THERE was once a young French man who was studying the painter’s art. Similar to the usual student of small stature and equally small means, he had an enormous ambition. He worked with a will, and yet in every sketch of casts, of moving figures, or of still life, his restless fingers always ran instinctively to the military. The signing of his name to a poster or oil would always be accompanied by some small token of a soldier’s life, a bugle, a bayonet, a cuirassier’s helmet, or what not. One day his instructor accosted him thus : ” Well, , you have been a good student and a hard worker, but you should be a general. Go and join the army ! ” He followed this advice, but the overwhelming sense of the artistic in his nature drew him back again to the pencil and the paint brush. When he died the greatest delineator of European military life had been lost to the world.
This incident bears directly upon the life and art of Marshall Saunders, for hers is a mind that has its own particular sphere of creative ability, and in this sphere it has remained and has won success. The same invisible something that drew the French-man’s fingers to the soldier, has drawn the imagination of Miss Saunders to the delineation of the lives and characteristics of simple natures. Differing also from a prominent American authoress who gave promise of masterful work in this same sphere by one great story on the American child, but disappointed those who expected wonderful things by spending the time subsequent to its production in the creation of romances of a degenerate English aristocracy ; Miss Saunders has followed the success of her first great juvenile with other successes of equal merit. The Adventures of ‘Tilda Jane ” in 1901 is a chronicle which bids fair to be as widely read as the story of ” Beautiful Joe,” which appeared in 1894, and has sold four hundred thousand strong. Worth alone could stimulate such a reading.
This worth is of a character which is similar to the motto of most successful business men, ” in the long run, honesty is the best policy.” The value of her writing is the value that the stories of Louisa May Alcott possess, that of purity, honesty, and simplicity, characteristics which are alone able to sustain the respect and admiration of the Anglo-Saxon, no matter in what direction they are employed.
She was born at her grandfather’s house in Milton, Queen’s County, Nova Scotia, on April 13, 1861, and is the daughter of a clergyman. In early life he conducted her education, and as he was a great Latin scholar, gave her a thorough drilling in that language, a foundation which is undeniably accountable for the purity and vigor of her style. At the age of six, an occurrence took place that was a memorable one for a child of her years. The family left their beautiful country home and moved to Halifax, Nova Scotia, and of her first impressions of the city she has said : ” I shall never forget the feeling of depression, as I gathered my brothers and sisters around me (I am the eldest of the family) and, sitting on our front door-step, surveyed the rows of houses opposite. What a change in our lives ! We country plants had been transferred to the arid soil of a city. We turned our backs on the confusion of unpacking, and wandered up and down the street. I remember being particularly struck with a row of seven houses all alike. Such a thing had been unknown in my previous experience.”
With the adaptability of childhood, how-ever, she soon became accustomed to city life, although her love for the country has ever been the stronger. She was educated in public and private schools until fifteen, when at a Presbyterian boarding school in Scotland she learned how to stifle the agonies of homesickness. After a year in Edinburgh she was sent to France, where she was thrown almost entirely with French people, and a year or two later returned to Nova Scotia ” brimful of fun, having passed through many interesting experiences, and with nothing now to do.” For some time she taught school, and then began her literary work and quite by chance. In her own words, she tells us that upon one occasion, her father asked her to reply to a letter that he had recently received from Dr. Rand, a professor in a Canadian college. ” The subject matter of the correspondence was of a public character and had its humorous side. In re-plying to the letter of the professor, who had been from early childhood an intimate friend of the family, I indulged in some banter which impressed him. In his re-ply to my father he said : ‘ Judging from Marshall’s letter, her calling is assured. Why does she not begin at once to write ?’ The idea struck me as an exceedingly amusing one, and not until the intimate friend had referred to it again, did I con-consider it. Then I asked him, ‘ What shall I write about ?’
“‘ Write of the beauty of our winter scenery,’ he responded, ‘ of the stillness of the woods, the rabbits’ track in the snow.’
” I was grateful to him for the suggestion but did not seem able to act upon it. How-ever, I turned the matter over in my mind, and shortly afterwards when both my parents were away in the country, took pen and paper and sat down to write. I was then twenty-three years old, and the sensational appealed to me more strongly than anything else. I could make nothing of the rabbit, so discarded him for a burglar. In three weeks I had concocted a story of a man, his wife, and a robbery. Now what to do with it ? I went to town with my sister Rida, my first confidante in literary affairs, and bought an armful of magazines and papers.” Her sister was as ignorant as she was, but between them they decided on the Leslie publications. They, if any, would be able to appreciate her venture, so the story was mailed and the result was anxiously awaited.
One day her parents came home and she went to them with a letter. Mrs. Frank Leslie had sent her forty dollars for her story, and she would be pleased to get another one.”
“My sister and I made a rapid and jubilant calculation,” she tells us; “forty dollars for every three weeks in the year what a comfortable amount of pin money ! Alas ! the next story was promptly rejected. However, my parents came to my rescue. ‘ You can write and you like to write,’ my father said ; ‘ take all the time you wish, and remember that uninterrupted success does not come to anyone setting out on any career.’ There-fore I wrote on. I needed practice, and occasionally I sent a story to some paper or magazine. Some were accepted, more rejected, and there is one dismal entry in my note-book : ‘ Two stories stolen by a literary bureau.’ ”
With excellent judgment she now spent several years in foreign travel, and returning to Nova Scotia began writing more vigorously than ever. She became correspondent for a Canadian newspaper, but it was not until 1887 that she had the gratification of seeing one of her own productions in book form. It was called ” My Spanish Sailor,” and was brought out by a London firm. Its reception by the English press was a warm one, but did not in-sure a large sale either in England or Canada. Nothing daunted, she still applied herself diligently to literary work and in 1892, after returning from a year’s visit in northern Canada, saw the advertisement of the American Humane Educational Society for a story about animals, and became immediately possessed with the de-sire of competing for it, for she is passionately fond of dumb creatures and had never attempted a story about them. The preparation of ” Beautiful Joe ” took six months, and the story was largely of her own life. It gained the coveted prize, which was two hundred dollars, but the alternative was offered the author of retaining the manuscript and forfeiting the prize. This she preferred, and for six months ” Beautiful Joe ” went begging among the publishers. Finally it fell into the hands of a firm in Philadelphia, one of whose members recognized its merit and accepted the responsibility of bringing it out. In a few years it had sold over two hundred thousand copies and had been translated into Swedish, German, and Japanese. Since the publication of ” Our Dogs ” by John Brown, and the touching story of ” Rab and his Friends” by the same author, no better or more sympathetic narrative of animal life has yet appeared.
” Daisy,” a short temperance story, writ-ten for an English charity, was published during the following year, and ” Charles and His Lamb ” in 1896. This was like-wise a children’s story, and although it did not share the great popularity of “Beautiful Joe,” a letter written by an Italian princess to the author, will show how far from home it penetrated and was appreciated. Writing from Naples, she touchingly remarked : I never read any-thing sweeter in my life than the story of that darling child and his lamb. May the dear Father who made them both, bless them both, and her, too, who has written so lovingly of them.” ” Such epistles as these are more to be desired than the most flattering criticism of the keen reviewer, who has become so satiated with manuscript, and excellent manuscript at that, that only the most artistic work could unloosen a word of ardent praise,” an eminent critic has said : ” it is similar to the word of admiration the minister receives from the poor parishioner, who, from the very last seat in the fashionably crowded church, has listened with appreciation to his words of hope and comfort. His simple commendation gives more genuine and lasting satisfaction than the well-phrased and laudatory paragraph in the ecclesiastical review.”
” For the Other Boy’s Sake ” came out in 1897, and ” The House of Armour,” ” The King of the Park,” and ” Rose Charlitte ” in 1898. Of them, the latter, a tale of the country of Longfellow’s “Evangeline,” was destined to meet with a most favorable reception. Many of the Acadians, it is known, after enduring unutterable hardships in exile, found their way back to the land of their birth and there resettled the abandoned country and made new homes. In the western part of Nova Scotia there is one continuous village, thirty-five miles in length, which winds about the sinuous curve of St. Mary’s Bay. It is here that the Acadians live separately from the English to the present day, and still pre-serve their language, traditions, customs, and unique manner of life. Here Miss Saunders spent the summer of 1897, and Rose a Charlitte ” was the resultant.
In 1899 appeared “Deficient Saints,” a story of Maine, in which the characters were of the same wholesome purity that has typified the productions of her imagination. They were descendants of an old French family, whose home for many years had been in Maine, and the plot dealt in the reunion of the many branches of the original house, and the obstructive workings of the French and Puritan emotions in each individual. It was soon followed by Her Sailor” (which was her first novel rewritten), “For His Country,” a patriotic story for children, and “‘Tilda Jane,” which first appeared in the Youth’s Companion, and was from the beginning a tremendous success. “”‘Tilda Jane ” is a small orphan who seeks industriously for a home, and the experiences through which she passes in the endeavor to reach the coveted object possess a pathetic humor that is of peculiar charm. Miss Saunders is exceedingly fond of local stories, and to collect material for this narrative, travelled through Maine with note-book in hand. The orphan arouses interest because she appeals to that longing in every human breast the longing for a happy home. ‘Tilda wanted a fire and a rocking-chair and someone to smooth her head and call her ‘ my own dear child.’ ”
Mr. Angell, president of the American Humane Society, has said it is not enough to educate the intellect, but that one must also educate the heart. That the schools and colleges are multiplying, but that crime is on the increase. That if one but teaches the little child his duty to the lower creation, statistics prove that he will be more mindful of duty to the higher. This idea Miss Saunders has assimilated, and consequently her pet hobby is that of humane education.
Her apprenticeship has indeed been a long and varied one. Articles from her pen, and of varying lengths, have appeared in nearly every important magazine in this country and in Canada, and, as she says of “‘Tilda Jane,” I am learning all the time, and have profited by former mistakes in its composition.” It is only rarely that a real character is put into a story. The heroine of ” Beautiful Joe,” was her own beloved sister, who died at the age of seventeen, and her character was faithfully drawn ; but usually she prefers to use suggestions a little from here, there, and from everywhere.
The fact that as a child she enjoyed boy’s books because they possessed more life and energy than stories for girls, in some measure accounts for the vitality that she has shown in most of her productions. Throughout her life she has been an omnivorous reader, making literary pilgrimages in the city, to the shrines of ancient and modern historians, and, when all else failed, taking to a cyclopedia of anecdotes of literature and fine arts. In the country, some of her dearest spots were the old garrets. ” From their hiding places under the eaves, I would draw out old books and back numbers of magazines. Reading has been one of the greatest pleasures of my life.”
Representing, as she does, the best and purest moral force in literature, and in a century when there seems to be danger of a literary degradation through popular clamor for books of a realistic and questionable type, it is just to hope for what one of Dickens’ characters so much de-sired : “a plenty, an’ as hot off’n the stove as it will come.” Though we cannot put in a plea of a similar nature, for literary preparation, as all who try well know, must be undertaken first with pains, and again with time, in order to excel; we can at least make the additional remark, that the world will be all the better for more “Beautiful Joes ” and “‘Tilda Janes.”