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William Dean Howells

Certainly now in his old age Mr. Howells is selecting queer titles for his books. A while ago we had that feeble tale, “The Coast of Bohemia,” and now we have “My Literary Passions.” “Passions,” literary or otherwise, were never Mr. Howells’ forte and surely no man could be further from even the coast of Bohemia.

Apropos of “My Literary Passions” which has so long strung out in the Ladies’ Home Journal along with those thrilling articles about how Henry Ward Beecher tied his necktie and what kind of coffee Mrs. Hall Cain likes, why did Mr. Howells write it? Doesn’t Mr. Howells know that at one time or another every one raves over Don Quixote, imitates Heine, worships Tourgueneff and calls Tolstoi a prophet? Does Mr. Howells think that no one but he ever had youth and enthusiasm and aspirations? Doesn’t he know that the only thing that makes the world worth living in at all is that once, when we are young, we all have that great love for books and impersonal things, all reverence and dream? We have all known the time when Porthos, Athos and d’Artagan were vastly more real and important to us than the folks who lived next door. We have all dwelt in that country where Anna Karenina and the Levins were the only people who mattered much. We have all known that intoxicating period when we thought we “understood life,” because we had read Daudet, Zola and Guy de Maupassant, and like Mr. Howells we all looked back rather fondly upon the time when we believed that books were the truth and art was all. After a while books grow matter of fact like everything else and we always think enviously of the days when they were new and wonderful and strange. That’s a part of existence. We lose our first keen relish for literature just as we lose it for ice-cream and confectionery. The taste grows older, wiser and more subdued. We would all wear out of very enthusiasm if it did not. But why should Mr. Howells tell the world this common experience in detail as though it were his and his alone. He might as well write a detailed account of how he had the measles and the whooping cough. It was all right and proper for Mr. Howells to like Heine and Hugo, but, in the words of the circus clown, “We’ve all been there.”

Nebraska State Journal, July 14, 1895



Willa Cather