Here's a strong attempt to rescue a literary reputation that went into eclipse almost as soon as it was made. Bret Harte seems to have been the F. Scott Fitzgerald of the 19th century -- a dandy, a spendthrift, a social climber. Mark Twain was as venomously jealous of the lesser man in his time as Hemingway was to be in his, and just as unreliable a reporter. Harte's role in the development of the American short story, his place as originator of the Western stereotype in all its entertainment manifestations, is ably traced. Further, Harte, honored abroad but rejected here, was the first to consciously employ the power of sex in his stories -- or at least to discuss it as such. His personal life, chronicled and analyzed here, goes a long way to explain how it happened that Harte failed to develop as a writer. he ran away from his source material and almost thirty years abroad as an American consul in minor posts failed to supply new inspiration. He grew creatively weaker the farther he got from California, although he continued to perfect a craftsmanship he had always brought to his writing. he ran even harder from a demanding wife and their children, and keeping them an ocean distance away for a quarter of a century required alibies that must have drained his creative imagination. That old Riverside edition of his collected work has regularly had the dust blown off by the few short story addicts. It's really time for a new look.