the cat, he says, practices a cunning fiction when she strolls away from the half-dead mouse with a disinterested, somewhat bored look, only to turn and spring lightly upon it again as it tries to drag itself away. But for a study of the actual beginnings of prose fiction in speech we must rely upon the records of the earliest tales set down in writing.

The Prose Tale and the Short Story. The men who told the tales around the savage camp fires perhaps had no other aim than to entertain by rehearsing an actual occurrence. They had not even so much skill in arranging their stories, in omitting irrelevant matters, in coloring with imagination, as the loafer around the rusty stove in a village store exhibits today as he offers his worn stock of fiction to his companions for the tenth or sixtieth time. The ordinary tale in prose is very different from the artistic Short Story. Everyone is familiar with the back-fence conversation "cackleiza

[ocr errors]

tion," Dr. Stanley Hall calls it which cannot omit irrelevant details, but which must include every circumstance in time-sequence between the beginning and culmination of the delectable gossip. There is a vast difference between such narrations and the real Short Story.

The Tales of the Magicians.- The most ancient record of prose stories is an Egyptian collection of tales contained in the ancient papyri. These stories are called by English scholars The Tales of the Magicians, and are published in two volumes by Professor Petrie. The collection is as old as 2700 B. C., and most scholars believe that its true date is approximately 4000 B. C. The sons of King Cheops (the great pyramid builder) are trying to entertain their father with some interesting stories. When one son has told the king some marvelous tale that he has heard, another steps forward and begins his story of strange things." Perhaps the best known of these tales is one called The Shipwrecked Sailor. A translation of this may be read in Jessup and Canby's The Book of the Short Story., A sailor is shipwrecked upon a mysterious island, all his companions perishing. The island is ruled by a great serpent, and inhabited only by serpents. These treat the unfortunate sailor kindly, and send him home with rich gifts when the next ship passes that way.


In brief this is the story. What it lacks of meeting the technical requirements of the Short Story in the modern sense will be apparent after reading the chapters in this book on the technic of the Short Story.

The Arabian Nights' Entertainments. To try to make a list of the collections of oriental tales in the order of

their age would be unprofitable, for exact dates are not known. The oldest reference to The Thousand and One Nights is B. C. 987. The stories are doubtless much older than that. Many devices have been employed by writers, ancient and modern, to give some degree of unity to a series of unrelated tales. The need of such devices is seen in The Tales of the Magicians, The Canterbury Tales, and the Tales of a Wayside Inn, to take an ancient, a medieval, and a modern instance. Perhaps, none of the devices has exceeded in cleverness that of the Arabian Nights. Schariar, Sultan of India, is accustomed to select a new wife for each new day, and to have her put to death the following morning. Scheherazade, daughter of the grand vizier, being selected one day, tells the sultan an interesting story at night and promises another for the following night. The sultan spares her life in order to hear the next story. This is kept up for a thousand and one nights (till the author of the volume has exhausted his stock of stories) and then the law requiring the sacrifice of the bride of a day is repealed, since it has been so long disregarded. Probably the best known of the stories from The Arabian Nights' Entertainments are Aladdin and his Wonderful Lamp, and Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves.

Old Testament Stories.- The Hebrews were a religious people. It is not at all strange, then, that when they tell stories, they should have in mind a purpose beyond mere entertainment. Most of their stories have a distinct lesson to teach. Jotham's parable of The Trees Choosing a King (Judges 9:7-15) is an ironical reminder of how the people have chosen the worst of the sons of Jerubaal to be his successor and their king. The purpose of The

Book of Ruth may have been any one of three or four: To show the lineage of David; to show that Jehovah of the Israelites might also be the God of a Moabite a foreigner; to show how faithfulness and service are rewarded; or some similar theme. The Book of Jonah is probably as pure a piece of fiction as Jesus' parable of The Prodigal Son. The Israelites had all along thought of Jehovah as a national deity. Some prophet with a wider vision than the mass of his countrymen wished to teach them that there are no village gods and national gods, but that Jehovah is God of the whole world of the solid land, of the sea and the creatures of the deep, of even distant heathen Nineveh, as well as of Canaan. To impress this truth he told the story of a prophet who did everything he could to avoid that conclusion and to disregard God's command to preach in Nineveh, and closed his tale on a half-humorous note Jonah sulking in the shade of the gourd vine because God had shown mercy to a people not of Israel. The Prodigal Son differs from this story in that it avoids actual names and places. It is presented as pure fiction to impress a definite theme. Just as an earthly father forgives a wayward son, so does the Heavenly Father forgive his own wayward ones when they return repentant from their wanderings. In The Book of Jonah the prophet veiled his fiction behind the fact that somewhere in the indistinct past there had been a lesser prophet named Jonah to whom he could ascribe his imaginary experiences. These books of The Old Testament were probably written somewhere between B. C. 350 and B. C. 750.

[ocr errors]

Greek and Roman Tales.- Although the Greeks were masters in other forms of art and literature, their

« PoprzedniaDalej »