THE LITERARY SCENE
THE elements in the American literary scene of the Nineties are as varied as the tags critics have tied to the decade: "the twilight interval," "the mauve decade," "the yellow Nineties," "the romantic Nineties," "Howells' age," "the critical period," and, more recently, "the confident years." Too many readers have approached the scene blinded by a thesis sentence: the critic of the sociological novel can find writers who were mindful of deterministic forces; the student of symbolism will find enough evidence to convince him that the French were shaping American poetry by 1895; and the traditionalist will find his conflict between romanticism and realism. The reader who would know this literary scene must deal with all kinds of forces and trends and currents, varying with the section of the country and, again, unrestricted by regional boundaries. American literature of the Nineties is, in one sense, as national as Whitman desired; again there are indications that American artists were almost as receptive to the literary fashions of France, Germany, Italy, and Russia as they had been earlier in the century to England's.
Confronting a paradoxical blending of conventionality and vitality, sterility and energy, most critics of the poetry of the Nineties have been content with a chapter's hurried survey of individuals. The cloak of the genteel seemed to enfold these poets; yet there were choices for men who refused to be covered. Browning Clubs and Tennyson Societies were meeting in 1890 when Stuart Merrill's Pastels in Prose introduced passages of Villiers, Huysmans, Baudelaire, and Mallarméi. The magazine critics were defending the achievement of Clinton Scollard and Will Carleton when Harper's printed Arthur Symons' review of the decadent movement. This literary scene had a place for the neoplatonism of the Harvard poets and the jingoism of the newspaper versifiers; a place for the handsome editions of Thomas Bird Mosher's Portland press and the dime pam