Literary Notes

by Laurence Hutton

From Harper's New Monthly Magazine Volume 84 Issue 504 (May 1892)

The careful American reader of the leading British periodicals, particularly of those devoted to literary criticism, will find, from week to week, much in their columns to amuse and instruct him. A writer in the London “Spectator,” who has lately been devoting considerable space to the considerations, and to the praise, of the Yankee stories of Miss Wilkins, is constrained to complain bitterly of their dialect. “The characters, one and all,” he says, “speak a particularly uncouth and ungainly kind of English, which provokes one to believe that provincial American is the most barbarous language in the world. The perverted meaning of familiar words seem so gratuitous, the vocabulary is so narrow and poverty-stricken, and the few new words that are imported into it are so grotesque, that one cannot help an involuntary shudder at the talk, even when it most enchains one's sympathy and interest. If the dialect were only picturesque,” he continues, “one might forgive it; but it is uniformly ugly and unlovely.” This is really too bad of the poverty-stricken, barbarous conversationalists of New Hampshire and Massachusetts, whose humble romances, owing to some strange oversight of the British publishers, have never been translated into the provincialism of British speech. It will be consoling, however, to Miss Wilkins to hear that the “Spectator” is good enough to say that it is through no fault of her own that the accidental qualities of her material are wanting in beauty; on the contrary, he is willing to confess that it is a sign of absolute genius on her part that she has been able to triumph so far over such unpromising matter, and to have written at once so beautifully and so faithfully.