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A SHELF OF RECENT BOOKS
THE ABUNDANT LIFE
By Irwin Edman
NE approaches a work entitled "The Creative Spirit" with something of misgiving. Under the protection of that beautiful phrase there has been too often, to quote a phrase also quoted by Mr. Brown, "the shimmer of high aspiration and extraordinary nonsense". In the name of that seductive ideal there has been a vast amount of foolish sentimentalism and of footless ecstasy. Mr. Brown's book is nothing of the sort. It is an extraor
dinarily sensible and solid inquiry into the conditions of American life which make for and against that spontaneous and self disciplined adventure we call creative activity.
In his introductory chapter Mr. Brown indulges in a procedure that might well be more often followed by those high priests of unction who talk loosely and breathlessly about the mysteries of art - he makes perfectly clear just what he is talking about. In prose which, if not distinguished, is distinguished by impeccable clarity, Mr. Brown reminds us what creative activity is, and in what sense it is life most alive. We are creative and happy in those moments and those doings when we are spontaneously and significantly reshaping things, situations, and our own emotions into something fresh and original, and something bearing, so to put it, our own signature. It is the kind of activity precisely the opposite of that illustrated by a machine. In his analysis Mr. Brown emphasizes the element of emotional verve which is the origin, the intellec
tual freshness which is the essence, and the spontaneous glow which accompanies and is the reward of creative action.
In so far as we are heightened and inventive in our doings- whether in industry, art, or social relations — we are artists. And, as Mr. Brown points out, only in so far as we have that heightening and inventiveness in our actions have we anything resembling positive and continual happiness. That touch of freedom and originality which is the mark of genius exists, to some degree, in all except imbeciles. But that potential electric of the spirit demands healthy conditions for its release, and where there is no release or opportunity there is frustration and spiritual death.
Mr. Brown's inquiry is twofold. He makes clear that life is fruitful and rewarding only where its temper is creative, and he finds American institutions by and large guilty of stifling such life. He begins with the church. Religion, through the ministry of the church, might contribute to the quickening of emotion, the revelation of new depths, the incitement to new reaches and new adventures of the spirit. But the church, like any other institution, has become professional, standardized, and institutional. The church building which might be a tangible and vivifying house of beauty is too often a drab meeting house. The minister who might be an interpreter and awakener of the life of the spirit has become an official, a lecturer and a social lion. The same is true of education. The teacher has become in most of our colleges and universities a
cog in a system and an instrument in a hierarchy. He is engaged in rushing masses of standardized students through standard materials without friction and without fire. The students have become so many human units to be inhumanly diplomaed via so many credits for so many hours in so many courses. That enriching and freeing experience in cooperative thought and imagination which is truly education, they never have. It is possible neither to teacher nor to student in a system where the letter and the machinery have taken the place of the spirit and the man.
One by one, Mr. Brown ticks off the institutions which constitute the conditioning environment of American life. In none of them is the creative spirit nurtured, fortified, and freed. He recites with justice the oft quoted charges against industry. For better or for worse, the industrial system has come to stay. And with it have come grueling monotony, meaningless mechanism, and life quenching standardization.
The routine of industry has dominated not simply the work in the factory but the private life of the factory worker. It has made him live in a pattern house in a company street. It has narrowed him to the buying of standardized goods and subjected him to the insidious tyranny and death of standardized amusements. It has turned him into a machine no less fatal and clockwork than the machine he operates. These charges are terrible
modern world. It has given us a sense of scrupulous and disinterested method, of imaginative reach and of beautiful and cosmic suggestion. But Mr. Brown shows how science has come to mean for the many only the synonym for a deadly and mechanistic materialism. And he shows also how remote to the experience of the average is the spirit of scientific method, that fertile and free and disciplined adventure of the mind.
Mr. Brown piles up the particulars of his indictment with quiet and unpassioned exactness. He has no special propaganda or bright particular solution. His book is simply a healthy emphasis of the fact that where there is no freedom of action there is no spirit, and where there is no creation there is no life. He is pointing to that survey of American life and the possible reconstruction in which there will be a soil wherein the creative spirit may flourish. He indicates briefly but suggestively the directions in which that reconstruction will occur.
It will mean, in the first place, that if industrial work cannot be less mechanical, there will at least have to be a chance for each workman to have some inventive and individual craft of his own. It will mean that art will have to cease to be something locked in museums, the refuge of the world weary, and the byplay of the wealthy. The spirit of creation is more hopefully found in those community theatres, those enterprises in music and in poetry and drama, where art is an experience shared and practised by normal, fullblooded, and normally free human beings.
Mr. Brown is pleading in essence for a consideration of what we may do in America to provide the conditions for genuine individuality, the play of personality on its own materials in the re
shaping of its own world. This ideal of life as fine and free art involves, as Mr. Brown seems to see, a radical overhauling of our established prejudices and routine institutions. Mr. Brown does not look to any magic to transform our world. He has simply and successfully tried to define where our Kultur falls short of being alive, in order that we may turn to seek life more abundant. He has done an excellent and necessary job.
The Creative Spirit. By Rollo Walter Brown. Harper and Brothers.
places. Attempts to localize him, as in Mary Austin's "A Small Town Man", or to modernize him, as in Bruce Barton's "The Man Nobody Knows", are foredoomed to failure, for his acknowledged universal appeal is not limited geographically or chronologically.
When Mary Austin writes a book to prove him a small town man, we know beforehand that she may remind us that he was born in a village and spent most of his days there, but that her thesis can never be proved, with so much evidence against it. The phrase, "a small town man", has a distinct connotation of inferiority. It implies an individual of provincial ideas and limited horizons. It is true that historical criticism has revealed that Jesus had ideas about demon possession and the millennium which were local and temporary, but the world knows that the Man of Galilee was anything but a small town man. His was an
eternal and universal life, although he lived at a certain time and in a very small place.
When Mr. Barton attempts to prove that Jesus was an American supersalesman born out of due time, we know that his thesis, too, is too much for any clever author to succeed in demonstrating. Indeed, we have a feeling almost of revulsion that anyone should try such a theme. We can suffer the Gideons to put Bibles in the hotels for the salvation of traveling salesmen, but Jesus as a suitcase-carrying drummer is altogether too much for our imaginations.
Mr. Barton confesses in his preface that his book was written as a protest against the idea of Jesus as "a pale young man with flabby forearms and a sad expression" who also wore "red whiskers". This conception was taught in the Sunday School which the author attended in his youth, and we sympathize with the boy's protest. But the defense mechanism which was then established developed such power that the grown man has gone to the other extreme. The picture which is drawn as an antithesis is just as repulsive, except to Rotarians and Babbitts. From the book we get a confused and rather painful impression of a muscular hiker who "slept outdoors and spent his days walking around his favorite lake". This he-man was a successful business organizer and at the same time "the most popular dinner guest in Jerusalem". The Man Nobody Knows is a man whom few of us want to know. We have seen too many of the sort in the marts of New York City. One almost prefers the pale young man of the Sunday School charts of Mr. Barton's boyhood.
Such chapter headings as "The Executive", "His Advertisements", and "The Founder of Modern Busi
ness" shock us into attention. One gets the same impression of incongruity as comes from reading in recent translations of the gospels into Americanese, where "Yea, Lord" is rendered, "Yes, Sir." We read such chapters to see if their headings are justified and find them more ingenious than convincing.
The Bible verse following the title page, presumably as a text for the book, is from the incident of the twelve year old Jesus in the Temple, "Wist ye not that I must be about my Father's business?" The italics are Mr. Barton's, and are inexcusable from the point of view of accurate translation. As a matter of fact the word "business" is not in the Greek at all. When it was inserted by the King James translators to make English sense, the word "business" had not at all the commercial connotation which Mr. Barton gives it and upon which his whole thesis depends. The author forgets, evidently, that it was from that same temple a few years later that this same Jesus drove out with a whip of cords some very successful business
The titles of both books are unfortunate. There is an irritating arrogance in "The Man Nobody Knows: A Discovery of Jesus" as a title for a book about a man whom everybody knows. The author has no new material for his book: he can only give his interpretation of the source material which has been available for centuries. We do appreciate a certain vigor of expression and a refreshing insistence upon the manhood of Jesus, but Mr. Barton has made no discoveries.
Mrs. Austin's title is intriguing, but not justified by the contents. An accurate title would be "Jesus, the Mystic". The volume is a rewriting of her very fine book of 1915, "The
Man Jesus". In this edition she has laid more emphasis upon the mystical side of Jesus's nature. She says in the
preface that the present volume is carried out in the way she originally intended to write the book - the public was not ready for it at that time. Either volume is very readable and inspiring. It is the best book about Jesus ever written by a woman, and in parts and ways is better than any written by men. It takes a womanly intuition to bring out some phases of Jesus's universal character, and this study supplements all other biographies extant.
Nevertheless, Renan's "Life of Jesus" remains the best modern biography of the greatest character of history.
A Small Town Man. By Mary Austin. Harper and Brothers.
The Man Nobody Knows. By Bruce Barton. Bobbs-Merrill Company.
TO SPANK OR NOT TO SPANK By Eva v. B. Hansl
NTIL the editor sent me the
latest batch of books on child training to review, I thought the subject of spanking had been settled long ago in favor of spoiling the child and sparing the rod. But here, within one week, a college professor pleads for a short snappy spank instead of a long verbal lecture-beating, two Senators in the legislature of the State of Michigan introduce two bills to restore the whipping post, and a New York publishing house issues a book"Beginning the Child's Education" by Ella Frances Lynch which is a thinly disguised plea for the reinstatement of the ancient and lately dishonored switch in the home.
The title of the book, combined with its insistence that "a nice little switch on the legs" is the most effective means of obtaining obedience and that strict obedience is a prerequisite for all other lessons of life, reminds me of a passage in another book which has recently come from the press, "Lifting Mist", a novel of English schoolboy life by Austin Harrison:
Many years back, he had stolen a ball from a shop and his nurse had reported it. His father had called him into his study. On the table was a riding whip.
"There is only one thing to be done", his father had said, pointing to the whip. "I know", Sam had replied. "Undress" said his father.
Sam did so and then his father broke down.
"Go", he said. "I cannot strike you. Perhaps you will understand honor better if you are not whipped."
Sam did understand. He respected his father for respecting him. He never stole again; never felt any inclination to. All that was years ago, yet to the boy a very living memory. It was his first experience of right and wrong, and he had been given his chance. That was right of his father. Had his father flogged him, he might not have cared, might have resented it. But, put upon his honor, he felt bound for the sake of others, and to betray them was cowardice.
That passage, to me, sounds much more understanding of the real motivations of childhood than anything in Miss Lynch's book. If she knows what the newer psychology is revealing, she doesn't admit it. She doesn't want to know, I believe; she wants to cling to the old tenets. I wonder: was she benefited by the rod so much that she wants posterity not to be cheated, or is she taking out on the new generation what she herself suffered?
"If experience teaches her to associate pain with her outbursts of temper, she will soon put forth energy to regain self-control", she writes. Or again, "This habit [of obedience] cannot be established without resorting to pun
"A child would far rather obey a command than comply with a request." How does she know? Did she ever try the other method? And even if it
were true, what a relationship she establishes by giving commands rather than making requests of children. Would she really rather establish a world of Prussian military camps than a League of Nations?
I should not have spent so many words on this book when there are so many good ones to review, were Miss Lynch's pernicious doctrine not so dangerous. It permeates her books to such an extent that the value of all her excellent suggestions about beginning the child's education at home by training in observation, etc., is practically nullified. It doesn't matter to me very much what she has to say so long as she always dangles that "nice little switch" around while she says it.
What a complete contrast we find in Dr. Ira S. Wile's "The Challenge of Childhood". Seldom have I encountered a more sympathetic (and not sentimental but understanding) explanation of the real motives and causes of children's behavior. Dr. Wile is not an adult judging from without; he is "one of us" seeing from within. He makes you realize the full meaning of the French phrase, "tout comprendre, c'est tout pardonner”. I wish his style were as lucid as his