Page images
PDF
EPUB

tianity, marching across the world as it marched across the Rio Grande, with dull effacing foot, always confusing the teaching of its Founder with the particular obsession of the time which it expressed. . . . In this fashion passed into the keeping of the United States the vase, the cup in which had mellowed for a thousand years the medicine for want of which the civilized world is tearing out its own vitals. For in the cultural frame which we hold so obstinately that it can never refill from its original sources, and so stupidly that the precious content is spilled and fouled by the least creditable elements of our culture, lies the only existing society that ever found and kept for an appreciable period, the secret of spiritual organization.

One cannot gather the full force of the contrast which the author intends without reading the entire book, but this excerpt is indicative:

the pueblos, at the time Spain found them, had no rich, no poor, no prisons, no red-light district, no criminal classes, no institutionalized orphans, no mothers of dependent children penalized by their widowhood, no one pining for a mate who wishes to be married. . . . Nowadays you will find all manner of unlovely utilities... but among our ancients there was never an article of the meanest use which had not its own æsthetic quality, if no more than that form of beauty which comes of perfect mastery over material.

Many of course, however they may enjoy some of Mary Austin's superbly colorful glimpses of a romantic setting, will not understand her message. But for those who consider that our industrial civilization has produced the best of possible worlds, the book may at least prove an illuminating excursion. For others who have been slightly frayed or jarred by the clatter of steel and steam-ordered progress, it will come as a refreshing and quickening adventure into realms where the spirit may serenely bask in beauty that has a pragmatism all its own.

The Land of Journeys' Ending. By Mary Austin. Century Company.

STREET DUST AND POLLEN By Hervey Allen

IVE books, three of them antholo

FIVE

Put

gies, containing a little poetry, and much verse and words arranged in patterns, lie mutely before me despite the disparate efforts of a bevy of young ladies and gentlemen to be acceptably audible. There is also to be considered the work of editors to the same end and the vociferous blurbs of publishers who fondly risked labor, paper, and capital in furtherance of the conspiracy. ting my good ear close to the covers of the anthologies, I hear a confused babel with here and there a stray musical note. Sniffing the atmosphere engendered by these tomes, I find my critical proboscis tickled almost to the point of sneezing by much dust from the common street and just enough pollen from old gardens to induce a faint twinge of rose fever. Why are these books? For some I can find no answer, although the psychology of the anthologies is fairly clear everyone in them, and his or her friend or friends, will buy a copy, possibly two at Christmas, when Santa Claus so often plays the good friend to publishers by leaving sundry literary jokes in the stockings of the dear public.

"Indian Summer" by Antoinette Scudder heads the list, because Miss Scudder is sometimes a fair craftsman, and in one poem, "Yet Once", attains the rank of poet. Pasted over the line, "But as with the thickly growing" ("harebells" being understood), I find the typed in line, "Purple harebells breezeward blowing." Now, if "breezeward" means anything at all, it means toward the breeze, just as windward means into the wind. We respectfully submit that even harebells in poems should not move against the wind. It gives us an eerie, creepy feeling and

[merged small][ocr errors]

Vincent Starrett now appears before the curtain with "Flame and Dust", unfortunately with more of the last than the first. The publisher of this really well printed and bound volume tells us on the cover, among other things, that Mr. Starrett is "smiling at the puerility of man". I am afraid that some of Mr. Starrett's audience will be moved to quote scripture and say, "Thou art the man."

Henry T. Schnittkind, Ph.D., has gathered together, for the seventh time - we hope there is something final in the theory of the fatality of holy numbers what he calls "The Poets of the Future". On examination this turns out to be an anthology of college verse. Nearly everybody agrees that the chief merit of college verse lies in its tendency to die without mourners or the need of a funeral. I am not so sure that Professor Schnittkind's attempt to prolong the agony is not merely another way of working on the sympathy of the public to provide a printed coffin. There is one poem, however, in this book that stands out like a bolt of lightning photographed on an otherwise dull negative. It is "Vale" by Charles T. Lanham of the United States Military Academy. The cadet who wrote this poem to West Point deserves to be moved up several files on the army list.

Professor Glenn Hughes of the Uni

versity of Washington has published an anthology of verse written by the students in his classes. The book is well made and the verse well made, but it is made. I am glad to say that these verses show a laudable attempt not to be palely lyrical, and occasionally some good figures and a real sense of epigram and free rhythms. None of these young poets seems to realize that his own native northwest has some of the finest Indian legends on the continent. Why not something about Leshi, a little Chinook flavor, or the magnificent legend of the Bridge of the Gods? Instead we get bumble bees, bronze fish, and the inevitable villanelle.

"Column Poets" is an anthology of verse from newspaper columns. Keith Preston has furnished an introduction in which he takes the now fashionable and easy fling at free verse. We are then let in for 113 pages of more or less metrical journalese. One signing herself "Rose Mary" asks not without reason,

O, Lighthouse, kissed by the roguish waves, Why do you wink at me?

[blocks in formation]

ON

IN BRIEF REVIEW

NE Indian explanation of the origins of their folk tales is they were "first told by a voice which came from beneath a great rock in the forest": which may be accepted as a poetic form of a genuinely scientific statement as far as the bulk of them, obviously nature myths, are concerned. The most striking thing about many of these myths is their universality - we find we find stories of the flood, and of the "great fish which swallowed a man". As Cora Morris remarks in the preface to her "Stories from Mythology: North American" (Marshall Jones), we have come to "realize that these myths belong not only to the Eskimo and the Indians but that they are ours, too". Certainly acquaintance with them has a plain educational value, aside from the fact that they are intrinsically interesting. This volume is a well chosen selection from the wealth of material at hand. Although aimed at youthful readers and liberally illustrated, it is not to be classed as a "juvenile", but rather as a good example of popular science.

"The relation of a poet to his age should not be self conscious . . . he should neither deliberately reject the actualities, discoveries, the temper of his age, nor should he constitute himself their interpreter." Thus, in a late chapter in "Literary Studies and Reviews" (Dial) speaks Richard Aldington the critic, commenting, unconsciously perhaps, at the same time on the poetic movement in which Richard Aldington, poet, has taken so prominent a part. Of this movement and its crescendo and diminuendos there is

little said in the volume. We may apply that dictum, rather, to the sweet singers of postmediæval France whose gemlike quality sustains the fire of centuries of criticism. Their false classical setting, perhaps, has stood the test of time less well, but in the author's opinion even this fact cannot dim the lyric quality of their song. It is refreshing to find in the same book critical estimates of a Ronsard and a St. Evremond, a Proust and a Joyce. And we have seen nowhere so clean cut a picture of the multiple creative personality of Remy de Gourmont. In spite of Mr. Aldington's meticulous weighing of sources and his calm rational view of modern currents in literature, we feel a lack of conclusiveness in these papers that is vaguely irritating. Is he too much the scholar to have real enthusiasms for the old, and does he mistake determination in present day writers for authentic fire? The chapter on T. S. Eliot seems to us a tour de force, presenting as it does an interesting but unimportant critical conceit. We have a notion that this astute critic is still wavering between the old and the new gods.

To one who secretly envies the lot of a newspaper correspondent, "Celebrities of Our Time" (Joseph Lawren), a collection of interviews by Herman Bernstein, will prove a dangerous book; when the last page is turned, he will be tempted to rush to the office of the nearest editor and offer to pay his own way to Italy, if the paper be interested in a few words from Mussolini or D'Annunzio. During the past fifteen years Mr. Bernstein has come into contact with

prominent persons in many lands and claims to have "met practically every outstanding figure of my time who has influenced thought and shaped important events". During one interview we find him drinking coffee with Tolstoy in a little white house at Yasnaya Polyana and talking of Darwinism, Henry George, and the decadence in literature; in another he is discussing war with Maximilian Harden; again he is hearing of Bolshevist aims from Trotsky; and now he is with Rodin in Paris. It is an unusual group which Mr. Bernstein has singled out to designate as "celebrities", and one which reveals his Russian inheritance and sympathies. He includes, among others, Sergius Witte, Metchnikoff, Kerensky, Prince Kropotkin, Rathenau, Arthur Schnitzler, Havelock Ellis, and Bergson. The book forms an interesting commentary, from one angle, on the racial, national, and social conflicts of the past decade.

The Princess Bibesco has produced a fascinatingly various book in "Isvor, the Country of Willows" (Stokes), translated by Hamish Miles. It is in substance a series of pictures of Rumanian peasant life, given additional vividness by narration in the first person, in the form of a diary. The author herself defines it as a "memoir, a calendar, a guide, a catalogue, and the story also of a love". The last item is of the slenderest. The charm and the value of the book lie in its description, often exquisite, of the "country of willows" through the four seasons, its transcripts of folk lore, and its record of folk ways. It is still a patriarchal society that the Princess describes: the people trustfully appeal to her for a horse or oxen, for fodder, for minutely specified building material. In manners and belief they are of the past. Many of the tales

are highly picturesque, and there is much material for the student of folk lore.

"Keeping a diary is a childish habit but this childish habit may now be worthwhile", writes Pitirim Sorokin in his preface to "Leaves from a Russian Diary" (Dutton). The habit proves decidedly worthwhile. The book is illuminating and important because it is an authentic first hand narrative of conditions in Russia today. Mr. Sorokin, since he was secretary to Kerensky and editor of "The Will of the People" (the Revolution's official organ), speaks with authority. "If future historians look for the group that began the Russian Revolution let them not create any involved theory. The Russian Revolution was begun by hungry women and children demanding bread and herrings." With this as a premise Mr. Sorokin reviews and analyzes the Revolution, dispassionately. Because of its content and readableness, "Leaves from a Russian Diary" is heartily recommended to Communists and Aristocrats and those who stand midway.

The pleasantest sort of book on collecting is one that appeals both to the connoisseur of antiques and the connoisseur of human nature. You may care little for old faience or snuff boxes, but you can hardly help being diverted by tales collectors tell of finding them. In "Collector's Luck in France" (Atlantic) Alice Van Leer Carrick spins a narrative full of spirited adventure as well as practical advice for the amateur. She gives the reader concrete evidence of the spoils of a leisurely stroll through France, by her excellent numerous photographs. And her descriptions of the quaint aspects of peasant and shopkeeper mind are done with warm sympathy and appre

ciation. What queer and delightful commercial graces the French have! In these small shops she discovered relics of the whole history of Empire and Republic. Whether you want to or not, you find yourself breathless over the search for some bibelot that carries you along through low hung doorways, tiny crooked halls, and up and down flights of ancient steps. If there are some skeptics in the world who find it difficult to imagine why collectors become almost fanatical in their search for hidden treasures, a reading of this little book is very apt to make them wonder whether there isn't a great deal in it after all. The author has called the sport "the one respectable form of gambling", and to lessen the possibility of losing one's all by a too giddy entrance into the game, she has appended a detailed list of dependable shops in Paris and the provinces.

It hardly matters whether Daniel Henderson has learned from Robert Frost or gone back to the earlier lessons of William Wordsworth. The virtues of the poems in "A Harp in the Winds" (Appleton) are those of simplicity of thought and directness of expression. These means are sufficiently subtle to lend charm to everyday subjects such as "The Business Changes Hands", not to speak of material more commonly regarded as "poetical". Of course, simplicity may degenerate into mere jingle. The initial vigor of the series on "American Trails" trickles out into such doggerel as:

[blocks in formation]

It is frequently easier to quote the bad than the good; one cannot judge Wordsworth by "The Idiot Boy".

Magdeleine Marx went to Russia prepared to write a book, and so gathered a considerable body of statistics and related data. But when she came to write "The Romance of New Russia" (Seltzer) she decided to discard these facts and figures. The decision was in many ways a wise one. Statistics about a country where conditions are changing as rapidly as they do in Russia are misleading when a year old. But Mme. Marx did not do so well to disregard the restraint which statistics impose. It is rather too difficult to accept so rhapsodical an account as hers. True, she has not overlooked the hunger, the cold, the poverty which still are widespread in Russia nor has she left unmentioned the filth, the vermin, the disease. True, too, that a revolution is expected to result in something more than an increase in physical comforts. But such a tale of spiritual greatness of a whole people rising superior to an environment is too incredibly good to be true. The jacket says that the book is "something like a work of fiction". So it is.

[ocr errors]

"Unmasking Our Minds" by David Seabury (Boni, Liveright) does a real service. Modern psychology is introduced freed from the jargon of any particular school, and made thoroughly entertaining with a quantity of excellent contemporary illustration. The explanation of "objective analysis" as a key to self knowledge, and the optimistic analogy between the late conquest of matter and the future exploration and emancipation of spiritual energy, are perhaps the book's sturdiest qualities. "A great change

« PreviousContinue »