ROBERT GRANT leads the American satirists. Many writers, unnamed paragraphers and critics of high degree, have pursued him relentlessly ; but he will not surrender. Contrariwise, it is more likely that they will yet surrender to him. He has Napoleon’s way of turning upon pursuers.
The satirist is not always clearly underderstood. For some of this misunderstanding the satirist himself is to blame. Mr. Grant, for example, has never yet explained what he meant by saying in ” The Art of Living” that a satisfactory life demands an income of ten thousand a year. On the other hand, some of the misunderstanding is due to a lack of humor among his critics.
And at the bottom of the misunderstanding is the natural inconsistency which prompted Mr. Aldrich to write in “Marjorie Daw “” I have known. a woman to satirize a man for years, and marry him after all.”
An incident which took place not long ago illustrates Judge Grant’s sincerity. The statement had been made in a periodical now defunct that ” a sufficiency of money has made things pretty pleasant for our literary philosopher.” Although averse, unlike many professional writers, to taking advantage of opportunities for controversy, the Judge made this reply to the statement : It is true that for some years l have had a comfortable income ; but if I have been able to command the advantages of modern life at the rate of $10,000 a year, it is because I have earned the money by the sweat of my brow through literary and legal work, and not because my ‘ judicial seat’ is ‘ padded’ with inherited stocks and bonds. It may interest those who have convinced themselves that my philosophy is founded on a patrimony, to know that from the time I left the Law School in 1879 the yearly income which I have received from vested property has been so small as barely to pay for the life insurance which I carry, and that I have acquired the money which I spend or save by my own exertions. It is true that I was brought up in comfort and given every opportunity to follow my tastes, but this is all I owe to family income.”
The incident is worth recalling for the light which it throws on the novelist’s economical position. The man who is competent to make ten thousand a year is welcome to his enjoyment of it.
Robert Grant first earned some celebrity as a writer while at Harvard, which he entered after his graduation from the Boston Latin School in 1869, when he was seventeen years old. His literary career began with his contributions to the college papers, notably The Lampoon. That his literary skill was recognized at Harvard is proved by his election to the office of class poet at graduation, in 1873. That summer, while abroad, he seems to have determined upon following his first taste, to use his own expression ; for at the end of the summer he went back to Harvard for a three years’ course in English and foreign literature, upon the completion of which he received the degree of Doctor of Philosophy.
Why he decided to chose another profession has never been divulged, but, anyhow, at the end of the summer of 1876, he entered the Harvard Law School. Three years afterward he was graduated from it, and forthwith he became a member of the Bar and an active practitioner.
Mr. Grant left Harvard with a budding reputation. In company with Mr. F. J. Stimson (” J. S. of Dale “), Barrett Wendell (now professor of English at Harvard), F. G. Attwood, whose untimely death has bereft our literature of one of its happiest decorators, and Mr. John T. Wheelwright, now a lawyer in Boston, he had polished The Lampoon considerably. Perhaps his most popular work at this time was ” The Little Tin Gods on Wheels ; or, Society in our Modern Athens,” a burlesque after the Greek manner, which appeared in The Lampoon, with illustrations by Attwood. In fact, it was to be found in a book published by Sever, together with the young satirist’s other promising works, ” The Wall Flowers,” ” The Chaperons,” and ” Oxygen, a Mt. Desert Pastoral,” squibs dealing with the foibles of fashionable society.
Thus favorably introduced to the reading public, he lost no time in striking the iron while it was hot, and in 1880 gave out his first novel, ” The Confessions of a Frivolous Girl,” which, by reason of its remarkable exposition of the character of the leading lady, as she may be called, and its popular attractiveness, won immediate success at home and abroad. Three years later his second book, ” The Knave of Hearts,” the autobiography of a ruthless young man, was published ; and the same year appeared in The Century the articles which make up “An Average Man,” and a satire on Wall Street entitled ” The Lambs, a Tragedy.” In 1883, too, it may be mentioned, Mr. Grant read at the Phi Beta Kappa reunion at Harvard a poem called ” Yankee Doodle.” In 1885 ” A Romantic Young Lady,” another skit on fashionable life, made its appearance ; and that year he also served as the poet of the two hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the establishment of the Boston Latin School.
The following year, 1886, he finished what, up to that time, was by far his most serious work, ” Face to Face,” which was published anonymously. In it Anglomania and the labor problem are touched on boldly and brilliantly, and even to-clay the points of the book are fresh and spark-ling. Later came ” The Reflections of a Philosopher,” ” The Opinions of a Married Man,” ” Searchlight Letters,” The Art of Living,” and, last of all, ” Unleavened Bread.” ” He says,” once remarked a man, ” what you have thought and wanted to say yourself “; and a better compliment could hardly be paid his philosophy.
A writer who went to see Judge Grant some years ago said : ” He has cultivated to a rare degree the faculty which is of the utmost importance to every literary man, namely, that of concentration. The greater part of his writing is done during the intervals of business in the morning hours at his office. There, the casual visitor is almost certain to find him, seated at his desk, with his manuscript spread out before him. He will drop his pen, upon the instant, to consider some point of legal technique, with which imagination has nothing whatever to do, listen attentively, take notes or give advice, as though this were the sole object of his existence ; then, when the interruption ceases, he will turn back to his unwritten page, finishing that and another too, it may be, before the morning goes, if he is in the vein. This power of leaving off and beginning again quickly was not easily acquired. It is the result of long training in years of practical experience. But, like every true artist, Mr. Grant really carries his work with him wherever he goes. He is always recording and storing up impressions, taking mental notes, or working out details of construction, even when these matters seem to be the farthest from his thoughts ; and he is accustomed to say that the actual writing of a story troubles him very little since, with him, when writing begins, the most difficult part of the task is already accomplished. But, in spite of his fluent pen, he has learned to look at his work objectively, and he is extremely self-critical, having destroyed more than once a tale half told, from conviction that it failed to do him justice.”
In 1882 Mayor Green of Boston selected Mr. Grant as his private secretary, and in 1888 Mayor O’Brien of Boston appointed him a member of the board of water commissioners. This latter post he held until a few years ago, when he was appointed a Judge in the Probate Court of Suffolk County, sitting in Boston. There, almost every day, he may be seen by anyone visiting Boston, a medium-sized, delicate-looking man, with shrewd features, an eye sharp as a detective’s, a somewhat brisk manner, and a faint but pleasant voice, to which the most learned counsel lend eager ears.
His strength as a writer lies in an unsurpassed ability to detect and delineate shams, and this ability shines brilliantly in the character of Selma White, the heroine of ” Unleavened Bread.” The book is a protest against superficiality ; the character of Selma White is a monument of vanity. We have all met Selmas, rampant women there are men like them, of course who flatter themselves that they are born to grace every resting-place and brush aside difficulties that would have staggered Napoleon or Catherine de Medici. The author has contradicted the opinion that Selma is a shaft aimed at women’s clubs. “It is simply that modern women’s clubs are the best medium for that kind of women,” he says “that I depicted Selma as a prime mover in some of them. But she exists outside of women’s clubs probably more plentifully than in them.”
It has been said that Judge Grant is timid about forcing his way into public attention. The reply quoted from early in this article was an exception to an apparently firmly established rule. At the time when comment on his ten-thousand-a-year proposition was severest Judge Grant wrote to a friend for advice, and he was very easily persuaded to give no heed to his critics. At the same time, if what he had thought of saying would have blow 1 the fog away, it would have been better for him then to have settled the question decisively. But, he was content for the nonce to have his retiring disposition approved; and a philosopher of this type rather invites than forbids attack. But, after all, even his harshest critics praise his rare skill in the exposition of character, his remarkable fertility of wit, and his complete mastery of the technique of literature. Nor is it to be gainsaid that his career has illustrated the wisdom of his lines in “The Lambs ” :
Success is Labor’s prize Work is the mother of fame. And who on a boom shall rise To the height of an honest name ? The bee by industry reapeth The stores which enrich the hives. All that is thrifty creepeth, For toil is the law of lives, And he who reaps without sowing, A bitter harvest reaps ; The law of gradual growing Is the law that never sleeps.