Page images
[blocks in formation]

Professor of German Language and Literature in the University of Kansas



Copyrighted by
CRANE & COMPANY, Topeka, Kansas


As A PRELIMINARY to studying the flora or the fauna of Kansas, the naturalist simply takes note of every plant or beast that he may meet within the imaginary lines that bound the State. However transient and fortuitous its visit,-gull driven up from the Gulf, or magpie wandered from the Rocky Mountains, every bird verified as seen in Kansas appears in the list of Kansas birds. Of course, this is not with any thought that the creatures thus catalogued are necessarily peculiar to Kansas, or that Kansas has any especial claim to them for there is probably not one plant or animal which is found in Kansas and nowhere else, -but simply a result of the inevitable limitation of human powers, and in recognition of the tacit understanding that the combined results of local observers will lead in the end to a complete knowledge of the field which is too great for any

individual or group of individuals to compass. The phenomena of literature, being less tangible and concrete, present a more difficult problem. It would, indeed, seem to be a simple matter, to say that Kansas literature is literature produced in Kansas. But it is not so easy to define a Kansan. Politically, a six-months residence gives claim to the title, but who will not hesitate to regard as a Kansas product the book of a life-long Missourian whose business interests might have led him to spend a year just over the Kansas line, even though he exercised his right of franchise while here? The books of such a person pro

(5) och

duced before or after his temporary residence in Kansas are certainly out of the question. Somewhat different is the case of the work of a genuine Kansan, who has earned the title by years of residence and service identifying him with the State, but which was produced before he came to Kansas. Are such books Kansas literature ? Again, the books of such a one, or even of a native Kansan grown to maturity in the State, but produced after removal to another State,-how about these? Finally, perhaps the most plausible among the doubtful cases is that of the native Kansan who has been identified with the State, has achieved a reputation while in Kansas and derived all his materials and his atmosphere from Kansas, and who removes to another State from mere grounds of business convenience. Shall we include his product after such removal in our study of Kansas literature ? Probably few would answer this question in the negative. Yet, when once such a concession is made, nothing but an arbitrary fiat can stop short of including everything produced at any time by anyone who ever lived for ever so short a time in the State.

It should be observed that the lines guiding the formation of a “Kansas library,” which would naturally include everything about Kansas or in any way connected with a Kansan, are much broader than those defining Kansas literature, even when the latter expression is liberally construed. There is certainly ground for the contention that Kansas literature should be restricted not only to the literary output of genuine Kansans, but to so much of this output alone as is built upon and inspired by Kansas life. But this is not the basis of the present

essay and the accompanying collection. Such a factor would be one more highly intangible element in the prob·lem, and if strictly construed would exclude from consideration some of the very best work done by Kansas writers.

A secondary product, the outcome of years of life, conceived in one place, matured and written in another, and published, perhaps, in still another, cannot be classified and treated as summarily as the first-hand products of Nature, where the primary matter is to establish merely the habitat of the creature.

Some further difficulties are involved in the definition of literature. The drag-net would bring in every product of the human mind preserved in writing. The necessary but arbitrary limitation of our field to books and pamphlets excludes the enormous output of the periodical press, daily, weekly and monthly, which, despite the unfavorable conditions under which it is produced, includes no small amount of what deserves, by all the criteria of quality, the name of literature. But not by any means everything in book form is literature in the common and narrow sense of the word.

Literature may be said to apply justly to every mental output into which enters the conscious employment of the imagination, or, even lacking this, which has, or manifests an evident ambition toward, artistic style. Thus all verse, all fiction, and the drama, are prima facie literature. Essays, histories, orations and sermons must prove their title to the name by excellence of artistic finish in form or style, or at least by an aspiration in this direction.

In thus drawing somewhat vague lines about the field of literature, the narrow limits of the treatise, as in the

« PreviousContinue »