WHEN WINTER COMES TO MAIN STREET
Author of "The Women Who Make Our Novels"
New York George H. Doran Company
Printed in the United States of America
Copyright, 1922, by George H. Doran Company
WHEN WINTER COMES TO MAIN STREET.
Press of J. J. Little & Ives Company New York, U. S. A.
FOR GEORGE H. DORAN WHO HAD THE IDEA
I have borrowed my title from two remarkable novels.
If Winter Comes, by A. S. M. Hutchinson, was published in the autumn of 1921 by Messrs. Little, Brown & Company of Boston.
Main Street, by Sinclair Lewis, was published in the autumn of 1920 by Messrs. Harcourt, Brace & Company of New York.
I have not before me the precise figures of the amazing sales of these two books—each passed 350,000—but I make my bow to their authors and to their publishers and to the American public. I bow to the authors for the quality of their work and to the publishers and the public for their recognition of that quality.
These two substantial successes confirm my belief that the American public in hundreds of thousands relishes good reading. Without that belief, this book would not have been prepared; but I have prepared it with some confidence that those who relish good reading will be interested in the chapters that follow.
As a former book reviewer and literary editor, as an author and, now, as one vitally concerned in book publishing, my interest in books has been fundamentally unchanging—a wish to see more books read and better books to read.
From one standpoint, When Winter Comes to Main Street is frankly an advertisement; it deals with Doran books and authors. This is a fact of some relevance, however, if, as I believe, the reader shall find well-spent the time given to these pages.
19 July 1922.
I THE COURAGE OF HUGH WALPOLE 15
II HALF-SMILES AND GESTURES 33
III STEWART EDWARD WHITE AND ADVENTURE 55
IV WHERE THE PLOT THICKENS 68
V REBECCA WEST: AN ARTIST 78
VI SHAMELESS FUN 88
VII THE VITALITY OF MARY ROBERTS RINEHART 102
VIII THEY HAVE ONLY THEMSELVES TO BLAME 118
IX AUDACIOUS MR. BENNETT 133
X A CHAPTER FOR CHILDREN 152
XI COBB'S FOURTH DIMENSION 166
XII PLACES TO GO 187
XIII ALIAS RICHARD DEHAN 196
XIV WITH FULL DIRECTIONS 212
XV FRANK SWINNERTON: ANALYST OF LOVERS 225
XVI AN ARMFUL OF NOVELS, WITH NOTES ON THE NOVELISTS 244
XVII THE HETEROGENEOUS MAGIC OF MAUGHAM 270
XVIII BOOKS WE LIVE BY 293
XIX ROBERT W. CHAMBERS AND THE WHOLE TRUTH 308
XX UNIQUITIES 321
XXI THE CONFESSIONS OF A WELL-MEANING YOUNG MAN, STEPHEN MCKENNA 334
XXII POETS AND PLAYWRIGHTS 347
XXIII THE BOOKMAN FOUNDATION AND THE BOOKMAN 366
PAGE HUGH WALPOLE 17 STEWART EDWARD WHITE 57 REBECCA WEST 79 MARY ROBERTS RINEHART 103 ARNOLD BENNETT 135 IRVIN S. COBB 167 FRANK SWINNERTON 227 W. SOMERSET MAUGHAM 271 STEPHEN McKENNA 335
WHEN WINTER COMES TO MAIN STREET
THE COURAGE OF HUGH WALPOLE
Says his American contemporary, Joseph Hergesheimer, in an appreciation of Hugh Walpole: "Mr. Walpole's courage in the face of the widest scepticism is nowhere more daring than in The Golden Scarecrow." Mr. Walpole's courage, I shall always hold, is nowhere more apparent than in the choice of his birthplace. He was born in the Antipodes. Yes! In that magical, unpronounceable realm one reads about and intends to look up in the dictionary.... The precise Antipodean spot was Auckland, New Zealand, and the year was 1884.
The Right Reverend George Henry Somerset Walpole, D.D., Bishop of Edinburgh since 1910, had been sent in 1882 to Auckland as Incumbent of St. Mary's Pro-Cathedral, and the same ecclesiastical fates which took charge of Hugh Seymour Walpole's birthplace provided that, at the age of five, the immature novelist should be transferred to New York. Dr. Walpole spent the next seven years in imparting to students of the General Theological Seminary, New York, their knowledge of Dogmatic Theology. Hugh Seymour Walpole spent the seven years in attaining the age of twelve.
Then, in 1896, the family returned to England. Perhaps a tendency to travel had by this time become implanted in Hugh, for now, in his late thirties, he is one of the most peripatetic of writers. He is here, he is there. You write to him in London and receive a reply from Cornwall or the Continent. And, regularly, he comes over to America. Of all the English novelists who have visited this country he is easily the most popular personally on this side. His visit this autumn (1922) will undoubtedly multiply earlier welcomes.
Interest in Walpole the man and Walpole the novelist shows an increasing tendency to become identical. It is all very well to say that the man is one thing, his books are quite another; but suppose the man cannot be separated from his books? The Walpole that loved Cornwall as a lad can't be dissevered from the "Hugh Seymour" of The Golden Scarecrow; without his Red Cross service in Russia during the Great War, Walpole could not have written The Dark Forest; and I think the new novel he offers us this autumn must owe a good deal to direct reminiscence of such a cathedral town as Durham, to which the family returned when Hugh was twelve.
The Cathedral, as the new book is called, rests the whole of its effect upon just such an edifice as young Hugh was familiar with. The Cathedral of the story stands in Polchester, in the west of England, in the county of Glebeshire—that mythical yet actual county of Walpole's other novels. Like such tales as The Green Mirror and The Duchess of Wrexe, the aim is threefold—to give a history of a certain group of people and, at the same time, (2) to be a comment on English life, and, beyond that, (3) to offer a philosophy of life itself.
The innermost of the three circles of interest created in this powerful novel—like concentric rings formed by dropping stones in water—concerns the life of Archdeacon Brandon. When the story opens he is ruling Polchester, all its life, religious and civic and social, with an iron rod. A good man, kindly and virtuous and simple, power has been too much for him. In the first chapter a parallel is made between Brandon and a great mediaeval ecclesiastic of the Cathedral, the Black Bishop, who came to think of himself as God and who was killed by his enemies. All through the book this parallel is followed.
A certain Canon Ronder arrives to take up a post in the Cathedral. The main thread of the novel now emerges as the history of the rivalry of these two men, one simple and elemental, the other calculating, selfish and sure. Ronder sees at once that Brandon is in his way and at once begins his work to overthrow the Archdeacon, not because he dislikes him at all (he likes him), but because he wants his place; too, because Brandon represents the Victorian church, while Ronder is on the side of the modernists.
Brandon is threatened through his son Stephen and through his wife. His source of strength,—a source of which he is unaware—lies in his daughter, Joan, a charming girl just growing up. The first part of the novel ends with everything that is to follow implicit in what has been told; the story centres in Brandon but more sharply in the Cathedral, which is depicted as a living organism with all its great history behind it working quickly, ceaselessly, for its own purposes. Every part of the Cathedral life is brought in to effect this, the Bishop, the Dean, the Canons—down to the Verger's smallest child. All the town life also is brought in, from the Cathedral on the hill to the mysterious little riverside inn. Behind the town is seen the Glebeshire country, behind that, England; behind England, the world, all moving toward set purposes.
The four parts of the novel markedly resemble, in structure, acts of a play; in particular, the striking third part, entirely concerned with the events of a week and full of flashing pictures, such as the scene of the Town Ball. But the culmination of this part, indeed, the climax of the whole book, comes in the scene of the Fair, with its atmosphere of carnival, its delirium of outdoor mood, and its tremendous encounter between Brandon and his wife. The novel closes upon a moment both fugitive and eternal—Brandon watching across the fields the Cathedral, lovely and powerful, in the evening distance. The Cathedral, lovely and powerful, forever victorious, served by the generations of men....
Courage, for Hugh, must have made its demand to be exercised early. We have the "Hugh Seymour" of The Golden Scarecrow who "was sent from Ceylon, where his parents lived, to be educated in England. His relations having for the most part settled in foreign countries, he spent his holidays as a minute and pale-faced 'paying guest' in various houses where other children were of more importance than he, or where children as a race were of no importance at all." It would be a mistake to confer on such a fictional passage a strict autobiographical importance; but I think it significant that the novel with which Walpole first won an American following, Fortitude, should derive from a theme as simple and as strong as that of a classic symphony—from those words with which it opens: "'T isn't life that matters! 'T is the courage you bring to it." From that moment on, the novel follows the struggle of Peter Westcott, in boyhood and young manhood, with antagonists, inner and outer. At the end we have him partly defeated, wholly triumphant, still fighting, still pledged to fight.
Not to confuse fiction with fact: Hugh Walpole was educated at Kings School, Canterbury, and at Emmanuel College, Cambridge. When he left the university he drifted into newspaper work in London. He also had a brief experience as master in a boys' school (the experiential-imaginative source of The Gods and Mr. Perrin, that superb novel of underpaid teachers in a second-rate boarding school). The war brought Red Cross work in Russia and also a mission to Petrograd to promote pro-Ally sentiment. For these services Walpole was decorated with the Georgian Medal.
What is Hugh Walpole like personally? Arnold Bennett, in an article which appeared in the Book News Monthly and which was reprinted in a booklet, says: "About the time of the publication of The Gods and Mr. Perrin, I made the acquaintance of Mr. Walpole and found a man of youthful appearance, rather dark, with a spacious forehead, a very highly sensitised nervous organisation, and that reassuring matter-of-factness of demeanour which one usually does find in an expert. He was then busy at his task of seeing life in London. He seems to give about one-third of the year to the tasting of all the heterogeneous sensations which London can provide for the connoisseur and two-thirds to the exercise of his vocation in some withdrawn spot in Cornwall that nobody save a postman or so, and Mr. Walpole, has ever beheld. During one month it is impossible to 'go out' in London without meeting Mr. Walpole—and then for a long period he is a mere legend of dinner tables. He returns to the dinner tables with a novel complete."
In the same magazine, in an article reprinted in the same booklet, Mrs. Belloc Lowndes, that excellent weaver of mystery stories and sister of Hilaire Belloc, said: "Before all things Hugh Walpole is an optimist, with a great love for and a great belief in human nature. His outlook is essentially sane, essentially normal. He has had his reverses and difficulties, living in lodgings in remote Chelsea, depending entirely upon his own efforts. Tall and strongly built, clean-shaven, with a wide, high forehead and kindly sympathetic expression, the author of Fortitude has a refreshing boyishness and zest for enjoyment which are pleasant to his close friends. London, the home of his adoption, Cornwall, the home of his youth, have each an equal spell for him and he divides his year roughly into two parts: the tiny fishing town of Polperro, Cornwall, and the pleasure of friendships in London. 'What a wonderful day!' he was heard to say, his voice sounding muffled through the thickest variety of a pea-soup fog. 'It wouldn't really be London without an occasional day like this! I'm off to tramp the city.' It is one of Hugh Walpole's superstitions that he should always begin his novels on Christmas Eve. He has always done so, and he believes it brings him luck. Often it means the exercise of no small measure of self-control, for the story has matured in his mind and he is aching to commence it. But he vigorously adheres to his custom, and by the time he begins to write his book lies before him like a map. 'I could tell it you now, practically in the very words in which I shall write it,' he has said. Nevertheless, he takes infinite trouble with the work as it progresses. A great reader, Hugh Walpole reads with method. Tracts of history, periods of fiction and poetry, are studied seriously; and he has a really exhaustive heritage of modern poetry and fiction."
Perhaps since Mrs. Lowndes wrote those words, Mr. Walpole has departed from his Christmas Eve custom. At any rate, I notice on the last page in his very long novel The Captives (the work by which, I think, he sets most store of all his books so far published) the dates:
POLPERRO, JAN. 1916, POLPERRO, MAY 1920.
The demand for the exercise of that courage of which we have spoken can be seen from these further details, supplied by Arnold Bennett:
"At the age of twenty, as an undergraduate of Cambridge, Walpole wrote two novels. One of these, a very long book, the author had the imprudence to destroy. The other was The Wooden Horse, his first printed novel. It is not to be presumed that The Wooden Horse was published at once. For years it waited in manuscript until Walpole had become a master in a certain provincial school in England. There he showed the novel to a fellow-master, who, having kept the novel for a period, spoke thus: 'I have tried to read your novel, Walpole, but I can't. Whatever else you may be fitted for, you aren't fitted to be a novelist.' Mr. Walpole was grieved. Perhaps he was unaware, then, that a similar experience had happened to Joseph Conrad. I am unable to judge the schoolmaster's fitness to be a critic, because I have not read The Wooden Horse. Walpole once promised to send me a copy so that I might come to some conclusion as to the schoolmaster, but he did not send it. Soon after this deplorable incident, Walpole met Charles Marriott, a novelist of a remarkable distinction. Mr. Marriott did not agree with the schoolmaster as to The Wooden Horse. The result of the conflict of opinion between Mr. Marriott and the schoolmaster was that Mr. Walpole left the school abruptly—perhaps without the approval of his family, but certainly with a sum of L30 which he had saved. His destination was London.
"In Chelsea he took a room at four shillings a week. He was twenty-three and (in theory) a professional author at last. Through the favouring influence of Mr. Marriott he obtained a temporary job on the London Standard as a critic of fiction. It lasted three weeks. Then he got a regular situation on the same paper, a situation which I think he kept for several years. The Wooden Horse was published by a historic firm. Statistics are interesting and valuable—The Wooden Horse sold seven hundred copies. The author's profits therefrom were less than the cost of typewriting the novel. History is constantly repeating itself.
"Mr. Walpole was quite incurable, and he kept on writing novels. Maradick at Forty was the next one. It sold eleven hundred copies, but with no greater net monetary profit to the author than the first one. He made, however, a more shining profit of glory. Maradick at Forty—as the phrase runs—'attracted attention.' I myself, though in a foreign country, heard of it, and registered the name of Hugh Walpole as one whose progress must be watched."
Not so long ago there was published in England, in a series of pocket-sized books called the Kings Treasuries of Literature (under the general editorship of Sir A. T. Quiller-Couch), a small volume called A Hugh Walpole Anthology. This consisted of selections from Mr. Walpole's novels up to and including The Captives. The selection was made by Mr. Walpole himself.
I think that the six divisions into which the selections fell are interesting as giving, in a few words, a prospectus of Walpole's work. The titles of the sections were "Some Children," "Men and Women," "Some Incidents," "London," "Country Places," and "Russia." The excerpts under the heading "Some Children" are all from Jeremy and The Golden Scarecrow. The "Men and Women" are Mr. Perrin and Mrs. Comber, from The Gods and Mr. Perrin; Mr. Trenchard and Aunt Aggie, from The Green Mirror; and Mr. Crashaw, from The Captives. The "Incidents" are chosen with an equal felicity—we have the theft of an umbrella from The Gods and Mr. Perrin and, out of the same book, the whole passage in which Mr. Perrin sees double. There is also a scene from Fortitude, "After Defeat." After two episodes from The Green Mirror, this portion of the anthology is closed with the tragic passage from The Captives in which Maggie finds her uncle.
Among the London places pictured by Mr. Walpole in his novels and in this pleasant anthology are Fleet Street, Chelsea, Portland Place, The Strand, and Marble Arch. The selections under the heading "Country Places" are bits about a cove, the sea, dusk, a fire and homecoming. The passages that relate to Russia are taken, of course, from The Dark Forest and The Secret City.
Not the least interesting thing in this small volume is a short introductory note by Joseph Conrad, who speaks of the anthology as "intelligently compiled," and as offering, within its limits, a sample of literary shade for every reader's sympathy. "Sophistication," adds Mr. Conrad, "is the only shade that does not exist in Mr. Walpole's prose." He goes on:
"Of the general soundness of Mr. Walpole's work I am perfectly convinced. Let no modern and malicious mind take this declaration for a left-handed compliment. Mr. Walpole's soundness is not of conventions but of convictions; and even as to these, let no one suppose that Mr. Walpole's convictions are old-fashioned. He is distinctly a man of his time; and it is just because of that modernity, informed by a sane judgment of urgent problems and wide and deep sympathy with all mankind, that we look forward hopefully to the growth and increased importance of his work. In his style, so level, so consistent, Mr. Hugh Walpole does not seek so much for novel as for individual expression; and this search, this ambition so natural to an artist, is often rewarded by success. Old and young interest him alike and he treats both with a sure touch and in the kindest manner. In each of these passages we see Mr. Walpole grappling with the truth of things spiritual and material with his characteristic earnestness, and in the whole we can discern the characteristics of this acute and sympathetic explorer of human nature: His love of adventure and the serious audacity he brings to the task of recording the changes of human fate and the moments of human emotion, in the quiet backwaters or in the tumultuous open streams of existence."
There is not space here to reprint all of Joseph Hergesheimer's Appreciation of Hugh Walpole, published in a booklet in 1919—a booklet still obtainable—but I would like to quote a few sentences from the close of Mr. Hergesheimer's essay, where he says:
"As a whole, Hugh Walpole's novels maintain an impressive unity of expression; they are the distinguished presentation of a distinguished mind. Singly and in a group, they hold possibilities of infinite development. This, it seems to me, is most clearly marked in their superiority to the cheap materialism that has been the insistent note of the prevailing optimistic fiction. There is a great deal of happiness in Mr. Walpole's pages, but it is not founded on surface vulgarity of appetite. The drama of his books is not sapped by the automatic security of invulnerable heroics. Accidents happen, tragic and humorous; the life of his novels is checked in black and white, often shrouded in grey; the sun moves and stars come out; youth grows old; charm fades; girls may or may not be pretty; his old women——
"But there he is inimitable. The old gentlewomen, or caretakers, dry and twisted, brittle and sharp, repositories of emotion—vanities and malice and self-seeking—like echoes of the past, or fat and loquacious, with alcoholic sentimentality, are wonderfully ingratiating. They gather like shadows, ghosts, about the feet of the young, and provide Mr. Walpole with one of his main resources—the restless turning away of the young from the conventions, prejudices and inhibitions of yesterday. He is singularly intent upon the injustice of locking age about the wrists of youth; and, with him, youth is very apt to escape, to defy authority set in years ... only to become, in time, age itself."
Perhaps this is an anti-climax: The University of Edinburgh has twice awarded the Tait Black Prize for the best novel of the year to Mr. Walpole—first for The Secret City in 1919 and then for The Captives in 1920.
BOOKS BY HUGH WALPOLE
Novels: THE WOODEN HORSE THE GODS AND MR. PERRIN (In England, MR. PERRIN AND MR. TRAILL) THE GREEN MIRROR THE DARK FOREST THE SECRET CITY THE CAPTIVES THE CATHEDRAL
Romances: MARADICK AT FORTY THE PRELUDE TO ADVENTURE FORTITUDE THE DUCHESS OF WREXE THE YOUNG ENCHANTED
Short Stories: THE GOLDEN SCARECROW JEREMY THE THIRTEEN TRAVELLERS
Belles-Lettres: JOSEPH CONRAD—A Critical Study.
SOURCES ON HUGH WALPOLE
Hugh Walpole: An Appreciation, by Joseph Hergesheimer, GEORGE H. DORAN COMPANY.
English Literature During the Last Half Century, by J. W. Cunliffe, THE MACMILLAN COMPANY.
A Hugh Walpole Anthology, selected by the author. LONDON: J. M. DENT & SONS. NEW YORK: E. P. DUTTON & COMPANY.
Hugh Walpole, Master Novelist. Pamphlet published by GEORGE H. DORAN COMPANY. (Out of print.)
Who's Who [In England].
HALF-SMILES AND GESTURES
Half-smiles and gestures! There is always a younger generation but it is not always articulate. The war may not have changed the face of the world, but it changed the faces of very many young men. Faces of naive enthusiasm and an innocent expectancy were not particularly noticeable in the years 1918 to 1922. The sombreness, the abruptness, the savage mood evident in the writings of such men as Barbusse and Siegfried Sassoon were abandoned. Confronted with the riddle of life, spared the enigma of death, the young men have felt nothing more befitting their age and generation than the personal "gesture."
If you ask me what is a gesture, I can't say that I know. It is something felt in the attitude of a person to whom one is talking or whose book one is reading. And the gesture is accompanied, in some of our younger writers, with an expression that is both serious and smiling. These half-smiles are, I take it, youth's comment on the riddle of a continued existence, on the loss of well-lost illusions, on the uncertainty of all future values. What is there worth trying for? It is not too clear, hence the gesture. What is there worth the expenditure of emotion? It is doubtful; and a half-smile is the best.
Such a writer, busily experimenting in several directions, is Aldous Huxley. This child of 1894, the son of Leonard Huxley (eldest son and biographer of Prof. T. H. Huxley) and Julia Arnold (niece of Martha Arnold and sister of Mrs. Humphry Ward), has with three books of prose built up a considerable and devoted following of American readers. First there was Limbo. Then came Crome Yellow, and on the heels of that we had the five stories—if you like to call them so—composing Mortal Coils. I have seen no comment more penetrating than that of Michael Sadleir, himself the author of a novel of distinction. Sadleir says:
"Already Huxley is the most readable of his generation. He has the allurement of his own inconsistency, and the inconsistency of youth is its questing spirit, and, consequently, its chief claim to respect.
"At present there are several Huxleys—the artificer in words, the amateur of garbage, pierrot lunaire, the cynic in rag-time, the fastidious sensualist. For my part, I believe only in the last, taking that to be the real Huxley and the rest prank, virtuosity, and, most of all, self-consciousness. As the foal will shy at his own shadow, so Aldous Huxley, nervous by fits at the poise of his own reality, sidesteps with graceful violence into the opposite of himself. There is a beautiful example of this in Mortal Coils. Among the stage-directions to his play, 'Permutations Among the Nightingales,' occur the following sentences: 'Sydney Dolphin has a romantic appearance. His two volumes of verse have been recognised by intelligent critics as remarkable. How far they are poetry nobody, least of all Dolphin himself, is certain. They may be merely the ingenious products of a very cultured and elaborate brain.'
"The point is not that these words might be applied to the author himself, but rather that he knows they might, even hopes they will, and has sought to lull his too-ready self-criticism by, so to speak, getting there first and putting down on paper what he imagines others may think or write of him.
"Huxley is a poet and writer of prose. His varied personalities show themselves in both. The artificer in words is almost omnipresent, and God forbid that he ever vanish utterly. The disciple of Laforgue has produced lovely and skilful things, and one is grateful for the study of the French symbolists that instigated the translation of 'L'Apres-midi d'un Faune.' In 'The Walk' the recapture of Laforgue's blend of the exotic and the everyday is astonishingly complete.
"The cynic is as accomplished as the Pierrot and 'Social Amenities,' parts of 'Soles Occidere et Redire Possunt,' and, in Limbo, 'Richard Greenow' (first 100 pages) and 'Happy Families' are syncopated actuality, and the mind jigs an appreciative shoulder, as the body jerks irresistibly to 'Indianola.'
"There remains Huxley the sensualist, a very ardent lover of beauty, but one that shrinks from the sordid preamble of modern gallantry, one that is apprehensive of the inevitable disillusionment. As others have done, as others will do, he finds in imagination the adventure that progress has decreed unseemly.
"The reader who is shocked by 'slabby-bellies,' 'mucus,' 'Priapulids'; the reader who is awed by the paraded learning of 'Splendour by Numbers,' by the deliberate intricacy of 'Beauty,' or the delicate fatigue of 'The Death of Lully' in Limbo—these are no audience for an artist. It tickles the author's fancy, stretches his wits, flatters his deviltry to provoke and witness such consternation and such respect. But the process is waste of time, and a writer of Huxley's quality, whatever his youth, has never time to waste."
Readers who have chuckled over Guinea Girl or have read with the peculiar delight of discovery The Pilgrim of a Smile are astonished to learn that its author is, properly speaking, an engineer. Norman Davey, born in 1888 (Cambridge 1908-10) is the son of Henry Davey, an engineer of eminence. After taking honours in chemistry and physics, Norman Davey travelled in America (1911), particularly in Virginia and Carolina. Then he went to serve as an apprentice in engineering work in the North of England and to study in the University of Montpellier in France.
His first book was The Gas Turbine, published in London and now a classic on its subject. In the four years preceding the war he contributed articles on thermodynamics to scientific papers. It is only honest to add that at the same time he contributed to Punch and Life—chiefly verse.
After the war he had a book of verse published in England and followed it with The Pilgrim of a Smile. He has travelled a good deal in Spain, Italy, Sweden, and his hobby is book collecting. This is all very well; and it explains how he could provide the necessary atmosphere for that laughable story of Monte Carlo, Guinea Girl; but one is scarcely prepared for The Pilgrim of a Smile by those preliminaries in thermodynamics—or in Punch. The story of the man who did not ask the Sphinx for love or fame or money but for the reason of her smile is one of the most intelligible of the gestures characteristic of literature since the war.
The gesture as such is perhaps most definitely recognised in the charming book by John Dos Passos, Rosinante to the Road Again. This, indeed, is the story of a gesture and a quest for it. The gesture is that of Castile, defined in the opening chapter in some memorable words exchanged by Telemachus and his friend Lyaeus:
"'It's the gesture that's so overpowering; don't you feel it in your arms? Something sudden and tremendously muscular.'
"'When Belmonte turned his back suddenly on the bull and walked away dragging the red cloak on the ground behind him I felt it,' said Lyaeus.
"'That gesture, a yellow flame against maroon and purple cadences ... an instant swagger of defiance in the midst of a litany to death the all-powerful. That is Spain ... Castile at any rate.'
"'Is "swagger" the right word?'
"'Find a better!'
"'For the gesture a mediaeval knight made when he threw his mailed glove at his enemy's feet or a rose in his lady's window, that a mule-driver makes when he tosses off a glass of aguardiente, that Pastora Imperio makes dancing....'"
I do not know whether one should classify Rosinante as a book of travel, a book of essays, a book of criticisms. It is all three—an integrated gesture. Certain interspersed chapters purport to relate the wayside conversations of Telemachus and Lyaeus—dual phases of the author's personality shall we say?—and the people they meet. The other chapters are acute studies of modern Spain, with rather special attention to modern Spanish writers. One varies in his admiration between such an essay as that on Miguel de Unamuno and such an unforgettable picture as the vision of Jorge Manrique composing his splendid ode to Death:
"It had been raining. Lights rippled red and orange and yellow and green on the clean paving-stones. A cold wind off the Sierra shrilled through clattering streets. As they walked the other man was telling how this Castilian nobleman, courtier, man-at-arms, had shut himself up when his father, the Master of Santiago, died, and had written this poem, created this tremendous rhythm of death sweeping like a wind over the world. He had never written anything else. They thought of him in the court of his great dust-coloured mansion at Ocana, where the broad eaves were full of a cooing of pigeons and the wide halls had dark rafters painted with arabesques in vermilion, in a suit of black velvet, writing at a table under a lemon tree. Down the sun-scarred street, in the cathedral that was building in those days, full of a smell of scaffolding and stone dust, there must have stood a tremendous catafalque where lay with his arms around him the Master of Santiago; in the carved seats of the choirs the stout canons intoned an endless growling litany; at the sacristy door, the flare of the candles flashing occasionally on the jewels of his mitre, the bishop fingered his crosier restlessly, asking his favourite choir-boy from time to time why Don Jorge had not arrived. And messengers must have come running to Don Jorge, telling him the service was at the point of beginning, and he must have waved them away with a grave gesture of a long white hand, while in his mind the distant sound of chanting, the jingle of the silver bit of his roan horse stamping nervously where he was tied to a twined Moorish column, memories of cavalcades filing with braying of trumpets and flutter of crimson damask into conquered towns, of court ladies dancing and the noise of pigeons in the eaves drew together like strings plucked in succession on a guitar into a great wave of rhythm in which his life was sucked away into this one poem in praise of death."
The Column is an American institution. What is meant, of course, is that daily vertical discussion of Things That Have Interested Me by different individuals attached to different papers and having in common only the great gift of being interested in what interests everybody else. Perhaps that is not right, either. Maybe the gift is that of being able to interest everybody else in the things you are interested in. Of all those who write a Column, Heywood Broun is possibly the one whose interests are the most varied. It is precisely this variety which makes his book Pieces of Hate: and Other Enthusiasms unique as a collection of essays. He will write on one page about the boxing ring, on the next about the theatre, a little farther along about books, farther on yet about politics. He makes excursions into college sports, horse racing and questions of fair play; and the problems of child-rearing are his constant preoccupation.
Consider some of his topics. We have an opening study of the literary masterpiece of E. M. Hull, the novel celebrating the adventures of Miss Diana Mayo and the Sheik Ahmed Ben Hassan. The next chapter deals with Hans Christian Andersen and literary and dramatic critics. Pretty soon we are discussing after-dinner speeches, Babe Ruth and Jack Dempsey. If this is a gesture, all I can say is, it is a pinwheel; and yet Broun writes only about things he knows about. Lest you think from my description that Pieces of Hate is a book in a wholly unserious vein, I invite you to read the little story, "Frankincense and Myrrh."
"Once there were three kings in the East and they were wise men. They read the heavens and they saw a certain strange star by which they knew that in a distant land the King of the World was to be born. The star beckoned to them and they made preparations for a long journey.
"From their palaces they gathered rich gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. Great sacks of precious stuffs were loaded upon the backs of the camels which were to bear them on their journey. Everything was in readiness, but one of the wise men seemed perplexed and would not come at once to join his two companions who were eager and impatient to be on their way in the direction indicated by the star.
"They were old, these two kings, and the other wise man was young. When they asked him he could not tell why he waited. He knew that his treasuries had been ransacked for rich gifts for the King of Kings. It seemed that there was nothing more which he could give, and yet he was not content.
"He made no answer to the old men who shouted to him that the time had come. The camels were impatient and swayed and snarled. The shadows across the desert grew longer. And still the young king sat and thought deeply.
"At length he smiled, and he ordered his servants to open the great treasure sack upon the back of the first of his camels. Then he went into a high chamber to which he had not been since he was a child. He rummaged about and presently came out and approached the caravan. In his hand he carried something which glinted in the sun.
"The kings thought that he bore some new gift more rare and precious than any which they had been able to find in all their treasure rooms. They bent down to see, and even the camel drivers peered from the backs of the great beasts to find out what it was which gleamed in the sun. They were curious about this last gift for which all the caravan had waited.
"And the young king took a toy from his hand and placed it upon the sand. It was a dog of tin, painted white and speckled with black spots. Great patches of paint had worn away and left the metal clear, and that was why the toy shone in the sun as if it had been silver.
"The youngest of the wise men turned a key in the side of the little black and white dog and then he stepped aside so that the kings and the camel drivers could see. The dog leaped high in the air and turned a somersault. He turned another and another and then fell over upon his side and lay there with a set and painted grin upon his face.
"A child, the son of a camel driver, laughed and clapped his hands, but the kings were stern. They rebuked the youngest of the wise men and he paid no attention but called to his chief servant to make the first of all the camels kneel. Then he picked up the toy of tin and, opening the treasure sack, placed his last gift with his own hands in the mouth of the sack so that it rested safely upon the soft bags of incense.
"'What folly has seized you?' cried the eldest of the wise men. 'Is this a gift to bear to the King of Kings in the far country?'
"And the young man answered and said: 'For the King of Kings there are gifts of great richness, gold and frankincense and myrrh.
"'But this,' he said, 'is for the child in Bethlehem!'"
Editor of the London Mercury, J. C. Squire has the light touch of the columnist but limits himself somewhat more closely to books and the subjects suggested by them. Very few men living can write about books with more actual and less apparent erudition than Mr. Squire. Born in 1884, educated at Cambridge, an editor of the New Statesman, a poet unsurpassed in the field of parody but a poet who sets more store by his serious verse, Mr. Squire can best be appreciated by those who have just that desultory interest in literature which he himself possesses. I have been looking through his Books in General, Third Series, for something quotable, and I declare I cannot lift anything from its setting. It is all of a piece, from the essay on "If One Were Descended from Shakespeare" to the remarks about Ben Jonson, Maeterlinck, Ruskin, Cecil Chesterton and Mr. Kipling's later verse (which I have nowhere seen more sensibly discussed).
Well, perhaps these observations from the chapter "A Terrifying Collection" will give the taste! It appears that an anonymous donor had offered money to the Birmingham Reference Library to pay for the gathering of a complete collection of the war poetry issued in the British Empire. After some preliminary comment, Mr. Squire concludes:
"If that donor really means business I shall be prepared to supply him with one or two rare and special examples myself. I possess tributes to the English effort written by Portuguese, Japanese and Belgians; and paeans by Englishmen which excel, as regards both simplicity of sentiment and illiteracy of construction, any foreign composition. Birmingham is not noted for very many things. It is, we know, the only large city in the country which remains solidly Tory in election after election. It produced, we know, Mr. Joseph and Mr. Austen Chamberlain. It has, we know, something like a monopoly in the manufacture of the gods in wood and brass to which (in his blindness) the heathen bows down; and there are all sorts of cheap lines in which it can give the whole world points and a beating. But it has not yet got the conspicuous position of Manchester or Liverpool; and one feels that the enterprise of this anonymous donor may help to put it on a level with those towns. For, granted that its librarians take their commission seriously, and its friends give them the utmost assistance in their power, there seems every reason to suppose that within the next year the City of Birmingham will be the proud possessor of the largest mound of villainously bad literature in the English-speaking world. Pilgrims will go to see it who on no other account would have gone to Birmingham; historians will refer to it when endeavouring to prove that their own ages are superior to ours in intelligence; authors will inspect it when seeking the consoling assurance that far, far worse things than they have ever done have got into public libraries and been seriously catalogued. The enterprise, in fact, is likely to be of service to several classes of our fellow-citizens; and it cannot, as far as I am able to see, do harm to any. It should therefore be encouraged, and I recommend anyone who has volumes of war-verse which he wishes to get rid of to send them off at once to the Chief Librarian of Birmingham."
Oh, yes! Books in General, Third Series, is by Solomon Eagle. Mr. Squire explains that the pen name Solomon Eagle has no excuse. The original bearer of the name was a poor maniac who, during the Great Plague of London, used to run naked through the streets with a pan of coals of fire on his head crying, "Repent, repent."
Too late I realise my wrongdoing, for what, after all, is Books in General as compared to Mr. Squire's Life and Letters? As a divertissement, compared to a tone poem; as a curtain-raiser to a three-act play. Life and Letters, though not lacking in the lighter touches of Mr. Squire's fancy, contains chapters on Keats, Jane Austen, Anatole France, Walt Whitman, Pope and Rabelais of that more considered character one expects from the editor of the London Mercury. This is not to say that these studies are devoid of humour; and those chapters in the volume which are in the nature of interludes are among the best Mr. Squire has written. Unfortunately I have left myself no room to quote the incomparable panegyric (in the chapter on "Initials") to the name of John. Read it, if your name is John; you will thank me for bringing it to your attention.
One expects personality in the daughter of Margot Asquith, and the readers of the first book by Princess Antoine Bibesco (Elizabeth Asquith) were not disappointed. The same distinction and the same unusual personality will be found in her new book, Balloons. Princess Bibesco's I Have Only Myself to Blame consisted of sixteen short stories the most nervously alive and most clearly individualised of feminine gestures. The quality of Princess Bibesco's work, in so far as purely descriptive passages can convey it, may be realised from these portraits of a father and mother which open the story called "Pilgrimage" in I Have Only Myself to Blame:
"My father was one of the most brilliant men I have ever known but as he refused to choose any of the ordinary paths of mental activity his name has remained a family name when it should have become more exclusively his own. If anything, my mother's famous beauty cast far more lustre on it than his genius—which preferred to bask in the sunshine of intimacy or recline indolently in the shady backwaters of privacy and leisure. And yet in a way he was an adventurer—or rather an adventurous scientist. He was often called cynical but that was not true—he was far too dispassionate, too little of a sentimentalist to be tempted by inverted sentimentalism. Above all things he was a collector—a collector of impressions. His psychological bibelots were not for everyone. Some, indeed, lay open in the vitime of his everyday conversation but many more lay hidden in drawers opened only for the elect.
"Undoubtedly, in a way, my mother was one of his masterpieces. Her beauty seemed to be enhanced by every hour and every season. At forty suddenly her hair had gone snow white. The primrose, the daffodil, the flame, the gold, the black, the emerald, the ruby of her youth gave way to grey and silver, pale jade and faint turquoise, shell pink and dim lavender. Her loveliness had shifted. The hours of the day conspired to set her. The hard coat and skirt, the high collar, the small hat, the neat veil of morning, the caressing charmeuse that followed, the trailing chiffon mysteries of her tea-gown, the white velvet or the cloth of silver that launched her triumphantly at night, who was to choose between them? Summer and winter followed suit. Whether you saw her emerging from crisp organdy or clinging crepe de chine, stiff grey astrakan or melting chinchilla always it was the same. This moment you said to yourself, 'She has reached the climax of her loveliness.'
"My father delighted in perfection. He had discovered it in her and promptly made it his own. I don't know if he ever regretted the unfillable quality of her emptiness. Rather I think it amused him to see the violent passions she inspired, to hear her low thrilling voice weigh down her meaningless murmurs with significance. To many of her victims the very incompleteness of her sentences was a form of divine loyalty. One young poet had described her soul as a fluttering, desperate bird beating its wings on the bars of her marvellous loveliness. At this her lazy smile looked very wise. She thought my father an ideal husband. He was always right about her clothes and after all he was the greatest living expert on her beauty. Obviously he loved her but—well, he didn't love her inconveniently."
There will be some who remember reading a first novel, published several years ago, called Responsibility. This was a study from a Samuel Butleresque standpoint of the attitude of a father toward an illegitimate son. At least, that is what it came to in the end; but there were leisurely earlier pages dealing with such subjects as the tiresomeness of Honest Work and the dishonesty of righteous people. Very good they were, too. James E. Agate was the author of this decidedly interesting piece of fiction. He was not a particularly young man, being in his early forties; but he was a youngish man. He was youngish in the sense that Mr. Wells and Mr. Bennett are youngish, and not in the sense of Sir James Peter Pan Barrie—incapable of growing up. As dramatic critic for the Saturday Review, London, Agate has been much happier than in a former experience on the Cotton Exchange of Manchester, his native city. "Each week," said The Londoner in The Bookman, recently, "he watches over the theatre with an enthusiasm for the drama which must constantly be receiving disagreeable shocks. He is a man full of schemes, so that the title of his new book is distinctly appropriate." That new book is called Alarums and Excursions.
"Agate is not peaceable," continues our informant. "He carries his full energy, which is astounding, into each topic that arises. He seizes it. Woe betide the man who dismisses an idol of his. It is not to be done. He will submit to no man, however great that man's prestige may be. He is the bulldog."
Agate is a critic "still vigorous enough and fresh enough to attack and to destroy shams of every kind. This is what Agate does in Alarums and Excursions."
Bright news is it that Agate is writing a new novel "on the Balzacian scale of Responsibility."
It was in 1918, when I was exploring new books for a New York book section, that there came to hand a volume called Walking-Stick Papers. Therein I found such stuff as this:
"And so the fish reporter enters upon the last lap of his rounds. Through, perhaps, the narrow, crooked lane of Pine Street he passes, to come out at length upon a scene set for a sea tale. Here would a lad, heir to vast estates in Virginia, be kidnapped and smuggled aboard to be sold a slave in Africa. This is Front Street. A white ship lies at the foot of it. Cranes rise at her side. Tugs, belching smoke, bob beyond. All about are ancient warehouses, redolent of the Thames, with steep roofs and sometimes stairs outside, and with tall shutters, a crescent-shaped hole in each. There is a dealer in weather-vanes. Other things dealt in hereabout are these: Chronometers, 'nautical instruments,' wax guns, cordage and twine, marine paints, cotton wool and waste, turpentine, oils, greases, and rosin. Queer old taverns, public houses, are here, too. Why do not their windows rattle with a 'Yo, ho, ho'?
"There is an old, old house whose business has been fish oil within the memory of men. And here is another. Next, through Water Street, one comes in search of the last word on salt fish. Now the air is filled with gorgeous smell of roasting coffee. Tea, coffee, sugar, rice, spices, bags and bagging here have their home. And there are haughty bonded warehouses filled with fine liquors. From his white cabin at the top of a venerable structure comes the dean of the salt-fish business. 'Export trade fair,' he says; 'good demand from South America.'"
The whole book was like that. I remember saying and printing:
"If this isn't individualised writing, extremely skilful writing and highly entertaining writing, we would like to know what is."
But what was that in the general chorus of delighted praise that went up all over the country?—and there were persons of discrimination among the laudators of Robert Cortes Holliday. People like James Huneker and Simeon Strunsky, who praised not lightly, were quick to express their admiration of this new essayist.
Four years have gone adding to Holliday's first book volumes in the same class and singularly unmistakeable in their authorship. They are the sort of essays that could not be anonymous once the authorship of one of them was known. We have, now, Broome Street Straws and the pocket mirror, Peeps at People. We have Men and Books and Cities and we have a score of pleasant Turns About Town.
Holliday shows no sign of failing us. I think the truth is that he is one of those persons described somewhere by Wilson Follett; I think Follett was trying to convey the quality of De Morgan. Follett said that with Dickens and De Morgan it was not a question of separate books, singly achieved, but a mere matter of cutting off another liberal length of the rich personality which was Dickens or De Morgan. So, exactly, it seems to me in the case of Holliday. A new book of Holliday's essays is simply another few yards of a personality not precisely matched among contemporary American essayists. Holliday's interests are somewhat broader, more human and perhaps more humane, more varied and closer to the normal human spirit and taste and fancy than are the interests of essayists like Samuel Crothers and Agnes Repplier.
The measure of Holliday as an author is not, of course, bounded by these collections of essays. There is his penetrating study of Booth Tarkington and the fine collected edition of Joyce Kilmer, Joyce Kilmer; Poems, Essays and Letters With a Memoir by Robert Cortes Holliday.
A gesture can be very graceful, sometimes. A half-smile can be wistful and worth remembering. That was a pleasant story, almost too slender structurally to be called a novel, by Gilbert W. Gabriel, published in the spring of 1922. Jiminy is a tale of the quest of the perfect love story by Benjamin Benvenuto and Jiminy, maker of small rhymes. The author, music critic of The Sun, New York, had long been known as a newspaper writer and a pinch hitter for Don Marquis, conductor of The Sun's famous column, The Sun Dial, when Don was A. W. O. L.
STEWART EDWARD WHITE AND ADVENTURE
"Stewart Edward White," says George Gordon in his book The Men Who Make Our Novels, "writes out of a vast self-made experience, draws his characters from a wide acquaintance with men, recalls situations and incidents through years of forest tramping, hunting, exploring in Africa and the less visited places of our continent, for the differing occasions of his books. In his boyhood he spent a great part of each year in lumber camps and on the river. He first found print with a series of articles on birds, 'The Birds of Mackinac Island' (he was born in Grand Rapids, March 12, 1873), brought out in pamphlet form by the Ornithologists' Union and since (perforce) referred to as his 'first book.' In the height of the gold rush he set out for the Black Hills, to return East broke and to write The Claim Jumpers and The Westerners. He followed Roosevelt into Africa, The Land of Footprints and of Simba. He has, more recently, seen service in France as a Major in the U. S. Field Artillery. Though (certainly) no Ishmael, he has for years been a wanderer upon the face of the earth, observant and curious of the arresting and strange—and his novels and short stories mark a journey such as but few have gone upon, a trailing of rainbows, a search for gold beyond the further hills and a finding of those campfires (left behind when Mr. Kipling's Explorer crossed the ranges beyond the edge of cultivation) round which the resolute sit to swap lies while the tenderfoot makes a fair—and forced—pretence at belief."
Spring, 1922, having advanced to that stage where one could feel confidence that summer would follow—a confidence one cannot always feel in March—a short letter came from Mr. White. He enclosed two photographs. One of them showed a trim-looking man with eyeglasses and moustache, sitting shirt-sleeved in a frail-looking craft. The letter explained that this was a collapsible canvas boat. My deduction was that the picture had been taken before the boat collapsed.
There was also a picture of another and much sturdier boat. I think the name Seattle was painted on her stern. She lay on a calm surface that stretched off to a background of towering mountains—Lake Louise Inlet. The much sturdier boat, I understood, was also the property of S. E. White.
The letter made all these things very clear. It said: "Fifteen tons, fifty feet, sleeps five, thirty-seven horsepower, heavy duty engine, built sea-going, speed nine knots. No phonograph! No wine cellar.
"We are going north, that is all the plans we have. We two are all there are on board, though we are thinking of getting a cat. On second thought, here is the crew in the canvas boat we carry to the inland lakes to fish from. Her name is the Wreckless; be careful how you spell it."
As stated, the crew in the about-to-collapse boat was Stewart Edward White. On his way north it was his intention to revise what will be, in his judgment, the most important novel he has written. But I must not say anything about that yet. Let me say something, rather, about his new book which you who read this have a more immediate prospect of enjoying. On Tiptoe: A Romance of the Redwoods is Stewart Edward White in a somewhat unusual but entirely taking role. Here we have Mr. White writing what is essentially a comedy; and yet there is an element of fantasy in the story which, in the light of a few opening and closing paragraphs, can be taken seriously, too.
The story sounds, in an outline, almost baldly implausible. Here are certain people, including a young woman, the daughter of a captain of industry, stranded in the redwoods. Here is a young man out of nowhere, who foretells the weather in a way that is uncannily verified soon afterward. Here also is the astonishing engine which the young man has brought with him out of nowhere,—an engine likely to revolutionise the affairs of the world....
I suppose that the secret of such a story as On Tiptoe lies entirely in the telling. I know that when I heard it outlined, the thing seemed to me to be preposterous. But then, while still under the conviction of this preposterousness, the story itself came to my hand and I began to read. Its preposterousness did not worry me any longer. It had, besides a plausibility more than sufficient, a narrative charm and a whimsical humour that would have justified any tale. The thing that links On Tiptoe with Stewart Edward White is the perfect picture of the redwoods—the feeling of all outdoors you get while under the spell of the story. I do not think there is any doubt that all lovers of White will enjoy this venture into the field of light romance.
Stewart Edward White was the son of T. Stewart White and Mary E. (Daniell) White. He received the degree of bachelor of philosophy from the University of Michigan in 1895 and the degree of master of arts from the same institution in 1903 (Who's Who in America: Volume 12). He attended Columbia Law School in 1896-97. He married on April 28, 1904, Elizabeth Grant of Newport, Rhode Island. He was a major with the 144th Field Artillery in 1917-18. He lives in California. But these skeletal details, all right for Who's Who in America, serve our purpose poorly. I am going to try to picture the man from two accounts of him written by friends. One appeared as an appendix to White's novel Gold, published in 1913, and was written by Eugene F. Saxton. The other is a short newspaper article by John Palmer Gavit (long with the New York Evening Post) printed in the Philadelphia Ledger for May 20, 1922.
Mr. Saxton had a talk with White a few days before White sailed from New York for his second African exploring expedition. Saxton had asked the novelist if he did not think it possible to lay hold of the hearts and imaginations of a great public through a novel which had no love interest in it; if "man pitted against nature was not, after all, the eternal drama."
White thought for a moment and then said:
"In the main, that is correct. Only I should say that the one great drama is that of the individual man's struggles toward perfect adjustment with his environment. According as he comes into correspondence and harmony with his environment, by that much does he succeed. That is what an environment is for. It may be financial, natural, sexual, political, and so on. The sex element is important, of course,—very important. But it is not the only element by any means; nor is it necessarily an element that exercises an instant influence on the great drama. Any one who so depicts it is violating the truth. Other elements of the great drama are as important—self-preservation, for example, is a very simple and even more important instinct than that of the propagation of the race. Properly presented, these other elements, being essentially vital, are of as much interest to the great public as the relation of the sexes."
The first eight or nine years of Mr. White's life were spent in a small mill town. Michigan was at that time the greatest of lumber states. White was still a boy when the family moved to Grand Rapids, then a city of about 30,000. Stewart Edward White did not go to school until he was sixteen, but then he entered the third year high with boys of his own age and was graduated at eighteen, president of his class. He won and, I believe, still holds the five-mile running record of the school.
The explanation is that the eight or ten years which most boys spend in grammar school were spent by Stewart Edward continually in the woods and among the rivermen, in his own town and in the lumber camps to which his father took him. Then there was a stretch of four years, from about the age of twelve on, when he was in California, as he says "a very new sort of a place." These days were spent largely in the saddle and he saw a good deal of the old California ranch life.
"The Birds of Mackinac Island," already referred to, was only one of thirty or forty papers on birds which White wrote in his youth for scientific publications. Six or seven hundred skins that he acquired are now preserved in the Kent Scientific Museum of Grand Rapids.
His summer vacations while he was in college were spent cruising the Great Lakes in a 28-foot cutter sloop. After graduating he spent six months in a packing-house at $6 a week. His adventure in the Black Hills gold rush followed.
It was during his studies at Columbia that White wrote, as part of his class work, a story called "A Man and His Dog" which Brander Matthews urged him to try to sell. Short Stories brought it for $15 and subsequent stories sold also. One brought as much as $35!
He tried working in MCClurg's bookstore in Chicago at $9 a week. Then he set out for Hudson Bay. The Claim Jumpers, finished about this time, was brought out as a book and was well received. The turn of the tide did not come until Munsey paid $500 for the serial right in The Westerners. White was paid in five dollar bills and he says that when he stuffed the money in his pockets he left at once for fear someone would change his mind and want all that money back.
The Blazed Trail was written in a lumber camp in the depth of a northern winter. The only hours White could spare for writing were in the early morning, so he would begin at 4 A. M., and write until 8 A. M., then put on his snowshoes and go out for a day's lumbering. The story finished, he gave it to Jack Boyd, the foreman, to read. Boyd began it after supper one evening and when White awoke the next morning at four o'clock he found the foreman still at it. As Boyd never even read a newspaper, White regarded this as a triumph. This is the book that an Englishwoman, entering a book shop where White happened to be, asked for in these words: "Have you a copy of Blase Tales?"
White went out hastily in order not to overhear her cries of disappointment.
Mr. Saxton asked White why he went to Africa and White said:
"My answer to that is pretty general. I went because I wanted to. About once in so often the wheels get rusty and I have to get up and do something real or else blow up. Africa seemed to me a pretty real thing. Before I went I read at least twenty books about it and yet I got no mental image of what I was going to see. That fact accounts for these books of mine. I have tried to tell in plain words what an ordinary person would see there.
"Let me add," he went on, "that I did not go for material. I never go anywhere for material; if I did I should not get it. That attitude of mind would give me merely externals, which are not worth writing about. I go places merely because, for one reason or another, they attract me. Then, if it happens that I get close enough to the life, I may later find that I have something to write about. A man rarely writes anything convincing unless he has lived the life; not with his critical faculty alert; but whole-heartedly and because, for the time being, it is his life."
John Palmer Gavit tells how once, when hunting, White broke his leg and had to drag himself back long miles to camp alone:
"Adventure enough, you'd say. But along the way a partridge drummed and nothing would do but he must digress a hundred yards from the shorter and sufficiently painful way, brace himself for the shot and recoil, kill the bird and have his dog retrieve it, and bring his game along with him. Just to show himself that this impossible thing could be done.
"I am not imagining when I say that in this same spirit Stewart Edward White faces the deeper problems and speculations of life. He wants to know about things here and hereafter. With the same zest and simplicity of motive he faces the secret doors of existence; not to prove or disprove, but to see and find out. And when he comes to the Last Door he will go through without fear, with eyes open to see in the next undiscovered country what there is to be seen and to show that the heart of a brave and unshrinking man, truthful and open-handed and friendly, is at home there, as he may be anywhere under God's jurisdiction."
BOOKS BY STEWART EDWARD WHITE
THE WESTERNERS THE CLAIM JUMPERS THE BLAZED TRAIL CONJUROR'S HOUSE THE FOREST THE MAGIC FOREST THE SILENT PLACES THE MOUNTAIN BLAZED TRAIL STORIES THE PASS THE MYSTERY ARIZONA NIGHTS CAMP AND TRAIL THE RIVERMAN THE RULES OF THE GAME THE CABIN THE ADVENTURES OF BOBBY ORDE THE LAND OF FOOTPRINTS AFRICAN CAMP FIRES GOLD THE REDISCOVERED COUNTRY THE GREY DAWN THE LEOPARD WOMAN SIMBA THE FORTY-NINERS THE ROSE DAWN THE KILLER, AND OTHER STORIES ON TIPTOE: A ROMANCE OF THE REDWOODS
SOURCES ON STEWART EDWARD WHITE
The Men Who Make our Novels, by George Gordon. MOFFAT, YARD & COMPANY.
Who's Who in America.
Stewart Edward White: Appendix to GOLD (published in 1913) by Eugene F. Saxton. DOUBLEDAY, PAGE & COMPANY.
Stewart Edward White, by John Palmer Gavit. PHILADELPHIA PUBLIC LEDGER, May 20, 1922.
WHERE THE PLOT THICKENS
Scarcely anyone is there, now writing mystery stories, who, with the combination of ingenuity—or perhaps I should say originality—dependableness, and a sufficient atmosphere comes up to the high and steady level of Frank L. Packard. Born in Montreal in 1877 of American parents, a graduate of McGill University and a student of Liege, Belgium, Mr. Packard was engaged in engineering work for some years and began writing for a number of magazines in 1906. He now lives at Lachine, Province of Quebec, Canada, and the roll of his books is a considerable one. In that roll, there are titles known and enthusiastically remembered by nearly every reader of the mystery tale. Is there anyone who has not heard of The Miracle Man or The Wire Devils or Jimmie Dale in The Adventures of Jimmie Dale and The Further Adventures of Jimmie Dale? The Night Operator, From Now On, Pawned, and, most recently, Doors of the Night have had their public ready and waiting. That same public will denude the book counters of Jimmie Dale and The Phantom Clue this autumn.
Packard differs from his fellow-writers of mystery stories in his flair for the unusual idea. In Pawned each character finds himself in pawn to another, and must act as someone else dictates. Doors of the Night is the account of a man who was both a notorious leader and hunted prey of New York's underworld. From Now On is the unexpected story of a man after he comes out of prison; and Jimmie Dale, Fifth Avenue clubman, was, to Clancy, Smarlinghue the dope fiend; to the gang, Larry the Bat, stool pigeon; but to Headquarters—the Grey Seal!
Stories of the underworld are among the most difficult to write. The thing had, it seemed, been done to death and underdone and overdone when Packard came along. In all seriousness, it may be said that Packard has restored the underworld to respectability—as a domain for fictional purposes at least! It is not that his crooks are real crooks—though they are—but that he is able to put life into them, to make them seem human. No man is a hero to his valet and no crook can be merely a crook in a story of the underworld that is intended to convey any sense of actuality. Beside the distortions and conventionalisations of most underworld stories, Packard's novels stand out with distinctiveness and a persistent vitality.
When a book called Bulldog Drummond was published there was no one prescient of the great success of the play which would be made from the story. But those who read mystery stories habitually knew well that a mystery-builder of exceptional adroitness had arrived. Of course, Cyril McNeile, under the pen name "Sapper," was already somewhat known in America by several war books; but Bulldog Drummond was a novelty. Apparently it was possible to write a first rate detective-mystery story with touches of crisp humour as good as Pelham Grenville Wodehouse's stuff! There is something convincing about the hero of Bulldog Drummond, the brisk and cheerful young man whom demobilisation has left unemployed and whose perfectly natural susceptibility to the attractiveness of a young woman leads him into adventures as desperate as any in No Man's Land.
For Cyril McNeile's new story The Black Gang, after the experience of Bulldog Drummond as a book and play, Americans will be better prepared. An intermediate book, The Man in Ratcatcher, consists of shorter stories which exhibit very perfectly McNeile's gift for the dramatic situation. He gives us the man who returned from the dead to save his sweetheart from destruction; the man who staked his happiness on a half forgotten waltz; the man who played at cards for his wife; the man who assisted at suicide, either ordinary short stories nor ordinary motifs! I should hesitate to predict how far McNeile will go along this special line of his; but I see no reason why he should not give us the successor of Sherlock Holmes.
Black Caesar's Clan is the good title of Albert Payson Terhune's new story in succession to his Black Gold, a mystery story that was distinguished by the possession of a Foreword so unusual as to be worth reprinting—one of the best arguments for this type of book ever penned:
"If you are questing for character-study or for realism or for true literature in any of its forms,—then walk around this book of mine (and, indeed, any book of mine); for it was not written for you and it will have no appeal for you.
"But if you care for a yarn with lots of action,—some of it pretty exciting,—you may like Black Gold. I think you will.
"It has all the grand old tricks: from the Weirdly Vanishing Footprints, to the venerable Ride for Life. Yes, and it embalms even the half-forgotten and long-disused Struggle on the Cliff. Its Hero is a hero. Its Villain is a villain. Nobody could possibly mistake either of them for the Friend of the Family. The Heroine is just a heroine; not a human. There is not a subtle phrase or a disturbingly new thought, from start to finish.
"There is a good mystery, too; along lines which have not been worked over-often. And there is a glimpse of Untold Treasure. What better can you ask; in a story that is frank melodrama?
"The scene, by the way, is laid in Northern California; a beautiful and strikingly individualistic region which, for the most part, is ignored by tourists for the man-made scenic effects and playgrounds of the southern counties of the State.
"If, now and again, my puppets or my plot-wires creak a bit noisily,—what then? Creaking, at worst, is a sure indication of movement,—of action,—of incessant progress of sorts. A thing that creaks is not standing still and gathering mildew. It moves. Otherwise it could not creak.
"Yes, there are worse faults to a plot than an occasional tendency to creakiness. It means, for one thing, that numberless skippable pages are not consumed in photographic description of the ill-assorted furnishings of the heroine's room or cosmos; nor in setting forth the myriad phases of thought undergone by the hero in seeking to check the sway of his pet complexes. (This drearily flippant slur on realism springs from pure envy. I should rejoice to write such a book. But I can't. And, if I could, I know I should never be able to stay awake long enough to correct its proofs.)
"Yet, there is something to be said in behalf of the man or woman who finds guilty joy in reading a story whose action gallops; a story whose runaway pace breaks its stride only to leap a chasm or for a breathcatching stumble on a precipice-edge. The office boy prefers Captain Kidd to Strindberg; not because he is a boy, but because he is human and has not yet learned the trick of disingenuousness. He is still normal. So is the average grown-up.
"These normal and excitement-loving readers are overwhelmingly in the majority. Witness the fact that The Bat had a longer run in New York than have all of Dunsany's and Yeats's rare dramas, put together. If we insist that our country be guided by majority-rule, then why sneer at a majority-report in literary tastes?
"Ben Hur was branded as a 'religious dime novel.' Yet it has had fifty times the general vogue of Anatole France's pseudo-blasphemy which deals with the same period. Public taste is not always, necessarily, bad taste. 'The common people heard Him, gladly.' (The Scribes did not.)
"After all, there is nothing especially debasing in a taste for yarns which drip with mystery and suspense and ceaseless action; even if the style and concept of these yarns be grossly lacking in certain approved elements. So the tale be written with strong evidence of sincerity and with a dash of enthusiasm, why grudge it a small place of its own in readers' hours of mental laziness?
"With this shambling apology,—which, really, is no apology at all,—I lay my book on your knees. You may like it or you may not. You will find it alive with flaws. But, it is alive.
"I don't think it will bore you. Perhaps there are worse recommendations."
Hulbert Footner does not look like a writer of mystery stories. A tall, handsome, well-dressed, extremely courteous gentleman who, had he the requisite accent, might just have arrived from Bond Street. He has a trim moustache. Awfully attractive blue eyes! He lives on a farm at Sollers, Maryland. No one else, it seems, is so familiar with the unusual corners of New York City, the sort of places that get themselves called "quaint." No one else manages the affairs of young lovers (on paper) with quite so much of the airy spirit of young love. I can think of no one else who could write such a scene as that in The Owl Taxi, where the dead-wagon, on its way in the night to the vast cemetery in a New York suburb, is held up for the removal of a much-needed corpse. Such material is bizarre. The handling of it must be very deft or the result will be revolting; and yet the thing can be done. In the latter part of that excellent play, Seven Keys to Baldpate, George M. Cohan and his company bandied a corpse from attic to cellar of a country house. This preposterous scene as presented on the stage was helplessly laughable. Mr. Footner's scene in The Owl Taxi is like that.
The man has a special gift for the picturesque person. I do not know whether he uses originals; if I suspect an original for old Simon Deaves in The Deaves Affair, I get no farther than a faint suspicion that ... No, I cannot identify his character. (Not that I want to; I am not a victim of that fatal obsession which fastens itself upon so many readers of fiction—the desire to identify the characters in a story with someone in real life. The idea is ridiculous.) Mr. Footner knows Greenwich Village. He knows outlying stretches in the greater city of New York; he knows excursion boats such as the Ernestina, whose cruises play so curious a part in The Deaves Affair. I have a whetted appetite for what Footner will give us next; I feel sure it will be like no other story of the season. A great deal to be sure of!
The peculiarity about Gold-Killer is the mystery behind the excellent mystery of the book. I mean, of course, the mystery of its authorship. I do not any longer believe that the book is the work of Siamese twins—in a physiological sense of the word "twins." I know that there is no John Prosper—or, rather, that if there is a John Prosper, he is not the author of Gold-Killer. Yet the book was the work of more than one man. Were two intellects siamesed to write the story? Those who, in my opinion, know the facts point to the name on the title page and say that John is John and Prosper is Prosper and never the twain shall meet, unless for the purpose of evolving a super-Gold-Killer. Whether they will be able to surpass this book, which opens with a murder at the opera and finishes (practically) with a nose dive in an airplane, is beyond my surmise.
If they will try, I give them my word I will read the new yarn.
Mrs. Baillie Reynolds's latest novel is called The Judgment of Charis. It is not a story to tell too much about in advance. I will say that Charis had run away from an all-too-persistent lover and an all-too-gorgeous family, and had been taken under the wing of a kindly, middle-aged millionaire and invited to become his secretary. She expected some complications and in her expectations she was not disappointed; and the readers' expectations will not be disappointed either, though they may find the ending unexpected. The Vanishing of Betty Varian restored to readers of Carolyn Wells a detective whose appearance in The Room with the Tassels made that story more than ordinarily worth while. I do not know, though, whether Penny Wise would be interesting or even notable if it were not for his curious assistant, Zizi. The merit of detective stories is necessarily variable; The Vanishing of Betty Varian is one of the author's best; but Miss Wells (really Mrs. Hadwin Houghton) is, to me, as extraordinary as her stories. All those books! She herself says that "having mastered the psychology of detachment" she can write with more concentration and less revision than any other professional writer of her acquaintance. Yes, but how—— No doubt it is too much to expect her to explain how she is ingenious.
Mrs. Belloc Lowndes, sister of Hilaire Belloc, is ingenious in a different direction. Her story of What Timmy Did was one that attracted especial attention from those periodicals and persons interested in psychic matters. Here was a woman whose husband had died from poison—self-administered, the coroner decided—and here was little Timmy, who knew that something was wrong. Animals also knew it; and then one day Timmy saw at her heels a shadow man, stiff and military, and behind him a phantom dog. Mrs. Lowndes's gifts, different from her distinguished brother's, are none the less gifts.
REBECCA WEST: AN ARTIST
Whether Rebecca West is writing reviews of books or dramatic criticism or novels she is an artist, above everything. I have been reading delightedly the pages of her new novel, The Judge. It is Miss West's second novel. One is somewhat prepared for it by the excellence of her first, The Return of the Soldier, published in 1918. Somewhat, but not adequately.
Perhaps I am prejudiced. You see, I have been in Edinburgh, and though it was the worst season of the year—the period when, as Robert Louis Stevenson says, that Northern city has "the vilest climate under Heaven"—nevertheless, the charm and dignity of that old town captured me at the very moment when a penetrating Scotch winter rain was coming in direct contact with my bones. I was, I might as well confess, soaked and chilled as no New York winter snowstorm ever wetted and chilled me. It did not matter; here was the long sweep of Princes Street with its gay shops on one side and its deep valley on the other; across the valley the tenements of the Royal Mile lifted themselves up—the Royal Mile, which runs always uphill from the Palace that is Holyrood to the height that is the Castle. Talk about gestures! The whole city of Edinburgh is a matchless gesture.
And so, when I began the first page of The Judge, it was a grand delight to find myself back in the city of the East Wind:
"It was not because life was not good enough that Ellen Melville was crying as she sat by the window. The world, indeed, even so much of it as could be seen from her window, was extravagantly beautiful. The office of Mr. Mactavish James, Writer to the Signet, was in one of those decent grey streets that lie high on the Northward slope of Edinburgh New Town, and Ellen was looking up the sidestreet that opened just opposite and revealed, menacing as the rattle of spears, the black rock and bastions of the Castle against the white beamless glare of the southern sky. And it was the hour of the clear Edinburgh twilight, that strange time when the world seems to have forgotten the sun though it keeps its colour; it could still be seen that the moss between the cobblestones was a wet bright green, and that a red autumn had been busy with the wind-nipped trees, yet these things were not gay, but cold and remote as brightness might be on the bed of a deep stream, fathoms beneath the visitation of the sun. At this time all the town was ghostly, and she loved it so. She took her mind by the arm and marched it up and down among the sights of Edinburgh, telling it that to be weeping with discontent in such a place was a scandalous turning up of the nose at good mercies. Now the Castle Esplanade, that all day had proudly supported the harsh virile sounds and colours of the drilling regiments, would show to the slums its blank surface, bleached bonewhite by the winds that raced above the city smoke. Now the Cowgate and the Canongate would be given over to the drama of the disorderly night, the slumdwellers would foregather about the rotting doors of dead men's mansions and brawl among the not less brawling ghosts of a past that here never speaks of peace, but only of blood and argument. And Holyrood, under a black bank surmounted by a low bitten cliff, would lie like the camp of an invading and terrified army...."
The Judge is certainly autobiographical in some of the material employed. For instance, it is a fact that Miss West went to school in Edinburgh, attending an institution not unlike John Thompson's Ladies College referred to in The Judge (but only referred to). It is a fact, as everyone who knows anything about Miss West knows, that Miss West was an ardent suffragette in that time before suffragettes had ceased from troubling and Prime Ministers were at rest. An amazing legend got about some time ago that Rebecca West's real name was Regina Miriam Bloch. Then on the strength of the erring "Readers' Guide to Periodical Literature" did Miss Amy Wellington write a sprightly article for the Literary Review of the New York Evening Post. Miss Wellington referred to this mysterious Regina Miriam Bloch who had stunned everybody by her early articles written under the name of one of Ibsen's most formidable heroines; but unfortunately Miss West wrote a letter in disclaimer. She cannot help Mr. Ibsen. It may be a collision in names, but it is not a collusion. The truth about Rebecca West, who has written The Judge, seems to be dependably derivable from the English Who's Who, a standard work always worth consulting. This estimable authority says that Rebecca West was born on Christmas in 1892, and is the youngest daughter of the late Charles Fairfield of County Kerry. It further says that she was educated at George Watson's Ladies' College, Edinburgh. It states that she joined the staff of The Freewoman as a reviewer in 1911. Her club is the International Women's Franchise. Her residence is 36 Queen's Gate Terrace, London S. W. 7. Her telephone is Kensington 7285.
Now is there anything mythical left? What excuse, O everybody, is there any longer for the legend of Regina Miriam Bloch?
But I do not believe Miss West objects to legends. I imagine she loves them. The legend of a name is perhaps unimportant; the legend of a personality is of the highest importance. That Miss West has a personality is evident to anyone familiar with her work. A personality, however, is not three-dimensionally revealed except in that form of work which comes closest to the heart and life of the worker. To write pungent and terrifyingly sane criticisms is a notable thing; but to write novels of tender insight and intimate revelation is a far more convincing thing. The Judge is such a novel.
There is a prefatory sentence, as follows:
"Every mother is a Judge who sentences the children for the sins of the father."
There is a dedication. It is:
TO THE MEMORY OF MY MOTHER
The Judge is a study of the claim of a mother upon her son. The circumstances of Mrs. Yaverland's life were such as peculiarly to strengthen the tie between her and Richard. On the other hand, she had always disliked and even hated her son Roger.
The first part of the book, however, does not bring in Richard Yaverland's mother. It is a picture of Ellen Melville, the girl in Edinburgh, the girl whose craving for the colour of existence has gone unsatisfied until Richard Yaverland enters her life. Yaverland, with his stories of Spain, and his imaginative appeal for that young girl, is the fulcrum of Ellen Melville's destiny.
That destiny, carried by the forces of human character to its strange termination, is handled by Miss West in a long novel the chapters of which are a series of delineative emotions. I do not mean that Miss West shrinks from externalised action, as did Henry James whom she has admired and studied. She perceives the immense value of introspection, but is not lost in its quicksands. She can devote a whole chapter to a train of thought in the mind of Ellen Melville, sitting inattentively at a public meeting; and she can follow it with another long chapter giving the sequence of thoughts in the mind of Richard Yaverland; and she can bring each chapter to a period with the words: "She (he) glanced across the hall. Their eyes met." It might be thought that this constitutes a waste of narrative space; not so. As a matter of fact, without the insight accorded by these disclosures of things thought and felt, we should be unable to understand the behaviour of these two young people.
All the first half of the book is a truly marvelous story of young lovers; all the latter end of the book is a relation scarcely paralleled in fiction of the conflict between the mother's claim and the claim of the younger woman.
Of subsidiary portraits there are plenty. Ellen's mother and Mr. Mactavish James and Mr. Philip James are like full-lengths by Velasquez. In the closing chapters of the book we have the extraordinary figure of the brother and son, Roger, accompanied by the depressing girl whom he has picked up the Lord knows where.
And, after all, this is not a first novel—that promise, which so often fails of fulfilment—but a second novel; and I have in many a day not read anything that seemed to me to get deeper into the secrets of life than this study of a man who, at the last, spoke triumphantly, "as if he had found a hidden staircase out of destiny," and a woman who, at the last, "knew that though life at its beginning was lovely as a corn of wheat it was ground down to flour that must make bitter bread between two human tendencies, the insane sexual caprice of men, the not less mad excessive steadfastness of women."
BOOKS BY REBECCA WEST
THE RETURN OF THE SOLDIER THE JUDGE
SOURCES ON REBECCA WEST
Who's Who. [In England].
Rebecca West: Article by Amy Wellington in the LITERARY REVIEW OF THE NEW YORK EVENING POST, 1921.
Articles by Rebecca West in various English publications, frequently reprinted by THE LIVING AGE. See the READERS' GUIDE TO PERIODICAL LITERATURE.
One way to write about Nina Wilcox Putnam would be in the way she writes about everything. It's not so hard. As thus:
Some dull day in the office. We look up and whom should we see standing right there before us but Nina Wilcox Putnam! Falling over backwards, that being what our swivel chair is made for, we say: "Well, well, well! So today is May 3, 1922! Where from? West Broadway?"
"I should not say so! South Broadway, I guess. I've just motored up from Florida. But your speaking of West Broadway reminds me: I've written a piece for George Lorimer of Saturday Evening Post. You see my book, West Broadway, brought me so many letters my arm ached from answering them. What car did you drive? Where d'y' get gas in the desert? What's the best route? And thus et cetera. So now I have wrote me a slender essay answering everything that anybody can ask on this or other transcontinental subjects. Mr. Lorimer will publish, and who knows—as they say in fiction—it might make a book afterward."
"I left it fine, if it doesn't get in trouble while I'm away. I've bought a ranch, for fruit only, on the East Coast, between Palm Beach and Miami, but not paying these expensive prices, no, not never. And I shall live there for better but not for worse, for richer, but most positively not for poorer. I pick my own alligator pears off my own tree unless I want to sell them for fifteen cents on the tree. Bathing, one-half mile east by motor."
"Been reading your piece, 'How I Have Got So Far So Good,' in John Siddall's American Magazine."
"Yes, I thought I would join the autobiographists—Benvenuto Cellini, Margot Asquith, Benjamin Franklin, et Al, as Ring Lardner would insist. Do you know Ring? He and I are going to have one of these amicable literary duels soon, like the famous Isn't That Just Like a Man? Oh, Well, You Know How Women Are! which Mrs. Rinehart and Irvin Cobb fought to a finish. But speaking of sport, I have discovered my grandest favourite sport, in spite of motoring, which is deep sea fishing, nothing less. Let me inform you that I landed a 9-pound dolphin which he is like fire-opals all over and will grace the wall of my dining-room no matter if all my friends suffer with him the rest of their lives. He was a male dolphin; get that! It makes a difference from the deep sea fishing sportsman's standpoint. And this place of mine at the end of South Broadway where I can roll cocoanuts the rest of my life if I want to is at, in or about Delray, Florida. D-e-l-r-a-y; you've spelled it."