About the Author
Frank Richard Stockton, one of America's foremost story-tellers and humorists, was born in Philadelphia in 1834. His father was a Presbyterian minister who devoutly wished that his son might study medicine. This wish was shattered early, for the son showed symptoms of being a writer while yet in the Central High School of Philadelphia. In competition with many of his schoolmates for a prize offered for the best story, young Stockton won easily.
After finishing his high school course, he adopted the profession of wood-engraver. Although he earned his living for several years by carving wood, he never lost his desire to write, and practised, at every spare moment, his favorite avocation. It was this careful and patient training during his apprenticeship that finally made him the expert story-teller that he is. It is very interesting to any one who cares for the acquirement of an excellent style to note how all the authors contained in this text have had to work with almost a superhuman force to reach the heights of successful short-story writing.
His first important publication, Kate, appeared in the Southern Literary Messenger in 1859. He then joined the staff of the Philadelphia Morning Post, where he did regular newspaper work and contributed to the Riverside Magazine and Hearth and Home. In 1872 his Stephen Skarridge's Christmas appeared in Scribner's Monthly. Dr. J.G. Holland, editor of Scribner's, was so impressed with the story that he made Mr. Stockton an assistant editor and persuaded him to move to New York. In 1873 he joined the staff of the St. Nicholas Magazine. His publication of the Rudder Grange series in Scribner's Monthly in 1878 made him famous. In 1882 he resigned all editorial work and spent his entire time in literary composition.
Mr. Stockton possessed a frail body and very little physical endurance. In spite of this physical handicap he was very vivacious and gay. He was a genial and companionable man, loved by all who knew him. He was very modest, even to the point of shyness, exceptionally sincere, and quaintly humorous. He established homes in New Jersey and West Virginia, where he spent the greater part of his time from 1882 until his death in 1902.
The writings of Frank R. Stockton are excellent representatives of the man himself. How closely allied writer and writings are is very well stated by Hamilton W. Mabie in the Book-Buyer for June, 1902, "His talk had much of the quality of his writing; it was full of quaint conceits, whimsicalities, impossible suggestions offered with perfect gravity. He was always perfectly natural; he never attempted to live up to his part; in talk, at least, he never forced the note. His attitude toward himself was slightly tinged with humor, and he knew how to foil easily and pleasantly too great a pressure of praise."
His tales are extravagantly impossible but extremely realistic in effect, filled with humorous situations and singular plots, and peopled with eccentric characters that afford amusement on every page. His most successful writing is done when he explains contrivances upon which his story depends. He is an original and inventive expert juggler who moves with careless ease to the most effective ends. His characters are little more than pieces of mechanism that act when he pulls the string. They have little emotion and even in their love-making they show their emotion mostly for the sake of the reader's amusement. His negro characters are exceptions to his general treatment and are true to life. He inveigles the reader into believing the most extravagant incidents by having a reliable witness narrate them.
Stockton never stoops to the burlesque, cynic, or vulgar phases of life to secure amusement. He is grotesque and droll in his manner, and above all always restrained. His literary life is full of sprites and gnomes that frolic before young children and once before mature people. The Griffin and the Minor Canon is a beautiful fairy story lifted from childhood's thought and diction into a mature realm. His humor is plain and simple, cool and keenly calculating. A friendly critic has said of one of his stories, "With a gentle, ceaseless murmur of amusement, and a flickering twinkle of smiles, the story moves steadily on in the calm triumph of its assured and unassailable absurdity, to its logical and indisputable impossibility." This observation is very largely true of all his stories.
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