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By Arthur Corning White

S the American undergraduate being corrupted by the moral tone of English literature as taught by young instructors in our colleges? The President of Middlebury College seems to think so. As an instructor of English in an American college, I take this opportunity of disagreeing with him. In "The Age of Lawlessness" in the January BOOKMAN he says in effect: The teaching of the problems of contemporary life, as they are found in sociology or psychology or political economy, is dangerous; but the teaching of the thought, manners, and aspirations of the world we live in, as these are presented in literature, is more than dangerous. It is fatal. From his essay I gather he believes contemporary literature, especially literature, especially English and American, could not have passed a censorship in Sodom.

It is my belief that there never has been, and is never likely to be, evidence for a belief in a past golden age in any field of human activity. For example, consider a moment the comic rôle of this illusion of a past golden age in literary history. At the dawn of the Elizabethan period in English poetry Sir Philip Sidney complained that the country was given over to the vulgar interests of money making and political aggrandizement, that the Muses were neglected, that the halcyon days of art were done. And, earlier, the critics of the Age of Chaucer felt that the literature of real worth ended with Horace. Dr. Moody would include Wordsworth among the respectables, but the critics

who castigated him for the "Lyrical Ballads" when the collection was first issued in 1798, felt that Wordsworth was a menace to good taste. And in this year of his centenary shall we forget Byron? They ran him out of England. land. Yet today every hidebound denominational college in America includes Byron among the poets a moral maiden should know.

Now I think we should look with sympathy into the life and literature about us, not uncritically accepting things as desirable merely because they are here, nor rejecting them because they are modern, but sincerely trying as best we may to understand, and to discriminate, and to give encouragement to what in all this chaos of contemporary civilization seems to us to be genuinely good.

The great trouble with the academic cast of mind is that it insists on trying to pigeonhole culture. It divides and subdivides. It catalogues types of literature and differentiates periods. It isolates French drama, or German drama, or the drama of Spain. Such classifications, I admit, are convenient for the purposes of discussion, but they can be easily overdone. It is convenient to speak of the Queen Anne satire or the Victorian novel, but it is folly to assume that good satire ended with the accession of George I, or that the writing of commendable novels ceased at the coronation of Victoria's capable son.

Dr. Moody would eliminate contemporary literature from the curricu

lum because he feels much of it presents a point of view in conflict with ascetic Evangelical ethics. Voltaire had to leave Paris. Keats is a hedonist, and Shelley was kicked out of Oxford for atheism. All three of these gentlemen now wear with perfect sang-froid the halos of literary saints. And in the immaculate years of hideous haircloth furniture, vile wax flowers, and the ugliest fashions in dress that ever in the history of the world have distorted the divine lines of a female figure, we have Fitzgerald's "Omar" and Burton's "Arabian Nights". Surely these are rather spicy reading for guileless maidens and callow youths. Compared with the morals and manners of these books, even those of the novels of Carl Van Vechten and James Branch Cabell are innocent indeed.

The actual situation, of course, is this: As Dr. Henry Canby, editor of "The Saturday Review", remarked to me the other day, literature is one continuous stream; never ceasing, but always flowing on. To consider contemporary writing as an isolated phenomenon is silly. And I may add to this my own observation that the literature of all periods and of all languages is made up of the same ingredients. Kalidasa's "Sakuntala" in the groves of ancient India and Florenz Ziegfeld's new "Follies" in New York have many elements in common. Restoration comedy we have one sort of manners; again in the sentimental comedy of Steele's day we have another sort. But Jeremy Collier was not alone in his dislike of the brutal lasciviousness of Dryden's worst products, nor were Goldsmith and Sheridan the first gentlemen who felt that sentimental comedy needed more spice. Dr. Moody, I judge, has forgotten that the egregious moralizing in Samuel Richardson's "Pamela" was immedi


ately burlesqued by the ribaldry in Henry Fielding's "Joseph Andrews". Anyone who knows anything about literary history, realizes that no one period or place has ever had a monopoly either on virtue or on vice. To sum up, then, contemporary literature is morally no better or worse than that of any other day; it has elements of both sublimity and filth, of folly and wisdom, of pettiness and breadth. Dr. Moody, with the aid of his English department, no doubt can name some contemporary poems, novels, and plays which are bad morals and bad art. But I myself, in case he has not heard of them, venture to call Dr. Moody's attention to the work of Joseph Conrad, John Galsworthy, May Sinclair, Willa Cather, Zona Gale, George Bernard Shaw, Laurence Stallings, Sara Teasdale, and Robert Frost. Though Conrad has recently died, his writing, I think, may fairly be called contemporary. About the others there is no question. I have mentioned only a few. Contemporary literature, Continental and English, is not so trivial as Dr. Moody believes it is. Even so conservative a critic as Stuart P. Sherman, I think, will admit that "Buddenbrooks", "Jean-Christophe", and "The Forsyte Saga" are great books.

My purpose, however, in writing this essay is not to elicit appreciative notes from Herr Mann, or from Monsieur Rolland, or from Mr. Galsworthy. My purpose is not to whitewash contemporary literature but to demonstrate why it should be taught.

In the first place, it should be taught for social reasons. I blush for the platitude, but to elucidate my argument I am constrained to remark that literature frequently reflects the life, the thought, the manners, and the aspirations of the environment from which it comes. Dr. Moody himself,

I gather, feels that education should not merely equip men and women with scholarship but that it should also help them to find for themselves some happiness in their lives this side of heaven. Some people find their bliss in being burned at the stake for trying to change the ideas and morals of their friends. But if these individuals are to achieve this ardent destiny, there must be somebody to chop the wood. As a general rule the difference between the people who are burned by the fagots and those who cut and light them, is that the former have not been able to adjust themselves to the thought of their day and the latter have. And even the noble spirits with messianic missions might accomplish more by proceeding from a sympathetic comprehension of their world than by basing their propaganda for reform on a misapprehension of the facts.

History, of course, is necessary. The literature of the past is necessary. One can't comprehend his own day unless he knows what happened last week. But neither can one understand the problems of the moment from a knowledge of the past alone. Contemporary literature is the expression of life as these young Americans in our colleges have got to face it. An ostrich-like posture will not help them. They had better learn a few things vicariously through literature than be thrust cruelly against them totally unprepared when they walk off the campus with a sheepskin tucked under their


In the second place, classroom contact with contemporary literature gives the student an opportunity to make an honest, individual judgment of values, both moral and æsthetic. In fact, such contact forces him to make a personal judgment. I would not be understood as decrying the importance

of old literature for the student. He should have all of it he will read. But what actually happens in courses in Shakespeare, or Milton, or eighteenth century prose, is this (having studied and taught in half a dozen universities from Connecticut to the Golden Gate, I know whereof I speak): There has been so much criticism of the older literature, this criticism has become so well codified, and has been made so accessible in convenient form, that what the students really do is to read it in abstract and swallow it like a cocktail in one gulp. They read a comedy by Congreve by Congreve - that is, if they are conspicuously assiduous they may then read what Macaulay said about it, and let the matter rest at that. Often they may omit the reading of the comedy, but they always read the criticism on it.

Now turn a group of students loose on the contemporary drama and they have to use their heads. The criticism is not codified. It is scattered and comparatively hard to get at. The students have to do their own thinking. They have to read the play itself. They learn, in this process, to distinguish the wheat from the tares.

One more point. I grant Dr. Moody that a lecherously minded instructor can do some damage in the field of contemporary literature. But so can he in every field of literary study, or any study. I grant that in every college is a coterie of pseudo-æsthetes who, reclining on chaise longues sipping synthetic cognac and inhaling incense, luxuriate in that notorious chapter in "Jurgen" which most young men and women find, not immoral, but unutterably dull. I may, though, say this: The number of students who are hypnotized by the decadent strain in contemporary fiction is entirely negligible. There are always some people who,

whether or not they are exposed to decadence, are just naturally sick in their souls. But I have smoked a great deal of tobacco with American undergraduates in the last three years, I have listened to a great many sincere statements of undergraduate opinion, and I have observed the picked youth of the land under conditions where they could be making no bid for professorial favor. The American undergraduate, both male and female, may frequently carry a liberal quantity of gin, but this same individual seldom permits the gin to

displace a wholesome regard for the fundamental decencies of life. If our undergraduates were a representative sample of our population instead of a carefully selected class, neither Dr. Moody nor anyone else ever need fear for the morals of this country. And it is not necessary that contemporary literature be taught in a manner calculated to impinge upon the decent ideals of American youth. There are surely plenty of instructors available whose attitude toward literature and life is sufficiently sane.

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In the night, in the storm, by the black unlighted sea.

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And now he's took and wrote it on my face, for all to see.


By Gerald Hewes Carson


The following ten short stories are selected for special mention as mirroring the best elements in current fiction as it has appeared between September and January. When the stories selected are not by American authors they are, nevertheless, the work of writers who are important influences upon our own creative effort.

The Cyprian. Lyman Bryson. ATLANTIC, November.

Millstones. Konrad Bercovici. PICTORIAL REVIEW, November. Morituri. Caroline E. Aber. MIDLAND, November.

Classified. Edna Ferber. COSMOPOLITAN, November.

The Letter. Bernice Brown. RED Book, October.

Wantin' a Hand. Lorna Moon. CENTURY, November.

Little and Unknown. Elsie Singmaster. LADIES' HOME JOURNAL, December.

Legend. Fleta Campbell Springer. HARPER'S, November.

A Finished Story.

Ben Ames Williams. GOOD HOUSEKEEPING, October. Something for Nothing. W. W. Jacobs. HEARST'S INTERNATIONAL, January.

O every individual there come

plex trivia of daily life drop back into their native insignificance. You find yourself possessed by an abounding sense of life, and it seems almost possible for a few fleeting seconds to penetrate the obdurate veil which shields the Divine Mysteries.

This is not a proprietary matter for poets and mystics. Life is dramatic, tragic, odd, poignant, tedious, amusing, and futile in turn for all of us, and it is the power of literature, as of life, to move upon each of these planes in turn, and perchance to lift us, at least æsthetically, from the lower to the higher levels. This is what a recent short story anthologist had in mind when he demanded that the business of fiction be recognized as "the portrayal of man's developing consciousness of himself among his contacts with life, and not the superficial gestures he makes trying to realize his superficial ambitions".

An excellent point of contact, that, for resuming THE BOOKMAN's running chronicle of current short stories which will be brought in this article up through September, October, November, December, and January.

A story of unusual promise is "The Cyprian" (Atlantic, November) by Lyman Bryson. The story hangs upon whether or no Captain Mortimer Ladd, British proconsul in Cyprus, will return to England. The whole business is summed up in a splendid climax when the real issue is suddenly revealed: Captain Ladd is in love with a beautiful Cyprian who has become his mistress.

This is not, one should hasten to say, a variation upon Mr. Maugham's favorite theme vorite theme the Englishman conducting extremely circumspect and extremely physical liaisons to the rhythm of Burmese temple bells. The impli

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