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Florence. In each case, the reverse is the fact.
Lee Warner was for a time in the Bank of England. He then went into the firm of T. Fisher Unwin, the London publisher, then to Putnam's, then to Dent, proceeded to a partnership at Chatto and Windus, left at the end of the term agreed, and established the Medici Society as a separate business. The Florence type was designed at his instigation during the Chatto period, and the Riccardi type belongs to the Medici Society period. Contrary to the opinion expressed by the "Times" writer, it is extremely doubtful whether Lee Warner's taste was of the finest. He worked at such pressure that it was impossible for him personally to supervise every detail of the work which he so energetically promoted. The band of his lieutenants, indeed, was so variously recruited, and included so many men of personality only less strong than Lee Warner's own, that the organizer was in a state of perpetual battle. Half of Lee Warner's life was wasted in battle. He was as immense a battler as he was a letter writer. His letters were of extraordinary length. He was a born writer, who found his way into business and there, at top speed, with feverish energy, inaugurated vast schemes and spent enormous sums of money with romantic lavishness. I am under the impression that one of Lee Warner's novels was published some years ago by Macmillan's (the author's name being disguised, of course); but I may be wrong about this. It was a book concerning Saxon times. But he had also written, when I first knew him, some remarkable chapters of a novel about a gambler. The book of which these chapters formed a part was probably never finished, but my recollection is that it was of unusual subtlety. Lee Warner,
himself, I should say, was subtle. He was probably too subtle to be a business man, for his subtlety made him appear capricious. Yet a more lovable man I have never met in the whole of my days. He was very highstrung - his eyes twitched almost incessantly was a great smoker, a man given to sudden impulses. For these reasons, the mind in memory recalls him as always in action, sweeping from one room to another like a great grey dragon fly, pouncing, blinking, talking quickly through his nose, while his body curved away from his companion as he prepared for fresh and even swifter flight. It was a good head when it allowed itself to be seen, and the brains inside it were good, too, when Lee Warner would allow himself to use them. But whatever the brains, I think Lee Warner probably estranged more friends than the average man ever acquires. Most people (except myself) appear to have quarreled with him at one time or another, fearing that he was in some way overreaching them, that he was going to ruin them, or something of the kind; but I have never met a man who spoke ill of him. Some of his printing efforts, with third rate illustrations excellently reproduced, I regard as lamentable; as I think were some of his choices of pictures to be reproduced by the Medici process. This is why I questioned above the excellence of his taste. His taste seemed to me in fact very fallible. I liked him the better for that, because his faultiness was a part of his charm. That he was charming I believe there is not one who knew him who would deny. That he seriously advanced the cause of fine printing I should doubt. Nevertheless, there are many who very greatly admire the Medici prints, and for the introduction of these he will always be entitled to great praise. My own admiration and
affection for him are based upon quite other deeds than his printing and his pictures, and I always found him a loyal and generous friend.
The death of John Lane, also, should not go unmentioned here. Lane was nearly seventy one, and for some time he had not been in good health; but he did not look more than sixty. I saw him within a month of his death, after his return from the United States. was one of the few publishers who had stamped a personality upon a business. No list was at one time more "characteristic" than Lane's. In their own way, Lane's business and Heinemann's were alike; because in each case the publisher was following his own bent and making a success of it. Taste and judgment were strong enough to carry a business through all trials. Of course, in the last ten or fifteen years Lane's business had lost something of its personal interest. It had expanded, and a very large production can never retain the same air of distinction as a small list to which the publisher can give all his individual attention. But Lane retained an extraordinary degree of interest in his firm's books and enthusiasm for them. He was a real publisher, who cared greatly for certain types of books. As a personality I can only say that whenever I met him he seemed quiet, conversational, and well informed. A strong impression he did not make on me; but that was probably due to his natural modesty.
The newest author to be discussed everywhere is Margaret Kennedy. Young, and living as a rule down in Cornwall, far from the world of letters and tea parties, Miss Kennedy has
scored a remarkable success with "The Constant Nymph". I consider this novel one of the best novels I have read for some time in English, and one of the most promising. It is promising because it suggests such possibilities, and not because it has any air of immaturity. Judged by itself it is an astonishing performance. Perhaps the early part is the best, perhaps the one conventional woman in the book is unsympathetically treated and so made. shadowy, perhaps the ending is somehow scrambled, perhaps the almost incandescent quality of the book burns so white that in memory one will make less of it than one does at the moment of reading. These things may be; yet, equally, they may not be. In any case, everybody who cares about good novels should read “The Constant Nymph". For the younger generation here it is a pity that the principal enthusiasts for the book in print have been septuagenarians who do not know a novel from a horse trough; but I can assure my readers that younger men have much admired Miss Kennedy's great talent, and that among themselves they have cordially expressed such admiration.
I was talking recently to a man who buys first editions. He told me some curious things. According to my friend, there is a considerable and increasing demand for first editions of Michael Arlen and Robert Keable. Stevenson, Conrad, and other late enthusiasms are already on the wane. The two dead authors who are tremendously in the ascendant so that a modest buyer is alarmed, although he is told that even at present prices their books are worth "buying for a rise" are Trollope and Gissing.
AMY LOWELL ANALYZES CREATIVE GENIUS
By John Farrar
HE aspects from which Amy Lowell's Life of John Keats may be called great are so many that it is difficult to select one and call it more important than another. As a study of a sensitive, unusual, brilliant, and finally sick boy, it excels in tenderness and penetrating power. As a description of the poetic temperament in general, and of the progress of Keats's genius in particular, it seems to me unique among critical studies. As a work of scholarly biography it presents an array of new material, marshaled with the zest usually employed by explorers to unknown lands or detectives at work on baffling mystery cases. Nor has Miss Lowell allowed any one phase of the book to run away with her sense of proportion. She weaves them, makes them whole through real love of her subject and a magnificent prose style which is always readable and shiningly clear, bursting every now and then into passages of lyric or dramatic intensity and beauty.
The book is long, some twelve hundred odd pages, and it is closely written. It offers no easy meadows for casual wandering. It is not a story by Maurois, Strachey, Werner, Dibble, or the like. It is an important biography written by a woman who knew that Sir Sidney Colvin and others had already covered the same field and covered it well. Her first excuse for undertaking it was her own collection of Keats manuscripts and first editions, which contained much new material. I think, though, that she needed no such excuse.
Her understanding and admiration for the man whom she considered the most modern of his poetical age was enough, and it is this admiration which gives the book its authentic note of genius. To recreate the life of a man in all its happy, tragic, wearisome yet fascinating detail, is what Miss Lowell set out to do. And she has made his friends and his time real to us. The writing of a phrase, the construction of a great stanza, these are as dramatic to her and to us as we read them as the two gun duel of a western thriller. This is the story of a poet by a poet, the analysis of a lover by a woman who would have understood him, who would have chid him for his weaknesses and deplored his selfishness and sentimentality, but who would have been awed by the genius of his phrases and the sweetness of his character at its best.
In her first volume Miss Lowell has been happiest; for here she has her hero in his moments of robust development, before trouble and disease had exaggerated tendencies toward melancholy. How well she uses the methods often before employed in her work, in "Can Grande's Castle" and elsewhere, of creating a period around her central figure by the recital of synchronous events! She does not hesitate to reconstruct by the aid of her vivid imagination what a journey to London must have been like to the young medical student. "Did he walk", she writes, "and leave his precious portmanteau to be sent on by wagon, or did he ride up to town on the top of the
coach with the portmanteau safely stowed away in the boot? Historically speaking, the journey is a blank. But whether he walked, or spanked along behind four lively horses to the tune of jingling harness and the guard's busy horn, even supposing that it rained cats and dogs and the drops trickled down his neck, we know very well that his spirits were bubbling over with excitement, that he felt exactly like a knight of romance starting forth in quest of high adventure in the green forest."
Even more characteristic of Miss Lowell's method than this passage is still another descriptive of a journey:
On Monday, April fourteenth, he booked an outside seat for Southampton on the Lymington and Poole Mail, leaving the Bull and Crown Inn, Holborn, at half-past seven on that very evening. Shortly after three in the morning, the mail clattered through the little village of Chawton, past a small cottage standing directly beside the road. In this cottage lived a widow lady, Mrs. George Austen, and her two daughters, Cassandra and Jane. Did Jane Austen wake just as day was breaking on that Tuesday morning and listen to the mail going by? I wonder.
I should like to quote passages in which she discloses the boy's developing love for the best in his poetry, his companionship with his brothers, his delight in the Elgin Marbles; but it would be unfair to the reader to take these jewels from their setting. Surely Professor Chauncey Brewster Tinker in a review of the biography is unjust when he says, "Miss Lowell's book is, in a sense, new in kind. It is preeminently the work of a book-collector." Is it not already apparent to you that it is preeminently the work of a poet, and a student of mankind?
Professor Tinker's review is a tempered and kindly one; but he errs again, it seems to me, and vigorously, when he says: "There are, to be sure, moments when the reader feels that Keats is be
ing somewhat overcharged with praise. He is defended against every conceivable criticism. There was no indecision or vulgarity, no bumptiousness despite his treatment of Shelley - no sensuality, no commonplace thinking.” This is not fair to a book which is courageously aware of its hero's faults. True, his ancestry is defended, the vulgarisms of the Fanny Brawne letters condoned, the truth of the hint by some biographers that he contracted syphilis at Oxford doubted, many of the legends about this "moon-struck boy" dispelled; but Miss Lowell is too good a New Englander, too experienced in advising young poets, to let John Keats escape. She is definite and harsh in her criticism of his early verses yes, of some of his later work. She calls four of his poems "four great failures" punctuating his life: "Sleep and Poetry", "Endymion", "Otho the Great", and "Hyperion". One of her chapter headings reads, "A Pet Lamb in a Sentimental Farce", Keats's own estimate of himself taken up by literary society and behaving a trifle like a spoiled child. spoiled child. That he escaped is Miss Lowell's concern and pride in him. She is horrified by his inability to face financial difficulties, and does not conceal the fact that she considers his softness in lending money to friends, when he could ill afford it, unmoral. She even feels that he should have made some attempt to fill his pocketbook by accepting an offered job as salesman, no matter how distasteful it might have been. Moreover, in her amazing account of his love affair she finds him at times thoroughly selfish, and although she understands the reasons behind this selfishness, she is too much the woman quite to forgive it. No, Miss Lowell has not worshiped blindly at her shrine. She has remained her usual clearminded self.
As a study of creative genius and the working out of the life of a man of letters, the book is unexcelled. The chapter on "Endymion", technical though it is, has enough of that keen exploratory sense which is the mark of the fine critic to make it worthwhile, even entertaining, reading. Miss Lowell's studies of the poet's sources, of his selection of material, of the effect of environment and circumstance on the development of certain poems, of the maturing of his genius to its full fruit in the composition of the odes, "The Eve of St. Agnes", the fragment of "The Eve of St. Mark", are little short of masterly. Here her detective as well as her critical faculties come into play. To one who knows little of the actual details of Keats's literary history, the dating of a poem, the tracing of copies of Drayton's "Endymion and Phoebe", the new complexion placed on the composition of "Hyperion", are actually of slight importance. Yet Miss Lowell makes them vital. You rejoice with her at some meaty discovery or wise conjecture. You hope that she is right and Sir Sidney wrong. She persuades you subtly into her lists in these matters.
She has so visualized John Keats that, at last, the smallest new sentence from his pen becomes magnified, the discovery of the source of his black eye, of paramount interest. "Now here is my bomb-shell!" she writes, and goes on to make you believe that her conclusions concerning "Hyperion" constitute an explosive.
In reading of the circle of friends that surrounded this young poet, it is impossible not to make comparisons with today. What of log rollers in literary history? How would poor Keats have managed, had it not been for his friends who wrote him sonnets and reviewed his books, who succored him and encouraged him and defended him?
Of these friends, Miss Lowell finds Richard Woodhouse, although not the closest, certainly the most consistently helpful. How wise she is, too, in knowing that it was seldom the actual criticism of these friends that helped, but simply that so-frowned-on log rolling, back patting-in other words, encouragement that kept Keats going in the face of criticism often both personal and bitter. She knows, too, how ridiculous are most charges of literary plagiarism. Did not Keats borrow freely, do not most great poets borrow freely, or great novelists or playwrights or what not? Can any jury in any land say what has really been stolen, and what imaginative idea is native to any man? "Improvement is the only justification needed for a literary theft", says Miss Lowell. What a treat it would be to hear a court deliberating as to whether Keats had improved over Drayton, or whether he had secured the background for his great "St. Agnes" from "The Mysteries of Udolpho". What a difference there is between one of the great poems of all time and a forgotten popular novel!
The last part of Miss Lowell's narrative is told with skill and tenderness. Fanny Brawne becomes no less real than Keats. The wasting body and fevered mind of the young poet, the lessening vitality, combined with his ripening poetic gift, make a tragic picture. Into the hopelessness of his health Miss Lowell brings the brilliant light of his poetry as relief. Nor must we forget the clear, beautiful picture of his love for his brother Tom, and his unreasoning loyalty to the coarser grained George, demanding money from his newfound home in America. Trouble piles on trouble. Through it all he writes, feverishly sometimes, lingeringly at others, and always his biographer tells us what he writes,