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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.
The Library of the World’s Best Literature. An Anthology in Thirty Volumes. 1917.

Critical and Biographical Introduction

By James Lane Allen (1849–1925)

THE LITERARY work of James Lane Allen was begun with maturer powers and wider culture than most writers exhibit in their first publications. His mastery of English was acquired with difficulty, and his knowledge of Latin he obtained through years of instruction as well as of study. The wholesome open-air atmosphere which pervades his stories, their pastoral character and love of nature, come from the tastes bequeathed to him by three generations of paternal ancestors, easy-going gentlemen farmers of the blue-grass region of Kentucky. On a farm near Lexington, in this beautiful country of stately homes, fine herds, and great flocks, the author was born, and there he spent his childhood and youth.

About 1885 he came to New York to devote himself to literature; for though he had contributed poems, essays, and criticisms to leading periodicals, his first important work was a series of articles descriptive of the “Blue-Grass Region,” published in Harper’s Magazine. The field was new, the work was fresh, and the author’s ability was at once recognized. Inevitably he chose Kentucky for the scene of his stories, knowing and loving, as he did, her characteristics and her history. While preparing his articles on ‘The Blue-Grass Region,’ he had studied the Trappist Monastery and the Convent of Loretto, as well as the records of the Catholic Church in Kentucky; and his first stories, ‘The White Cowl’ and ‘Sister Dolorosa,’ which appeared in the Century Magazine, were the first fruits of this labor. A controversy arose as to the fairness of these portraitures; but however opinions may differ as to his characterization, there can be no question of the truthfulness of the exposition of the mediæval spirit of those retreats.

This tendency to use a historic background marks most of Mr. Allen’s stories. In ‘The Choir Invisible,’ a tale of the eighteenth century, pioneer Kentucky once more exists. The old clergyman of ‘Flute and Violin’ lived and died in Lexington, and had been long forgotten when his story “touched the vanishing halo of a hard and saintly life.” The old negro preacher, with texts embroidered on his coat-tails, was another figure of reality, unnoticed until he became one of the ‘Two Gentlemen of Kentucky.’ In Lexington lived and died “King Solomon,” who had almost faded from memory when his historian found the record of the poor vagabond’s heroism during the plague, and made it memorable in a story that touches the heart and fills the eyes. ‘A Kentucky Cardinal,’ with ‘Aftermath,’ its second part, is full of history and of historic personages. ‘Summer in Arcady: A Tale of Nature,’ the latest of Mr. Allen’s stories, is no less based on local history and no less full of local color than his other tales, notwithstanding its general unlikeness.

This book sounds a deeper note which grows louder in the later tales. If the realism still has a poetic aspect, the poetry is less pastoral and the realities of city and of sex appear less veiled. The transference from local to more general themes is marked in ‘The Reign of Law’ and ‘The Mettle of the Pasture,’ volumes which provoked wide discussion, as well as in what may be called a new series of novels that began with ‘The Bride of the Mistletoe’ (1909).