The Outlook for American Prose


This book I call The Outlook for American Prose not because I pretend to be a weather prophet, and that I can tell anybody just what to expect in the coming season. It is simply that, in my eagerness to find some development in our prose-writing comparable to what has taken place in our poetry, I have for some time been watching the heavens and considering in myself the meaning of this or that phenomenon. Many of these essays are simply the complaint of a reader impatient of unlovely writing. Others are an expression of satisfaction with writing which is good. I am afraid I shall be thought to use the microscope more than the telescope; and the reader is left to determine for himself just what may be the present outlook for the art in America. My chief anxiety in contemplating these essays in the aggregate is lest my persistent nagging of certain eminent writers may give the impression of an ill-humor which I am far from feeling.

If I were as clever as Mr. Heywood Broun, I should follow the example he sets in one of his most entertaining collections of newspaper essays, and write a preface in the form of a review of the book I was offering the public, calling attention to as many as possible of the weak points of the book, and so disarming criticism on these points as far as possible. I should find fault with the author for coming back so often to the same writers; for being so uncertain, or so vacillating, in his opinion upon a given writer; for not knowing just what he thinks, in the end, of the outlook for American prose. And then I should point out the weakness he shows in not allying himself with any particular school of writers, not pinning his faith to any particular type of prose--old-fashioned or new-fashioned. And, finally, I should find fault with him for not being upto-date, for leaving out of account, in considering several of these writers, their latest published works. Having duly scolded the author for these obvious shortcomings, I should proceed to insinuate an apology for him on each of the counts named.

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