The Luck of Roaring Camp and Other Stories HTML version

The life of Bret Harte divides itself, without adventitious forcing, into four quite distinct
parts. First, we have the precocious boyhood, with its eager response to the intellectual
stimulation of cultured parents; young Bret Harte assimilated Greek with amazing
facility; devoured voraciously the works of Shakespeare, Dickens, Irving, Froissart,
Cervantes, Fielding; and, with creditable success, attempted various forms of
composition. Then, compelled by economic necessity, he left school at thirteen, and for
three years worked first in a lawyer's office, and then in a merchant's counting house.
The second period, that of his migration to California, includes all that is permanently
valuable of Harte's literary output. Arriving in California in 1854, he was, successively, a
school- teacher, drug-store clerk, express messenger, typesetter, and itinerant journalist.
He worked for a while on the NORTHERN CALIFORNIA (from which he was
dismissed for objecting editorially to the contemporary California sport of murdering
Indians), then on the GOLDEN ERA, 1857, where he achieved his first moderate
acclaim. In this latter year he married Anne Griswold of New York. In 1864 he was given
the secretaryship of the California mint, a virtual sinecure, and he was enabled do a great
deal of writing. The first volume of his poems, THE LOST GALLEON AND OTHER
TALES, CONDENSED NOVELS (much underrated parodies), and THE BOHEMIAN
PAPERS were published in 1867. One year later, THE OVERLAND MONTHLY, which
had aspirations of becoming "the ATLANTIC MONTHLY of the West," was established,
and Harte was appointed its first editor. For it, he wrote most of what still remains valid
PLAIN LANGUAGE FROM TRUTHFUL JAMES, among others. The combination of
Irvingesque romantic glamor and Dickensian bitter-sweet humor, applied to picturesquely
novel material, with the addition of a trick ending, was fantastically popular. Editors
began to clamor for his stories; the University of California appointed him Professor of
recent literature; and the ATLANTIC MONTHLY offered him the practically
unprecedented sum of $10,000 for exclusive rights to one year's literary output. Harte's
star was, briefly, in the ascendant.
However, Harte had accumulated a number of debts, and his editorial policies, excellent
in themselves, but undiplomatically executed, were the cause of a series of arguments
with the publisher of the OVERLAND MONTHLY. Fairly assured of profitable pickings
in the East, he left California (permanently, as it proved). The East, however, was
financially unappreciative. Harte wrote an unsuccessful novel and collaborated with
Mark Twain on an unremunerative play. His attempts to increase his income by lecturing
were even less rewarding. From his departure from California in 1872 to his death thirty
years later, Harte's struggles to regain financial stability were unremitting: and to these
efforts is due the relinquishment of his early ideal of "a peculiarly characteristic Western
American literature." Henceforth Harte accepted, as Prof. Hicks remarks, "the role of
entertainer, and as an entertainer he survived for thirty years his death as an artist."