« PreviousContinue »
THE EDITOR RECOMMENDS —
BOOKS THAT MAY HAVE
1. "Young Mrs. Cruse" by Viola Meynell. Exquisite short stories and sketches worthy to rank with Katherine Mansfield's.
2. "The Prelude to Adventure" by Hugh Walpole. One of the loveliest books ever written by this famous Englishman.
3. "Sonnets of a Portrait Painter" by Arthur Davison Ficke. Poems that should be in the library of every lover.
4. "Joseph Pulitzer: His Life and Letters" by Don C. Seitz. An excellent biography and also a good interpretation of American journalism.
5. "The Genius of America" by Stuart Pratt Sherman. This fine critic's clearest expression of his critical views.
ILAIRE BELLOC is now genial and now dogmatic. He is more likely to be genial when speaking of sailboats than when touching on philosophy; but he is constantly stimulating in the new rambling discourses from a sea trip, "The Cruise of the Nona" (Houghton Mifflin). It is a surprising and a valuable book. In the midst of its pages one comes upon such bits as this:
By what right shall fifty-one men out of a hundred, who have no particular taste for the drinking of tea, who, upon the whole, dislike it, but not earnestly, forbid the other forty-nine to drink tea, when those fortynine feel tea-drinking to be a very necessity of their lives? For what reason shall fiftyone men - of whom perhaps only one knows anything upon the subject-outvote forty-nine of whom perhaps five know something of the subject? decide (for instance) upon the annexation of an Asian_islet? How can you trust fifty-one
white men to legislate for forty-nine black men, or, to put it more strongly, fifty-one black men to legislate for forty-nine white? Who does not know that in such a case only organised force could decide?
A gentler travel book, or rather book of nature essays, is William Beebe's "Jungle Days" (Putnam). This collection is, I think, as good as any of the earlier ones and a better book by far than the elaborate "Galápagos: World's End". Here, with his arimals and his jungle plants, his philosophizings and his eccentricities, we have this emotional scientist at his best. Perhaps it is not ethical in the eyes of publishers to review the format of a book; but I must say that, although the general appearance of this volume is lovely, to illustrate it with photographic plates was little short of criminal. Mr. Beebe makes his jungle a magic place. He gives his animals personality. He tells us of a grandmother frog or a wistful monkey, tells of them with insight and poetry; yet the photonothing but the biological laboratory graphic reproduction reminds us of or the zoo. Mr. Beebe himself standing upon a giant fallen tree is a terrific comedown from the tree of the pages, or indeed from the Mr. Beebe we might have imagined. Perhaps it isn't Mr. Beebe on the tree -I can't quite make out. Anyhow, it was a terrible blunder to illustrate this magical and very beautiful book.
Its successor, "The Polyglots" (Duffield), makes fascinating reading if you do not object to the impudence, perversity, and rattleheaded quality of its story telling and its characterizations. It is a muddlebrained combination of Henry James and Sinclair Lewis, with a dash of D. H. Lawrence, just for fun. However, in spite of all these qualifications, I recommend it heartily, for with its Japanese, Belgian, Russian, English, and other personages it provides plenty of amusement as well as irritation. In my list of novelists whose characterizations it displays I have neglected to mention Mr. Dickens
and that is the best of it. Uncle Lucy comes straight from the covers of "Pickwick", and there are various ladies and gentlemen as delightful. On page 71 Gerhardi writes this perfect review of his own book:
Meanwhile, the situation as regards the sheepskin coats was still uncertain. Vague and perplexing. Dubious and undetermined. Confused and unsettled. Oracular, ambiguous, equivocal. Bewildering, precarious, embarrassing and controvertible, mysterious and undefinable, inscrutable and unaccountable, impenetrable, hesitant
apparently insoluble. Incredible! Incomprehensible! My orders were to ascertain their whereabouts and to arrange for their despatch by rail to - I didn't quite remember where. This I tried to arrange. "But where are the coats?" the railway authorities questioned. Alas, this more than I knew. For the sheepskin coats, as I said, could not be traced.
Again, on page 365, in response to an aunt's query as to the hero's own novel -"Is there a lot of action in it?". Gerhardi makes him reply:
"Oh, lots and lots! Gun play in every chapter. Fireworks! People chasing each other round and round and round till they drop from exhaustion."
The other novel I recommend is clearer of intent. It is filled with color and action more clearly founded. It reminds me, now of Conrad, now of
Maugham, and yet preserves a distinct quality of its own. This is "Seibert of the Island" (Doran) by Gordon Young, an American writer known better in England than here. Young writes with sweep and power. His characters are vividly and simply drawn. Seibert is a villainous figure of a man, working out his ambition on a Polynesian island, where natives and whites alike fear him. The love story is a complicated one, and the whole story is filled with emotional excitement. In a long time I have read no book I so thoroughly enjoyed.
Spring Poets not without Force
F only there were some way of convincing Americans that they ought to buy a volume of poetry now and then! They read poetry, they talk of it, yet they allow book after book of beauty and rare attainment to be published and fail, leaving author and publisher in a state of mind from which recovery is necessary before the next effort is made. Like many other things, it isn't right; but I suppose there is small use preaching about it. Here are four poets worthy of consideration among the first: Hervey Allen, Don Marquis, Ridgely Torrence, and Archibald MacLeish. The most striking book is Mr. Allen's. He has called it "Earth Moods" (Harper), and says in his preface it is "for the most part an attempt to phrase poetically some of the modern conceptions of life". His phrases leap one after another in his effort to give an impression of the swift flow of life through the ages, with whirling heavenly bodies and frozen worlds. He is successful, too, and if the reader can meet him with imagination, there is a terrifying
poems, but a lovely one of Pavlowa":
beauty and clarity about some of these first poems. He reminds me now of Marlowe, now of Shelley; but not in a sense of imitation; for Hervey Allen has always seemed to me at his best the most strongly original of our younger poets. If you like splendor of words and vigor of conception you will want this book, and later in the pages you will find dramatic lyrics of stark power, and lyrics of some grace. There is magnificence, it seems to me, in these lines:
Who has heard the crack of Carthaginian whips
Upon the backs of frozen elephants,
"The Awakening" (Doubleday, Page) contains poems of Don Marquis selected for English consumption and printed here. Some day the world at large will awake to the fact that Mr. Marquis is one of our truly great literary figures. In these verses there are his gusto and his sense
of musical phrase, his mysticism and his great humanity. "The Jesters" is a great poem. It has majesty, irony, beauty. Mr. Marquis has the gift of writing the graceful lyric; but it is never a lyric too sweet with sentiment or too lush with color. Nor is he a cautious poet; he has not been afraid to be lowbrow. Now, as he reaches middle age, he discovers that he is admitted to the paths of the great. I quote one of the least important of the
The soul of the Spring through its body of earth
Bursts in a bloom of fire,
And the crocuses come in a rainbow riot of mirth.
They flutter, they burn, they take wing, they aspire.
Wings, motion and music and flame, Flower, woman and laughter, and all these the same!
She is light and first love and the youth of the world,
She is sandalled with joy . . . she is lifted and whirled,
She is flung, she is swirled, she is driven along
By the carnival winds that have torn her
From the coronal bloom on the brow of
She is youth, she is foam, she is flame, she is visible Song!
In "The Happy Marriage", Archibald MacLeish showed that he had matured to the poet's estate. He has a highly intellectual being, and he translates it in terms of Meredithian verse, embroidered occasionally by moments of beauty. In "The Pot of Earth" (Houghton Mifflin) he tells a love story in simple yet at the same time vastly involved measures. He is a fine poet. If I find him occasionally difficult, that quality does not dim my admiration for him. Take these exquisite eight lines, for example:
Unless the rain comes soon the colored petals
Their petals fallen, all their petals fallen,
Ridgely Torrence has a talent that in its surety and steadiness amounts to genius. He is, I think, one of our foremost poets, in present importance exceeding those above discussed. His rhythms and his words are simple; his execution is sure. He writes little,
but its purity of accomplishment cannot be questioned. It is difficult to detach a part of one of his poems, for they are so perfectly units. I am quoting, therefore, from his new volume "Hesperides" (Macmillan) the entire poem "Evensong":
Beauty calls and gives no warning,
It is the season grieves,
All our springtimes, all our summers,
To attain the dream we did not win.
O we have wakened, Sweet, and had our birth,
And that's the end of earth;
And we have toiled and smiled and kept the
was heavier. For "Brigham Young" (Harcourt, Brace) deals with polygamy rather than press agentry, and its implications are more profound. Mr. Werner has great ability in reconstructing character; but he seems to me to fail in this book when he tries to show the sweep of the period. Perhaps it was too much to hope that, since he has so magnificent an understanding of the souls of people, he would understand completely the implications of events as they play into each other. Brigham Young stands out from these pages a firmer figure than Barnum, four dimensional and complete. To the Vermonter, Smith and Young will not seem typical any more than does Calvin Coolidge of the poetry of the Green Mountains. Yet here, surely, is the story of a revolt from Puritanism worldwide in its effect, against which the voice of bachelor Mencken seems the puny squall of a firstborn. Lovers of biography, those interested in religion, or in the complicated phases of great character, will find "Brigham Young" essential. If you wish to know what my quarrel with the book is, compare it with Amy Lowell's "John Keats".
- J. F.