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THE GOSSIP SHOP
WO American poets within
TW Month reached the age of fifty: Percy MacKaye and Robert Frost. Both, curiously enough, have at one time or another taken New Hampshire as their home. Both have studied mountain peoples as a basis for some of their work, Mr. MacKaye in Kentucky, Mr. Frost in Vermont and New Hampshire. Here are two men who have had a notable influence in American letters, as their friends and admirers told them at various dinners given to celebrate their half century of attainment. Mr. MacKaye has done much for amateur theatricals by his great interest in the little theatre movement, and his connection with pageantry. The pageants that have swept over New England have actually been of considerable service, not only as artistic expressions of community life but as developing influences toward real community feeling. His "The Scarecrow" and "The Canterbury Pilgrims" were fine pieces of work; likewise, in the opinion of many people, "This Fine-Pretty World", produced by the Neighborhood Playhouse last season. He is planning now to write much more of the Kentucky peoples he has studied so assiduously. A poet of distinction and a propagandist for art and beauty is Mr. MacKaye. Robert Frost has led a far less active life. He has farmed and dreamed and indulged his desire to be a fine teacher. Slowly, the public and the critics realized that here was one of America's great poets. The Pulitzer Prize was awarded him last year for his volume, "New Hampshire". His dramatic lyrics of farm life, his poems of country places
and thoughts, are becoming well known all over this country and Europe. Not so well known, I suppose, as those of Eddie Guest but then, you know! Frost goes now to Michigan as a permanent resident member of the faculty of that university, an arrangement made by the late President Burton, a sturdy and brilliant organizer and educator. This will give Mr. Frost the whole country, in a sense, for he was born in San Francisco and has made New England his own. Now he will be taken to the heart of the middle west, a cordial heart, to be sure. I could not but remember, as I read Sir Philip Gibbs's excellent tale, "The Reckless Lady", my experiences in Grand Rapids. Although he may be just as right in his picturing of the middle west as I am, there is room for disagreement. All luck to Mr. Frost, then, and congratulations; also to Mrs. Frost, whose grace and dignity have made a rich family life a constant aid to the progress of a poet.
Two interesting Lincoln items come to my desk, both having to do with speeches. The one is Honoré Willsie Morrow's "The Lost Speech", a short story reprinted in a most attractive book format; the other, "Lincoln's Last Speech in Springfield in the The latter is
Campaign of 1858".
published for the first time by the University of Chicago Press, with introduction and other Lincoln matter. If you like large flat books, it is one which you will find interesting. Speaking of large flat books, the loveliest of their kind lie before me, facsimile reprints by the Oxford University
Press of early English first editions. They are fine examples of printing and of taste in binding, although they are covered only with heavy marbled paper, of unusually attractive color and design. The best of them all, I think, is Pope's "Of the Characters of Women", 1735. Do you know it? I like particularly the "Advertisement", as follows. What a model of discreet writing!
The Author being very sensible how particular a Tenderness is due to the FEMALE SEX, and at the same time how little they generally show to each other; declares, upon his Honour, that no one Character is drawn from the Life, in this Epistle. It would otherwise be most improperly inscribed to a Lady, who, of all the Women he knows, is the last that would be entertain'd at the Expence of Another.
Some of our American critics were inclined to belittle "Arrowsmith", Sinclair Lewis's new novel. The obvious stand to take on it was that, having written two successes, this energetic writer would try to do the trick again and fail. If you think that he has failed you should read the English reviews of his book. (Lewis is not content to write successful books; he is a hard worker and an honest artist/ He will, I think, never write a bad book. The attitude of childish bumptiousness has never been better illustrated than in an editorial on Joseph Hergesheimer or something of the sort in the first issue of the Harvard "Crimson's" Literary Supplement. It is smart, silly, and thoroughly worthless. The general makeup of the sheet is good, however, and there is an excellent review by Mr. Hillyer, whose winning of the Dahlia poem contest I note elsewhere. David McCord, '21, patronizes Miss Lowell's "John Keats". All in all, it is the sort of literary snobbery one would expect from a publication issued by collegiate
intellectuals. However, more power to them! We were all in their shoes once upon a time.
Lancaster, Pennsylvania, at first gives an impression of coldness and formality. formality. I found myself terrified by the atmosphere of this ancient and honorable town, with its fascinating rows of old houses, with doorways that leave one breathless. Then, it has a fashion of suddenly becoming hospitable and totally winning both the heart and the imagination. It is old and it is young. It is quaint and it is proud. Here are made more umbrellas than in any other city in America. Here, too, our largest silk mill. Yet commerce does not affect the picturesqueness. A prominent lawyer takes you to his office, in the same age-old building with a fascinating bookstore (there are at least three excellent purveyors of literature in the town); and after you pass through a corridor, you find yourself in a building modern in every way, with a law library and light, airy offices. These people preserve their atmosphere, yet are determinedly up to date. There is Demuth's, the oldest tobacco store in the United States, handed down since 1770 from one Demuth to another. The original sign is preserved, but the store vies with Dunhill's on Fifth Avenue for sedate luxury. I bought a cigar from a dark haired, smiling Mr. Demuth, Jr., and was much impressed by him and by my own act. The "oldest" hardware, drug, and department stores cry out their combination of age with modernity. In the public markets are the farmers with their wares. A gander is tied to a post and does not like it. Eggs are remarkably reasonable in their baskets. The sales people themselves seem from a different world.
They are of the curious religious sects which inhabit Lancaster County, the Amish, for instance, with clothes on which it is sacrilegious to wear buttons, with habits of intermarriage which are as rigorous as they are alarming, with faces serene and sometimes beautiful. Motoring out through their country, along rolling fields of wheat (winter wheat just then covering the brown with tender green), tobacco not yet in evidence, one sees houses, two doored, twin doored rather, for the two entrances are side by side. Why? No one could answer. The window shades are bright blue; some of the houses themselves violet; and the gates painted in bright colors different from all the rest. Mennonites there are, and Dunkards. Descendants, all, of South Germans come here in preRevolutionary times. Returning to town we passed Franklin and Marshall College, and President Buchanan's home. I was told of the tomb of Rebecca Gratz, a friend of Sir Walter Scott who "lives in Ivanhoe", Mary Warfel remarked, "although she is buried in Lancaster". Then there was Miss Warfel's harp, one of the loveliest ever manufactured, on which she renders charming minuets, modern French or old English. Her brother plays the violin, and there are few lovelier combinations in music than violin and harp. Lancaster is a place which has not yet found adequate interpretation in literature. Elsie Singmaster, nearby in Gettysburg, has written delightful stories of the simple Pennsylvania folk; and Mrs. Fiske of course immortalized Helen R. Martin's "Barnabetta", dramatized as "Erstwhile Susan"; but there is still a great story waiting the right hand. Joseph Hergesheimer is not far away in West Chester.
"Uncle Sam Needs a Wife" by Ida Clyde Clarke, the brilliant writer of editorials for "Pictorial Review", opened my eyes to many things. I have known Mrs. Clarke for some years, and found her a charming and forceful woman, but I shall from now on be exceedingly timid in her presence. She is certainly a feminist. Why not, you ask? My reply is why not? Nevertheless I shall be timid. Among other things she writes a piece called "Sauce for the Goose":
What do we women really want? What would satisfy our feminine unrest, end our hectic seeking, and cool our feverish energies so that we could settle down to the business of living richly and fully our individual lives and contributing our maximum to our communities as citizens? In other words, what is the touchstone of our desire, now that public opinion has conceded that women, as well as men, have those "certain natural and inalienable rights" mentioned in the Declaration of Independence?
Before we can answer that question we have got to purge the whole situation of waste matter, of those unsound and nonconstructive theories that have so long glutted and congested our main channels of thought. When the woman movement was still young, and when only a few people had taken the time and the trouble to think things through clearly and thoroughly, any semblance of an argument was seized and held fast- echoed in rhythmic phrases, adopted as a slogan, and passed along down the line to be repeated by the ever-swelling chorus of raw recruits.
Among other things, Mrs. Clarke attempts to answer this all-important question. Hers is a book with many ideas well worth considering, if they are, to a mere male, at times a trifle upsetting.
Among the visiting English novelists this season there have been few tragedies. tragedies. So far they have been liked, and have been gracious enough to appear to like us. James Stephens arrived with his lilt and his dramatic method of reciting his own verses, and captured everyone. "The Crock of
Gold" is almost universally known, and his latest book, "The Land of Youth", has a quality that appeals strongly to all lovers of fantasy. The Macmillan Company, just as they had moved into their large marble building or is it granite? - on Fifth Avenue, gave Mr. Stephens a dinner at which Professors Thorndike and Cross, Ernest Boyd, Padraic Colum, Don Marquis and others paid glowing and sincere tributes to the genius of this gay Irishman. I almost forgot the Irish Consul, who also seemed impressed by the entertainment. Mr. Stephens is a dark little man, with a face lined but jovial. He turns the ordinary events of life into little quips and oddities of humor. He makes of New York a place filled with romance and curious happenings, and his stories of trips on the street cars are almost as good as his recital of the parodies of Oliver Gogarty. Then came Michael Arlen, of "The Green Hat" and "These Charming People", preceded by legends which made him out to be a rather special young man, perhaps a rather snobbish young man. Mr. Arlen has had much publicity since his arrival. It is perhaps unnecessary for me to describe him here except to say that he is pleasant, kindly, witty, hardworking, and, moreover, modest. He is twenty eight years old and successful, and the way he carries his success might well be a model for many a young American author. There were many people in this town of quickly made and lost reputations ready to dislike Michael Arlen. He gave them in wit and sally as good as they sent, and they found themselves conquered not only by his verbal dexterity but by his friendliness. When he returns in the autumn to a house on Madison Avenue in which he plans to live next year, he will find warm friends. On
He had arrived from Mexico and South America, which he found too modernized to offer much material for writing. Mr. Maugham is a dignified and quiet gentleman whose wit is staggering when he chooses to employ it. In my opinion, "The Painted Veil" is his finest performance since "Of Human Bondage". Technically perfect and emotionally true, it seems to me one of the great short novels of our time. There are those who disagree; in fact, there is disagreement over many current novels. Some find "The Constant Nymph" less charming than do I. Others have said that "Soundings" by A. Hamilton Gibbs is sentimental trash, while still others consider it one of the best stories of the spring. At any rate, Mr. Maugham does not need to read his critics, because he is a great writer and he must know it. He is busy now on several plays. A story he tells of one of our great authorities on the drama is worth repeating.
This gentleman is a solemn authority, well known throughout academic and theatrical circles. He proceeded to invite Mr. Maugham, with much grandeur and praise, to luncheon. "I must be perfectly frank with you, Mr. Maugham", he said. "Many of your plays seem to me slight, and not entirely successful. However, I am glad to say that I can praise one of them without reservation as a great piece of dramatic composition. You should live on that alone." Mr. Maugham, naturally flattered and eager, asked which of his plays it was. "The Mollusc"", replied the reverend professor. "It was the most embarrassing moment of my life", Mr. Maugham told me. "What could I say? You see, I didn't write "The Mollusc'; it was written by Hubert Henry Davies." Such is the life of an English novelist in this broad land.
There is one experience which is as delightful for a bachelor as a movie show: i.e., listening to his friends discuss their babies. Stephanie Jane Benét and Clare Eames Howard are two young misses of literary and artistic parents who came in for a great deal of comparison yesterday. Their fathers, usually vastly interested in discussions of theatrical and magazine enterprises, found themselves at one on the fact that babies look mighty angry when they have been in the world only a short time, yet are, after all, fine additions to the complexities of life. Now, I happen to know that Mr. Benét had just signed a contract for another novel, and that his new book of verse, "Poems and Legends", is in the presses; also that Mr. Howard was about to go to sign a contract for a new play to follow "They Knew What They Wanted"; but never a word of that did one hear over the coffee cups.
Well, after all, a play can be written any day, while only a certain number of children arrive in a lifetime; and the first is undoubtedly deserving of much attention. Having no flowers to send young Miss Howard this spring day, I call on my child familiar for aid; and since young Miss Benét is over a year old and I have never presented her with anything but a doll from whose head she promptly licked the paint, proving its cheapness, I must include her.
FOR STEPHANIE AND CLARE To poets' daughters one should bring The most exclusive things, Camellias and turquoises
And ivory teething rings.
Their rattles should be diamonded,
Ten footmen clad in brilliant green
Should serve them as they wish And they should have ten nurses, too, With velvet trains to swish.
Soft trumpets should awaken them,
And perfumes guard their ease, Their waking hours should know the strains
Of fairy symphonies.
But if they only knew it,
Their most amazing bliss
Is their father's admiration
And their mother's good night kiss.
From Edward Laroque Tinker (he who wrote the recent biography of Lafcadio Hearn) comes an account of the New Orleans carnival that has entirely spoiled my day. Perhaps it will set you dreaming of southern scenes also. Here it is: