Page images

it not a fact that in all cases we are attracted or repelled by the personality of the writer rather than by any virtue or wisdom in the work itself? I think this may account for the relative rewards (in the sense of popularity) of writers whose talents are not altogether incomparable. As for myself, I find Shakespeare an attractive writer, and I should read his plays if they were much less commendable than they are. I find A. A. Milne an attractive writer. I find Sterne and Jane Austen and Remizov, Mr. Shaw and Mr. Chesterton, attractive writers. There is something in all these writers which touches a vein in me which is the natural vein. Some other writers I admire more than one or two of those I have named; but if I had my way (that is, if all or a great number thought as I think) these writers would be the most popular writers in the world. They are not the most popular writers in the world. Other people have different tastes. Therefore, when I write analytically, I have to say that I think these writers are good writers. "Good" is a term which means what the reader makes of it, and I expect that I instinctively take precautions not to suggest that my favorite writers (those with whom I have temperamentally most kinship) are the best writers in the world. As a rule, they are writers whose particular kind of humor I most relish. Other people do not relish them. I know one esteemed critic at the present time who abominates Jane Austen. I have seen people walk out of the theatre during the performance of plays by both Mr. Shaw and Mr. Milne. I have no doubt that Mr. Chesterton and Sterne and Remizov are all disliked by a section of their readers. Accordingly, I suggest that since it is the personality of each of these writers which produces its effect, it is that personality which creates pop

ularity or the reverse in the men and in the work which they produce. Any other explanation will have my respectful attention, but until a better notion is brought to my notice I shall persist in thinking that unpopularity is caused by some unattractiveness in the personality of the writer, some lack of charm. It is thus beyond our control, and popularity and unpopularity will continue to arise, not from the æsthetic interest of any man's work but from the peculiar radiations of the author's personality.

Take, for example, Max Beerbohm. One has only to glance at any newspaper at this moment, one has only to visit the Leicester Galleries, to be assured that Mr. Beerbohm has the sympathetic and charmed attention of a considerable and representative part of the British public. The new exhibition of his caricatures is a big success. The drawings, in the majority of cases, are already sold. Everywhere, "Max's" arrival in London in connection with his show has been greeted with a kind of writing which could spring only from affection. The one discordant note has been struck by Sir Owen Seaman in "Punch". Sir Owen objects to Mr. Beerbohm's "malice". Aside from the fact that Sir Owen Seaman's writing always strikes me as being full of that very quality, and therefore as something less humorous than it should be, I must draw attention to the fact that nobody else seems to have noticed "Max's" malice. I have myself seen the exhibition of cartoons, and most of them are the most friendly, laughing little exaggerations anybody could wish to see. My comment upon them would be that they are rather too much like small, polite family jokes (if family jokes can be im

agined ever to be polite) to have any true importance. I agree that the political cartoons are the worst, but that is because Mr. Beerbohm is evident`v not a politician. Indeed, the carica

re of Lord Milner, to which Sir Owen Seaman particularly draws attention, is probably the most meaningless of all the drawings to be seen at the Leicester Galleries. It has a slight astringency (almost, possibly, a bitterness) which I did not notice anywhere else. A friend who went with me to the exhibition said, of the drawing of Sir William Joynson Hicks, "I have sat opposite that man on a committee for months, and it is not in the smallest degree like him." The inference was that Mr. Beerbohm did not know Sir William Joynson Hicks, and had depended solely upon photographs or descriptions for his models. The same might be said of all his political subjects. They are not like the originals, because Mr. Beerbohm has never seen the originals. Similarly, in many cases, they are not appropriate, because Mr. Beerbohm has obtained his political knowledge by hearsay. It is impossible for a man to live far from England and to keep in touch with the feeling of the country or even with the appearance of its citizens. Take the portraits of Bernard Shaw. It is clear that Mr. Beerbohm has not recently seen Mr. Shaw. The drawings are not in the least like him. One of them shows Mr. Shaw incredibly burly. He remains in fact the same thin wiry figure that he always was, but Mr. Beerbohm, dreaming in Rapallo, has put flesh upon Mr. Shaw's bones, and he is forgiven. The actual drawing in several of the cartoons is terrible. Beerbohm's drawing has always been his own, and it does not improve. There are probably not half a dozen caricatures in the whole gallery which reveal him at his artistic or whimsical


best. And yet it is a delight to look at these drawings. It is delightful to con the little jokes, so devoid of sting and so goodnaturedly funny. Mr. Beerbohm is having a good "press", and he is having steady gatherings of the public each day. The catalogue of the exhibition is in itself likely to become a treasure, so charming is it to recall the delicate text which appears under each picture and which is reprinted in the catalogue. And the reason of it all is that Mr. Beerbohm has succeeded in getting the whole of the press, and the whole of that section of the public which can be reached by such subjects as interest Mr. Beerbohm, to accept his personality. He does not pander to the public. He does not put this in or that for the purpose of pleasing any special taste but his own. His cartoons are nearly all of men he has already caricatured as frequently as he has any need to do. And yet we are his servants. For how long? I shall not venture to prophesy. I shall only note that there is a charming (though not especially veracious) sketch of Lytton Strachey, that the Arnold Bennett and George Moore are as good as ever, and that the Sitwells make a notably successful first appearance. The drawing of the two Sitwell brothers, indeed, is held by some to be the best thing in the exhibition. I shall neither accept nor contradict this, but at least it shows that Mr. Beerbohm can really catch a likeness when he has seen the persons whom he is depicting. The point I want to make is that whether his caricatures are good or less good, Mr. Beerbohm is very much liked by many people who have never seen him, who have never seen the originals of his caricatures, and who do not really think his caricatures are as good (particularly the political caricatures) as those of David Low, the Australian cartoonist whose work appears regu

[merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small]
[ocr errors]

The list is one of the strangest lists I have ever seen much stranger and more unexpected than Mr. Walpole's recent list of twenty representative novels by living authors. That Hardy should come so high is astonishing. That there should be no place in the list for some of our more notorious best sellers is inexplicable. The fact that five of the writers chosen should be real old stagers (no offense intended), whose work was familiar and popular at the turn of the century · Hardy, Kipling, Doyle, Caine, and Haggard-shows how conservative the English public is. It loves its old authors, and will continue to do so. I was recently speakI was recently speaking to a literary society at one of our universities, and was referring to art in the novel, and heaven knows what highbrow topics, when one of the most su


perior members of my audience man who knew, of course, ten times more than the lecturer about the lecturer's own job, which is the way of all undergraduates, temporary and permanent stumped me by trying to estimate Rider Haggard's work by the highest standards of art. At first I supposed he was being facetious, but it turned out that the effort was being made in good faith. I was forced to confess that any conjunction between my own theme and the work of Rider Haggard seemed to me useless; but I was at the same time impressed by the knowledge that the late novelist still kept the respect of our English undergraduates and thus revealed a humanity in them which I was far from expecting. Observe, in the above list, how relatively lowly is the position of Ethel M. Dell.

A real old stager has just celebrated his centenary or rather, since he is no longer present, it has been celebrated for him - R. M. Ballantyne. Ballantyne was one of the most honest and capable writers for boys who ever lived. I do not think that he was the equal of Manville Fenn for the quickness and delight of story telling and the naturalness of his conversations; but he was very good indeed. I must have read all his books in days gone by. I still possess rather well worn copies of two of them, "The Coral Island" and "Martin Rattler". Although I have forgotten what the latter is about I have not forgotten that when I was twelve, being set as a composition at school the task of telling again the story of a favorite book, and writing about "Martin Rattler", I was pleased to get top marks and the master's assurance that I should make literature my profession in after years. "The Coral Island" I

still recall in some detail, and I have to thank that book for giving me as a child some really terrible dreams. There is in it a picture of victorious South Sea Islanders launching their war canoes over the bodies of living war prisoners which, when I think of it today, still makes me shudder. The spirits of the three young heroes of "The Coral Island" were very good, I recollect, and one of them, Peterkin, was a wag. Peterkin was my favorite character, though I believe I at all times identified myself with the personality of the narrator, who was rather less showy than Peterkin and the third member of the trio. But the mere titles of Ballantyne's books, for those whose youth coincided with mine, are a reminder of hours spent in very sweet pleasure. Who, of our period, will not thrill a little at memory of "Fighting the Flames", "The Red Eric", "The Battery and the Boiler", "The Gorilla Hunters", "The Settler and the Savage", "Deep Down", "Ungava”, and "The Young Fur Traders"? I was never a Henty-ite, because I found that author wooden. It was the sincerity and the naturalness of both Ballantyne and Fenn that made me their slave; and I am very glad to learn now, for the first time, that after making a mistake in one of his books Ballantyne determined that he would never again write without first hand knowledge of what he was describing. He thus lived for weeks in a lighthouse, went down into the tin mines, served as an amateur fireman, went to sea in a trawler, and traveled largely, all with this determination as the spur. No wonder his books seemed to the reader of them to be authentic! I do not know of any writer who has taken Ballantyne's place, but I imagine that the religious tone of Ballantyne is rather out of date, and that his successors have different

standards from his. Never mind, the books were good books of their kind, and I am glad to have read them, even though it was so long ago that I can recall nothing of them but the names and the satisfaction they gave.

My readers should not miss two extremely curious works of great interest, both of which I have recently read. The first of them is D. H. Lawrence's introduction to "Memoirs of the Foreign Legion" by M. M., published in England by Secker and in America by Knopf. The second is a pamphlet, "D. H. Lawrence and Maurice Magnus", by Norman Douglas, which can be obtained at the price of five shillings from the author, care of Thomas Cook and Son, Florence, Italy. Each in its way is a masterpiece, and each is exceedingly characteristic of its author. Lawrence's vitriolic portraits of both Magnus and Douglas (though, of course, especially of Magnus) are superb pieces of description. They have such a vivid truth that you are quite overwhelmed by them. I do not know of anything to beat this introduction in its own line, or of anybody except Dostoyevsky who could beat Lawrence at this sort of work. That I regard as the highest praise which it is possible to give. Most other writers would not only be more urbane and less ruthless than Lawrence; they would also be incapable of the fierce perception which has enabled him to seize a character with such force, and the magnificent eloquence which has enabled him to produce the portrait for our knowledge. I say nothing of the genius which has chosen each detail so surely that it helps to compose Magnus for us in the printed word. Douglas's pamphlet, taken by itself, is a very fine performIt seems to me to be clearly


[ocr errors]

disingenuous, and it really leaves Lawrence unanswered; yet in itself, for the thing that it is, the expression of a personality which is suave where Lawrence's personality is white hot, this pamphlet is diabolically clever. The humor of it, and the dexterity; the blandness and cynicism - all are delicious. And it should certainly be read by those who have read only the Lawrence preface. It does not affect the preface in one way it heightens the truth of the preface and it is particularly amusing as amplifying and refining the curious portrait which Lawrence has drawn of Douglas himself. For all who care to study human nature, in fact, these two items are of interest which I could not exaggerate. I have read them both with the utmost diversion.

[ocr errors]

And now let me end upon a graver note. I see that Mr. Squire is to edit a new series of the "English Men of Letters". The titles of the new books, and the names of the men who are to write them, are just announced. Some of the books should be very interesting, and I am especially pleased to see that Robert Lynd is going to do the Stevenson. There could not have been a better choice. For the rest, the editor is to write the volume on Francis Thompson another excellent allocation. There are to be volumes upon Herman Melville, Edgar Allan Poe, and Whitman, among American writers (the authors of these, respectively, are John Freeman, Edward Shanks, and John Bailey), and Donne, Blake, Swinburne, and Meredith, among Englishmen. Rather a mixed bag, perhaps, particularly when it is remembered

[ocr errors]

that Mr. Squire has taken over from a former but anonymous editor of the series Mr. Walpole's volume on Trollope. But the new books should be interesting. I observe that volumes on Oscar Wilde, Samuel Butler, John Addington Symonds, Herbert Spencer, and Froude are not announced. Ishould have thought all these interesting subjects for Mr. Squire's colleagues; but perhaps they are to form the basis of a second instalment. The authors of the present list make quite a little family party. Most of them are regular contributors to "The London Mercury". Ellis Roberts, who wrote upon Ibsen for Mr. Secker's series of monographs, is to write upon Conrad for Mr. Squire; Mr. Priestley, who is to do the Meredith, is a reader for John Lane, a reviewer on the "Daily News" and apparently on the "Times Literary Supplement", and is the author of several books of collected critical writings; Mr. Shanks is the author of three novels and several volumes of poems, besides a study of Mr. Belloc in which he collaborated with a friend; John Bailey is a writer on the "Times Literary Supplement"; Mr. Freeman is a poet who, if he had been able to resist the temptation to produce too easily, might have taken high rank, so excellent have some of his works been; Harold Nicolson is the husband of V. Sackville-West, and the author of several monographs upon defunct poets; and Geoffrey Scott, who is to write the Donne, has just published an extraordinarily good book called "The Portrait of Zélide". Among the galaxy, the Donne volume is the one to arouse my highest hopes. Mr. Scott is a man of real talent, and he has a splendid theme. SIMON PURE

« PreviousContinue »