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venture of Living", amply testified it. Now he has published a new volume about himself called "The River of Life" He does not give a portrait of himself, and he eliminates as far as possible enumeration of facts, positive statements, sequence, logical or chronological, and conclusions. His diary is of the sort that might have been written for the pleasure of the soul and the contentment of the heart, with no further idea of publication. He tells of his likes and dislikes, as they are brought to his mind by travel and reading; he does not indulge in ratiocination or in plans for the future. He is content to see life as a river, flowing constantly, everlastingly the same, everlastingly different, and his diary leaves the impression of a walk through a flower garden. One stops at interesting points, picks here and there a flower which will be kept as a memento, and which, being seen again, will recall a pleasant day.
In an antescript, Mr. Strachey writes: "If I am not careful, some votary of the New Psychology will get busy on my Diary and prove that I am suffering from an inferiority complex." Not a chance of it! A lot of derogatory things about the Freudians may be said; yet though they are deluded, they are not imbecile; they are priority fanatics, but not blind. They know a superiority complex when they see it.
Mrs. Dorr's "A Woman of Fifty" is the most objective autobiography I have read in years. It is about as introspective as an account of a very active king in a chess game might be. It is, in truth, an account of feminism poured into an autobiographical mold by a clever reader of the trend of the day toward that form of literature. There is much in it that is personal, no
doubt, but certainly the motive is in the direction of a "movement" rather than toward an analysis of individual reactions to that movement. If Mrs. Dorr's purpose had been unmixed self revelation, I have the feeling she would have done it in a more up-to-the-moment manner; in the hair splitting, soul dissecting fashion of the hour.
As biography, I don't think it holds water. As a summing up of the struggle of women toward recognition as entities, it is vigorous, rather dashing, well put together with a perception of essentials, and valuable as a record. The reader likes the writer better as he progresses through the book, but he is satisfied that fate has not made his and her paths cross. At times, he wishes she would either get out of the picture or add something vital to it. She has made a "go", but at the same time, in trying to write a double header, a so called personal narrative with a purpose that is far from personal, she has now and then failed; the individual gets in the way of the subject up for discussion - feminism. But I fancy the average reader will find the book very readable. That is a good deal to say for a book. It is a matter of profound regret that exigencies of space do not permit me to say some of the things about Maurice Francis Egan's autobiography that it so richly deserves. A book so charmingly written, a life story so modestly told, a narrative so impregnated with wit and laden with wisdom, a document so redolent of culture and kindliness, merits analysis and summary, comment and commendation. I am convinced that his friend Dr. Henry van Dyke was characteristically temperate when he wrote of it: "It is a delectable book, sure of a high place among modern autobiographies."
(This is the last of three articles—the first of which appeared
Plays and Dramatic Critics—"Sanditon"—"The Adelphi❞ and Some Other New Monthly Reviews-Cliché, with Contributions by a Nurseryman-An Advertisement of W. B. Yeats.
LONDON, April 1, 1925.
HE latest London scare, as I write, concerns the production by a private society of W. J. Turner's play, "Smaragda's Lover". A universally irate press has decided that the play is a wicked affair, and that these societies which exist for the production of wicked plays should be forcibly exterminated. Where, the press has asked, is the censor? And so on. The fuss will all die down again in a few days, and no more will be heard of it for months more. Then there will be the same fuss about some other play, and we shall have the same angry comments from those who produce the plays, and again there will be placid calm. But the press has had a very severe time over the theatre this year. It has decided by a majority (the majority is as far as I can see a unanimity) that five of the plays shown in the first two months of the year are the worst that have ever appeared. These five plays are first, one that was produced at the St. James's Theatre (I forget the name of it) by an unknown author from the Stock Exchange, in which play a woman undressed behind a screen upon the stage. This incident provoked controversy with the Lord Chamberlain because that gentleman was very anxious that the screen should be guaranteed solid and not likely to blow over at an inconvenient moment. You can see what kind of play that was. It ran for a few days only. The second
was "Camilla States Her Case", by George Egerton, a naive play for feminists who believe that women have a very rough time in a man ridden universe. The third was a really terrible affair, produced by "A. Keeper, Ltd.", called "The Monkey House". The fourth was Arnold Bennett's "The Bright Island". And Mr. Turner holds fifth place.
Now it is no part of my work to draw attention to the weaknesses of critics; but it should be apparent to all that men like Mr. Bennett and Mr. Turner do not write works of the inept incompetence of "The Monkey House". They may write plays which for them are less than good (I do not say that they did so in the cases of "The Bright Island" and "Smaragda's Lover", neither of which did I see); but whatever such men write is quite clearly upon a different plane from the wretched "un-idea-ed" stuff (as Dr. Johnson might have called it) contained in the three other plays. I do not wish to be snobbish, but merely to state a fact. We know that a play by Mr. Bennett will contain amusing lines, we know that it will result from his own very characteristic view of mankind, and we know that it will sin, if it sins, from deliberate choice upon the part of the author. Even those who dislike Mr. Bennett's work will admit that the author is not a fool. The same applies to Mr. Turner, although Mr. Turner is younger than Mr. Bennett and for that reason may
be expected to be less sage and more unconsciously experimental. But did the dramatic critics make it clear to their readers that there was any difference in the five plays they condemned so wholeheartedly? They did not. They left their readers to infer that all were of a piece, and unspeakably bad at that. The same critics, immediately afterward going to a musical comedy the libretto of which escaped by a hairbreadth the customary banality of musical comedies, proclaimed that this musical comedy was the gem of the season. They enthusiastically commended it to the same readers who had been told how bad the five plays were.
I need not draw a moral. This kind of criticism is rampant in all the arts. Mediocre, conventional works are given easy praise; and works of greater ambitiousness are scrutinized almost destructively. They never receive such high praise as the conventional works. It is difficult to praise highly where the judgment has been severely tested. The temptation to qualify, to play for safety, to weigh the word of praise, is very great. For immaturity, imbecility, and incompetence, the critic has toleration. His line is that the book or play or picture which he himself despises as inane is just the kind of thing that many people will like. To condemn it will be to mark himself a highbrow. To praise it-ah, well, it would be cruel to destroy such work; and nobody will tax him with his indulgence, because all other critics and readers (apart from the very young and iconoclastic) have similar weakness for the puerile. And since the young and iconoclastic despise all that has not been written by their friends, he need not trouble about their judgment of his own work. Accordingly the critic slops about in the slough
of his own vague standards, and thus all that he does is vitiated by timidity, uncertainty, kindness, the sense that established authors will not suffer by his dispraise; and the criticism of books and plays remains as unsatisfactory as ever. On the one hand there is a tendency to give easy praise to work that is third rate. On the other hand there is fear of being the first to dash out with the discovery — which may be laughed at of something first rate. I do not know whether, for the sake of my argument, I may be allowed a third hand, but if so I should say that on the third hand there is the inability to discriminate between what is incompetent and what is original. To me, as I have so often said here, the only quality that matters in any work of art is its originality. I care nothing for form or for any of the rules of the non-creative, so long as the work seems to my judgment to be that of a person who thinks and feels entirely for himself. But for most professional critics originality is nothing at all. They constantly praise unoriginal work because it is neat, or because it conforms to their own notions of what is praiseworthy. Or rather, not their own notions so much as the notions in vogue among their friends. As a result, much good work is praised or dispraised in precisely the terms ordinarily applied to mediocre. work or even inept work in the same field.
Take the case of "The Constant Nymph". In my opinion this novel is the most distinguished novel written by a woman for many years. It seems to me to indicate the arising of a new talent. Shortcomings it may have, but it is original and it is imaginative. But was the press reception of this book uproarious? It was not. Praise the book had, indeed, but stereotyped praise. There was nothing in the
praise given by the press to indicate that Miss Kennedy was outside the run of conventional talents. She had not had a clique behind her, and took her chance with the "also ran" novelists who are responsible for "the stream of trashy novels constantly poured forth by the press". Except that "The Constant Nymph" was celebrated by one or two octogenarians who have no skill as novel reviewers, it might have been a new novel by any one of two or three hundred mediocre writers.
I think there really is something wrong about this. It is well known that talk and talk only makes reputation and circulation for novels, and this talk has been accorded “The Constant Nymph" and its author; but it should not be so. The press critics fail in their duty to humankind. It is their business to create such esteem for their judgment that readers will look to them for advice. They neglect their business. Criticism in the press is really negligible, largely, I think, because it is so usually perfunctory. But it is also negligible because it is incompetent. Critics should have at least the wit to indicate whether they are judging work by the standards of first, second, or fifteenth class literature. They cannot do this because they have no standards. They go to the theatre or they pick up a book, full of prejudice against or in favor of the author they are to criticize, and they are bored before they begin to assess values. They do not yield themselves to the work they are examining, but stand frowning or smiling upon it because of some quite extraneous reason. If they can get through it without mental effort they praise it; if they can do nothing of this kind they bring out their soiled and overworked adjectives and sprinkle them like pepper upon pieces of préciswriting which schoolboys would reject
in disgust, as unlikely to pass their form masters.
A couple of months ago I said in these pages that the most popular literary discovery anybody could make nowadays would probably be a new novel by Jane Austen. As if in answer to my wish, there has been published here, and I suppose in America also, the fragment of what is practically a new novel by Jane Austen. When Miss Austen's nephew, J. E. Austen Leigh, gave to the world "Lady Susan" and the unfinished story of "The Watsons", he said of the present fragment that it could not "be presented to the public", and he merely gave a sketch of its contents, with tantalizing extracts from the work itself. Present day interest in Jane Austen has brought about a change in the attitude of those in possesion of her manuscripts. A little while ago we had some juvenilia, collected under the title of "Love and Freindship" (it is strange to notice from the new fragment, which is printed exactly as it was written, that Miss Austen always spelled wrongly any words containing the letters "ie" in juxtaposition); and now we have "Sanditon". I should like to say at once that to me this fragment is not in the smallest degree a disappointment. The old touch is to be perceived in every line. If anything, Miss Austen would seem to be more caustic than before. She sketches quite a number of people, and as far as the book takes us into their characters she makes fun of most of these. The hero, unfortunately (for I take it that he is the hero), makes no more than a passing appearance at the end of the fragment; but we have a glimpse of his character from the comments of his relatives. He is a funmaker of the kind near Miss Austen's heart. The heroine is perceptive and
realistic. She has not, in the chapters written, much more character than that. But she promises well. She promises so well that I believe we might have had a good comedy from her relations with the humorous and humbug ridiculing hero. Of course it is difficult to tell when so little is available, but the book promises so delightfully that I found myself gnashing my teeth when I came to the end of the text. The editors give some invaluable notes of variant readings which the Austen lover will be able to study with much profit. Here are grouped the phrases which she struck out while she wrote, or afterward. They should give real insight into the working of her mind. I have not yet been able to examine them in detail, or to read the story more than once, and I assume that no unfinished tale can ever be so warm a favorite as one that is all before us. Nevertheless, there is matter here which is of great and mature excellence. It is particularly interesting as showing how Miss Austen as she grew older was becoming more reflective. I think the book does take us further along that line than "Persuasion", which, though I love "Pride and Prejudice" better than any other of her books, I consider the most beautiful of them all. There is no beauty (other than incidental beauty) in the fragment of "Sanditon", but there might well have been much of it as the story opened before our eyes. There is not the radiance of Miss Austen's early work, and there is even an additional pungency to the satire; yet there is a delicacy and sureness unsurpassed in any other of her works. This is an impression after one reading. Already "Sanditon" is more attractive than either "Lady Susan" or "The Watsons". There are some Austenites who feel great dislike of "Lady Susan"
even contempt for it. I am not of
their number, but the prospects before the modern reader of "The Watsons" are certainly less enticing to the imagination than are the prospects before the same reader of "Sanditon". I find myself already a "Sanditonian”, and I believe that no reader who can bear to read a fragment at all should or indeed can afford to miss this latest Austen treasure.
It will be remembered that "The Adelphi" started under very favorable auspices in the Summer of 1923. It had good will behind it and about it, and the reception given to the early numbers showed clearly how cordial a public there is in England for a periodiIcal which shall rise above the level of the ordinary English magazine. An enormous circulation "The Adelphi" never had, of course, but it was for its class of paper a respectable and encouraging circulation. Now, after about twenty months of life, "The Adelphi" is appealing for subscribers. Middleton Murry, the editor, explains that unless there is a solid body of people who will undertake to support him by definite subscriptions the magazine will have to cease publication. The reasons for this change of situation on the part of "The Adelphi" are several, chief among them being possibly that Mr. Murry has quite honestly and intelligibly departed from the position he adopted when the paper was started. That is, "The Adelphi", which began as a sort of intellectual commonwealth, has become an autoc
racy. It has latterly been more and more a vehicle for Mr. Murry's own views, and less of a vehicle for the talents of Mr. Murry's first coadjutors. Even so, I do not think that there would be any question about "The Adelphi's" continuance if Mr. Murry