Stephen Crane: A "Wonderful Boy"

by Edwin Watts Chubb

In 1900, Stephen Crane, while yet barely thirty, died. His early passing away was widely regarded as a loss to American literature. In England he was especially admired as a vigorous writer. His The Red Badge of Courage won him wide recognition as a keen analyst. Old soldiers who read the story could not believe that it was written by a boy who was born after the war had ended. By many critics his stories of boyhood are considered the writings that shall be longest remembered. Shortly before his death Mr. Crane wrote the following letter to the editor of a Rochester daily:

"My father was a Methodist minister, author of numerous works of theology, and an editor of various periodicals of the church. He was a graduate of Princeton, and he was a great, fine, simple mind. As for myself, I went to Lafayette College, but did not graduate. I found mining-engineering not at all to my taste. I preferred base-ball. Later I attended Syracuse University, where I attempted to study literature, but found base-ball again much more to my taste. My first work in fiction was for the New York Tribune, when I was eighteen years old. During this time, one story of the series went into the Cosmopolitan. At the age of twenty I wrote my first novel—Maggie. It never really got on the market, but it made for me the friendship of William Dean Howells and Hamlin Garland, and since that time I have never been conscious for an instant that those friendships have at all diminished. After completing Maggie, I wrote mainly for the New York Press and for The Arena. In the latter part of my twenty-first year I began The Red Badge of Courage, and completed it early in my twenty-second year. The year following I wrote the poems contained in the volume known as The Black Riders. On the first day of last November I was precisely twenty-nine years old and had finished my fifth novel, Active Service. I have only one pride, and that is that the English edition of The Red Badge of Courage has been received with great praise by the English reviewers. I am proud of this simply because the remoter people would seem more just and harder to win."

In another letter to the same editor he writes about his literary sincerity:

"The one thing that deeply pleases me is the fact that men of sense invariably believe me to be sincere. I know that my work does not amount to a string of dried beans—I always calmly admit it—but I also know that I do the best that is in me without regard to praise or blame. When I was the mark for every humorist in the country, I went ahead; and now when I am the mark for only fifty per cent of the humorists of the country, I go ahead; for I understand that a man is born into the world with his own pair of eyes, and he is not at all responsible for his vision—he is merely responsible for his quality of personal honesty. To keep close to this personal honesty is my supreme ambition."