The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
VOLUME XVI. Early National Literature, Part II; Later National Literature, Part I.

VI. The Short Story

§ 29. Davis

From the multitude of the later short story writers Richard Harding Davis (1864–1916), whose literary life, from the appearance of Gallegher in 1891 to his death, coincided almost exactly with the modern period in American literature, may be chosen as the typical figure. Reared in a literary home,—his mother was the author of Life in the Iron Mills,—educated at Lehigh University, trained in a city newspaper office until he became one of the most successful special correspondents of his generation, he was admirably fitted to give to the reading public—enormous now because of the universality of the public school and the newspaper and the popular magazine—what it most wanted. He had what Jack London lacked utterly, literary traditions, poise, a certain patrician touch, and an innate love of the romantic. What he might have become in an earlier and more literary era it is not hard to conjecture; what he did become was the result of the spirit of the age, for he became a journalist, a recorder of the ephemeral moment for the ephemeral moment, a reporter with pen marvellously facile and ready, a literary craftsman who mastered every detail of his craft.

That Davis satisfied his generation goes without saying. A good newspaper man, he gave it what it desired, up-to-dateness, swift action, strangeness of setting presented with the authority of an eye-witness, and, moreover, a sprinkling of sentiment and mystery and romance. All of his work is brilliant, and there are parts that have the touch of distinction, but nowhere does it satisfy the supreme tests. He attempted too much, he skimmed over too much ground, he observed too much of the superficial and not enough of the real underlying heart of life. He was a facile sketcher of surfaces, a versatile entertainer, a craftsman rather than a critic of human life, an artist enamoured with his art rather than a creator who worked with the deeper materials of the human tragedy and comedy.