The Later Historians
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( Originally Published Early 1900's )
Bret Harte was born at Albany, New York, in 1839. After receiving an ordinary education he went to California in 1854. There he taught school, worked in the mines and in a printing office, and wrote for the press. In 1867 he published "Condensed Novels," clever parodies of the leading English and American novelists. From 1864 to 187o he was secretary of the Mint at San Fran-cisco, and during this time wrote his poems, "John Burns of Gettysburg," "The Pliocene Skull," and "The Society upon the Stanislaus." In 1868 the "Overland Monthly" was started with Harte as editor, and in it appeared his tales of frontier mining life. "The Luck of Roaring Camp" was instantly hailed as the evidence of a new genius. It was soon followed by "Miggles," "Tennessee's Partner," "The Outcasts of Poker Flat." In 1871 Harte removed to New York, and became a contributor to the "Atlantic Monthly." In 1878 he was appointed United States Consul at Crefeld, Germany, and in 188o was transferred to Glasgow. His time, however, was chiefly spent in London, where he became a social favorite. He still lives in England, and writes stories usually of California life.
The first success of Harte's poems and stories was due to their vivid revelation of strong characters living amid strange surroundings which brought out in bold relief their good and evil qualities. The stories showed dramatic power, keen insight and glowing humor. Within a small compass these men and women were swiftly and clearly portrayed so as to be easily understood and recognized. And yet, however real the characters and incidents appear, there is an artistic idealism thrown over the whole which stamps it the work of genius. Harte did not succeed so well in his novel "Gabriel Conroy," which relates to early California civilization. Though it has fine descriptions and humorous scenes, it is a succession of episodes, not wrought into an organic whole. Harte's best poems are dramatic monologues in dialect. The one most widely known as "The Heathen Chinee," but properly called "Plain Language from Truthful James," is an historical landmark.