PAULINE BRADFORD MACKIE has distinguished herself as a writer of historical fiction, and for this her work is worthy of close consideration.
Upon the question of the merit and demerits of the historical novel has been spilled a vast amount of good ink. It has been a bitter and long-drawn quarrel and much argument has been used to further the pet opinions of partisans of either side. Yet, when everything is taken into consideration the weight of argument seems to be in the affirmative ; for, as an educational factor, is not the historical novel of real value? The hurry and rush in t a life of the everyday American is, for to se most part, an expenditure of energy towards the accumulation of riches. The present-day Yankee is more essentially a trader than were his ancient Dutch progenitors, and although the education of the average citizen is high, it has usually been in some specific channel, and to the neglect of that knowledge which has been considered of a superficial character. History is a branch of learning in which the average business mind has not been especially well-grounded in the course of its preliminary training, and that is the reason why the historical novel fills a needed gap in the lives of a busy people.
Dealing honestly with ourselves, we are obliged to acknowledge that there are many and wide breaches in our knowledge of history, and even in the knowledge of the history of our own country. Perhaps the most trivial historical romance that we meet with, may fill a gap that we are ashamed to acknowledge. It ay even stimulate our interest to such :n extent that we are desirous of getting the facts first-hand, and search the library shelves for the volume of reference that bea is directly upon our subject, and in this way accumulate a number of facts that are certainly of cultivating and broadening influence. The novels of Miss Johnston have do e much to foster a concern in the annals of early Colonial Virginia; and two works, the “Life of John Paul Jones” and that of Charles James Fox, were di ectly dependent upon the popularity of Richard Carvel.” Is it possible to point o a novel of the realistic school which set people to profitable employment of their intellects, and to the discussion of events which have helped to make world history?
The work of Pauline Bradfo d Mackie does not exhibit the early influences of her literary career as do the creations of some other authors who have passed through a similar period of apprenticeship. For two years after graduation from the Toledo High School, she was engaged in writing for the Toledo Blade, but perhaps with not sufficient seriousness, for, at the time, she was anxious to become an artist, and was almost as busy with the brush and pencil as with the pen.
This career, however, she soon abandoned for that of literature, and although her early contributions to magazines (be-sides the work upon the paper) were very numerous, she frankly admits that they were so seldom accepted that she has lost all track of them.
Although born in Connecticut, at Fairfield, in 1873, her life has been spent in Ohio. Her father, the Rev. Andrew Mackie, an Episcopal clergyman and graduate of Brown University, was a scholar of repute, and from him she inheri . her love for writing and for good literature.
Perhaps no embryo writer of romance, who eventually has made a rep t tation of worth, had more trying experie ces than fell to her when first she essaye the task of authorship. The old Peterson Magazine published two of her early ven ures, but never paid for them, and the firs story for which she was ever paid appeared. in Worthington’s Magazine, which issued only one number subsequent to that in, which her article was published. Her first ong story, ” Mademoiselle de Berny,” had a conflicting career with the second, ” Ye Lyttle Salem Maide,” which possesses distinctly humorous side. The first had been refused by a Philadelphia house, but, as they wished a girl’s story of considerable length, ” Ye Lyttle Salem Maide ” was written and sent to them. Again they were dissatisfied, and sent it back with the statement that it was of but forty thousand words in length, and they wished it to be extended to sixty. So it was conscientiously rewritten, and, when the task was completed, word was despatched the critical publishers. Again they were dissatisfied, this time with some point of trivial importance, so the manuscript was promptly forwarded to a New York house, which accepted it under the proviso that it be cut down to thirty thousand words, or ten thousand below the original number. Its patient author once more rewrote the tale from the very beginning, and sent it back. Meanwhile ” Mademoiselle de Berny,” the first manuscript, had been accepted by the head of a Boston firm, and had appeared upon the book-stands. To its publisher was depatched word of the acceptance of the second manuscript, and a telegram from him the day following was to the effect that, as the publisher who had risked a venture upon the first book, it was certainly right that he should have the second. The book was accordingly withdrawn from the New York firm, as no contract had yet been signed, and was immediately mailed the second house; but again arose a complicat on. The head of the firm, who had made all negotiations, seriously objected to the character of Cotton Mather, and likewise wished fifteen thousand words added to he book. So the greater part of the entire manuscript was for the third time rewritten , and in this form it appeared in print. ‘ Since its publication,” she tells us, “I have i ever had the courage to read it through.”
In spite of the trials and trib lations of “Ye Lyttle Salem Maide” before her final bow to society, the criticisms of the press were most favorable to her general appearance, and there was an unusual number of people who made her acquaintance, and did so with pleasurable interest. The scenes of the various fortunes which were her lot took place within the ancient town of Salem, at a time when the narrow-minded and bigoted inhabitants were in the height of the semi-religious frenzy over the crime of witchcraft. The fact that Miss Mackie’s grandmother was Mehitable Bradford, a direct descendant of the governor of Massachusetts, is what first turned her fancy to the events she here described, and following the advice of Louisa M. Alcott, who was of the opinion that, to write a book of interest, one must “plunge into the heart of a story and open it with a conversation, allowing the actors to unfold the plot and themselves dramatically,” she had produced a story that had unquestioned merit. ” Mademoiselle de Berny,” a romance of Valley Forge and of George Washington, as has been shown, had outdistanced ” Ye L ‘ the Salem Maide” in a somewhat compli ated race for publication.
Perhaps, as an eminent revie er has remarked, this taste for the historic.1 novel has been greatly stimulated by the war with Spain, for although we, as a natio , have al-ways been patriotic, there has been n nothing actively exciting to our patriotism for a whole generation. The battles in Cuba stirred up an endless amount of enenthusiasm, and the pleasant consciousness that we were a world power and a great ans powerful nation that came to us after the battle of Manila Bay, was something a is ost new, and something that it took some time to realize. For twenty years or more the patriotic societies had been trying to make us fathers, mothers, sons,dughters, nephews, nieces and cousins of Colonial and Revolutionary heroes, but with ill success. Now everyone was sure that his ancestors had been sterling heroes with musket and sword, and it was but natural that all should be interested in the times of those who had made the beginnings of the country’s greatness. This is a perfectly reasonable argument, but the fact that the realistic school had flooded the great literary sea with a mass of miserable material which people were expected to read and enjoy, yet could not, on account of its absolute worthlessness, is perhaps an-other reason. The same critic spoken of above has put the matter very tersely. He says:
” We found the workmanship (of the realistic novel) on a par with the hurried stuff that the reporters for the daily newspapers turn out at breakneck speed while the presses and the newsboys wait. We do not read the novels to be instructed. We are not hungry for sociological facts and conclusions when we take up a book for an evening’s entertainment . No, we want to be entertained by bei g removed out of ourselves. But I would rather be myself and bear with my own infirmities and perplexities than to spe d a whole evening with a lot of very dull people in my neighbor’s kitchen. Now, our realist of the second or third class takes you into a kitchen through the area door, and he does his very best to make yo feel that you are one of that circle of domestics. I have no objection to kitchens a d none to domestics. Both, in our present scheme of economy, are necessary. But if I go to a kitchen or am taken there, I want it to be worth while.”
One descriptive paragraph is worthy of quotation for the delicate, almost Stevensonian, treatment of the landscape :
“‘It is smoke from old Maushape’s pipe,’ said the Indian, as the hazy air grew bluer, filling the gaps with purple. Morning after morning the sun came up and the delicate hoar-frost vanished like a breath. Each moment of the magic days seemed deliciously prolonged. The tangled branches of the blackberry and the sumac’s velvet plumes flamed along the byways and the outskirts of the forest.”